Monday, June 29, 2009

"Uncle Snuffy on Doomsday"

This weekend I was going through my list of stories I've written over the past several years, looking at where I'd sent them and at their rejections. I generally send a story to at least five or six markets before deciding whether or not to give up on it. Then I thought, why not put some of them on my blog? I'm not sending them out anymore, so why not post them? I'm not doing this hoping someone will see them and want to publish them. That's extremely unlikely. So why am I doing it? Maybe because I hope you'll enjoy them. They're not doing me much good sitting on my hard drive.

So here's a story I wrote at Clarion in 2004. I sent it out to six different markets, got six different rejections. Several editors liked it, just not enough to buy it. Some of the editors didn't like the name Uncle Snuffy, saying that it reminded them (and would remind readers) of the comic strip Snuffy Smith. Does anyone under the age of 40 even remember Snuffy Smith? Didn't think so. But I still like Uncle Snuffy and the other characters. Who knows - I might even use them again.

Uncle Snuffy on Doomsday

“Don’t tell your Aunt Mabel ‘cause she’ll blab it all over town, but the world’s gonna end pretty soon, couple of months, tops. I seen it on the TV a few weeks back. Took my money out of the bank this mornin’. You should too.”

Uncle Snuffy winked at his nephew, leaned over the right side of his worn black La-Z-Boy and spat. A stream of Beech Nut tobacco juice the length of a shoelace spurted into an unlabeled silver coffee can.

Mark took another drink of his Budweiser and wondered if Uncle Snuffy had gone to the bank looking like he did at that moment, with uncombed puffs of white hair sticking out in every direction, a three-day growth on his leathery face, and wearing a one-piece khaki work outfit. Wouldn’t you want your last time at the bank to look a little more dignified?

“End of the world?” Mark said. “You can’t mean it!”

No matter how old he got, Mark’s voice always regressed to childish incredulity when Uncle Snuffy started in on his predictions. It was bad enough that, at thirty, Mark still looked like a kid with a baby face and wispy blond hair. He hated that he sounded so young, as well.

“Come on, Uncle Snuffy. You don’t really think the world’s going to end soon. That’s just silly.”

Mark turned from his seat on the floral-patterned couch and glanced out the living room window. His six-year-old son Jonathan was playing with his toy dump truck in Uncle Snuffy’s front yard.

“Damn right it’s gonna be soon,” Uncle Snuffy said. He leaned forward in his chair and a small cloud of acrylic stuffing burst out from one of the chair’s many cracks. Uncle Snuffy’s toes pointed in on each other as if magnetized. Mark realized he’d never seen his uncle in shoes, only a pair of yellow cotton socks.

“Them guys on the TV, they ain’t hardly ever wrong about that stuff. Oh, they screw up the weather damn near every day, but they hit this one right on. Gonna rain today, by the way. My joints is actin’ up.”

Mark looked out the window again. It was getting a little cloudy. Maybe he’d better---no, he’d let Jonathan stay out for a few more minutes.

He thought about the company picnic next weekend and wondered if Jonathan would have anyone his age to play with. That would be nice. It would also be nice to get that promotion, the one they announced every year at the picnic. Mark had spent eighteen months of overtime to earn it, far more than anyone else.

Aunt Mabel’s shrill voice shot out from the adjoining kitchen. “Norton! What are you talking about in there? Are you telling those lewd stories again?” Mark smelled turnip greens and sweet potatoes. He always tried to think of a way to avoid Mabel’s greens when he visited, but could never figure out how.

“I ain’t tellin’ nothin’ dirty, Mabel!” Uncle Snuffy bellowed. The old man still had a strong lung capacity at age seventy-seven. Practice, maybe.

“Lookit,” Uncle Snuffy said in a low voice, pulling out a tattered book from the bookcase behind the chair. He showed Mark a brittle page with an intricate diagram of triangles and circles drawn in tiny handwriting. The old man pointed to a series of overlapping circles that looked no different from any of the others on the page.

