Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Austin: A Retrospective, Or Lasering the Grackles

As most of you know, this last weekend Tin Tin Can played the Spencer Bell Legacy Show in Austin, TX. For all of us in the band, it was our first time in Austin - and the 80 degree whether was a welcome change from the biting cold in Chicago. We played the Mohawk on Saturday, sharing the stage with some of our favorite musicians and friends. I'd like to give a particular shout-out to Claudia Garate and Brittany Wolfe for putting the Legacy Show together in Austin and for being all around awesome people.  Everyone that came out, braving the heat for a good cause, thank you too. It was a blast!

Pierce, Mike, and I were lucky enough to stay an extra couple of days in Austin. We checked out the city on Sunday with a little tour guidance from Mike's friend, Sarah, and joined by Jake Miller from The Kissing Club and Stevedores. Our first stop was Torchy's Tacos, recommended to us by several concert-goers the previous night. Unfortunately, I have no pics of the food we ate because we were all of us very hungry and scarfed it down without much adieu. I ordered The Republican - jalapeno sausage and cheese and sauces on a tortilla - and The Brushfire - mangos, spicy sauces, chicken, and sour cream all wrapped in a tortilla.

The most interesting item we ordered at Torchy's, though, was the deep-fried cookie dough, called, ahem, "nookies." It was very rich and greasy, to say the least. How about this: after eating one round, deep-fried ball I think the dough stuck to my ribs and it was a long time before I could breathe deep again without sharp pains shooting up and down my sides. Do I regret eating two of them then? Only a little.

Sarah, Mike's friend and our tour guide, took us to Trudy's, a bar where the first  three beers on Sunday are only a buck. We stood around outside, chatting in the cool breeze, and a homeless man asked us where the synagogue was. Unfortunately, none of us knew.

We wandered around a little outdoor venue called the Spider House (see the pic above) and stopped in at a toy store. Mike bought a dancing robot of some sort at the store. I nearly purchased a B-movie victim figurine but opted out at the last minute. There was an awesome squid shirt at the toy store that Jake almost bought, but it was too damn expensive.

You can't come to Austin and not visit the Daniel Johnston Mural. I snapped a couple pics of Mike playing the ukelele in front of it. A shame that some other ruffians mangled it up with a cigarette and whatnot. Still, it was pretty cool.

Afterward, we went downtown to the bridge overlooking Lake Austin or Town Lake or Ladybird Lake, depending on who you talk to. The bridge is famous for its bats. That is, the bats living underneath the bridge that take wing in swarms just after the sun sets. We waited in the chilly dusk along with 80+ others and it seemed as though the bats weren't coming out after all. They finally did, though it wasn't the massive black-winged swarm that I imagined. Instead, the bats circled around the bridge above the dark waters. It was neat but after about five minutes it was dark enough that I could no longer distinguish the bats from the darkness with my color blind eyes, alas, alas.

Sarah took us along the main drag of downtown Austin. It was a little like Nashville: bands of all genres playing in seedy-looking bars, the windows open, music bursting into the street. It smelled like tacos, garbage, and perfume: pretty great. We stopped at Hoboken Pie for a quick slice before heading back to our place.

The next day we ate at Magnolia's with Claudia and Brittany and stopped in at Half Price Books where I picked up Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon and The Facts of Life by Graham Joyce. Mike, Pierce, and I flew back to Chicago Monday evening; albeit with one delay: our plane had a cracked windshield or some such and we had to board another a couple hours later. Chicago greeted us blustery and cold. I remarked to Pierce, "When are we going back to Austin again?"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Austin is GO!

Here's a little treat for you as Tin Tin Can heads to Austin. I'm hoping to do daily updates of our misadventures in Texas here, with video, but no promises. Anyway, this video was made as we drove to Dallas last year. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

!C2E2!: A Love Story

Yeseterday I went to C2E2, the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo at the McCormick Place. This was my first comic convention since Comic-Con in San Diego during Clarion. C2E2 certainly didn't compare in size, scope, or organization, but it was still a hell of a lot of fun. There was much cosplaying: a lot of Final Fantasy characters, more stormtroopers than you can shake a stick at, several steampunk kids, a seven-foot Chewbacca.

