Sep 1 2015

Books completed in August 2015

1. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
2. Rupetta by N.A. Sulway
3. Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho
4. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (audio book) by Susanna Clarke
5. Highku: 4 & 20 Poems About Marijuana (chapbook) by Brennan ‘B Deep’ DeFrisco
6. House and Home (chapbook) by Jaz Sufi
7. Reflections by Jocelyn Deona De Leon
8. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
9. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr.
10. The 2013 Rhysling Anthology, edited by by John C. Mannone

In progress at the end of the month: The Martian by Andy Weir

REVIEWS:

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Aug 31 2015

SciFi Reading

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr.

Man is an animal whose dreams come true and kill him. 
— from “On the Last Afternoon”

One of my goals this year was to start reading books that have won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, which is presented for stories that explore aspects of gender, primarily in SciFi and Fantasy. Since I was reading these award winners, I figured I should also read some of the work by the author after whom the award is named. James Tiptree, Jr. is a pseudonym for Alice Bradley Sheldon (and had a second pen name, Raccoona Sheldon), who wrote hard science fiction for years without readers knowing she was a woman.

Tiptree is a perfect namesake for this award because so many of her own stories explore gender and sexuality in challenging and innovative ways. These stories are intelligent, sometimes challenging, and often bleak.

“The Screwfly Solution,” which is one of the best short stories I’ve read in years, involves increasing numbers of attacks by men against women. Bits of news clips, letters, and diary entries are placed alongside the main narrative of a man trying to make it home to his wife and daughter amid the mounting chaos. The ending is fatalistic and powerful, haunting.

In “The Women Men Don’t See” a journalist on a trip into Mexico takes a flight on a small plane with a mother and daughter, whom he finds unsettlingly independent and not fitting into his expectations of how women should be. I can’t say much more about the story without giving too much away, but the exploration of gender roles becomes increasingly explicit.

“With Delicate Mad Hands” is the story of a woman with a facial deformity who has lived her entire life unloved by her fellow human beings who mock and abuse her. She perseveres through an inner secret drive to leave Earth’s solar system behind her, and she achieves this one day by stealing a ship and steering it solo to the stars. There is so much more to the story than that short description, but I don’t want to say anymore. Although as dark as any other of Tiptree’s stories, this was also sweet and romantic.

Another subset of stories explore sexual behavior through alien bodies and include stories such as “Love is the Plan the Plan is Death,” “On the Last Afternoon,” and “A Momentary Taste of Being.” The alien-ness of these creatures or beings is startling and often destructive to human existence.

Other stories reflect on moral complexities of human society. “The Last Flight of Doctor Ain,” for example presents bits and pieces of Doctor Ain’s last flight told through the points of view of the people who meet him along his journey (again, this tells too little, but it really is a thrilling story). In “We Who Stole the Dream” an alien race enacts a revolt against humanity which holds them captive, breaking free from slavery and suffering, only to find that the home they are returning to is not the dream-come-true they expected.

Although I didn’t necessarily love every story, reading this brick-thick collection was a fantastic experience. Tiptree was an amazing writer, a master of the genre. Her work is a must read for any science fiction fan.

The 2013 Rhysling Anthology

Edited by John C. Mannone

This is not really a review, because this anthology contains one of my poems. (I received my contributor’s copy two years ago and it’s taken me that long to getting around to actually reading it.)

The anthology, published by the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA), comprises works nominated for the Rhysling Awards, which recognizes the best speculative poems published in the previous year. Below are the winners; I’ve included links to poems or poets, where I could find them.

Winners in the Short Poem Category:

First Place: “The Cat Star” by Terry A. Garey

Second Place: “Futurity’s Shoelaces” by Marge Simon

Third Place: “Sister Philomela Heard the Voices of Angels” by Megan Arkenberg

Winners in the Long Poem Category:

First Place: “Into Flight” by Andrew Robert Sutton

Second Place: “String Theory” by John Philip Johnson

Third Place (tie): “The Time Traveler’s Weekend” by Adele Gardner and
“The Necromantic Wine” by Wade German

In related news, I’ve decided to join the SFPA. In a large part this was to receive copies of the various publications as they come out, because I love speculative poetry, as well as to be able to participate in future voting when the time comes.


Aug 31 2015

Progress continues and it feels good

Giveaway! Today is the last day to sign up for the The Walls Around Us giveaway.

