I haven't been around to visit blogs for several days, and when I stopped into my feed this morning I had close to 400 posts to look at. I'm afraid I just didn't have the strength and marked them all as read. Sorry for that. I know many of you spent quality time developing those posts and I generally like to give them their due. This week it was just impossible.
I've often described my job as feast or famine. I might go through a week without a lot of paperwork, then get three weeks' worth of it the following week. That happened to me over the past five days, with papers coming in from my writing class, two tests to develop for next week, and half a dozen research proposals to evaluate. Add to that some health related issues, and a sudden surge in emails asking for my input on writing related issues. I'm hoping to get back to blogging this weekend, but Monday through Thursday of next week may be a problem as well once I give those tests and start grading them.
I did zero writing of my own this week, but on occasion a writing related thought has been able to get through the haze of work. I was thinking this morning about fiction and this little phrase popped into my head. It's just below. What do you think?
Fiction = character, clothed in language, embedded in story.
Friday, February 27, 2015
Friday, February 20, 2015
Resonance Dark & Light
Resonance Dark & Light, by Bruce Boston. From Eldritch Press, 2015. 89 pages.
Should we call Bruce Boston the hardest working man in speculative poetry? I don’t know anyone else who has a better claim over a career, and certainly no one who has demonstrated the kind of consistent brilliance that Boston has. His poems are widely published for a very good reason; they resonate with readers. Boston’s latest collection, currently available for preorder at Eldritch Press, even has “resonance” in its title, and ends with a masterful piece entitled “Resonance Redux.”
Resonance Dark & Light contains fifty-two poems. Many of these have been published in poetry magazines around the world, although several are new. Several are also award winning pieces, such as “The Music of the Stars,” which won the 2013 Balticon Poetry Award. Such is the quality of all these pieces, however, that the award winners don’t generally call any special attention to themselves among the other fine works. An exception to this, for me, is “Surreal Shopping List,” which won the SFPA’s 2014 Dwarf Form (under 11 lines) Category. I don’t know that this is my favorite Bruce Boston poem ever, but it’s my favorite right now. It seems so deceptively simple as well, and yet I’ve been trying—without succeeding—for a month now to produce even a semblance of its “coolness.”
I don’t know that it was Boston’s intent, but I felt like the first poems in this collection were more light-hearted than much of the previous stuff I’ve read from him. The pieces then turned darker, and darker, before lightening up again toward the end. It felt much like the passing of day into night and back to day, or perhaps like the progression of the seasons. The title itself suggests such a passage.
All I really know is that Resonance Dark & Light, tickled me, chilled me, and set me to thinking. Ranging from the Bradburyesque imagery of “The Music of Skeletons,” and “Chrononaut Inductees,” to the science fiction terrors of “Tasty Horrors,” to the sheer fun of “Not Only Thoats,” to the impossible to categorize pieces like “Surreal Shopping List,” this collection is hard to pigeonhole but impossible not to enjoy. For more information about Bruce Boston and his work, you can also check out his website.
And just remember, “not only thoats need the warm dark.”
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
The Crusader Series, by John Cleve. Grove Press. Review
Between 1975 and 1976, John Cleve wrote four books in “The Crusader” series, about a young man from Cyprus who saves Richard the Lionheart’s life and then accompanies the great king on his crusade to the Holy Land. Guy “Kingsaver” becomes a great hero of the crusades, admired or feared by men, and desired by every woman he meets. The four books are: I: The Accursed Tower, II. The Passionate Princess, III. Julanar the Lioness, and IV. My Lady Queen. In 1986, Cleve apparently returned to this series for one more book, V. Saladin’s Spy. I’ve read the first four but not the last.
John Cleve is actually a pseudonym for andrew j. offutt, who also wrote fantasy fiction under his own name, most famously a number of pastiches of Robert E. Howard’s Conan and Cormac Mac Art characters. Offutt did his own original Sword & Sorcery fantasy series as well, and branched out into Sword & Planet fiction with such books as Messenger of Zhuvastou and Chieftain of Andor. Offutt also edited a highly acclaimed, and deservedly so, series of Sword & Sorcery anthologies called the Swords Against Darkness series. That series was my introduction to offutt, and when I first started fooling around with writing it was my dream to one day have a story in it. The series ended before I ever had a chance to submit anything.
Around the same time as offutt was editing Swords Against Darkness, I began reading his Howard pastiches, particularly his Conan ones, and although they were somewhat workmanlike I enjoyed them well enough to seek out more of his fantasy stuff. I have generally enjoyed the ones I’ve read so far, and still have a number to go.
