Ten Best Anthologies I’ve Read

I think anthologies are the Chinese buffet of writing. You can choose from this or that writer, some of them you’ve never heard of, and, if you like their stories, give their other works a shot. It’s also the midnight snack of reading: just grab a bunch of stuff out of the fridge and enjoy. I think I own more anthologies than any stand-alones because it expands my library far beyond what my limited space and budget allow. I haven’t read all of them, of course, Workin’ on it. But I have read lots of anthologies, and these are the ones I remember with the most fondness, for various reasons:

10. Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery. Published in 1962 for kids, I remember it because I read it as a kid and it helped spur my love of reading. My favorite is The Wonderful Day, by Robert Arthur, which is a be-careful-what-you-wish-for story. Arthur was a West Point graduate who also wrote the Alfred Hitchcock Three Investigators series, which I also read as a kid.

9. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Richard Bausch, 1978. You know a Norton collection is going to show up sometime and somewhere and this one is my favorite because it contains a lot more ‘normal’ stories than I usually spend time with. Although The Rocking Horse Winner by D. H. Lawrence, is hardly normal.

8. The Book of Swords, Gardner Dozois, 2017, and Dozois needs no introduction, especially if you’re into anthologies. He founded the Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies and edited Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine.  I loved this book, and it’s hard to pick a favorite out of it so, coin toss, and I Am a Handsome Man, said Apollo Crow by Kate Elliot wins. 

7. Twilight Zone, the Original Stories. Martin Harry Greenberg, 1985. Greenberg compiled almost 1300 anthologies, and was one of the cofounders of the Syfy channel. This is a collection of the stories that inspired Twilight Zone episodes. My favorite is To Serve Man, by Damon Knight. One of the best last lines in fiction. 

6. Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol 1. Robert Silverberg, 1971. Silverberg is a grandmaster and it’s hard to say whether his work as an editor or writer is the most important. This is a collection of scifi stories written from 1929-1964, my favorite being Nightfall, by Isaac Asimov.

5. There were, apparently, so many good scifi stories written from 1929-1964 that they printed another Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol II but broke it into ‘a‘ and ‘b,’ both edited by Ben Bova. My favorite from ‘a’ is Who Goes There, John W. Campbell, which is what The Thing movies are based on. From ‘b’ it’s The Big Front Yard by Clifford Simak.

4. Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions. Harlan Ellison. You can’t talk about one without the other, but I think the first one is the better, with A Toy for Juliette by Robert Bloch a favorite. Dangerous was published in 1967, all the stories original, while Again was published in 1972. Both were considered cutting edge, avant garde because they were blatantly sexual and brutal. Kind of old hat today. Ellison was a prolific writer and editor who had what we would call an unfortunate personality.

3. Dark Forces. 1980 Kirby McCauley. McCauley was a literary agent who represented some heavy hitters like Stephen King and George R. R. Martin. This is where I first read Stephen King’s The Mist, which remains a favorite.

2. A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, Anthony Boucher, 1959, which came in two volumes and included such great things as Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, and The Man Who Sold the Moon, Robert Heinlein. My favorite is Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave. Boucher was a writer and editor who sometimes used the pseudonym H . H. Holmes, a 19th century serial killer. Read about him in The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson.

1. Tomorrow’s Children. Isaac Asimov. 1966. Obviously an Asimov was going to show up here and of all the ones he did, this is my favorite, with his story, The Ugly Little Boy, being my favorite in the collection.

Posted in Reading itself | Comments Off on Ten Best Anthologies I’ve Read

Top Ten Best Stories I’ve Read

I don’t know how many short stories I’ve read in my life. It’s well over the number of books, so, using 8-years-old as a starting point, figure 2-5 books a month for 60 years, time off for good behavior, maybe … 2-4 thousand. But I read a lot more stories than books, as have you, because stories are how we started. We had Dick and Jane, Dr. Seuss, fairy tales, and on and on from there. Especially because my Dad built a room over the garage which became my bedroom. It was also the place that Dad kept his bootleg muscadine wine and his Playboys. I never had any trouble going to bed. Because of the stories of course. Playboy published a lot of excellent stories and I read them. No, really.