“See this?” Uncle Snuffy said.

Mark leaned over. He thought it was the oldest book he’d ever seen. “Yeah.”

“I read this and didn’t give it no mind until I saw that show. Now they said on the TV that an incident at a major public event would take place, followed by a flood, followed by the collapse of a major source of transportation.” Uncle Snuffy leaned back and held his chin up, like he’d just won the lottery. “Wanna know what them things were?”

Mark was about to say no, but got distracted by the shattering sound of a pan hitting the kitchen floor. “Aw, shuckins!” Aunt Mabel said.

Uncle Snuffy ignored the distraction, leaning forward in his chair as if Mark had just given his full approval to continue.

“First,” the old man said, “we had that incident at the Tater Festival last weekend. Remember? Dub Nelson’s runner-up pig got loose and ate every last bit of Sarah Mitchell’s chili. Folks thought Sarah might win the chili cook-off this year, ‘course now we’ll never know.”

“Uncle Snuffy,” Mark said, “outside of the county, the Tater Festival doesn’t count as a major public event.”

“Second!” Uncle Snuffy said, holding up an index finger, “With all the rain we had over the weekend, Kelsey’s Creek flooded on Monday.”

“Just how bad was this ‘flood’?”

“Ruined Kelsey’s basement! Damn near destroyed his Tulsa Drillers baseball card collection.” Uncle Snuffy grimaced and spat into the coffee can. Mark thought the memory must be painful for his uncle, to say nothing of Kelsey, so he remained respectfully silent.

“And third!” Uncle Snuffy said, raising two fingers, “The bus to the nursing home broke down on Tuesday.”

“You can’t really call that a collapse of a major source of transportation.”

“I heard Annabelle Fitzhugh started smashing plates and stompin’ on Alka Seltzer tablets ‘cause she couldn’t get to Tuesday Night Bingo. I’d call that a collapse, yessir!”

Mark shook his head and drank his beer. The old man was reaching new heights of lunacy, no doubt about it. But Uncle Snuffy had been right about some pretty unbelievable events before: the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the 2000 Presidential election, and Julia Roberts winning the Oscar for Erin Brockovich.

“Okay, Uncle Snuffy, I’ll admit you’ve gotten a few things right in the past, but you’ve really blown some, too. Texas never formed their own country, Nixon never landed on Jupiter, and Elvis never came back to coach the New Orleans Saints. So when you say the end of the world is just around the corner, I just can’t buy it.”

Mark shook his head and noticed movement near the window. He glanced back and saw that eight-year-old Sammy Justus had just walked across the street to play with Jonathan. Mark wasn’t wild about Sammy or his parents. For one thing, they allowed their dogs to run around the neighborhood unleashed. And Mr. and Mrs. Justus were both pet psychologists.

“I can see you might be a touch skeptical,” Uncle Snuffy said. “But here’s the kicker: it’s all here in the book!” He thumped the page with the drawings. Dust particles flew from the book to the floor. Some drifted into the coffee can.

“Just what book is that?” Mark asked, leaning forward for a closer look.

Uncle Snuffy looked at Mark and pointed a thumb toward the kitchen. He mouthed the words “Is she looking?” The old man shaped his hands like binoculars and brought them up to his eyes.

Mark glanced over to the kitchen and shook his head, hoping Aunt Mabel wouldn’t see the motion.

Uncle Snuffy waved Mark closer. Mark sat on the edge of the couch and perched his elbows on his knees. In the kitchen, Mabel was humming “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

“This here book,” Uncle Snuffy whispered, “is the official personal journal of Nathan Bedford Smoot!” He smiled and nodded with obvious pride.

“Who’s Nathan Bedford Smoot?”

Uncle Snuffy frowned and closed the book to his chest. “Boy, they didn’t teach you nothin’ at that school you went to. What was that place called?”

“Chapel Hill,” Mark said.

