December 2009


November: In which I traditionally read short fiction instead of novels

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #41: :)

Suburban Glamour – Jamie McKelvie: Graphic novel – a simple, slightly dark, fun modern fairy tale, with beautifully clean art which doesn’t look flat.

The Enemy – Lee Child: I started this in October, which is why it appears in an otherwise novel-free zone. Set early in Jack Reacher’s career, it is military police procedural/murder mystery/thriller set on and around New Year’s Eve at the end of the cold war and the consequent reordering of priorities in the armed forces.  I like Child’s straightforward plotting and style and the noir-ish narrator’s voice, and the setting was interesting and effective although suffered (for me) from the old contrast between a book set in a particular era and a book written then – so, Reacher is no Jack Ryan, but then who is?

Dreaming Again – Jack Dann (ed.): This is a very good anthology. It is a large selection of short speculative fiction stories by Australian authors, and necessarily I may appreciate many of them without falling in love with all of them – this isn’t meant to be faint praise by any means, but it has a wide range of styles and genres, some of which hit my buttons and some of which didn’t. I was struck, reading them, by the general high quality of the stories (over my scattered, unreviewed short story reading of the year), and there were many individual stories and elements of stories which really appealed to me. Memorable mentions include: Richard Harland’s “A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead” which I actually read last year and remember primarily because that was when I realised that of all the authors I’ve heard, Richard’s writing is the closest to how he speaks – it’s like having him sitting in my head talking; Adam Browne’s really quite attractive handling of tricky territory (Michael Jackson) in “Neverland Blues” – lovely colours in this one, too; a world of railways and crossroads which I’d like to see more of in Sara Douglass’ “This Way to the Exit”; the demonstration by Cecilia Dart-Thornton that an Australian setting could be combined with a rich and romantic style of storytelling; Jason Fischer’s peculiarly apt description of his own story “Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh” as “George Romero meets Mad Max”, although few of the reviews of this story mention the Danish invasion; the decayed richness of Peter M Ball’s “The Last Great House of Isla Tortuga”. And many more – there are some fabulous authors in this book, and it goes a long way towards redressing my irrational but recurring concern that all Australian speculative fiction is bleak, hot and post-apocalyptic (well, some of it is).

Dr Horrible one-shot comic: Great backstory for the main character of Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog (which, if you have not seen, you should track down!), and endearingly recognisable characters. Missed the one-liners and the music.

The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr Punch – Neil Gaiman, ill. Dave McKean: Family history or fantasy, unless the two are necessarily co-existent. A very slow, elegant, unsettling comic/heavily illustrated story of decayed seaside arcades, family stories lost and changed by time and memory, and the rich dark world of Punch and Judy shows.

Phonogram – The Singles Club 2.1-2.4 – Kieron Gillen, ill. Jamie McKelvie, et al: I’ll probably do a more thorough review at some point in the future, when all issues are out and read, but I really like the structure of this – each issue retelling the same evening in the same club from the point of view of different characters whose stories overlap and illuminate each other – and McKelvie’s clean, graphic art as well as the glossaries of music and musicians referenced in the comic (after each episode I would sit down and educate myself on YouTube).

The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm – Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow (ed.): An anthology of short stories drawing on tales of the fae from many countries – English, celtic, Japanese, Australian, Brazil… I loved this from the header illustrations by Charles Vess right down to the author summaries. Wild and tame and beautiful, heart-rending, ridiculous, many-coloured. Highlights included (but are not limited to): Delia Sherman’s personification of the NY Public Library catalogue system in “CATNYP”; Kelly Link’s tall, fabulous tale of second hand clothing stores and hidden kingdoms in “The Faery Handbag”; the terrible imprisonment of the denizens of Peter Pan’s island in Bruce Glassco’s “Never Never”; the hapless eponymous narrator of Patricia A McKillip’s “The Undine” (a story which managed to be at once tragic, hopeful and hysterical); the beautifully matter-of-fact main character of Gregory Maguire’s tale of age and war and home in “The Oakthing”; and the intense gentle nostalgia of Jeffrey Ford’s day-long “The Annals of Eelin-Ok”

Flight #1: Anthology of short comics acquired for educational purposes: with widely varying styles and some genuine beauty and humour.