Our first panel was with China Mieville. He's been classified as a writer of the "New Weird," whatever that means, and some of his most famous books are Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and The City & the City. Mieville read from his latest, Embassytown, that'll be released in May, but was most interesting was the Q&A. In particular, someone asked a question about what drives Mieville to finish a novel; how does he work past the inevitable, "Gasp! I'm writing a novel and there's so much happening! Gasp!" phase. Mieville's response was that he "compartmentalizes scenes." In other words, he does is best not to think about what he's writing as a novel but as a series of scenes that will function that as a novel once completed. He also talked a lot about worldbuilding.

After the panel with China Mieville, we walked the Show Room. Vertigo, Dark Horse, Avatar, Archaia, Marvel, DC, and so many more. This was after lunch and C2E2 was jampacked. Eventually, I ended up purchasing two graphic novels from Archaia, Tumor and Robotix. It was a 2-for-1 deal I couldn't pass up. I also purchased a Thundercats t-shirt and my girlfriend bought a Cookie Monster t-shirt. Mandy, my sister, ended up with an uglydoll. Justin paid for the taxi to our car because the shuttle to and from the parking lot was nonexistent, several C2e2ers complaining they'd been standing outside, waiting for the shuttle for over an hour.

Whatever. It was still fun. Perhaps the greatest moment came when a fella dressed as Pikachu took the Rock Band stage to sing "Don't Stop Believin'" (quite shyly) while grasping an uglydolly tightly to his chest. Sent us home with a bang.

Boba Fett and I think that's Trinity from The Matrix. I'm not sure who the other girls are supposed to be, but if they are Little Bo Peep, one of them has a decapitated alien head on the end of her spike.

I think this one speaks for itself.

When I went to stand beside R2, it moved, man. Of its own accord!

And the best costume of the night goes to:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

1/4: Music Highlights and Lowlights in 2011

We're nearly a fourth of the way through 2011, folks, so I thought I'd catch you up on what I'm listening to and not listening to, as well as what records I'm looking forward to. I will say this: so far, this year has been filled with, in my opinion, more lackluster records than awesome ones and I'm hoping this isn't a trend for the rest of the year.

Let's start off with the awesome records first.

Radiohead - The King of Limbs

A lot of reviewers called Radiohead's latest "divisive" and a "re-hash of Kid A/Amnesiac material." Well, I must've missed out on the drums and bass record Radiohead secretly put out in 2002, titled DRMZNBYS, although it was supposedly majestic. No, The King of Limbs isn't as emotionally immediate as its predecessor, In Rainbows - what TKOL does is expand upon Radiohead's sound, still letting the songs breathe and sound fresh. It's not so much a re-hash of previous material as Radiohead being influenced by their own ouevre. Which is totally weird and exciting. Highlights: "Codex," "Separator," "Give Up the Ghost," "Little by Little."

Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde

These ten wondrous pop gems are really making this year fly. Smith Westerns' songs are light and airy, for the most part, and about girls and getting drunk and having fun. Despite lead singer Cullen Omori's voice being under the influence of heavy reverb, the vocal melodies come through clean and strong. The guitar work is some of the best I've heard in a while: kind of like T. Rex and George Harrison. Highlights: "Weekend," "All Die Young, "Dye the World."

James Blake - James Blake

Nobody uses silence and repetition to greater emotional effect than James Blake. Sometimes it gets uncomfortable. Really. Uncomfortable. ......Which is also what makes this record particularly wonderful when you're feeling it. What this record isn't is a record to put on any old time; this one is saved for rainy drives at night or walking snow-covered streets. The final track is the first post-modern spiritual I've ever heard and it is truly great. Highlights: "The Wilhelm Scream," "To Care Like You," "Limit to Your Love," "Measurements."

The Hit Back - Who Are These Weird Old Kids?

Full disclosure: Jesse Hanabarger, lead singer of The Hit Back, and I have played in several bands together and I was once a member of this, his current outfit, albeit under a different a moniker: Legs Like Straw. The first time I heard the songs that would appear on The Hit Back's full-length debut, it was at a friend's house party. I didn't know what to expect. Needless to say, I was impressed with the change in format, the integration of more electronic sounds, mixing with the acoustic, almost folksy atmosphere. Their full-length doesn't disappoint from those earlier versions of the songs. In fact, the songs have gotten stronger and have fully grown into some of the best electro-acousti-pop I've heard recently. Highlights: "Tagalong," "Me and the Kid," "Too Fat to Crawl," "And You're the Night."

