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6.24.2014

The End is Nigh

I am really enjoying the stories in The End is Nigh. This is the first anthology in a series that will cover the apocalypse from a variety of angles. These stories chronicle life before the destruction, and they are filled with creative plots, interesting characters, and loads of pathos. 

I'm five stories in and haven't encountered a story that didn't place the emphasis where it should be in apocalyptic storytelling: on the characters. These are heart-warming (Liu's story) and heart-rending (Due's story) glimpses into the lives and actions of the stressed.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in Jake Kerr's "Wedding Day." As the author says himself, it's a love story. It's also a chilling glimpse into devolution, bureaucracy, and the maddeningly arbitrary nature of haves and have-nots.

I found this collection on sale for $1.99, but it's more than worth the seven bucks. Quality writers, interesting themes, and lots of fine storytelling. Highly recommended...

6.16.2014

Remembering Tony Gwynn



Tony Gwynn passed away today after a four-year fight with cancer. The news hit me hard. I grew up watching the eight-time batting champ. He was an amazing hitter--a tactician that could use every inch of the ballpark. He was thoughtful (I chose that card above because it kind of captures his persona), and he always had a plan. Tony Gwynn once hit more than .390 for a full baseball season! 

That's unbelievable in this era of specialization and situational pitching.

He had been sick for some time, but there was some optimism in his family that he would continue his battle. He'd signed an extension recently to continue on as the head baseball coach at San Diego State University, so I think his passing comes as a great surprise to those near him.

He played (and coached) in the same city for decades. He's as much a San Diego fixture (where he was a pretty good point guard in college) as he is MLB royalty, which is saying something in a sports landscape where athletes changed teams every three or four years.

I hope Tony's resting easy. I hope he's at peace, knowing he had a huge influence on the game and its fans, and I'm glad he's not in any more pain. And I hope that, wherever he is, he's stepping into a batter's box and swinging that bat through the zone a few times, lining up an opposite-field line drive...

6.10.2014

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)


I thoroughly enjoyed The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), which took a little bit of criticism for its three-hour running time last year. With an 8.3 ranking on IMDB, it does have a healthy dose of positive regard, and I think it deserves it. Leonardo DiCaprio is his typically excellent self as Jordan Belfort. Jonah Hill and Rob Reiner take turns stealing scenes (I would be like, just run free. You're free now!), and the storytelling techniques are fun. Scorsese drops the fourth wall in places, and DiCaprio's narration is keen. It's got a lot of energy, and some great individual scenes. I haven't laughed as hard out loud in a year as I did when watching Hill and DiCaprio play that scene with the delayed-impact of the Quaaludes. Sheesh, you want some physical comedy! That was amazing, all the way down the line. 

It's an interesting story, and one I looked into a bit more closely. Belfort is now out there on the motivational speaking circuit. He's still paying off the restitution for his schemes as well, though I read that he hopes to be finished with that by the end of the year.

If half of what the film depicts is legitimate, he's lucky to be alive...I give the film a 'B+' mark, and will watch it again in coming years...

6.05.2014

The Troop and "Blackwood's Baby"



Nick Cutter (a pseudonym for a Canadian writer) did a nice job with characterization and pacing in The Troop. I liked aspects of the book quite a bit, including the use of a variety of epistolary techniques and creative narrative elements. The faux GQ articles and the transcripts from the sworn testimony on Falstaff Island were a nice touch I liked the little advertisement in the third act.

It's well written, but it's not the kind of horror I really like reading anymore. I am okay with some aggressive gore in my visual horror, and I don't cringe from it when looking at movies. But when it comes to my reading impulses, I like mundane horror--quiet horror--so much more than the squeamish, body-altering stuff taking place here.

It's a book about parasites, so you can get the picture (funny, because I just read Stephen King's "Gray Matter" last night and loved it all over again). There's a lot of rupturing, and a lot of disgusting transformation. There are parts that will make you want to grab a shower.

