Saturday, December 24, 2011

Reading: Won't You Join Me?

Below, I've posted the books I'll be reading in the first three months of the new year. I think it would be wonderful of any of you dear readers would like to join me in reading these books. After the two week reading period (or thereabouts) for each book indicated below, I'll post a short blog on my thoughts about the content and you can post yours in the comments section if you so choose. (Note: none of these books is slated for publication in 2012; they've all already been published and most are either available in paperback or on the kindle and other ereaders.) So. Are you ready for this? Okay then.

01/01/12 through 01/14/12 Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution by Holly Tucker

01/15/12 through 01/28/12 Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear by Javiar Marias

01/29/12 through 02/04/12 Germline by T.C. McCarthy

02/05/12 through 02/18/12 After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh

02/19/12 through 02/25/12 Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery

02/26/12 through 03/03/12 The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker

03/04/12 through 03/17/12 Alliance Space (including the novels Merchanter's Luck and Forty Thousand in Gehenna) by C.J. Cherryh

03/18/12 through 03/31/12 Up Against It by M.J. Locke

Take the plunge with me, won't you? And happy holidays!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Favorite Books of 2011: My Year in SF

I've said this before, but I'll say it again: Clarion taught me a lot about writing stories, but it also taught me a lot about reading stories - and just how little in the field of SF/F/H I'd actually read. You see, as a young reader I was a huge fan of Star Trek books and anything from Timothy Zahn, then in high school I turned to The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire; during college, I read a lot of Tim O'Brien, Kurt Vonnegut, Cormac McCarthy, Denis Johnson, and Elmore Leonard. All of these books influenced my writing, of course, and I don't regret reading any of them (okay, maybe I regret those Star Trek books) - in fact, I reread The Things They Carried and Jesus' Son pretty much every year. However, as far as the genre I'd loved as a teenager - science fiction and fantasy - I wasn't as well-versed in as I thought I was or should have been prior to Clarion. I was familiar with and enjoyed Arthur C. Clarke, Asimov, and Douglas Adams but unfamiliar with a lot of current SF, as well as those harder-to-find classics. All I knew though was that I wanted to write science fiction and fantasy because I loved the possibilities these authors (as well as GRRM and Niven, and now a great many others) presented in their stories.

During Clarion, my ignorance and naivete of the genre hit me like a punch to the gut. I resolved to read as much as I could - classics and new - in the field. In fact, Chip Delany - one of the instructors at my Clarion - said, and I'm paraphrasing here I think, "to read one book of classic SF and one book of new SF every month." I took that advice to heart. It's impossible, of course, to read everything in a year (even for someone unemployed for most of it) and, though I'm by no means finished nor could I ever be, I feel as though I've made the tiniest of notches in the genre highway - see that little etching there, right there, put your face closer to the pavement, there, that's me. At least, it's a start. I understand the history of the genre better than I did year ago, which is important from an historical perspective for a writer; though perhaps most excitingly, I've found some truly amazing authors - writers I will follow for a good long time: Genevieve Valentine, Samuel R. Delany, Catherynne M. Valente, Maureen F. McHugh, J.M. McDermott, Jeff Vandermeer, China Mieville, Nnedi Okorafor...the list goes on.

So. To the point then. Though I did read many books published this year, I also read a great many published last year, and the year before, and the year before, and twenty years ago, and fifty years ago. Unsurprisingly then, this "Best Of 2011" list is a sort-of comprehensive look back at My Year in SF.

Best Books 2011
Though I'd be hard-pressed to pick a favorite book published in 2011, I have chosen three that I think are just wholly inventive and beautifully written.

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine
The tale revolves around the performers of a circus vying for a pair of gold wings and steering clear of government men in a steampunkish, post-apocalyptic world. The nonlinear narrative is one of the story's strengths, glimpsing the future and the past, letting the reader work out the structure for him/herself. It's just fantastic, and you should read it.

Embassytown by Chine Mieville
Can we call this novel "linguistpunk?" Mieville has created a wonderfully original alien species unable, through their perception of language, to lie. This is Mieville's first true "science fiction" novel, though he's always balanced a line between it, fantasy, weird, horror, literary; and he proves again with Embassytown that he can do anything. It is dark, monstrous, and beautiful.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
A little noir, a little sci-fi, a little thriller, a lot of awesome. Beukes' prose startles and pops and snaps: Zoo City is alive from the first page through the end. Zinzi December has the ability to find lost things. A celebrity singer goes missing and Zinzi is tasked to find her - though she hates missing people cases. Oh, did I mention she has a sloth on her shoulder?

Best Anthology 2011
There were two anthologies published this year that just blew me away. That they're edited by the same two people is also pretty amazing. That these same two people were our last Clarion instructors and that they've also published several Clarion classmates in one of these anthologies, as well as, various other projects they've worked on this year is *headsplosion*

Okay, there are some other really cool anthologies published this year - Solaris Rising edited by Ian Whates, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword & Sorceress 26 edited by Elisabeth Waters (including a story by Clarion classmate Jennifer Hsyu), The Best of Dark Fantasy and Horror 2011 edited by Paula Guran...But the following two anthologies were unsurpassed in originality of concept and breadth of writers and stories:

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer
This anthology is a cross-pollinating, genre-hopping, meta-wielding monster. It tells of objects and other sundry things found in the home of Dr. Lambshead after his death. Many of these items were scarred by a fire. The anthology is sort of a fictional historical narrative encompassing the life and madness and collection of one of recent fiction's most eccentric figures, even using visuals (such as pictures, graphs, etc.) to illustrate this point. It's fantastic. Each reading brings forth more nuances, deeper layers.

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer
Comprising the last 100 years of weird fiction, this anthology is a must-have for readers of any genre. Just take a look at the Table of Contents and you get the idea: a lot of writers you might not think of as "weird" - Michael Chabon and Jamaica Kincaid, for instance - make forays into the genre now and again. Perhaps what's most exciting about this anthology - beyond the stories, of course! - is the inclusion of international writers of weird - a thing which, head-scratchingly so, few anthologies published in the States (weird or no) seem to be doing; as well as highlighting underrated authors who haven't gotten the mainstream attention their writing deserves (read: Eric Basso's "The Beak Doctor").

Best Translation
The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz
Published in the original Czech in 2000 and translated in 2010, I heard about this book from Omnivoracious and, from Vandermeer's glowing review, knew I had to read it. I was not disappointed. The Golden Age is beautifully written, full of wondrous, vivid descriptions (the jellied statue, the Island's Book). The novel is mostly plotless; instead the narrative is driven forward by recollections of various incidents and encounters with the Book. This may be one of my favorite books ever. I cannot recommend it enough. Here is another story from Ajvaz, just as perplexing, just as beautiful, and translated by himself.

A Few Classics
I read a lot of what is considered "classic SF" over the past year or so. I think most people will be familiar with The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, Babel-17/Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany, Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison, and so on. Though, if you aren't, I highly recommend all of these; each of them are good jumping off points into the genre. Here are a few, however, that I personally had never heard of until Clarion and seem to be harder to find in bookstores but are most definitely worth the read.

We Who Are About To... by Joanna Russ
This brief novel left me dizzy for days. A ship carrying a small number of people crashes on a remote planet. There is no hope of rescue. Some of the survivors work toward building a civilization-of-sorts, reveling in what Samuel R. Delany calls, in his introduction "a generous universe"; the narrator, however, chooses a different path, and the outcome is harrowing and thought-provoking.