This weekend I fell into the black hole of baby love, staying two nights at my sister’s house and letting the little ones laughter (and occasional tears) wash over me. Time slipped away and all the things I needed to get done, should get done, didn’t matter, because there were my niece and nephew splashing in the creek with redwoods towering above and because tiny hugs and bitty kisses.

Besides, I got plenty done in during the work week and even made it out to Cito.FAME.Us open mic on Thursday night, where I was able to visit with friends, hug it out with amazing MC Lindsey Leong, listen to gorgeous music from Alice Chen, the other half of Q&A, and to share some of my own words.

What I’m Reading

I am almost done with The 2013 Rhysling Anthology, which contains so many amazing speculative poems in a range of styles.

Next up, I have The Martian by Andy Weir, which is about an astronaut who gets left behind on Mars and has to figure out how to survive. I have heard so many great things about this book and I can’t wait to get started.

What I’m Writing

Poetry continued to be my main focus at the moment, from collaborative poems to individual poems and slow work on a novel in poems. Several poem drafts were started last week and one was finished. Progress continues and it feels good.

I have only recently discovered Google Docs, a wondrous invention that allows me to work collaboratively and to continue working on a single document from multiple locations, including my phone. Why oh why have I not used this before?

Published! Drink by Laura Madeline Wiseman is an amazing collection of poetry about mermaids and the horrors of being a teenage girl. My review was published this weekend over at Rhizomatic Ideas.

Submitted: A poem was sent off to The Plot.

Goal(s) for this week: Relook at my recently submitted and rejected chapbook to see what I can add or remove to make it stronger.

Linky Goodness

  • The amazing Lise Quintana wrote a powerful piece on What Happens When You Tell A Woman She’s Being ‘Dramatic’ – “With four words, my overwhelming feelings of fear and sadness were dismissed as invalid, and I was made aware that telling adults the things that scared me would never result in those adults trying to make me feel safe and loved. It would result in adults telling me that my fear was ridiculous, and that my perceptions of the world were wrong. That I could not trust my own feelings and should keep them to myself.”
  • The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy“Today’s covert version of white supremacy is a lot more subtle than having black overseers beat their fellow slaves. Nor is this power the same as buying or selling your slaves children for a good price, using black children as alligator bait, cutting open pregnant black women, castrating black men, generational rape and molestation of black women and men, and lynchings of those who were accused of making whites nervous. This is something more subtle than that. The ruling class has begun to employ a particularly clever passive tactic to remain in power while denying this power. They pretended this was the natural way for society to function and influenced perception by using double standards in language as a starting point.”

Aug 28 2015

Three Mini Reviews for Three Mini Chapbooks of Poetry

I picked up each of these little books after being present at a reading by the authors, each of whom is a great performer with a unique and powerful voice. If you have the chance to catch them at any one of the many poetry events around the San Francisco bay area, I highly recommend you go have a listen.

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House and Home

by Jaz Sufi

Hand made with a string binding, House and Home is a gift of words, expressing raw wounds of body and heart, mind and soul. The poems explore love and its failures. They address the lives of women, revealing how they are damaged, while revealing a strength that allows them to reclaim their own power. What a gorgeous little collection.

Poetry is not the ship.
Poetry is not the captain.
Life is a constant storm, and poetry
is what we make of the wreckage,
what we cling to alone in the ocean.

— from “Better a Blacksmith Than a Writer, a Carpenter Than a Poet”

Jaz Sufi is a poet, a Bay Area native, and the slammaster of the Berkeley Slam, the longest running poetry slam in California.

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Reflections

by Jocelyn Deona De Leon
2005

Although only about the size of my hand, I don’t know if I can quite call Reflections mini at 62 pages.This collection is introspective and soulful, alternating between diary entries exploring and reflecting the author’s emotional space to individual poems sending messages to the world. These poems call upon the reader to ground themselves in the present moment, to look inside themselves, and to feel the world deeply.

moments flutter by like
butterfly wings slowly
floating you away from me.

i cannot catch you
because your freedom is exquisite.
it is the most explicit reminder that
the only way to love free is
to free love.

— from “Complicated Simplicity”

Jocelyn Deona de Leon writes poetry inspired by her Pilipino ancestral heritage and reflecting on experience through the eyes of love (see bio). She has toured nationally, sharing her words and energy with youth at various elementary, high school, and college campuses.

