So, I’m at this bar, a beer bar, with an outdoor stage for shitty local bands, stand-up comedians… Tonight, it’s stand-up comedians. Not my style. I don’t care if the beer’s from Ireland, brewed by faerie magic, you still have to drink two, three, five, just to feel anything. I want some clear liquid in a tiny glass that takes two seconds to drink and two more seconds to make my face feel warm and fuzzy. Drinks like that burn your throat, but that’s part of their magic, the whole pain heightens pleasure, I like girls who pull my hair while we kiss, thing. At any rate, yeah, beer bars, not my style. Neither is watching stand-up comedy, but I’m there doing that too. It’s kind of a downer evening, just a few evenings before Christmas. I’m at this beer bar, I’m stone sober, I’m bored, and I’m cold. Like I said, outdoor stage, late December. Even Florida gets bitter-cold a few times a year. One of the previously mentioned stand-ups is actually funny, but he’s the headliner, he’s up last. This leaves a solid hour of jokes about what is apparently the wannabe comics’ go-to topic, Hilarity Without End, Amen, the vagina. I’ve never heard the word so many times during what felt like an eternity, vagina as the Holy Grail of punch-lines. I guess if you’re 27, and you’re only with a woman, say, whenever an Olympics rolls around, you get a bang out of at least talking about it. I’m bored. Though, I’m less cold by the forty-seventh vagina joke, my brother brings me a heating-pad. Yes, I’m a giant sissy about being cold, and I really don’t care about looking cool at a beer bar. Warmer or not, I still want to go home, but I don’t.
After the headliner gives us a generous reprieve from the Vagina Monologues, the show’s over, everybody’s straggling toward their cars or cabs, or better bars. I’m just kind of sitting in my chair, staring up at the night sky, wanting to see stars rather than clouds, thinking about a girl. I haven’t seen her in a really long time, but she’s always in my head, permanently etched into my memory, a tattoo behind my eyes, a sometimes torture that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’m thinking about how I wish she were next to me, that we were about to drive home together. I want to be going home together, crawling into our cozy warm bed, kissing and talking and kissing in the dark before we fall asleep, the unspoken promise of deeper intimacy in the morning, the sacrament we’d share, her skin against mine. I’m thinking about the way she used to look at me, all these years later nobody has ever looked at me like her. She saw past all my outward flaws, saw me the way only God sees me, into my soul. She saw the real me, the melancholy, happy, scared, brave, dark, light me, and in her eyes all I saw was love, love as simple and beautiful as summer sun shining through green tree leaves. I’m thinking about just wanting to have those eyes in my life again, if for only one night, one hour, ten minutes. Anything.
I close my eyes, head tilted toward the gray night sky. Cold air stings my face, cold air that scoffs at the heat draped across my chest. I focus on the heat, it reminds me of that girl, I see her, the tattoo only I can see. My sometimes torture that I wouldn’t trade for anything, she’s vivid and bright and so right there. I get this stupid feeling that if I just open my eyes and look next to me, she’ll be there. I don’t look, I know she won’t be there. I know and I’m scared, the lack of her scares me.
I open my eyes, the clouds shuffled off like so many drunks. I see stars, I know that they’ll be here long after I blink out and disappear.4 comments
So, to me, story collections are generally hit or miss creatures. You usually get three or four great stories by three or four great writers, some good stories by some very capable writers, then you get dregs. Story collections by a single writer tend to fare better, provided that said writer is good or great in the first place. Great story collections by great writers are definitely rare enough, but they do exist. That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote by K.J. Bishop is one such collection.
If you haven’t read K.J. Bishop’s novel, The Etched City, and you fancy yourself a fan of Speculative Fiction, well, then you haven’t really read the best of Speculative Fiction. I mention The Etched City because, by itself it’s an important book, but also, three of the best stories in That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote are set in the world of The Etched City, The Art of Dying, The Love of Beauty, and She Mirrors. If you haven’t read The Etched City, I actually recommend skipping those three stories, just set them aside, until you’ve read the novel that they would eventually become. Bishop wrote two of the short stories before her novel, but I think the short stories are better appreciated after reading the masterwork of which they’re a part.
