Saturday, November 15, 2003

BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS (and, er, a couple mags and chapbooks)

While we've been traveling, I've been picking up books here and there. World Fantasy in DC, in particular, yielded some great finds. But I've also found some interesting books recently at Tallahassee used bookstores. Herein, a list, with annotations. For most of these, I've had no chance to do more than just skim some chapters, read some stories, in these books, but they're all on my to read pile because, well, they all look wonderful so far! So, in no particular order (just as you might find them in one of those great but frustrating New Orleans bookstores, where everything is stacked, jumbled, confused, but glorious):

Limekiller by Avram Davidson (Old Earth Books) - I've just read the first two stories, but have to confirm Jonathan Strahan's enthusiastic review in Locus--these are Davidson's best stories. The introduction by Lucius Shepard is brilliant, too. The cover leaves a lot to be desired, though; in fact, I recommend you strip off the dust jacket and set it aside somewhere while reading.

Another Green World by Henry Wessells (Temporary Culture, - Wessells is an antiquarian book seller from NYC who has been instrumental in helping publish much of Davidson's work posthumously. Now he's come out with a book that, quite frankly, if the Ministry of Whimsy hadn't been overstocked, we would have taken. These wonderfully bookish, Borgesian stories come highly recommended by Guy Davenport, William Gibson, and Michael Swanwick. If all goes well, we may offer some of these on the Ministry web site.

Floater by Lucius Shepard (PS Publishing) - A cop who has just shot a Haitian immigrant in NYC experiences a floater in his eye--a stray bit of protein that occludes part of his eyesight. He begins to have visions. The shooting incident takes on new dimensions. The cop begins a downward spiral. I'm about three-fourths done with this one. Shepard is a brilliant writer, and Floater is great noir with a possible supernatural element to it.

The Angel in the Darkness by Kage Baker (Golden Gryphon Press) - I'm a huge fan of Baker's Company stories and novels. However, this Company novella is of poor quality comparatively. It's more or less a slice of a larger piece, and it's dogged by too many scenes in which characters must explain plot to other characters just so the reader will understand what's going on.

Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales by Anna Tambour (Prime Books) - Tambour is a fresh and interesting voice. Although this collection is too long--the poetry and a couple of what appear to be nonfiction pieces could have been cut, along with a couple of the weaker fictions--it provides a nice overview of a writer to watch. I particularly enjoyed stories like "Klokwerk's Heart," "Temptation of the Seven Scientists," and "Dr. Babiram's Potentials". Tambour's offbeat stories and quietly confident prose are a delight to read. Several of these stories posit truly original situations, characters, or narratives.

Weirdmonger by D.F. Lewis (Prime Books) - Long overdue, Des Lewis' first comprehensive collection of idiosyncratic short fiction showcases the best of his work from 1987 to 1999. No one writes quite like Lewis--and I can recall with some clarity how Des would include, with his submissions, a list of quotes from reviewers that ranged from raves to pans. Des has never worried much about other people's opinions, and as a result, his fiction remains unique, challenging, and, in some essential sense, timeless.

The Monsters of St. Helena by Brooks Hansen (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) - Hansen, who wrote the masterpiece The Chess Garden and the solid novel Pearlman's Ordeal, has finally written a dud, with this tale of Napoleon's sojourn on the island of St. Helena. From the pull-way-back introduction in which the reader gets a long-view historical brief on the island to the interesting characters to the interesting prose, Hansen has managed to waste it all on an inconsequential and utterly boring story. I've rarely seen so many potentially wonderful elements amassed for deployment...only to be deployed in such a banal and disappointing manner.

Bibliomancy by Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing) - Although her novels are good, Hand's real strength has always been at the shorter lengths, and Bibliomancy has me drooling in anticipation. The packaging is gorgeous as well, with Fitzgerald's "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" as the cover art. Lucius Shepard, who seems ubiquitous at this point, contributes an engaging introduction.