The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe
This novel is really a set of three interlinked novellas set on the sister worlds Saint Anne and Saint Croix. In the first novella, titled "The Fifth Head of Cerberus," the narrator discovers his dark past; in the second, "'A Story', by John V. Marsch," an anthropologist happens upon shapeshifters native to the island; and in the third novella, "V.R.T.," a bureaucrat reads the diary of mad scientist. Like all things Wolfesian, these stories are densely layered, heady stuff.

A Smattering of Good Books from the Past and Up to the Near-Present
The title of this section says it all: these are some of my favorite books that I read this year. They may not be considered "classics" yet but who can say.

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts
Russian science fiction writers are tasked with creating a believable alien invasion story. Then their story starts coming true. It's rare a book makes me laugh out loud, but Roberts succeeded in doing so three or four times in this co(s)mic journey with the fiction's finest ironist.

The Fixed Stars: Thirty-seven Emblems for the Perilous Season by Brian Conn
Post late-capitalists in a very surreal post-world. There is a bristle boar woman and a bathhouse. The narrative folds back on and over and in on itself. Fixed Stars is more like a long poem or a future folktale - I don't know. It's powerful and dark and fluid.

The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich
Teenage vampire hobo junkies roam the Pacific Northwest. One girl searches for her sister and is chased by a serial killer. The words within Creeps will leap out and eviscerate you with their imagery. One of my favorite novels from last year.

Who Fears Death? by Nnedi Okorafor
Another of my favorite novels from last year. Set in a post-apocalyptic Africa (if you haven't noticed yet, I like the post-apocalypse, hurm hum), Death deals with a great many problems - genocide, female circumcision - in serious, intelligent ways.

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
Half Senegalese folktale with Caribbean influences, Lord's debut is a fun (and sometimes funny) and serious (and sometimes heartbreaking) story of Paama who, after leaving her gluttonous husband, receives the Chaos Stick - an item the gods want back.

Half the Day is Night by Maureen F. McHugh
Slow burn kind of novel. McHugh's second novel, originally published in 1994, is a loose sequel to her splendid China Mountain Zhang, set in the underwater city of Marincite. Banks and corporate greed play a large part in this noir-ish novel.

The Troika by Stepan Chapman
A jeep, a brontosaurus, and an elderly Spanish woman make their way across a vast desert world with three purple suns, hounded by unpredictable storms and the truth of their pasts. They switch bodies sometimes. A mad angel watches over them - sort of. Chapman's prose sparkles and eviscerates. Read this book...if you dare.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
I just can't say enough good things about David Mitchell. Everything he's written is worth reading. Thousand Autumns is set in Nakasaki Harbor, Japan, at the turn of the 19th century. Jacob de Zoet has come to make his fortune and win the hand of his love back in Holland. It is a riveting story with just the slightest hint of supernatural forces.

Just A Great Wintertime Read
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark
I read this book last December, so I'll always associate it with that cold, wintry month. It is a magical book about, erm, magic during the Napoleonic Wars. JS&MN is a tome-sized book, clocking in at something like 820 pages, so be prepared for a long haul, but it's worth every moment. I promise.

Monday, November 21, 2011

News of the Day: Tin Tin Can Update, NaNoWriMo, Fender Stitch, The Weird & More

This will probably be my last post for the month of November. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and I'll be spending much of it in my hometown. I'll be back in December with the year-end Best Of lists. In the meantime, I'll leave with these (hopefully) juicy tidbits:

Tin Tin Can
We've nearly finished the mixing the process of the record. By the end of this month, it should be on to the mastering phase, and hopefully in your hands shortly after the new year! A lot of the artwork has already been sorted out, and we're throwing around titled for the record. It'll be 9 songs. We're all very excited to get this out. It's been one hell of a ride.

I've faltered a bit on this front, but not because I didn't like what I was writing. There are definitely elements that need to be fixed. To be honest, I'm not sure I like the narrative voice, which means I'll need to start from scratch, but I'm okay with that. Since Clarion, that's usually how I write. I will get 6-10K words written and realize the voice isn't quite right, then in "revision" (in quotes because sometimes my revisions are a complete overhaul of the story), I'll fix it. A few sentences usually remain an the overall concept is similar, but I have to find the right voice to tell the story in. This is what makes writing so much fun! (On a side note: Once I've completed this novella/long short story, my sister Mandy Monk, a gifted artist in her own right, will be doing drawings for it. Very excited about this too!)

Fender Stitch Magazine
A new online magazine has opened for submissions. It's called Fender Stitch, they pay pro rates, and have an interesting, interactive experience for reading on the internet. Elliot Turner, the owner/editor of site, is a friend of mine and I'd like to see this thing really take off. So, any of aspiring and/or pro writers out there, go their site and submit!

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange & Dark Stories
This anthology covering 100 years of Weird Fiction, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, is out now from Corvus Books in the UK, which you can buy here. Though it isn't scheduled to be released until 2012 in the US, you can purchase it here and there is no shipping fee. This is a must-have for fans of Lovecraft, Borges, Kafka, Krohn, and lovers of anything Weird in general (and for those who just like to see how a genre, if you can call it that, evolves over time). The Vandermeer's have also started a fantastic site dedicated to chronicling All Things Weird (including a wonderful comic on Reading the Weird by Clarion chum Leah Thomas):

Upcoming Fiction from Yours Truly
I will have stories out in New Dawn Fades Anthology from Postmortem Press (available around Black Friday), Shimmer (forthcoming in 2012), and a review of Tim Pratt's Briarpatch forthcoming in Bull Spec #7. Expect updates as these become available.

If this doesn't get you through the holidays and all that turkey and tofurkey, I don't know what will. Have a good'n. See you soon.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: Unstuck Magazine

The inaugural issue of Unstuck Magazine remains true to its name: these twenty-odd stories and poems have come unglued and float, however precariously, in the firmament, in "otherness," in worlds almost like our own but somehow, someway...skewed.

Take, for instance, Sharona Muir's "Air Liners," concerning invisible "bioluminescent" microbes formed during the act of lovemaking; or Helen Phillips' exhilarating "R," where the lives of twins Rose and Roo diverge in mysterious and unexpected ways after they experience, for the first time, the sensation of wind. Zach Savich builds "a bridge with nothing on either end" in his poem "My Ideas Have Set Nothing on Fire - Yet." Imagine witnessing the end of the world from a continent-sized garbage dump in the middle of the ocean as the characters in Matthew Derby's "Dokken" do; now imagine that this is the happiest moment of your life.
Neatly wrapped-up endings do not fit. Instead, these pieces toy with and subvert form, structure, and what's expected from a story. Rennie Sparks's excellent nonfiction piece, "The Eel," offers the reader this insight: "All we can ever know for sure is that the things we remember, real or false, are flags stabbed into the dark fog of the brain." Is there a better statement of what this issue of Unstuck stands for? It is movement free of predictability, the story or poem allowed to go where it will.

There are, however, moments of almost-revelation here; of glimpses into "our" world, the recognizable, the root of tangible experience. In Judson Merrill's "Inside Out" a prisoner escapes into the ventilation ducts of the prison only to meet the big land spider that dwells there. An uneasiness descends on this story and refuses to let up; yes, it gets weird and weirder by the end, but there is something terrifyingly human in the narrator's fear and lonesomeness, of being trapped in small spaces, of never getting out.