While the three above stories are particularly important to me, because The Etched City is so important to me, they’re definitely not the only magic that That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote has to offer, not by a longshot. There’s the dark fairytale of Saving the Gleeful Horse, a story in which childrens’ games have deadly consequences in unexpected ways, There’s We the Enclosed, a story of searching for something lost that reads like a fever dream. The Heart of a Mouse is a post-apocolyptic nightmare, a story of people suddenly transformed into animals struggling to maintain their human minds, it’s kind of The Road meets The Tale of Despereaux meets The Rapture gone terribly wrong. Mother’s Curtains is a light-hearted look into the world of the absurd, a story of bedroom curtains that feel unloved, curtains that long to live as the masts of a pirate-ship.
It’s hard to really pick a favorite, the entire collection is that strong. Each story has a way of sliding into one’s mind, always to be remembered in one way or another. One story that struck me in a very personal way was Between the Covers, a story of a writer who lost her connection with her craft after taking on the Devil as her benefactor. Writers have a certain relationship with their words, their stories, Between the Covers depicts that relationship in a uniquely visual way. Honestly, I’d pay full cover value for that story alone. Tales of writers come to ruin always terrify and fascinate me.
A really neat facet of this collection is that in the closing pages Bishop discusses each story, talking about inspiration, points of symbolism, all those little questions you’d like to ask a writer after you’ve finished reading their work.
That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote is a brilliantly imaginative collection of stories written by an absolutely brilliant writer. K.J. Bishop is someone that doesn’t blink into existence every day, her use of craft is something special. She uses words to create life, to create worlds, to create art. K.J. Bishop does things with words that few writers can accomplish. Ultimately, she writes things that are worth reading, which is really all that matters.4 comments
So, we are four posts away from one-thousand… I feel like the one-thousandth post should be something compelling, something to start kind of a renaissance, a revitalization of the blog. I want to clean the slate, cut loose some mundane things I said I’d write, but haven’t. I mean, who cares that it took me five years and many attempts to finally read Perdido Street Station by China Mieville? It’s a terribly overrated book. Yes, I know it’s heretical not to pleasure whatever part of the body Mieville sees fit, and calling something Mieville wrote overrated is worthy of being hanged in some circles, but I don’t care. I willingly commit both sins. There, I’ve just covered that promised, yet unwritten post. Who needs more? I definitely don’t. With my one-thousandth post, I want to start clean, and write something important, or at the very least, something worth the time it takes for me to write and you to read.
I have some ideas, rather, shadows of ideas that I will make solid in the coming days.
Still, I’m also open to reader suggestions (I know there are at least six of you!), but I only want really ambitious suggestions. No What sorts of movies do you like? suggestions. If you’re going to suggest something, or ask something, dig deep, way down. No topic is off-limits, no question is too personal. Either you’re going to guide my boldness, or I go it alone. It’s the one-thousandth post, it’s going to be something rather than nothing…6 comments
So, I feel bette-ish, better than yesterday, at least. Maybe. I don’t know. I get nervous when tube after tubs goes wrong. Doing a bunch of procedures makes me nervous afterward.
I’ll get over it. There’s really no other choice.
I miss the person who could make it all go away.2 comments
The third emergency trach change in under a month.
I’m scared.4 comments
Monica (not the Monica I pined over) predicted:
OK, I’m game, seeing that the probability of me getting a book is pretty high at the moment:
It turns out that Area X is populated by cats. Really goddamn mean ones.
So, Monica, congratulations!
I’ll try another game next week, I really do want lots of people to have this book.2 comments
So, one evening some time ago I was browsing Amazon, looking for something new to read, something Steampunky, maybe akin to Cherie Priest. This is when the Amazon A.I. suggested, Pilgrim of the Sky by Natania Barron. Immediately I realized, “Holy shit, I know her!” She’s a twitter friend, and I knew she’s a really great writer, but I had no idea she’d actually published a rather unique Steampunk novel. Of course, I bought and loved it.