The Tyrant by Michael Cisco (Prime Books) - Cisco is inexplicably "cult" to my mind, mostly because he's had one critically-acclaimed book (The Divinity Student, Buzzcity Press) followed by five years of silence...which didn't mean he wasn't busy, just that he had some difficulties with potential publishers holding on to his manuscripts for too long. Anyway, now The Tyrant is out, in another beautiful package, with cover art by Harry Morris, and it's a good novel. It starts very, very slowly--needlessly so--but once you get past the first thirty pages, there are several marvels here for the adventurous.

The Dark edited by Ellen Datlow (Tor) - This looks to be a potential classic anthology of ghost stories, with work by Jeffrey Ford, Kelly Link, and several other great writers. I'm really looking forward to reading this one.

Wonder Tales: Six French Stories of Enchantment edited by Marina Warner (Farrar, Straus, Giroux) - A fetching small-sized hardcover of French fairytales retranslated from the French by such writers as A.S. Byatt and John Ashbery. A beautiful package, and clever, playful writing.

Tales from the Crypto-System by Geoffrey Maloney (Prime Books) - Another great collection from Prime Books. Probably the best way to describe Maloney's work is to reference my own blurb on the back cover: "At his best, Geoffrey Maloney uses the surreal in the same way as J.G. Ballard, but with his own twists. A Maloney story is not to be trusted--it will turn on you when you least expect it, and your brain will be irrevocably altered."

He Do The Time Police In Different Voices by David Langford (Cosmos Books) - I just love David Langford's work, whether for Ansible or elsewhere. This fascinating-looking collection of parodies and pastiches (of Ellison, Herbert, Lewis Carroll, etc.) is next on my list to read.

Japanese Gothic Tales by Izumi Kyoka (University of Hawaii Press) - Gabriel Mesa turned me on to this collection of weird Japanese stories.

Faking Literature by K.K. Ruthven (Cambridge Press) - We picked this up in the Shakespeare library in Washington D.C. It's a collection of essays about literary fakes and frauds. So far, it is tough going but still interesting. I may not finish it--I may just skim and, er, steal from it...

Sewer, Gas, & Electric by Matt Ruff (Aspect SF) - I've finally remembered to buy a copy of this supposed cult classic. I'm sure hoping it turns out to be good. I thought Fool on the Hill was crap (his talking animals irritated me), but thought I'd give Ruff a second chance.

Winter in Majorca by George Sand, trans. & annotated by Robert Graves (Cassell) - Wow. We picked this up in a used bookstore two hours before we had to leave DC. I have to quote you the dustjacket copy to do the book justice: "In 1838, George Sand arrived in Majorca with Chopin and her two children, Maurice and Solange, offspring of her marriage to Baron Dudevant. Majorca, at that time, had not fallen under the influence of the Romantics, and George Sand, arriving with Chopin, smoking cigarettes, and both she and her daughter wearing masculine clothes, caused more than a little stir. It would appear that the Majorcans made little attempt to understand her, and she little to understand them, and contact between the two was rare. After three years, the little party left the island and returned to France. Within two years, Un Hiver a Majorca was published, a book which though praising the natural beauties of Majorca, condemned the Majorcans as barbarians, thieves, monkeys, and Polynesian savages who cheat, extort, lie, abuse, and plunder, and went so far as to suggest that the majority of the inhabitants were the bastard descendants of Carthusian monks. It was a book as full of vitriol as it was of inaccuracies...but it is described by the Encyclopedia Britannica as one of the great travel books of literature, and Majorcans continue to print and sell it to visitors--without comment on its errors and slanders." This edition contains Jose Quadrado's "Refutation of George Sand" as well. Holy crap. I am so looking forward to this one...

Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet no. 13, edited by Gavin Grant and Kelly Link (Small Beer Press) - LCRW has undergone a welcome make-over with this issue, changing to perfect binding and a full-color cover. It looks classy and sophisticated without sacrificing any of its home-grown appeal. Ghosting page numbers across the middle of pages is not a great idea, but a good experiment. Some of the cutesy added stuff on the inside has by now worn thin--it begins to seem fey and smug rather than funny (think flat McSweeney's)--but there are good stories in the issue, and the magazine continues to publish new writers of interest.

Bittersweet Creek and Other Stories by Christopher Rowe (Small Beer Press) - Another in the impressive series of chapbooks from Small Beer: artfully designed and chockful of good writing. I'm looking forward to this one--I very much liked Rowe's story in Trampoline.

