Friday, December 13, 2013

Sexist Nonsense in Beautiful Sentences 13 December 2013


AFTER THE FIRE, A STILL SMALL VOICE
EVIE WYLD

Vintage Books
$16.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 2.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Set in the haunting landscape of eastern Australia, this is a stunningly accomplished debut novel about the inescapable past: the ineffable ties of family, the wars fought by fathers and sons, and what goes unsaid.

After the departure of the woman he loves, Frank drives out to a shack by the ocean that he had last visited as a teenager. There, among the sugarcane and sand dunes, he struggles to rebuild his life.

Forty years earlier, Leon is growing up in Sydney, turning out treacle tarts at his parents’ bakery and flirting with one of the local girls. But when he’s drafted to serve in Vietnam, he finds himself suddenly confronting the same experiences that haunt his war-veteran father.

As these two stories weave around each other–each narrated in a voice as tender as it is fierce–we learn what binds Frank and Leon together, and what may end up keeping them apart.

My Review: How awful it must be to be heterosexual...to know, with the full force of society's blasting, trumpeting inculcation of knowledge that your Object of Desire will not, can not, indeed may not, ever make sense to you.

Evie Wyld presents the stories of three generations of miserable men and the women they screw up in this, her debut novel. Lady's got guts, let's hand her her just props...she writes of the horrors of war as experienced by these men with the assurance of a far more mature (in experiential terms) writer. She fails signally to give these three generations of men any distinguishing characteristics. She tells the tale through the eyes of two of the three men, in (for no apparent aesthetic or organizational reason) alternating chapters.

She writes well when we're considering lines (plenty of examples, just open the book anywhere and you'll hit a good 'un); but why did Evie Wyld tell this particular story? I don't know. And that, ladies and gents, is a problem.

So am I supposed to think she's brave, for writing about men, or am I supposed to think she's sensitive, for understanding them? I don't think she's brave because she's created one man, a miserable loser with no delusions as to his own adequacy still less superiority; a character who, no matter which name-label she slaps on him, doesn't grow, change, or even demonstrate more than lizard-brain function. I don't think she's sensitive because each and every man she limns is a shit of the first water, abusive of or vampiring off the women in the book.

I'm really, really sick of women portraying men in this light, and then having other women yodel their praises for doing this eternal, socially acceptable hatchet job on men. This book, for reasons I can't understand, is a longlister for the Orange Prize. She's got promise, I grant you, and she's got some native *thing* that makes her place evocations arm-hair-pricklingly good. But this isn't a book I will ever read again, and I don't recommend it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Beautiful Tropical Getaway (to 1845!) for Snowed-In Folks 10 December 2013


AS FLIES TO WHATLESS BOYS
ROBERT ANTONI

Akashic Books
$15.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: In 1845 London, an engineer, philosopher, philanthropist, and bold-faced charlatan, John Adolphus Etzler, has invented machines that he thinks will transform the division of labor and free all men. He forms a collective called the Tropical Emigration Society (TES), and recruits a variety of London citizens to take his machines and his misguided ideas to form a proto-socialist, utopian community in the British colony of Trinidad.

Among his recruits is a young boy (and the book's narrator) named Willy, who falls head-over-heels for the enthralling and wise Marguerite Whitechurch. Coming from the gentry, Marguerite is a world away from Willy's laboring class. As the voyage continues, and their love for one another strengthens, Willy and Marguerite prove themselves to be true socialists, their actions and adventures standing in stark contrast to Etzler's disconnected theories.

Robert Antoni's tragic historical novel, accented with West Indian cadence and captivating humor, provides an unforgettable glimpse into nineteenth-century Trinidad & Tobago.

My Review:
We sat in silence, exhausted, filled-up. We didn't move. We couldn't have moved--not a muscle--because we didn't exist yet. Neither me nor him. Only the story existed, during those few final moments of silence after my father's voice had come to a halt.

Catnip. This book was catnip for me, pure uncut catnip of the finest grade. Robert Antoni teaches master's degree fiction-writing classes at the New School. Lucky men and women who take the classes, to hear him tell his stories!

At its heart, this is a simple tale of greed, passion, and the lifelong effects of believing in a dream. Chicanery is always a worry for the True Believer, because the promise of a dream come true is ever the best bait to lure them into disaster, personal and financial and, not infrequently, mortal. Something dies when a person's True Belief is taken from them, or lost, or simply abandoned (as if this abandonment is ever simple). Many times, I suspect, the pain of it is unendurable and the bereft believer sees no reason to go on...disease or despair carry him off.

Others, like our narrator Willy, live on and make life, actual life, work for them without dreams, but with some weird, warped hopes left, hopes that don't see much daylight as the ex-dreamer isn't likely to chat them about. Willy doesn't really want to have hopes. He wants to find his dreams. I think all of us know that quest's end. But the novel, well, a novel is a place to work out the truths of endings and the frailties of beginnings. This novel's truth is in the ending, and it stings the soft places of a tender soul. It also rings perfectly true and wistfully beautiful. A family, once created, is a hard thing to leave, to destroy; even death doesn't do the job.

But most families have invisible members. Some have more than others. Willy...Mr. Tucker, as he becomes...carried the invisible members of his family until, exhausted, he lost the eternal battle with gravity. How, and why, and what he made, these are all the subject of the novel, and the meat of life as we all live it.

Only most of us don't have beautiful words to wrap our truth in. Fortune smiled on William Tucker. His truth comes enrobed in lovely, lovely language, satisfyingly musical in the inward ear.

A pleasure of a read. A lovely artifact of a book. A delight on many levels, and a deeply felt, deeply moving novel.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

2 December 2013: Cyber Monday Deal!!

Big happy! The Kindle edition of this four-plus star book is 99 cents today, 2 December 2013!! I love Cyber Monday.

My review can be found at the Kindle Originals page.

When that Hunger Games juvenilia gets bestsellerdom and movie money, this far better dystopia gets too little. Baffles me.

The book is available here.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Finnish Scandicrime Procedural...An Umlautfest! 1 December 2013


MY FIRST MURDER (Detective Maria Kallio #1)
Author: LEENA LEHTOLAINEN
Translator: OWEN WITESMAN
AmazonCrossing
$2.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: Maria Kallio has just been assigned her first murder investigation. To prove to herself and her squad that she has what it takes to be a detective, she’ll have to solve the death of Tommi Peltonen. Found floating facedown at the water’s edge of his Helsinki villa, Tommi had invited his choir group to spend a weekend at his retreat. But beneath the choir’s seemingly tight-knit bonds seethed bitter passion and jealousy. As Maria sets out to determine the difference between friends and foes, she uncovers the victim’s unsavory past—and motives for all seven suspects. Now it’s up to her to untangle a complex set of clues before the killer strikes again.

The first book in Leena Lehtolainen’s bestselling Finnish crime series starring Detective Maria Kallio, My First Murder offers hard-boiled realism from a female perspective.

My Review: I gave in and read a Scandicrime book. It's a serviceable police procedural told in first person by thirtyish Maria Kallio, law student and relentlessly single female interloper in the world of career police detectives. She appears as a replacement for a broken-down cop who injured himself in the line of duty, and she rapidly worked her way up the chain of command because 1) she's a girl and b) she's tough as nails.

Now, as to the mystery part, I liked it fine but didn't love it. Some interesting characters were adequately developed. What made my eyebrows rise was the reportedness of the atmosphere in which Maria works. She tells us a wee bit, basically a log-line, about the other crimes she and her department are pursuing; not enough to make us care, more than enough to make us curious, and just enough to bring the sense of urgency about the main case of this book to a halt. Can't put this down to first-book-itis, either, since this author had her first book published when she was twelve!

So what was I left with? A sea of Finnish names, all of which look wrong to me, and locations I know nothing whatsoever about, and a sense of being slightly seasick as Tommi and Tomppa and Tiina and Tiiu and Riku and Antti all blended into a mass of UUUUUIIIIUUYYPPPPAAAA. Finnish, when spoken, raises my hackles with its sheer alienness. When written, it causes me distress because it's got nowhere for me to grab hold of anything to give it meaning to me. Plus everything seems to wear umlauts, those freaky-deaky fangmarks that make all previously comprehensible sounds turn into strangled moans.

It's free to borrow on your Kindle, and that's what I'd recommend you do. At $2.99, it's not a break-the-bank download, but see if you can hang with the sheer Finnishness before committing actual funds to it.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Second Episode, Third Book...all good


MURDER ON THE BALLARAT TRAIN (Phryne Fisher #3)
KERRY GREENWOOD
Poisoned Pen Press
$14.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 2.5* of five

The Publisher Says: When the 1920s' most glamorous lady detective, the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, arranges to go to Ballarat for the week, she eschews the excitement of her red Hispano-Suiza racing car for the sedate safety of the train. The last thing she expects is to have to use her trusty Beretta .32 to save lives. As the passengers sleep, they are poisoned with chloroform.

Phryne is left to piece together the clues after this restful country sojourn turns into the stuff of nightmares: a young girl who can't remember anything, rumors of white slavery and black magic, and the body of an old woman missing her emerald rings. Then there is the rowing team and the choristers, all deliciously engaging young men. At first they seem like a pleasant diversion....

My Review: This numero tres in the Phryne Fisher series that I read all in a gulp one week. The library in my village had it not, but as I needed to grocery shop in Baldwin, a village or two over, I checked their liberry and lo and behold! They had this and only this volume in the series. Apparently the county likes to make reading an entire series into a treasure hunt.