Out of all those stories over all these decades, some of them remain with me. Either a scene or a theme or something that makes me remember them these years later, as follows:

10. The Lonesome Place- August Derleth, 1962. Derleth was a prodigious writer and editor, starting Arkham House Publishing and coining the term “Cthulhu mythos” to categorize the work of his friend, H P Lovecraft. Two boys imagine a monster living in an abandoned silo near their home, scaring each other delightfully. After they grow up, a young boy is mauled near the silo and the two are convinced their imagination created the monster.

9. The Great Nebraska Sea- Allan Danzig, 1963. I can’t find a lot on Danzig. He appears to be an infrequent contributor to Galaxy and wrote a lot more reviews than stories. I believe I read this in Galaxy but not in 1963 because I was too young, so possibly in a later anthology. A series of faults in the Midwest drops the west coast of the US into the ocean. Reading more like a history article, I remember the closing scene of sailors strolling the seaports of Wyoming and Missouri.

8. Passengers, Robert Silverberg, 1970. Silverberg is, of course, writer and editor extraordinaire, even wrote soft porn at one time. This is a brutal story of an alien presence that randomly seizes the minds of people and makes them do unspeakable things. The ending is chilling. 

7. Inconstant Moon, Larry Niven, 1971. Niven wrote Ringworld and, with Jerry Pournelle, has turned out a goodly collection of scifi novels, like The Mote in God’s Eye. People are amazed by how bright the full moon goes one night, until somebody realizes the sun has gone nova and we’ve only got until the earth turns to survive.

6. The Nine Billion Names of God, Arthur C. Clarke, 1953. The grandmaster.  An eastern religious sect believes that if they transcribe the 9 billion names for God, then the universe will end. They purchase a computer to assist them in this, and the two installers scoff at the whole concept. Until …

5. Examination Day, Henry Slezar, 1958. I definitely read this in Playboy. Slezar was a prolific story writer and copywriter who used dozens of pseudonyms. He supposedly coined the term, “coffee break.” In some bleak dystopian future, a kid is getting ready to take mandatory state examinations and is urged by his mother not to study so hard. You’ll soon see why.

4. The Crooked Man, Charles Beaumont, 1955. Beaumont
dropped out of school in tenth grade and joined the Army during the closing days of WW2. He wrote short stories and television episodes and full-length movies and had a lot of influence on other writers like Ray Bradbury and William Nolan. In the future, heterosexuality has been outlawed and those attracted to the opposite sex have to meet furtively or risk internment in a concentration camp, where they will make a new man out of you. Yes, indeed.

3. All Summer in a Day, Ray Bradbury, 1954. I have dozens and dozens of favorite Bradbury stories because he was my favorite author growing up, but this one stands out. It constantly rains on Venus but, once every 7 years, the sun appears for two hours, and a class of elementary students are preparing to go outside and see this. The cruelty of children.

2. A Pail of Air, Fritz Leiber, 1951. I read this in a Science Fiction Book Club anthology. Yeah, I was a member. Sue me. The world has frozen and the only way to breathe is fetch a pail of air and dissolve it slowly over a fire. 

1. It’s a Good Life, Jerome Bixby, 1953. Known more for his script writing, like four episodes of Star Trek, this is Bixby’s best remembered short story, one that was turned into a Twilight Zone episode starring Billy Mumy, and even into a Treehouse of Horror episode. When Little Anthony was born, the doctor screamed and tried to kill him, but Anthony whisked the town away somewhere, don’t know where, and all the townspeople are now his playmates. Even if they don’t want to be.

There is another one but, for the life of me, I cannot remember its title. Set in a dystopia, people are going back and forth to work when an old man starts reminiscing about the better days in the past, causing the workers to stop and listen. So a SWAT unit is sent out to find and arrest him because nostalgia is against the law.

UPDATE: The story is called To the Chicago Abyss, in Ray Bradbury’s The Machineries of Joy. Kudos to @JohnMustReadMore on Youtube for spotting it.

Posted in Reading itself | Comments Off on Top Ten Best Stories I’ve Read

Top Ten Novellas I’ve Read

Call them really long short stories or too-short novels, there’s some good reading in them even as they defy an exact category. Novellete? Yeah, yeah, there’s agreed-upon definitions but who gets to decide that? So I will: if you can finish it before the evening’s out, then it’s probably a novella. Or novellete. Or long short story. Whatever.

