Friday, November 20, 2009

Some reading has been accomplished (he passive-voicedly reported):

Stand on Zanzibar entertained, but afterwards there was something of the Chinese Food Effect (I'm sure there's a better metaphor). And I'm talking good Chinese food! It achieved what it set out to do, was well put together, and read fluidly. Unfortunately, the novel doesn't really take off in terms of other story or character. The characters are, well, fully two-dimensional. They make narrative sense, but they're not remotely like real people, and Brunner's difficulty with character is probably most evident in how everyone talks the same way, what my friend John Rogers called "├╝ber-rationalist." Certainly the novel was storeys above the two other sf novels I recently read, but it still didn't reach the level of literature (though it certainly had literary aspirations, it seemed). Another gap in its smile: the absence of female characters who weren't there to be stomped on by the men on their way to masculine fulfillment.

My third issue of One Story had a better tale than the previous two, "Finding Peace," by the late Sheila Schwartz. The others had felt overly safe, works that do exactly what they're supposed to do and nothing more. The Schwartz story—about a female cancer survivor on an Everest expedition—approached issues of hope and achievement with ambivalence (and some outright hostility). The omniscient narration was wonderfully locked-in, narrowly sealed inside the protagonist's perception.

I'm presently enjoying The Lost Shore: Rediscovering a Lost World, by Rowan Jacobsen. This nonfiction work is about oysters along the shore of western North America, mostly in the region of Vancouver Island. I've never eaten an oyster. Good book, though.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Still reading (with gaping lapses between stints) Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar. It's truly excellent.

Because I have an independent study on Russian literature to oversee, I read Gogol's "The Overcoat" tonight. (Next up, "The Portrait." The translation is by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.) I didn't care much for the supernatural ending tacked on. The story could have easily done without it. However, Gogol keeps such a distance from his protagonist (or at least insists he's keeping his distance), that the tone remains one of a fairy tale even as it broaches realism. More than once, Gogol's narrator declines to speculate what the poor clerk might be thinking because, in so many words, "who can know a man's soul." The narrator even strikes a pose that might be viewed as modern or post-modern (though other early authors did the same; every old is new again) when he says he's not interested in certain information, baldly digresses into areas not strictly aligned with the plot, and even confesses to forgetting facts, names and geography. A delightful story, funny in the way Dickens is funny in how he describes people being drowned by bureacracies, though refusing to demonstrate the sympathy that would accompany a story aiming at realism. Gogol is, in this way, perhaps more real: he tells us straight up that no one remembers the clerk and that his passing leaves no mark (until the supernatural coda, that is).

Did a little writing on a story I've been kicking around for a few months. It needed to be told more . . . interestingly. It presents challenges as I reshape every scene; it's still got an omniscient narrator, but the narrator is being somewhat pushed out of the way.

My story "Helping Them Take the Old Man Down" will definitely be in the March 2010 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, hitting newsstands in late January.

I received a positive response to a query about another story, but I won't hear for certain until sometime in December.