Archive for the 'Opinions' Category
Authority by Jeff VanderMeer is the second novel in his Southern Reach Trilogy, the link between beginning and end. Authority takes place not long after the events in Annihilation. The obscure top-secret government agency tasked with monitoring Area X, The Southern Reach, is in a state of chaos. Their body count is high, their funding is spent, their insight into Area X amounts to a little less than nothing. Almost every agent they’ve sent into Area X has never returned. Almost. Some have returned only to die of a rapidly killing form of cancer, others suffered severe memory loss. The Southern Reach is a ship that needs righted before it sinks. Enter John Rodriguez a.k.a. “Control,” a man who’s been in the covert-ops game his entire adult life. Control is a “fixer,” he’s used to being dropped into situations that need corrected, sorting out the Southern Reach isn’t his first rodeo, though, it definitely could be his last. People involved with Area X have trouble maintaining a heart-beat.
Authority is a very different novel compared to Annihilation, don’t pick it up expecting Annihilation II. While Annihilation showed readers Area X from within, the way it maims, kills, Authority shows readers Area X from the outside, how it destroys the lives of those simply trying to understand what happened, trying to understand how the place even exists. We see this destruction through the eyes of Control, newly assigned as the acting-Director of The Southern Reach. Control is our narrator, he’s quick-witted, hard-working, with an amusingly dark sense of humor. It also becomes apparent soon enough that Control is in way over his head. The further he digs into The Southern Reach, Area X, the more he realizes that he is completely lost. He knows only two facts; Area X is lethal, and those who work at The Southern Reach, those with the highest level of clearance with the deepest connection to Area X, they don’t get to keep their sanity. With each question answered, Control is punched in the face with ten more. He doesn’t have to wonder why his colleagues are ready to bust out butterfly nets. It’s not terribly long before Control’s ready to grab a net and join in the chase. The story needs its moments of gallows levity, otherwise readers might end up not far off from Control’s state-of-mind. The novel is that immersive. As Control loses control of the situation, so does the reader. We feel what he feels, confusion that becomes fear that becomes abject terror. Authority is a psychological horror story, it’s about trying to comprehend an evil that’s incomprehensible. Area X is an evil that shows no mercy, it only demonstrates death, cold and unwavering.
VanderMeer creates an intense feeling of dread that grows with each turn of the page. We know that something bad is coming, but we don’t know what, or when. The novel gives readers fear of something malevolent that destroys one’s mind long before one’s body. The loss of self is something terrifying, it’s a fear that VanderMeer taps into with subtle grace. Authority really showcases Jeff VanderMeer’s talent for scaring the Hell out of people, lights on or off. Authority is slower-paced than Annihilation, it’s richer in psychological horror, character development, at the sacrifice of action. This isn’t a minus, it merely shows VanderMeer’s range of craft.
To me, The Southern Reach Trilogy is a literary chess match. With Annihilation, VanderMeer put his pieces on the board with efficiency and speed. With Authority, he methodically arranged his strategy, letting us capture just enough of his pieces to clear the board so he can show us that we’ve been wrangled into his devastating checkmate, The Southern Reach Trilogy’s end, Acceptance.
I totally can’t wait to see this thing through.2 comments
As I’ve mentioned around the blog, I died once, in some violently bright trauma room, but it didn’t stick. It was spectacularly dramatic though, my heart quit its post, a team of doctors and nurses beating the Hell out of me, trying to wake me up before all the beating in the world wouldn’t matter. My girlfriend, Sara, crying. Sara telling me not to go. It was like a movie. Had it stuck, it would have been quite something, a big, theatrical death, but it didn’t, and here we are, almost a decade later. I don’t think most death is all big and flashy, it’s slow and subtle and certain.
One of my favorite writers, K.J. Bishop, has this total badass character, Gwynn. Gwynn lives by his own set of morals, he kills for cash, he kills for justice, sometimes he just kills because it’s his whim and it feels like proper etiquette to do so. He drinks hard, enjoys all manner of narcotics. He dresses impeccably, plays the piano for eccentric old ladies at swanky parties. He has fallen in love, HARD. Though Gwynn could die pretty much every day, in some grand fashion, some way that he would personally find spectacular, he doesn’t. His hold on life in the midst of combat borders on preternatural. He takes kill-or-be-killed to a form of high-art. He is death in the theater of killing. Unfortunately, even though your profession is snatching life from others, and you do it well enough to see your gorgeous, flowing black hair go gray, you’re going to have to retire. It comes time to hang up your weapons and just be. In a later short-short story, She Mirrors, we see Gwynn as an old man. His recreational narcotics are replaced by medicines for his creaky joints, aches and pains that are the cost one pays for pushing a body past its limits over the course of a career that isn’t usually lengthy. His doctor has vehemently warned him against alcohol and cigarettes. His great love is now just a memory. He’s not dying as a mercenary in some great war, he’s not dying by sword or gun. He’s dying the slow death inflicted by time. He doesn’t go quietly, at the story’s end he’s off toward one more adventure, an adventure that might not go the way he wants, that might be the last his body allows, but to Gwynn, it’s the possibilities that are exhilarating.