Uncle Snuffy’s eyes grew wide. “Well, they didn’t teach you spit about American History! Nathan Bedford Smoot was a private in the Confederate Army in the War of Northern Aggression. Now as a soldier, he couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if you put the instructions on the heel. But he was an envisionary!” Uncle Snuffy waved the book in his left hand, then leaned over and spat another stream of Beech Nut into the coffee can. “He predicted all kinds of stuff in this book. I found it at an American Legion book sale last month.”

“What’s he say in the book?” Mark asked. He glanced outside and saw Jonathan sitting on the ground, watching Sammy Justus. Sammy was trying to get his black Lab Dixon to do some type of trick.

“This page is a series of math’matical formulas that tell you what could happen during certain times of the year,” Uncle Snuffy said.

“And you understand the math?” Mark said.

“Hell no, but I can read his chart. Smoot explains it all in the back of the book. Any idiot can figure it out. It’s got to do with the stars and full moons and animal behavior and all that stuff. Well, he predicted the incident, the flood, and the transportation breakdown!”

“Come on, how’d he do that?”

Uncle Snuffy looked at his nephew with half-closed sleepy eyes. “What do I look like, boy, Alex Tree-beck? I don’t know how he did it! I just know he’s right! Two, three more months and this’ll all be over!”

“So what are you going to do?” Mark asked. The boys were still outside with the dog.

“Thought I’d run off to one of them casinos down on the coast. Always wanted to go, but Mabel would never let me. Pretty soon money ain’t gonna do anybody any good. Might as well have some fun!” Uncle Snuffy laughed with his tongue hanging out. Mark backed up on the couch. His uncle hadn’t brushed.

“But what about Aunt Mabel?” Mark said.

“Hell, I’m leavin’ her half the money I took out. She can do what she wants with it. I just don’t want her to know about it ‘til after I’m gone. Might try and stop me. Fewer people that know, the better. I’m just following my dream. Everybody should have a dream, Mark. You should take Jonathan and do something fun while you still got the time.”

Mark didn’t believe one word about the end of the world prediction, but Uncle Snuffy was right about one thing: he should spend more time with Jonathan, especially since Mark was the boy’s only parent. Jonathan kept growing so fast; he wouldn’t stay a little boy forever. For the first time, Mark thought about skipping the company picnic and taking an early vacation. Jonathan might like Universal Studios or maybe Sea World. Someplace big and fun.

Mark looked out the window. Jonathan wasn’t there. Neither was Sammy Justus or Dixon.

The screen door to the kitchen slammed and Mark bolted up. He saw Jonathan from the living room and sat back down, relieved.

“Hey Aunt Mabel!” Jonathan announced. “Guess what?”

“What, sweetheart?” Mabel said. She set the greens on the kitchen table and gave Jonathan her full attention.

Jonathan stuck his head out the kitchen door. “Come on in, Sammy!”

Jonathan held the door open. Sammy and his dog Dixon walked into the kitchen. “Go ahead, Sammy, put the glasses on him!”

Sammy reached into his jeans pocket, took out a pair of wire-rimmed glasses and placed them on Dixon’s nose.

“Okay, boy,” Sammy said, petting the dog.

The dog sniffed in the direction of the greens, cleared his throat, and spoke. “The end, ladies and gentlemen, is coming soon.”

Jonathan tugged at his aunt’s apron and grinned. “Ain’t that somethin’, Aunt Mabel?”

Aunt Mabel smiled like that was the sweetest thing she’d ever seen. Mark stared at the dog in astonishment.

Uncle Snuffy slumped in his chair and shook his head. “Hell, now everybody knows.”

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ah, the Weekend!