And now for the disappointments of 2011. Most of these bands are bands I had been expecting great things from but failed my catch my ear for whatever reason.

Bright Eyes - The People's Key

Once upon a time I was a fanboy of Bright Eyes. My early twenties are filled with latenight drunken singalongs to songs off I'm Wide Awake. Unfortunately, Conor Oberst continues his mediocre performances and songwriting that began in 2007.

Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo

I was and still am positively addicted to Vile's previous LP, Childish Prodigy. The problem with his latest isn't his lyrics, which I've found to be quite engaging, perhaps more so than on CP; what Smoke Ring lacks is an immediacy, a fire beneath its structures. There is a time for relaxing by the pool - as Vile mostly seems content to do here - but sometimes it just gets boring.

The Strokes - Angles

This sucks. For every reason you can think of.

TV on the Radio

Their record, Nine Types of Light, isn't out yet but I've already been severely let down by the two songs they've released. I expect a bit of chaos from TV on the Radio, as if at any moment the song might fall apart; I expect off-kilter vocal performances (and sometimes a little off-key) from singers Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone. I expect frothy, stressful chord and tempo changes. What I don't expect is happy. What don't I expect is Fred Durst-style rapping. I only hope the rest of the record makes up for these two songs.

Okay, let's end on a lighter note. I'm looking forward to these three records:

Panda Bear - Tomboy
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Bill Callahan - Apocalypse

From what I've heard of the new Panda Bear it's going to be a darker affair, more electric guitars, less samples. Should be a nice movement. I don't expect big changes from Fleet Foxes, but I don't really need it either. "Helplessness Blues" is a fantastic song in its own right. The same goes for Bill Callahan. He's one of the last great underrated songwriters and I expect this record to be about as good as anything else he's done and tinged with that unique bass voice.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: The Ouroboros Wave by Jyouji Hayashi

The Ouroboros Wave by Jyouji Hayashi is one of those "hard sf" novels packed with ideas. Technically speaking (that's not really a pun, but it kind of is), Ouroboros is not a novel: it's a series of interlinked short stories detailing humankind's accidental stumble into the stars; though every discovery pushes us closer to an understanding of our place in the universe. Indeed, Hayashi's motif throughout is "happensance is necessity in disguise."

The first of these interlinked stories concerns a black hole discovered by, you guessed it, happenstance. What's particularly interesting about the black hole, dubbed Kali - the Hindu goddess of destruction - is that it's on a collision course with the sun, our sun. Unfortunately, scientists are unable to determine if that collision will be in a few hundred years or in a few thousand. Rather than wasting time debating, an artificial accretion disk is built around Kali to not only change its course toward Uranus, but also, once in orbit around the gas giant, to harness the black hole's "boundless energy." However, in these early development stages, an AI nicknamed Shiva begins exhibting signs of awareness outside of cyberspace - that is, human-like intelligence - and endangering the scientists living on the artificial accretion disk.

In fact, what Hayashi is most concerned with throughout these stories besides proving that happenstance is masked necessity is determining what is and is not intelligent. In another of the stories, a submarine is encapsulated in the mouth of a giant jellyfish-like creature in the icy oceans beneath the surface of Europa; this creature may or may not be the first signs of intelligent life outside of Earth. In another, an assassin must out-think a complex system of identification modules to make her target. Is Hayashi also asking the question: is intelligence formed from happenstance?

We haven't even discussed the surplus of cool sf ideas rampant throughout Ouroboros. For instance: Amphisbaena, the needle-like station in orbit around the artificial accretion disk that houses the scientists; the web system of data transfer; the AI Salmon; the different political structures between Earthborn and Spaceborn peoples; etc.

If there is one detriment to Hayashi's Wave, it's the prose. The prose is so dry at times it's like reading sandpaper. I don't know if Hayashi's voice is this dry in the original Japanese or if something was lost in Jim Hubbert's translation; either way, it can make for tedious reading. There is also a lot of "telling, not showing," in the text, which is one of my pet peeves. The redeeming quality (other than the wealth of ideas and an interesting backstory) is that because Ouroboros is hard sf - I mean, extreme hard sf - the reader can get easily lost in those large, scientific words, but Hayashi is a master of making big concepts (like exactly how an artificial accretion disk might harness the energy of a black hole) easily understood.