She Mirrors is such an honest story, it resonates with me, and scares me, scares me because it’s so true. Our stories aren’t guaranteed to end how we want, or even with a quick bang. Time is what kills us, usually slowly, softly, over minutes, hours, years. The story shows how we’re all fighting against a force that we can rail at, furiously, and still, we will not win. She Mirrors brings to mind my favorite line from William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. I know the words by memory, “…Christ was not crucified: He was worn away by a minute clicking of little wheels.” We’re all worn away by those clicking little wheels, the clock makes us all equals, we all get too little from time. Our clocks stop and we end. Gwynn, Christ, me, nobody gets out of it, time quitting our company.
Life just kind of empties out, less a deluge than a drought, those words resonate too, those words have been important to me ever since the first time I heard Aimee sing them. I got the words permanently etched into my leg because the idea that time is slowly, but inexorably, wearing me away drives me. It could have happened way back in that trauma room, it could happen tomorrow, but probably, it’ll happen years from now, tediously and maddeningly. Still, one way or another, or another, it will happen, which is why I have bouncers carry me up two flights of stairs at the goth club, or fly to Boston during a blizzard, my antiquated breathing machine powered by an equally unsophisticated battery, with the woman I love just to see Aimee Mann play. It’s why when Sara asked, “So, would you ever go swimming?” I said, without a blink, “Yeah!” I’m terrified of being in anything larger than a bathtub, but she only got, “Yeah!” The reality that that slow drought will come is why I once told a woman I love her more than air, why I asked if she’d wake up with me tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. It didn’t go how I wanted, but I did risk it. I’ll risk simple failure, I’ll risk my life, anything, because at the end of my drought, when time has shoved me toward death’s enfolding kiss, I don’t want to feel like I let time wear me away without fighting with everything in me to experience everything I want. I can’t not fight.
The tattoo reminds me that my life is emptying out, and I can’t just sit back and watch it go.8 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
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
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
So, it’s Monday, 10ish pm as I start writing this, and I’m waiting for Tuesday after Midnight. It’s one of my favorite parts of the week, New Release Tuesday, when new movies, music, and books are released. The iTunes Store also puts out a new batch of sale items, HD movies for $9.99, SOMETIMES $4.99. I’m not sure which movies are due, I like the surprises, but I do know something about what’s coming tomorrow. I know about a book, Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. Annihilation is Jeff’s first novel in four years, and considering its author, it’s going to be amazing.
More tomorrow.1 comment
So, the way that this tattoo wraps around my leg, it’s basically impossible to photograph, properly anyway.
One day I know…
One day I’ll be…
Looking back on me…
It’s from a Priscilla Ahn song, One Day I Will Do, which is off of her really excellent second record, When You Grow Up. The entire record is worth buying, but I’ve gotten really fond of One Day I Will Do.
To me, it’s a song about a life that’s in a drift, and then regretting that drift. You know you could do better, could be better, but you’re not. You’re just not. You know that at the end of everything, you’re either going to to see your life as a giant waste, or as something that was good and beautiful. Knowing that one day you’ll look back across the expanse of your life and might find it lacking, could easily find it lacking, is a sobering thought, a thought that could lead you toward someplace that feels… right.
I feel like this song, I’m scared of that look back on myself. I’m scared I’ll see ruin and waste. These words are kind of a prayer etched into my flesh, a prayer to remember to be better, because at the end of me, I don’t want to look back and see the waste I’m living now stretched until my last then.1 comment
So, to get back into the swing of things (as cliche as that sounds), I’m just going to do a write whatever’s ever in my head kind of thing.
I made some cosmetic, minor cosmetic, changes to the blog. I upped the font size a little, mostly for my own aged eyes, and I FINALLY figured out how to fix the search button. Since the blog launched the button read, “Se,” the box around it wasn’t wide enough. Until… NOW. It actually wasn’t really hard to fix, I just never took the time to dig through the CSS (the file that governs such things). I wonder lately (I wonder on and off) if I should totally redo the blog’s look, totally scrap and start fresh. Though, I don’t think I can bring myself to do it. It’s like my room, I see the black and purple and I feel… comfortable. Little else feels comfortable, I don’t know if I should purposefully destroy something that’s still cozy.
Aside from the blog tweaking, I’m watching this indie comedy, In A World… It’s about a woman vying for the job of being the first woman to speak the iconic movie trailer phrase, “In A World…” I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I just hit the end, and it was kind of amazing. The end of a something tends to make or break that something.2 comments