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.

27 February 2012

Things that Will Make You Happy Unless You're Dead Inside

Via This is Not Porn
This is not porn: this is pure beauty. Gorgeous, off-kilter, candid, and surprising photos of celebrities.

"The late fees had reached the point where the injustice of paying any more than I already owed outweighed my apathy. I considered just keeping the movies and never going to the video store again, but then I remembered that I still wanted to re-watch Jumanji."
Allie of Hyperbole and a Half writes and draws about depression achingly, tragically, and triumphantly.

Matt Cardin's Teeming Brain brings you Joseph Campbell's idea of a global mythology, along with an incredible new video of time-lapsed images taken with low-light cameras from the International Space Station in 2011.

Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald," dressed up like a Victorian newspaper, is for those of you who have always wondered why there aren't more Sherlock Holmes / Cthulhu mashups.  (p.s. if you need more, there is the anthology in which Gaiman's story first appeared: Shadows Over Baker Street)

24 February 2012

The Last Orange (First Campaigner Challenge of This, the Fourth Campaign)

Shadows crept across the wall. Mitch picked up the coffee can filled with coins and rattled it. The shadows zipped out the window. They were skittish, nothing to fear.

Mitch continued peeling the orange - the last orange. It was the tail end of winter, and the grocery stores had been closed to all but looters since late January.

Most of his neighbours were gone now. Cowards. Mrs. Kowalski said they’d been eaten, taken over, or some such nonsense. Mitch figured they’d fled.

He would rather starve than leave his home. Besides, the shadows weren’t dangerous.

To his surprise, the orange wasn’t dry at all, but juicy and tangy.

Something stirred in the corner. He picked up the can and shook it. The thing didn’t budge.

Mitch stood. “Bold, are you?”

The shadow shifted into the shape of a man. Mitch staggered back, sat down hard in his chair. He shook the can, harder this time.

The shadow lifted away from the wall. It loomed over him.

Mitch screamed as the shadow slid its fingers under the skin of his face and peeled the first strip. He looked dried out, but inside he was still tangy and juicy.

Everything faded.

"Shadows crept across the wall" - check
"Everything faded" - check
"orange" - check
Horror genre - check
200 words - check


Looking forward to reading everyone else's entries. 

If you liked this story, give me a quick thumbs up over here - I'm number 192, waaay down at the bottom.

14 February 2012

11 Semi-Random Answers to 11 Random Questions

My new friend, fellow campaigner, and fantasy and horror writer Angeline Trevena (who is also our new best hope for an accurate and effective dick joke evaluation scale) has tagged me to answer eleven questions. Thanks, Angeline!

1 Do you like your handwriting? 

A German who is unknown to me once read a letter I wrote to my best friend Wendy and said, "Wow, that handwriting is like a Victorian cityscape." I therefore feel duty bound to love my handwriting.

2 If you were another person, would you be friends with you? 

If I were another person who is also me, like a clone or evil twin or something, I think I would be friends with me, if only because I could then enact every Shakespeare twin plot in real life. Making people fall for me and then substituting my twin! Strategic cross dressing in order to infiltrate gender specific scenarios! Losing one of us at sea only to find each other years later and cause untold mayhem! It would be awesome.

3 Do you still have your tonsils? 

Nope. I am of the generation where you got a couple of throat infections and they whipped 'em out.

4 Scary movies or happy endings? 

Either way. In movies, I like both. In books, I find unambiguously happy endings feel a little fake.

5 What technology scares you? 

Almost all of it. GMO foods, fracking, vaccines, pharmaceuticals. Not to mention crowd control devices, subliminal advertising, groupthink, and Trump's hairpiece.  

It's enough to make you miss the days of old school, frivolous uses of technology, like fluoroscopes (x-ray machines) that used to be a standard fixture in shoe stores.

6 What's your favourite item of clothing and why?

A black wool beret. It is cute, it keeps me warm in winter, and I bought it for a dollar at a used clothing store.

7 What's the next planned event you're looking to in your life?

Buying a house and moving into it. The timing isn't locked down, but the plan is in place. After a million years of being a renter, I can't wait to own my own place.

8 Are you more comfortable in someone else home if it is messy or very tidy?

Messy. Very tidy people intimidate me. I fear that I will screw up their perfection by sullying it with my mere presence.

