I’ve finally finished Vellum and Ink by Hal Duncan, both books comprise his epic series, The Book of All Hours. I want to take back what I said about Vellum in my pre-review, I totally didn’t see what Duncan was really trying to do, I didn’t see the brilliance. If you think of Vellum and Ink as typical novels, with a plot that goes and then and then and then until a resolution, you’ll miss the point, and you’ll be astonishingly angry from page one on.
The series is very complex, but the basic framework is this: There’s this Book written in the language of creation, the Cant, the language of Gods, Angels, Demons, and any number of Unkin (human beings whose eyes are open a little too wide).
It’s said that the God of Gods asked His Scribe to write a Book that contains the entire story of humanity, The Book of All Hours, not just past to present to future, but rather, countless possible permutations of each. None of it is fiction, everything happens somewhere, somewhen. The Book’s pages are alive, the skin of Angels, the Cant inscribed in Angels’ blood as ink. Yet, otherwise, it looks like any old tome to be carried in some scholar’s satchel. In the Cant, one word equals a thousand written in the languages of humanity. One line, akin to a thousand pages. One page, akin to a thousand books. The Cant is perfection, purity of expression. When the war in Heaven breaks out, the Book, the master edition, is given to humanity by those Angels who take no sides, who don’t want the Book re-written for one side’s gain. The Book is guarded for countless ages, until it vanishes into obscurity. At least, that’s one story of the Book. Remember, time, reality itself, isn’t a straight line.
Vellum is a book of permutations. Duncan tells the story of Inanna, the Goddess of Earth, her descent into the Underworld and ultimate escape by giving her lover, Damuzi, to take her place. He tells the story of Phreedom and her brother, Thomas, two kids, two Unkin, trying to escape being drafted into the War in Heaven. Like Inanna, Phreedom confronts the Queen of Hell, like Damuzi, Thomas doesn’t escape his fate. The stories are different, but not. Duncan writes the Book’s possibles in noir, fantasy, sci-fi, epic poem, dystopian action-adventure erotica, the depth is astonishing.
Ink is a continuation of Vellum, but more focused. Tales of how people tried to change the Book to avoid something awful, only to bring about something worse. Angels trying to finish the war. Those who seek the book, and a way out of reality.
I really don’t want to give anything away, Vellum and Ink are best read fresh. At the end, the connections are there, the overall story exists, but until you get there, it’s best to enjoy each section as its own entity.2 comments
So, I ordered my Apple Watch. I got the Sport version, a 38mm face, Aluminum Space Gray body, black sport band (I’ll upgrade to leather in due time). Now, before people start with the…
“You can only move your face! What do you want with a fancy, high-tech, decadent, WRIST-watch??? Go die in a car fire.”
Well… aside from lots of potential practical future assistive technology applications that are bound to start popping up… I like watches! I’ve carried a pocket-watch everywhere I go for the last fifteen years. I ask to look at the time on occasion, I always see its silver chain sticking out of my bag, it’s aesthetically beautiful. Watches are beautiful, I’ve always loved them. I can’t wait to wear my Apple Watch, to have a precision timepiece AND an iPod right on my wrist. Then, as technology moves the way I think it will, I’ll have quite the Jedi weapon on my side…
Anyway, Jedi use or no, it’s a gorgeous watch. Having things of beauty in your life is a good thing, they give off a little light when darkness comes to call.6 comments
So, like, seven or eight years ago I picked up this book, Vellum: The Book of All Hours. This was during the infancy of ebooks, back before iBooks, before Kindle, back when Palm was the platform for ebooks. I can’t imagine a worse device for reading books, but they developed a Mac app, and an online ebooks store, and for a very little while, Palm was “it” for digital reading.
Anyway, yes, I bought this book, Vellum, I read, maybe, fifty pages, and I put it down. Then a few years later I bought it in Kindle format and I don’t know if I ever even opened it. Now, today, I’m into Vellum again, and this time, I’m going to finish it or die trying, which feels kind of possible. I think it’s called The Book of All Hours, because it takes all the hours of your life to get through it. I’ve been reading since I nabbed from iBooks three days ago and it feels like three years. I feel like it’s never going to stop, and the constant shifts in time, in perspective, in reality, they don’t help you feel like your moving forward or even backward, or even fucking sideways. It’s like reading words written on the tread of a treadmill. You just keep going ’round and ’round, world without end, Amen.
