A process illustration, for this Illustration Friday topic “Sharp”. It was late, I’d spent the afternoon cutting out tiny stars, dragonflies and astronauts, and the obvious response to being asked how I did it was to illustrate the process. (Well, first I answered “tiny little knives”). This is a digitally coloured and textured version of the original cut-paper illustration, which really is very tiny. Soundtrack: The Allusionist and CatastropheCast. I’m working my way through the Radiotopia stable of podcasts, and will soon need new recommendations, particularly for anything comparable to Seven Wonders of the Industrial Age or Aircrash Investigations.
July 5, 2015
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July 1, 2015
- The Magician’s Guild – Trudi Canavan: A long overdue reading, and I don’t have a whole lot to say because it was just so nice to (a) read a classic Canavan and (b) read a traditional fantasy novel with thieves’ guilds and magician’s colleges and dirty city politics and… yes, it was comfortably satisfying. And then I got to go to Continuum and eat a lot of cake with Trudi, which is a highlight of the year.
- Beautiful Darkness – Kerascoët and Fabien Vehlmann: Aaargh. Aaaaargh!!! Ughhhhhh! This was a birthday present from Angela Slatter and I understand this was the intended effect. It’s gorgeous but – eeeeep!
- The Game of Kings – Dorothy Dunnett:
- This book this boooooook. I cried on the plane and still just kind of want to roll around on the floor chewing on the pages, so I’m not sure I can corral my thoughts into any sort of coherent order.
- Quite apart from being the BEST BOOK EVER it is fascinating to read it in a continuum of influences – tracing the echoes of Sayers in Dunnett, and recognising the impact of Dunnett on Kushner. I love these cross-genre family trees: crime to historical to fantasy in this case, or the way Ibbotson and Heyer’s romances show up in science fiction writing (and occasionally in science fiction bookshops).
- Marie Brennan just wrote a post on Tor.com about Dunnett’s writing, and all of it (and so much more) is true: Five Things Epic Fantasy Writers Could Learn from Dorothy Dunnett.
- I have made my housemate read it. She was “eh” when I left this afternoon, but when I came back and asked how it was going she threw all the cushions at me.
- Double Exposure – Kat Clay:
- A rather dashingly designed little novella (kudos to Crime Factory on the presentation, it’s quite delightful in the hand). Weird noir.
- Unless there is a clear signal, I don’t usually read the narrator as a character in third-person viewpoints. It isn’t unusual for hardboiled fiction to be in first person, but Double Exposure is in third person, and while it is fairly close third, the fact we are never given the Photographer’s name is distancing. As a result, this novella has given me Thoughts about the role of the observer in weird noir.
- I met Kat Clay at Continuum in Melbourne, where she dressed as Furiosa for the Maskobalo, so I had Mad Max in my mind when I read this, particularly recent discussions about the role of Mad Max as observer (i.e., seeing the story through the framework of his presence in it, but not having it actually be about him).
- I want to read more about the city of Portview because I’m interested in that observer’s point of view – how they can follow characters through the veils of film, and the fact that they are unfased by it. Perhaps that is part of the charm of weird fiction: the character of the author/narrator and their approach to reality, as much as the world and events.
- Devil’s Cub – Georgette Heyer: I was explaining to Angela Slatter why I love the cover art for this novel, and talked myself into needing to read it again right away. Here are Mari Ness’s thoughts on what should be a more problematic book than it is: Refining the Rake as Hero. Importantly, however, it has hands-down my favourite Heyer cover art (and I do love the J. Oval/Ben Ostrick covers: image search his name and you will be rewarded):
- The Ivy Tree – Mary Stewart: I find the pacing of a lot of gothic novels a little trying, but I was reading this on the heels of Dunnett and Heyer, who for all their words keep on a fairly cracking (melo)dramatic pace. Quite interesting to read against Jane Eyre. Some gorgeous description. I’m not sure the type of narrator works with the first person pov here? I chose this on a recommendation but others assure me it is ‘more for the Stewart completist’.