9 What in today's society do you feel should be free but is not?

Heath care and dental care. In Canada health care is mostly free. I am lucky to live here. Needing medical treatment and not having access to it is just a crazy nightmare. It should be the same everywhere. Ditto for dental care. Look after your teeth, kids!

10 If you could choose to stay a certain age forever, what age would it be?

I have no idea. I've recently realized that every five or six years, I look back and can barely recognize myself, and I realize how ignorant and unwise I was. I expect this trend will continue, so being older will always be better until I hit some kind of cognitive decline. So, eighty-eight? Ninety-two? Whenever I start to get stupid again.

11 What would you name the autobiography of your life?

No clue, so I flipped through options on this Random Book Title Generator. I don't know what kind of book would go with these, but I enjoyed The Woman in the Husband, Voyagers of Kiss and Sharp Secret. (Actually, I really like Sharp Secret as a story or book title. Anyone feel like brainstorming?)

Thanks again, Angeline! That was fun.

Here are eleven questions for YOU.

Feel free to tag yourself. Leave a comment to this post with a link to your responses: I am dying to know what you answer!

I'm tagging these folks specifically:
Kelda Crich
Alex Villasante
Jay Noel
Jen Filipowicz
Jacob Adams
Fantasy Writer Guy
David Powers King
Stella Atrium (O how I love your name, Stella Atrium!)
Jennifer Baker Henry
Cherie Reich
Alberta Ross

My questions for you:

1. What are you reading?
2. What is your favourite creative activity that is not writing?
3. Where or how do you get your best ideas?
4. If you could magically and painlessly change one thing about your mind or body, what would it be, if anything?
5. What's the scariest movie, story, novel, or scene you can recall?
6. What's the weirdest thing you believe?
7. Super strength or super intelligence?
8. You're granted the ability to become invisible. Where do you go and what do you do? (Bonus question: are you wearing clothes? I mean, what about YOUR becoming invisible makes your clothes invisible too? This has always bothered me.)
9. What one change do you think would have the most positive impact on the world as a whole?
10. What is the crappiest advice you've ever been given?
11. What's your favourite song right now?

07 February 2012

Current Inspiration: Guys and Dolls


No, not the musical, the BBC documentary about sex dolls.

Sex in itself is almost like a violent act. But you know, the dolls are made for it. They can handle a lot of physical abuse.
I've had sex with a couple of dolls. Over the years that I've worked with them, there have been a couple of dolls that I had that were amazing. Amazing. This hundred pound doll came to life. It's pushing back, it's not just I'm pushing on it, but all of a sudden it's starting to push back. It's creating motion and friction. And the weight of the product, and how it behaves in this manner is very stimulating. It was an amazing thing. Very life like, very realistic, very odd. But it's just a doll, a very high form of masturbation.
                                                                        ~Slade, sex doll repair man.

Watching this documentary got me thinking about love, about the compelled and manufactured relationships in our lives, about the ways in which masculinity is a friable construct. It got me wondering about whether authenticity is possible in a relationship with a synthetic creature, and to what extent, and under what conditions.

06 February 2012

Fourth Writers' Platform-Building Campaign

Last year I discovered blogfests. I participated in one or two simpler and more modest fests, and loved meeting new people that way, especially fellow writers. Then I learned that there are some blogfests so massive that they grow out of their names and become....something else.

I give you Rachael Harrie's Fourth Writers' Platform-Building Campaign

Go here to get your very own badge.

The Campaign is grassroots social networking at its finest. The Campaign starts today, and you have until February 15 to sign up. Basically, the Campaign serves as a hub where you can find fellow writers who want to be found. Find people who write the same genres and forms as you do! Expand your list of followers and subscribers! Participate in awesomely fun challenges! With prizes!

A good time will be had by all. Go here to sign up

04 February 2012

Broken Realities and Other Delights

Source: Want to go halfsies or third-sies on this apartment?

My imagination likes to linger in certain places. This past month I've been returning to certain themes in much the same way that a tongue returns to the empty socket of a tooth that's been pulled.

In more than one story I've included tentacles, realities that bleed into each other, demented mentors, primal religious impulses, gleeful hedonists, and practical jokes.

In the coming month I'm anticipating stories about alien encounters and underprepared persecutors.

What's punching its way out of your brain these days?