Other Cities by Benjamin Rosenbaum
(Small Beer Press) - And, yes, yet another in the impressive series of chapbooks from Small Beer: artfully designed and chockful of good writing. I've read a couple of these tales, which have been compared to Calvino in Invisible Cities. To Rosenbaum's credit, they don't read like pastiche--these are actually very different from Calvino's stories, with more emotional punch, and I think Rosenbaum is definitely a writer to watch.

El Vilvoy de las Islas by Avram Davidson (Henry Wessells, POB 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043, $12) - A handsome little chapbook version of Davidson's eccentric tale. You know, I really feel for Davidson. The guy was using literary techniques, and absorbing influences, that should have made him a respected member of the literary mainstream--or at least a respected member of the fantasy community. And, sure, he was, to an extent, embraced by the fantasy community, but he deserved a heck of a lot better. So here's another little gem by Davidson. While you're reading it, just remember that there's another Davidson out there somewhere, right now, who's going to suffer the same damn fate while he or she is alive.

Argosy edited by Lou Anders and James A. Owen (Coppervale) - When I first saw this magazine at WFC, I said to Lou, "This is fucking amazing. Wow. What a fucking great looking magazine." So far, I've only had a chance to read Jeff Ford's excellent "A Night in the Tropics", but I'm still marveling over the great look of the publication. Two soft trade papers in a slipcase, one an exclusive novella by Michael Moorcock. Truly cool.

The Case of the Persevering Maltese: Collected Essays by Harry Matthews (Dalkey Archive Press) - The only American Oulipo member has a lot to say about, well, Oulipo, and a lot of other topics. I haven't read it yet, but I'm very much looking forward to it.

The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen (Simon & Schuster) - Island biogeography in an age of extinctions. Interweaves personal observation, scientific theory, and history. Looks very interesting.

Landscape and Memory by Simon Schama (Vintage) - A discussion of the relationship between man and nature, setting and character, in a sense. Another one I'm looking forward to...

The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (Knopf) - I've always had an uneasy relationship with Carey's work, but I keep trying him despite what seems a chronic unevenness in his work.

Congo Journey by Redmond O'Hanlon (Hamish Hamilton) - I picked up this nice UK hardcover of O'Hanlon's classic in a DC bookstore. I'd lost my US hardcover, titled No Mercy, and so was very happy to find this version. Basically, O'Hanlon travels into the Congo to see the elusive pygmy elephant. While there, civil war breaks out, all of his bribes and agreements with the central government go out the window, he gets sick, and everything just goes to hell. He barely makes it out alive. One of the great, truly surreal (and funny) travel narratives of all time.

In Evil Hour by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Avon) - I'd never heard of this short novel by Marquez, and so was delighted to pick up a paperback of it.

3000 MPH In Every Direction At Once: Stories and Essays by Nick Mamatas (Prime Books) - Boy, the sophomoric attempt at introduction-as-parody-of-introduction by Zoe Trope that opens this book is bad, bad, bad. What follows is...well, 3000 mph in every direction. There's no guiding principle at work here, nothing to tie it all together, except Mamatas' unique voice. Thankfully, he's got a strong voice and a strong writing style. Although I enjoyed the essays more than the fiction, it's a collection worth picking up.

A Right to Be Hostile: A Boondocks Treasury by Aaron McGruder (Three Rivers Press) - Hilarious political, cultural, and societal commentary in cartoon form, with an African American slant. I only experienced five installments of this cartoon in the local paper before they pulled it, so this treasury was a god-send. More pointed and confrontational than Doonesbury without sacrificing a certain subtleness.

School for the Blind by Dennis McFarland (Ivy Books) - I don't know why I picked this up, but it looks interesting. A man toward the end of his life returns to his home town only to find the past catching up with him. Not a thriller--it looks like a book Peter S. Beagle might have written if Beagle wasn't interested in the fantastical. Anyway, I'm hopeful...

The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart (Riverhead Books) - Lots of hype, could be trashy, but it looks like it's alive and kicking and vivacious even if it winds up sucking.


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