Showing posts with label Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fiction. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Hoorah for the filibusters


"Show, don't tell," is the advice heard by many would-be fiction writers. That advice often works for contemporary fiction. As times have changed, so have writing conventions. In "Captain Blood", Rafael Sabatini tells first, then shows. While Sabatini occasionally shows by describing a character's eyes dilating or her face flushing, it's not his primary technique. Rather, he describes the character's motivating emotions, then shows how those emotions affect subsequent actions. The technique works well in this action novel. Although this novel was written about 100 years ago, its language is fresh rather than archaic. Contemporary writers can benefit from reading old writers instead of just following contemporary advice. Stories can be told through a variety of techniques.

This book grabbed me in its first paragraph and held me until its end. The plot is intricate and anchored by two actual historical events. I won't spill any spoilers. If you want to know how respectable Dr. Peter Blood becomes a notorious pirate, or how love restrains bloodstained hands, you'll have to read the book. 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Talking Head

Andrew’s Brain
E. L Doctorow
Fiction 200 pages
New York. Random House. 2014

Who is Andrew? In the beginning, the narrator calls him “my friend Andrew, the cognitive scientist.” But it doesn’t take long before the reader realizes that Andrew himself is telling the story. Another man is asking him questions, apparently a psychiatrist. Andrew is baiting him, attempting to catch his attention by telling him he hears voices.

Andrew tells his psychiatrist a good deal more as well, occasionally reprimanding the doctor’s ignorance and naiveté. Apparently, Andrew is well educated, and perhaps a good bit older than the psychiatrist. Yet Andrew is flawed. As a child, he caused a fatal accident. As an adult, he fatally over-medicates his baby. Although his second wife’s death is not his fault, he seems to accept the blame for the event.

Like other books by E. L. Doctorow, “Andrew’s Brain” is a historical novel. Its history is contemporary, and its historical figures are implied rather than named. Andrew is a scientific man in a world governed by archaic ideas and values. When he delivers his message to authority, it is ill received.

His message is to stop pretending to be what we are not. We have minds, but not souls and we are less important than we think we are.

Andrew defends his pessimism through the cognitive science he teaches, “If consciousness exists without the world, it is nothing, and if it needs the world to exist, it is still nothing.” But when he falls in love, Andrew’s pessimism is replaced with joy. Andrew isn't merely a scientist who views brains as machines; he’s also a romantic idealist. Doctorow gives us a full picture of Andrew, complex and self-contradicting.
The book is witty, well-written, and delivers a few surprises. One of Doctorow’s best. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A magical story collection

Strange News from Another Star
Hermann Hesse (Denver Lindley translator)
Fiction 99 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972

Although seven of these eight stories were originally published in a volume titled, “Fairy Tales”, you’ll find no fairies in them. Magic, to be sure—but no fairies.

The first story in the collection, “Augustus”, is similar to Oscar Wilde’s story, “The Selfish Giant”. The heroes of both stories set themselves apart from their fellow men, and ultimately find redemption. However Wilde’s fairy tale is one that children can appreciate, while Hesse’s is clearly suitable for more mature readers. In Wilde’s story, redemption comes for a living giant, but for Augustus, it comes at the moment of death. In many of these stories, achieving harmony with one’s fellows and one’s self can only be achieved through forgetfulness (“Strange News from Another Star”) or through death (several of the stories).

Overall, the theme of the collection is man’s struggle to achieve a harmonious relationship with others of his kind, with the universe surrounding him, and with the self within him. By self, I mean that archetypical structure to which psychiatrist, C. G. Jung, referred. Hesse published this story collection, as well as his novel, “Demian” in 1919 This was the same year in which Jung first wrote about archetypes. It’s probably no coincidence that before Hesse’s two works were published in 1919, he had recently finished his Jungian psychotherapy. Whether through intention or coincidence, Hesse’s writing often illustrates Jungian principals.

These stories are well told and their allegories readily understood. Of all the stories, I only one failed to please me—I saw no point in, “A Dream Sequence.”

The best story in the collection, “Iris”, is the story of a boy for whom flowers are doors into true reality. “Each phenomenon on earth is an allegory, and each allegory is an open gate through which the soul, if it is ready, can pass into the interior of the world where you and I and day and night are all one.”

As Anselm, the boy, matures, flowers and nature lose their magic for him. He falls in love, but his love leaves him with a quest. For the remainder of his life, he follows that quest. Finally, the gate opens for him, “It was Iris into whose heart he entered, and it was the sword lily in his mother’s garden into whose blue chalice he softly strode, and as he silently drew close to the golden twilight all memory and all knowledge were suddenly at his command …”

If you've never read Hesse, and like short fiction, this collection is a good place to start.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Amazon – It’s a jungle out there

The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury
Fiction 256 pages
Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition. 2012

Out of curiosity, I looked up Ray Bradbury’s, “The Martian Chronicles” on Amazon. I read it as a child and enjoyed it immensely. However, even then, I could spot Bradbury’s inconsistencies and deviations from his basic milieu. Still, there are those who consider it a classic, so I looked.

