Monday, March 28, 2011

Swamped, but I sent something out

Schoolwork is keeping me busy right now. I started to read Who Fears Death, by Nndedi Okorafor—a fantasy that takes place in the shadow of African ethnic violence—but I haven't gotten very far, and read none of it today. So far, it's quite good.

On Fictionwise, the current Analog and Asimov's sit atop the best-seller list (I wonder how many they sell). Perusing the rest of the list, I saw another Dell Magazines digest, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I linked to the mag out of curiosity, then realized it might be the perfect place for "My Story of Us Looking for My Comic Strip, by Franklin James Nemeth," a piece I've tried for years to place in mainstream literary journals without success. Last year, I streamlined the tale quite a bit, removing one of its voices. Yesterday, I sent the story electronically to EQMM. I hope they like it. I'm even thinking that the main character, a mildly retarded man, living in a group home, who needs to solve a mystery, might be a character I could employ again in a similar way. We'll see.

In addition to friendly notes I've received about my latest story, Andrew Salmon has posted a kind review of "Clockworks" at All Pulp: here. Additionally, over at the Asimov's forum, John Rogers has judged "Clockworks" to be his tale of choice in the April/May issue. He writes:

Second Old Man entry - though here he's simply the man, the big man or the man himself. Not the old man "just yet." He's a sort of complex, gray-shaded Doc Savage. A Doc Savage for grown-ups. For those who need to peer deeper into the abyss.

Unusually layered powerhouse of a story - employing both the soft strokes of an old timey SF homage and the hard lines of a serious exploration into who and what people are - focusing on the emotional, perhaps even - given things - spiritual, journey of a first-person archvillain who has undergone an apparent rehabilitation via involuntary surgery at the hands of the man himself.

Once again we are faced with the disturbing problem of the man's methods. From one standpoint, he is close to as savage (so to speak) a criminal as the narrator - the former Doctor Blacklight. An officious, almost high-handed - albeit graced with commanding presence and sureness of mission - actor - taking criminals into personal custody and "fixing" them - without state sanction. That's a frightening concept for a mature reader. A little boy reading a gee-whiz pulp in the sixties will nod in delight at the idea. That same reader reading that same passage at 50 in 2011 shudders in apprehension. For - truly - Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The God or Jesus connection is stronger here than in the first story. The man's group seems even more disciplish. His followers are dedicated to "The Work." They trust the big man. "Whatever he says to do, it's going to be right." He's seen as a sort of distilled ultra-man - Man as he shouldhave been (before the Fall?) - or, as Birdy puts it, "the only fully intact human I've ever met." Not perfect - but the perfect man.

Is he more than that? Something divine? Just a brilliant, genetically-blessed megalomaniac? A charismatic supernut? A savior? Who can say?

And the man's methods seem even more Christlike - repairing the wayward - giving them "choice" - not changing who they are, but altering their "moral capacity" - making it "possible for [them] to be good." But not interfering in the ways of kings.

One wonders just what "obscure texts" the man relies on to take these actions, make these "repairs."

The clockwork theme of the tale resonates. Delicate machinery - be it a clock, a mind, an interdimensional death portal, can both be repaired and, as the case may be, disrupted (with sufficient courage and sacrifice). They are only as strong or as broken as their weakest spring, their loosest dial.

The man repairs the clockwork of the protagonist's mind, the protagonist halts the deadly clockwork of the apparatus. And so on.

The little boy in me loved the arctic base, the interdimensional rift, the time machine and Hopi village stuff. The grown-up loved everything else.

Truly masterful work.

Friday, March 18, 2011

POV, of course

Naturally, looking at the ragged draft of "Unearthed," the first thing that seems wrong is the point of view. It's got to pull back more. My tendency is still to ride hard on that limited-omniscient train, sitting on the shoulder of my protagonist. If I'm going to do that, I might as well write in a first-person perspective. So, this revision will entail, among other things, a stronger, more omniscient voice.

I toyed with the possibility of allowing my POV to drift into others' thoughts, including that of "the Old Man," but on further reflection I think that level of intimacy with the "hero" of these stories needs to wait for the final chapter, "Once More." At that point, it'll make sense.

I've read some stories from the Rudolph Fischer collection (see Shelfari's "shelf" to the right); both funny and tragic, the stories excel at capturing voices, and they let us in on the racial hierarchy that exists with black Harlem at the time of its "renaissance."

Last year, for a buck, I picked up at the library sale a volume of Sherlock Holmes stories—all of those that ran in The Strand, which includes The Hound of the Baskervilles—with the original illustrations. I do wish the collection contained A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. I've read (or reread) several tales; in retrospect, it's hard to see why exactly the stories were so popular, because the mysteries aren't terribly good. Holmes, I suppose, is the draw. I appreciate also how, from the beginning, there's this metafictional aspect to the tales, with Holmes's critique of Watson's storytelling, and Watson explaining to his readers why he's chosen to tell us what he has.

I've also been reading Toni Morrison's Beloved, which has contributed to my feeling the thinness of the narrative voice in "Unearthed."

I've also been reading essays, about which more in the next installment.