November, 2006

And here I go out…with a whimper. Have some links:

  • Matthew Cheney’s brilliant Rules for Writing. On a more serious note, quit your whining, they’re just techniques.
  • For Matthew and Deirdra (case you haven’t seen it) : Pain from fibromyalgia is real. In the good news/bad news department, however, I don’t find it reassuring that the studies that demonstrate the for real pain factor also “indicate that fibromyalgia patients have abnormalities within their central brain structures”.
  • In the ego department, have I mentioned my livejournal syndication feed? Set up by birdofparadox, it actually has 2 subscribers!
  • Secret of the Hessian crucibles cracked, and it only took us five hundred years. I love stuff like this. Definitely story fodder. Or maybe you’d like to read about the Greek lunar cycle machine instead.
  • You’ll think this list is being composed by an impostor if I don’t give you something political to be outraged about, won’t you? How about this? Not enough? How about oft-repeated fallacies about the level of violence in Iraq?
  • In the “we had to do a study to figure this out?” department: money really is the root of all evil (or at least the root of selfishness) and kids do not in fact, believe everything they hear.
  • Did you need a set of stack and weigh scales? Your tax dollars at work! Or wait, is the post office supposed to be financially independent? Maybe it’s your future stamp rate hike at work.

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So, just two more days of blogging to finish NaBloPoMo. I may yet make it.

Bear Seal NaBloPoMo

Tonight the weather is supposed to change, to go back to winter norms from the freakish (but most pleasant) warm spell we’ve been enjoying. Everyone is intimidated by the forecast of heavy sleet, frozen rain and ice accumulation. It is my goal not to be rushed out the door in the morning, and to have an extra ten minutes to get to school, just in case.

We’re reading Alice in Wonderland to my daughter. Kurt read the first three chapters and I read the fourth one tonight. Just now, Kurt came in to kiss Sophia goodnight and she had to catch him up on everything that had happened. I could hear her telling him about Alice playing with the gigantic puppy and it just made me smile. Her reading comprehension improves all the time, both in what we read to her and what she reads to herself. I’ve been remiss, it’s been almost a year since she started reading on her own, and I wanted to be a better documenter of the process. For now I’ll tell you that she still needs to read aloud. When I tell her to read to herself, she whispers the words.

So here’s the thing I wish would happen. I wish Gene Wolfe would write a short story with a female protagonist and from a female point of view. To the best of my knowledge, he’s never done this. If you’ve read Pandora (which I don’t think counts) the protag/narrator is less female than ingenue. Some people think that Wolfe tends toward the misogynistic, and I can kind of see where they’re coming from. Personally, I wouldn’t go that far, but you won’t catch me arguing with any certainty that he’s not either. I think if he just walked a mile in girl heels, so to speak, a lot of that suspicion might be put to rest. On the other hand, it might be reinforced. At any rate, I think it would clear some things up. I want to read what he can do with it. Also, he’s a genius, you can’t tell me he’s not capable of it.

Shortly after I read Seven American Nights, I trawled the archives of the Gene Wolfe mailing list looking for answers to my question, which is: what is the treasure that the main character seeks to recover? I didn’t find any satisfactory answer. In fact, hardly any material even dealt with that question directly. Everyone else was absorbed in the question of the missing day. If you read it, and you have ideas about the treasure, I would love to hear them.

By the way, it’s not too late to cast your vote in the reading vacation quiz! You can make the difference in whether or not I read Infinite Jest. Actually, I lied. I’m not reading Infinite Jest no matter what but there are plenty of other choices.

I got paid today. For the first time in two years I have a paycheck. When I did Spanish classes for the primary, I more or less did it out of love, and it was once a week, half hour, no big deal. This year I’ve added the elementary, and that eats up a whole afternoon, not counting prep. So when I started that in September, the school offered to pay me hourly. I felt that was fair, and accepted, and turned in my hours for the semester (so far) today and got paid. It’s a pittance, of course, but it’s money which I earned, doing something that was largely very rewarding and which I seem to have a pretty good knack for. I don’t want to get into a debate about inborn ability versus training here, but if you simply go by pedigree, I ought to be a teacher. My father and brother are both teachers, my maternal grandmother was a teacher and if you go back to my great grandrelatives, you’ll find an assortment of buildings on small Southern college campuses named after them. Being in a classroom feels natural to me. I wing it, and sometimes I really crash and burn, but what’s surprising is how often I don’t. And by winging it, I don’t mean that I don’t prepare things in advance, I mean that I just make lessons up out of my head. There’s no book, no lesson plan, no guidelines or overarching order I’m following. Perhaps that’s not something I should own up to. Hey! Look at me! Flying by the seat of my pants!

