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September 2010
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November 2010

Running out of Time

I came shamefully late to fantasy literature. I've only really been reading it for little over ten years - and I'm a slow reader. There are (much to the horror of this site's more well-read figureheads) enormous gaps in my fantasy reading, one of which is Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. 

So, thank Heavens for pieces such as this one: The Believer magazine writes about Jordan, and how his death threatened to end the series of novels before the story was done. If you only have the vaguest knowledge of the Wheel of Time, it makes for enlightening reading. If you know the whole sorry saga of the books' rise and near fall, it's still definitely worth your time. At the start, you think it's just going to be a puff piece, but once it has laid down its respectful groundwork, the article gets its hands good and dirty. The writer is not afraid to dig into Jordan's laissez faire approach to moving the plot forward, his weird little obsessions, and his wonky attitude towards women:

“I’ve seen a lot of comment, apparently from men, that my female characters are unrealistic,” he once wrote. “That’s because women are, for the most part, consummate actresses who allow men to see exactly what they intend men to see. Get behind the veil sometimes, boys, and your hair will turn white. I’ve been there, and mine went white and didn’t stop there; a great deal of it actually turned dark again, the shock to my system was so great. Believe me, I mild it down so as not to scare any males into mental breakdowns.” This is as indicative as any other passage Jordan penned regarding women: he seemed to regard a healthy mix of fear and condescension as a decent proxy for respect, and left it at that.

Even if you never intend to read the books (as, frankly, I don't), there's some good reading to be had here.

Underground Reading: The Long Lavender Look by John D. MacDonald

The Long Lavender Look Travis McGee and his patient friend Meyer are poodling down the road after a friend's wedding. They've gotten a little lost, but are now making good time through the Everglades. All of a sudden, a naked woman (beautiful, of course), sprints across the road. Travis has lightning reflexes (especially with nude hotties involved) and avoids hitting her - but at the cost of putting his beloved car into a ditch.

Confused, damp and in the middle of nowhere, Travis and Meyer spend all night hiking back to the nearest small town (and occasionally dodging bullets). Once there, things really start to get weird...

The Long Lavender Look (the 12th in the series by John D. MacDonald) has all the optimal elements from previous Travis McGee books, but fails to combine them. There's a small town setting (my favorite), a happy absence of "luscious and/or dead female client" (thank god) and even a bit of proper mystery (huzzah!). But, for many reasons, it never comes together. 

If anything, The Long Lavender Look is a complete reverse of my expectations. Despite the elements above, the bulk of the story is a dull. But the twist ending - including the now-predictable-over-the-top action sequence - is one of the book's few virtues.

Continue reading "Underground Reading: The Long Lavender Look by John D. MacDonald" »

Guest Post: An Apocalyptic Primer by Fear Death by Water

[Editor's note: After finishing The Passage, I got a bit grumpy about the state of post-apocalyptic fiction. My despair about... despair... was quickly turned around after a quick chat with the chap behind Cosy Catastrophe. Kindly, he's provided us with our first ever guest post - a primer on Post-Apocalyptic fiction.]

These are books that (in my opinion alone) are the best examples of the genre. This list is meant to give suggestions for books to read or purchase. It's not intended to be an exhaustive list. However should you want one look here

The stand 1990As to a definition of 'apocalyptic fiction'. I'll use Megaton's from The Post-Apocalyptic Forums: Post-Apocalyptic: Nuclear War, Pandemic, Economic Collapse, Natural Disaster, Alien Invasion, Machine Revolution, Global Warming, Cosmic Rays, Zombie Apocalypse, Astronomical Impact, Animal Revolt, Science Gone Wrong, or any combination of these. I'll try to include an example from each. Again my (admittedly) drunken opinion.

#1 The Stand by Stephen King

I'll start with the first apocalyptic book I read. Stephen King's The Stand. I've noticed that most people when listing their favorite book will normally put the first one they read at the top of the list. The Stand is both the first PA book I read and also my favorite. Also I am surprised to find out from time-to-time that there are apocalypse geeks who haven't heard of nor read The Stand. If this is you don't worry I won't spoil it. The basic premise of the book is a military project to engineer biological weapons has a breech. Its name was Project Blue. As the virus spread it was known by other names. The most common one being 'Captain Trips'. The disease was almost uniformly fatal. Only .06% of humanity survived.

After everyone who is going to get sick dies. The basic conflict of the book is one of Good vs Evil. The survivors all gravitate to either Randall Flagg (Evil) or to Mother Abigail (Good). While The Stand is my favorite book, I consider the portions when the survivors are regrouping and the denouement as my favorite parts.

Also the book has a couple of nifty little Easter eggs scattered around for the careful reader to discover. Most notable of these is Christine.

Remember this book is here because it is the first apocalyptic book I read. I understand I could have gone with several different choices for pandemic. Amongst these are Jack London's The Scarlet Plague and George R. Stewart's Earth Abides.

Continue reading "Guest Post: An Apocalyptic Primer by Fear Death by Water" »

Underground Reading: Dress Her in Indigo by John D. MacDonald

Dress Her in Indigo Going into this book, I had dimly recalled Dress Her in Indigo (1969) as one of my favorites in the series. Happily, on re-reading it, it didn't disappoint. Combining unexpectedly tense action sequences with withering social insight, this book, the 11th in the series, may be the best so far.

Lest I get a little too gushy, Dress Her in Indigo does wrap everything up with one of the more ludicrous endings. Wildly over the top (and more than a little offensive), it at least provides good fodder for discussion. And giggling.

A friend of Meyer's, a self-absorbed banker, ignored his daughter for her entire life and - when she took off for Mexico - he put it down as a childish act of rebellion. However, when Beatrice ("Bix") dies mid-rebellion, the stuffy banker is filled with sudden pangs of guilt. He pays Travis and Meyer handsomely to travel to Mexico to piece together the story of Bix's dying days. 

Did Bix have fun? Did she discover her artistic side? Was she addicted to drugs, prostituted for 4 pesos a throw and then sold to a lesbian slaver? (No reward for guessing the right answer on this one).

Continue reading "Underground Reading: Dress Her in Indigo by John D. MacDonald" »

Where's Pornokitsch?

October is a fantastic month for local geekery. We're kicking it off with Foyles on October 5, with a William Gibson reading (the event is sold out, but Gibson is also at Forbidden Planet on the 9th). October 7 brings us to Forbidden Planet for Iain M. Banks. The following week, October 12, we're listening to China Mieville wax bombastic on censorship. BICS lures us to Birmingham the weekend of October 15. We then get a little time off (not counting Halloween parties, gaming & generally being loud). Finally, the month then ends with a bang of a weekend: MCM (30/31) and the highly-anticipated Pulps & Paperbacks book fair (31). We're far less offensive in person than we are online - if you see us, say hi and we can swap pints.

The A-listers are great (especially Charles Vess and Peter Gross), but the main reason we go to BICS? Fetishman and Cinebook. It isn't a real convention unless we leave with a bag of naughty atrocities and at least eight new Van Hamme translations. If any London retailer bothered to carry either of these, it'd save us a small fortune in convention costs every year. (Hint. Hint. Hint.)