10. Beggars in Spain. This is a story about a group of people who, through genetic modification, no longer need to sleep, which makes them vastly more talented and intelligent than everyone else because, well, you’ve got more time to learn things like nuclear physics. And you’d think forgoing sleep would be a good thing but, oh no, it’s not. The title comes from a philosophical stance along the lines of what do productive and talented people owe the beggars in Spain.

9. The Mist

Written back when Stephen King still wrote horror, this is one of his best, although it’s not really horror so much as it’s scifi. Scary scifi, to be sure. An Army experiment breaches a dimension where terrifying monsters live and they pour into the small town of Bridgton, Maine and, actually, the entire world. A really good movie was made out of this which has a completely different ending than the novella, so you can enjoy both.

8. A Boy and his Dog- Harlan Ellison’s brutal post-apocalyptic classic, this has also been turned into a fairly decent movie starring Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame when he was little more than a teenager. The nuclear wars have created a series of mutations allowing an orphan to telepathically connect with his dog so the two of them can survive a truly horrendous world.

7. The Third Man- Graham Greene is an old master of the suspense thriller detective police – you name it – story that rarely has a happy ending. Hack writer Buck Dexter is invited to visit his old friend Harry Lime in post war Vienna, only to arrive just in time for Lime’s funeral. Apparently, he died in an accident. Or was it? Also turned into a decent film with Orson Wells.

6. The Horla- Guy de Maupassant’s best known story in English, I’m guessing, is about a man who waves at a passing ship and, next thing you know, something is living in his house, drinking his water, and driving him slowly insane. Rather creepy 1960s movie made from this called Diary of a Madman.

5. A River Runs Through It- by Norman Maclean and, yes, the first thing you think of is the extraordinary film with Brad Pitt and, yes, the film is rather true to the story. But the story itself is a lyric, an ode to a self-destructive man as seen through the eyes of the brother who loved him.

4. Notes From the Underground- this is, as far as I am concerned. Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece. It is the ruminations of a very bitter retired civil servant who rejects every convention and standard of society. Parts of this just soar into almost psychedelia and is sheer unadulterated genius. 

3. Siddhartha- like any teenager of the 1970s, I read everything by Herman Hesse because, you know, metaphysics. Of all his novels, this is the one I remember best, primarily because of the river metaphor. The last part, where Siddhartha sits on the banks and watches his life flow by is perfect summary.

2. The Halloween Tree- anything by Ray Bradbury is going to get my vote although mostly those are disconnected short stories, as in R is for Rocket. This one, though, is a series of stories following the attempts of eight friends to save a ninth who has been spirited away into the Land of the Dead. Juvenile, yes, but compelling. 

1. The Dragon Masters- this is the first Jack Vance I ever read, and it remains my favorite. Set in a future so far away that people can actually wield magic, it is the story of a human band that has genetically altered their alien enemies, turning them into war beasts. Typical Vance with crazy dialogue and wild battle scenes.

Posted in Reading itself | Comments Off on Top Ten Novellas I’ve Read

Ten Best Characters from Books I’ve Read

The criteria for this is very simple: someone from a book that I still remember to this day, no matter how long, or short, ago I came across them. They are memorable. Every once in awhile, I’ll recall something about them while doing something else or I’ll make a reference to them or simply take inspiration. Such as:

10. Tom Sawyer. He was my first literary hero, the character that spurred my lifelong love of fiction and reading. Tom was everything I was not: brave and defiant and ever willing to break the rules and try something new and a great friend and fearless protector. And he tormented his little brother, Sid, with an almost genius capacity for mayhem, some of which I tried on my own little brother.

9. Scout. She was the center of To Kill a Mockingbird, the one who watched the world and all its currents and storms flowing hard and fast right through the center of her life. She met everything with a calm and thoughtful gaze, learning from it, enduring it. And showed us how to take everyone, from the different to the wounded, on their own terms.

8. Breq. The ancillary in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy, she was human then AI and a battleship then human again, or partially human, but, whatever the form, she was loyal to her friends and family, so to speak, and fought for her commander and her empire, even when she knew it was wrong. Indeed, she was responsible for correcting a lot of those wrongs; well, as best as they could be. Just considering all of the devastating and traumatic changes she went through as she changed form and purpose is mind blowing.