This book, published in 1950, includes stories published during the later portion of the 1940s. That explains the inconsistencies—Bradbury didn’t set out to write a book. It emerged from his stories. Actually, that’s part of its charm. The Mars in one story isn’t quite the same as the Mars in another. And, there’s no great effort to be scientific. That’s not what Bradbury is about.

The book has 391 reviews and well over half of those display five stars. However, I was more interested in the nine one star reviews and perhaps a few of the twos. Two of the one star reviews, and at least five of the two star reviews, were written by A Customer—amazingly all on the same day. It makes one wonder how many Amazon accounts A Customer has, or perhaps multiple people use that handle and write reviews at the same time.

Two of the reviewers found Bradbury’s language graphic and/or offensive. At least three reviewers found the book dull. One called it far-fetched and another said it was the “worst non-fiction book i ever read.” Did he mean to write science fiction?

After reading some of the reviews, I’ve come to several conclusions: 1) some people don’t proofread, 2) some people are offended by 1950s era profanity, 3) some people found the book dull. Regarding the second two conclusions, I further conclude: 1) some people don’t see many movies, at least not those without G ratings, and 2) if you prefer science fiction with more special effects, you should probably stick to movies.

Before Amazon, books didn’t get 391reviews. That’s because there were only a handful of people with literary credentials available to write them. Now you don’t need literary credentials to write a review. There’s been a revolution and the people have taken the power from the critics. There are good aspects to the democratization of opinion. However, without experts to tell us what to like, we may sink to the depths of bad taste. Therefore, we still need literary critics, unless something high-minded emerges to take their place. Luckily, civilization generally survives temporary lapses of good taste.

Among its advantages, Amazon, provides a path to publishing that some authors would not otherwise have. It also provides a platform for hacks and lack wits. Still, there are some self-published gems out there. There are also thousands of me-too opinions, uneducated opinions, and trolls lurking about. In fact, it’s a jungle—so one must tread carefully. In time, the jungle will become more manageable. Let’s just hope it isn’t destroyed in the process.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Strange Bedfellows

Bedbugs (Can you see them?)
L. A. Taylor
Fiction 214 pages
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012

The Kindle version of this book is free from Amazon today and I downloaded it. Generally, I don’t read horror genre books, not even if they’re also science fiction. And, this book is truly horrendous. A mere two percent of the way in, Tommy gets eaten alive by a swarm of alien insects while lying paralyzed in bed. After Tommy watches the entire gruesome event through his six-year-old eyes, the author informs us that Tommy “died instantly.”

It takes his father somewhat longer to discover that his son is dead. Rather than taking a good look, he mucks about puzzling over why his son’s eyes are open and he doesn’t move. Then he picks up a bit of gore and shows it to his wife. At this point, I stopped reading. However if you wish to know more about the book, the description on Amazon pretty much spills the beans.

Although I won’t finish reading it, I know my favorite part—the cover. Dean Cook did a splendid job with his retro pulp cover illustration.

As mentioned, I don’t read horror, so why did I download this book? I couldn’t help myself. Who can resist the idea of killer bedbugs? And, how could I not think up a bunch of rude innuendos about such strange bedfellows? For example …

Also, anyone who knows anything about bedbugs knows what horrors the little beasties are. Often the only evidence that you have them are huge allergic rashes on your limbs. Try to find them with a flashlight, or a black light (they fluoresce), and you seek in vain. In fact, you won’t see any evidence of the things until they’re a major infestation. At that point, the only way to be rid of them is to burn down your house. And, their sexual habits? Disgusting. Did you know that the male impregnates the female by sticking his bloodsucker in her belly and injecting her with love juice? Yes, it’s true. Look it up.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Instant Karma

The Tea Goddess
Dekker Dreyer
Fiction 156 pages
Fringe Majority LLC. 2010

Kai and Ceire died before revealing their secret. A generation later, the Tea Goddess sends Remy a book—a book that profoundly affects his future. Soon he’s running for his life without knowing why.

Soon he’ll learn about his karmic debt and will need to repay it. But in order to do that, he’ll need to survive.

In this brief novel, few words are wasted. It takes off like a shot and races to its conclusion with just enough character development and world creation to make it believable. Personal dilemmas and violent action keep the tension high until the end. That end brings peace to several of the characters, but torment to another.