Then again, it’s not like writing isn’t that every single day. And as of yet no one’s paid me for that. Not even a pittance.

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Shriek: an afterword by Jeff VanderMeer. (best guess 25) [specfic]. Janice Shriek’s melodramatic afterword to Duncan’s 600 plus page history of Ambergris, with additions by Duncan and edited by Sirin. I liked this book. I babbled about it in an open letter to JV here before I’d finished it. Now, that I’ve finished it, I’m pretty pleased. He totally nailed the ending. I finished it on 11/28/05.

A few lingering thoughts about Shriek: an afterword and about Jeff VanderMeer’s response to my letter (That response, astonishingly, came more quickly than it would have had I stamped and mailed the letter! So much for my corner of the internet being seekrit, veiled by its relative obscurity. Though I guess I don’t have to be afraid of writing to writers anymore. From my sample set of one, anyway, they do not bite when you write to them. Best not to write to evil monkeys, though.)

First, the book. I shall try to put this into words, but I don’t know if I will succeed. The book itself, end to end, smacks down the polite fiction that novels are acts of communication. We like to think, as readers, that we are entering a doorway (doors, mirrors, windows everywhere in this work, btw) into a world the author created for us. Reality (I think and perhaps the author suggests so in this book – I certainly read it that way) is more like we build our own world, borrowing words the author has conveniently placed before us. But there’s possibly no real contact there. The incidents are isolated from one another. The act of creation, the act of receiving the creation work in parallel: never touching. I think this is a revolutionary concept, especially amidst all this talk of the writer/reader contract. I think one of the highest functions of art is to be contercultural, and I think this book is that on top of everything else it is (well-written, interesting, enjoyable, harrowing). The fiction of connection may arise, in part, from the reader trance I was talking about earlier. We go to a place not of our own making, therefore we assume it is the place of the author’s making. But VanderMeer denies there is such a place at all. There are only words, and the page, and either the writer alone with the words, or the reader alone with the words. That is all. Surprisingly, and cleverly, he denies the place by keeping you from it, using the very machine that would normally take you there. He may have said, “You will not get lost in this story, despite how well-told it is. I will not let you. I will remind you at every paragraph of its existence as story, an artifice.” My analysis, of course, is based on my reading, my own little castle I built with the words I was given. Is it what he meant? A part of what he meant? Not at all what he meant? I have no idea. Nor is it possible for me to ever know given only the work. In fact, my thoughts are largely so much interpretative chaff, but the book invites that, at the same time as it mocks it. There’s perhaps no absolute truth, only little truths, strung together on this thin wire of text. There’s no connection, but you will receive this message through a connection. A paradox. This book is bending my brain. Maybe in the end I will love it after all, though I said I wouldn’t.

Second, Jeff (is that too forward?) referred to the error on page 95 as something that occurred as he was adjusting “the mix” of the story. The long list of bands at the back of Shriek implies a strong connection between music and writing in VanderMeer’s work. My husband is a musician and a sound engineer so we often have these long rambling conversations about how making music is and is not like writing. We had a conversation just last week in which I was discussing writing to formula. It appears to be an easy way to make money, with a reliable repeatable product, but I can’t do that. If you give me a formula, I have to mess with it. He explained to me that it was a common requirement in studio training that an engineer precisely duplicate an existing recording. “There’s no other way,” he said,”to be sure that the sounds in your head are the sounds you’ve recorded except by exact duplication of a sound you’ve heard, then internalized.” Of course in writing, exact duplication is merely copying the words, so without involving your brain, it can hardly be expected to help your skills. Still, how much of writing is described by writers as trying to duplicate outside what goes on inside? A lot, it seems to me. And what sorts of tools or exercises might we use to get there? And how would we know when we’d gotten the notes right, unless there was some way to record it, to play it back? Seems like there’s something there that could be useful, if only I could figure it out. Somehow, VanderMeer is already thinking along those lines, already there. He’s fading some sounds and bringing out others. He’s adjusting lines for effect. He’s switching the solos around until it’s perfect. I want that level of control over my prose. I want to have my hand on the slider bar instead of just pushing out words one after another and hoping they’re in tune. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but I’ve still got my shoulder to the boulder, stepping up the hill.