Now, I get the whole terse and concise quiz when writing hard-boiled fiction. But why use it in these books, and to the point of being taciturn? Pages one through five, for example, take place in the first class carriage of the train to a place called Ballarat, filled with people who have been chloroformed for no obvious reason. Why is Phryne, the saviour (oh dear, oh dear, I'm coming all over Aussie) of all and sundry, on the train with Dot, her faithful Watsoness? What does an Aussie train carriage from the 1920s look like, who is on a train that's apparently taking an overnight trip, blah blah blah? None of these questions is addressed, still less answered.

The police in the State of Victoria appear, to a man, to be in thrall to Phryne's pheromonal field, allowing her to see evidence, trample crime scenes, interview witnesses, blah blah blah. The court system of the State of Victoria appears to have the greatest possible respect for the Honourable (oh oh, more misspelling a la Oz!) Phryne because it allows her, without demur or even so much as a meet'n'greet, to take serious legal steps.

Now, shoehorning two mysteries into 151pp is no small feat. Greenwood does this. She is, obviously and welcomely, growing in her craft with each outing. But what the hell does the sheila have against exposition?!? It can be done, and done well, and it can make or break an otherwise incredible story.

Characters from the first two books appear like mushrooms after a rain, and several new and obviously intended to be recurring characters are introduced. This does give the series the charm of feeling like one is involved in the life of the series. It's a trick that works brilliantly for Southern States writers like Charlaine Harris and Joan Hess. One character from the end of the previous book, "Flying Too High", appears again, to my discomfort and mild displeasure. I feel that I should caution parents of girls that some of Greenwood's recurring plotlines will cause you discomfort and should be brought to your attention early on. I do not encourage the very sensitively constructed to read this particular installment of the series.

But I, for reasons I can't yet fathom, want to keep reading these cocktail peanut books, and have in my moistly fumbling fingers books four, five and six of the series. So I guess it would be hypocritical to not recommend Murder on the Ballarat Train subject to the parent/sensitive caution given above.

Television Episode Review: How gorgeous the men are in Phryne's second televised episode, despite the book being third in the series, is a matter of opinion. I myownself don't get it in any of these men's cases. However, the sexual tension subplot gets short shrift in the 54 minutes allotted to the show.

What makes this episode noteworthy is the introduction of Phryne's ward, Jane, a young girl thief who will change the life of the terminally single and utterly unmaternal lady detective. It's also noteworthy that this is the first episode of the show that brings together the charming Scoobygroup of Dot, the lady's maid, the butler Mr. Butler, Jane the lightfingered lassie, and Bert and Cec the handymen/cab drivers/muscle, all in the same big, lovely home.

Another of my favorite characters, Phryne's beautiful red Hispano-Suiza touring car, makes her first appearance here as well. Australian Broadcasting Corporation and its production partners have done an amazing job with the design and the props and the costumes. The book, not a terribly exciting read for the reasons above, makes a good TV episode and is a pleasure to watch.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

RED TO BLACK, A not very thrilling thriller that'll scare you witless


RED TO BLACK
ALEX DRYDEN

HarperCollins
$0.99 Kindle edition!

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Finn is a veteran MI6 operative stationed in Moscow. In the guise of an amiable trade secretary, he has penetrated deep into the dangerous labyrinth that is Russia under Vladimir Putin to discover some of its darkest secrets, thanks to a high-level source deep within the Kremlin.

The youngest female colonel in the KGB, Anna is the ambitious daughter of one of the former Soviet Union's elite espionage families. Charged with helping to make Russia strong again under Putin, she is ordered to spy on Finn and discover the identity of his mole.

At the dawn of the new millennium, these adversaries find themselves brought together by an unexpected love that becomes the only truth they can trust. When Finn uncovers a shocking and ingenious plan—hatched in the depths of the Cold War—to control the European continent and shift the balance of world power, he and Anna are thrust into a deadly plot in which friend and foe wear the same face. With time running out, they will race across Europe and risk everything -—career, reputation, and even their own lives— to expose the terrifying truth.

My Review: I enjoyed this read more than I expected to, and less than I should have. It's a very, very scary and plausible tale of a plot to use the West's greed to bring it down. After all, Marx wrote, “The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.” He was a prescient thinker, was Marx.

I'm not going to go into the bits of the story because the spoilers would be epic. And also, the story told is either instantly obvious...the New Russia is a viciously capitalist and socially Darwinian funhouse mirror of the West's nastiest, least admirable qualities, and will therefore succeed in out-competing the West...or completely incredible, as to a triumphalist Teabagger idiot.

I'm on the instantly obvious side, obviously, and that's why I enjoyed the book more than I expected to. Russia's manifold social problems are all traceable to its insanely lopsided wealth distribution. That should ring an entire cathedral's worth of bells for anyone in the USA. If it doesn't, then the Teabagger idiot triumphalism is likely to obscure the evidence of a calculated takedown of Western economies.

Anyway. What didn't work well for me was the narrative structure of the book, with its reported-not-experienced quality, and the fact that the main characters were sketched more than drawn. I need to feel some sense of connection, positive or negative, to the people who are taking me on the journey that is a book. Here, in Anna and Finn, I felt I was being told a bit about the people in a not-very-close friend's long, detailed story. That was, I think, a result of the all-flashback narrative structure. The past can enhance the present in a story, there is no doubt, but the past doesn't enhance the past with anything like as much intensity. It simply becomes more flashback.

Overall, in the scheme of things, is this a thriller I'd recommend to a fellow subway rider? Maybe not, since it's so slow-paced. But for me, and those like me who lean to the political left, it's got a lot of confirmation-bias appeal. The fact that the author makes a very strong point of thanking Russian sources who need to remain anonymous is telling. And unsurprising.

And very, very disheartening.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries -- Kerry Greenwood's COCAINE BLUES


COCAINE BLUES (Phryne Fisher #1)
KERRY GREENWOOD
Poisoned Pen Press
$14.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher solves theft in 1920s London High Season society, and sets her clever courage to poisoning in Melbourne, Australia. She - of green eyes, diamant garters and outstanding outfits - is embroiled in abortion, death, drugs, communist cabbies - plus erotic Russian dancer Sasha de Lisse. The steamy end finds them trapped in Turkish baths.

My Review: First mysteries aren't to be read for their mystery value, but rather for their potential to amuse and engross one in the series character. I offer my dearly beloved Russell Quant's series debut, "Amuse Bouche", as evidence...moderately good mystery craftsmanship, wonderful character development. Another example, perhaps better known to all and sundry, is Donna Andrews's "Murder with Peacocks"...promising craftsmanship, delicious character building.

This book is no exception. The mystery is ~meh~ but the sleuth and her supporting cast are either immediately endearing or anathema. I fall on the endearing side because 1) the 1920s are very interesting to me, and the series is set in 1928, and 2) Australia fascinates me. Phryne, our heroine, is a nicely imagined flapper of the day, and her background (more on this anon) is pleasantly complicated which goes a long way to explaining how she got to be the free spirit that her social milieu would not obviously produce.

Melbourne, Australia, isn't exactly on any international map as a cultural hotspot. A book set there has a lot of 'splainin' to do, to quote Ricky Ricardo from "I Love Lucy". Greenwood does comparatively little of this 'splainin' and that is a problem for this reader. Greenwood also shorts the background of Phryne, named for a famous prostitute of Classical Greece...what the hell?!? We really see here, more or less, a character sketch, a piece designed to introduce a particular attitude and mood, to the reader.

The book itself is rather too short. This goes a long way to explain the missing details I've pointed out, and the others I can't comment on without the dread spoilers. Had I bought this hardcover edition for $25, I would be a lot more testy than I am in my review. A trade paper edition for $12 would have irked me, and a mass market edition for $7 would merit a grumble.

And that's a good sign! I liked every one of these series characters and I wanted more of them. Several incidental characters could profitably bear beefing up too, like Sasha the dancer and his Princess granny; I suspect, though, that somewhere in the next 15 or so books these folks will reappear.

I've already read book two in the series, review forthcoming, and have the library looking for three and four. So do I recommend the series, flaws and all? Yes. Most definitely I do. I caution against getting your expectations too high, only because I want Kerry Greenwood to have your business for all sixteen books in the series. She's a writer with the pleasant and rare gift of being fun to read from giddy-up to whoa.

***AND NOW THE TV SHOW EPISODE REVIEW!***



The completely scrummy Essie Davis in the title role of The Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher. She is visually perfect, in that she matches precisely my internal portrait of the character, and she is a very charming actress with a beautiful lilting voice and that "something" that stars have...you want to keep watching her.

The show is as beautiful as the star to look at, and the flaws in the novel become the virtues in the episode based on it. The very things I found so annoying in the book, the telegraphed developments and so on, make the adaptation just about perfect for a delightful hour of TV. Netflix has the first season available, and I have watched the first five.

A definite recommendation from me. Melbourne looks charming, the actors are all more than up to their roles, and the story is perfect for an hour's visit. What's not to love?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

11/22/63: A Novel...a wish-fulfillment...and a warning


11/22/63
STEPHEN KING

Scribner
$19.99 trade paper, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: If you had the chance to change the course of history, would you? Would the consequences be what you hoped?