Many of the stories in this collection also deal, in some way, with that stickiest of mysteries: death. Macabre opener, "Monument," from Amelia Gray explores what happens when townspeople gather to tidy a graveyard and something goes terribly wrong. Rachel Swirsky imagines what love is like in the afterlife in "Death and the All-Night Donut Shop." In Matthew Vollmer's "The Ones You Want to Keep," the tragic events of a couple's honeymoon sends the narrator to the brink of madness. Each comes at their subject differently - Gray using the mysteriousness of death, Swirsky a bit of humor, and Vollmer the tragedy of continuing to live after the one you love is gone - never forcing the kind of deeper understanding so many stories try for (and most often fail at); instead, letting the various elements coalesce, the shape of the meaning different in each reader's brain.

Yet, for all the grim-reaping, there are also stories full of life here. The narrator of Karin Tidbeck's brief but exquisite "Cloudberry Jam" grows a "carrot-baby" in a tin can, and a strange new creature is brought into the world. That the end is full of a unique sort of longing and deep sadness only illustrates the hope of life. The same may be said of "Peer Confession" by John Maradik and Rachel B. Glaser. Here, a young girl must choose between the church she's known (and the painful, unfashionable braces she wears) and Church Hello - where practically anything goes, including braces-free boys and promiscuity. Is life all about the moment, this story seems to ask, or can we love life even with a little pain?

Perhaps just as interesting is Matthew Domiteaux's artwork which acts as bookends between the stories and poems. Mostly abstract, the drawings add texture and deepen the mood of each piece while preparing the reader for whatever is next. In particular, the wave-like drawings that separate the verses of Kaethe Schwehn's "Sea Air Breezy; Nothing Dreadful," mirrors the length-descending lines of each consecutive verse while heightening the sense of dread.

Ultimately, Unstuck has managed to gather a collection of stories and poems that relate and play off each other in exciting and often surprising ways. If there is one thing that ties these stories together, however, it is not a common theme but an intimate attention to detail and a sense of wonder of the world we live in or might live in, even if only briefly. Highly Recommended.

-Dustin Monk

Monday, November 7, 2011

NaNoWriMo Excerpt: Claw & Eye

The following is an excerpt from the novella I'm writing for NaNoWriMo. This is a pretty rough draft and already I can see where certain things need to change, sentences need tightening, bigger and bolder descriptions necessary, etc. In the interests of sharing and seeing how 1,667 words a day looks like (at least for me), however...well, here you go then:

Claw & Eye
By Dustin Monk

Worship of the ascendant eels begins beneath the city, in the Temple’s underground pools. Here is this man, Baldahlbrus, wearer of bowler hats, long coats, various beards (tonight is matted gray), with a limp he got fighting, and who dreams most every night of hiding in the thick, oily stalks of burningroot while around him the sounds of dying and short blasts of rifle fire carry on the wind, feeding an addict to the ascendant eels’ babies. The phosphorescent baby eels—who look like cold, white leaves and are sometimes called drifters because of the way they seem to float in the water when not eating: aimlessly, causeless—now nibble at the body like an angry mob, floating over him, illuminating his yellowy hair and knobby fingers and open, dead eyes with their phosphorescence. Their tiny, sharp teeth are stained ruby red.
            The addict must’ve died in the morning. Already his body stinks. Or maybe the stink is from the luminescent nerves twisted and knotted and thick as tree roots pulsing, clinging to the walls. The nerves smell like curdled milk.
Baldahlbrus stinks too—he smells of gasoline and vomit—but he will not bathe in this pool. The drifters will eat the living as heartily as they eat the dead. He watches. After a time the baby eels drift away from the addict’s carcass. What is left—shreds of meat and gristle and bone—sinks beneath the muddy green waters. He does not want to think about the amount of bones littering the bottom of the pool or what sort of monster they have formed.
He has knelt throughout the feeding. Now, he stands, feels out the limp in his leg, pulls his bowler hat closer to his eyebrows, straightens his long coat. The nerves along the walls pulse messages in bluish-gray but he cannot decipher what is said. Perhaps the message is: not so long ago we left and we are not coming back because we are dead. It might say that.
            His boots echo loudly on the stone tiles of the cavern dumb priests built to worship the ascendant eels in the bellies of their home. No one worships them anymore. He walks up the winding steps, click-clatter-clatter-click-clatter. Part of the roof of the grand chamber of the Temple has caved in. Large chunks of ceramic tiles lay scattered across the floor. Half-dead nerves—their ends the color of charred bodies, which Baldahlbrus has seen enough of—snap and fizzle like blown-out fireworks. Sister moonlight shines upon the gaping mouth of an ascendant eel painted on the floor. Once there were great sermons held in this chamber; a great many people knelt on the mouth of the eel. Now it glistens, lonely, as if mocking Baldahlbrus. I will devour what I please. Whatever was once treasured in this place is gone: chalices, painted windows, golden and gray curtains, the holy bowl.
            He pushes open the large wooden doors of the grand chamber, exits into the inner chamber and washes his face and hands in cracked clay bowls he’s found abandoned in alleys and filled with river water, and limps through the Temple’s smaller entrance into—


Nerve City. Night. Argana a pinkish pearl in the sky, looking down upon her thrumming, bleeding city, the cruel crater of her heart shimmering in streetlamps and in the eyes of addicts. Her twin Argala hangs behind a cloud in the shape of a frown. You were always the forlorn moon. Baldahlbrus gets out in it. Buildings rise like stark, bluish-gray tendrils—like thickened, widened mirror-others of the same nerves that cling to their facades—almost as if they too long for the ascendant eels’ return. The cobbled streets bustle in the dark.  Baldahlbrus steps around horse-pulled carriages, shit, and broken bottles. He averts his eyes from passersby: it is not good to know too many. Yet, he is not oblivious. Shadows stalk alleyways: half-illumined dealers form question marks against corners of buildings. Do you? Do you? Do you? Addicts get cold in the night too. In front of the brothel is Carakhi playing viola. Bevendraj’s eyes bulge as she looks at a huge clump of dirt in her hands. On the other side of the street, accosting passersby like the idiot he is is Galat, showing off his new silver tooth. A spiky-haired addict Baldahlbrus doesn’t recognize, shuffling back and forth in front of an abandoned grocery store, asks if he’s got it. He doesn’t.
In all the books he has read—and he hasn’t read that many—this is exactly what the end of the world looks like. It isn’t the end of the world, it is the beginning. It is the beginning of the world. That is a loop he gets easily caught in. The world spins as it sometimes does when he limps too fast and Baldahlbrus wishes Maj was here. He liked to lean on her and she let him sometimes. She hadn’t minded his limp either. Yes, I am in love with her. Almost as much as I am in love with getting so high the drifters talk to me. This isn’t how I find her. This isn’t my pining. She was a girl and I was a boy, once, and we were both soldiers and, hiding in the burningroot, we sometimes held each other. That is the kind of love I know.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Weird Fiction Review Launches! Now You Know Where To Go

Weird Fiction Review: Your Non-Denominational Source of the Weird launched today, the "brain-child" of authors/editors/friends Ann & Jeff Vandermeer! Why the exclamation point, you ask? Because this is awesomely exciting news! From the (I would assume, tentacled) desks of the Vandermeers:

"Hugo Award-winner Ann VanderMeer until recently edited Weird Tales Magazine and has co-edited several anthologies with her husband. Jeff’s last novel, Finch, was a finalist for the Nebula Award and World Fantasy Award. Together they edited the just-released The Weird: A Compendium of Strange & Dark Stories (Atlantic/Corvus), a 750,000-word, 100-year retrospective of weird fiction.