I didn’t discover that offutt was also John Cleve until after I started reading the first two “Crusader” books. I then tried one of his “Spaceways” books, which was an adult SF series that he wrote in the 1980s. I liked the first Crusader book all right but really disliked the Spaceways book and never read another. It wasn’t until recently, when I stumbled upon a piece written by offutt’s son, that I found out that offutt wrote more books as Cleve than he did under his own name, and that most of his output was “adult” fiction, which I believe we can simply refer to here as pornography. Apparently, offutt considered Cleve a kind of alter ego, and spoke as if some of the other pseudonyms he used for pornography were alternate names for Cleve rather than offutt. If you are interested in learning more about that aspect of this writer, the link to his son’s post is here.
But what about the Crusader books, which is the major consideration for this post. Well, the first book I bought in this series was an omnibus of the first two volumes, and I thought it was historical fiction set in the Crusades, a time period that I'd often read and enjoyed stories about. The first book, The Accursed Tower, had quite a lot of graphic sex in it, but also a lot of historical adventure that I thought was decently done. Since the second book was part of the omnibus, I read it immediately after the first. This was The Passionate Princess, and it had more sex and less adventure. I knew there were more in the series but completely lost interest after the second volume and gave the books no further thought.
Fast forward a number of years and I’m in a bookstore and find an omnibus collection of the third and fourth books in the Crusader series, Julanar the Lioness, and My Lady Queen. On impulse, and hoping for a return to a more “adventure” format, I picked them up. The “Lioness” book started out with a bit of adventure, a kidnapping of the series hero, “Guy,” and that led to an interlude with the Julanar character, a warrior woman in command of a band of warrior women, and quite an interesting character. Although this was promising, the book never carried through with the promise and instead focused on the sex. The fourth book, My Lady Queen, made only a token effort to create any sense of adventure at all. Sex was clearly its only focus. I pretty much just scanned it.
Here's the thing. The sex in these books is extremely graphic, and it sometimes descends into brutality. There are rapes, sexual torture, and even an event where a villain strangles a women to death while having sex with her. Such scenes were highly distasteful and too common, and would lead me to recommend against anyone reading these books. However, such scenes did not, at least, make up the bulk of the sexual content, which most often involved the hero, Guy, showing off his incredible prowess as a lover with a wide variety of willing women, most of them noble born. Strangely, given the clearly pornographic intent of these works, almost none of the abundant sexual activity seemed at all exciting to me.
So why did I keep reading these books, particularly the last two? Well, I found many of the non-brutal sexual descriptions to be absolutely hilarious. I frequently read some of the more extreme examples of pornographic prose to my wife, and we had quite a good time laughing at them. The descriptions are so over the top and so egregiously graphic that they boggle the mind. Cleve employs every possible term that you can imagine for the sexual organs, and many of these sentences are also long and convoluted. Imagine William Faulkner writing the most turgid pornography possible and you have a glimpse of Cleve’s literary style. Since I consider this blog to be no more than “R” rated, I’m not going to quote the most extreme examples. But let me give you a taste of some fun phrasing from the Crusader series. This stuff is still pretty graphic in some cases so readers beware!
1. "He poled it to her, good."
2. “‘Ahhh’ she breathed, staring like a serpent-fascinated bird at the snake she had uncovered, still limber and sinuous looking, emerging lazily from the bushy shelter of his loins.”
3. "He stuck her with it in one good swift lurch, and in an instant her excited and welcoming cleft had taken it all, all the way to his hairy scrotal pouch."
4. "Inside, she had become a frenzied well of desire in which he submerged his virile meatstaff."
5. “And he slipped it on into her, drilling in and in, straight for her cervix, long and hard and cramming, filling and feeling the extreme constricting heat of her buried passion.”
As if this were not enough, I realized after I sat down to write this blog post that three of the four novels begin with some variation on: “The moon hung round and white as a buxom maiden’s breast over the….” And books I and III are almost identical for the first few pages. So, while I didn't think these books were well written or entertaining as novels, I did get quite a few laughs. Nuff said?
Saturday, February 14, 2015
THINGS I DON’T UNDERSTAND
On occasion I will post about some of the things that happen in this world that I just don’t understand. Here are some of my latest, or continuing, sources of confusion.
1. Why is it that when someone is brutally murdered these days, the first concern expressed by many people seems to be whether the murderer was: Christian, Muslim, Atheist, black, white, Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, pro-gun or anti-gun? Their point, of course, is that the murderer is something different from what they are. Isn’t itactually more important that someone was brutally murdered?
Corollary to #1. How exactly does the fact that a brutal murderer is not a member of your particular religion or political affiliation serve as a justification for your beliefs and a condemnation of someone else’s beliefs? As should be absolutely clear by now to everyone, murderers come from every kind of walk of life imaginable.