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What I believe I read in 2005:

  1. The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Vol. 14 edited by Stephen Jones. [horror, anthology]. I have database notes on this, which I’ll copy/paste for posterity. Please note that database posts are intended for me alone and may be spoilery or annoying to you in any number of ways so read at your own risk: “Collection of Year’s Best Horror stories for 2002. Checked this out from the library after writing Loyal Companion, to get refreshed on what is going with horror these days.” I finished this on 01/05/05.
  2. Black Swan, White Raven by Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling. [specfic, anthology]. I have no memory of reading this book. I suppose I checked it out of the library, because I don’t own it. Ahhh, the database enlightens: “A series of fairy tales re-invented. I have one of the earlier iterations of this collection and I remembered it as fond reading. I found this one to be filled with lackluster stories, though one or two were pretty good.” I think I’ll just add to that the following caveat/reminder to myself: if you aren’t Kelly Link, you probably don’t have any business re-writing fairy tales. I finished this on 01/12/05.
  3. Superman Red Son by Mark Millar. [graphic novel]. I have database notes on this: “A what-if tale of Superman landing in the Soviet Union instead of the US, and the history that ensues. This was loaned to Kurt with assurances that it was very good, by David Atchley. Kurt said it was worth reading so I read it, even though I don’t really like superheroes all that much, and like Superman probably least of all. I did enjoy it, and it had some really great moments, though the ending was a real eye-roller. The art was very intriguing.” I finished this on 01/15/05.
  4. Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter) by Laurell K. Hamilton. [horror]. Library. I enjoyed it, but the writing was real sloppy in places. For the most part she kept the train moving fast enough that you didn’t count rivets, but at the end I felt like I’d met my obligation and wasn’t required to read any of the others. From the database: “An animator, someone who raises zombies for money, gets called on to solve a vampire murder mystery in this supernatural detective story. A quick enjoyable read with a swaggering, sympathetic and all-too-human lead character. However, the writing is a little stilted and repetitive, and occasionally the lead character’s voice can be really distracting and annoying. A vampire book that I’d never read, and had been eyeing to try out for a while, along with Charlaine Harris.” Finished (very quickly, over a day or two) on 01/16/05.
  5. Persepolis : The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. [graphic novel, autobiography]. I own this (it was given to me). I finished this during 01/05. I liked it a lot.
  6. Light by M. John Harrison. [specfic]. I got this book from the library. I read it because of Neil Gaiman’s raving recommendation, but sadly, found it to be largely ehhh. Review here. Database says (and pardon the repetition): “This is a science fiction tale set both in the far future and the pre-millienial present, primarily dealing with quantum physics and the unique properties of light. It touches on probability in interesting ways. The characters are all seeking, and mostly find, redemption. The book is deftly written, but the characters remain a little unsympathetic. I checked this out from the library. My interest in it derived from Neil Gaiman’s exceedingly high praise for it.” I finished this on 01/27/05.
  7. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. [horror] I checked this out of the library, but I wish I owned it. Lovely book that I definitely want to re-read at some point. I finished it on 01/31/05
  8. Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions by Neil Gaiman. [specfic, anthology]. I checked this out of the library (this was when we were paying two mortgages, remember?) and very much enjoyed it. There’s a couple of stories I would not mind re-reading, but I don’t feel the need to own this. I finished it during 02/05/05.
  9. McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories edited by Michael Chabon. [specfic, anthology]. Reviewed here. Yes, this one too, library. This had some good stories in it, but the bigger the author, the less impressed I was by the story, it seemed. I finished it on 02/20/05.
  10. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. [allegory, biblical]. Library. Finished on 03/12/05.
  11. The Cat’s Pajamas : Stories by Ray Bradbury. [specfic, anthology] Library. Love Bradbury with all my heart, but this collection did have some disappointments. Read review here. I was ill, that’s how I got so much solid reading time in. Finished on 03/13/05.
  12. To Have And To Hold: An Intimate History Of Collectors and Collecting by Philipp Blom. [non-fiction] Finished on 03/24/05.
  13. Planetary Vol. 1: All Over the World and Other Stories by Warren Ellis. [graphic novel]. I borrowed this from Chris Goodwin (weren’t you tired of seeing the library?). It was fun. I finished it on 03/25/05.
  14. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. [specfic]. I bought this one, secondhand. If I had it to do over, I’d buy The Scar instead. That’s the one I’m likely to re-read. I liked the garuda, and lots of other stuff in this, but the ending was completely zuwhaa? as far as I was concerned. Also, it was too long. Meant to write a real review sometime, perhaps still will, I made some notes, though it’s getting fuzzy. Finished on 04/18/05.
  15. {Did I really not read anything between April 20 and July? See, that seems so unlikely. Is this when I first started doing origami? Because let me tell you I find it highly suspicious that I don’t have any origami books on either the 2005 or 2006 lists. I read several.}