Jake Epping, 35, teaches high school English in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and cries reading the brain-damaged janitor's story of childhood Halloween massacre by their drunken father. On his deathbed, pal Al divulges a secret portal to 1958 in his diner back pantry, and enlists Jake to prevent the 11/22/1963 Dallas assassination of American President John F. Kennedy. Under the alias George Amberson, our hero joins the cigarette-hazed full-flavored world of Elvis rock 'n roll, Negro discrimination, and freeway gas guzzlers without seat belts. Will Jake lurk in impoverished immigrant slums beside troubled loner Lee Harvey Oswald, or share small-town friendliness with beautiful high school librarian Sadie Dunhill, the love of his life?

My Review: Republished in observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination this week.

Jake Epping is a modestly successful high-school English teacher with a bad, broken marriage to an alcoholic behind him, a future of great sameness before him, and a date with destiny that cannot be foreseen. He is, in short, you, or me, or any other Stephen King hero.

What happens to Jake is, he gets a chance to change the world. Seriously. No spoilers here, but Jake gets a chance to make 11/22/63 just another date on the calendar Pope Julius invented for us. How? Through a little rabbit-hole in time that a friend of Jake's finds, uses, and tries to accomplish the salvation of Kennedy through the use of: Living from September 9, 1958, until he can get rid of Lee Harvey Oswald before November 22, 1963. But the past, you see, doesn't want to be changed. So the guy gets terminal cancer, comes home to 2011, and zaps Jake with the job of changing the future by changing the past.

Jake does. Boy, does he ever. Way big does he change the future.

Nothing in life is free. Remember the first time you heard that? Was it your mom or your dad who laid it on you? How hard did you kick against knowing it, and for how long?

Jake takes a week. I aged a hundred years in the week Jake took. So will you.

And that's all I'll say. Well, no, not all.

Every life has its losses, mine included. They're not so interesting to other people, of course, because folks are mostly interested in their own miseries and haven't got a lot of energy to spare for the troubles of others. Okay, fine; what fiction does is, it gives us a chance to have a catharsis, in the ancient Greek sense, the reason they invented plays and melodrama and tragedy and comedy. It was therapy to go to a play and scream and cry and howl with laughter. The whole point was to get it all out. Catharsis.

I experienced many moments of catharsis in reading this book. I was wrung dry of tears on several happy and several sad occasions. I relived the might-have-beens of my own little life. I redrew the contours of history a couple times, inspired by King's redrawings.

I was swept up in a story that I so wanted to be told, and I was completely aghast when it was over because I didn't want it to be over, and I didn't want the finality of the ending to step on my gouty toes the way I thought it would.

But, like so many before me, I stubbed my toe on the stair of King's story and said ouch, before I realized it was a stair. Stairs go up, or they go down, but you'll never know which in the darkness until you feel for the next one.

But the deal is, once you know which way you're going, you're already there, committed to the movement. Exactly, in other words, like living life.

This is why Stephen King is our own Mr. Dickens. I hate Dickens' bloated, boring prose and his tedious, ridiculous plots, but he and King both write the books that offer catharsis to the audience of the age. (Just for gods' sweet sake, quit trying to pretend Chuckles is still speaking to you! And those gawdawful dull Shakespeare plays, stop it! You know you hate 'em like the rest of us do!)

The ending of the story was, for this reader, a catharsis of epic proportions. I hate and envy Jake, I bleed inside for him, I want to comfort him and slug him. I am undone by jealousy for his last harmony between past and present. I want one, too.

I got it, my last harmony, and you might too, if you'll read the 840pp of exciting and fast-paced life in 11/22/63. Please do.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Fifty Years Ago This Week...Review of ASK NOT 18 November 2013


ASK NOT: A Nathan Heller Thriller
MAX ALLAN COLLINS

Forge Books
$25.99 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Chicago, September 1964. Beatlemania sweeps the nation, the Vietnam War looms, and the Warren Commission prepares to blame a “lone-nut” assassin for the killing of President John F. Kennedy. But as the post-Camelot era begins, a suspicious outbreak of suicides, accidental deaths, and outright murders decimates assassination witnesses. When Nathan Heller and his son are nearly run down on a city street, the private detective wonders if he himself might be a loose end...

Soon a faked suicide linked to President Johnson’s corrupt cronies takes Heller to Texas, where celebrity columnist Flo Kilgore implores him to explore that growing list of dead witnesses. With the blessing of Bobby Kennedy—former US attorney general, now running for Senator from New York—Heller and Flo investigate the increasing wave of violence that seems to emanate from the notorious Mac Wallace, rumored to be LBJ’s personal hatchet man.

Fifty years after JFK’s tragic death, Collins’s rigorous research for Ask Not raises new questions about the most controversial assassination of our time.

My Review: I am a big believer in Occam's Razor. The simplest explanation that fits the facts is almost always the correct one. In the case of the JFK assassination, the simplest explanation isn't the Warren Report one, it's the conspiracy theory. I suspect we'll all be dead before the truth comes out, and even then it most likely won't be the whole truth, but eventually the zombies of the facts will rise and stink up the Body Politic. Usually I think conspiracy theories are silly, for one major reason: The Gummint can't keep secrets it *wants* to keep very well. So all the leaks and the murders and deaths surrounding the assassination, in my mind, make it more not less likely that they're still trying to keep a lid on whatever really happened.

Okay, so that's out of the way. This novel is the third by Max Allan Collins, an incredibly prolific writer, dealing with JFK's assassination. (As a side note, it's extremely weird to me that the publisher AND Amazon do not make it easy to find the other two titles, and not one database groups the titles in a convenient, easy-to-reference way.) It's amazing to me that Nate Heller, Collins' Forrest-Gump-esque PI character of what, thirteen or fourteen novels so far, who is at every single important crime anywhere ever, isn't the star of a movie serial franchise a la Bond or TV series by now. In a world that gobbles up Mad Men it would seem to me to be a no-brainer.

Go know from this.

As I read along, I realized that I was being fed an angled view of the motivations and purposes of the assassins, a slant on the facts that brought certain facets and shapes into sharper relief than the Official Version would have us look at. As any actor can tell you, lighting matters. The same face, the same lumps and bumps, look very different seen from an angle and spotlit as opposed to head-on and strobed. I kept looking stuff up. I mean to tell you, my Google history is causing fantods at the NSA data farm even as we speak. I am amazed at the sheer breadth of Collins' scope. I am impressed at his precise eye for which piece of what conspiracy theory to use in weaving his tale. This is some intricate construction, folks, and deserves its own round of applause separate from any other praise merited by the book.

Does the book itself merit some praise? Yes. It's a given that Nate Heller will be a self-deprecating wisecracking noir hero. You like that trope or you don't, and I do. What's not a given is the way that the fictional exploits of Nate Heller enhance and augment the historical record of the day and time under discussion. Collins does that job very well.

The book is a beaut. The story is one central to our country's image of itself. The long, long tail of conspiracy theories proves that. And now, fifty years after that hideous, agonizing day, the perspective of a people who went through Watergate, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the sheer passage of time provide us with a new angle from which we can view the idea that our government can lie, cheat, steal, and kill in our names while pursuing selfish, disgusting, wrong, and venal aims.

Will Nate Heller bring to mind Edward Snowden or Pope Francis? No, more likely he'll bring to mind Bond and company. He's got a lot of knowledge about stuff that scares powerful people. He's willing to trade silence for comfort (his and ours). But that's not a surprise. This isn't a character whose morals we're in doubt about at this late date in the series. But he's our eyes and ears on the scene, and he's invaluable to us as readers because he's got no illusions at all. So he blows our comfy little illusions all to hell.

Where they belong, and where clinging to them will lead us. Go on this trip. Collins takes us to the heart of one of the most important moments in twentieth-century US history very very plausibly.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Review at Small Press Book Review 13 November 2013

Black Lawrence Press published THE TIDE KING by Jen Michalski, a well-published veteran of the small press world, which I review for The Small Press Book Review today.

High-quality prose, a creative idea, and lots of lovely images. Check it out!

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Veterans' Day Review of a Thriller By A Veteran 11 November 2013


STRIKE FROM THE DEEP
BOB BRANCO

Maine Authors Publishing
$17.95 trade paper, available now
$4.99 Kindle edition

In honor of Veterans' Day, a thriller by a US Navy Veteran...4-star reviewed!

Rating: 3.8* of five

The Publisher Says: Modern-day Somali pirates have been capturing merchant ships for ransom. Suddenly, in a move that rattles the world's economies, giant oil and liquid natural gas tankers are mysteriously taken off Arabia and Africa, far out at sea in the darkness of night. Held for record ransom demands, these ships are taken to strange new pirate hideouts along the North coast of Somalia. When pirates fire on the responding international task force ships and aircraft, the world watches as an entirely new type of war at sea begins.

I requested a copy of this title from the author. He provided it understanding my review would appear here.

My Review: Tom Clancy's death in October 2013 opened the field for military thriller writers for the second time in his career. After he published The Hunt for Red October in 1984, military thrillers were once again on the readerly radar of many many men. Clancy dominated the field he had opened for almost thirty years.

Rest in peace, Mr. Clancy. Your successors are lining up to entertain the men, women, and boys of the world with tense, exciting, well-wrought storylines of high-stakes chases, maneuvers, and back-stage politicking. Here's one of the first to come out of the gate, and it's a strong contender for a place on the military thriller reader's Holiday present list.

