Showing posts from October, 2005

Finally, Someone Says It

While one can understand an attack on Waterstone's for its dull, one-size-fits-all stores, Amazon is the most exciting bookshop in the world. It's Willy Wonka's Book Factory, Disneyland for bibliophiles. Those who want a return to the days of the small independents are the real fantasy merchants. Look, I'm genuinely sorry for the owners of independent bookstores, and for those readers lucky enough to live near a really good one who are now watching it flounder because of Amazon and big box bookstores, but the fact is that for most readers (and I'm including, and probably concentrating on, English readers in non-English speaking countries), independents are not a bookish mecca. If you're like me, your local bookstore is understocked and overpriced, and its selection rarely deviates from whatever thriller is at the top of the bestseller lists this week. Science fiction and fantasy? Forget it, unless your tastes run to Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks. And, of co

Novelties and Souvenirs: Collected Short Fiction by John Crowley

John Crowley has had one of those hellacious careers that no writer, much less one as furiously talented as Crowley is, deserves. In the late 70s, Crowely wrote odd, lyrical science fiction that defied the genre's best attempts at categorization. In the early 80s, he switched to fantasy, but again so far out of the mainstream that even within the genre he was barely successful. His books went out of print, and it is only in the last few years, with Crowley having made a second genre switch to literary fiction and taken The Translator to the New York Times Bestseller List, that they've been reissued. Novelties and Souvenirs collects Crowley's short fiction--15 stories published over a period of 15 years (missing from the collection is the much-lauded "The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines", which first appeared in the Peter Straub-edited anthology Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists , and is now available as a chapbook ). It's possible to roughly div

Chris Ware Uses His Powers of Whine for Good Instead of Evil

Seriously, I love Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth as much as anyone, but have you seen the cover of McSweeney's 13 ? It folds out into a broadsheet and the whole thing is covered with Ware's little alter-ego catching shit for drawing comics--his parents belittle him, women spurn him, editors ignore him, the literary establishment laughs at him. Dude, you've won the Guardian First Book Award. There's already a booklet dedicated to you in a series about comics writers. You know those stupid articles that can be boiled down to 'all comics are childish and inappropriate for adults except for...'? You're always in the 'except for' part, unless the writer thinks that you're so far into the mainstream as to make the mention pointless. It's time to find a new shtick.

Recent Movie Roundup

I've got something more substantial (and John Crowley-related, yay!) in the works for the next day or so, but for now, here are my thoughts on some films I've seen recently: A History of Violence : Not so much a missed opportunity as a barrel-full of missed opportunities. The film starts out with a fascinating premise, but whenever it comes close to addressing one of the many intriguing questions it raises--who is Tom? Is it possible for a man to remake himself? In doing so, has Tom perpetrated a fraud on his friends and family, or told them a deeper truth? Has Tom truly changed, or is he still Joey underneath? Where do Tom (and Jack's) displays of violence fit in? Is violence ever justified, or is it always soul-killing? Will Tom be forgiven, and does he deserve to be?--it veers away, usually into another scene of acrobatic and gory violence or acrobatic and slightly less gory sex. Viggo Mortensen does his very best with what he's given, and he's such an appealing

In Honor of the Hiatus: Some Lost and Veronica Mars Thoughts

Lost : The first five episodes of the season confirm my worst fears for the show, and have seriously got me wondering whether I want to keep watching. They have been slow-paced (only four days have passed since the beginning of the season), repetitive (note to the writers: the 'show the same scene from different perspectives' concept can be intriguing, but not if you take it so literally as to offer us nothing more than different camera angles), padded (Hurely gives Jack a blow-by-blow recap of "Numbers", Michael spends three different episodes searching for Walt under rocks and behind shrubbery), and uninteresting (this week, watch in fascination as we learn that Sun and Jin's meeting was completely ordinary, also, will Sun find her missing wedding ring?). Not to mention that the characters have become even more annoying and unbelievable as human beings--ask some questions, you big freaks of nature! The first ten minutes of the season premiere were interesting, f

I Can't Believe I Never Made This Connection

Now I have to go back and reread "The Girl Detective" (available online, along with the rest of Stranger Things Happen , here ).

