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11 posts from May 2007

May 28, 2007

Reading Update

Dark Cities Underground by Lisa Goldstein

The Seelight Scale

Not Bad
Highly Recommended
Do Not Go Another Day Without


Terrific premise: that the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) was built essentially by the Shadow Committee, a group of archetypes controlled by the Egyptian God Set, who is trying to retrieve the Eye of Horus so he can ... well, there's where it breaks down. I'm not sure why he's doing what he's doing, or what the building of the undergrounds has to do with anything.

Another nifty aspect of the premise is that all the famous and beloved children's books were written by the parents or adult friends of children who accidentally stumbled upon this underground world and told these adults about it. Why? Dunno.

Frankly the book was kind of a mess. I don't know what it was about or why I should care, and the characterization was terribly lacking--so much so that I couldn't tell each character's age or appearance or central desires even after I was specifically told what they were.

On the upside, I had fun on occasion while reading it, and it didn't offend my sensibilities at all.

Well, life is too short and there are too many books. But if you love subways and Oakland you can't go terribly wrong with this. Damn, I really wish it had been good!

May 27, 2007

Squeee! to the max

Just found out that my favorite fantasy series when I was a tyke is coming to the big American screen, and Ian McShane plays Merriman Lyon!

Of course, Dr. Who, who plays the Rider, would have been a better Merriman, and McShane would have been the perfect Walker, but whatever. Can't Wait!

Bored Sick

Okay, I'm officially into day 5 of being sick and I'm really, really over it. I'm better--don't get me wrong, I'm better, I even cleaned the house this morning, which it desperately needed--but my internal sickometer doesn't want me to leave the house, which manifests as a distinct disinclination to leave the house.

I'm also feeling another nap coming on--off, in the distance, not too soon I hope, because all my sheets are in the laundry right now. Also desperately needed.

I do actually need to leave the house soon, though, to stock up on unnecessaries like food and blood glucose test strips, the latter not being something you can have a friend run and get for you, unless they're, like, a bajillionaire, in which case they would already have spirited you off to their sub-Polynesian-island-mountain health facility to be placed under the care of their rescued Nazi genius-doctor, who is suffered to live, provided he cure cancer and colds, and his patron's friends' viruseses. Naturally, the first thing he cured was aging, which is why he's still around, and while he's waiting for the antivirals to scour your system, he takes care of that little aging thing, and also that little diabetes thing you've been suffering from ... as a bonus.

Clearly I'm better. Yesterday I wasn't able to fantasize anything more than a massage and home delivery of next season's television dramas.

I've moved from bummed to pissed off that I had to miss Wiscon. I hope you guys are having fun there! As soon as I've finished heating up some soup, I'm planning to look around for panel reports on the blogosphere. I hope it's not too early for that.

Any pointers in the right direction?

May 24, 2007


I'm supposed to be on plane to Wiscon right now but instead I'm sick sick sick. I'm on the couch, in a mostly reclining posishe, because that means at least I'm not in bed, where I've been for the past 24 hours.

At least I'm not moaning every time i move, like i was last night. uh oh, i'm losing my capitals. time to go back to bed.

i was gonna post my wiscon sched, but i'll hold off on that until i know that i'll actually be GOING to wiscon. maybe tomorrow ...

May 20, 2007

Reading Update

I took a writing workshop class several years ago when I was working at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco. ACWLP held several workshops and this one was called something like "what you won't learn in an MFA course". It was taught by Noah Hawley, who had recently published his first book A Conspiracy of Tall Men.

I read the book and was terribly unimpressed. It seemed incoherent with what I now recognize as the incoherence of an insufficiently edited first draft. (Would that I knew what a sufficiently edited second draft looked like!) He also turned out to be a terrible teacher: he clearly had no teaching experience and seemed to think that sitting there, letting us ask him questions, and occasionally giving us an exercise or inviting one of his Writers Grotto buddies to speak to us would replace a lesson plan, or an active effort made at breaking down the craft of writing for us, or, ya know, teaching.

So afterwards I put him out of my mind.

Then I recently watched some tv--I think it was an episode of Bones--and saw his name in the credits as the script editor or somesuch, and thought it high time to check in and see if he'd published anything else. He had. It's called Other People's Weddings and I just read it and it was surprisingly good.

The protag is 36, divorced, and a wedding photographer. She meets a dude who makes a habit of attending weddings uninvited, like a lighter version of Tyler Durden, or Harold from Harold and Maude. This proves his quirkiness and lovability to an Essentially Artistic Woman. He courts her while she deals with her failed marriage, which in turn leads her to examine her rotten childhood at the hands of crazy parents. Sound like a nightmare? It's really not.