Don't kid yourself...it's a novel, but it's not a farrago or a fanciful conceit. Branco took a very real and worsening concern for the shipping industry, piracy based in the lawless failed state of Somalia, and ratcheted up the stakes. I suspect it's only a matter of time before the book is seen as predictive instead of entertaining. If, that is, the events haven't already played out like this, only with more silencing oil poured over them.

When Jason Stewart, commanding the USS Farragut, is ordered to look into the status of a supertanker full of liquified natural gas en route from Nigeria to Mumbai, the plot kicks into high gear and doesn't stop. Alternating sections of the story are told from the major points of view...the pirates, the motivating malefactors, the loyal henchrats...seldom staying with us long enough for the reader to become inured to the action.

Back and forth, cat and mouse, and all told in a spare, clipped narrative voice that feels more like it's overheard than written for an audience, there's just barely time to get in the swing of Lt. (jg) Christine Johnson's duty shift before we're aboard a pirated vessel and experiencing the terror of a crewman about to die, and before that becomes squicky we're in a plush Moscow office listening to a very, very ruthless and unpleasant man give orders that appall the reader who rejects Ayn Rand as a moral guide.

Navy veteran Branco can be relied on for accuracy, and savvy world citizen Branco can be relied on to "get" the power dynamics of world-straddling military forces both pro and con. There is not a jot of doubt about who is doing wrong here, but there is not a hint of lazy, demonizing anticharacterization at work either. Everyone here has a motivation for acting in a particular way, and it's never simplistic.

I am obligated by my inner elitist to mention the intensely annoying lapses in observing the conventions of standard punctuation (e.g., when mentioning a city, one must use the formula "City Name, State Name," and not "City Name, State Name" and then bang on with the sentence!), and I for one do not welcome sentence fragments or dependent clauses plopped in my dialogue without commas to set them off, and don't even get me started on the series or Oxford comma so blithely ignored throughout...but overall, as witness my rating, not even these cavils led me to stop reading (a frequent occurrence, even in well-told stories) or to smack the author upside the head with a single-star rating (less frequent occurrence, as it's more or less the nuclear option when a story is poorly told).

I liked the story. I was excited to see what happened next. I'd say that any reader who laments the loss of Tom Clancy's military thriller creation machine should celebrate this Veteran's Day by ordering a copy of Bob Branco's book and sinking into a satisfied haze of acronyms and action.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Joys of Jeeves and Wooster, Renewed at Last!


JEEVES AND THE WEDDING BELLS
SEBASTIAN FAULKS

St. Martin's Press
$25.99 hardcover, available now

Rating: 3.9* of five

The Publisher Says: Bertie Wooster (a young man about town) and his butler Jeeves (the very model of the modern manservant)—return in their first new novel in nearly forty years: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks.

P.G. Wodehouse documented the lives of the inimitable Jeeves and Wooster for nearly sixty years, from their first appearance in 1915 (“Extricating Young Gussie”) to his final completed novel (Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen) in 1974. These two were the finest creations of a novelist widely proclaimed to be the finest comic English writer by critics and fans alike.

Now, forty years later, Bertie and Jeeves return in a hilarious affair of mix-ups and mishaps. With the approval of the Wodehouse estate, acclaimed novelist Sebastian Faulks brings these two back to life for their legion of fans. Bertie, nursing a bit of heartbreak over the recent engagement of one Georgina Meadowes to someone not named Wooster, agrees to “help” his old friend Peregrine “Woody” Beeching, whose own romance is foundering. That this means an outing to Dorset, away from an impending visit from Aunt Agatha, is merely an extra benefit. Almost immediately, things go awry and the simple plan quickly becomes complicated. Jeeves ends up impersonating one Lord Etringham, while Bertie pretends to be Jeeves’ manservant “Wilberforce,”—and this all happens under the same roof as the now affianced Ms. Meadowes. From there the plot becomes even more hilarious and convoluted, in a brilliantly conceived, seamlessly written comic work worthy of the master himself.

My Review: I first encountered Bertie Wooster and his fantasy England in 1972. My sister's bookstore, located on a weird little corner near the old-money part of Austin, stocked a good deal of then-living P.G. Wodehouse's books because the older ladies who patronized the place loved him. I was sitting around there one day, a little bored, and picked up Jeeves and the Tie That Binds, then the most recent book in the series. Came time for me to leave, I begged and pleaded and promised to do actual work if I was allowed to take it with me.

And thus began what is, to date, an unabated addiction. Jeeves and his endless fund of arcane knowledge became my hero immediately. Clearly he loves dimwitted Bertie...now that's not fair of me, Bertie isn't dim. Bertie is...limited...yes, that's better, Bertie has a limited intellectual scope. He's utterly dependent on Jeeves because he's never going to be able to keep up with the crowd, and he's got such a loving and generous nature that it's impossible not to see which way that parade is headed, and it's not a nice part of town.

A co-dependent relationship? Yes, probably so. Is that a problem? For whom, might I inquire? It suits Jeeves down to the ground and it's survival for Bertie. Need one's manner of living pass any other test?

Of course it raises the question of the future of each of these men. Are they locked in an eternal stasis, doomed to be each other's closest living companion? That could get claustrophobic. But hell, these are silly fantasy novels!

I see from the delights of Jeeves and the Wedding Bells that I was not alone in having these vaguely disquieting thoughts. Bertie and Jeeves are, through a combination of Bertie's yearning for his vacation romantic entanglement and Aunt Agatha's threatening to invade Berkeley Mansions' sacred precincts, compelled to quit London's fleshpots and rusticate in Melbury-cum-Kingston in aid of Bertie's pal "Woody" Beeching's romantic designs on one Amelia Hackwood, presently gone awry. it is, of course, the merest chance that Amelia Hackwood's best friend and her father's ward happens to be Georgiana Meadowes, Bertie's erstwhile vacation romance....

And we're OFF! Let the slamming door sex-farce, without the sex, commence. It is a delight to return to the world of commodious country houses staffed by efficient and tolerant worker-bees, owned by irascible, kind-hearted curmudgeons, generous if financially precarious, in need of a certain ward to make a monetarily advantageous marriage to a bland, unpleasantly parented drip so the family manse won't be sold to make a private school....

The formula is, for those susceptible to its music-box intricacies, still robust, and in Sebastian Faulks's capable hands, burnished to a new and warming glow.

Faulks has chosen, by placing Bertie in the (rather incredible) role of Jeeves' valet, to emphasize the Upstairs, Downstairs qualities inherent in the Woosterverse ab initio, but left almost entirely alone by Sir Plum Wodehouse in the original stories. We hear of the General Strike, a development that anchors the series in a specific year...1926...which Wodehouse never did. It also gives a small insight into Bertie's and Jeeves' characters, in that Bertie is utterly oblivious to the existence of the Strike and Jeeves' précis of the events is wholly favorably received by Bertie. The plot twist involving Bertie in the belowstairs world is, well, unbelievable in the extreme...Bertie wouldn't know the first thing about how to behave or what to do while waiting at table!...but all is, as usual with a Wodehousian plot, brought into satisfying retrospective focus by Jeeves' summation of the actual events, seen from a nuts-and-bolts perspective.

It is this that defines the appeal of Wodehouse's novels and stories for me: Like music boxes or magic illusions, it's all a matter of perspective as to what one sees of events. From the front of the house, there is an illusion of seamless and inevitable progress from set-up to resolution; at the end, the illusionist allows us to see the mechanics of how he fooled us into seeing only what sustains the seamlessness.

That said, there are areas of story development that are sadly deficient in this effort. I found the Venables family, in particular, received short shrift. As Venables junior is Bertie's romantic rival, it seems to me that the odious swine should be developed to be more odious so that the audience may fully despise him. Promising starts are made with his *ghastly* book-writing career, but not used nearly enough. Venables senior and mater are underdeveloped for the freight they must carry, too.

I know that, when a book is billed as an homage, it must nod frequently to the preceding works on whose developmental shoulders it stands. The many mentions of the inhabitants of the Woosterverse are inevitable. The cameos and walk-ons are as well (loved the brief appearance of Esmond Haddock, for example). A few fewer of these, given more substance, would possibly have worked more to spice and enliven the Woosterverse; as it was, the sheer bulk of the passing references gave the book a slight feel of the soap-opera farewell after a beloved actor dies and the character must be retired. Many poignant memories are evoked, but the effect can be to bring the reader out of the present book, which is the place one wants to be. After all, I paid my twenty-some dollars to be in this exact spot, didn't I?

And I love it. I batten on it. I've missed the deft and skilled application of wit and humor to novels of manners, morals, and fun. Thank you, Sebastian Faulks, thank you, Estate of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, and thank you, Saint Martin's Press. I am refreshed and uplifted and very grateful.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

OFF-TOPIC: The Story of an Internet Revolt

Rating: 5* of five

I'm rating others' contributions to the book, not my own.

If resistance is futile, like I've been told over and over again by people who're bored or impatient with protest reviews and continued commentary against being surveilled by the site owners here, then what exactly is the point of this book?

Resistance isn't futile. The Borg can't be beaten by force, so hide among them and trip them up.

Demand transparency. Okay, they're going to collect data, which is fancy talk for watch your ever mouseclick and cursor twitch. Demand to know what they're doing with the data, and what data they're collecting, and what criteria they're using to evaluate that data.