I’m going to finish, then I’ll write a full review, as opposed to this pre-review rant.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
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, a reader recently left this… awe-inspiring comment, then she e-mailed me just to make sure I got it.
Here we go…
I’ve been following your blog for a while and I am sorry to see how depressed you’ve been feeling. One certainly cannot blame you and I think I’d be having a change of mind about the trach as well. As someone who works in the medical field, I say without reservation that modern medicine is at times a blessing and also a curse – no question about that. Could you (would you want to?) communicate to your doctors that you want the trach removed and want to be DNR/DNI? If people can proactively decide not to be intubated, can you retroactively decide against a trach?
Just a friendly suggestion, but what if you started writing some sort of legacy pieces that are more congruous with where you are mentally right now? Maybe try writing your own obituary, advice to future generations, survival guide for families new to a SMA diagnosis, how to deal with a global environment that is fucked, how not to fuck up the colonization of a new planet, etc. It could be depressing, honest, depressingly honest, satirical..
After I stopped feeling like a turtle who got smacked in the head with a liquor bottle, after I stopped gaping at my e-mail client, I read it again. I did just wake up, maybe it was the tail-end of some fucked up dream, but no. It’s real. I’m writing about it, so it must be real.
First, let me acknowledge that I’m sure the commenter is totally well-meaning, totally “just trying to help.” Nevertheless, it’s also hands down one of, if not the most, disturbing things I’ve ever read. I’m not even sure where to begin discounting its wrongness, there’s just so much.
Modem medicine is a blessing, my trach is a blessing, I’m so beyond blessed to have this little plastic tube in my throat and doctors who take such good care to make sure I get to keep going. I would never in a million years sign a DNR/DNI, I can’t even imagine “retroactively deciding against” my trach. I like my tubes and hoses right where they are, and if I ever need more, I’ll get more. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep breathing, and I want all my doctors to share in that idea. I don’t think anyone with SMA has any business signing a “let me die” piece of paper, and it honestly scares me to think that anyone in the medical field would encourage such. We have assistants and assistive technology and traches and portable vents so that we can get out into the world and have the chance to live a decent life, just like anybody else. Nobody’s guaranteed a decent life, but so long as we’re still breathing, we have that chance. That chance to be someone’t best friend, someone’s lover, even someone’s mom or someone’s dad, if that’s the road you want to try. Signing some “let me die, don’t bother saving me” paper ends all of those spectacular chances.
Yes, I’m pretty down, way down, but that has absolutely nothing to do with my disability or general medical condition. I really hate how that’s such a quick, popular assumption, especially given the fact that nothing I write even implies such. It particularly disturbs me that someone in the medical field could make that assumption. It just shows that society’s expectations for people with disabilities are far too low.
I wrote about how it would have been better had that trach not gone in, I felt completely alone, and sad, missing someone who didn’t miss me, so I wrote how I felt, honestly, in that moment. I didn’t say, “I wish the doctors had quit trying to make that trach fit. If only I could walk, then everything would be so okay,” nor would I ever. That’s just stupid. I wrote about feeling like a fuck up, the weight of my mistakes. I didn’t want to feel that loneliness, that emptiness, so I wrote what I wrote.
People who commit suicide, or try to commit suicide, it’s not always because they genuinely want to die, they just don’t want to feel sad or lonely or empty, or whatever, anymore, and they don’t see a way past those feelings. If you feel bad enough for long enough, you just want it to stop. I’m in the unique position of having that bad thought, that genuine, “I’m going to go open my wrists” thought, then having no choice but to feel it until it stops. It does stop, it always stops, that’s why suicide is such a shame. People run out of time before that feeling stops. For me, before that feeling stops, while I’m feeling it, I tend to write it. I need to get it out of my head and put it somewhere else. I am down, really down, and I don’t know when that’ll end, but absolutely none of it has anything to do with changing my mind about the little plastic tube in my throat. I lost my best friend, I lost someone I love more than I could possibly explain. I’ve made mistakes, screwed things up. I feel like I’m drowning, I’m scared I’ve made too many wrong choices and I don’t have enough time to do things right. My trach, my disability, my general medical state, they are no source of regret.
I’m fucked up like lots of people are fucked up. Elliott Smith, Kurt Cobain, they wrote song after song that tell stories like mine, stories I know from experience. They didn’t write those songs because some doctor stuck a little plastic tube in their throats.