  16. The Hallowed Hunt (Chalion, Book 3) by Lois McMaster Bujold. [specfic]. I borrowed this from Peter Keen (of WUTA). I really enjoyed it, though I found it less satisfying than the previous two books. I’m not sure why, I try not to overanalyze Bujold. Analysis is not the point. Finished during 07/05.
  17. J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars : Book 3: Change the World by Arthur Byron Cover. [graphic novel]. I bought this as soon as it came out. I’d been waiting for it for almost a year, since I’d discovered and read Volumes 1 & 2. The ending was a bit disappointing, actually, though I like the series overall and love the concept. Finished during 07/05
  18. J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars : Visitations By J. Michael Straczyinski. [graphic novel]. The less said about this one the better. I only finished it because it was so, so short. Finished during 07/05.
  19. Street Angel by Jim Rugg, Brian Maruca. [graphic novel]. I own this. This was a hoot. I laughed out loud in some places. I like the way it’s drawn. Finished during 07/05
  20. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke. [specfic]. I borrowed this from Sarah. I’m so glad I read it. When I saw the paperback was out the other day I almost bought it on the spot. I really, really want to own this book. I really want to read it again. And again. I fell inside this book completely when I read it. It was wonderful in all the ways a book can be wonderful. I read this during 07/05.
  21. A Treasury of Modern Fantasy edited by Terry Carr and Martin Harry Greenberg. [specfic, anthology] I had this foisted on me by Tom from WUTA, who really wanted me to read the Lafferty story in it “Narrow Valley”. I read the whole thing, and what most stuck with me is how readers increasingly demand quicker action, more direct plotting and overall have less patience with the prose for prose’s sake. I’m honestly not sure when I read it. I think sometime during the summer but who can say?
  22. Planetary Vol. 2: The Fourth Man by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday. [graphic novel]. Borrowed from Chris Goodwin. Read during 08/05.
  23. Planetary Vol. 3: Leaving the 20th Century by Warren Ellis. [graphic novel]. Borrowed from Chris Goodwin. Read during 08/05.
  24. Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O’Malley. [graphic novel]. I own this. Cute, but not as good as Street Angel. Read during 08/05.
  25. Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 2: Scott Pilgrim Versus The World by Bryan Lee O’Malley. [graphic novel]. I own this. Read during 08/05.
  26. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) by J.K. Rowling, with Mary GrandPré (Illustrator). [specfic, YA] I borrowed this from John Newmark. I couldn’t afford to buy it, as I recall, when it first came out. I really hope she can deliver on her promise to wrap it all up in the next book. In enjoyed it, of course. I always do. Some quibbles I have with her writing grate increasingly as the series winds down, but that’s inevitable, I suppose. I can’t tell if it’s because Harry is a sullen teen or what, but I am so tired of being told how everyone feels in every paragraph! But of course, plotwise, the thing just barrels forward. Queen of momentum, I tell you. I read it (quickly, of course, you won’t catch me trying to count rivets) during 08/05.
  27. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. [fiction] I borrowed this from Sarah and Tim, and when it came out in paperback, immediately bought my own copy. There were many books that I read this year and loved, and many that spoke to me, but this was the one I kept trying to pawn off on people and encourage them to read (mostly unsuccessfully, though it worked on my husband, at least). This is a great book: full of humor, empathy, strangeness and sadness. Oh, and math. Really truly, if you’ve waded through this interminable jargon and notation, meant mostly to aid my memory in future, and are searching for the nugget of gold: this is it. Buy this book. Borrow this book. Read this book. You will love something about it, I promise. I read this sometime during 08/05, or early 09/05.
  28. Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code by Eoin Colfer. [specfic, YA]. I own this book, and have owned it without reading it for several years. This series is definitely winding down for me. The first two books were great, this one was muy shrugtastic. Unfortunately, I have the fourth book too. I should have waited before buying it. I read this sometime during 08/05 or 09/05.
  29. Secret Life by Jeff VanderMeer. [specfic]. Checked this out of the U. City library. Could not resist the cover. Enjoyed it very much, and cemented Vandermeer’s position in my authors to love list. Read during 09/05.
  30. Queen & Country, Vol. 2: Operation Morningstar by Greg Rucka, Brian Hurtt, Christine Norrie. [graphic novel]. Read this at Dave’s. Wouldn’t mind reading the whole series, actually. Finished in early 10/05, right after Viable Paradise.
  31. The Scar by China Mieville. [specfic]. I checked this out of the library, but I kind of wish I owned it. I’m not convinced I’ll read it again, but I might. This book seemed better plotted than the first book, though still, sometimes people’s motivations where not clear and so their behavior seemed erratic or nonsensical. Fortunately for China, he did not resort to overusing “desultory”, the way he did in PSS, but he overused “yaw” instead. I realize that there’s not a good substitute for yaw and everyone’s living on boats, but hey, we could keep from aggravating the problem by not using it metaphorically as well, couldn’t we? Something cool about reading this on the boat to Martha’s Vineyard, though. Won’t forget that anytime soon. I finished this at the airport, on the way home from Viable Paradise in the early part 10/05.