The Ouroboros Wave is worth the read; however, if you're not a deep lover of hard sf (and, typically, I am not) you're going to have to get through some pretty serious slog to enjoy the story.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Robert Walser's The Microscripts

I stumbled across The Microscripts by Robert Walser in Unabridged Books in Chicago a few weeks ago. The Microscripts are several short stories (actually several hundred, culled and translated from the German tomes Das Gesamtwerk in 12 Banden and Aus dem Bleistiftgebiet) written by Walser in a tiny "secretive" script on the backs envelopes, movie tickets, torn-out pages of magazines and calendars. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough money to buy the book at Unabridged, but, after perusing its pages there in the store, I knew I had to have it.

Walser was the kind of writer who could sit down at his desk and write a novel in a matter of weeks or days; famously noted as not ever having revised a word as he wrote. He was constantly seeking a way to write quicker, leaner prose and in this way he began writing, as Susan Bernofsky - Walser's biographer and translator - says, in a "miniaturized Kurrent script, the form of handwriting favored in German-speaking countries...an e is represented by a simple pair of vertical ticks like a quotation mark, an s by a mere slash..."

Walser was only moderately successful in his lifetime and, as a deeply troubled person, spent most of his later years in a sanitarium, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was also said to be a huge influence on Franz Kafka.

Uusally preceeding the microscripts are the slips of envelopes or book covers or torn-off triangles of drawing paper Walser used to write his stories on. These reproductions are a colorful texture to the book, giving the reader a glimpse of Walser's handwriting and, in a larger sense, his attempts to write smaller and smaller stories (Walser wrote his final novel, The Robbers, first in microscript format). The back of the book also contains the untranslated stories.

The stories contained in The Microscripts concern all sorts of things: alcohol abuse, marriage, pigs, jealousy, love and lust. What struck me was the juxtaposition of Walser's tiny script and the "big" ideas contained therein. I think he wanted to say as much as possible with as little as possible. In this way, Walser was a Romantic, perhaps hopelessly so. As he writes in the microscript New Year, "The story keeps on going, and the beauty of a context is revealed."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Recording: Sea Secrets! Fossils! Fictions!

Today was spent mostly recording percussion and guitar with my sister, Mandy, on her project, Sea Secrets! Fossils! Fictions!. Judging from what she already had recorded this is going to be one awesome EP. Hopefully, my additions helped in some small way. Mandy'll be continuing with this project as Tin Tin Can heads to Austin, though from the looks of things today, most of the hard work is done. What's left is mostly mixing and mastering, except for one song which needs a bit more. I'm not sure yet when this will be available for listening, but I'm guessing sometime in May or June at the latest.

Here are some pictures taken while we were recording.

I am playing slide guitar with the Spencer Bell shotglass.

An alternate name for Sea Secrets! Fossils! Fictions! is Mandy, the Accordion and the Gas Mask.

Where the magic happens.

Hitting a tom and thinking very hard about it.

Drum close-up!

Mandy is thinking, Why oh why.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Simplex Thoughts: Babel-17 & Conversation in the Cathedral

The last two books I finished, Conversation in the Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa and Babel-17/Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany, have been reviewed and analyzed to death, so instead I'm going to give my initial, visceral reactions to both. Know that I find both novels to be wondrous works in their own right.

Conversation in the Cathedral

This book was difficult to wade through. Sometimes on one page there are three or four conversations happening at once - several happening as past events and usually one happening in the present. It's a little disorienting. Okay; it's a lot disorienting. Never have I read a book where the feeling of vertigo has come over me so often or with such force. Once you realize this is happening and you can kind of ground yourself - figure out which is up and which is down (and it changes chapter to chapter, by the way) - then the story becomes clear.  It's a pretty simple message Conversation conveys: dictatorships are evil. However, Vargas Llosa imbues his characters - the good and the bad - with such moral ambiguity it's clear that, on both sides, there are good and bad people - and that's what makes great literature. Essentially, what Vargas Llosa is doing is working toward an understanding of the monstrous within each of us.

