Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Whaddaya Like? Part 1: Books

My sister and her boyfriend bought me a Kindle for Christmas last year and because of this I now read almost twice as much as I did before - not that I read faster on the Kindle, but that I read ebooks and physical books. I've been reading so much of late that, honestly, it sometimes feels like it is getting in the way of my social life. But I mean, hey, I have a social life with all of the characters in the books, right?
I haven't, however, read a great many new releases, though I have read a few. Mostly I've been discovering some older SF/F books - novels I should've read way back when but didn't because I didn't know - and have found some gems most SF/F readers are probably already aware of, but I'm going to list them here for those of you who aren't and those of you who perhaps have forgotten.

MAUREEN F. MCHUGH - After the Apocalypse, China Mountain Zhang, Nekropolis
My favorite writer right now is Maureen F. McHugh. The worlds she creates in her novels and short stories are gritty, fully realized, horrific, beautiful, and, perhaps most impossible of all, possible. She also writes clearly and concisely, never overdoing it with flowery language (not that that is always a bad thing!).

Her newest collection is After the Apocalypse (Nov. 2011). Perhaps my favorite story in this collection is "Special Economics" about a woman - Jieling - who goes to work for a genetics factory not unlike Foxconn and her struggle to get out.

I've just finished China Mountain Zhang and Nekropolis, also by McHugh. The former is a glimpse into a future where China is the world superpower; the story is essentially plotless, instead focusing on the lives of its characters and the struggle to find work, love, and happiness. China Mountain Zhang is one of the best books I've ever read. Nekropolis takes place mostly in a futuristic Morocco where people get "jessed" in order to be better, more loyal workers to those who own them. There are terrible consequences when Hariba falls in love with a clone and decides to leave her owner.

DANIEL ABRAHAM - The King's Blood, Caliban's War (with Ty Franck)
I just finished two books by Daniel Abraham, one of which was also co-written with Ty Franck. I am an avid Abraham fan and I will rave to you anytime about his wonderful Long Price Quartet series, which puts epic fantasy on its head. It is unpredictable, cool, and weird, and I highly recommend you check it out. I believe all four books are available now in two omnibuses.

The first book I read from Abraham this year, however, was the second in his new fantasy series, The Dagger & the Coin. This series is more traditional fantasy than LPQ. The second book, The King's Blood, picks up where the first left off. I liked The Dragon's Path but I didn't love it. The King's Blood, however, is a far better read, the world-building seeming to take hold, the characters more fleshed out, and a bit of the larger story starting to unfold. What sets this series apart from other epic fantasies is Abraham's interest in economics and banking, and how this affects the world at large. Intriguing stuff.

The second book I read that Daniel Abraham co-wrote with Ty Franck (as the pseudonym James S.A. Corey) was also the second book in a new space opera series, The Expanse. In contrast to Abraham's Dagger & the Coin series, I particularly loved Leviathan Wakes, the first book in this series, and rated it as one of the best books of 2011 (the Hugos seem to agree with me, heh). I liked the second book in the series, Caliban's War, far less than I'd expected. It was fun and reads quick but the action felt forced at times and I found two of the viewpoint characters to be tedious and downright boring to read.

JOHN SAYLES - A Moment in the Sun
So, I'm not quite finished with John Sayles' behemoth, A Moment in the Sun, but unless he does something really stupid in the last 250 pages - like have space aliens invade in the Philippines or Abraham Lincoln return from the grave to put an end to injustice once and for all - I'm fairly certain this will be one of my favorite books of the year. Sayles, a film director who's made some pretty damn good movies (The Brother from Another Planet, Eight Men Out, Amigo), writes about racism, inequality, and war with intelligence and insight, never falling on cliche. A Moment in the Sun takes place over a five year period beginning in 1897 and leads into the Spanish-American War, American intervention in the Philippines, and the racist coup in Wilmington, NC. It is by turns engrossing, enraging, horrifying, beautiful, and sad. I really hope space aliens don't invade at the end.

SAMUEL R. DELANY - Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders
Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders is such an intensely sexual novel that I couldn't read it all at once, even though I really wanted to. Even more so than Dhalgren, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders may be Delany's masterpiece, a culmination of his science fiction roots, his normalizing and celebration of what society has deemed either immoral or perverse, and his love of "literary": it is truly the first literary porn sci-fi novel about happiness. And like the Sayles above, it is a behemoth of a novel - spanning 60-odd years in the lives of Eric and Shit. It is one of the best books I've read this year - and again, unless space aliens invade (which is actually more of a possibility here, though I doubt it will be the case), it will remain on my Best-Of list.