  32. WE3 by Grant Morrison, vols 1-3. I borrowed this series from Dave. This series was just incredible. Hail, Grant Morrison. Everyone should read this. Gut-wrenching, but worth it. I finished this during 10/05.
  33. Vimanarama by Grant Morrison, vols 1-3. I borrowed this series from Dave. I liked it quite a lot. It has everything : romance, underground cities, robots. What’s not to like? I finished this during 10/05.
  34. Seaguy by Grant Morrison, vols 1-3. I borrowed this series from Dave. I found it ehhh. I wasn’t sorry I read it or anything, but it didn’t hold a candle to the other two Morrison miniseries I borrowed. I liked it better when it was Animal Man, you know? I finished this during 10/05.
  35. Colonia : Islands and Anomalies. by Jeff Nicholson. I borrowed this from Dave, on his recommendation. I cannot believe how much I loved this book. The story is simple but strange. The protagonist is naive, but not with all the negative connotations we tend to give that word. He’s an innocent, with a pure heart, and a pretty good head on his shoulders. This story is new, yet nostalgic, and I loved the art, the weirdness, everything! I wanted so much to own this after I read it, and Dave bought it for me for my last birthday. I can’t wait to read it again. I finished this during 10/05.
  36. Hammered by Elizabeth Bear. [specfic]. I own this. It and Scardown are practically the only books I bought that year. Most of the other stuff I owned from other years or was given, and the graphic novels we bought during 2005 were mostly Kurt’s decision to buy. I liked it. Review for the whole trilogy here. I read it in late 10/05, but maybe didn’t finish it until 11/05.
  37. Scardown by Elizabeth Bear. [specfic]. I own this. I read this during reading vacation. I am transcribing my print notes: “Gripping, fast-paced. I admire the way she has no fear of casualties. Her characters are always human, usually likeable, never safe. Better closure than Hammered, more emotionally involving as well, higher stakes.” I finished this on 11/21/05.
  38. Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde. [specfic, literary humor]. I borrowed this from Fletcher (formerly of WUTA). I read this during reading vacation. I am transcribing my print notes:”The usual light, pun read. Not quite as clever as the first one but quite fun.” I finished this on 11/24/05. In retrospect, going to that Red Wings game appears to have cut into my reading time because there’s no way this book took me three days to read.
  39. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hossein. [fiction]. Aunt Aggie wanted me to read this, and loaned it to me, so I did. I read this during reading vacation. I am transcribing my print notes:”Very sad story. Intricate, well-written, moving. A wee bit maudlin, but artfully done, worth reading.” I finished this on 11/25/05.
  40. Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi. [graphic novel]. I own this (it was given to me). I read it during reading vacation. I am transcribing my print notes: “Not as strong as the first one. Less subtle, more angsty. The juxtapositions sometimes overexplained. Threads are picked up and dropped at random, scenes more fractured and don’t seem to work together as well. Still, some great, Kafkaesque moments. The mindless, nonsensical way governments work well protrayed.” I finished this on 11/25/05.
  41. Transmetropolitan Vol. 1: Back on the Street by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson. [graphic novel]. I borrowed this from Tim Vickers. I believe I read it during 11/05.
  42. Transmetropolitan Vol. 2: Lust for Life by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson. [graphic novel]. I borrowed this from Tim Vickers. Read sometime during 11/05
  43. Transmetropolitan Vol. 3: Year of the Bastard by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson. [graphic novel]. I borrowed this from Tim Vickers, but when I returned it, I realized I didn’t really need to read any of the following volumes. I had pretty much seen what I wanted to see and Spider Jerusalem was really starting to get on my nerves. It’s never good when I want to smack the main character into next week. And really, journalists as heroes? I’m too much of a cynic to buy that. Read 11/05, or possibly early 12/05.
  44. The Locus Awards: Thirty Years of the Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Charles N. Brown. [specfic, anthology] I own this. I was surprised at the number of stories in it that I found meh, but of course, the outstanding stories were just that. Several will merit re-reads. I got several classic short stories under my belt by reading this volume, so I consider it educational, if nothing else. My first exposure to Tiptree, which I’m following up on this year. If I had my money back, I might have bought Dozois’ Modern Classics of Science Fiction instead. I finished this during 12/05.
  45. Go Ask Ogre : Letters from a Deathrock Cutter by Jolene Siana, Bonnie McLaughlin. [autobiography, epistolary]. I own this (it was given to me for Christmas). I read it immediately. Very compelling tale of a teen whose only light is writing to Skinny Puppy’s Nivek Ogre. Amazingly, he kept every one of her letters, and when she emerged from her teenage years in one piece, he returned them. Thus, the book. I believe I finished it around 12/28/05.

