Barking Book Reviews Takes a Holiday

The Gecko is Going to Go Eat Curry, Som Tam, Snooze on the Beach and Write Some Book Reviews … Maybe

It’s time for yours truly, after dealing with a busted up leg and working long hours to make up for the work I missed early in the year because of said bum leg, to take a well-deserved break. So I may or may not be posting book reviews and whatnot here for a week or two.

Actually I’ll have more time for pastimes like reading and writing (including book reviews, perhaps); it’s a holiday, which for me means goofing off and not much else. Furthermore, I used to live in the Land of Smiles, so I’ll feel no need to run off and visit wats and do the things that tourists normally do. In fact I don’t usually spend a lot of time at the beach, although I do love being by the ocean.

So I may actually be posting more often here, but I don’t want to make any promises. Once I get into holiday mode, I may not have any desire to crack open the laptop. But then I should finish at least two books over the next week, so some book reviews may appear.

But if you don’t see any posts for a few weeks; have no fear: the Gecko is alive and well and shall be barking said book reviews and whatnot in the near future. He’s just busy goofing off in the meantime, and stuffing himself with Thai food.

In the current meantime, here’s some random book news:

Funhome author Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother? (book cover)Funhome Author and Artist Alison Bechdel to Release Second Memoir: Are You My Mother?

I’ve had some interesting discussions over the years with people about whether or not long-form comics, namely the graphic novel, constitute literature. Usually we can both agree that it’s art, but is it literature?

It’s a pedantic argument at best, but then pedants are as pedants do; we like to argue about this sort of thing. To those who would fall into the “no they aren’t” camp – and once upon a time I would have – I would submit to you Daniel Clowes’ Ghostworld and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

Of course many people have heard of Ghostworld thanks to the eponymous film, which, while more faithful to the source material than most movies, nevertheless takes too many (and often needless) changes to Clowes’ work. Fun Home has had no movie interpretation, and I’m not sure it would lend itself easily to that medium.

But this is neither here nor there. Both works were commercial and critical successes, and Fun Home, by Dykes To Watch Out For writer and artist Bechdel, was arguably a huge success. Book critics loved it; I don’t recall seeing a bad review of it. The thing about Fun Home is that its writing is as important – and as well done – as its art, and as both come from the same source, they are inextricably woven together. Each could perhaps stand alone, but would be considerably lessened.

So why I am I bringing this up? Bechdel, who notably has won a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship, among other honors and awards, is releasing her second memoir, Are You My Mother? on May 1st. Fun Home was simply brilliant; a very moving work and dramatically different from the comic which has made her famous (not that I don’t love that too; I never would have read Fun Home if I hadn’t been a Dykes fan since I discovered the strip in college many moons ago.

Are You May Mother? may hasten my purchasing of a tablet that has a color-capable screen. Bechdel uses color minimally, and I imagine Are You My Mother? would look fine on my old-school Kindle’s e-ink display. But there are other graphic novels that I would like to be able to read. And aside from the convenience of the ebook form, living in Viet Nam I have no other choice for these titles other than ebooks.

Rest assured, there will be a book review of Are You My Mother? appearing here eventually. I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time.

Speaking of comics I’d like to read:

Dark Horse Comics' Alabaster: Wolves #1 (cover), written by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Gorgeous artwork, yes?Caitlín R. Kiernan Helms Alabaster: Wolves at Dark Horse Comics

I’m late to the table on this one but such is the lot of the hobbyist with a full-time job. On the other hand, the Gecko is his own boss with regard to barking and blogging. Dancy Flammarion has been one of the more popular characters created by Kiernan, appearing in both novels and short stories, as well as comics.

Earlier this month Dark Horse Comics launched the Alabaster: Wolves title, written by Kiernan and featuring Dancy. There are previews available at Dark Horse, and the artwork is nothing short of incredible. Kiernan has discussed this work at length on her blog. The thing that really has incited me to want to read this title, aside from enjoying Kiernan as an author, is that this isn’t just some project she’s doing to pay the bills; she is clearly invested in this as a writer.

She is a woman with a lot of irons in the fire; her latest novel, The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, appeared earlier this spring.

Can one write book reviews of comics? Should I wait for the entire series to complete? Should I do a running review/commentary? I never really stopped to think about it before. Something to ponder while snoozing on the beach at Hua Hin.