Being a citizen makes demands of you. Shirking them because it's not fun or it's boring means nothing except you'll get what you deserve...less and less.

Your at-cost copy can be had here. No one involved in the project sees any money whatsoever from your purchase.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

THE TELEPORTATION ACCIDENT review


THE TELEPORTATION ACCIDENT
NED BEAUMAN

Bloomsbury USA
$25.00 hardcover, available now (paper edition published on 5 November 2013 at $16.00)

Rating: 4.8* of five

The Publisher Says: HISTORY HAPPENED WHILE YOU WERE HUNGOVER.

When you haven't had sex in a long time, it feels like the worst thing that is happening to anyone anywhere. If you're living in Germany in the 1930s, it probably isn't.

But that's no consolation to Egon Loeser, whose carnal misfortunes will push him from the experimental theatres of Berlin to the absinthe bars of Paris to the physics laboratories of Los Angeles, trying all the while to solve two mysteries: whether it was really a deal with Satan that claimed the life of his hero, the great Renaissance stage designer Adriano Lavicini; and why a handsome, clever, charming, modest guy like him can't, just once in a while, get himself laid.

From the author of the acclaimed Boxer, Beetle comes an historical novel that doesn't know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on; a romance novel that arrives drunk to dinner; a science fiction novel that can't remember what 'isotope' means; a stunningly inventive, exceptionally funny, dangerously unsteady and (largely) coherent novel about sex, violence, space, time, and how the best way to deal with history is to ignore it.

LET'S HOPE THE PARTY WAS WORTH IT.

My Review: My review, if I was up for it, would be nothing but retyping the entire novel in this space. You don't need to read my yodels of praise and warbles of inducement to buy the book, you need to read the book.

Is the book funny, as is claimed for it in so many "real" review sources? Here's something I marked on page 7:
Klugweil, meanwhile, was a twenty-four-year-old so languid as to be almost liquid, except when he went on stage and broke open some inner asylum of shrieks and contortions, wild eyes and bared teeth—which made him perfectly suited to Expressionist acting and almost useless for any other type. He'd been at university with Loesser, who had always wondered what he was like during sex but had never quite had the cheek to make an enquiry with his dull girlfriend.
Page seven and I'm chuckling, building to a snorting laugh. This is my kind of humor, this droll and dry as a good martini sort of language making ironic-verging-on-facetious observations of all those about the main character...and which observations comment quietly on the main character himself.

What about the romance mentioned so prominently in the book's sales materials, and in "mainstream" reviews? Loesser pursues the elusive, rich, and utterly madcap Adele Hitler (no relation) across continents, despite this exchange from page 54:
"You'll fuck the man who brings your coffee just because he's handsome, and yet I chase you for two years and --"
She waved her hand as if to swat him away. "Oh, please let's not get into that again. 'Love is the foolish overestimation of the difference between one sexual object and another.'"
"Who said that?"
"I saw it on the wall at a party."
"Oh, so it must be true! And all my devotion means nothing?"
"I'm flattered, but there'd be no point in us even trying. You're the sort of man who couldn't stand it if I were unfaithful, but you're also the sort of man I couldn't help but be unfaithful to. You're that type. You're an apprentice cuckold."
Well, all righty then! That's him told. Loesser's anguished suspicion that Adele is right wars with his indignation at being evaluated, pigeonholed, and relegated to a non-starter position before he can make so much as a move. This propels the rest of the novel.

For noir tropes, we have Loesser's falling in with one Dr. Voronoff, famous in the demi-monde of Paris for his impotence cure: Insert the testicle of a monkey between a man's own testicles and let its nature suffuse the aging roué with unquenchable virility. For madame, there is a similar cure for the debilities of aging: Skin cream made from the foreskins of newly circumcised babies. Fresh, innocent skin cells from a body part famed for its stretchiness...well, what could possibly make more sense? A can't-fail nostrum for wrinkles and crow's feet! And Loesser, plus an accomplice-cum-con man called Scramsfield (who promises Loesser that he will reunite him with Adele, already vanished to Los Angeles), will happily liberate wealthy, stupid American women from their desperately needed money in order to survive the Great Depression.

After a spectacular failure in the quackery trade makes Paris too hot for Loesser, he continues his pursuit of Adele to Los Angeles, and here the story becomes an extremely strange (even stranger, I suppose) send-up of Golden Age science fiction tropes, decadent capitalist stereotypes, rumors of Hollywood loucheness, all of which so deeply informed the interwar popular culture's storytelling.

Teleportation. Actual physical teleportation. Research and development for same. It's almost incalculably difficult to imagine how this could be done on a macro scale in today's scientific universe, but thankfully Beauman hasn't set his story in our world but in 1935 (as it now is in the story). And here we come to a place in the narrative where, although there is no diminution of the chuckle-inducing phrasemaking or the wince-cringe-and-giggle observation that's characterized the book until now, the window-dressing is just that, decoration.

The heart of this book is yearning. Everyone in the book yearns for something, be it a person, a state of feeling, a quantum of knowledge, a passed opportunity, a deed desperately regretted that's in need of recall; yearning and searching for the way to fill the void left by the object yearned for. Adele, that object of Loesser's yearning, seeks to fill her own void by assisting in the creation of an actual, physical teleportation device, being the amanuensis and magician's assistant to Professor Bailey of the currently rechristened California Institute of Technology. The Professor has the most yearning of anyone in the entire book, stretching back to a time in Los Angeles history when what was then the Throop College of Technology welcomed a Midwestern boy called Bailey....

I don't believe anyone would thank me for the spoiler that completes that sentence. It's worth the trip to discover it yourself.

This novel was longlisted for the 2012 Booker Prize, and I see why. Beauman's linguistic playfulness and inventive use of tropes in ways both satirical and satisfying to trope fans is amazing when one considers his revolting youth. (He is under thirty, which I consider an affront to God. No one born after Man left the Moon for the final time to date should understand the world Beauman builds with deft and dextrous motions. Ain't natural.)

I left this reading experience amused, satisfied, and to my own surprise, quite moved. I liked the process of getting to the end of the story. I liked the scenery painted for me along the way. I liked the moral, or to give it less gravitas, the point of Beauman's engrossing, enfolding, bemusing narrative. I really want to know what happens next in Beauman's career. I hope I can keep all my buttons in the proper buttonholes until he finishes his ideas' fermentation.

I've rated the book under five stars, which all of the foregoing would seem to support, because I wasn't catapulted to a new level of spiritual awareness or aesthetic ecstasy (0.1 off), and because the dust jacket of the hardcover edition is coated in some sort of spoodge that has the hand-feel of the years-old bacon grease that coats the interior of a none-too-clean greasy spoon's range hood (0.1 off, after an entire star disappeared; seemed unfair to Beauman, since *he* didn't choose this icky stuff. If I come to find out he *did* choose it, another star off, and no mistake).

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Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saints' Day meditation

It was a quiet night, of course, and now it's All Saint's Day. Whoopee whee! Cloudy and windy, which means the peak-color leaves make mounds in the corners and gutters. Since it's not raining to speak of, the mounds look like piles of pretty-colored stones waiting to be used for jewelry. The sumac leaves are so extraordinarily lovely, long and slim and wildly variegated from yellow-orange-apricot to deep garnet on one leaf!


The oaks are all reddening nicely to stay in the act, and the trash trees like maples and ailanthus are in full wildly colorful change. The eastern redbuds are changing to a bright lemon yellow and the leaves are mostly staying on, to my surprise. Sassafras, those cinnamony smelling exibitionists, are at last fading to brown, but the intense and glorious explosion of Crayola-bright color is hanging on, branch by branch.


And then there's my old nemesis, that damned sweet gum tree with its ankle-spraining, shoe-sticking gumballs from hell. Sixty feet tall and the rotten-souled thing loves nothing better than to heave the stupid, prickly seed casings at me from the top of itself as soon as Stella and I walk out the door. Being a dog, she's a smaller target, so who gets conked with the barbed balls? Puppydaddy, of course. Not to mention the brown stickerballs the damn tree has hidden in leaf-drifts in the driveway, turning my ankles this way and that, but never in any direction that Nature intended.


I still wouldn't trade it for anything.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Octopus Delight! 30 October 2013

New Review! Anyone who's paid me the slightest bit of attention over the years knows I'm a fan of Tentacled Americans. They're delicious. They're delightfully ookie. They're probably the closest things I'll ever have to soul mates: They don't like their own kind, regard other species as prey or enemies, and possess a deeply misunderstood intelligence.

All I lack is six more arms. Which is why I enjoyed OCTOPUS!: The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea by Katherine Harmon Courage so much.

My review lives on the Science page.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A fond farewell to the Sookieverse 29 October 2013

AFTER DEAD: What Came Next in the World of Sookie Stackhouse
In the Southern Vampire/True Blood thread.

Charlaine Harris gave her fans a decade of her life. Thank you most kindly, ma'am. The gift of a comprehensive wrap-up of the series' minor characters is tremendously generous, and surprisingly touching. I hope it hits every bestseller list there is.

Monday, October 28, 2013

My review of FOLLOWING TOMMY posted 28 October 2013

I reviewed FOLLOWING TOMMY for The Small Press Book Review, specialists in bringing attention to the underknown and often unsung writers and publishers doing some of the best work in fiction publishing today.