- An Infamous Army – Georgette Heyer: I read this because I did not realise it featured more of the family from These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub as well as the characters from Regency Buck. Mari Ness’ reread (A Recreation of War) also introduced me to the Best Wikipedia Article Ever (you’ll have to look at her post to get the link). She took issue with some of the recurring characters, so I am now of course rereading Regency Buck in order to take issue with that (I do in fact see her point, but still…). I have to share the cover for this too, because it is a James E. McConnell and the BEST of all the Infamous Army covers, not least because it stars a young Endora, and because the thought of a book with this cover getting set as reading at a military college charms and delights me (although less than Lord Uxbridge’s leg):
- Unraveled – Courtney Milan: Assigned reading in my self-imposed, Peter M. Ball guided course of study of How Romance Fiction Is Done. I’m still collating my broader thoughts, but I will just point out that Milan makes law jokes! Yay for law jokes! I understand in another of her novels she even invokes the rule against perpetuities…
- Jurassic World: Basically Jumanji crossed with Romancing the Stone with a faint hint of Alien. Also this article from The Toast kept running through my head: If the Velociraptor from Jurassic Park Were your Girlfriend. I won’t say I cried twice, but I will say that I would pay to watch a whole movie of people exploring the ruins of the original Jurassic Park as it is gradually reclaimed by the jungle. (And I’ll give it this: all the dumbest moves were acknowledged in-movie). Also, this remains one of my favourite movie themes (along with the main theme from The Man from Snowy River).
- The Woman in Gold: The story of the recovery of ownership of the Klimt painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer, stolen in WWII and held in an Austrian art gallery. Restrained, gentle, horrible, beautiful. Mirren and Maslany are a class act, and Maslany glows.
June 24, 2015
Ticonderoga Publications has announced the table of contents for its new dark urban fantasy anthology Bloodlines, edited by Amanda Pillar and scheduled for October.
- Joanne Anderton “Unnamed Children”
- Alan Baxter “Old Promise New Blood”
- Nathan Burrage “The Ties of Blood, Hair and Bone”
- Dirk Flinthart “In The Blood”
- Rebecca Fung “In the Heart of the City”
- Stephanie Gunn “The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth”
- Kelly Hoolihan “The Stone and the Sheath”
- Kathleen Jennings “The Tangled Streets”
- Pete Kempshall “Azimuth”
- Martin Livings “A Red Mist”
- Seanan McGuire “Into the Green”
- Anthony Panegyres “Lady Killer”
- Jane Percival “The Mysterious Mr Montague”
- Paul Starkey “The Tenderness of Monsters”
- Lyn Thorne-Adder “Lifeblood of the City”
- S. Zanne “Seeing Red”
It includes my story “The Tangled Streets”, which I wrote several years ago after getting happily lost in Darlinghurst on a crisp autumn day. It’s about streets and city-time and emergency maps, among other things.
June 22, 2015
- Trouble in Triplicate (“Before I Die”, “Help Wanted, Male”, and “Instead of Evidence”) – Rex Stout: More Nero Wolfe (but mostly, more Archie Goodwin). Very enjoyable, although they don’t stand out particularly in my memory.
- I continue to be charmed and amused by the women in these stories, particularly seen against current discussions on representation in shows and stories written now but set then. While not unproblematic, there are a LOT of them, and very different, even if Archie is judgemental. I spend a lot of these books going, “Oh, ARchie!”
- I love too how Archie’s point of view, even though he is the first person narrator, is not uncritiqued by the author.
- Middlemarch – George Eliot: I read this to do an illustration of it for Litographs! Some of my thoughts on it are in that post (Middlemarch illustration). It’s a study in the gentle weight and power of cumulative, well-written volume. I really, really liked it, and am not sure I can fully distill my thoughts yet. Three aspects I’ve been referring to frequently, of late, are:
- the *smallness* of society in the book;
- the way it captures how consequences in life frequently seem inevitable and acceptable when you experience them even though a bland description of them would be melodramatic; and
- how Eliot doesn’t pretend not to be writing a historical novel, and alludes at times to events “then” or “in those days”, etc.
- My Antonia – Willa Cather: After Middlemarch, this was beautifully slim (pages) and crisp (the sentences). Not a criticism, just a contrast! A fascinating view of a predominantly immigrant culture, of a world moving between raw survival and ‘civilisation’.
- Really interesting to read only a few months after Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, because it is set perhaps 50 years later and the lifestyle, landscape and some events resonate (I also just realised Burial Rites takes place the same year as Middlemarch, speaking of small societies and consequences).
- And speaking of small societies… oh, the agoraphobic smallness of prairie towns!
- It is also roughly contemporaneous with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood (and Seven Little Australians, although written earlier than the first and later than the second), and it is fascinating to think of these frontier childhoods happening at a time when Alcott and Coolidge’s comparatively urbane stories would have been out for several years.
- Basically, it was a book I liked far more than I expected to: adventurous, charming, intriguing, awful, vital, gentle, uncompromising, and with plenty of story.
- A Certain Justice – P. D. James: I… neither loved nor hated this? Possible I have been spoiled by the Sarah Caudwell novels. I could appreciate the masterly writing and observation, but I didn’t want to get into the world, so it wasn’t quite my brand of murder mystery.
