Thursday, October 22, 2009

I think this illustrated version of Fahrenheit 451 is both outstanding in its own right and has made me love the original even more. The artwork uses noirish design to great effect and never overdetails its world, letting the words do their own work. Illustrator/adaptor Tim Hamilton has judiciously cut the text to give us, for the most part, the strongest and most evocative lines. Some scenes allow for silence. Fire has, as in the book, a life and presence that threaten the characters. This is excellent work.

Read some more of John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar. It is, unlike the last two science fiction novels of the New Wave that I read, a book for grownups.

Last night I read the first story in Nathan Englander's For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, "The Twenty-seventh Man." The story manages to have the quality of both a "tale" and an authentic occurrence, seeming strangely fantastic and realistic. Englander throws together 27 Jewish writers (all but one of whom are widely famous) all caught simultaneously in the net of Stalin's paranoia. We see their final hours as they await doom. Excellent story.

News about my own publication: My novella (at least, I think that's how it's being considered) "Helping Them Take the Old Man Down" will run in the March 2010 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, coming out mid-January.

Yesterday I received a rejection from The Greensboro Review. Three other stories of mine remain out for consideration.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Finished the gloriously strange Three to See the King, by Magnus Mills. To say anything about the plot of a Mills book is to, possibly, ruin it, the same as telling someone who's never heard of Little Red Riding-Hood that the story is about a wolf taking the place of a little girl's grandmother. That's the whole plot, and you shouldn't know anything about it until it's too late. The only thing I'll let slip about this Mills novel is that its protagonist lives in a house of tin of which he is very proud. End-stop. The other novel of his that I've read, Explorers of the New Century, is about men on an expedition. That's all I'll say. His novels combine dream logic and fairy-tale bluntness about the true nature of the world using spare yet evocative language. He's amazing.

Following that joyful experience, I'm facing the daunting prospect of reading John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, which is anything but spare. I'll give it a try.

I also finished Camus's play State of Seige. It's very formal and melodramatic in its language and staging, like opera or Greek drama; I can't imagine what it would be like to perform. There are huge monologues by individuals and choruses. Death and pestilence come to a city and impose an austere existence plus totalitarian rules. Only Diego fights them, pushing other people to do the same. It has some interesting moments, taken as a commentary on the politics of the time, but its emotions are so overstated, there's little feeling to be found.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Today I read Jennifer Haigh's story "Desiderata," which appears in (and is the entire contents of) the latest edition of the journal One Story. (The subscription is a gift from one of my daughters.) The story was fine, but not great . . . and perhaps I'm being generous with "fine." It's rather schematically structured, so you can see what's coming and no surprises are in store. There's nothing ultimately either mysterious or revelatory or puzzling about the tale. It takes absolutely no risks, but is simply solidly realistic, with no interesting choices in tone or voice or structure or content. A few lines struck me as quite clever. The dialogue was handled well. Nothing was wrong with the story, particularly, though I don't know why what the character has realized already is withheld for so long—as if we would be surprised. What's disappointing is that these folks publish one short story a month. Nothing more interesting (if flawed) came down the pike?

I've been reading poetry by Paul Muldoon from his collection Moy Sand and Gravel. Interesting. They're not work to read, exactly, but I'm not pulled in, for the most part. That he is able to toss a bunch of evocative-sounding Irish town names into his poems seems like a terribly unfair advantage.

Started reading an outstanding and absorbing novel by Magnus Mills, Three to See the King. I have no idea where this is going. What fun. Totally strange. I read his Explorers of the New Century a few years back; that was one of my most enjoyable reading experiences. It's like reading modern fables, this guy's work.

Worked on some short fiction today. Hope to do a little more before bed.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

In his book Awake in the Dark, Roger Ebert writes that "A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it . . . ." This is a useful way to think about something I just finished and something I've recently begun.

Since this occurred to me while reading the latter, I'll start there: David Eggers's novel/memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is supposedly about his parents' deaths and the resulting effects on his family, but it's really the title that tells you what it's about by revealing how it's going to go about its business. The details are not the issue, but rather the effect the story will have on you and how impressed you'll be by the work itself. However, Eggers immediately, in the hilarious prefatory matter, undercuts this aims and tells you that parts of the book don't work very well and that, yes, he's reductively aware of his own self-consciousness about this story. As it turns out, how he goes about telling this story has, so far, less heartbreak than humor and less genius than . . . well, again, humor. It reads like sitcom writing. He attempts to break your heart through the juxtaposition of ironic distance and horrible details—though this actually results, for me in any case, in a sense of irony rather than emotional connection. These, though, are the subjects of the book.

Thomas M. Disch's On Wings of Song . . . I'll admit, I don't know what he wants the book to be about. I think he wants it to be about the facades that people construct and the falseness of dreams. But the book goes about this in such ham-handed fashion and with such an inconsistent tone and voice (not to mention a plot that loses track of itself) that the book is about how not having a clear vision results in derailment. That's what happens to the character; that's what happens to the book.

Read a good, small short story from Bonnie Jo Campbell's collection American Salvage. I have no idea why I ordered this at the library. This happens from time to time. Thus I find myself in the odd position of having a wish granted though I'm not conscious of any lingering desire for the a-wished object.

I'm working on two short stories simultaneously, though I hadn't planned to. (This also happens from time to time.) "Machine Age" is an old idea I've written about several times; I'm hoping this approach gets me somewhere more final. The newest thing, on which I've only written the opening, is "Rhetorical Lad." Both have adolescent protagonists. Hm. A consequence of teaching middle schoolers?