As noted over on my personal
ranting blog, The Gecko’s Bark, I’ve spent the better part of March suffering and consequently recovering from A6, or Captain Trips, if you will. In keeping with the theme of this blog, of course, this is a literary reference to Steven King and the engineered flu in the The Stand.
I’m still angry about the literal deus ex machina ending of The Stand, 25 years after having read it the first time. But tha’ts neither here nor there, although I will add that I think King’s best works are his short stories; some of his non-horror short fiction is amazing.
Anyway, I’ve also been busy back at work teaching ESL full time, now that my recovery from a torn quadriceps tendon is such that I can walk unaided again. Between working and Captain Trips, I didn’t have much bandwidth for aught else, and that includes Barking Book Reviews among my other hobbies.
But there was so much going on in the world of books, that I feel compelled to play a little bit of catch up. So here’s more Random Book News, Volume XIVMXX what have you, in no particular order:
Poet Adrienne Rich: 5/16/29 – 3/27/2012
I don’t think anyone who has studied American literature at all in modern times hasn’t at least heard of Adrienne Rich and would at least recognize her name. I first encountered Rich’s poetry in a high school honors English class in the mid 1980s – the teacher conveniently skipped over the fact that Rich was a lesbian while discussing her poetry and feminism. I came across Rich again in college several times, in various English classes as well as a women’s studies class.
An aside: to be honest, I took the women’s studies course because of the times it met, more than anything else; I was taking 18 credit hours that quarter, trying to hurry and get my electives out of the way so I could start scheduling journalism classes. But it turned out to be a very interesting and rewarding class – and it turned out I was a bigger feminist, despite being a heterosexual dude, than most of the women in the class.
Anyway, Rich has had a long and enduring career, not to mention a colorful life. Many may remember her for telling the Clinton Administration and the U.S. federal government to take a flying leap when she refused the National Medal of Arts in 1997. Her primary objective in doing so, as I recall, was to protest cuts to the National Endowment of the Arts program, as well as other issues she had with Willie Clinton’s administration.
The San Francisco Chronicle has a lengthy obituary of Adrienne Rich; you can also find out more about Rich’s life at her rather extensive entry at Wikipedia.
New NonFiction: The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China
I will definitely be adding David Silbey’s The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China to my ever growing big pile o’ books to read. The subject alone is an interesting one; the time not so long ago when the imperial powers of the West, including America – which frankly should have known better, given our history and its related rhetoric – sought to open China to trade.
A further incentive is that Silbey is one of the authors of one of my favorite blogs, The Edge of the American West. It’s a blog written by several historians; as such it is about history. Silbey himself specializes in military history; his book about the Boxer Rebellion looks at the revolt that almost succeeded, and its relevance to what is taking place today in the Eastern Hemisphere.
I can’t point you to just one post he’s written at Edge of the American West, so here’s a post about writing a book about the Boxer Rebellion. I encourage you, however, if you are interested in this topic, to peruse this category at the Edge of the American West; you’ll learn much that your history teachers never told you.
Harry Potter Available in eBook Format
While they’ve been floating around torrent sites on the Internet for years – pirated copies having been physically scanned and converted to digital formats — the Harry Potter series books are now available in legitimate ebook format.
J. K. Rowling has resisted the ebook format for a long time, for whatever reason. I suppose I can understand the reluctance of authors to embrace ebooks, but how many people downloaded pirated copies of Harry Potter simply because there were no legitimate ebook versions available? People that would otherwise pay for a legitimate copy, one without the digital artifacts, layout problems and questionable editing that are common with pirate digital copies?
In any event, now they are available on Amazon and at Rowling’s Pottermore site, where the complete series is going for £38.64, or $61.40. That comes out to about $8.77 per book. That seems pretty reasonable, although some people would claim, and perhaps rightfully so, that given the fact that there are no material costs, that ebooks should be cheaper than they are.
It will be interesting to see how many digital copies of the Potter books the publishers can sell.
Authors Choose Favorite Literary Monsters
I first spied this on author Hal Duncan’s blog; Duncan was one of the authors to participate in Weird Fiction Review’s poll of various writers’ favorite monsters. Duncan, in his wonderfully erudite manner, explains why he chose to kick it old school, with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:
I have to go with a classic, Frankenstein’s monster, because Shelley’s creature doesn’t just exemplify monstrosity, it interrogates it. What makes it visually monstrous is not a matter of cheap gimmickry. Shelley doesn’t just snatch features from the animal world that naturally freak us out?—?mandibles, pincers, horns, tentacles, slime, so on?—?doesn’t just push buttons to disturb us with undercurrents of sex and power a la Stoker. I think it’s an awesome move to have the monster explicitly created from components that are all beautiful and right in and of themselves; they just don’t fit together *proportionally*. It founds monstrosity on almost a pure abstraction of Order Transgressed. Which cuts to the core of it for me.
Hard to argue with that. But there is a wide spectrum of answers from nearly 50 authors; as pompous as this sounds, some of them — both authors and monsters — I have not even heard of. Obviously my education has been neglected, as of late. Some of the answers are truly intriguing, some are obviously tongue in cheek and some are clearly phoned in as the author couldn’t be arsed (perhaps they are on deadline, which would admittedly be an excellent excuse).
Props to Karen Lord, author of the excellent Redemption in Indigo, though, for choosing a Bradbury creation:
My favourite monster (i.e. most horrifying) is the unnamed infection in Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fever Dream’. It’s an intelligent plague that not only keeps its host alive but also sufficiently ‘normal’ to become an efficient vector for transmission to other unsuspecting hosts. If that sounds like pure fiction, look up Toxoplasma gondii. Truly horrific monsters always have a real-life counterpart to make you wonder … could it really happen?
Above all, I imagine the real Charles: blind, deaf, powerless, and silently screaming for help inside his own walking, talking, stolen body for the rest of his life. That’s horror.
Steven R. Boyett also has an interesting response. He chooses from Robert Matheson’s I Am Legend. But it’s not the monster you think it is.
Val Kilmer to Portray Mark Twain
It seems like a right of passage for actors of a certain age, playing Mark Twain on stage. It also seems like it would be tough to beat The X-Files’ Deepthroat at portraying Twain – that would be actor Jerry Hardin, who first portrayed Twain in a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation – and no I’m not making this up as a I go along. Hardin actually made an excellent and thoroughly convincing Twain, and he apparently so enjoyed portraying the author on TV that he went on to develop a successful and critically lauded one-man play in which he portrayed Twain.
Kilmer is apparently doing just that in preparation for a movie about Twain and one of his favorite boogeymen – er, boogeywomen – Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science. Of course Kilmer will always be Madmartigan from Willow to me. But then to many women of a certain age I’ve dated, he’ll always be Iceman from Top Gun.
Squee! Previously Unpublished Vonnegut Novella Basic Training on Amazon
Apparently Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions author Kurt Vonnegut – actually, whenever I think of him, Cat’s Cradle is the first work to come to mind, as I read it at an impressionable age, and to say that my youthful self found it disturbing (in a good way) would be an understatement – left a lot of unpublished material when he died. Indy publisher and ebook pioneer RosettaBooks, apparently chosen by Vonnegut’s estate, has released Basic Training, written by the author nearly 60 years ago. It was never published, having been rejected by the Saturday Evening Post — d’oh! — in the years following WW II, long before Vonnegut became a notable literary figure.
RosettaBooks says Basic Training is a precursor to the author’s “trademark grand themes: the lunacy of kings, the improbability of existence, the yearling hero’s struggle with duty and love and the meaning of heroism.” In a sign of the times, the book is being released exclusively as an Amazon Kindle Single for $1.99.