Small presses, ones with editors and designers and passionate owners, are doing what we most need done in the Groves of Readerly Delight. They are using their critical faculties to decide what kind of work they want their own names associated with. They are making editorial changes, guiding writers to the best book that the story they want to tell can make. They are surviving on sales that make Amazon's shrinkage (theft and damage) allowances look like titanic bestselling sales department wet dreams.

I feel about this the way I feel about censorship: Don't let some witsy-teensy group of strangers make your aesthetic decisions for you! Find books by first-timers AND BUY THEM. Find small presses that publish things you're interested in AND BUY THEM. Vote for diversity and choice the only way that matters in business: with your dollars.

It matters, and it matters a lot, that us real readers who love our chosen hobby do this. Even if it's taking a chance with our scarce reading allowances. One purchase a month from a small press and/or a first-time author! Give the writers, the publishers, the editors whose labor is at best meagerly rewarded some much-needed practical support.

I already do. And I promise you I'm poorer than you are.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Circle Read #163: A Clockwork Orange

Book Circle book #163 was A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which only gets one star from me at 54. It would've gotten three at least when I was 14. I'm older, I'm (hopefully) wiser, but most of all, I'm fully resident in the 21st century. Most of the fears in this book are dated to the point of absurdity.

http://tinyurl.com/bvqg83o

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Review 21 October 2013!

Who makes Bond look sensitive and feminist? Morgan Kane, Texas Ranger! First of 83 books (!) published by "Louis Masterson," a Norwegian (!!) author. The 83 books were published between 1966 and 1978 (!!!), with all that implies in terms of violence and sexism.

A movie is slated to come out some time reasonably soon. The film company is releasing the stories on Kindle to build interest in the film. This one is more a novella than a novel, coming in as it does at 124pp. But that's the perfect length for the story, so it doesn't feel like you're shortchanged. It's not like you'll be making a heavy investment in the characters. It's a plot-driven piece.

Enjoy it. Don't bother analyzing it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why Fighting Censorship Matters

"Will this cause an author distress?" is an unimportant consideration, or should be, to a reviewer, a reader, or a website, in relation to a review. The author is, by the act of offering a book, a story, or any other written/created work for the perusal of the public, no longer entitled to the protection of "that hurts my feelings."

I post here my very thoughts spoken by another:
"It's now very common to hear people say, "I'm rather offended by that", as if that gives them certain rights. It's no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I'm offended by that.' Well, so fucking what?" —Stephen Fry

You, by writing something intended for public consumption, are agreeing that the public is entitled to judge that thing. By their own standards. Whatever those standards may be. The public then has the privilege (right, in the case of the USA) to pass on that opinion AS AN OPINION to any and all persons they can convince to listen to them.

An Italian tenor named Guido Nazzo (horrible name even in Italy) came to the USA and sang in many regional opera companies' productions. He made it to New York, despite his very modest gifts, and here he encountered a reviewer of his era named George Jean Nathan who said of one of his performances, "Guido Nazzo is nazzo guido," and completely ruined the man's career. Never, ever again after that could he appear on a stage without some wag repeating this knock.

And it was, and is, perfectly legal for a CRITIC (a reviewer, in the case of Goodreads), to pen such an inevitable and memorable, yet cruel, line.

If the authorities, private business or public official, veer over the legal line into making value judgments about what kind of criticism you're willing to accept about any given work of PUBLIC art's creator, then YES MA'AM you are engaging in censorship and you are doing so either in inexcusable ignorance or disingenuous purposefulness.

There aren't other options.

Vile people will always find a way to be vile. Whatever avenues of expression I can close down to them, I want to close down to them. There is a difference between not liking what someone says and forbidding them to say it. The best, most socially useful way to silence someone is to point to what they theirownselves have said, or done, and shout at them...embarrassment, shame, contumely are more instructive than disappearing someone's thoughts.

Life is hard for the sensitive. I realize not everyone can deal with the rough-and-tumble of free speech and argument. That's unfortunate. But no one makes a person stand up and be noticed. If you choose to do that, accept the consequences. Otherwise, sit down and use your other means of participation, like voting for or buying from those whose views match most closely your own.

This works in commerce as well. Your patronage is your vote. I won't buy an Orson Scott Card book because he's a public homophobe. Not one dime of my money will go to support him or the people who publish his books, or the people who made his book into a movie. Others make their own choices. But, and this is crucial, I go the next step and write shaming reviews of his books, pointing out that his revolting "moral" stance ruins the pleasures (such as they are) of his writing, and by purchasing his books the buyer implicitly supports his desire to take away civil rights from a group of people he dislikes. I don't ever support that, even though I'd love to make exceptions for some groups.

I believe, with all my being, that you stand up for what you say believe or you lie down for your dirt nap. What I don't condemn, I condone; and I can't live with passive condoning of what I see as wrong. My only avenue of expression is here in cyberspace. I take my self-imposed responsibility to live up to my principles very seriously. So, wherever someone's right to be a public nuisance is infringed, I have to complain loudly about it, point to the infringer, and say "SHAME SHAME SHAME" because, one day, they'll get around to silencing me.

I won't make it easy on 'em. Which, I've learned over the years, doesn't make me easy for others to deal with. Ah me, that's a shame, but there it is.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My 3100 Words on the Evils Of Censorship and the Wrongness of Breaking Trust


Goodreads, I hardly knew ye.

I joined in 2010, and I became an active member in 2011. Less than two years later, I’m beginning the process of ratcheting my activity down to virtually zero. In those two years, I had a blast and a wonderful streak of lucky friendships and some great reviewing fortune. I’ve amassed a following of about 1600 people, become a “Forbes 25 Top Reviewers” member, been in the top-ten most popular reviewers measured, by Goodreads, every week or month for most of 2012 and 2013. That’s a wonderful, wonderful experience for anyone to have.

Then Amazon bought Goodreads, and my “uh-oh” light went on. Otis Chandler, founder of Goodreads, announced this in April 2013. The Feedback forum on the site went bonkers. That forum consists of about 13,000 people, out of a reported 20 million members. A tiny, tiny minority...but a vocal and passionate minority committed to working on a site that allowed its members to, for free, catalog and discuss their books with a vibrant and opinionated community of likewise vocal and passionate readers of books. The price? Look at the ads. (And not even that if you, like me, have AdBlocker on your browser.) Goodreads asked us if we minded them sharing our popular reviews with third parties, as an extra revenue-generating measure. I myownself agreed readily. I wanted to help the site survive, to maintain its independence.

The announcement of the sale chilled me to the bone. All the posts I made about the sale are gone, deleted with the thread that contained them, in May 2013. Otis Chandler decided to distill the conversation into a series of FAQs. I’m reproducing a few select questions with some responses bolded for emphasis:

Editing of reviews - can Goodreads or Amazon edit my reviews? Delete them without asking?

Nothing has changed when it comes to reviews. Your reviews are yours and we value the frank and honest opinions of all our members. That's what makes Goodreads different and special. (And yes, you can continue to swear if that's important to you, include images, etc.)

Our policy has been and will continue to be that we never edit a member's review. In some cases - where the review has broken our guidelines - we will delete the review, just as we have in the past.

There is one situation - and again this has been our policy for a long time - where we might use part of your review without showing the whole review. Sometimes, an author or publisher will ask to use a snippet of a book review in an advertisement outside of Goodreads or on a book's back cover. Rather than include the full review, they will use a line or two. This is similar to what you see in ads for movies. We always check with the members who wrote the reviews before granting permission. If an author or a publisher wants to use an excerpt of a book review in an ad on Goodreads, our team will review the ad and we permit this without checking with the reviewer as members are already sharing this content on Goodreads. These are policies that we already had in place and they have not changed.

Will sales targets or sponsorships now influence how reviews appear on the book page and which book recommendations I see on the site?

From the very beginning of Goodreads, we have always had a very firm policy about ensuring that editorial content on the site is never influenced by advertising. This isn't changing.

We'll also continue to show reviews in the same order as before:

* Reviews by your friends (people you know and trust)
* Reviews by people whose reviews you have chosen to follow (people whose opinion and taste in books you trust)
* Reviews from the Goodreads community, sorted by our proprietary algorithm.

As for recommendations, our proprietary algorithms analyze 20 billion data points to come up with personalized book recommendations. Advertising is not part of this process and won't be in the future.

Will Goodreads now be more focused on being a site for authors?

We love having authors on Goodreads. But, we are a site that's focused on readers first. If there is a choice between what is best for readers and what is best for authors, we will always err on the side of readers. It's right there in how we describe ourselves: "the largest site for readers and book recommendations."

On the other hand, lots of readers love to have direct interaction with their favorite authors and we're happy to provide a platform for that to happen.

For new authors looking to establish themselves and build awareness of their books, we'll continue to educate them on the best way to interact on Goodreads. It's a learning process and our key advice will always be: first and foremost, be a reader on Goodreads.

All that sounds very reassuring. No plans to change, no one will notice a difference. Then came Banned Books Week and, ironically on the Friday before the celebration of resisting censorship began, an announcement that Goodreads is deleting the reviews and, later on, the shelves labeled in a manner that focuses attention on the author of a book and not the book itself. Kara, the Director of Customer Care, posted this in response to massive numbers of protest posts on the “Important Note Regarding Reviews” thread where the surprise was revealed:

We’ve been reading all the comments and wanted to give an update based on some of the concerns in the thread.