- Pegasus – Robin McKinley: Not my favourite McKinley, either – too much beginning. I had a similar issue with A Darker Shade of Magic, so your mileage may vary. It was interesting to compare McKinley’s deliberate, patient, pearl-like building of the world with the all-show-no-tell-no-time-to-explain-get-in-the-war-rig approach of Mad Max: Fury Road (shut up they are both stories which in their own ways are entirely of and about the world created).
- Black Dove, White Raven – Elizabeth Wein: Goodness, everything suffered from comparisons in April, at least at first. In case it isn’t clear, this is a recommendation.
- Black Dove, White Raven was not as violently, sense-assaultingly stunning as Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. It skews younger and is paced slower, and I was expecting to be picked up and dumped by it like the other books. But once I realised what a different book it was, I did really enjoy it.
- I fell in love with Ethiopia, and never realised how little I knew about it, or about the late years of the ’30s. And the fact it is a war novel tied to the currents which would become the Second World War, but before that war happens makes the politics fascinating and the tensions unpredictable. Mostly, though, I just want to know a lot more about Ethiopia!
- Also of note: Wein does not write her characters as being particularly extraordinary (although they are!). Momma’s unconventional life and marriage is never presented as such, Teo and Em use other people’s expectations but never fight against their own perceptions. These aren’t “girl power!” books, they are just books about girls (and now Teo) who happen to be doing things. In planes. In war.
- Dior & I – Charming, fascinating, human, unglamorous documentary of people management and fashion. I could watch people working competently indefinitely. There is something very beautiful about people who look normal, and think of themselves as normal, but who are doing fascinating things well as a matter of course (see Black Dove, White Raven above) and due to the little choices they have made, working in the milieu in which they find or put themselves (see Middlemarch).
- Fast & Furious 7 – I was looking forward to this as much as Cinderella (last month) and for very similar reasons. These are such winsome films, and the found/made family so endearing. Also: cars and stunts.
- Age of Ultron – Not hugely disappointing, but a little bit.
- Mad Max: Fury Road – Not disappointing at all. I was sitting in the cinema grinning wildly, thinking, “stylish and classy are not words I expected to apply to this film”. Many, many people have written about the movie, and I recommend Tansy Rayner Roberts‘ thoughts as a starting point. My enduring impressions are:
- It is a marvellous example of consistent, wildly inventive, contained, restrained story design. Lots of people have said there isn’t much story there, but there is. Most of it, however, isn’t spoken.
- More than one of anything is powerful. Having more than one woman takes the pressure of representing (yet standing apart from) all women off a solo character, and means they can be individually awesome, weak, human, furious. But having more than one good man does the same for him. Neither Max nor Nux represent all men. They’re just… them, flaws and all. (I mentioned Rex Stout critiquing a character from within that character’s first-person viewpoint, and he largely does this by having two very different detectives).
- This is the third (but most extreme) recent example I can think of, of people just deciding to love something loudly on the internet, and that is so much fun.
- The thundering, crazed poetry of certain lines.
- San Andreas – Exactly what you’d expect. Exactly what I paid to see.
May 31, 2015
George Eliot’s Middlemarch is a very large book. I know this because I speed-read it last month, and that isn’t actually possible. It is also a very wonderful book: all the summaries, while strictly accurate, make it sound depressing but it isn’t – once you commit to the 1000 pages of it, everything becomes inevitable and deserved and in character. It’s a very tender, human novel. I like it so much.
I am not the only person to feel this way! Due to the machinations of master-conspirator Ellen Kushner, I met Danny Fein and Benjy Brooke of Litographs, and was commissioned to illustrate Middlemarch.
A lot happens in 1000 pages, and the novel has an ensemble-cast, so the process of finding an iconic image was complex. In the end, I simmered the ideas down to a focus on Dorothea’s story (since she begins and ends the novel), and the idea of how the choices we make, the context in which we live and the passage of time all limit the options available to us (I’ve been told that sounds depressing, but spread over 1000 pages it’s almost reassuring). So the sketches featured Dorothea, her husband the elderly, academic Casaubon, Highly Symbolic Trees (TM), and passionate, unsettled Will Ladislaw.
Who lost out in the final design. I listened to many episodes of 99% Invisible in the process of cutting out the final illustration.
The 1830s did not have the best sleeves.
I then scanned the silhouette in and moved a few elements around – detached the bird, extended the line of hills, and so forth – before adding colour, converting it to an appropriate vectorised image and sending it off to Litographs, to be overlaid on text and printed (here is a video of their process).
It can be produced in black and white or other colourways, on posters, wall-clings, tote bags and t-shirts – all through the Litographs website. They also have lots of other books, and are reprinting Alice in Wonderland on people using temporary tattoos, so have a look around while you’re there!