The site kicks off today with the following features:

---Exclusive interview with Neil Gaiman about weird fiction:

---First episode of exclusive “Reading The Weird” webcomic by Leah Thomas:

---Translation of Thomas Owen’s short story “Kavar the Rat” by Edward Gauvin:

---The full Table of Contents for The Weird compendium, with notes:

---Weird Gallery, Featuring the art of New Orleans artist Myrtle Von Damitz III:

Come back later this week and next for: “Weirdly Epic: A Century of First Lines,” exclusive interviews with Kelly Link and Thomas Ligotti, a feature on artist/writer Alfred Kubin, Kafkaesque entertainments, China Mieville’s “AFTERWEIRD: The Efficacy of a Worm-eaten Dictionary,”  and a feature on classic Weird Tales women writers. An ongoing “101 Weird Writers” feature will also begin next week. will initially focus on features related to The Weird compendium, but its primary mission over time will be to serve as an ongo­ing explo­ration into all facets of the weird, in all of its many formsa kind of “non-denominational” approach that appre­ci­ates Love­craft but also writers like Franz Kafka, Angela Carter, and Shirley Jack­son – along with the next gen­er­a­tion of weird writ­ers and inter­na­tional weird. Writer Angela Slatter serves as the managing editor."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's NaNoWriMo Time, NaNoWriMo Time - NaNoWriMoWithABaseballBat

November nears and, for me at least, this means it's time for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I will be participating again this year (here, here, here, and here are my posts from last year), though my goal this time around isn't to hit 50K words (though that'd be nice) but simply to get through my long story/short novel, which I've tentatively titled Claw & Eye. (Uhh...yeah it's the same title as last year's story, but totally different, I swear.)

The problem with last year's event was that, though I managed to make the 50K goal, I didn't really like anything I wrote - the prose was sloppy, the characters not-so-well thought out, and overall just plain limp as far as story goes. This was in part because I had made a conscious decision not to plan any detail out before I began the challenge. Well. That might work for some people but, what I discovered in the process, is that it doesn't really work for me.

Instead, over the last couple of months, I've been jotting notes, chiefly concerning world-building, characterization and action in larger scenes, as well as writing different entry points - a piece of advice I picked up from author Jeff Vandermeer during Clarion - to the story. I've also completed a short page-and-a-half synopsis of events.

I will be uploading the story here two or three times a week throughout November (and into December or later - basically, until it's finished) for your perusal, should you wish to read this thing I'm writing.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Best First Opening Lines of the Year (With Conditions)

I thought I'd do something fun in gearing up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) as well as the requisite "Best Of" lists that will populate this here bloggy-blog for the rest of the year, mostly. And that fun thing? Oh, you know, the 10 best first opening lines from novels or stories I've read this year - which means, of course, not all of these are from books or stories published in 2011, though most of them are. Are we having fun yet? Okay, great. Here goes:

10. "Interviewer: Can you introduce yourselves?
      "Alpha: We are third-generation intelligent agents of LogiComm Works, Inc., designed to calculate and settle agreements for our clients.
      "Beta: We are designed to filter out emotional noise factors that may prevent human agents from coming to an equitable resolution that maximizes efficiencies." - "Saving Face" by Shelly Li and Ken Liu (from Crossed Genres, January 2011)

9. "The tent is draped with strings of bare bulbs, with bits of mirror tied here and there to make it sparkle. (It doesn't look shabby until you've already paid.)" - Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine

8. "We sat on a hill. We watched the flames inside the balloons heat the fabric to neon colors. The children played Prediction." - Light Boxes by Shane Jones

7. "It began, in a way, with the midget hunchback tuk-tuk driver." - "Aphrodisia" by Lavie Tidhar (from Strange Horizons, August 2010)

6. "I'd never wanted to go to Earth until the doctor told me I couldn't, that my bones were too brittle." - "Long Enough and Just So Long" by Cat Rambo (from Lightspeed Magazine, Feb 2011)

5. "It is possible I already had some presentiment of my future." - The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

4. "For years the air above the earth had begun sagging, suffused by a nameless, ageless eye of light." - There is No Year by Blake Butler

3. "In some places, time is a weak and occasional phenomenon. Unless someone claims time to pass, it might not, or does so only partly; events curl in on themselves to form spirals and circles." - "The Aunts" by Karin Tidbeck (from ODD? Anthology, October 2011)

2. "There is no book about me. Well, not yet. No matter." - "The Book of Phoenix: Excerpted from The Great Book" by Nnedi Okorafor (from Clarkesworld Magazine, March 2011)

1. "Morning light the sulphur color of the mine dumps seeps across Johannesburg's skyline and sears through my window. My own personal bat signal. Or a reminder that I really need to get curtains." - Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Monday, October 24, 2011

Get Your Copy of Dustin Monk & The Dirty Priests

For anyone who would like a copy of my first solo record, Dustin Monk & The Dirty Priests, you can now purchase copies through me. These are limited edition CDs, with three different covers: bicycle, compass, and telephone.

Just send $12 (shipping included for US) or $22 (for international) to my paypal account: In the note section, make sure to include your name and shipping address, the quantity (if more than 1), and which cover(s) you'd prefer.

Dustin Monk & The Dirty Priests was recorded at June Bug House in Eureka, IL August-September 2008 and released in November the same year. It's been called a set of "postmodern western songs of death and heartache," and "Blood on the Tracks' baby sister with a limp," by at least two crazy people.

1. Don't Be a Stranger/Black Widow
2. Say a Prayer for Watson
3. Eleven Crackerjack Blues
4. Goddamn the Good Girls
5. Are They Thinking About the Grape
6. Waiting on the Light #7
7. Brand New Blue Jeans
8. The Sexuality of Kick the Can

Running Time: 43 min.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Recently Part Two: Books & Music

If you'll remember in Part One of Recently, I discussed some of the most recent books and music I've read and listened to. And now the conclusion...

The Thackery T. Lambshead's Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer
This anthology is a sequel-of-sorts to the Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, but is more involved, not just in creating the mythos surrounding Dr. Lambshead, but in the use of images and bigger, broader stories. Both anthologies are great examples of metafiction, but Curiosities succeeds in truly blurring the lines between "reality" and "fiction," including various artifacts discovered in Lambshead's home after his death (of which contained two Clarion classmates' - Tom Underberg and Kali Wallace - microstories). There's a great interview conducted by Cat Rambo on the SFWA site, discussing the anthology and many other things with the Vandermeers, here, here, and here. Some of my favorite stories/artifacts in this collection are Rachel Swirsky's "1943: A Brief Note Pertaining to the Absence of One Olivaceous Cormorant, Stuffed," Amal El-Mohtar's "The Singing Fish," Michael Cisco's "The Thing in the Jar," China Mieville's "Pulvadmonitor: The Dust's Warning," Naomi Novik's "Lord Dunsany's Teapot," and Ted Chiang's "Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny." The titles alone should get your heart racing!