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Highku: 4 & 20 Poems About Marijuana

by Brennan ‘B Deep’ DeFrisco
Lucky Bastard Press, 2015

I don’t smoke, so normally I wouldn’t be interested in a book of poetry about pot. But when I saw this tiny, adorable little book, I couldn’t help but pick it up. The poems inside follow the traditional haiku 5-7-5 syllable format. Each tiny poem contains a single thought, some witty, some perceptive. A fun little read.

Nixon’s solution
for Vietnam protesters:
Arrest them for pot

Brennan ‘B Deep’ DeFrisco likes words and the way they move. He is an organizer and performer at the Berkeley Poetry Slam and will represent them for the second time in the upcoming 2015 National Poetry Slam. He is a co-founder of Lucky Bastard Press.


Aug 24 2015

Watching and Reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

I read Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, the story of two very different and contrary magician who bring magic back to England in the early 1800s, years ago. It blew me away with its wit and complex magical world building, mixing actually historical events with invented ones. So, of course, I was unable to contain my squee when I learned that the BBC was going to make a mini-series of the book. The trailers were fantastic, which just added to my glee.

I gathered together with friends over a series of Saturday nights to watch. I was not disappointed.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

One of the most important things for me was that the adaptation capture the qualities of the two main characters — Strange and Norrell — both intelligent, flawed and arrogant in their own way. Eddie Marsan is particularly fantastic Norrell, capturing the shrinking, shrewd, hoarding qualities of the character. Sometimes he appears rat-like in his fussy white wig, which is exactly how I imagined the character. Bertie Carvel is also wonderful in his role as Strange, revealing the arrogance and flightiness behind the handsome face and charm.

There are also a ton of side characters from the book and the mini-series does a good job of trying to cover them all and tell each of their stories despite the limitations of TV screen time. Not every portrayal was perfect (Childermass could have been more foreboding and the Gentleman with the thistledown hair could have hair that was more like thistledown), but most were handled well.

Strange on the King's Roads

Strange on the King’s Roads.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a rather large book (800+ pages if I remember correctly) representing a story that spans many years and, thus, it must have been a difficult book to adapt. Although the mini-series was seven episodes long, I could easily imagine a version that was ten or more episodes long and that’s without including all the footnotes with additional stories that could never make it on screen.

The writers did an excellent job distilling as much of the plot as possible, merging scenes and characters in some places, removing others where they needed to, while maintaining the clarity of the storyline as much as possible. Of all the seven episodes, I was only confused once when several story points were tightened up into a ten minute span (or so). I noticed they changed Strange’s character and his relationship to his wife some, making him a more romantic figure and their story more of a romance than the book portrayed. I suppose this makes sense, as it makes Strange more sympathetic and the magicians more heroic during the final battle.

The changes didn’t bother me, partly because it had been so long since I read the book I didn’t remember many of the details. But even so, any annoyances would have been minor, as on the whole watching Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was great fun.

(Although one of my favorite moments in watching was listening to my friend rant about the absurdity of men’s pants in that time period. I wish I could remember half of the things she said, so I could quote them here.)


“Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. “I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, “but a gentleman never would.”

Of course, as soon as I finished the mini-series, I knew I needed to reread the book so that I could become reacquainted with all that I had forgotten and was left out of the mini-series — most notably the footnotes. So, I listened to the novel on the audio book performed by Simon Prebble, who was fantastic.

There is SOOOOOO much that the mini-series left out (one of my favorite footnotes was the story of the statue of the Virgin Mary brought to life to catch a murderer). The story is rich with humor and interesting side stories. Stephen Black’s character in particular is much fuller and more interesting in the novel, as he is a well educated black man, working as a servant in a country that will never see him as anything more than a novelty. There are also subtle and not-so-subtle references the uncomfortable restrictions of women’s roles.

Clarke has created an amazingly rich historical world, full of imaginary books and complex magical histories, poetry and prophecies. I was dazzled all over again by how great her writing and wit and storytelling is. Although the miniseries is fun and wonderful and everything it should be, it’s nothing to the extent of awesome that is the book (no surprise, I’m sure, to most readers). This is to say, if you haven’t read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell yet, you most definitely should.

“There is nothing else in magic but the wild thought of the bird as it casts itself into the void. There is no creature upon the earth with such potential for magic. Even the least of them may fly straight out of this world and come by chance to the Other Lands. Where does the wind come from that blows upon your face, that fans the pages of your book? Where the harum-scarum magic of small wild creatures meets the magic of Man, where the language of the wind and the rain and the trees can be understood, there we will find the Raven King.”

__________