So when did I read, and did I finish Modern Classics of Science Fiction? Was that late 2005, or early 2006? Not counted in the list above is Volume 1 of Nausicaa, because I didn’t complete it, but I read most of that at Dave’s after Viable Paradise as well. I was totally ok with not completing it, or looking at any of the other volumes. Are those two my only maybe unfinished books for that year? Not bad.

Apparently, if 2006 was the year of YA, 2005 was the year of graphic novels, and the year of borrowing (mostly from the library, but some from friends) instead of buying. No wonder I felt a bit disinterested in comics this year, considering how many I read last year. I appear, also, to have been very good about entering books into the database in January, because all five of my entries are from that month, and there are none for any of the other eleven months. And it only took me twenty two months to admit that no, in fact, this system was not working for me. I notice that I did one or two line synopses for my database. I may want to do that for my Book List entries, as that might help jog my memory about the book when I’ve otherwise completely forgotten it. My reading experience for 2005 did lead me to the very valuable discovery that nothing prevents me from buying a book after I’ve read it, if I really want to (and I’m more likely to know whether I want to after I read it). The only drawback is that people don’t seem to want to give you things you’ve already read as gifts. I’ve also discovered that if I want to get close to making the 52 book challenge, I probably need to pad my stats with plenty of graphic novels, like I did in 2005. What? They count! Why shouldn’t they count? Count them (as I did) and I’m less than 10 books from 52! I had no idea I was so close. I’m also beginning to strongly suspect I undercounted for 2006, but really, I can’t remember anything else! Curse you, poor memory and wretched record-keeping! I can’t wait to turn over a new leaf with 2007. All books noted, even if it kills me!

It’s completely plain by now, Chris Goodwin, that you only thought I was reading a bunch of non-fiction. No, it’s pretty much fictional stuff in my reading stack for 2005 as well as for 2006, with just a couple of exceptions per year.

Phew. Well that’s the backlog taken care of. No. I’m not looking at 2004. Too far back. Forget it.

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26 Nov 2006, by

Just that odd

This isn’t quite a dream entry, but I woke in the middle of the night with this line in my head “The Chelians primarily follow Shia doctrine.”

Yeah, I have no idea. Maybe it came from a dream, maybe it was a direct download from another world, or maybe the inside of my head is just that odd.

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Dear Jeff VanderMeer –

I imagine that you get a lot of letters like this: oh, I love your work! Oh, hey, I think there’s a mistake on this page. This would be exactly one of those, were I to write it and mail it to you. However, I’m sort of saving you the work of reading this by not actually sending it. It’s not like I have something earth-shattering or novel to say to you. Also, I’ve never had enough guts to actually mail an author I admire about their work. I’m not sure why this act seems so intrusive and forbidden to me. I imagine most authors, indeed most types of artists, would be delighted to hear about how great they are from someone, anyone, even a stranger. Maybe writing to someone who traffics in words is intimidating? I’m not sure, and it’s not relevant. I apologize for the introspection. It’s you I’m trying to talk about, or your words, at any rate.