Finally finished a new story yesterday, a 2000 word one. Sometimes, at least for me, the shortest stories are the hardest to finish. As usual, it's a hard story to accurately market out. There's humor, sadness and just barely a speculative element. So we'll see. Looking forward to this weekend, celebrating Cindy's birthday and relaxing. Maybe even taking in a movie.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summertime Reads

It's summertime and I'm looking for both fiction and non-fiction titles to read this week. On the fiction side, I've had my eye on these three for awhile:

The Long Goodbye - Raymond Chandler

Garnethill - Denise Mina

The Winter King - Bernard Cornwell

I know my friend John will lobby heavily for Cornwell and he may be right. I'm in something of a King Arthur mood (not personally, mind you; just for reading purposes) at the moment.

The Mina novel is a detective/mystery tale set in Scotland, which is not a strike against it, but I've recently read three of Ian Rankin's John Rebus (also a Scottish detective) novels and may need a wee break from the Scots.

And any season is a good time for Chandler.

On the non-fiction side, I've got a couple of intriguing titles on the shelf:

This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind - Ivan Doig, recommended during a recent Readers' Advisory workshop.

Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town - Warren St. John, about refugee children from the Congo to Kabul playing on a soccer team in Clarkston, Georgia.

Perhaps the most interesting NF book I've run across lately is one I do not own: Strange Telescopes: Following the Apocalypse from Moscow to Siberia by Daniel Kalder. I ran across this a couple of weeks ago while checking in new books at the library. I read the jacket information and thought it was a sf novel. Here's the description from our library database:

A mind-bending voyage into the underground realms of Russia and beyond by the author of "Lost Cosmonaut," When Daniel Kalder descended into the sewers of Moscow in pursuit of the mythical lost city of tramps, he didn't realize that he was embarking on a bizarre, year-long odyssey that would lead him thousands of miles across Russia to the Arctic Circle via the heart of Asia. After exploring the depths of Moscow's "Underground Planet," Kalder journeyed to the Ukraine to chase down demons and exorcists in the dubious afterglow of the Orange Revolution, before meeting a man called Vissarion Christ-a one-time traffic cop, he is now messiah to thousands of followers in Siberia. Salvation and damnation collide as Daniel Kalder expertly guides us through this unique account of a modern day quest that reveals the astonishing lengths people will go to when they view the world through a "strange telescope."

Can you say wacked-out? It's going to be hard not to read this one first.

So whaddya think? What to read first?

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Great Short-Story Collection Purge, Part 11

Werewolves in Their Youth: Stories (1999) - Michael Chabon

I bought this collection from a Salvation Army store about a year ago, just a few months after I'd finished Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union, one of my favorite reads from 2007. Of course this collection sat on the shelf for an entire year before I picked it up a couple of days ago as part of The Great Short-Story Collection Purge, which, as John correctly points out, hasn't purged quite as many books as I (or Cindy) would like.

But I digress.

The collection opens with the title story which shows a boy named Paul creating an ant empire in a ravine at the edge of a schoolyard during recess. Paul is content to stay there while fifth-grade bully Timothy Stokes terrorizes his classmates. Timothy is on thin ice, just one incident away from being placed on a "little bus of unknown boys" to be taken to a "special" school. The adults in the story believe that Paul can actually help control Timothy's behavior. It matters not to any of the adults that Paul despises Timothy.

Of course there's far more going on here than an excitable fifth-grader and a sheepish, overweight loner. The problems in the adult world soon make themselves known to us and Paul. I enjoyed "Werewolves in Their Youth," but didn't really think about again until this post. Hmmm.....

"In the Black Mill" is a creepy little story of a student archaeologist working on a dig in a small Pennsylvania mill town. He discovers that many of the locals have lost an assortment of body parts while working in the mill and decides to investigate. "In the Black Mill" seems something of an homage to the early days of magazines like Weird Tales and as such, works well. But Chabon is such a gifted writer (It would take me months to construct sentences he probably puts down without a second thought.), reading him is sometimes frustrating. He writes beautiful sentences, gorgeous sentences, but I found his immense vocabulary getting in the way. Perhaps it's my lack of an immense vocabulary getting in the way.