Random News on Books, Vol. II

All sorts of miscellaneous book news to catch up on while I’ve been slacking lo the past week and a half or so. I have a good reason for this slackness: I’ve caught the graduate school bug yet again – it seems to strike every three years or so, but this time it feels likely to be terminal. I’ve even got it narrowed down to specific MFA programs I will try and get into (and the backup MA programs if I don’t, which is a distinct possibility). So the next six months is going to be spent studying for the GRE (again) and writing and workshopping (no, not technically a verb) the piece(s) I will submit with my applications.

But that’s neither here nor there.

First off: yet more awards are in the offing. Must be that time of year, I suppose.

Nothing is Absolutely So

Theodore Sturgeon in 1972 (reportedly). Not sure who took it or holds the copyright; if anyone can supply that info, please do. The above headline – or text in between the title tags – is Sturgeon’s Law, as stated by the man himself. Of course most people, myself included, have come to think of Sturgeon’s Law as the old saw about 90 percent of science fiction being derivative crap. Reportedly his actual quote was this:

Ninety percent of science fiction is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud.

One wonders what he would think of this year’s crop of his eponymous award finalists (and that’s not meant as a comment on this year’s field one way or the other). In case you are wondering, the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas administers/curates/decides Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award; is  by its intent is to honor outstanding short stories or other short works of science fiction.

Sturgeon, of course, was one of – some might even say “the” – authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, a contemporary of Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and van Vogt. Not everyone includes Arthur C. Clarke in that list, but I most assuredly do. Anyway, without further ado:

  • Eleanor Arnason, “Mammoths of the Great Plains” – (chapbook)
  • Damien Broderick, “Under the Moons of Venus” – Subterranean (Spring)
  • Elizabeth Hand, “The Maiden Flight of McAuley’s Bellerophon” – Stories: All-New Tales
  • Geoffrey A. Landis, “The Sultan of the Clouds” – Asimov’s, September
  • Yoon Ha Lee, “Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain” – Lightspeed, September
  • Paul Park, “Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance” – Fantasy and Science Fiction, January / February
  • Robert Reed, “Dead Man’s Run” – Fantasy and Science Fiction, November / December
  • Alastair Reynolds, “Troika” – Godlike Machines
  • Steve Rasnic Tem, “A Letter from the Emperor” – Asimov’s, January
  • Lavie Tidhar, “The Night Train” – Strange Horizons, 14 June
  • Peter Watts, “The Things” – Clarkesworld, January

You know, I’ve never read Sturgeon’s seminal novel, More than Human. I’ve read plenty of his stories in anthologies over the years, but somehow I’ve never read this novel. I think I need to remedy that forthwith.

One other interesting tidbit about Sturgeon: he had a profound influence on Star Trek and the subsequent Star Trek universe. He wrote the screenplays for two of the more popular episodes of the original series. Including “Amok Time,” the one in which Spock has to get his groove on – or die. Among the enduring impact of Sturgeon on Star Trek, he gave us: the concept of pon farr, the aforementioned Vulcan ritual for getting it on, i.e., mating ritual; the concept of the Prime Directive, which has helped fashion all manner of plots across the entire spectrum of Star Trek series; and then there is the peculiar Vulcan greeting, including the hand salute and the phrase “live long, and prosper.”

The proper, polite response to this is, of course, “peace, and long life.” Yes, I am a nerd in general and trekkie in particular. And yes, I opt for the phrase that most of my brethren shun. Bones is doctor, dammit, and I am a trekkie, not a trekker. Reclaim the word for our own, I say.

But I digress.

Nod to a Golden Age with the John Campbell Award

While Sturgeon is a seminal author, John Campbell was a seminal editor of science fiction, so much so that if it weren’t for him, there might not have been a Golden Age of Science Fiction; it might never have emerged from its pulp roots and into the realm of literature. Of course there are a lot of stuffed shirts who think that it still hasn’t, but we, dear gentle reader, know better, of course.

Anyway the Golden Age certainly would have been somewhat less gilded had it not been for Campbell. Without him it might have remained the Stone Age of Science Fiction; the field might have managed to make it to the Bronze Age of Sci Fi at best. Really if we were to continue this metaphor to its conclusion a more apt name would be the Steel Age of Science Fiction as opposed to the Golden Age. I’m just sayin’ (and digressing).

The good folks at the University of Kansas and the Center for the Study of Science Fiction are also responsible for the eponymous Cambell Award. This is apparently the center’s nod to the science fiction novel.