I first fell in love with Ambergris when I read your story “The Cage”, in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Volume 14. What a gorgeous gem of a story. Shivery and magical and so, so strange. I was thrilled to have found the story, and thrilled to have found you. I followed that up with Secret Life which was truly an amazing book with some stunning stories in it. Some of those images are still with me.

I am now reading Shriek: an afterword. I am not sure how I feel about it yet. Ambivalent, I guess. I do like it, and I will finish it, that much I know. It does some very neat things with crosslinked narrative and editorial comment. It’s very clever, and it makes me think about writing at every sentence. One thing it doesn’t do, though, is open up the reader trance for me. I’m so conscious of reading words someone wrote, and so conscious of the altered manuscript of the story, that I cannot lose myself in any of the narrative threads. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. It’s a daring thing, and an interesting thing, but it’s a hard thing to love, when absorption into books is why most avid readers read. It’s as though you’ve snuck off with my opium pipe and given me methadone instead. I’m not going to get the heebie jeebies without my fix, but man, it’s a weird, weird trip and not as euphoric as I would expect (or perhaps desire).

I don’t like Duncan or Janice at all. I’m ok with not liking them, actually. You threw me a few bones, a few people to like: Sybel, Bonmot, the mother. The only shame of it is that the character I love with all my heart, Ambergris, is made more remote by the self-absorbed siblings’ constant, facile commentary. It’s like being in a crowd where that one guy who feels like he must explain everything just will not shut up. I’ve been that guy, actually. I’ve stood behind myself going “shut up! shut up! shut up! no one cares! no one wants to know!”. But I digress. (Again. Maybe this is why I don’t write to writers. Thoughts squish out in all directions). I might wish that Duncan’s and Janice’s shrieking would mute to a dull roar, Ambergris would rise to the foreground and I would hum with happiness and marvel at the strangeness of it all. There are moments, don’t get me wrong. When she’s scraping the mushrooms off Duncan? Awesome. When father takes him on the underground tour? Riveting. The walk in the woods to the statue? Very nice. The suicide attempt is memorable as well. Lots of bits I like a great deal, but the overall structure creates this cordon of writing, this space, between me and what I really want to get to. So…ambivalence.

There’s one thing which I really love, and that’s how the natives of Ambergris characterize themselves. This is too rare in fantasy, though China Mieville does it well also (and, of course, Borges). In this world, people who consider themselves of a (large enough) city often assign themselves qualities that they perceive all natives of that city have. The city has a character, and its character rubs off on them, or they act as though it does. I think this reflects tribe and human nature, and when I don’t see it in fiction, it bugs me. All the lines stereotyping Ambergrisians make me smile. It’s like something Londoners would say, or New Yorkers, or Portenos.

So because I’m so conscious as I read of the writing of the work, and the layers and fictions overlapping the writing of the work, I’m following every word. You’re getting quite a close reading, and I hope a faithful reading, not a good parts reading (being blocked from the trance keeps me from building a good parts version, I think). Here’s my question: on page 95 of the Tor first edition hardback, there’s a paragraph that begins “Back then, he was a mischievous sprout…” Following? Good, well in that paragraph the line “his bright green eyes sometimes seemed too large for his face” appears twice. At first (I have such faith, see), I thought you did that on purpose. That you were going to start increasingly repeating lines at various intervals, to make some point about circularity or Janice’s complete mental dissolution. But then, it didn’t seem to happen again. So, was it just a mistake? One of those human kinds of mistakes? My second question is about the machine in the underground sequence. See, I checked Secret Life out of the library, so I don’t have it handy, but that sequence…seems repeated. Is it? Did you just rip it out of Secret Life and re-purpose it for Shriek: an afterword? It’s not a problem, or anything, but I was a bit surprised to see it again. When you wrote it, did you have Duncan in your head as the narrator, or did you discover that later? Was it just love for that bit of prose that made you use it again? Also, not a big deal, but I can’t help wondering if the afterword is this extensive, how long exactly is the book? Must be some kind of crazy huge tome.