Another way of putting this: Conversation in the Cathedral is very, very bleak. Even if the economy and government institutions have gotten better in Peru than during Vargas Llosa's writing, sadly, a lot of the discourse presented within the story will resonate today when we look at what's been happening, most immediately, in Egypt and Libya, but elsewhere as well in places like North Korea and Zimbabwe.

Babel-17/Empire Star

Chip Delany, whether he knew it or not, had been (and perhaps still is) working toward a particular conceit in his fiction: the novel as cyclical process; language, of course, its defining principle. This idea culminated, in my opinion, with his 1975 novel Dhalgren, but diagrams of the idea existed, perhaps starting with Babel-17/Empire Star and onward with The Fall of the Towers trilogy and the Neveryon series. In Babel-17, he explores the idiosyncracies of language, including body language and the minuteness of facial expressions. The main character of the novel, Rydra Wong, is a kind of telepathic linguist, in that she can determine what you're thinking or what you're about to say by the way you shrug your shoulders or the slight lift at the corners of your lips.

What struck me the most while reading Babel-17, however, was the differences in various languages (for instance, the sounds of L or R or V or W, etc), though I am aware this conflict, having studied Thai and French and some German; and the inferences we make about a person or people concerning our own limited knowledge of language.

I found Empire Star - the novella that accompanies the main novel - to be just as interesting, but in far different ways. Empire Star is half Flowers for Algernon and half mini-bildungsroman. Though Babel-17 is not, Empire Star is cyclical in process and it's always entertaining to watch a writer working toward something you know will pay off (in dividends!!) in a later work.

Empire Star is also a meditation on the actions of our choices and our perception of - not necessarily what is right and wrong - but how we choose what is right and wrong. Delany uses three different perceptions of thought - simplex, complex, and multiplex - to make his argument. (This might be a simplex way of putting it, by the way.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Methane Ranches of Titan

My most recent story, submitted to Asimov's a few days ago, concerns a miner working on Saturn's moon, Titan. Anyway, the factory I pictured while writing this story looks something like this:

Fast Tomes at Ridgemont High: Rediscovering Heroic Fantasy

Pardon the terrible pun of a title, but if you'll recall a few weeks ago I mentioned that my reading list in 2011 was shaping up to be (in more ways than one) the year of the great tome of books. Well, it's still true, though I haven't exactly kept pace. In February I read four books, all of them quite thin-spined but no less great because of it. The Fixed Stars by Brian Conn and Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord are two masterpieces of fiction. Anyway, it seems as though this year, along with tomes, is also going to be the year I rediscover heroic fantasy.

Last night I attended the book signing of Patrick Rothfuss, heir apparent to the Tolkein throne. Or so many of his fans and Onion A.V. Club think him. Well, he's supposed to be really good and over the rest of March and April I will find out. Seeing Rothfuss speak at the Oak Brook Borders was certainly a treat. He read the very short prologue to his latest release, Wise Man's Fear, as well as a poem about spring he'd written and a hilariously sadistic story about guinea pigs that was published in a weekly advice column he did for his college newspaper. The Q&A section of the night was the most interesting for me, however. Several questions concerning the language of the different peoples in his books were brought up. Though Rothfuss confessed he was not a linguist as Tolkein was, there were certain facets of the languages he'd made up, mentioning that he'd spoken pronunciations of certain words into a phone for the audiobook reader to have some grounding. But Rothfuss was more interested in the psychology and sociology of peoples rather than specific patterns of language - in other words, he cares more about how a person or a people react to given situations. In other other words, I am very excited to read his books.

George R.R. Martin, an instructor of mine at Clarion, announced on his website last week that his fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, now has a release date: July 12, 2012. For thos of us that've been waiting for five years, this is awesome news. I cut my teeth on GRRM in high school and throughout the aughts. I've read A Song of Ice and Fire - the series of which ADWD is part of - probably four times now, and each time I see something new within the text. These are big books and George has promised to his latest will be just as big, so...oh boy.

Daniel Abraham is beginning a new series in April called The Dagger & the Coin. I am a huge fan of his previous fantasy outing, The Long Price Quartet, and am looking forward to the new series. However, I read the prologue of the first book, The Dragon's Path, and wasn't as impressed. Though I've heard a lot of people turned away from GRRM's books because of the prologue of his first. Sometimes prologues are slogs and maybe we should all just agree that Elmore Leonard, in his 10 rules of writing, is right: Avoid prologues.