December: In which Dickens slowed everything down

Canal Dreams – Iain Banks: Apparently the author doesn’t know quite what to make of it either. It was short. It was intriguing. It did make me want to read another of his books. And being able to describe it as a “literary novel with ninja cellists in Panama” is probably adequate justification for reading it.

The Fantastic Mr Fox – Roald Dahl: I bought this for one of my nephews and reread it on the train. It was my favourite Dahl growing up, and my mother disapproved (she says she didn’t care to support Dahl because his personal life was not consistent with being promoted as a family man, but for some reason I remember her taking against this book particularly). Now – it’s still problematic and fun and over-the-top, but mostly I was struck by how much David Tennant’s portrayal of Doctor Who reminds me of Mr Fox.

The Dragonfly Pool – Eva Ibbotson: This is the childrens/YA counterpart to Ibbotson’s adult A Song For Summer (as Journey to the River Sea is the counterpart to A Company of Swans) and so the setting (pre WWII England and Europe) and characters (mysterious brooding naturalists, stunning artist model/cooks, intense kind girls who want to mend the world)  and the eccentric school will be familiar. I did not love it as much as A Song For Summer, but it was charming and fun and although it is a very recent novel it has, like so many of her non-fantasy novels, a wonderful early-modern, 1930s, I Capture the Castle, Enchanted April, sweet, slightly amoral, English feel, which fascinates me. Also, like DWJ, Ibbotson’s books always make me want to go outside and do things.

The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold: I was surprised that I enjoyed this – it was so popular that I expected not to.  But it was well-crafted, I liked the structure, the characters were enjoyable, it was interestingly a-religious in imagery and it explored some very intriguing viewpoints – by which I do not mean the murder-victim-point-of-view, but rather the exploration of the characters of her family as people beyond (or trapped by) the stereotypes of mother, father, sister (etc) of the murdered girl. It reminded me strongly of Dürrenmatt’s Das Versprechen (translated as The Pledge, I haven’t read it in English or seen the Sean Penn film, but the book is excellent), particularly in relation to the ending which in both books wasn’t traditionally happy, but was still satisfying. It’s not perfect (and the title is come by awkwardly) but very readable and enjoyable. The movie, however, managed to be nominally faithful to the book while completely abandoning the sense, internal logic and character development of the novel.

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Last Illustration Friday entry for 2009!

Illustration Friday: Pioneer

On Monday I retrieved the axe from the garage (one of those things I shouldn’t carry around barefoot) and my father’s old akubra (the headrest on the chair doesn’t let him wear them anymore, but he always had two – one work and one good) from the hatstand and talked my mother into a long-sleeved shirt and outside to pose for reference photos.

My parents left Brisbane and bought a cattle property 6 hours further inland when I was two. I am led to understand my father promised my mother a little cottage in the country, and maintains that is what he gave her. She talks about moving into the tiny house in a treeless paddock, with a wood stove, mosquito larvae in the bathtub and a party-line phone (our number was Jackson 6K) and standing, barefoot, holding me by one hand and my sister on her hip, watching her husband ride off to work on a horse. I don’t think she’d even had time to fully acclimate to living in Australia at that point.

Brush and ink (practice for a project) with colour added in Photoshop. The border is made of twigs from the branch in the blue bird gift tag.

And entirely unrelated – the highlight of my day today was going into the hardware on the way home from work and asking the rather dour, middle-aged lady who helped me if she knew what sort of weight skipping ropes were, only to have her pull out a length and execute a few very energetic turns by way of a test. I tried it out when I got home (startling the bats and cane toads) and feel appropriately inadequate.