Although both of these are satisfying stories, I doubt if I'll revisit them, leading me to wonder if Chabon's best work is in the long form. Or maybe I'm just a chowder-head.

The Verdict = Finish it, then pass it on.

Next: Fancies and Goodnights - John Collier

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Great Short-Story Collection Purge, Part 10

Ghosts of Yesterday (2003) - Jack Cady

I can't be positive, but I'm pretty sure I'd never read any Jack Cady stories before this morning. So why do I own this collection? I'm pretty sure my friend Kelly recommended it awhile back and I found it as a library discard. Looking at the story publication history, I noticed that eight of them appear in this collection for the first time, so I decided to read the first story that had been previously published, "Weird Row."

The narrator, a guy named Pork and a woman named Victoria work at a kind of book distribution center in Reno, NV. I don't know how, but in a little over seven pages, Cady managed not only to flesh out three characters I cared about, but also create a believable Reno, make me laugh, make me sad, and think about the big, big picture. It's a story full of humanity. That's just one story, but if there's even the chance that Cady can repeat that in just one of the remaining twelve stories, count me in.

The Verdict = Keep It.

Next: Werewolves in Their Youth: Stories - Michael Chabon

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Great Short-Story Collection Purge, Part 9

Patterns (1989) - Pat Cadigan

I bought this trade paperback collection for a buck at Daedalus Books several years ago. Since then, I've handled the book, flipped through it, considered the "Locus Award-Winning Collection" announcement on its cover, and wondered whether to read it or toss it unread. It is, after all, a collection that's now 20 years old. Add to the fact that everyone seems to refer to these stories as pre-Cyberpunk (whatever that means) and the technology in them is now as ancient as your VCR, you might think it needs to go into the donations pile.

Big mistake.

I read the title story and after the first short paragraph, I thought I knew where it was going:

I have this continuing fantasy of assassinating the President. Any President.

I was wrong. Not only was I wrong, I was entertained and made to think.

Then I read "Vengeance Is Yours." From the opening in a bar with a woman ordering a drink that doesn't even exist, I was captivated. I didn't know where Cadigan was taking me, but I was pulled in. After the first couple of pages, I again thought I knew where we were going, but was wrong. Pleasantly wrong. Everything about this story worked for me: character, atmosphere, description, tone, surprise and wonder.

Why did I wait so long to pick up this collection?

The Verdict = Keep It.

Next: Ghosts of Yesterday - Jack Cady

Monday, June 15, 2009

Marvel Masterworks Ad Nauseam

Marvel's doing it again. They've spiced it up a bit, but they're still reprinting their Silver Age line of classics, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four Volume 1 comes to us in yet another trade paperback format with a new cover, a 1987 introduction from Stan Lee, an excerpt from Origins of Marvels Comics, a few alternate covers and not much else. And the price tag for these reprints from 40+ years ago? In trade paperback? $25.00 Okay, if you get it on Amazon, it's only $16.49.

But I guess when you charge $50 for the hardcover editions of these comics (ten issues to a volume), $25 makes sense to Marvel. Not to me. A few years ago, Barnes and Noble printed a no-frills color edition of many of the Marvel titles for much less. (I believe it was $12.99.) But what really gets me is the colors. They're not the same. I never owned any of the original titles, but I saw them, thanks to friends who owned them. They just don't seem the same to me. Maybe they are. It was over thirty years ago, after all.

I'd really enjoy owning some of the later FF volumes, especially the issues dealing with The Silver Surfer, The Inhumans and The Negative Zone. But as long as the library keeps getting them, I'll save my money. All $25 of it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

No Right to Remain Silent (NF 2009) - Lucinda Roy

No Right to Remain Silent: The Tragedy at Virginia Tech (NF 2009) - Lucinda Roy

If you're looking for an examination of the events leading up to the Virginia Tech tragedy of April 16, 2007 or an investigative look into the killer Seung-Hui Cho, this probably isn't the book for you. This is a memoir about one person's connection to the shooting that left thirty-two students and faculty dead. It is also a cry for reform and for change within academia. Author Lucinda Roy states in her introduction:

It is the story of a university hampered both by its own labyrinthine bureaucracy and by the dogged determination of its administration to protect itself. It is about a system of public education in dire need of reform - one which, is the case of Virginia Tech, resulted in conflicts of interest and a chronic inability to respond swiftly to crisis situations.