7. Mai. The bride of an arranged marriage to the Qin commander, Anji, she is, at first, docile and subservient, but she turns into a tiger. As she adjusts to the very dangerous world of the Hundred, she rises from a simple household member to admired confidant and a fighter in her own right. Half the fun of the Crossroads Trilogy is watching her development.

6. Maris. While out searching for her dog, Maris finds the stone that transports her to the Great Land, where she teams up with talking bugs and squirrels and a particularly brave ant to defeat the evil creatures taking over. I first read Shelia Moon’s Knee Deep in Thunder when I was 12 or 13, and it’s stayed with me, especially the last scene of the book, where Maris watches the boy walk away.

5. Chrisjen Avasarala. The foul mouthed, ruthless, downright murderous UN Secretary of Earth, she gave no quarter nor asked for any in her single-minded devotion to protecting Earth from Belters and Martians and revolutionaries and the proto-molecule. Constantly exasperated by James Holden and his optimistic humanism, she often found her plans undone and was often in serious danger, but you don’t mess with her. You just don’t.

4. Bob Lee ‘the Nailer’ Swagger. The protagonist of practically every single Stephen Hunter book, he is a former Vietnam-era sniper who earned his nickname from his mutant-like accuracy, the able to drive nails with a bullet. After amassing a rather astonishing kill record, he leaves the Army for an Arkansas farm and just wants to be left alone. But, of course, people just gotta bother him. To their detriment.

3. Schaffa Guardian. The Guardian responsible for Damaya’s training in NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy and introduced in the first book, The First Season, Schaffa is a cruel and demanding task master. But, it soon becomes clear that Schaffa is a compassionate and empathic trainer, forced to extreme methods because the Fifth Season is rapidly approaching and Damaya has to be ready. Reminds me very much of the character Patrick Foley in the Australian movie The Earthling.

2. Chad Buford. He is the main character of a book I loved since I was 13, The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come by John Fox, Jr, published in 1903.  Yes, execrable title, but it was the first book to sell a million copies in the United States. Orphaned in the hills of Kentucky shortly before the Civil War, Chad is adopted by a mountain family and then, through an odd series of events, ends up the protege of a wealthy Kentucky planter. When the Civil War starts, Chad makes a decision that goes against his family and friends and culture, and is the main reason I admire him. Very racist novel, though. Very racist.

1. Half-cocked Jack. So named because of an unfortunate childhood accident, he is a pirate and adventurer and a mercenary and a reaver and thief, and exactly the guy you want on your side in a fight. He is one of many unforgettable characters in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, appearing in the first novel, Quicksilver, and remaining alive through the rest of them, although I have no idea how. I guess Stephenson liked him, too.

Posted in Reading itself | Comments Off on Ten Best Characters from Books I’ve Read

God is the Library

When I was six-years-old, I was lying on top of our storm shelter in the backyard of our house in Lawton, OK, watching the thunderheads build. If you’ve ever lived in Oklahoma then you know the terrific storms we get, and these clouds were monstrous and bright with the sun outlining their edges in silver and I immediately knew God existed. I’ve believed in God ever since.

Not continuously. I was a black flag anarchist/atheist in my teenage years, hating the world and everything in it. If you’d had the childhood I did, you’d probably be the same. The problem with that: you eventually end up a completely shriveled hate bag, devoid of humor and humanity. Unless you look up. I did, and I saw those thunderheads again and there was God, looking at me.

God is mercy and grace. I am not.

And while most of the churches I attended focused on how you acted and the impossibility of ever pleasing God, there were a few that were different. They taught from the original languages and, turns out, much of what the King James says is a bit off message. Because God is mercy and grace, not rage and punishment. The churches don’t really want you to know that. Cuts into the collection plate, doncha know.

So I got curious about this God of mercy and grace. Not what He could do for me and what He expected from me, but who He, Himself, is. I wanted to know His nature. I wanted to know His name. And it took me a good sixty years plus, but I finally discovered what He is.

God is the library.

I don’t mean some random building or a collection of books; He is THE library. Itself. He is all of the knowing, all of the understanding, all of the subtleties, the underlying principles, everything properly shelved; not only that, He is the impetus, the source of all the actions or the inactions of the universe, the One who wrote and invoked the books. He is a library so vast that we have barely scratched the number of volumes available, or what they say. But we’re trying.