N.K. Jemisin is also in my queue to read. She's two books deep into The Inheritance Trilogy and managed to put out both of those books within the same year. I don't know that that was a particularly well-employed marketing campaign by her publisher, but whatever: two books! I have the first one and the second one is waiting on the shelf at Borders just for me. I've heard all kinds of excellent things about Jemisin and her work, so I'm excited to read these books. These aren't tomes, however: around 330 pages with crime novel-sized print. (That's not a jab at crime novels, I swear. I love Elmore Leonard. Also, second Leonard reference? Check.) I've had Jemisin's first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, for awhile now and there really isn't a reason I haven't read it yet.

Except this:

I've called this post "Rediscovering Heroic Fantasy" for a reason. The last heroic fantasy book I read was in 2006 and it was A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin. Yep, the book prior to the July 12 release. It's not that I haven't tried. I really really really tried to like Steve Erickson's Mazalan Empire, but ugh, no thanks. I loved the aforementioned Long Price Quartet, though I don't count them as heroic fantasy; if anything Abraham's series is tragic fantasy. Anything published by Pyr Books I tend to stay away from. Joe Abercrombie has enticed me before - but especially since he was mentioned in the recent diatribe of the doom of fantasy from Leo Grin (note: a lot of fantasy writers responded to Grin's scathing essay and I'm definitely in their camp: I like my heroes tragically flawed, thank you very much.) Another is R. Scott Bakker: I read the first two books in his Prince of Nothing trilogy, but sort of lost enthusiasm to read the third. I liked them, but I didn't love them - or maybe it wasn't the right time for me to read them.

That said, I'd definitely like to give Abercrombie and Bakker a shot. Perhaps later this year I will. Right now, however, I've got so much on my plate. The books mentioned above, and Shantaram awaits me, as well as the Javier Marias series, the new Jesse Bullington and Genevieve Valentine, Gene Wolfe, dear lord, it won't stop.

Are they any other heroic fantasy books I should have read/be reading?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rothfuss Signing: Pre-Party

This evening I'll be driving to the Oak Brook Borders, rain and bad transmission be damned, for the reading and subsequent book-signing of Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind and the just released Wise Man's Fear. Unfortunately, I do not have my copy of Wise Man's Fear yet because Amazon has failed to deliver so far. (Although I'm particularly looking forward to the second half of that Amazon order: Robert Walser's The Microscripts, but more on that in a post this weekend-ish when I receive the book.)

Okay, so first I have to come clean: I haven't read anything by Rothfuss but I've heard a lot about him: he's a heroic fantastist, and considered a gem in the field. He's also written a not-for-children children's book that I hope is available for purchase at the signing because it sounds very perverse and amusing. Clarionites Leah and Dallas both positively luurve the books - in fact, Dallas posted about the Rothfuss signing he went to here.

Like Dallas, I also intend to ask Rothfuss some questions concerning world-building, along with character development and frame stories, if given the chance. If someone else beats me to that particular punch, perhaps I'll ask his opinions on the demise of the bookstore (I'm being only a little facetious here, of course). However, I may inquire as to his thoughts on the growing popularity of ebooks and the future of publishing.

At any rate, if there's any one of you readers who wishes to accompany me tonight, the reading is at 7pm at the Oak Brook Borders. We'll get some coffee, talk shop, listen to a what I understand is a nice and funny man reading some words he's put together well, and show whatever rain is coming that we will not be defeated.

Oh. Right. The pre-party. I'm going to drink a cup of jasmine tea and finish reading the novella, "Empire Star."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Nooks & Crannies: Visiting Book Nook in Peoria

I love it when I find a good used bookstore. Especially when the bookstore has an excellent scifi/fantasy section and, even more so, when the books are cheap. This is what happened this weekend when we took my mother out for a birthday dinner at Yen Ching's Chinese Restaurant. Though our waitress was totally insane and may or may not have poisoned my Tsingtao, that story will have to wait for another time. This is the story of a used bookstore.