I will never, ever regret telling that e.r. doctor to do whatever he had to do to keep me going. I’d make the same choice a thousand times over. I’ll die when God figures it’s time, when there’s completely nothing left to save me. One day, a hose will break, or a trach won’t fit, or some infection will fill my lungs until I quit breathing, nothing anybody does will save me, but people will try, and I’ll want them to try.
Oh, and no, I won’t be writing any “legacy pieces,” like I’m already dead. I’m still here, I’ll keep writing about right now.12 comments
So, this tattoo, #51, is from an Alanis Morissette song, These R the Thoughts, which is off her MTV Unplugged record. MTV Unplugged is tied with Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (SFIJ) as my favorite Alanis record. MTV Unplugged is so great because Alanis’ voice is gorgeous and being outside the typical studio setting you really get to hear that voice. I’ve seen her in concert too, she just has a spectacular, raw, beautiful voice. MTV Unplugged shows her voice, and it has a few of my favorite songs off of SFIJ, which is why I love it so much. These R the Thoughts is only on MTV Unplugged and no other studio record. The song’s basically a series of worries, questions she asks herself throughout a day. The song doesn’t have any hooky chorus, it’s just a series of questions… Why do I feel cellularly alone? Am I supposed to live in this crazy city? Can blindly continued fear-induced regurgitated life-denying tradition be overcome? It’s so not a hooky pop song, or rock song, it’s a journal set to great music. My favorite section, part of which is etched into my arm, Why do I fear that the quieter I am, the less you will listen? Why do I care whether you like me or not? Why is it so hard for me to be angry? Why is it such work to stay conscious and so easy to get stuck and not the other way around? Both of those sections, the latter, obviously, sound so much like the questions I ask myself, the worries in my head.
In a larger sense, sure, I do worry that if I quit writing here, quit trying to get published in print, quit writing altogether, I’d just disappear. Nobody would care, or come looking for me, or even idly wonder, “Whatever happened to that guy, he wrote about zombies and sex, and loneliness and suicide and addiction and dark optimism and some girl? I think it was some girl. He had all those tattoos… What was his name? Michael something?” I think most writers, even the ones who get seriously paid, write because we love the craft and want to be remembered for what we did with it. We write to be known. I don’t think Jeff VanderMeer or K.J. Bishop or Michael Cisco would quit writing if the paychecks stopped. We have words in our blood and we cut ourselves so that all those words come pouring out, and we want people to watch. It’s a little bizarre, but we want people to watch. The words can’t just stay inside, the words flow thorough our veins and bounce around in our heads, we’re full up, so we have to get those words out and put them somewhere else. Yes, I do worry about getting quiet and fading into oblivion.
Really though, it’s much deeper than that, it’s less about a writer’s want and more about something personal. In the song, Alanis is talking about just one person. I only worry about one person not listening, not wanting to know me. The day we met we talked for three hours, I so wanted to know her, and I so wanted her to know me. I was scared that night, that first night, that there wouldn’t be a second. It’s something out of Shakespeare, something only story-tellers tell, but I loved her that night. It was just one long IM, but as ridiculous as it sounds, I loved her. She sent her picture and I only fell harder, I just left the picture open all night. I didn’t want her to be just a dream, it felt like a dream. No one’s eyes could be that beautiful, showing that much intelligence and warmth. We went to our first movie together, those eyes saw mine, I got lost in them. That was just about four years ago and I still get completely lost in her eyes, I just keep loving her more. Every-day I love her more. My words, they’re all hers, they’re all so that she can know everything that’s in my head. Lots of them are here, some of them ended up in print on Amazon.com. There are pages upon pages that no one, save her, will ever see, they’re hers, written for her eyes and no one else’s. Most of the words etched into my skin are hers. It’s all just so she can know me, and be close to me. How can you really be close to someone if you don’t give them everything in your head, beautiful words, dark words, scared words, every word? I love her more than I can explain, but I try, I so try, in flash fiction, in e-mail that’s written after bad dreams, in romantic paper letters. She asked, “Why do you love me and not someone else? There are thousands of women, thousands of mes.” I didn’t have an answer all in a pretty wrapped box with a teal silk bow on top, the question just scared me. I’ve written a mixed media novel in answer to that question, digitally, in print, on my skin. I didn’t say the right thing, I got frustrated, it just felt like something you say before you disappear. How could she ask that and not know my head, and my heart? I got upset, overly so. Though, the simple honest answer is that when I’m with her, I never want to be anywhere else, with anyone else. When I’m not with her, it’s like part of me is missing, so I’m never completely anywhere since we met.