It's chick-lit, but chick-lit written by someone trained in lit fic concerns. You know this genre/lit fic meld is dear to my heart, so he won me over almost immediately. He won me over even more--and annoyed me by turns--by making it clear in the book that he's been working in television. Every chapter began in medias res and ended with a Grey's Anatomy-style revelatory moral. It was a book written in episodes. But then, what's wrong with that? If Dickens can do it ...

I even thought for a while that it might go off the chick-lit rails and become something else entirely. It was so beautifully structured, the quirky, meet-cute romance interspersed with increasingly dark revelations about the heroine's childhood and how resolutely horrible and damaging it was. Naturally, her bizarre family was much, much more interesting than her near-perfect mate-to-be, who is the man of every 36 y/o single woman's dreams: formerly married, just to prove that he's capable of committing, and widowed, just to prove that he's not the leavin' type. (I'm 37, by the way, and I dream of the divorced men, 'cause I roll that way.)

The family revelations were even perfectly calculated to do away with the inevitable question of why we should care about a protag who is so obsessed with relationships. Her central family tragedy is the obsession of romantic love within marriage. So she is the perfect heroine to conduct us through a novel examining romantic love in the context of marriage. And what is chick-lit as a genre, if not that examination? Only the genre is not really an examination so much as it is marriage porn. This book isn't, even though it gives us our happy end.

The attitudinal sea-change that leads to this happy end is unexpectedly satisfying. And the descriptions at the beginning of how failure and love-obsession can form (and sometimes deform) a person's life and perceptions are some of the best writing I've read in a while.

It's a fun, and sometimes challenging, read. Go see.

May 19, 2007

I Have Not Stopped Blogging ...

Just slowed down.

Seriously. I'm going to be starting to blog again more regularly later in the summer because I rearranging my life slightly. Will post about it as it happens.

Satisfied, Wendy?

May 17, 2007

"Life is" not "Beautiful"

After peripherally slamming the movie "Life is Beautiful" yesterday, I went looking for its tomatometer and found this review that perfectly expresses why I hated that movie.

The witnesses to the Holocaust--its living victims--inevitably grow fewer every year. The voices that would deny it ever took place remain strident. The newer generations hurry heedlessly into the future. In this climate, turning even a small corner of this century's central horror into feel-good popular entertainment is abhorrent. Sentimentality is a kind of fascism too, robbing us of judgment and moral acuity, and it needs to be resisted. Life Is Beautiful is a good place to start.

Strangely enough, this review is from Time magazine.

I was also glad to see that, although it got 78% fresh on the general tomatometer, the cream of the crop gave it 56%. Did I ever say that I love Rottentomatoes.com?

May 16, 2007

Reading Update

Just finished Middle Passage by Charles Johnson, which I picked up in a used bookstore.

It was entertaining, but I'll forget it immediately.

I have to say, I hate the genre of funny-funny-until-it-get-serious-and-meaningful historical fiction. God, I hope that's not what I'm writing with Chinaman. The anachronisms of pov were driving me crazy. They were neither enlightening, nor amusing.

Sigh. I just hate it when I finish a book and feel like I've wasted my time. The book was published in 1990, so it was still dealing with the first big skirmish of identity politics (remind me ... did we win or lose?) As such, the 1830's-era freedman protagonist is busier being Johnson's Mary Sue in a blatantly polarized identity world than he is doing the much more interesting job of negotiating freedom in a slave society.

Every interesting opportunity was missed. I realize that that's not what the author chose to focus on, but my God, choosing to base an identity politics ("tragi")comedy on a slaver is about as misguided as the warm-family-tragicomedy-in-Nazi-death-camp peesashit "Life is Beautiful" was.

Plus, the love interest woman who's fat at the beginning? She slims down in the background from agonizing over whether or not to marry the black slave trader who's wooing her, so that she can appear beautiful in the finale with the protag. I realize it's all in "good" fun, but, UGH!

May 07, 2007

Book Review Brouhaha

I know I'm cruisin' for a bruisin' when I say this, but I'm not sure losing traditional print book reviews is necessarily---well I won't say "a bad thing" because I don't think it's either a good thing OR a bad thing. I think it's a sign of the times. I mean, of course, that the print book as it is and has been is dying, and the literary establishment is ill, ill, ill-equipped to even recognize that fact, much less prepare itself to move on to the next thing.

