November short book reviews

I was doing NaNoWriMo and decided to read only short stories, partly to catch up on the large pile of anthologies acquired at conventions, and partly because I thought it would suit my concentration reserves. I read and write short stories but am still working out exactly which sorts and structures I like (I’ve worked this out with novels and poems, but my short story reading has been more scattered and interstitial) and this went a way towards helping me solidify my ideas, although I am still structuring them.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #37. Dirk Flinthart’s ‘This is Not my Story’ was probably my favourite, because it reminded me in good ways of Bridge to Terebithia and Peter Pan, and in spite of some darkness and loss of chances and potential had an innocence and hope to it. Eilis O’Neal’s The Unicorn in the Tower also stood out, not so much for the story as for the writing, because it still feels in my head like a tapestry. Jason Fischer’s Rick Gets a Job was exactly the sort of short story I like, structure wise, and the sort of story that really bothers me because I want to know people can fight back and have a chance of succeeding in some small way (this is why I prefer Fahrenheit 451 to 1984, for example) – the combination of deeply depressing story of enslavement and chatty Australian working-class feel also weirded me out (in a good way as far as writing and a bad way as far as my mental calm :).

The Grinding House – Kaaron Warren. Brilliantly written and deeply disturbing. The structure/feel of many of her short stories aren’t in line with what my personal preference is developing to be, but the images – the clay men, the bone flowers (oh, and the entirely fused skeletons of ‘The Grinding House’) – are extremely compelling and lingering. Her short stories do what good short stories can and should do, just not always what I want them to do. This isn’t a criticism – just me working out my personal preferences.

Magic for Beginners – Kelly Link. I should dislike Kelly Link’s story structures because she tends towards open-ended and ambiguous endings which would usually bother me, but she does it like Dianna Wynne Jones does them (i.e. I know there’s an answer there if I just keep rereading the ending) and she writes so beautifully and the stories spin off into so many other stories in my head that I love them all, even the ones that leave me frustrated and puzzled. My hands-down favourites are ‘The Faery Handbag’, which is just marvelous and makes me want to spend more time in op shops, ‘The Hortlak’ for its slow hilarious bizarre convenience-store-world, and ‘Magic for Beginners’ which is just weird and odd and loving and full of idiosyncratic and independent individuals, horror writers and avid fans and phone booths and a very remarkable television show which takes place in the World Library where a girl band called the Norns plays in the basement and the main character is never played by the same actor twice. The last story has been compared to Borges, but if it is Borges it is Borges with a larger heart and an understanding of fantasy fans and a keener sense of humour. You have no idea how glad I am that I have now read some Borges and can actually say this – I feel like having wanted to like Borges I have been rewarded by being able to read Link.

Canterbury 2100 – Flinthart (ed). I just love the structure of this. It is a brilliant structure and if the stories were all horribly weak (which they aren’t at all) I think I would still like the book. I am a sucker, in fact, for tales within tales, and characters interrupting each other, and nested stories and ideas which continue through other ideas (why I love Valente and fairy tale retellings and stories by Link and DWJ that spill off the edge of the page). Inspired by the Canterbury Tales, the stories in the anthology are united not by theme but by setting – the anthology takes place in 2100 in the carriage of a train on its way to Canterbury, whose passengers pass the time during a breakdown by telling stories – hard science fiction, social science fiction, medieval feuds and tournaments, love stories, ghost stories (I will never look at a balloon man without thinking of intestines), fighting against corporations, oppression, fate. I really liked the way the supernatural and superstitious threaded through tales of technology and bare-bones survival. It tended to the bleak – the present of the anthology is not a pleasant one – and some of the stories (the events, not the writing) were just nasty (there are a couple of people – you know who you are – I recommend do not read Ben Bastian’s ‘The Doctor’s Tale’), but there were flashes of beauty in the world as well as the stories and the telling. I think I liked Matthew Chrulew’s ‘The Gnomogist’s Tale’ best, because of the sustained joke about the sequins and the wonderful narrator’s voice which could have been precious but never faltered. Laura E Goodin’s ‘The Miner’s Tale’, which was not a fantasy and not a fairytale retelling and not entirely happy nevertheless managed to hit a lot of my other buttons (see comments above re fighting back and having at least the hint of a ghost of a chance).

Illustration Friday: Clandestine

Clandestine

Never kiss by the garden gate…
Love may be blind, but the neighbours ain’t.

Quite a large scratchboard piece by my standards – 7.5×6.5cm this week! I started with ideas of spies, and Romeo and Juliet, and then was listening to Damien Rice’s version of ‘When Doves Cry’ (I received TripleJ’s Like a Version album for Christmas – yay!), and duly picturing the courtyard, which led to thoughts of Queensland gardens and fishbone ferns and a book of bookplates I borrowed from the library. And here we are.