To clarify, we haven’t deleted any book reviews in regard to this issue . (Not strictly speaking true. See below.) The key word here is "book". The reviews that have been deleted - and that we don't think have a place on Goodreads - are reviews like "the author is an a**hole and you shouldn't read this book because of that". In other words, they are reviews of the author's behavior and not relevant to the book. We believe books should stand on their own merit, and it seems to us that's the best thing for readers.

Someone used the word censorship to describe this. This is not censorship - this is setting an appropriate tone for a community site. We encourage members to review and shelve books in a way that makes sense for them, but reviews and shelves that focus primarily on author behavior do not belong on Goodreads.

From Wikipedia, this definition of censorship:
Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet or other controlling body. It can be done by governments and private organizations or by individuals who engage in self-censorship. It occurs in a variety of different contexts including speech, books, music, films, and other arts, the press, radio, television, and the Internet for a variety of reasons including national security, to control obscenity, child pornography, and hate speech, to protect children, to promote or restrict political or religious views, and to prevent slander and libel. It may or may not be legal. Many countries provide strong protections against censorship by law, but none of these protections are absolute and it is frequently necessary to balance conflicting rights in order to determine what can and cannot be censored.

So yes indeed, the act of deleting reviews and other user-created materials suddenly deemed not-community-friendly is censorship. "Enforcing community standards"...well...just a question from the peanut gallery here, but how did these "community standards" get set, by whom, and when? A long and separate chat could be had on that topic. But for now. let's note there were 21 people whose reviews were, summarily and without warning, deleted. That contradicts what Kara said above. And she posted this update to backtrack from her earlier assertion:

Thank you for all the comments so far. One concern that has come up in this thread is that the content was deleted without those members first being told that our moderation policy had been revised.

In retrospect, we absolutely should have given users notice that our policies were changing before taking action on the items that were flagged. To the 21 members who were impacted: we'd like to sincerely apologize for jumping the gun on this. It was a mistake on our part, and it should not have happened.

Anyone else with reviews or shelves created prior to September 21, 2013 that will be deleted under the revised policy will be sent a notification first and given time to decide what to do.

Again, thank you for all your comments. We'll continue to monitor this thread for your feedback.

So we’re all hunky-dory again, right? Warning will be given to people who fall afoul of the new “community standards” which we’re now enforcing. Time to make a decision about revising content, moving content, what one wishes to do in response to the site’s desire to remove one’s content from its community’s gaze. I wasn’t given a warning, I was informed my content was removed:

Hello Richard,

Your review of The Hydra were recently brought to our attention. Please note that any reviews you post must contain your own original content (see our review guidelines). Any reviews that are simply copy-pasted duplicates of other reviews will be removed. Given this, the review in question has been deleted. We have attached a copy for your personal records.

Additionally, your review of Civil Disobedience and Other Essays was recently flagged by Goodreads members as potentially off-topic. As the review is not about the book, it has been removed from the site. You can find the text of the review attached for your personal records.

Please note that if you continue to violate our guidelines, your account may come under review for removal.

Sincerely,
The Goodreads Team

Now, I've been completely and publicly pantiwadulous over the major change in Terms of Service as they affect what reviewers...the unpaid volunteers who create the value that Amazon paid for the company to get!...can and cannot say to/about authors in their own reviews, and even more troublingly, what the reviewers can and cannot name the shelves or collections they put their books into. It didn’t need to be personal to me to draw my attention to the many and various attempts to censor what kind of reading material is available to you, me, our kids, our grandkids, and the banning parties hope, posterity. Books that talk about S-E-X or the right of women to walk down all the streets of the world without fearing rape or the existence of this little thing called "science" that rejects religion's once-upon-a-time version of Creation get banned regularly...until now, Goodreads has been a place to discuss these banned books freely and openly. How long before the author-friendly censorship moves into family-friendly censorship, such as the amorphous "community standards" Kara cites above will come to demand?

In the long run, censorship doesn't work. In the short run, it's hideously costly in human emotional terms, titanically wasteful of time, effort, and resources to police and enforce, and morally repugnant to right-thinking people.

But the evil doesn't stop at formal banning of a book, governmental or business anathema pronounced upon a writer, a press, a review...those things, while reprehensible, are formal, out there for the public to see and hear and (theoretically) obey.

More insidious is a behavior that's meant to fly under the radar, such as deleting people's work without warning, is almost inevitable when these "community standards" that were never hashed out, publicly debated, or even made a topic of conversation are put in place by fiat. And when the actions are discovered, they're covered up by (factually correct, morally wrong) justifications like "Oh look how few people are actually affected!" and "Most of you will never know it's even there!" and "It's my {concrete noun} and I'll do as I goddamned well please with it."

To quote a religious figure of great renown, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." (Matthew 31:45) You didn't speak up for the safety or the happiness of those piddling few? You didn't worry because it wasn't you?

Next time it will be. Or the time after that. Or the one after that. Because if I've learned nothing else in 54 years of relatively constant annoyance by earthlings, I've learned that the forces of Command and Control NEVER EVER STOP WANTING MORE.

I don't know if anyone on the Goodreads staff expected the strength and passion of delivery of the vitriol that the sheeple (irony there!) of the site unleashed on this decision. If they did not, they were not paying attention to the titanic kerfuffle when Amazon bought Goodreads. Twenty-five hundred posts (mostly) of outrage and fear didn't make an impact? The Ugly Green Button contretemps, with 2,350 posts, made no dent? Now there are over 5,800 posts on the Announcement thread linked above!

Goodreads folk are passionate and committed readers and writers. And the reason they've...we've...invested so much emotional energy in the site is, at base, simple. It's the only one of its kind, the only place where readers connect with other readers by means of reviews, groups, and serendipity. Competitors to Goodreads are a great deal smaller, they're often focused around special interests (eg, LibraryThing, that unparalleled book cataloging site, with a sideline of social activitythat's not very much encouraged), or they just haven't got the chops to make the ease and fluidity of opinion discovery on a par with Goodreads.

So naturally change will be resisted and feared by many, and just as naturally the Powers That Be will seek to direct the community's attention to such areas as will benefit the advertisers and/or owners who pay the bills. Some tension is inevitable, some compromise desirable on all sides. But to date, no compromise has been offered on any issue of site governance I've cited here. The policy announced Friday, 23 September 2013, that announces Goodreads can and will delete user-created information at will and without warning is in place. The mea-culpa issued the next week, with a reassurance that they won't delete stuff without warning again isn't, it appears, part of the formal policy yet.

This is put in place, we're told, because Goodreads wants to maintain a TONE, an atmosphere, of respect and tolerance. Because nothing says respect and tolerance like unilaterally changing a community-wide policy with a dump-and-run message on Friday afternoon, in a group that much less than 1% of the user base belongs to, right?

Still, it's their (well, Amazon's) site and they set the rules, right? Right. They do. And they offer the service to us for free, right, so they pretty much deserve to have a completely free hand, right?

Nope. Not without a fight.

I’m appalled by the dismissive snort many Goodreaders emit, essentially saying, "suck it up Buttercup, if you're not the paying customer you're the paid-for commodity." Point taken...you don't value the existence of a cyberspace dedicated to free discussion of the ideas and impact of books on readers. Fine, then you're not required to be upset about the absence of such a cyberspace. But you still lose when ANY voice is silenced, out of fear or obedience or...worst of all...despair. How many honest reviews, negative to the author's feelings and even insulting in language, will now not be written? How many conversations will go un-had? (I've learned a lot from arguing my point's validity on my most vitriolic reviews.)

Talking about books freely and without censorship, whether internal or external in origin, is as important an activity as reading the damn things. If no one talks about Mein Kampf, or Man and Superman, or The Hydra, why kill the trees to print them? Why dedicate the bandwidth to delivering the files to the ereader screens? If people care enough to read even one book a year, shouldn't they be encouraged and supported in a desire to discuss it in full, even (or espeecially) if they aren’t experts in literary theory or history or ethics or copyright?

Stifling one, twenty-one, a million and one, people's willingness to speak honestly and from the heart about the ideas, the words, the feelings expressed in a book, by an author, is stealing from the rest of us who are unaffected the very necessary challenge of understanding, if never accepting, a different point of view.

And that's what Goodreads was. Was. I have to use the past tense. It WAS this. It is now a data farm and sales platform for a bookselling entity. (Whose customer I am, by the way, and will continue to be, because I exist on less money per month that most of you make in a week.) And sales are hurt, the conventional wisdom goes, by shouting.

Goodreads was a unique thing, a place where opinions about books created by writers could be examined and opined upon without fear of censorship. That is an important function. No one else was doing it. And now, in fact, no one is doing it.

And that's the most horrible thing about censorship: To avoid falling afoul of the censors, we question ourselves and censor ourselves and make a big deal out of things in our heads. We do the work of the control freaks for them, out of a desire to avoid them.

Like Amazon, Goodreads reviews will steadily become less and less useful because, basically, how will I ever trust that the happy-clappy Kool-Aid dispensing Nicey McNiceToMe people haven't got hold of it?

Ray Bradbury said it best: "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." And talking about them. And now there's no safe place to do that with the size audience, with their wallets ready to spring open.