  • Yarn, Jon Armstrong (Night Shade)
  • Hull Zero Three, Greg Bear (Orbit)
  • Zero History, William Gibson, (Putnam)
  • C, Tom McCarthy (Knopf)
  • The Dervish House, Ian McDonald (Gollancz/Pyr)
  • New Model Army, Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
  • The Quantum Thief , Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz/Tor)
  • Veteran, Gavin Smith (Gollancz)
  • The Waters Rising, Sheri S. Tepper (Eos)
  • Aurorarama, Jean-Christophe Valtat (Melville House)
  • Anthill , E. O. Wilson (Norton)
  • Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra)
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu (Pantheon)

Notably, Nebula award winner Connie Willis is on here for her duology Blackout/All Clear. I just finished reading Blackout, and am reading All Clear. Also, I’m – somewhat – surprised that Gibson’s Zero History keeps showing up on all these award lists. Not that it isn’t deserving, because it is, but it’s not really science fiction. The so-called Bigend trilogy, of which Zero History is the third, is set in the current day, and none of the technology depicted in it, while advanced, all exists today, so technically it’s not science fiction, by the strictest definition of the term.

Of course if we take his entire oeuvre, we can call Gibson a science fiction author, so I suppose I’m splitting hairs.

Alison Bechdel Becomes a Fellow

An excerpt from Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir, Fun Home. Copright is hers, of course.I love comic artist Alison Bechdel, the author of the long-running comic Dykes to Watch Out For. If you aren’t familiar with DTWOF, as you might guess from the name it’s a so-called alternative comic strip; you would not have found it in your daily mainstream hometown paper. You might have found it in your hometown alt weekly, however. If you missed it the first time around there are several collections of DTWOF comics; I can highly recommend them. Dykes was probably one of my favorite comics of all time; it ranks right up there with Bloom County and its successors in my humble estimation.

Bechdel is also known for her graphic novel, the autobiographical memoir of her relationship with her father, Fun Home. Fun Home is a wonderful work, a truly moving piece. Some may debate whether the graphic novel is literature; to them I would suggest they read Fun Home and then tell me that it’s not.

Anway, Bechdel is going to be serving as a Mellon Fellow at the new Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago; she will be co-teaching a course on autobiographical comics.

Attention New York Times: Hüsker Dü Wasn’t Metal

Despite this assertion that Bob Mold made “metal music for the kind of people who don’t like metal” — the ironic  umlauts in the name must have fooled ’em — it’s cool that the New York Times reviewed Bob Mold’s autobiography See a Little Light, The Trail of Rage and Melody. Bear in mind I’m almost but not quite a nerd when it comes to metal and punk; I’m more of a geek in that respect, as opposed to a nerd (if you want to get fussy about the terms, and being such, I do).

I suppose some of his music might be classified by the ignorant as metal, but doubt any serious connoisseur/anyone who came of age in the 1980s and early 1990s would. But then labels are subjective. One person’s garage rock is another one’s proto-punk, for example. ]

Anyway, Bob Mold has published an autobiography. That’s news in and of itself. If you had asked me back in oh, 1989 or so, that someday I’d be reading a review of Bob Mould’s autobiography in the New York Times, I would have said something along the lines of “No way! GTFU!”

More Bad News

It has been a tough spring for science fiction and fantasy authors and artists, to say the least. Now we learn that British author John Glasby, a contemporary of the aforementioned Golden Era greats, died June 5; he was 82. A prolific author, he started out writing science fiction in the 1950s, but is perhaps better known for his later work in the fantasy and horror/supernatural genres. He continued to write almost up to the time of his death; his last work, a science fiction novel, Mystery of the Crater, came out just last year.

According to Locus many of his earlier works are soon to be republished here in the United States, and also has a few works yet to be published.

I also see on Locus that author L.A. Banks is in the hospital with late stage adrenal cancer. I’m familiar with her work – L.A. is short for Leslie Esdaile, presumably – from a few fantasy/paranormal short story anthologies; but she is quite prolific in several genres, including crime/suspense and romance. If you want to leave an encouraging note for Leslie, or even make a donation for her mounting medical expenses – no employer-supplied health insurance for authors – just follow that link.

As I was in the process of posting this and double checking a link, I saw a notice that author and editor Alan Ryan had died. I am more familiar with the many short story anthologies he put together and edited. But he also published a lot of short fiction in the horror genre as well. A more complete obituary for Alan Ryan can be found over at the Too Much Horror blog.