Illustration Friday: Undone

I may have gone a little overboard with the textures here… Pen drawing with colour and texture added in Photoshop. I was drinking tea (pretty much my base state) at the computer and using an old pressed-metal coaster, so I scanned that in as well and used it for the textures.

The real boots are plain black, and I love them – they are the most comfortable shoes I have owned and I have spent a whole evening dancing in them (in these socks and a black brocade regency dress with a train) without a twinge.

And as a Christmas present, I have put up some gift tags which you are welcome to print and use.

Spent the afternoon with friends, watching the Muppet Christmas Carol, which *I* think is the truest movie version of the book. Also, creme brulee! It was raining, but on the way home I stopped at the nursery to find a tree which could do double service as a Christmas tree, but didn’t buy anything, and then I walked down to the wilderness by the creek at the end of our street but couldn’t find anything suitable (and the grass was long and wet and tangled around my feet, and I was wearing sandals). So I came home, hung a branch over the entryway and put some baubles over it, then settled down to make gift tags and listen to the Go-Betweens and War Child: Heroes.

Blue bird tag

These are pen drawings of birds from my box of decorations (which is why the second one has an alligator clip instead of legs) perched on part of my garden (above) and a branch of fake berries (below), then coloured on the computer.

Pink bird tag

I’ve made up a sheet of variations – two of these print to an A4 sheet of sticker paper (although you could print them to card with a ribbon).

Gift tags

There is a larger version here. Please feel free to use them (Merry Christmas!) for personal use (but please don’t repost the image – you can link to this post or the Flickr page).

I should probably go stop my sister’s dog from barking at possums.

It has been an at-work-till-10:30pm sort of week, so I unwound a bit tonight by unpacking my Christmas ornaments and listening to the Go-Betweens. This being my first Christmas with my own house, it is a very small collection, but there are now hand-painted hearts on the cords of the blinds and a wire-and-glass-leaf wreath (and a push pin) on the front door. Still, for such a small collection, I found some surprises.

Illustration Friday: Hatch

There is a clean version of this picture, but I prefer it with the pencil lines and the texture of the paper. Pencil and Photoshop. Two of the ornaments are from the box, but the squid-grenade is really a cloisonne bauble, and very colourful (and, I think, empty).

This is for the Tor.com Lovecraft art jam again, as well as for Illustration Friday.

You make my heart sing

My contribution to ArtSpark Theatre’s altered photograph art challenge. Old photograph altered in Photoshop. I’ve been wanting to do something Sendaky (a side-effect of admiring the lovely art on Terrible Yellow Eyes), but even trying to echo Sendak’s techniques in Where the Wild Things Are gives me so much respect for what he could do.

My favourite Sendak, however, is still One was Johnny.

‘Then here,’ said the old gentleman, ‘is a little manuscript, which I had hoped to have the pleasure of reading to you myself. I found it on the death of a friend of mine – a medical man, engaged in our County Lunatic Asylum – among a variety of papers, which I had the option of destroying or preserving, as I thought proper. I can hardly believe that the manuscript is genuine, though it certainly is not in my friend’s hand. However, whether it be the genuine production of a maniac or founded upon the ravings of some unhappy being (which I think more probable), read it, and judge for yourself.’[1]

Tor.com is having a Lovecraft month, including a Lovecraft art jam. My first Lovecraft was At the Mountains of Madness, set in Antarctica during Mawson’s second expedition, and pretty much finished off what was left of any urge I had to visit the Antarctic after I was exposed to This Accursed Land (from which I learned to fear crevasses, and that if you eat your huskies’ livers you will go mad and the soles of your feet will fall off). The highlight of the novel was, of course, the six-foot tall, albino, blind, cave-dwelling penguins which, as far as I recall, don’t do anything more overtly threatening than mill around in the dark, softly muttering “tekeli-li”. But still – six-foot penguins!

Accordingly, below is a quick and very rough sketch layout of yet another reason to fear crevasses.

Tekeleli

[1] Having no volumes of Lovecraft to hand, I had to make do with the nearest alternative. This excerpt is from Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers.

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