The decline, it would seem, has accelerated, and the fall is imminent. I'm sad about that. For me, I'm going to shout from the wilderness. I'll post protests and I'll post reviews that are explicitly anti-censorship and tie them into these concerns. And most people will learn to ignore me, more than they already do, because "what's that noisy old coot hollering for?" is easier, safer, less trouble than thinking about what this explicit statement of censorship as a policy means for your own future mental freedom.

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Based on a work at http://expendablemudge.blogspot.com/2013/10/my-3100-words-on-evils-of-censorship.html.

Censorship by Goodreads Post...ignore if you're complacent

So I got my first nastygram from the censorship board at Orwell Enterprises, Inc, a wholly useless tentacle of Amazon:

Hello Richard,

Your review of The Hydra were recently brought to our attention. Please note that any reviews you post must contain your own original content (see our review guidelines). Any reviews that are simply copy-pasted duplicates of other reviews will be removed. Given this, the review in question has been deleted. We have attached a copy for your personal records.

Additionally, your review of Civil Disobedience and Other Essays was recently flagged by Goodreads members as potentially off-topic. As the review is not about the book, it has been removed from the site. You can find the text of the review attached for your personal records.

Please note that if you continue to violate our guidelines, your account may come under review for removal.

Sincerely,
The Goodreads Team

My review of The Hydra was a repost of someone else's protest review, and I put it up specifically so they'd have to spend time taking it down. However, my review of Civil Disobedience was entirely my own work, and was indeed in the spirit of the book reviewed. Taking this review down is the act of a censor of opinion, not the act of a community-standards enforcing body.

They didn't want to have my critical opinion out there for public consumption. So here it is, unreachable by their tentacles.

The Goodreads policy of arbitrarily censoring, by deletion, any reviews that contain references to an author's behavior, beliefs, or public statements that affect my personal opinion of that author and his or her output is flat-assed stupid.

Silencing people does not make the world Nicer. It doesn't make the author's views go away. It doesn't stop people from...gasp!...being offended by something they read. It makes the censor a fool, and those calling for censorship crybabies.

Thoreau, a mama's boy who lived at home until he moved to the wilderness of five miles away from home and still ate mama's cookin' and used mama's laundry skills, advocated standing up to stupidity by legal protest action. This is me, being Thoreauvian.

No, Goodreads, I won't delete my account. No, Goodreads, I won't sit down and shut up. You are censoring speech because some delicate little fleurs find it too harsh? Where does that road lead, except to Orwellian doublespeak and Kafkaesque domination of people's personal space?

The law allows you to do what you're doing. But my mama, a woman whose political views were to the right of Hitler's, taught me something important when I was small:

THE LAW ALLOWS WHAT HONOR FORBIDS.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Endings and grievings and frustrations



Everything ends.

I want the good times to last, and the people I care about to care about me, and the happy places to get happier instead of darker and less happy.

And that plus a Metrocard will get me on the subway. Nothing stays the same, people change their ideas of each other, disagreements on fundamental worldviews fracture friendships. It's the nature of the world, and it's still my least favorite part of this whole thing we got going on here on Earth.

The source of my sadness is here. It's amazing to me how much I've invested in book socializing, writing reviews that seemed to amuse and entertain and possibly even persuade the people who followed me on Goodreads, all 1600-plus of 'em. But seriously, how can I trust the Powers That Be not to decide, for whatever capricious reason they feel like, to alter or delete my reviews?

It affects me not at all as of now. All my data is backed up. But my trust isn't backed up. It's flushed like the communal toilet.

And the friends who, for their own reasons, don't feel this fight is worth their energy to fight, are beginning to snipe, snark, and complain about the battle being waged on their behalf. Okay, fine...ignore it, but don't belittle or insult the people who won't lie down and accept whatever Master delivers.

Some respect is not too much to ask. Not for the cause, but for the fighters.

But it would seem not. And that makes me sadder than all the rest put together.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Happy Pulitzer, Alice Munro

Rating: 2.5* of five

I hate Flo, and dislike Rose, and can think of no possible reason for anyone to read more than the Pearl Rule requires or the first three stories, whichever comes first in your edition.

The entire unkind review is on my Short Stories Page.

Second Catherynne Valente Review posted 10 October 2013

Catherynne Valente gets 5* from me! At Shelf Inflicted, I review THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING. I think it is superb, jaw-dropping writing. I'll be very surprised if this isn't a lot of people's favorite childhood read in the year 2040. (Which I hope to be around to see.)

Take a gander!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sometimes A Short Dip Into Smooth Fantasy Is Great 7 October 2013

I've read...make that immersed myself in...Catherynne M. Valente's delicious THE GIRL WHO RULED FAIRYLAND -- FOR A LITTLE WHILE in the Kindle Originals tab.

It's free online. Spend the mouseclick! It's a prequel to a lovely, lovely series of novels, so you don't need to know anything to derive a lot of pleasure from it.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

I Unload Some Venom on a Book 5 October 2013

Today was the turn of WE NEED NEW NAMES by NoViolet Bulawayo. It's been shortlisted for the Booker, and the fact is I cannot begin to fathom why.

I had a spirited chat with a fan of this book. She (naturally) stated I was behaving in a sexist manner and implied, with dark tones of voice, that I was probably a racist too, because I don't think this is a particularly good book, and *certainly* don't think it's Booker-worthy.

I don't post full reviews on censored sites like Goodreads, so see the whole thing Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud.

Friday, October 4, 2013

SIX MONTHS, THREE DAYS by Charlie Jane Anders

I've reviewed a Hugo-winning novelette, SIX MONTHS, THREE DAYS, by Charlie Jane Anders.

What an interesting question it poses. Do we in fact have free will? Does the ability to foresee more than one future outcome to the present mean change is possible, or merely that some choices are okay to make?

I love the answer. Read it, it's free.


SIX MONTHS, THREE DAYS
CHARLIE JANE ANDERS

Tor.com
Free, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: NBC is putting Charlie Jane Anders’ Six Months, Three Days into production and we could not be more excited! Tor.com published the Hugo award-winning novelette in 2011.

From Deadline Hollywood, NBC is adapting the story into...

...a light procedural about a mismatched pair of San Francisco private investigators — an upbeat, free-spirited idealist and a swoon-worthy, brooding fatalist –- both of whom can see the future. Forced to team up, the pair knows their relationship is destined to grow from antagonistic rivalry into fairy-tale true love… but only if they can stop him from being killed in six months and three days. The adaptation will being written by film and TV writer Eric Garcia, author of the novel Matchstick Men, on which the feature film was based. Ritter, Garcia, Janollari and Silent Machine’s Lindsey Liberatore are executive producing.
Charlie Jane had this to say over on io9...

I was really blown away by how many people connected with this story, both with the characters and with the ideas. After a decade and a half of toiling in obscurity as a fiction writer, it's beyond intense when something you wrote takes on a life of its own like that. Knowing that something that came out of your head is living in other people's heads, is enough to make your head explode. I felt way beyond lucky.

So then hearing from other creative people that they want to turn my story into something brand new and different is kind of that same feeling of astonishment and luck — only maybe even more so, because of the realization that smart people are putting time and energy into the idea of adapting your story. Whatever happens with this deal, I will never stop being thrilled about that.
A huge congratulations to Charlie Jane Anders! And a thank-you to editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden for acquiring the story for us. This remains one of my favorite stories we have had the honor to publish. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. And then get the popcorn ready for TV night!

My Review: "O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!" --Robert Burns

That quote has always chilled me. I don't want to see myself as others see me, thanks. Burns's point is that we should not wish for that, ever, because the burden of knowing what another person thinks, sees, feels is quite impossibly heavy and unbearable. Think of how many times in this good life you've wanted not to know what you yourownself thought, felt, saw.

Charlie Jane Anders, a smallish fixture in the SFnal world with a good reputation as a storyteller and a nice lady, imagines for two people the horrid, heavy burden of seeing the future...exacerbated or ameliorated by their discovery of each other and their subsequent, doomed relationship. After all, seeing the future means knowing how it ends, right?

“I don’t think you’re any more or less powerful than me. Our powers are just different,” Doug says. “But I think you’re a selfish person. I think you’re used to the idea that you can cheat on everything, and it’s made your soul a little bit rotten. I think you’re going to hate me for the next few weeks until you figure out how to cast me out. I think I love you more than my own arms and legs and I would shorten my already short life by a decade to have you stick around one more year. I think you’re brave as hell for keeping your head up on our journey together into the mouth of hell. I think you’re the most beautiful human being I’ve ever met, and you have a good heart despite how much you’re going to tear me to shreds.”
Or does it, wonders Judy, mean that she can make changes in small things and thereby change the future? Is it in her power to alter the inevitable? Doug doesn't think so. Doug is a committed and convinced determinist. He sees only one future, and he's sure he's correct about its inevitability.

Judy sees, on the other hand, a multiplicity of possible futures, and must weigh in a matter of a blink which one she will choose. Pause a moment and consider that. Doesn't that degree of personal accountability for one's life's course sound appallingly dreary?

And now imagine for a moment the sheer relief of finding and spending time with the one other person on the planet that fully, as fully as humans can anyway, Gets You...while knowing that your love is doomed. (See the title for a clue.)

Do you lie down and weep for what can't be changed? Do you rail against the cold, merciless gawd who lumbered you with this "gift?" Or do you break the rules, test the limits, fight for yourself and your happiness, by doing something, anything, to take your future into your own hands?

Well?

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