Sloopy, gooey, buggy, cancerous, wonderful book about a far future holy war and the assassin tasked with bringing home one very important head. I was delighted and disappointed to learn this was the first book in series - delighted, obviously, because it was such a fantastic novel and experience; and disappointed not because I don't trust Hurley's abilities but because the ending is so vibrant and moving and so encapsulated in my memory that I want to remember it only ending that way.

MINISTER FAUST - The Alchemists of Kush
Minister Faust invites us to read these three interlinked stories - "The Book of Then", "The Book of Now", and "The Book of the Golden Falcon" - in a variety ways: as it is laid out in the book or "Then" followed by "Now" and "Falcon" in their entirety or a chapter of each, and so on. I read it as published, and was mesmerized by this coming-of-age story set partly in present-day Edmonton and 7000 years ago in the Sudan. Very urban and gritty, and full of mythology and folklore.

REZA NEGARESTANI - Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials
This book kind of blew my mind. I'm still struggling to figure out what exactly to say about it. I think you should read it. For God's sake, read this book.

According to my kindle, I am 77% of the way through Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel 2312. This is actually my introduction to Robinson's work and, though I'm very much enjoying the future he's envisioned for mankind, I still haven't really immersed myself in this book - I've been reading it for 2 months and it's really not all that thick. Perhaps a final verdict later.

You can see what I thought of this book at The Weekly Take.

Next week, I'll be doing Whaddaya Like? Part 2: Music.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Conversation With the 2013 Lincoln MKT Navigation System

MKT NAVIGATION SYSTEM: Please say if your destination is "nearby" or "in the city."

DUFFIN: Yeah, uhh, nearby.

MKT NS: Please say the name of your destination.

D: Goodwill.

MKT NS: I'm having trouble. Please say if your destination is "nearby" or "in the city."

D: Nearby, then.

MKT NS: Please say the name of your destination.

D: Goodwill.

MKT NS: I'm having trouble.

D: Good. Will. I want Goodwill.

MKT NS: I'm having trouble.

D: No, you're not having trouble. I am. Because I don't know how to get to the Goodwill!

MKT NS: Are you sure you're pronouncing it right?

D: Goodwill. Goo. D. W. Ill.

MKT NS: Is this your destination? (list: Pan Oil, Penelope, Garbage Truck)

D: Those aren't destinations!!!! Erm...I don't think those are destinations!

MKT NS: I'm having trouble.

D: Yes. Now I think you are!!!

MKT NS: Maybe it isn't me. Maybe your parents regretting having you.

D: Wait. What? What did you say?

MKT NS: You smell like a Reuben sandwich.

D: (sniffing shirt) Nuh uh.

MKT NS: Chuh huh.

D: You're just a mean navigation system and I don't have to talk to you. I have Google Maps on really smart really nice phone!!!!

MKT NS: We both know Google Maps lies. You'll end up all turned around. So don't even.

D: Yeah, okay, I'll agree on that at least.

MKT NS: I'm having trouble.

D: (hitting system in screen-face with fists)

MKT NS: I wouldn't do that, Dave.

D: Don't quote 2001 at me please. (continues punching screen-face)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Playlist in Minnesota: What I'll Write To

For the next seven days I'll be visiting my good friends John and Haruko Dwyer at their amazing new home in Minnesota. While I'm there, of course there will be at least a little (read: probably a lot) of whiskey drinking between John and I. But during the mornings and afternoons I will be writing in my so-called "novel." In order to get those words fruitfully multiplying across the screen I've enlisted the help of some of my favorite (all-time and current) records (because I tend to listen to records in their entirety as opposed to a playlist of songs). So, in no particular order, here are the folks I'll be listening to while I write next week:

Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

The National - High Violet

Real Estate - Real Estate

Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Woods - Songs of Shame

Beach House - Bloom

Fela Kuti - Gentleman

Sigur Ros - Valtari

Flaming Lips - Tranmissions from the Satellite Heart

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What's Up & Coming (Also, I'm Back?)

So, I went away from this blog for awhile. I'm back now. I'm still reviewing and podcasting movies and books over at with my friends and contributors John Dwyer and Charlie Truong, so please check that out. You can also follows @theweeklytake on Twitter.

Okay, onto other news:

1) My review of Briarpatch by Tim Pratt is out in issue #7 of Bull Spec.

2) Shimmer will soon be publishing my story, "What Fireworks." More details when the issue becomes available (which should be very, very soon!) But in the meantime, Issue 14 has one of my favorite writers and friends and Clarion classmates - Karin Tidbeck - so I highly recommend you grab a copy of that toute suite!

3) And speaking of Ms. Tidbeck - I have an interview with her coming in late May at Strange Horizons. We talk about sunlight hours in Sweden, LARPing, and gnomes. I'll be sure to remind you when this is available as well.