Red flags appeared early in Cho's creative writing. A student in Nikki Giovanni's poetry class, Cho wrote poetry accusing class members of cannibalism and genocide, among other things. When Giovanni banished him from the class, English Department Head Roy decided to meet with Cho one on one. The results are both frustrating and chilling. It was clear to Roy that something was deeply disturbing Cho, but after repeated warnings to people who could have helped, very little was done.

Roy examines many interesting points: writing as therapy, how society views killers, access to weapons, what can be done, what can't be done and how we deal with the aftermath of such a tragic event. Recommended.

(As an aside, one thing really bothers me about the book: Roy uses "4/16" throughout the book, comparing the event to 9/11. Yes, the Virginia Tech tragedy was terrible, but it wasn't 9-11. Yes, they were both terrorists acts, both terrible events that shouldn't be forgotten. But do we really need to mark every terrible event that happens in this country with a date?)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Great Short-Story Collection Purge, Part 8

From These Ashes: The Complete Short SF of Fredric Brown

Brown is one of the few writers comfortable in writing both science fiction and mystery fiction. His works are filled with wit, satire, absurdity and fun. I'd read several of these stories long ago and took another look at a few of them yesterday. Understand that these stories were penned between 1941 and 1965. I know this makes me a Philistine, but other than Theodore Sturgeon, I just don't read much from that period in sf anymore. (Fantasy, yes; horror, yes; sf, no.) I enjoyed the stories I read, but quickly realized this is not a volume I'll sit down and read straight through. Still, there are some great stories here. On the other hand, the volume takes up at lot of shelf space at nearly 700 pages. Hmmmm....

The Verdict = I'll keep it for now.

Next: Patterns - Pat Cadigan

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Great Short-Story Collection Purge, Part 7

In for a Penny: Stories (2003) - James Blaylock

I've had this ex-library signed limited edition sitting patiently on the shelves for probably three or four years. The cover depicts a man of possibly the late nineteenth-century in his library, leaning on a stack of books (no doubt his "To Read" pile), absorbing a volume illuminated by streaks of sunlight invading the room. It's a very nostalgic scene.

The first two stories from In for a Penny also struck me as rather nostalgic, not so much because of their setting, but rather their style. Blaylock reminds me a bit of Bradbury, who can also be nostalgic. Although not stated as such, these stories could be from another era. They feel like they're from another time. (And that's a compliment.) The two stories also have a sort of Twilight Zone-ish flavor. I can't really say why, although the second story, "The War of the Worlds" does have a bit of a twist ending, a frequent TZ device. Like many Zone episodes, however, you can pretty much tell where the ending is headed. Yet that doesn't take anything away from the story. It's a good story (although I think it goes on for a little too long). So is the opening tale, "The Other Side," about a man with limited precognitive abilities who becomes obsessed with his powers.

Yet these are stories I probably will not revisit. Plus I already have several representations of Blaylock's work in anthologies (which also need to be weeded through). So, I'm afraid that for this one....

The Verdict = Purge It.

Next: From These Ashes: The Complete Short SF of Fredric Brown

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Great Short-Story Collection Purge, Part 6

Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood

Many have named "The Willows," the first story in this collection, as one of the best supernatural stories of all time. After reading it, it's hard to argue with such a statement. It's the story (actually a novella, about 50 pages long) of two men sailing down the Danube River who become trapped on a small island due to a flood. Weirdness ensues: sounds emanate from no discernible direction, willows move with no wind present, things disappear from the camp. Did I mention that the island is eroding? Quickly?