I have great plans for the new year, because I received wonderful art presents for Christmas: a screenprinting kit, lightbox, Spectrum volumes 15* and 4, the collection of James Jean’s covers for Fables (which I have to read carefully because I don’t want to spoil the last few which I haven’t read yet), a book of Leyendecker’s art and a calendar of 1920s & ’30s travel posters. And the illustrated Stardust and The Graveyard Book, which count because the illustrations in those have me all inspired to start on pen and ink again. Oh, and I bought a book of pulp covers before Christmas, so there’s inspiration all around.

*Congratulations to Leah Palmer Preiss, who has a picture in this volume!

October and November short movie reviews

October

Body of Lies – Workmanlike. It was solidly made, I couldn’t immediately fault it, it was acceptable among its kind and yet it never took off for me. I might have liked it better if I could have seen clearer evidence of Leonardo DiCaprio’s growing love for the country, or if it had concentrated more on technology vs rudimenatry resistance, but otherwise – meh. Didn’t hurt to sit through but didn’t leave me with anything when I walked out.

Max Payne – It might have worked if it had been a fantasy rather than a stock-standard cop story with hallucinations (the hallucinations were pretty cool). It might have worked if they had cast Keanu Reeves instead of Mark Wahlberg (this is not a criticism of either actor, but there is a certain role which Reeves if perfect for (it involves lots of brooding) and it was just painful to watch an actor of Wahlberg’s calibre struggling with the script). And it might have worked if the script had been scrapped and rewritten without using cliches. From conversations I overheard in the cinema foyer, the original game is much funnier and more self-aware. I am trying to make sense of the notes I made, but they were written in the dark two months ago, so I can only make out phrases like: “set ur machine guns to miss”, “how poss, that many ppl w that many bullets can miss one man that many times”, “the van helsing of its genre”, “eye of sauron” (I remember that scene) and “me and my eyebrows” (and I wish I could remember that one).

Burn After Reading – Um. It was like the Cohen Bros decided to make a Wes Anderson film. With sex toys. The acting was brilliant, of course – it was a stellar cast (Tilda Swinton as a pediatrician is truly terrifying) and there were some stunning moments of black comedy, but in spite of having a very funny last few lines the impression it left me with was rather bleak and pointless. I wanted to like it more than I did. Brad Pitt was excellent – he stole the show and given the rest of the cast that is a considerable achievement. He is such a gifted comic actor – I never liked him until I saw Snatch, and in that and Ocean’s 11 and Burn After Reading he has this measured, exuberant, boyish, charming, physical style of acting which is endearing and funny and never tips into gratuitous silliness.

November

Death Race – for what it was… not bad at all, actually.

The Duchess – Why can’t these people just make a Heyer? Seriously. Other than that, the movie was alright. Decently made, not painful, Ralph Fiennes manages to be chillingly sympathetic and Keira Knightly isn’t too bad (I still think that in Pride and Prejudice she was playing Jo March, not Lizzie Bennet).

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time – Seen at the Japanese film festival. Time travel which I suspect might actually work. This is apparently the umpteenth remake of movies of the novel which I wouldn’t mind reading. I’m used to the less stylised Studio Ghibli animation, particularly of faces, so this style took me a while to get used to, but I did enjoy it.

Quantum of Solace – Judi Dench is fabulous. Also, I do not think this was a bad movie, although it wasn’t as good as the first. It had the feel of a second part, and Bond is still not quite Bond yet, but I am thinking of it as the second part of an origin/reboot story and I like origin stories. Also, the choreography of the aerial fight scene. But they do need more gadgets.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People – I’d heard bad reviews for this, but it wasn’t. My sister and I had a great time. I suspect it is one of those movies that gets reviewed according to a misclassification. It is not a comedy in the American Comedy genre, or even in the British Comedy genre. It is a movie of a memoir which happens to be very funny without always needing to follow the cliches to point that out. It could have been painfully embarassing (social interaction is not the main character’s forte) but instead of bogging down in standard scenes the story and the characters move along. Not perfect but better than I expected and it had Christopher Plummer.

October Short Book Reviews

There’ll be a few more of these in the next few days!

Holes – Louis Sachar. I bought this second hand in Paddington at /Karen’s/ prompting (I bought a few things in Paddington that day at her prompting :) and really liked it. It has a real American tall-tale feel.

Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle – Georgette Heyer. Lots of fun, as usual – a young authoress is too clever for her own good and creates thinly disguised characters based on influential members of the society she is about to enter. No Grand Sophy, but then what is?

Lady of Quality – Georgette Heyer. I was prepared to hate Annis Wychwood. Rich, beautiful and with narrow feet, she embodies almost everything that usually cues a character I will dislike. But she was wonderful – smart, independent, strong-willed and clever. By the end of the book I had forgotten that she was bewitchingly pretty (and had narrow feet) and just wanted to set up my own establishment, balance my own books and throw splendid parties.