The Readable Brontë

I suspect that for most female readers, the question of Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters is one of those chunky or smooth, Luke or Han type of litmus test questions. I think I've already made it clear which I prefer--I admire a great deal of what Charlotte, Emily and Anne accomplished, but I don't think any of it compares to Austen's work. Still, there's no denying that the two oeuvres make interesting accompaniments to each other. Austen's romances were charmingly witty, but the Brontës' were passionate. They approached the seamy underbelly of life that Austen was never willing to acknowledge, but Austen saw people more clearly, and was capable of poking fun at their faults. Austen was a conservative--she truly believed that coupling up into marriage and family was the best a woman could hope for. The Brontës believed the same, but to them it was a cause for resentment. In many ways, Austen's fictions are fantasies--all her heroines end up happily married

Recent Reading Roundup

Yet another attempt to convince myself that AtWQ is primarily a book-blog. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson I had been curious about this book even before it got a controversial nod from the Lit-Blog Co-op, but that selection helped push me over the edge. Atkinson's 'literary mystery' revolves around sad-sack Cambridge PI Jackson Brodie, retained to solve three unsolvable mysteries: the 30-year-old disappearance of a little girl from her own back yard, the senseless murder of a teenager, and the current whereabouts of the runaway daughter of an axe-murderess. Frankly, I think the folks at the LBC could have done better--there's no question that Case Histories is well-written and engaging, but ultimately it is an underperforming little book, and for all its aspirations to the contrary, not great literature. In fact, there's something almost desperately snobbish about the novel, a sensation that creeps through Atkinson's admittedly lovely and lucid prose--'L


Not too many coherent thoughts in my head yet--hopefully tomorrow or the next day. Right now I'm mostly thinking stuff like 'wow' and 'wheee' and 'damn'. Not to mention 'again' and 'more'. I was actually a little hesitant about going to see the film at ICon. I tend to find the rambunctiousness of the convention crowd rather irritating, and as a moviegoing experience it can also leave something to be desired (queuing for half an hour in front of the locked theatre door because the con organizers are allergic to assigned seating, a minimum of 15 minutes' delay before the show starts, occasionally a little lecture before the actual film--I still have nightmares about coming to ICon 2002 to watch the sixth season Buffy premiere and being treated to 20 minutes on why Marti Noxon is the devil), but tonight I was reminded of why the ICon crowd is sometimes the best kind to watch favorite shows with--they all loved the characters and the show as


If you're a member of the Israeli SFF Society , or visiting ICon this week, you can find my thoughts about the subject of Mundane SF in the society's quarterly, The Tenth Dimension . If you've arrived here after reading the article, I salute your tenacity, as the URL given under my byline is incorrect. As a reward, here are some of my thoughts on SFF matters: on being a genre fan , Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle , the fiction of M. John Harrison , and the new Battlestar Galactica .

Sometimes You Can't Agree With Anyone

This is one of those cases where everyone is wrong, or at least deeply objectionable. On the one hand, you've got Philip Pullman, who announces that the Narnia books contained "a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice" and "not a trace" of Christian charity. "It's not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue," he added. "The highest virtue - we have on the authority of the New Testament itself - is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in the books." Which is not only completely wrong-headed, but one of those black-hole-calling-a-vacuum-cleaner-sucky type of situations to boot. But on the other side, you've got Evangelical Christian groups announcing that "We believe that God will speak the gospel of Jesus Christ through this film," Lon Allison, director of Illinois' Billy Graham Centre, told the newspaper. [Hopefully no one's noticed, b

This Could Be Good... But Mostly It Makes Me Very Nervous

Also, some clever bugger on Television Without Pity 's forums pointed out that "Torchwood" is an anagram of "Doctor Who".

"Shakespeare’s classic tale of murder and intrigue performed by inch-high plastic ninjas"

"I had noticed that there were these tiny plastic ninjas in vending machines all across the city," says [Tiny Ninja Theater creator Dov] Weinstein, "but no one was using them to perform classical theater. Something had to be done."