Black Fortys' Voodoo Moon feels like a lost Stones record (if Mick Jagger had a huskier voice, anyway). Josh Murphy - singer/songwriter of the band - and I go way back. All the way to dirty, dimly lit open mics before the Hangar was destroyed by a tornado. We've watched each other grow as songwriters and musicians and I can say without a doubt that this is his most definitive statement - so far. Heartbreak is all over  Voodoo Moon. Heartbreak and rugged country, the kind of twisted shapes only moonlight can make.

Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun, Volume I & II, are considered classics of the "dying Earth" stories. Each of these volumes is made up two books, The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of Conciliator, and The Sword of the Lichtor and The Citadel of the Autarch, respectively. Severian is our highly unreliable narrator - a torturer exiled from his guild for showing mercy to a prisoner - and it is through his eyes we (mis)understand his world. I enjoyed a lot of the descriptions and future technology (Father Inire's mirrors, the botanical gardens, etc), but a few problematic issues arose for me: Sword of the Lichtor tended to ramble aimlessly, which led to more aimlessness in Citadel. And the female characters - of which there were four, I think, in the whole series - were set pieces more than characters, there only for Severian to desire.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's Hysterical is another of my favorite "remember 2004?" bands that has released one of the more mediocre records of the year. There's nothing bad about these songs at all - in fact, they're put together well in a very clean, concise order; the problem is is that there is nothing remotely ear-worthy about any of it. Hysterical is so inoffensive and diffused of life it's kind of like the light brown paint on your office walls: you only notice every now and again and not as a work of art but as a revelation of "Oh, the walls are light brown. That's nice."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar from Cheeky Frawg!

Cheeky Frawg Books, an ebook imprint from Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, has just released the exquisite and wonderful The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar. It is a series of short fiction/prose poems describing the tastes of 28 different kinds of honey. Read more about here.

If you haven't read El-Mohtar, make yourself familiar. She is a superb writer, having written one of my favorite short stories of last year, "The Green Book," in Apex Magazine; as well as a fantastic piece in the Vandermeer-edited The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities anthology (which you should probably buy), called "The Singing Fish."

The Honey Month is the first of many ebooks Cheeky Frawg has lined up over the 6 months (although they already have an impressive lineup - see the first link above). I'm particularly looking forward to the ODD? Anthology, featuring new and established writers as well as translations, The Divinity Student by the genius Michael Cisco, The Troika by Stepan Chapman, Jagannath - a short fiction collection from the truly inspiring Karin Tidbeck, Women of the Supernatural edited by Ray Russell, and, well, pretty much everything they're releasing for the foreseeable future. Really, I'm only getting a Kindle so I can own these books (ebooks? boks? boiks? bookannaths?).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

News of the Day: Quiet Time

Those of you who read this blog may have noticed a sudden absence of posts here. Well, there are a couple of reasons for that.

1) I started a job with an insurance agency and have been learning the ins and outs the past couple of weeks. It's only a temporary thing, basically doing some dirty work for a large company, making sure people with life insurance are receiving their benefits. But getting up at 6:30 in the morning and going to bed before midnight is very strange and is something I'm only starting to get used to.

2) I've been working on several Johnny Gorgeous stories, trying to piece together a series of interlinked stories from the loveable post-apocalyptic slacker.

3) I've also started the *gasp* novel. I won't say much about it right now, but, assuming that things go as well as they have been writing-wise I may start posting it as a serial on this blog. As of right now, however, it is in unrevised, serious first-draft form, though I'm having fun with the narrative voices and the world I've set the characters in.

4) Tin Tin Can is hard at work finishing the record. Tonight, as a matter of fact, we'll be adding more background vocals; and, though I can't be there, this weekend a small choir is coming over to add some really cool stuff. On @tintincamusic Pierce has been posting sneak peaks so keep yourself updated with what we're doing. I'm sure there'll be more to come this weekend.

5) In other related news, I sold two stories. One is about the residents of a crumbling island and some very nasty beasts; the other is a zombie TV reality show. More details to come.

6) Tony, our orb-weaving spider, is doing well. He has caught many small insects and spins his web nightly. He's laid off the clubs for awhile, I think. Detox, you know?

Anyway, I may be quiet here for a bit longer as some of these things take shape. But fear not: I will return -with Books & Music Part Two soon, a "Favorite Records of 2011" post, as well as "Favorite Books," a few book reviews (including last year's Zoo City by Lauren Beukes), and posts about participating in NaNoWriMo again this November. God speed!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Orb-Weaver's Story

I'm fairly certain the spider who has made his home in the upper right-hand corner of my kitchen window is an orb-weaver. Of course, I'm basing this conclusion from various pictures on google images, but he seems to have the stripes in the right places. He is an ugly thing - and by "ugly" I mean "beautiful." I've named him Jean-Luc Picard, but his nickname is Tony. Each night, Tony puts on his best shoes and hits the clubs. He's a fan of Red Label and, from the way he mopes about during the day, seems to hit the stuff a little too hard sometimes. It's okay, Tony. We all go through a party phase - mine last 10 years.

Tony's writing a novel too. No, it isn't about the plight of spiders or anything as serious as that. It's about a group of people who live in the forest surrounding Makanda, IL. One of them - a blind woman with salt-white hair down to the small of her back - wanders into town one day and, at an antique shop, discovers a water clock and a cobwebbed wheel from a Model-T. Well, you can probably guess where it goes from there, but Tony has asked me to give you a hint. In Tony's words: There is a showdown atop Devil's Stand-table and, later, a snowy car crash along the wine trail.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Recently, Part One: Books & Music

It's that time again for me to tell you (whether you want me to or not) about the most recent books and music I've read and listened to, enjoyed or sorely loathed. A couple of books this year have really stood out (if you're a regular reader of this blog then you'll know I loved, loved, loved Genevieve Valentine's Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti) and some others that I'd hoped would stand out that, for various reasons, didn't (sorry, TV on the Radio and Quantum Thief*). I've talked about most of these in recent posts, so let's see what's new, shall we?

The Golden Age by Czech writer Michal Ajvaz is one of the books that you must read and then must read again. This is a once or twice a year read. There are very few books I can say have that kind of power. Middlesex is perhaps another, and Jesus' Son. Anyway, Golden Age is a nonlinear, plotless novel that is sort of about a mysterious island and this island's Book - both a fictitious and historical account of the island written by its residents, who make no distinction between an object and its representation. The prose is lyrical, visceral, yet also unadorned and grounded (credit here also goes to the translator Andrew Oakland). Many of the images have stuck with me after finishing the book - some so much that I still dream about the vicious fish in jelly.

Sue Townsend's The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 is another plotless story, though it is completely linear, it being a diary of every day for over year in Adrian Mole's life. It's also really funny. Though he considers himself a genius hampered by the constraints of society, Adrian is really a scared, under-confident teen with some pretty big hangups: his best friend is dating the girl he likes, he's got to take care of a crazy old man, his parents' marriage is falling apart and he is in the middle of it, and, worst of all, the BBC continues to reject his poetry! If that doesn't sound like you at that age then I don't know what planet you came from because that totally sounds like me at 13. You might think reading a diary entry from almost every day for something like 14 months would get monotonous, but it doesn't. Townsend's got enough humor and heartbreak to go around.

