Sunday, December 02, 2007

Recent Readables

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow
Note: free downloadable at
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
Who's who in Hell by Robert Chalmers
Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle
Tales from the Blue Archives by Lawrence Thornton

None of these novels are amazingly good, but they are good, worth reading.
Cory Doctorow has a new spin with magic cyberrealism in Someone Comes to Town...
Set primarily in Toronto's Kensington Market, one of my favorite spots, characters weave in and out of shared surreal experiences, sort of schizo-realities. Not fantasy, not cyberpunk, it's published with scifi insignia but it's not. It's something else, something new. Not as plot driven as cyber-punk, not much so much magical but not reality either. More like a surrealist painting, where the author has said to himself, Hey, I can do whatever I want, so I will give them wings, make them sons of mountains with golden gifts from father's creatures to pay the rent. There's a mythic quality to the story line, the heroes want to give away free access to the internet by installing wireless devices on rooftops in the Market. Noble pursuit, all hail freedom of information warriors.

Nick Hornby entertains with a dark comedy of suicidal wannabees who bolster one another through a difficult time in their lives. One of the nice things about living in a city the size on London, there's bound to be others who are just a fucked up as you are even if sometimes you have to go to the favorite local jumping off place to meet them. I like the theme of sanity through solidarity.

Whose hell is probably the appropriate question to ask if you want to read Chalmers' Who's Who...
Because of short stint working in publishing, I can relate to Chalmers' hot spot as the obit department of a London newspaper. The point seems to be that anybody can write but few have the balls to write anything really worth saying. So much of the media is sensationalism and so much of the potentially sensational is glossed over to accommodate societal expectations. It kind of made me think of Doris Lessing's essay, Prisons We Choose to Live Inside but funny and fiction.

I have read a couple of T.C. Boyle's novels. I found him in my local library. He's been writing for ages and has an honest grasp of California then and now. I think I may have reviewed DROP CITY in this blog, if not I'll add it later as I intend to read more of his stuff. They made a movie of his Road to Wellville that sort of flopped. Haven't read it, but I can see how this latest novel TALK TALK would make a great film. It's very edge of your seat, with characters you sometimes want to strangle. Timely topic too: identity theft. Someone at work said you can't change your name if the only reason you give is because someone is using your identity. That can't be right? In the 80's people were changes their names left, right and center for no better reason than the cool factor. I must research this further.

Finally, Thornton has written another lyrical novel of Argentina's tragic history. Same theme as IMAGINING ARGENTINA but didn't have the same punch reading about the horrors of "the disappeared" the second time around. You may have seen the movie. It was quite well done, but not as good as the book. The whole premise of writing the story on the walls of the prison cell wasn't used in the movie at all and it was one of the most compelling metaphorical devices I have seen used in a long time.

I've got a few books on the go at the moment. One non-fiction that is going to be my little brother's xmas present. I'll definitely be writing a blurb on it when I'm done. I'm also reading a couple of Jungian shadow self-help, or "individuation" type titles that might show up here eventually, this site's purpose being a therapeutic one.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lazy or Lame

Take your pick. I can't believe it's been almost six months since I posted. It's not that I'm not reading. Why then, I ask myself. Is the quality of material I'm reading uninspiring? Quite possibly. I'm bogged down at work, stressed and stretched to the limit with dried up creative juices. So I'm reading stuff primarily for distraction. Will review current titles this long weekend and make a go at updating.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Marge Piercy's He, She and It

Since getting involved in Second Life, reflecting on some of the best cyberpunk I've read since my first exposure back in the 80's to William Gibson. Marge Piercy isn't known as a sci fi or cyberpunk author specifically, but He, She, and It fits the genre to a T.

As I've mentioned in an earlier post, Piercy is golden. No matter what she commits ink to paper for is worth reading. She's one of those artists who made me aware that the secret to good writing is an open and honest approach to your material, regardless of the subject matter. Without it, the most highly crafted work is lifeless.

Piercy explores her Jewish ancestry in the novel in a golem narrative that runs parallel to the main story. Wish she had named the technique which she describes as a method by which small Hebrew letters are used to create calligraphic designs in silver of leaves and flowers. Might try this with pen and ink in English for my own entertainment.

And I do know how to self-entertain, much as Piercy's character Malkah who describes her relationships in a way that I identify with wholeheartedly: "I never wanted to belong to anybody; I only wanted to borrow them for awhile, for the fun of it, the tenderness, some laughs."

And speaking so beautifully to Second Life: "In the image world, I am the power of my thought, of my capacity to create. There is no sex in the Base or the Net, but there is sexuality, there is joining, there is the play of minds, like the play of dolphins in the surf."