Oh, one more thing. This line: “And let you, O Lord, serve as a light to him, for we are imperfect vessels and we platitude simile extended metaphor with barely any pauses followed by more repetition. Period.” is so near perfect I wanted to make someone else read it. That whole paragraph is deliriously funny and incisive, actually, but I wouldn’t want to abuse fair use by too extensive a quote. Thanks for writing it, and all the other words, too.



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24 Nov 2006, by


Alas, with yesterday’s failure to post, I’m up to three strikes on the every day posting thing for November. On the other hand, in the past 24 days you’ve been able to read posts from me 21 of them, so you know, not so bad. It’s possible we were achieving saturation anyway. Probably 3-5 days a week is more realistic for the long term (which is way more than you were getting pre-November). We’ll re-evaluate once this experiment is concluded.

So, audience participation time. In a mere four weeks, I’ll be going on my reading vacation, and I must decide which books to take. You can help! Below is a list of potential candidates. You may pick up to five, and you may rank them if you wish. I don’t care what criteria you use for your ranking : you can pick books that look interesting or books you’d recommend or assign each book a number and roll dice. Please make a note of your criteria in the comment field, especially if it was especially amusing, or used complex computer modeling.

Possible books to take to Michigan :

  • Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear. An urban fantasy.
  • Shadows over Baker Street Edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan. Sherlock Holmes/Lovecraft crossover short stories.
  • Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold. Probably a fun, fast, uncomplicated read.
  • Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. Obligatory craft nominee. I read Stephen King’s On Writing up there on a previous visit.
  • Girls will be girls by Joann Deak with Teresa Barker. Parenting non-fiction.
  • Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones. What, you seriously thought there wasn’t going to be any YA to choose from?
  • The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin. More Earthsea, anyone?
  • Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren’t as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, … Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out edited by Ted Thompson. YA short story anthology from McSweeneys with the really long title.
  • The Female Man by Joanna Russ. Classic SF!
  • Freedom’s Gate by Naomi Kritzer. Fantasy. I read her blog so I bought her book. See? Don’t let anyone tell you having a blog doesn’t sell books. That’s pretty much how I decided to read Elizabeth Bear, too, though her available online fiction got me to buy three (four if you count secondhand) of her books, instead of just the one.
  • Buenos Aires: A cultural and literary companion by Jason Wilson. Part of the cities of the imagination series; non-fiction, guidebook. Trip prep, I guess. Not that I don’t love reading about Buenos Aires whenever I can, though this book’s languished on the shelf like all the others. Maybe this is its year to be read!
  • Planetes volumes 1 & 2 by Makuto Yukimura. I already read 1, but apparently, I don’t remember it at all, so if I’m going to read volume 2, I’ll probably need to re-read volume 1. Both only count as one book though because they’re physically compact, and the pictures make them pretty quick reads. See, even graphic novels for choices. Am I generous or what? There’s precedent, one year I read two volumes of Skeleton Key.
  • Clan Apis by Jay Hosler. This would be fun to read. Graphic novel.
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. Non-fiction, humorous, grammar geek. Ok, I have a bookmark in this one, on page 44. I remember really liking it, but it got lost in the move and never finished. I’ll restart it, probably.

Remember, only five of these can go (ok, so maybe six can go). Make your vote count! The losing books must stay home and languish even longer on the TBR shelf, along with that Neal Stephenson book I still don’t feel like reading and the William S. Burroughs biography I’m not interested in at the moment. Yes, it’s true, I give you only a small sampling to choose from. There are so, so, so many more books where those came from. Help make a dent in the pile! I know I can count on you, dear reader.

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22 Nov 2006, by


I’m running out of steam on this every day posting business. It feels weirdly like a Friday for some reason. I hope everyone who is traveling arrives safely at their destination. I hope everyone shares warmth and good food over the next couple of days with either family or friends or both.

I took Sophia to the Chihuly Exhibit at the Botanical Gardens today. It’s the first time we’ve been to the gardens. The day was beautiful, and we both enjoyed ourselves immensely. I bought a bunch of seeds half off, which is a good deal, and they’ll probably germinate fine come spring. I told myself, in the Climatron (which is this cool geodesic dome, visible from the highway), that if I ever needed to remember the smell/sound/sight of the jungle, I could just come here. Sophia kept calling it “the Climatrarion”. There was something cool about being on the grounds when many of the beds are dormant and most of the trees have lost their leaves. It’s probably stunning in spring and summer, but today it was soothing and beautiful. I highly recommend a wintertime visit.

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