I got the tattoo when she felt far away, I felt like nothing I said meant anything. So, I got quiet, and I got scared. Now I’m here and she’s somewhere else. I’m lost and drowning in words she doesn’t want anymore, not from me.No comments
So, I met with the Vice President yesterday. He was in town doing a fundraiser for Senator Bill Nelson, who I also met, along with his lovely wife, Grace. After Vice President Biden gave his talk on how backward the Republicans are, the Secret Service led us to a private room, skipping the always tedious receiving-line. The room didn’t have a table, so this fellow from the Secret Service had to hold my MacBook Pro so I could see it, which he did, minus the part about me being able to see the computer. He stands what seems like sixty feet away, at an angle to where I’m looking at my screen from under my glasses. My screen is a big, glowing blur. My mom’s talking about the importance of technology, whilst I can’t see said technology. Fortunately, I’m a spectacular blind typer. I have my keyboard memorized, I have a sense of how to time the locations of my letters and what-not. I made NeuroSwitch look as stylish as it should, while not demonstrating that I’m blind as a ninety year-old man.
I wrote this note to the Vice President…
I have used assistive technology for communication most of my life. After losing my ability to speak four years ago, assistive technology became especially vital. If I can’t type, I can’t talk. If I can’t talk, I may as well not exist. If I can’t talk, I’m furniture, I’m nothing.
For over fifteen years, I tapped a little switch with my thumb to access my computer. This was fine until a routine blood-draw injured my hand, and my thumb. Communication became harder and harder as my muscles got weaker and weaker. I felt trapped, terrified. Then I found NeuroSwitch, the best computer access solution I’ve ever used. NeuroSwitch allows me to access my computer with any muscle in my body via completely portable wireless hardware. With NeuroSwitch, I can communicate any time, any place.
Technology is everything to me, it’s how I live as a productive American citizen, it grants me what our founding fathers promised anyone who makes a home on U.S. Soil, the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It’s that promise that makes America beautiful, access to assistive technology, like my NeuroSwitch, is the best way for our government to keep that promise to its disabled citizens.
Also, and I’d kick myself if I don’t say this… I have this unusual collection, a collection of odd and unique neckties. I have quite a few, but I don’t have a Vice Presidential Necktie…
I’ve been reading lots of Sarah Vowell lately, The Wordy Shipmates, Unfamiliar Fishes. Her love of history, the way she talks about America at its best (and worst) is contagious, I think I channeled her in writing my note to our Vice President.
Anyways, Vice President Biden was very generous with his time, and very receptive to the need for providing technology to the disabled.2 comments
So, I listen to the New Yorker: Fiction Podcast. Every month, a writer from today chooses a story to read that was previously published in the New Yorker, then there’s a discussion about the story. I’ve been listening for awhile, but the one story that really sticks out for me is Day-Old Baby Rats by Julie Hayden, published in 1972. It’s a short-story about a day in the life of a young woman in New York City. She’s an alcoholic, we’re there for her first drink in the morning, we see the city through her eyes, we hear her thoughts on everything she sees, and doesn’t see. It’s a gripping story of a woman, stricken by loneliness and anxiety, surrounded be millions of people.
Julie Hayden created a beautiful story in Day-Old Baby Rats, but Julie Hayden’s personal story is also sadly moving. She lived in New York City, had a story collection published, did regular writing for the New Yorker, she was doing things just about every writer aspires toward, definitely what I aspire toward. Still, today you can barely find a trace of her on google, by the time of her far too early death in 1981 her work was largely out of print, largely forgotten. Anxiety and phobia fueled her own alcoholism, she’d carry a flask, taking nips to numb her worries. Cancer ended her writing and her life. forever. She did these great things, but she still slipped and fell and ended badly. Her sad writing mirrored the sadness in her head, people found it beautiful, compelling, and yet for some reason, she died pretty much unremembered. It scares me how that can, and does happen. We all want our stories to end well, but sometimes, no matter what, they don’t. They just don’t.
I worry about my story.
Well, now that I know of her, I’ll remember Julie Hayden, and maybe this post might put her work in some new minds. It’s not much, but it’s something. She, and her work, are definitely worth remembering.12 comments