29 February 2012

A Month in Reading: January 2012

I challenged myself to read more this year - not just more novels and non-fiction books, but short stories too. In January I read four books and thirty-one short stories. Now that February is about to turn into March and I'm on the cusp of completing my February challenge, I thought I would finally complete this post.

I loathe the computer as a reading instrument, but I make an exception for short story reading because of the vast number of excellent online magazines.

Here's what I read and found interesting in January. It's not a complete list and these are not reviews per se - just commentary and notes, in case you find something here that strikes a chord.

I read the last two books in the Narnia series, The Silver Chair and The Last Battle. At our local NaNoWriMo kickoff party in November, Jha Meia had told me about Neil Gaiman's "The Problem of Susan," a sort of epilogue / answer to what Lewis does with Susan in the series. It had been so long since I read the series, though, that I couldn't remember exactly how things ended for good old Susan. (Note: I read "The Problem of Susan" in February. It was frustrating, inconclusive, and a tiny bit perverse - a nice antidote to reading the Narnia series, actually.)

I've read and reread the Narnia books bunches of times, but I don't think I got to The Last Battle in recent years. I'd forgotten a lot of it - forgotten Puzzle the Donkey and Shift the Antichrist Ape; forgotten how everyone pretty much except Susan gets to go back to Narnia; forgotten how C.S. Lewis's quirks, and those of his culture, inform his catalogue of good and evil. The Last Battle has more "yikes" moments per page than any of the other Narnia books, except The Horse and His Boy, aka The Nice European Lad vs. the Evil Quasi-Arab Empire. (I sincerely hope that they will never make a film out of that one.)

In January I also read This Brilliant Darkness by Red Tash. I met Tash through last October's Coffin Hop. She is fabulous, as is her book. It was the first book I read on my brand spankin' new Kindle.

This Brilliant Darkness is such an iconoclastic blend of warm good humour and, well, darkness. I liked the characters - liked as in, I would like to hang out with them. They are hilarious and earnest and full of individual quirks and challenges. When shit starts going down, it is surprising and brutal. I am speaking for myself here, but this is exactly the kind of book I like to read. Maybe it's not a formally perfect novel. It does things that would have been frowned upon by the structuralist academics who taught me how to understand literature. Schner to them. This Brilliant Darkness is exactly why independent publishers and self publishers will revitalize the world of literature. Because it is the product of one perfectly unique and brilliant mind. By the time I was done reading, I felt as though I'd gotten to know a slice of that mind really well. (Bravo, Tash!) The book needs a sequel. I understand one is in the works.

Finally, I re-read Hater by David Moody. Again, self-publishers take note: Moody secured a film deal with Guillermo del Toro after he published Hater under his own imprint. I read Hater last fall in a single afternoon because I couldn't put it down. (That rarely happens to me.) It's been compared to 28 Days Later, but I think that does it a disservice. Hater begins with a focus on a beleaguered man as he struggles through a global outbreak of inexplicable violent acts. About two-thirds of the way through, the whole thing turns on its head. This is one of those books that takes you so deeply into its characters, you're willing to go anywhere with them. I read it again in January in anticipation of reading its sequels, Dog Blood and Them or Us.


I pledged to read a short story a day in 2012, and so far, I've done it.

In anticipation of submitting something for the followup volume, I read Apex Book's Dark Faith anthology, edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon. It seems almost face-palmishly obvious to wed dark lit with issues of faith and spirituality, doesn't it? And yet there was a huge gap in this area before Dark Faith came along. Wonderful stories here. "He Who Would Not Bow" by Wrath James White got into my mind and wouldn't leave. "Paint Box, Puzzle Box" by D.T. Friedman gorgeously emulates the effect of looking at an Escher painting. Because I spend a lot of time in nature, though, Richard Dansky's "The Mad Eyes of the Heron King" was my favourite story. Believe me I'll be more cautious about communing with wild things from now on.

I've been slowly combing through Gardner Dozois's 1991 collection Modern Classics of Science Fiction. This is science fiction broadly speaking. This collection skips a lot of frequently anthologized works in favour of less appreciated classics. They are all gems. In January I read "The Golden Horn" by Edgar Pangborn (originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1961). You ever do something that was sort of selfish and had such terrible consequences you know it will haunt you for the rest of your life? You know that feeling? Yeah. Pangborn nails it.

Notable online stories and magazines:

10Flash Quarterly continues to publish quirky, hyperactive pieces that hit the spot you didn't know you had. It is fast becoming my favourite online magazine. (Especially when you've pledged to read a story a day and you're falling behind. Thank you, flash fiction.) Their January 2012 theme, it's the end of the world as we know it, produced gems by Amanda C. Davis ("Things that Matter"); Greg Leunig ("Storm Front"); and Michelle Muenzler ("Ain't No Gods Crying Down Here"). Even if you don't think you have room for one more zombie apocalypse story, you should still read Rebecca Stefoff's "Base Instinct." You will not be sorry, unless you don't like gross and hilarious things.

Daily Science Fiction continues to be a source of delightful weekday readings. If you're not subscribed yet, you should be. They send a short story into your inbox every weekday. In January I enjoyed "Electric Company" by Melissa Mead and Megan R. Engelhardt's "The Long Con."

Elsewhere 'round the interweb, Ray Gun Revival published my friend Deborah Walker's excellent story "Captain Clone," which is sad and hopeful and features clones, wine, and tentacles. Seriously. It doesn't get better than that.

This is an older story, but I went bonkers over "Icetide" by Eric Del Carlo, over at Expanded Horizons (pubbed in 2009). A full-on imagination attack. Genetically engineered dogs, alien topography, a science fictional sport reminiscent of roller derby, and love.

Finally, I happened across Aesop's fable "The Wolf and the Lamb" at exactly the right moment to help me deal with a tyrannical situation in my personal life. Why didn't they read this one to us in school? It made me laugh and gave me a boost. Here is Townsend's 1887 version in full, via Wikisource:

A Wolf, meeting with a Lamb astray from the fold, resolved not to lay violent hands on him, but to find some plea to justify to the Lamb the Wolf's right to eat him. He thus addressed him: "Sirrah, last year you grossly insulted me." "Indeed," bleated the Lamb in a mournful tone of voice, "I was not then born." Then said the Wolf, "You feed in my pasture." "No, good sir," replied the Lamb, "I have not yet tasted grass." Again said the Wolf, "You drink of my well." "No," exclaimed the Lamb, "I never yet drank water, for as yet my mother's milk is both food and drink to me." Upon which the Wolf seized him and ate him up, saying, "Well! I won't remain supperless, even though you refute every one of my imputations." 
The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny.


Red Tash said...

This review made me feel so good. Thank you!

Editing This Brilliant Darkness' climax nearly drove me nuts. There were days I got up from the computer wide-eyed, muttering to myself about how I would never write from the perspective of a crazy person again. It does something to you! Definitely not for the faint of heart.

Yes, working on the sequel (That Crackling Silence) right *now.*

Elizabeth Twist said...

Duly noted re: crazy POV characters.

Re: That Crackling Silence, YAY!