Catty-corner to Yen Ching's is a little store called The Book Nook.
It's the kind of bookstore that's flush with paper- and hardbacks, scattered throughout the store seemingly haphazardly. The owners do break it down into sections for the peruser; however, as you first walk in, seeing all of these books crowded on shelves together, is, to the say least, over-stimulating.

The Book Nook is a wide selection of books, too: from new releases to classics, encyclopedic texts to romance, a wonderful display of children's and YA novels - and, of course, my favorite, a rather extensive science fiction and fantasy section. I ended up nearly buying the store out of its stock of Samuel R. Delany novels. The Einstein Intersection (above), City of a Thousand Suns and The Jewels of Aptor are now in my collection. (SHOUT OUT: Greg Bossert, I'm coming for you and your collection!) I also purchased Dangerous Visions, an anthology of stories edited by the infamous Harlan Ellison, and Walter John Williams' Voice of the Whirlwind. The Delany and WJW books were $2.50 each and the Ellison anthology was $6.00.

My girlfriend bought a 16-volume collection of The International Library of Music, which includes hundreds of piano pieces and opera scores for $40. Originally, the volumes were $60 but we haggled with the owner for a bit and brought the price down. I mean, after all, he did have two sets of the volumes.

If there is one slight detraction to The Book Nook it's this: though the store was not short on bestsellers like Tom Clancy or Dean Koontz, it lacked a "lesser known titles" selection. I was hoping for some Europa series titles but found none and lesser known authors like Kent Haruf or Alina Bronsky.

This really only applies to "literary fiction" (for whatever that means) because, as I've mentioned above, their scifi/fantasy section is unquestionably the best I've seen from a used bookstore in a long time. Even Chicago bookstore cannot compare to the selection: Kate Wilhelm, Damon Knight, Ellen Kushner, Ellen Datlow anthologies, Jack Vance - a lot of these books are only available online and, I have to wonder, if a few are even in print anymore.

I'll definitely be returning to The Book Nook. Next time I might buy them out of their Stephen R. Donaldson - even though I'm not a big fan of Thomas Covenant. At this point, I'm really out to out-collect Greg Bossert.

What bookstores near you rock?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Writing & Music: Your Wednesday Update

I'm proud to announce that my story, "Shiny Things," will be published in the Spring Issue of the new literary magazine, Prime Mincer. "Shiny Things" was my final Clarion week story and it took me almost two weeks to write, so I'm particularly happy it has found a home. The inaugural issue of Prime Mincer will be available soon in print mid-March, as well as through itunes and for the nook and kindle.

And for those of you who haven't read it yet, my story "Galilee" was published last September in Aphelion Magazine. The editor thought it was an incredibly dark Heinlein juvenile story; and several comments mention how totally depressing the story is. Well, what can I say? I guess I was in a mood.

A few friends have exciting news on the horizon, too:

Clarion chum and rock climbing fiend, Gregory Norman Bossert's novelette, "Slow Boat," originally published in the April/May issue of Asimov's, is being translated into Russian and will be featured in Russia's oldest science fiction and fantasy magazine, ESLI. I don't know that it gets any cooler than this. There are a few of you from Russia out there reading this blog (I see you!) and as more details become available I will let you know.

In case you missed the last signal boost, Karin Tidbeck's story is available in Weird Tales, Tamsyn Muir's story is now available at Fantasy Magazine, Kali Wallace's story is out in the current issue of F&SF, Adam Israel's story is online at Crossed Genres, and John Chu's story is upcoming at Boston Review. How's that for links galore? And, can I just say, Clarion 2010 is taking over the literary airwaves? Yes, I can. Clarion 2010 is taking over the literary airwaves!

Michael Martello, multi-instrumentalist for Tin Tin Can, has released a new solo record, titled Sheep Numbers & the Canine Psychology. Though I don't think this is available online as yet, he will be selling cds at upcoming Tin Tin Can shows and it is well worth a buy. Mike recorded the songs over a week while he was dogsitting.

My sister Mandy, talented artist that she is (that's her art up top), is also an awesome musician. She's working on an EP that should be available soon through Prospero Records. Mandy and I used to perform together in Root Shoot Leaf and I can tell you that her songs were always the audience's favorites. Be looking out for her EP!

I hope I haven't missed anyone. Leave a comment if I have and let me know what you're up to.