Girls' Father, Son, Holy Ghost is about as good as it gets. Classic deep-fried guitar solo? Gospel choir? Check. Crooning? Check. Pathetically mopey lyrics? Check. Organ? Check. All in one song? Check. Girls wear their influences on their sleeves - as many reviewers are like to say - and it's true: naysayers of the band will point to such and such part sounding just like this Beach Boys song or that T. Rex or whatever. The thing about Girls is that, though a lot of what they do is pastiche, they do it in an interesting and, damn it I will argue this to death, original way. Especially on their sophomore LP, Father, Son, Holy Ghost. Here, styles and periods of music clash and clang about - not from song to song, as it did on their debut, Album - but in the course of a song itself. Opener, "Honey Bunny" is first a no-brainer surf rock song, but it's middle becomes tinged with country-western. That first bit up there with all the "checks" is the huge anthem "Vomit." The songs are longer, too, and jammier. It's not what you expected from these fellows but it's damned good and is a contender for the best record released this year.

Sometimes I just need a noirish-spy thriller type of book and either Elmore Leonard or John le Carre will fill that gap. I finished le Carre's The Mission Song not long ago and, though I expected a breezy read, le Carre delivered a thought-provoking novel of the deepest kind of misunderstanding. The story concerns Bruno Salvador, ("Salvo to his friends, and his enemies too"), "son of an Irish missionary and a Congolese woman," and interpreter of many Eastern Congolese languages, who gets caught up in some pretty serious shit between war-torn Congo and various outside sources making a play for the riches in the land there. Le Carre illuminates not only the problem of foreign governmental interference and its consequences but also of beauracratic greed in general.

After the bombast and "big-ness" of their debut, Cymbals Eat Guitars' follow-up, Lenses Alien, is still arguably as explosive, but to me, feels contained and perhaps a little too post-punkish for my tastes. There is at least one good song here, though: opener, "Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)" is fantastic eight and a half minute opus. Everything else is fairly short and feels almost juvenile compared to the thick-walled monsters of Why There Are Mountains.

We'll finish up with more books and music this weekend in Recently, Part Two.

*Though I will say, as I peruse Hannu Rajaniemi's debut in preparation for a reread in late October the "messy narrative" I complain about in the book doesn't seem as "messy." I still maintain the characters are not as developed as they could have been, though.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Post-Carbondale: Day 9

There has been some excitement over the last couple of weeks, most of it getting to know my new orb-weaving resident (more on him in an upcoming blog). Some other things of note:

Over the weekend, Moddang and I went to Griffith's "Rock 'n' Rails" Fest. Griffith, IN, boasts - apparently - of having the most intersecting train tracks at one point. I think there are five. Anyway, we went to the festival - the third annually - and ate some good food from the Pepe's kiosk. We would've stayed for the band that was set up but huge dark clouds rolled in and, shortly after we arrived, strong gusts and heavy rain cut the festivities short. We got a free comic book out of it though.

I've had a couple interviews for various positions in downtown Chicago.

Every time we take Moddang's car in to the repair shop to get something fixed (be it Indiana emissions testing, wheel bearings, fuel pump, what have you) something else invariably goes wrong. I'm beginning to suspect mechanic tomfoolery.

We have begun the initial packing for Moddang's return to Thailand in December. That will be a surreal month.

I sold a story to Shimmer Magazine. I will blog and facebook this later too, so expect bombardment!

It seems as though the heat has finally let up and, even now as I write, beautiful fall-looking clouds (all gray and purplish) dot the sky outside my window. It looks as though a nice breeze is ruffling the branches of the trees too. I think this is walking weather.

Last night, I found a liquor store that sells Arrogant Bastard - my favorite of the Stone Brewing Co. beers and something of a phatom round these parts - for only $5 a bottle. That may seem expensive but I assure you it is well worth it.

Today I finished reading the first half of Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun, including the novels The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator. I enjoyed them (and have begun the second half), though I thought it had its flaws.

I finished watching "Carlos: Miniseries" the other day. It is a fictionialized account of the international terrorist, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, aka Carlos the Jackal, mostly known for leading the raid on OPEC in Vienna in 1975. I thought the film, which is 5 1/2 hours, was downright fantastic and an interesting in-depth portrait of a person whose ideals and obsessions (skewed as they may be) are sidetracked by his celebrity. Before the film begins, a note mentions that quite a few liberties were taken with the various relationships and roles Carlos took part in, so who knows how much of it is accurate, but for me, accuracy of actual events wasn't the point. It was a There Will Be Blood kind of film: descent into chaos and madness. (Maybe I'll write more on this later.)

In the meantime - that walk I mentioned? I think it's due.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Spider Time

Hello, friend. What are you doing hanging outside my window, eh?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Post-Carbondale: Day 1

I returned Monday afternoon from a four-day trip to Carbondale, IL, where I went to university, and met some of the best folks around. This trip there was a lot drinking, a lot of jamming, a lot of Jeopardy!, and Trivial Pursuit 1984, a lot of deer meat, a cookout, and laughter. It was good to see all them kids again (as well as meeting a few new ones) and I look forward to returning soon.

Here is a recap of my day since returning from Carbondale:

Read two chapters in Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer

Watched the first part of Carlos: The Miniseries, chronicling the life of Carlos the Jackal, an international terrorist

Perused 2666 by Roberto Bolano for the fiftieth time

Made pizza rolls (twice)

Talked to a buzzing fly but did not, I repeat, did not swallow it

Read a Clarion story by the talented Kali Wallace

Wrote a bit more in a new short story

Worked on the novel

Despised writing "worked on the novel" in blog

Drank too much water, peed a lot

Absently wondered (again) why the media ignores Ron Paul

Took a long walk

I'm off to the library next to look for some books on ancient Chinese culture and military.

Reading: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

I was reminded, to a certain degree, of the works of Angela Carter in Catherynne M. Valente's lovely The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. This might well be a YA kind of story but, as with most of Valente's work that I've read - and like Angela Carter - there are sufficient heapings of gloom and doom (uhh...not that YA can't have that or something; remember M.T. Anderson's Prince of Nothing duology or Sue Towsend's hilarious but ultimately heartbreaking The Secrety Diary of Adrian Mole, to name a couple?). So I guess what I'm saying, in a very roundabout way, is: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making rocks.

September, our heroine, is transported to Fairyland upon by the Green Wind - who has taken pity on her. Once in Fairyland and after having chosen the cruelest of three paths, Setpember sets out on a quest to return a spoon stolen by the Marquess - the current ruler of Fairyland - from the witches Hello and Goodbye, and their wairwulf husband Manythanks. The journey becomes much more than a spoon's quest, however, as September learns that something is terribly amiss in Fairyland and it seems the Marquess is to blame. Along her way September gains companions A Through L - a wyvern fathered from a library - and Saturday - a sea creature called a Marid who eats stone. The journey for the spoon - and then later for a sword - will take them across Fairyland, though it isn't like any Fairyland you've seen before: this Fairyland is dangerous and, afraid of angering the Marquess, many will do her bidding, making it hard to know who to trust. By the end, even September is not the innocent, young girl she was when the Green Wind whisked her off from her parents' house. Highly Recommended.

