Monday, June 28, 2010

Still waiting to hear back about "Clockworks." I'm expecting to hear this week.

Sent "The Dearness of Bodies in Motion" to Glimmertrain for its June contest. I'm quite pleased with that story.

Over the weekend, I finished the short novel Roadside Picnic, by the Strugatsky brothers, late science-fiction-writing siblings. The translation was awful, loaded with weak verbs and redundancies, and the PDF itself was riddled with errors. Some terrific speculative and spooky elements in this tale of a future earth that's been "visited" by aliens who left behind, well, stuff--like interplanetary travelers who stopped to have a "roadside picnic" and didn't clean up their trash. The story is less concerned with the facts of this visitation than with the "stalkers" who make a living by sneaking into these forbidden zones and steal items for the black market. The logistics of the story are nonsense: people creep in and out at will, despite supposed oversight by the government; decades have gone by since the "event," but no one even has good overhead images of the layout of this particular zone; there's little sense of what effect this has had on the larger world. Too much is left off stage or to the imagination. What's there is fun, if undeveloped, and the ending isn't prepared for well.

I'm one-third of the way into Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. Amazingly, our travelers still haven't set foot below the surface of our world. That's frustrating, but otherwise the story is excellent, entertainingly told and, as with all Verne, careful (and overelaborated in spots) in its details.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On Yoon, dinosaurs, other bits

Some interesting moments in the Yoon book (Naming Nature), though the writing could have been a lot tighter. The editor should have stopped her at the 300th use of the word umwelt. Less of the conversational tone would have helped considerably, as would sections within the chapters to keep them more narratively focused.

At one point, Yoon brings up dinosaurs as an example of how young children love to find diverse life-forms to organize (or, in terms of the book's subject, to fit into a taxonomy); she sees it too in the Pokémon craze. Something struck me as off in this. Yoon says a child in the wild would bring into its natural ordering tendency the various wildlife of that place. City-dwelling children have only dinosaurs. I grew up in a rural area. I suppose I could have organized birds. I had a book of natural history that I loved looking at, and, in addition to living organisms, I was interested in rocks and minerals, which I collected. Like a lot of children engaged in creative play, I systematized my toys. But dinosaurs' pull is unique, I think. They're extinct, so playing with little dinos--even just thinking about them--makes them live, and gives a child some control over these monstrous things which, because they're not truly present, become non-monstrous. Playing with dinos is a lot like talking about comic books. Mastery of dinosaurs and superheroes gives one a kind of outsized power. And the species names possess a kind of magic, don't they?

Reading some Skrulls-taking-over-the-world comics from Marvel's "Secret Invasion." Fun. Last week I read a Red Hulk comic sequence. Much Hulk-smashery.

Enjoyed some Billy Collins poetry from Picnic, Lightning, but he gets thin after a while. What's most effective are his poems that focus on the quotidian, and self-conscious about the nature of poetry writing, and then turn in some way to probe something in Collins or the reader. When he leaves this sly (it's always surprising) formula, the work isn't as strong. Reading him did push me to draft a few poems, my first in a while.

No writing on my latest short story today, though it's on my mind most of the time. Even some ideas from Yoon have crept in.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Nature; new story

Started reading Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science, by Carol Kaesuk Yoon, who writes for the New York Times. It appeared on the new book shelf at the library, and concerns a topic that had been on my mind recently, namely the system of classification for living things. Yoon posits that the scientific approach shouldn't simply trump our (evolved) approach to categorizing living things, and she walks us through the history of classification.

I have out from the library two books on caving. Haven't started them yet. They're to be resources for the next short storry in my "Old Man" set of tales, to be titled either "Unfathomable" or (looking more likely today) "Firmness of Earth." This is another prequel to "Helping Them Take the Old Man Down," taking place in the 1920s.

My process for these stories is increasingly non-linear. Maybe I've discovered how I think. Or maybe I just have zero attention span for writing. I've typed up three pages containing summaries of scenes, bits of dialogue, one coherent paragraph (that almost certainly won't end up in later drafts), some background notes, and a rather detailed description of . . . some creatures. While doing dishes just now, I figured out something about the theme and a few more plot points that are essential.

Still waiting to hear back about "Clockworks."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fischer; Bishop

Last night I finished Rudolph Fischer's The Walls of Jericho, a satiric novel of the Harlem Renaissance. Fischer's lightly elevated prose perfectly captures the machinations and meanderings of the various characters involved therein, and his dialogue demonstrates a great ear for not just black speech but for individualized speech. The story revolves loosely around Joshua "Shine" Jones, who is overseeing a pair of at-each-other's-throats comedic types moving a pale-skinned black man into a white neighborhood when he espies a lovely young woman. It's not clear how exactly the various lives and lines of plot will connect, and Fischer doesn't push the narrative into too solid a form, allowing each scene to serve an internal function as well as gradually advance the larger story. The one faltering, to this reader, is that Fischer allows too much sentiment in the relationship between Shine and Linda; he's aiming to be humorous there as in other places, but it comes off as merely sincere, instead. Still, it's a fun novel with smart dialogue and great insights into a time and place that Fischer seems to know, even as he's writing, will soon be past. I may order Fischer's collected short stories; that's how much I liked this.

From Michael Bishop's collection At the City Limits of Faith (picked up at a used book store), I read the first story, "Beginnings." It concerns one of the theives crucified alongside Jesus; still alive, he sees Christ taken down from the cross, which recalls to him a telling encounter with the infant Jesus. The story is beautifully and strangely told, a tale about how our ends are prefigured in our beginnings. Bishop is a science fiction writer, for the most part, but he works outside the genre as well.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010