The honesty and clarity of Pierce's vision revealed in a world view encapsulated in a few short paragraphs: "What's wrong this week? What minor or enormous catastrophe are we striving to stave off, or failing that, cleaning up after? Yet the teeth that grind us fine in the end are the slow deaths we cause through our greed, our carelessness, our insufficiency of imagination. The news is never given in full stimuation mode. None of us want to know that intimately about other peope's problems. We want the remove of viewing a screen or reading print. We prefer not quite to believe until death grabs us, as I was seized by the nape.
My problem is that my despair dyes everything a sullen gray. I have always viewed despair as sinful self-indulgence; perhaps I truly believe that relinquishing hope is the inevitable result of sitting still. If I do not keep moving, if I do not have projects and the heady clamor of problems to be solved, I will subside into a state of near-fatal clarity in which I will begin to doubt the value of everthing I normally do. The result is a personal ice age in which I lie embedd in my own glacier that is burying the landscape I usually love but to which I am now as indifferent as the ice I have exuded."

Yet it is the love of work that grounds us, as she describes to her granddaughter, Shira, "You love too hard. It occupies the center and squeezes out your strength. If you work in the center, and love to the side, you will love better in the long run, Shira. You will give more gracefully, without counting, and what you get, you will enjoy."

And Piercy's cyborg Yod gives a good pitch for bibliotherapy: "Your curiosity's like mine. I read novels as if they were the specs to your makeup. I study them to grasp the forces underlying your behavior."

I'm on page 369 of the 444 page re-read, which is a huge commitment of time when there's so much new stuff out there yet to be explored. But, who knows, as I am nearing the end of this second read through, I consider the possibility of reading it again in another 15 or so years. (published in 1991)

Thanks Pink Wonder for quote:

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
--Augustine, (AD 354-430)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Misc. titles read recently

Ian Sansom's The Case of the Missing Books is light librarian entertainment.
Justina Robson's Silver Screen shows cyberpunk is alive and well in 2005.
Timothy Egan's The Winemaker's Daughter blends ecology and the art of winemaking into a thrilling romance full of tragedy and recuperation.

Richard Powers

The Echo Maker is one of my favorite authors at his cerebral best (see earlier posts). As I prefer to let authors speak for themselves, a few quotes: "He wrote for the insight of the phrase, to locate, in some strange chain, its surprise truth. The way a reader received his stories said as much about the reader's story as about the story itself." (p.221) "We told ourselves backward into diagnosis and forward into treatment. Story was the storm at the cortex's core." (p.414)

"Confabulation: inventing stories to patch over the missing bits...the fabric of reality rewoven by a vitamin-B deficiency...humans probably being the only creatures who can have memories of things that never happened." (p.101) demanding that we each "...question the solidity of the self. We were not one, continuous, indivisible whole, but instead, hundreds of separate subsystems, with changes in any one sufficient to disperse the provisional confederation into unrecognizable new countries." (p.171)

Or quote within quote, quoting the work of the cognitive neurologist protagonist: "'Consciousness works by telling a story, one that is whole, continuous, and stable. When the story breaks, consciousness rewrites it. Each revised draft claims to be the orginal.'" (p.185)

"As she shrunk and the sea of grass expanded, she saw the scale of life--millions of tangled tests, more answers than there were questions, and a nature so swarmingly wasteful that no single experiment mattered. ...Nature could sell at a loss; it made up in volume. Guess relentlessly, and it didn't matter if almost every guess was wrong." (p.75)

"The brain that retrieved a memory was not the brain that had formed it. Even retrieving a memory mangled what was formerly there. ...the mind's eye cannibalizing the brain's eye, social intelligence stealing the circuitry of spatial orientation. What-if mimicking what-is; simulations simulating simulations. ...The self bled out, the work of mirror neurons, empathy circuits, selected for and reserved through many species for their obscure survival value." (p.383)

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Queen of Dreams bibliotherapeutic quotes: "I heard my mother say that each of us lives in a separate universe, one we have dreamed into being. We love people when their dream coincides with ours, the way two cutout designs laid on top of the other might match. But dream worlds are not static like cutouts; sooner or later they change shape, leading to misunderstanding, loneliness and loss of love." (p.157)

"The story hangs in the night air between them. ...In the mind of each, different images swirl up and fall away, and each holds on to a different part of the story, thinking it the most important. And if each were to speak of what it meant, they would say things so different you would not know it was the same story they were speaking of. But the sharing of the story has created something that stretches, trembling like the thinnest strand of a spiderweb between them." (p.192)

Divakaruni's cultural background tints the novel in the soft light of maya, she quotes the Brihat Swapna Sarita: "The dream comes heralding joy. /I welcome the dream./ The dream comes heralding sorrow./ I welcome the dream./ The dream is a mirror showing me my beauty./ I bless the dream./ The dream is a mirror showing me my ugliness./ I bless the dream./ My life is nothing but a dream/From which I will wake into death,/which is nothing but a dream of life.

The story hovers in the reader's mind like Rikki's dragonfly, not resting on one theme, rather flitting from the first and second generation immigrant experience to mother/daughter-father/daughter relationships to 9/11 flashbacks to arrive unselfconsciously, "Thoughts thud through my head like a herd of elephants. ...But these are not my real thoughts. The real thoughts are the ones I'm staving off by filling my mind, as fast as I can, with unnecessary chatter." (p.315) When, a few pages earlier, Divakaruni summed up for all of us why the chatter is there: "A wild bird shrieks somewhere. We all flinch. But it's not the night that is frightening, nor its birds, however wild they may be. There's nothing out there that's worse than human beings." (p.300)