Here is an excerpt of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making:

In Omaha, signposts are bright green with white writing, or occasionally white with black writing. September understood those signs and all the things they pointed to. But the signpost before her now was made of pale wind-bleached wood and towered above her: a beautiful carved woman with flowers in her hair, a long goat's tail winding around her legs, and a solemn expression on her sea-worn face. The deep gold light of the Fairyland sun played on her carefully whittled hair. She had wide, flaring wings, like September's swimming trophy. The wooden woman had four arms, each outstretched in a different direction, pointing with authority. On the inside of her easterly arm, pointing backward in the direction September had come, someone had carved in deep, elegant letters:

                              TO LOSE YOUR WAY

On the northerly arm, pointing up to the tops of the cliffs, it said:

                              TO LOSE YOUR LIFE

On the southerly arm, pointing out to sea, it said:

                              TO LOSE YOUR MIND

And on the westerly arm, pointing up to a little headland and a dwindling of the golden beach, it said:

                              TO LOSE YOUR HEART

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reading: Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, the debut novel by Genevieve Valentine, is the best book I've read so far this year. The language of the novel is poetic and hypnotic and moving. It's a short novel, but Valentine managaes to get across so much with so little - a gift if ever there was one, truly.

It's about a traveling circus in either an alternate Earth or a post-apocalyptic Earth. The circus is run by the enigmatic Boss, a woman with an ambiguous past and strange magical powers. In this circus, many of the performers are kept alive by adding mechanical components to their bodies - from Panadrome, the one-man orchestra, to Elena the aerialist with brass bones. Even as the circus is hounded by "government men," there is a quiet war between several performers and a pair of gold wings Boss keeps.

You might be saying to yourself, isn't the whole circus thing kind of worn thin? Perhaps so, but Valentine injects it with grace (sidenote: now I'm imagining a needle full of grace in my arm) and heartbreak. Even though it is a somwhat nonlinearly structured novel, every scene works toward its inevitable conclusion with surprising wonder. Supremely-doo-remely Recommended.

Here is a an excerpt from Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti:

Little George was slated to be fixed, but Boss keeps him out of the workshop even after he asks, and so he keeps moving slowly through time until he's older than Ying, until he's nearly as old as Jonah, who has been twenty-five since the day he came to the circus and was gifted with his clockwork lungs.

Slowly, Little George begins to wake up to the world in a way he cannont name.

He does not know that Ying will never be older; he does not know why he takes such care not to anger the Grimaldi brothers. He is not aware, only awake.

He knows nothing for certain; he only sees that when the government man is gone, the circus gathers in two groups to see what Boss will do: who are alive, and those who have survived the bones.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reading: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

What initially piqued my interest in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs was the use of "found photographs" within the text. Most of the photographs are from the archives of Robert Jackson and, make no mistake, there are some truly peculiar, even haunting, photos here. However, I found the conceit wearisome after about 100 pages with each photo being introduced by a sudden "remembrance" from the narrator - surely, there are more ways to incorporate the photos than merely "I remember..."? The twists near the end of the story I also thought were predictable and not all that interesting, making it fairly easy to see how the story will continue - this book being the first in a series. That doesn't mean Riggs won't surprise (though I can't imagine the second book using found photos again as its hook), and I'm invested enough in the characters I'll give the next book a fair shot.

In this story, young Jacob's grandfather tells him stories of a strange past - fighting monsters and living in a boardinghouse on an island off the coast of the UK with other "peculiar" children, all of whom had some sort of strange power, whether it be invisibility or amazing strength or weightlessness - but Jacob's father convinces him that his grandfather's stories are just stories, despite the photographs to the contrary, and that his grandfather had been escaping Nazi Germany during WWII. But Jacob's life is turned upside down when his grandfather suddenly dies and clues point toward the truth of his mysterious past as a "peculiar" child. On the advice of his therapist, Jacob visits the island where the boardinghouse resides, and meets some very strange folk there.

Here is an excerpt from Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children:

I recognized them somehow, though I didn't know where from. They seemed like faces from a half-remembered dream. Where I had seen them before - and how did they know my grandfather's name?

Then it clicked. Their clothes, strange even for Wales. Their pale unsmiling faces. The pictures strewn before me, staring up at me just as the children stared down. Suddenly I understood.

I'd seen them in the photographs.

The girl who'd spoken stood up to get a better look at me. In her hands she held a flickering light, which wasn't a lantern or a candle but seemed to be a ball of raw flame, attended by nothing more than her bare skin. I'd seen her picture not five minutes earlier, and in it she looked much the same as she did now, even cradling the same strange light between her hands.

I'm Jacob, I wanted to say. I've been looking for you. But my jaw had come unhinged, and all I could was stare.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reading: Emma Bull's Territory

Just finished reading Territory by Emma Bull. And: Wow. Must. Read. Everything. Bull. Has. Written.

 Territory, anyway, is a western story, set in Tombstone, AZ, in 1881, a few months before the famous shootout at the OK Corral - with one huge difference: in Bull's Old West, there are supernatural forces at work. It's a wonderful alternate history leading up to the events of the famous aforementioned gun fight. But if you're expecting the stereotypical western story (read: big shootouts, mysterious strangers, marauding Apaches), you will be disappointed or, in my case, pleasantly surprised (some of these things are there, but in very unexpected ways). While reading the book I was reminded of the awesome short-lived and much-loved HBO series Deadwood with its mixture of real people and fictional characters, although no one in Territory said "fuck" as much (heh). Bull's absolutely intoxicating prose made the world and the characters come to life - every sense was satisfied. Supremely Recommended.

Here is a short excerpt from Territory, during which one of the characters, Jesse, is taming Virgil Earp's horse:

Spark came down again, and to his knees; reared again, staggered back on his hind legs. Jesse stayed with him. Sweat blackened the hair on the colt's neck and flanks and legs. Jesse talked to him, his voice gentle, while he kept the strap tight in his right hand.

He hated this part. He hated the fear the horse felt, the way that fear grew as the animal learned that nothing it did could win this fight. If he'd handraised Spark as he had Sam, this wouldn't be necessary. But Sam had been made to believe since before he'd first stood up that Jesse was stronger than he was. Spark still had to be convinced. The more of his strength he used, the more of it there was for Jesse to turn against him.

Humans expected horses to think like humans. Jesse knew better - but it troubled him that, in a horse, wisdom could grow out of fear.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Digital Science Fiction: Therefore I Am

For those of you that don't have kindles or other ebook devices, the anthology Digital Science Fiction: Therefore I Am - the anthology my story, "El Camino" appears in - is now available in print format from Amazon and it's pretty reasonably priced! The other stories in this anthology are also totally awesome, so it's well worth the purchase.

On August 13th, Therefore I Am was Number 1 on Amazon's Bestsellers in Science Fiction Anthologies. We've dropped to 15 since, but I know we can climb back up.

Thanks to all who've supported this anthology!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hugo Nominees: My Picks

Sadly, I won't be attending Renovation (Worldcon in Reno, NV, the king con of cons) this weekend so I will be unable to vote for the Hugo Awards - one of SF's most prestigious awards. Regardless, I intend to give you my picks in the categories where I'm familiar with the works or individuals nominated. You can find a full list of nominees here. I'll be attending next year's Worldcon in Chicago and I invite all of you to join in on the fun (and to read these books and magazines).

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. The award will probably go to Connie Willis for Blackout/All Clear, but I'd choose Kingdoms any day over these two. I also find it kind of unfair that Willis has two books nominated as one; Jemisin's second book in her Inheritance Trilogy too and that book, The Broken Kingdoms, is also wonderful.

"The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen's Window" by Rachel Swirsky. Ted Chiang is a worthy adversary, but I believe Swirsky will take this one home. One of the best stories I've read in several years.