2. Why do people care what a celebrity thinks about some political issue, or about any issue that the celebrity wouldn’t be considered an expert in? For example, I like Clint Eastwood westerns. He’s starred in many, directed quite a few, and I would consider him well versed in the genre of western film. Therefore, if he made a comment about modern western film I would be interested, although I might not necessarily agree. However, I couldn’t give a crap about what he thinks about any American president.
3. Why is it that when someone proves him or herself to be an idiot, so many folks feel the need to point out that the person is an idiot to other people who already know the person is an idiot? For example: Kanye West. I was blissfully ignorant of this guy until a few years back when he did an idiotic thing at the Grammys. Now he has apparently done another idiotic thing at another Grammy award show, and even though I have never watched the Grammys and have no intention of ever doing so, I now know far more about the event and about Mr. West than I ever wanted to. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes can be funny. It’s more the serious stuff I’m talking about.
4. Why do some people believe that what is happening in their neighborhood is indicative of what is happening world-wide? The best example I’ve seen of this is people who believe that the weather in their little neck of the woods either supports or negates the concept of “global” climate change. When I first heard that people did this sort of thing I thought they must be joking. But having been on Facebook for a few years I have actually found folks who believe this. I used this in class the other day as an example of “Concrete Operational Thinking.”
5. Why is it that, for so many people, the perceived intelligence of other people goes up or down exactly in proportion to which those other people agree or disagree with the first person on a complex issue, such as politics, gun control, or climate change? (Oh, wait, I do this too! Nevermind.) J
6. Why is that many people still believe that calls to boycott a movie or book, or making public claims about how awful it is for humanity, will then make that movie or book less popular? Of course, some will accept the call and boycott the book or movie, but the outcry will inevitably produce greater interest and curiosity about the piece, especially in people who had absolutely no interest in it before. Case in point: Fifty Shades of Grey. I never gave a thought to seeing the movie until I started hearing the attacks on it. Now I have to admit to some level of curiosity. Can it really be as awful as it is proclaimed? I still probably won’t see it but now it is at least on my radar. A similar event happened for me a number of years ago when people were attacking The Passion of the Christ for being anti-Semitic. I grew up Catholic so I knew the story, and had no interest seeing a film about it. It was the criticisms that drove me to see it. People kept telling me what I should think and I ended up pushed far enough that I had to see the movie so I could figure out for myself what to think.
7. Why isn’t at least one literary award show televised like the Grammys and the Oscars? I’ve never watched either of those but I’d watch the Hugos or Nebulas.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
WIP It Good?
Here is a snippet of what I've been working on lately. This is a novella project entitled "The Razored Land," and it's finished except for the final read through. I hope to have news about where it might appear soon.
Two Kainhite warriors came striding toward him across the field. From the whispering of their movements, Loerd knew that both retained their wings. For this moment, he gave that fact no thought. In the reflected glow of their scarlet eyes, he studied instead the wheeled cart they dragged behind them on a length of chain. Upon the cart sat a cage, and within the cage stirred a violent thing.
The warriors stopped a few feet from Loerd, dropped the chain, bowed, and backed away. Loerd approached the cart. The thing penned upon it began to smash back and forth against the bars of its prison as it voiced a throbbing snarl of warning and threat.
“Shhh,” Loerd murmured. “Shhh.”
The creature’s snarl grew instead, reached a crescendo of bestial rage. A dark-furred limb thrust suddenly through the bars and slashed at Loerd with claws as sharp and long as pitchfork tines. They did not quite reach to where Loerd stood, and the master of the Kainhites smiled. Then he vented his own snarl, a very soft one, and he opened the pores on his body so that his scent poured out and over the thing in the cage.
The thing huffed, then backed quickly away as far as its bars allowed. Loerd stepped closer. He drew the soul-black blade that hung at his hip and the dimmest flickers of light played along its edge. The thing in the cage crouched low; a whimper escaped its throat.
“Release it!” Loerd ordered.
One of the warriors who had brought the cart tugged on a rope that it held. The side of the cage furthest from Loerd fell away. The thing within recognized its sudden freedom and leaped out onto the field. But, where moments before it would have been happy to rend and tear every living thing around it, now it fled on swift feet for the woods.Loerd gave the thing a head start before he followed.
Sunday, February 08, 2015
Reading across the Genres
Over the past few days I finished a graphic crime novel set against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. At the same time I was reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, originally published in Russian as an indictment of the Stalinist era. Meanwhile, I was into a historical novel about the crusades, which turned out, somewhat to my surprise, to be basically porno. After finishing the “Ivan” book, I started a philosophical treatise from Kierkegaard on The Present Age, and a textbook on evolution. The New Orleans graphic novel transitioned into a weird western featuring Jonah Hex. Throw in two novellas, a sword & sorcery piece and a southern noir. Before that, a collection of short stories about the Jim Crow era, a nonfiction documentary piece on Hair Metal, a video game tie in called Metal Gear, some space opera, a collection of Poeesque horror stories, a big book of science fiction flash fictions, and a post-apocalyptic western by Edward Abbey. I wonder what is next.