Well, now Natania is doing something really cool. Every Tuesday and Thursday at 9 pm she’s reading a chapter from Pilgrim of the Sky, from the first to the last, live via Google+, with full replays on her youtube channel. You can catch up on the replays over the weekend, then start watching live. It’s a really imaginative, well-crafted tale of love, loss, and courage with a strong female lead, and Natania’s reading gives it a certain spark.
Aside from its paperback version, Pilgrim of the Sky is also available for Kindle and iBooks. Apart from Natania’s readings, I definitely recommend owning Pilgrim of the Sky in one form or another. It’s totally a page-turner.1 comment
I want to make a quick apology to my subscribers, people who read the blog posts via e-mail. I’ve been publishing with a sickening level of typos. I fix the typos quickly, but that’s of no consequence to e-mail subscribers. The nineteen of you must think I’m addled or careless, or both. I’ll take addled, but I really do care.
I apologize for the errors, they are over and done.3 comments
An unknown biological catastrophe claims a chunk of the world, cuts a clear border between the tainted and the untainted. This tainted place is called Area X, named so by an unnamed government, a government not at all above sacrificing lives to unlock the mystery that is Area X. This government charges a cloak and dagger agency, The Southern Reach, with the handling of Area X, infiltration; training personnel to cross the border and study Area X.
The very first team reported a place once inhabited by people living in modest homes, a lighthouse off the coast, then, somehow, nature took it all back. Life became death, grass, vines, spread over the homes, forests grew thick, marshlands swelled, the people apparently swallowed by nature growing unabated. Loss of life aside, the early reports described Area X as beautiful, peaceful, pure. This picture didn’t last long. Then came the mass suicide of one team, another self-destructed in a hail of gunfire, blasting each other to fleshy mounds of former colleagues. The eleventh expedition came home, only to die of a very rapid terminal cancer. Despite the early reports, Area X is dangerous, its beauty, false. Answers, however, are more important than lives, The Southern Reach is willing to spill as much blood as necessary in order to know what they need to know.
Enter the twelfth team, four women; a surveyor, a psychologist, a biologist, and an anthropologist. Teams are chosen by various statistics, skill-sets and variables known only by The Southern Reach. Team twelve is tasked to study Area X, and each other. Any member who might behave oddly or appear “changed” by Area X is to be shot on sight, lest the mission as a whole be compromised.
The novel is narrated by the biologist, teams leave their names and lives behind. It’s much easier to remain impartial to each other if everything is impersonal. It’s also easier to shoot a “changed” colleague in the face if they don’t have a name, or a story. The biologist is a flawed character, a woman more comfortable around frogs and dragonflies than people and their conversations and desire for closeness. Yet, through her story, her struggles, we do care about this detached woman of science. This is part of VanderMeer’s skill, he makes us care about characters whose general lives are incomprehensible, as there’s always still some relatable spark in them.
Immediately, VanderMeer sets a tone of dread, we’re told early that members of the team will die, one very quickly. From the start, we know the mission is damned, there’s no heroic happy ending. We don’t know the hows, we only know that the biologist is looking back from the ruins of a wrecked ship. We read, desperately at times, because we want to know the hows, and more urgently, the whys. Why does The Southern Reach send people to Area X like cattle to a killing floor? Why is such a beautiful place so full of death? So many whys, but I won’t reveal them here. There’s also a what, a most important what. What ultimately becomes of the biologist? We don’t want Area X to claim her, but there’s a constant fear that in her final sentence, it will.
VanderMeer uses perfect words to paint images of gorgeous landscapes, macabre dark, hidden places, and images of death and decay that will disturb readers long after the final page is turned. His use of descriptive imagery, quick plotting, and rich character development is spot-on, perhaps the best balance he has ever struck.
Annihilation is a short, fast-paced novel that is really the beginning of a much deeper narrative. For those who have never read Jeff VanderMeer this novel is a perfect introduction, and for those who have, his brilliance will only be further demonstrated.
Buy Annihilation, it absolutely won’t disappoint, and I’m sure the rest of the trilogy will be just as spectacular.
Oh, if you hurry, you can win a copy of Annihilation here!No comments