"The Jaguar House, in Shadow" by Aliette de Bodard. This is a tough category. I really like James Patrick Kelly's "Plus or Minus," and Allen M. Steele's "The Emperor of Mars." Honestly, it's almost a toss-up between these three, but de Bodard's stands out a little more above the crowd.

"The Things" by Peter Watts. Despite this story being based off John Carpenter's The Thing, it is amazing. Alas, it is also very tough to choose in this category. Both Kij Johnson's "Ponies," and Mary Robinette Kowal's "For Want of a Nail" are fantastic too.

Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan. Despite its somewhat flawed conceit, this movie could've been a full-blown disaster and it wasn't. In fact, it was quite engaging. (Sidenote: I almost went with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but Scott didn't end up with Knives which was, to me, as infuriating as Duckie not ending up with Andie in Pretty in Pink. Come on, Knives is so cool!)

John Joseph Adams. Lightspeed and Fantasy Magazines publish some of the best SF out there today.

Liz Gorinsky. I love Tor Books and Gorinsky is doing some amazing work there.

Lightspeed Magazine. For the reasons stated in the Best Editor, Short Form section.

Lauren Beukes. One helluva writer. I'm curious as to why Zoo City wasn't nominated for best novel.

Apologies to the best fanzines and fan writers and graphic stories, et cetera, but if I didn't pick from your category it's because I'm not familiar with the nominees. Hopefully, by next year, I will have rectified this ignorance. In the meantime, good luck to all the nominees!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Are Email Lists at Rock Shows Ironic Yet?

Way back when (when being 2004-ish), email lists were all the rage at rock shows. It seemed every band had a bent-up, beer-stained spiral notebook with scribbled emails in blue ink in its pages next to whatever the band was selling at the merch table. Where did that notebook go? With the popularity of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and others, the "email list" has become a thing of the past, a relic of times gone by.

So, how long then until it becomes ironic? Will email lists join the ranks of irony, along with PBR, trucker hats, handlebar mustaches, and cassette tapes? And what about the original email list - the snail mail list? What hell is that doomed to?

And: where have all the cowboys gone?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Music Review: Moonface: Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped

Finally, finally, finally, Spencer Krug (of Wolf Parade fame) gives into his carnivalesque leanings with wild abandon - and mixed results - on his latest project, Moonface's Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped. As Krug himself noted in the press release for the record: "It's music played with an organ, organ beats, organ beeps and bloops, and some digital drums. Music based on layers and loops, the hypnotizing sound of a Leslie speaker, and the onslaught of melody."

He's not wrong about the organ beats or the layers: this is dense and heady stuff. With only five songs and clocking in around 37 minutes, Organ Music still has that epic grandeur fans have come to expect from Krug record - only one song runs under seven minutes! He also continues expanding his personal mythology; various references to "idiot hearts," spirits, oceans, and, umm, running(?) populate the lyrics. However, middle sections of almost every song tend to drag and it's easy to get lost in the droning organs and constant repetition.

What's interesting to note about all of Krug's work - even with Wolf Parade - is that it sounds all part of one project. Part of that reason is because each record is so different from the last and yet all of them are exactly Spencer Krug. Organ Music is no different, except that it is, perhaps, much lonelier, more raw, and certainly more jangly.

Though Organ Music isn't as outright geeky and simultaneously accessible as the last Sunset Rubdown record, Dragonslayer, nor as tasteful as Wolf Parade's Expo 86, there are moment of pure Krugian brilliance here: when his voice cracks shouting the title of "Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor"; in the tense refrain "Won't you win the race for me?" during "Fast Paster"; the entirety of the final track "Loose Heart = Loose Plan." Yet, each of these songs contains a listlessness, and a dangerous unhinging, that will either be endearing to fans or a turn-off. But that is what makes Krug such an interesting songwriter: his fearlessnes and willingness to take chances.

THE FIRST TIME I LISTENED TO THIS RECORD: I was driving to Chicago. It was dark with no stars. The highway was illuminated by streetlights and my one working headlight. Earlier in the evening it had rained a little and the interstate still had that glossy look. You could smell the pavement. I listened intensely to the record once through and then just let it roll on, over and over again, until I reached Tin Tin Can's practice space.

-Dustin Monk

Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Review: The Curfew by Jesse Ball

A father and daughter try to live a quiet life in a city broken by fear and random violence in Jesse Ball's understated and beautiful new novel, The Curfew. Ball's fiction has been compared to the films of David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock, and The Curfew proves no exception: it is an experimental, disjointed, and darkly-themed work. Indeed, Ball describes the "city and its occupants" early on as "a series of objects" connected by "violence," "pity, compassion," and "hope," yet are ultimately "hapless, benighted, discordant."

In this city called "C," a wrong look to the wrong person can mean death. The secret police are everywhere. Everyone lives in fear. William Drysdale - once a famous violinist - must put away his instrument after an uprising and subsequent crackdown on various freedoms, including artistic performances. He finds work as epitaphorist - writing the words on the recently deceased's tombstones; it's a very lucrative job. His daughter, Molly, who does not speak, goes to a school where she is "told repeatedly to repeat things." They live a mostly quiet life: William reads imaginary articles in the newspaper to Molly and plays riddle games with her in their house.

All they do, however, is overshadowed by the death of Louisa, William's wife, under mysterious circumstances four years earlier. In the city it is common for the dead to go missing and Louisa is one such case. Afraid of what might happen to himself and to Molly, William moves across town and quits his old friends. Ball's unadorned writing conveys William's helpnessness perfectly: "What does dying do to plans one makes with one's beloved? ...He sat in the stairwell. He went down the street and up again. He turned on the stove and turned it off."

On his way to an appointment, William meets a friend from his old life, who tells him there is a meeting later that night - a meeting of dissenters and revolutionaries - and that there is news of Louisa. Even though William knows he shouldn't go, he is determined to understand Louisa's disappearance, to put some kind of context around it. He leaves Molly with the neighbor, Mrs. Gibbons, who warns William about the dangers of being out after curfew. The curfew, however, is an unspecified time of night; indeed there is no official curfew except the government's "declaration: good citizens pass their nights abed."

The Curfew is told as a kind of three-act play, the first two acts being the events of the story itself, and the final act as a play within the narrative called "A Ladder of Rain and the Roof Beyond," written by Molly and Mrs. Gibbons' husband, a puppeteer (the play itself is reinacted by Mr. Gibbons' puppets). If there are issues with this novel, it's here. Molly's play reimagines the events of the story so far and, though there is enough invention to keep the reader interested, it can get fairly repetitive.

To Molly, her father - for all his solitude and unassuming-ness - is a puppet of his own making controlled by fear, subversion agents and dissenters, love for his daughter, the disappearance of his wife, the secret police, all of which is personified in her play. It is her attempt, in some small way, to understand her father, to also understand her mother and her death.

If the end is ambiguous, it is because some details are left out and some never fully explained; there is a certain beauty in mystery. Indeed, during the play, William drops Molly off at school and goes to sit by a lake where he sits "there for the entire day, staring into the water. There are figures in the water, but he cannot see them. He can only sense them. It is the same at the cemetery with all the bodies in the earth. One can feel them, but not see them. It is not that they are ghosts. It is not that impression. Simply that the center of so many worlds rest in one another's context." Herein lies the mystery and the beauty of The Curfew. Recommended; pairs well with a fine Pinot Grigio.

-Dustin Monk