Do you tend to read across many genres, or focus on one or two? If you do read across genres, do you jump about willy-nilly? Or do you tend to do a few books in one genre before switching to another? Just wondering.
Wednesday, February 04, 2015
My Days and Nights with Vitamin B
Lots of pain in my legs and back last week. Some of you know that I have neuropathy in my legs and feet, in large part due to spinal damage caused in a motorcycle wreck. As with many things, some days are worse than others. But I’m pretty sure I know what led to last week’s increase. It had to do with sleep and the role of Vitamin B, particularly B-12 and B-1.
For many years my sleep cycles were extremely regular. I went to bed, fell quickly to sleep, slept an hour, woke up at the end of my dream period, and….repeated the process throughout the night. But in the last year or so my cycles have been shortening. I have frequent periods where I sleep 20 to 30 minutes and then wake up from a dream. I suspected Vitamin B might be partially responsible, since it acts in me somewhat like a stimulant.
I began taking high doses of the vitamin a couple of years ago to help counter the effects of my neuropathy. It works, in large part, I imagine, because Vitamin B can act as a neural growth stimulant. It facilitates the ability of nerves to recover from wear and tear. But, since the changes in sleep cycles seem to have correlated to some extent with my increased intake of “B,” I stopped taking it for a few days to see what would happen.
I seemed to sleep deeper without B but the increase in cramps and pain countered any benefit from that. I began waking up from the pain of the cramps in my legs and feet rather than from the end of a dream period. I went back to taking the vitamin and within a day the cramps had subsided. That was a relief.
I’ve also noticed that I have an upsurge in energy levels when I take Vitamin B, and that is nice during the day but may partially explain the shortening of my deep sleep periods. I have certainly noticed an increase in dream intensity while taking Vitamin B, although I’ve always had intense and vivid dreams since I was a little kid. Unfortunately, increasing dream sleep generally means decreasing deep sleep, which is where we get most of our “rest.”
Monday night, after having returned for a couple of days to my Vitamin B regimen, I had one of the strangest dreams I’ve ever had, and those of you who have followed my blog over the years know I’ve had some odd ones. Even my weirdest dreams, however, can usually be traced to recent real-life experiences, such as something I’ve read, or written, or seen in a movie. This dream was, to put it mildly, Freudian. Here it is. Make of it what you will.
I’m in what appears to be a covered canal. The floor looks like cement and there is a trickle of water running down it, but the walls and ceiling are made of rough rock. Though the canal is enclosed and no sunlight can get in, I can still see pretty well. It’s dim but not dark. There’s a clear glow of light coming from some unknown source.
As I venture deeper into the canal, working my way upstream, I come upon a skeleton lying on the rocks to one side of the central water flow. I feel horribly sad for the person who has been lost here, and I decide to pick it up and carry it out of the canal. I turn and start downstream toward the exit with the skeleton in my arms. As I walk along, however, the skeleton begins to reflesh itself. Blood vessels, muscles, and skin begin to reappear on the body. I am untroubled by this and continue on my way.
Soon, I can see a brighter light growing ahead of me and know it is the exit from the canal. As I step out into the light of day, I look down and realize that I’m carrying my fully grown son in my arms. He is sleeping peacefully. I turn and gaze back at the canal. Although it looks physically like no more than a rounded opening into a mountain, I “know” in my head that I’m looking at a womb and that I just “delivered” my son by carrying him out through the birth canal.
OK, so there’s some weirdness to start your day.
Sunday, February 01, 2015
Breakfast on the Deck
I hear it’s winter in some parts of the world. I certainly can’t verify that locally. Lana was up before me this morning and when I got up she had the air conditioner running. Then I went out to feed the birds, and though there was some rain last night today’s skies were bright and blue. It was so nice that we decided to have our breakfast on the deck. I made bacon and eggs and toast while Lana set up the table and chairs. We even had a tablecloth this morning. How classy is that?
The primary signs of winter that we could see were, 1) the carpet of dead leaves in the back yard and the steady fall of others leaves, and 2) the types of birds swarming our feeders. Most of these were goldfinches and chipping sparrows, which are migrants that come through here during the winter. A few of the local cardinals came around but seemed rather bewildered at all the newcomers. We counted around eighty birds in and out of the trays in the yard as we ate. I’m sure we missed quite a few.
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