Faro’s Daughter – Georgette Heyer. I didn’t expect to like this one – something about gambling hells as a setting always turns me off – but it was great. Kidnappings, double-crossings, people biting off their noses to spite their faces and a splendid display of deliberate vulgarity.

April Lady – Georgette Heyer. I’m a fan of Heyer and don’t mind romances of the married-couple-discover-they-are-in-love-after-all variety, so I enjoyed this but otherwise did not find it memorable among her other books, and tended to be more annoyed at the heroine’s choices than inspired by her quick wits and cleverness.

Unbeaten Tracks in Japan – Isabella Bird. Just stunning. Letters from Isabella Bird’s through the interior of Japan accompanied only by her translator (an intriguingly brilliant and amoral individual) and a series of increasingly ill-natured horses. As well as the adventures of the trip, the viewpoints it records are remarkable: Not modern Japan, nor the Japan of the 1800s seen by most European travelers, but the interior of Japan shortly after it first opened to the West, a country which was in the process of transforming itself but which, in the areas through which Bird traveled, was still in many ways unchanged. It is Japan seen by an outsider, but not by a modern outsider, and by a traveler who was also a single, highly educated, highly opinionate and fiercely independent Victorian woman, whose views are sometimes familiar, sometimes very modern, sometimes so distant from what seems now expected or acceptable. It’s a brilliant and fascinating book – as a historical record, travel journal, adventure story, and vivid example of the vicissitudes and difficulties of travelling through pre-industrial landscapes on horseback and therefore an excellent text for fantasy authors.

Bachelor Girls – Betty Israel. Enjoyable, enlightening, interesting account of the representations of single women living alone through the last 100 years. For the most part it wasn’t glorifying or demonising single life, just recording experiences and views of it. Unfortunately it is too lightweight and often reads like an extended magazine article and there are generalisations and oversimplifications, but it made me want to read and know more, and made me see new sides and corners of history and society and it was frequently entertaining. Deb has it at the moment and I am looking forward to hearing her thoughts.

Angel Rising – Dirk Flinthart. I like Dirk Flinthart’s writing a lot (‘The Ballad of Farther on Jones’ was the first SF story to make me cry and it isn’t even sad) and I found this enjoyable and well-written, but it didn’t quite grip me. It may be because I don’t have the background in the New Ceres universe in which it takes place – although I was never lost – or it may be that either the story or I found a novella not quite long enough to really make me like and care about the characters to the extent I wanted to.

Illustration Friday: Voices

Voices

Scratchboard, of course, because I am intent on using up the world’s remaining supply, with the rough edges left in this time because I like the texture. As usual, I have saved the image larger than the original (5 x 7.5 cm or 2 x 3 inches).

This pair of carol singers is a study for a larger group of singers I still wouldn’t mind doing, but probably for next Christmas. I had ambitious plans tonight, but had to do (what I hope is) the final print run of Christmas cards (more about those here). This is not to rule out artistic hijinks tomorrow night, but even I know I should try to exercise some self-restraint and not overdo things (ha! says she who was out every night with Aimee & co from Thursday and at a Darren Hanlon concert with Deb until very late last night and is up to I-don’t-want-to-l00k-at-the-clock tonight).

Hang a Shining Star

"Hang a shining star" 2008 Christmas Card

And here is this year’s Christmas card – a lino print of a magpie and a star (so I didn’t stray too far from the original idea). There have been many print runs and there is a lot of ink in the house, but pretty much all the cards are sent. I keep thinking of people I’ve missed, but on the upside I don’t have to make gift tags this year because all the spoiled prints have been recycled into those.

I managed, of course, not to get a picture of one of the cleaner prints, but I really like this little guy (and have learned a lot about what not to do next time, for e.g., it is ambitious to try and get the same level of detail in lino – even soft-cut lino – as can be achieved in scratchboard).

Block for 2008 Christmas card

My handbag bends the laws of physics

Cross-posted from the Moleskine Exchange 42 blog.

Ann-D's Moly - Moly_x_42

My contribution to Anna-Denise’s “What’s in my bag” moleskine. This is a representative example, not a comprehensive survey (also, not entirely to scale), but I would like to state – for the record – that yes, I do currently have a sonic screwdriver and a furnishing needle in my handbag :). The “Open other end” label is the sticker on the back of my every-day moleskine (I put stickers on them to tell them apart, but I try to scavenge them wherever possible – this was from Reverse Garbage, an offcut store). One of the stamps is from the envelope the book came in. The Melbourne stamp was floating loose in my wallet – I keep them in there in case I am filled with an uncontrollable urge to send postcards, but for the record am from Brisbane, although I have been to Melbourne.

The flickr page is here and you can see it larger here.

I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to get sketchbooks and other projects done, so I took this one to work yesterday and worked on it in Starbucks on the way to work and for a few minutes after I finished. I don’t have a pencil case in my handbag at the moment, so it was drawn straight on with markers which was probably a character-building experience.