But all in all, it's a good little yarn because Cutter never loses sight of the horror of what happens to ordinary people when they are subjected to things beyond their control. These kids (and Scoutmaster Tim) don't deserve this. They're collateral damage in a government experiment gone haywire, and they're no more deserving (well, maybe Shelley is deserving) of their fate than is a house full of regular folks just living their lives in the Middle East that get bombed into oblivion when one of our drones hits the wrong target. To his credit, Cutter plumbs the psychological sense of repulsion these adolescents feel as they are plunged into the world of adult mistakes. These poor kids keep waiting for their parents, until finally they have to throw their hands up and face the facts: adults are messed up, and they don't have things under control.

It's well written and it moves well. Just be warned that this falls into the category of gross-out horror if you're looking for a summer read...

Laird Barron's "Blackwood's Baby" is a solid short story. Not as good as much of the work in The Imago Sequence, but certainly a nice way to pass an hour...

6.02.2014

Monday Updates...


I discounted The Reset over the weekend to .99 and saw a neat little surge in sales. The list above is for dystopian titles, and I was thrilled to see my novel sandwiched in there between works by VanderMeer, Murakami, and Palahniuk. Of course, the bottom line outcome was a very small amount of royalties given the price, but I was happy to see the book make a little move on the Amazon popularity charts all the same...

I was saddened last evening to learn the news of Jay Lake's passing. I always enjoyed Jay's work, and I found him to be a generous and kind writer. In 2009, when I was just beginning to submit my stories for publication, Jay was editing Polyphony. I never met up with Jay in Oregon, even though we were both in Portland at the same time for a lot of years. I was focused on learning how to become a better educator back then, and I didn't get back to writing again with serious ambitions until my schedule opened up here at FSCJ.

So I sent Jay a story, noting that I was also from Portland in my cover letter, and he sent me back a very kind note. He made suggestions on the manuscript that I had submitted (and that he had rejected), and he offered some words of encouragement that were much needed (and appreciated) at that stage in my development. We maintained infrequent contact via e-mail over the years, and he was always thoughtful and prompt in our dealings. A gentleman, father, writer, and a good man...Jay will be sorely missed.

Evan Hughes has written an interesting and, I think, salient piece on the Hachette/Amazon dust-up. There are no good guys and bad guys in a battle for the margins--just two business juggernauts slugging it out for the future of pricing on Amazon. I sincerely feel for the Hachette authors, but I imagine that they knew what they were doing when they signed away the rights to their stories. In the changing landscape of e-commerce, there's no dodging the fact that Amazon was the first operator. They own the majority of the market, and they have no obligation to sell anything under Hachette's terms. Hachette, by the way, is a $10B company as well, so their authors must have understood they were also working in league with a dominating market force. When two dominating market forces collide, there is bound to be damage. In this case, it's the authors that will suffer, and that is a shame.

But James Patterson's speech at BEA was more than a little hyperbolic. Amazon isn't ruining publishing. Bookstores aren't suffering. Literature doesn't need an oligarchy of five major houses to create taste in the interests of protecting our culture. Most of what he says smacks of elitism, privilege, and resistance to the fact that the publishing paradigm is undergoing rigorous changes. The horses are already out of the barn, and it seems to me that Patterson is lamenting the loss of a system that enriched him well beyond the measure of his peers. I think he believed that all of this change would happen in twenty years, and it's just a shock to him that it's happening now, at a time when he is still entrenched in a literary landscape that is changing by the day.

[GoT SPOILER]

Finally, I was just so saddened to see Oberyn Martell's death last night. Yes, I have read the books and I knew it was coming. But Pedro Pascal's turn was awesome, and that fight scene was so good. I just wish he'd ended the Mountain with a spear to the skull, and a quick, "This is for Elia, you son of a bitch." 

Game of Thrones continues to astound in its storytelling. Can't wait for next Sunday...