"Literary Fiction," i.e. that which is regarded as the high form of the art, and appropriately rewarded with university study and small patches of prestigious prize monies, is the most overworked, trope-ridden, regressive, reificatin', self-diddly on the artistic block. I'm not sayin' that SF is any better--most of it isn't. There aren't many fresh breezes blowin' around the bookshelves is what I'm saying.

I'm not exempting my own work, by the way.

Where the fresh stuff is happening is TV. Yep, you heard me, tv. Film, which is short-form narrative--short stories--is going the way of Salinger product in the decline of the Saturday Evening Post. It's all about the long-form visual narrative now--all about the serial drama. Yes, like the novel in the 19th century, tv drama still carries a whiff of low/bad. But who cares? I defy any random six New York Times' notable novels from last year to compare in excitement, freshness, power, audacity and frank, hardy narrative chops to Heroes, Deadwood, Carnivale, the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica or Six Feet Under, or, from what I hear, since I don't watch it, The Sopranos.

There's breeziness in anime, too, I'm told, especially the serials, and in manga. There's freshness still in the "graphic novel" revolution, although there I'm also not an expert. And, if Second Life is any indication, RPGs, which themselves are becoming more excitingly narrative, are melding with social networking in a way that bodes extremely well for a new form of interactive narrative art.

Yes, I'm still dreaming of STTNGesque holonovels.

So why are we nerds and geeks left all alone out here in the cold with the naked scion of narrative art? It's the cart/horse thing again: they're cutting the horse loose without investigating what will replace the cart. They're recognizing that people aren't reading book reviews but not looking at why or what the next thing should be. I don't think the answer is to start reviewing games and manga in mainstream print rags. But there COULD be some thought about proselytizing.

Ha, who am I fooling? It took the NYT what, only eighty years to come up with an intermittant column addressing spec fic? Print spec fic.

What I'm saying is, though, without having any answers, that you all intellectuals and readers can stop feeling so good about yourselves. The train is leaving the station and you're still waiting for a blacksmith to come along and reshoe your horse. Go. Ride. Be my guest. Riding is a beautiful sport. It's just not going to get you anywhere anymore, and before you know it, you'll find yourself riding cavalry into WWI against tanks and nerve gas.

The novel is no longer equipped to convey human life at the velocity, within the complexity, to which we've become accustomed. The prose, on-the-page narrative no longer mirrors our existence. God, I love novels. Novels were my first love. But what I loved about novels wasn't the novel itself, but what the novel could do. What it could do to me and with me and what it could do to the world and about the world. Between this moment of my adulthood and my novel-soaked childhood the novel has--between probably last year and this year the novel has--become obsolete.

And the discourse about whither the book, whither the novel just looks brown to me. Brown and crinkly, like a dead leaf.

So either we need to start talking about how to change the novel to help it keep up (html novels, anyone?) or we need to start talking about what we're going to put our narrative energy into instead of the novel.

Of course, I have no intention of stopping my writing. But for the past several years I've been writing with at least a partial understanding of the fact that I need to master the novel at some level so I can help push it forward into its next, less-text incarnation.

Who's with me?

May 05, 2007

Reading Update

Finished two books this week:

The Last Colony by John Scalzi: third of a trilogy and and interesting way to turn the politics of warmaking back on itself. Go read!

Coraline by Neil Gaiman: nice 'n' creepy. Go read! (I don't know him, but I'm hung over and don't feel like reviewing.)

Still working on Landscapes of Fear by Yi-Fu Tuan.

May 02, 2007

Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Munff

It's a mouff-ful so we just call it "API Heritage Munff" which makes us sound extra "in" as in "in the know".

It's May, by the way, although some people I can mention, who work in an API nonprofit I could mention, seem to think it's April.

That's shameful.

Anyway, down Yay Area Way artsy things tend to center around SomArts Cultural Center (look it up yourdamnself, I just got home from work) where APICC (the "CC" stands for "cultural center") holds it annual munff-long festival. The kickoff's Thursday night, i.e. tomorrow, and I will be there, with silk on.

Sigh. I feel like some sort of effort is in order, a la Angry Black Woman's Black History Month thang, but I'm sodamntired right now. I even walked to lunch yesterday in the middle of a huge downtown Oakland MayDay immigration reform rally and couldn't, for the life of me, figure out why they were having such a rally on that day. I might need to post about this latah.

I was about to make all sorts of rash promises, but I'm going to go take a walk instead which, if it doesn't wake me up, will be followed by a nap that just might segue into tomorrow's breakfast.

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