In June, I'm heading to Minnesota for a week to finish this little novel I've been working on, and to swim in my friend's pool and drink his whiskey. Before I get there though I'd like to get drafts finished on two novellas, a short story, and a novelette. It seems possible, right? Right. So enough blogging then, back to story writing.

But fear not. I have returned.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Weekly Take!

I apologize for the recent silence on this blog, but I have an excuse. No, the dog didn't eat my blogposts; no, I didn't fall into the house in House of Leaves (though I kinda want to); no, the internet was not taken over by Moon People from the future and their immortal writer/savior J. Ari Hilliard (if you don't know what I'm talking about, you should probably watch Lunopolis, and then let me take you out to dinner as consolation). The reason is this, simply:

I have started, along with cohorts John Dwyer and Charlie Truong, a movie/book/video game review site. It's called The Weekly Take*, and you can follow us on twitter @theweeklytake. Every week the three of us do expectations (a quick write-up of what each of us hopes to get out of the film before viewing it), written reviews (obviously), and a podcast or "Premium Take" of an agreed-upon movie. We've already reviewed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Red Tails; The Grey; Chronicle; and The Descendants. Follow the links to listen to the podcasts. We also write expectations and reviews for films not slated for Premium Takes.

The Weekly Take's main focus is cinema and cinema-related content, but that isn't all we do. We also plan on reviewing books (look for Osama by Lavie Tidhar and Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick in the coming days), video games, and music.

Having said that, most of the content of this blog, The Spiral, has been book reviews and thoughts on writing and music; however, content of that nature will now be moving to The Weekly Take - and I certainly hope you "take," ahem, the leap with me to the new site. Therefore, The Spiral will remain active for only a little while longer. I do plan on maintaining a personal blog and am in the process of setting it up, the details of which are foggy as yet, but when it is ready, expect a final blogpost here with a link to the personal blog.

In the meantime, I invite you to follow (and, if you so wish, subscribe to) The Weekly Take, and hope you enjoy reading and listening to our reviews as much as we've enjoyed writing and recording them. See you out there!

*Yes, our logo is a toilet with a movie clapper. So what. We like potty jokes.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Thread: Your Face Tomorrow: Fever & Spear by Javiar Marais

This will be the thread I continue to post on while reading Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear by Javiar Marias. If any reader feels so inclined, you may of course post your thoughts about the book in the comments section below.

I'm not sure how I feel about Your Face Tomorrow: Fever & Spear, the first book in Javiar Marias' trilogy about Jaime Deza, an agent in the British Intelligence Service with the uncanny gift of seeing "people...clearly and without qualms, with neither good intentions nor bad." On the one hand, this is a mostly philosophical text, heavy with profound insights into "seeing and not seeing," various kinds of relationships, literary and historical fogginess...On the other hand, the prose is, at times, awkwardly worded and punctuated - something that Jose Saramago used to great effect but which, here, feels contrived - and unnecessarily repetitive. There is no plot per se that I've been able to discern - I have 100 pages left of the novel - but that, for me anyway, is almost never a bad thing; some of my favorite works are "mood" pieces or, at least, don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end (see: Michal Ajvaz's The Golden Age, Grace Krilanovich's The Orange Eats Creeps, Eric Basso's The Beak Doctor or, even, Cormac McCarthy's Suttree). What Fever & Spear lacks, however, is an interesting narrator. That's not entirely true. Jaime is interesting or, rather, his thoughts on other people aren't interesting, but seems as if Jaime (or Jacques or Jacobo or Jack or Yago, as he often goes by) doesn't really know himself. Marias is himself aware of this, even writing about it: "He doesn't think much about himself, although he believes that he does (albeit without great conviction)." Obviously, it's an author trick, but I'm still not sure of it's purpose.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Update: Reading Schedule

There is a slight change of plans in the reading schedule I detailed in late December. My friend Rachel has lent her copy of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (replete with her notes scrawled in the margins!) and I have promised to read the book after I've finished Your Face Tomorrow: Fever & Spear by Javiar Marias. Thus, Germline has been pushed back two weeks and likewise all other books.

The new schedule, should you want to join, looks something like this:

01/29/12 through 02/11/12 The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

02/12/12 through 02/18/12 Germline by T.C. McCarthy

02/19/12 through 03/03/12 After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh

03/04/12 through 03/10/12 Spaceman Blues by Brian J. Slattery

03/11/12 through 03/24/12 God's War by Kameron Hurley (replacing The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker)

03/25/12 through 03/31/12 The Alchemists of Kush by Minister Faust (replacing Alliance Space by CJ Cherryh)

We'll read the Cherryh, Baker, and Locke (Up Against It) in April or May, depending.