The book length of 156 pages is somewhat misleading since there’s a lot of white space throughout (I read the Kindle edition). Although not necessary, readers will take a bit more from this book if they have some familiarity with Chinese Buddhism.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Killing with the Edge of the Moon

Killing with the Edge of the Moon
A. A. Attanasio
Fiction 160 pages
Prime Books. 2006

Would you go all the way to Hell just to get a date? Chet does, but not entirely willingly. He makes the trip partly due to a very convincing witch, but also because he has a crush on Flannery.

Long ago, Orpheus made a similar trip. However, when he tried it, things didn’t work out so well. Of course, the Otherworld isn’t exactly Hell, and Flannery, unlike Orpheus’s wife, Eurydice, isn’t exactly dead. But, the situation is similar, and if Chet isn’t able to work the Fetch, Flannery will be both dead and dragon food.

While Flannery dances with fairies in the Otherworld, her body lies in a hospital bed connected to life support equipment. For Flannery, the Otherworld is far more joyful than the one she has known all her life. But Arden, the fairy prince, hasn’t told her everything, and Flannery doesn’t know how much danger she’s in. Even if her witch grandmother, Nedra, is able to convince Chet to work the Fetch, Flannery and Chet will face great danger before their story is done.

The Orpheus myth is a prime example of what Joseph Campbell calls the hero’s journey. Chet’s hero journey is faithful to the mythic archetype, yet modern and unpredictable. Filled with reversals and surprises, Attanasio’s story pits the uncertainty of contemporary adolescence against the ageless themes of Celtic myth.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Arabian Nights – Gathered, Privately Printed, and Out of Print

While not all of us are familiar with the titles, “The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment” or “One Thousand and One Nights”, most of us have heard the story, “Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp”, and several others associated with the story collection informally known as the Arabian Nights.

Some of the collected stories are quite ancient and of Indian origin. Others relate the fictitious doings of actual historical figures from 9th century Baghdad. Still other stories contain historical fragments from 13th and 14th century Cairo.

Some of the most well-known Arabian Nights stories were not actually part of those stories collected in Arabic versions of the text. These additional Middle-Eastern stories included “Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp”, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”,
“Prince Ahmed and his Two Sisters”, and “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor”. They were added by French translator, Antoine Galland, and his successors.

After Galland released his 12 volume edition of the Arabian Nights, scholars began to seek the most authentic version of the text. The lengthy Egyptian version came to be considered the standard one. One of the earliest English translations by Edward Lane was heavily censored.

Although Richard Francis Burton’s translation is the most well-known uncensored version, it was preceded by John Payne’s version. Both Payne’s and Burton’s uncensored editions were printed for private subscribers, rather than the general public. Although Burton’s edition is the best known, it has been criticized for dwelling excessively on sexual matters and for its archaic language.

Most available printed editions of the Arabian Nights are abridged, intended for children, or both. A printed set of Burton’s volumes would cost you dearly, if you could find one. Luckily it is available for Kindle and other eReaders. One reviewer of the Halcyon Classics edition sold by Amazon faults it for not having working hyperlinks between the table of contents and the stories. For a broad selection of translators, this omnibus looks like a good choice. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Demons Hide Their Faces

Demons Hide Their Faces
A. A. Attanasio
Fiction 183 pages (Kindle)

This collection of short fiction for Kindle contains seven stories which appeared in print in “Twice Dead Things”. As a shorter collection, “Demon’s Hide their Faces” provides a good introduction to A. A. Attanasio for those not yet familiar with his writing.

In general, Attanasio writes science fiction and fantasy — but not always — and both can be found in this volume. Two of the stories, however, don’t strictly meet my criteria for either genre. I consider “Death’s Head Moon”, like Attanasio’s novel, “Kingdom of the Grail”, to be historical fiction, albeit tinged with the fantastic and mythical. Attanasio’s character, Richard Malone, is plunged into ancient Irish myth while fighting alongside Seamus Doyle during the First World War. When the war ends, he carries his ghosts and a volume of Nietzsche, through a rough and tumble life until a hobo translates a few words of the book he carries.

Malone’s life takes several more turns and he ends up in Hawaii. Here too, he encounters the mythical, only now it wears new masks. What begins as a war story ends as a detective story and in a surprise. There is no escaping the Death’s Head Moon.

My favorite story, “Ink from the New Moon,” takes place in an alternate history in which Chinese, rather than Europeans, were the first to settle the U.S.A. In this alternate history, Attanasio is able to bring a westerner’s interpretation to Buddhist concepts while preserving the story’s Chinese sensibility. This melancholy story of love and loss opens the collection and primes the reader for the stories that follow — stories that engage both emotionally and philosophically.