You wouldn't think Blackwood could sustain the feelings of unease and terror over 50 pages, but he does. You can find the complete text of "The Willows" online, but after reading this first story, I'm definitely keeping this collection

The Verdict = Keep It

Next: In for A Penny - James P. Blaylock

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Books Read May

Not so many books read in May, but this was also the month I started my Great Short Story Collections Purge. Anyway, that's my excuse. So here's what I read in May:

The Grifters (1963) - Jim Thompson

I've already blabbed about The Grifters here.

The Neddiad: How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization (J-Fic 2007) - Daniel Pinkwater

I'd never read any of Pinkwater's books before, but when I posted on Facebook that I was looking for something humorous to listen to during my (then) 9-mile run, my friend Dana recommended "Anything by Daniel Pinkwater." Her advice was spot on. The Neddiad (yes, a take-off on The Iliad) is a fun, adventure-filled romp full of history and cliffhanger-style storytelling. And humor.

Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (NF 1969) - Flannery O'Connor

I continue to be in awe of Flannery O'Connor. I've never known anyone to write as intelligently and passionately about fiction and Christianity. This book of essays is priceless, one I hope to reread annually.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (J-Fic 1973) - John Bellairs

I first read this years ago (but still as an adult...I guess...) and decided to revisit it. While it didn't hold the same charm this time around, it's still a good tale with some genuine creepiness.

Private Midnight (2009) - Kris Saknussemm

Many readers have said that Private Midnight is hands-down the weirdest book they've ever read. I'd have to say that Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves still holds the top spot on my weirdest book list, but Saknussemm's novel is definitely near the top.

Private Midnight is a mixture of detective noir, David Lynch, supernatural horror, psychological games, mythology, sexuality and way, way more. Disturbing? Yes. Also very hard to put down.

Making Movies (NF 1995) - Sidney Lumet

Reading Lumet's Making Movies is like sitting at the feet of the master. If you've ever wondered about just what goes into making a film, look no further. A real gem for film lovers.

Hide and Seek (1990) - Ian Rankin

The second entry in Rankin's Detective John Rebus series is probably better written than the first book Knots & Crosses, but not quite as enjoyable, at least to me. Still a good detective novel. I plan to continue the series in June with Tooth & Nail.

That's it for May. Why don't you tell me what you read last month?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Great Short-Story Collection Purge, Part 5

Greetings and Other Stories (2005) - Terry Bisson

If you're into sf or fantasy, you've probably read Bisson somewhere along the way. His short story "Bears Discover Fire" (which is not in this collection) is considered a modern classic and rightfully so. Bisson has a way of doing (at least) three things really well: His writing is deceptively simple, which makes the first read a pleasure and subsequent reads practically revelatory. Many of his stories are laugh-out-loud (sorry: LOL) funny. But I think the thing I like best about Bisson is his ability to deliver a knockout punch of emotional weight and depth. And he can do all three at once.

"I Saw the Light" is a first contact story, but one so touching you almost want to weep at the end. The second, "Death's Door" is a variation of the old "Death Takes a Holiday" story. Again, deceptively simple, humor, emotion. I wish I knew how he does it. But I'm glad he does.

The Verdict = Keep It

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Great Short-Story Collection Purge, Part 4

Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester

Bester is responsible for two cornerstones of classic Science Fiction: The Demolished Man and The Stars, My Destination, both of which are now over 50 years old. Age isn't necessarily a bad thing. The impact and quality of these novels cannot be denied. I've read and enjoyed them greatly. Yet I'm not so taken with Bester's short fiction and I can't really explain why.

I read the opening story, "Disappearing Act," and thought it was (like all Bester stories) well-written, clever and humorous. I started a second story (also clever and well-written) I'd never read, but didn't finish it. Some of Bester's short fiction I already have in other anthologies, especially "Fondly Fahrenheit." Good, innovative stuff, but I'm not convinced this is a collection I'll want to keep.

The Verdict = Purge It.