Myst V: End of Ages: Very Scattered Thoughts

In a word: no. Just... just no. Can we pretend this game never happened? Can we? Please? The plot in a nutshell: Atrus' daughter Yeesha, previously seen as a bouncing, apple-cheeked cherub in Myst III: Exile , and more recently as a hilariously wooden young actress in Myst IV: Revelations , is all grown up, and has the facial tattoos and pretentious inner turmoil to prove it. She's also bugshit crazy but, surprisingly enough, not a homicidal maniac, which puts her ahead of the curve when it comes to her family. Yeesha and another D'ni survivor, Esher, send you on a dimly understood quest through the remains of the D'ni city and four other ages to collect four artifacts (the Slates) which will in turn release a fifth one--the fabulously powerful Tablet (not that we ever see even a hint of its power). The whole thing is very vague, and there are also some kind of alien creatures who respond to the Slates and the Tablet. In the end, you have to decide what to do with t

4 Popular Misconceptions About Pride and Prejudice

Last week, perhaps because of the new adaptation around the corner, saw the publication of not one but two different articles that completely fail to understand even the most basic truths about Jane Austen's little slice of posterity, Pride and Prejudice . First it was Bookslut's Jessa Crispin, who really ought to know better, wondering if "the point of Elizabeth Bennett [is] that she’s completely mediocre". Then it was Emma Garman, doing the semi-annual chick-lit tar and feather, who displayed not so much a lack of understanding as a lack of reading comprehension when she brought Pride and Prejudice up as an example of a novel in which the rich suitor is a villain and the poor suitor is Mr. Right. But these are only the most recent examples--it seems that every few months some journalist with more free time than sense dredges Pride and Prejudice up as a prop to a theory that has absolutely nothing to do with the book itself. The burden of enduring popularity, I

Joss Whedon Says Everything I've Ever Tried to Say About Veronica Mars, Only Better

At EW : At the center of it all is Veronica herself. Bell is most remarkable not for what she brings (warmth, intelligence, and big funny) but for what she leaves out. For all the pathos of her arc, she never begs for our affection. There is a distance to her, a hole in the center of Veronica's persona. Bell constantly conveys it without even seeming to be aware of it. It's a star turn with zero pyrotechnics, and apart from the occasionally awkward voice-over, it's a teeny bit flawless.

A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park

I know I made it a point of honor not to read Paul Park's A Princess of Roumania , but my post about booksplitting inspired a Readerville friend to offer me her copy of the book (thank you, Sarah!), and in the end I couldn't resist*. The original concept for this post was to examine Park's novel in light of Tor's decision to split it into two volumes ( The Tourmaline , due out next year, completes the story beginning in Princess ). Did Princess stand on its own? Did it require judicious editing, which might have made splitting it unnecessary? Was I inspired to pick up The Tournaline ? My ability to answer these questions hinged on the assumption that, at the very least, I wouldn't find the experience of reading A Princess of Roumania an unbearable torment. Considering the exuberant blurbs plastered all over the book's cover--from such luminaries as Ursula K. Le Guin, Karen Joy Fowler, Kim Stanley Robinson, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Swanwick, and John Crowley-

An Agnostic Goes to Synagogue: A Rosh HaShana Post

Terry Pratchett's 13th Discworld novel, Small Gods , charts the evolution of a virulently missionary (in the extreme sense--crusades, inquisitions, witch burnings, that sort of thing) religion into a more permissive, liberal one. Brutha, a simple-minded but fervently devout novice in the Omnian holy city, finds himself in the unlikely role of prophet when a one-eyed turtle speaks to him in the voice of God (it's Pratchett. Just go with it). Together, they topple the institution that has sapped Om of his power (Om is fueled by belief, and his believers have long since transferred their faith to the religious establishment that has calcified around him), and erect a more tolerant, benevolent one in its place, a religion that respects the individual's right not to believe. The next time we meet an Omnian priest, in the 23rd Discworld book, Carpe Jugulum , several centuries have passed. The Quite Reverend Mightily Oats is tolerant, benevolent, respectful of the beliefs of other