Just take a quick overview of what we’ve found out in the last thirty years or so – the way the blood and the breath work; the particles racing to and fro across the galaxy; the medicines and observations and theories and forces and drifts and the causes and effects of many, many things. Each time we stumble across something, scientists proclaim they have found the Answer, but, two seconds later, there’s dozens more questions. And we discover levels of existence of which we had no prior clue. Our operating principles have to be discarded and rewritten.

All science does is read the next paragraph. And every time we do, we reveal more of Him. These are the volumes of God. They are endless.

We will never get to the end of them.

Posted in Metaphysics | Comments Off on God is the Library

The Rufe’s Basement

I went to my 50th high school reunion just a bit ago. I wasn’t going to attend because my closest friends wouldn’t be there. Tom died decades ago; Don decades after that, and I found out the day before the reunion that Drew had also died. Turns out I’m the last man standing. Should have started a tontine.

But a relentless campaign at almost the felony level by one of the organizers forced my surrender. And I’m glad, because it turned out great, just great. I got to say something to someone I’ve wanted to say for fifty years. You know who you are. I reforged a friendship with someone I’d abandoned years ago, Carol. And I was completely surprised by someone else, Barbara. 

There were 405 of us in that class, and only about 100 showed up. Out of that 405, 88 have already died. That gives us a mortality rate of about 22%. Not looking good for the home team.

I’m not going to show you any pictures because it would look like outtakes from the Night of the Living Dead. Not going into specifics because we only knew each other, and you know only each other, and you don’t want to hear boring stories of glory days. But I did realize something; I don’t want to go back and do it all over. Oh no, not at all. I had some really bad times in high school. But I do want to go to the Rufe’s basement.

The Rufe’s lived across the street from my apartment complex. The Rufe’s daughter periodically rounded up all the orphans living there and herded us into the basement. It became our hangout, our sanctuary. Home. Mrs. Rufe fussed over us and fed us and Mr. Rufe teased us and was always there to listen and it was a family. It’s why I love That 70s Show so much. It was just like that. 

I had two other safe havens: Don’s house and the Willingboro Karate Club, and I moved between all three of them seeking shelter from the storm (enough with the song references!).  I guess I had a rather traumatic childhood and adolescence, and it was the Rufe’s, Don, and Forrest who helped me survive it.

But as much as I would really like going back to the Rufe’s basement, the current owners would probably call the police. And I’m not really sure what that would accomplish, anyway. No doubt, it’s now filled with old furniture and our wall carvings have been plastered over, so what’s to see? Somebody’s old stash hidden behind the water heater?

No. I think what I really want, what everyone wants, is the sense of it, the peace and satisfaction of it. It was a place where all your crazy friends did crazy things and you just wished the night would go on forever. Man, I miss that. You do, too. All of you had a place like that. It might have even been your home. And we all want to go back.

And. you know, you may think I’m crazy, but that next morning when I was sitting on my brother’s porch sipping his really sucky coffee thinking about all this, I heard a word, probably in my mind but I’d like to think it was whispered in my ear: “Wait.” Just have to wait. In whatever method and at whatever time, we’re all going back to the Rufe’s basement. Don, Drew, and Tom are all there now, warming the place up.

So Jane, George, Butch, Bob, Jayne, Selina, Karen, Wash, Kathy, Carol, Marie, Kevin? I’ll see you all there. Got dibs on the big couch.

Posted in Travels | Comments Off on The Rufe’s Basement

Death by Logon.

I have a couple of ongoing prescriptions with the VA. To refill them, I can either mail in a refill request, and they will mail the medicines back, or I can drive 40-something miles to my nearest VA facility and ask for a refill … which they will then mail to me. Apparently, the VA is convinced every one of us troops enlisted circa the Spanish American war and needs to maintain its services at a technical level we can understand.

Our generation invented the computer, ya know.

Anyway, I was perusing the forty or fifty thermal printed sheets of instructions and warnings and side effects that come with every prescription these days because, Lord Knows, we can’t figure out that taking an entire bottle of digitalis with a half quart of vodka might be detrimental, when I noted there was an option to the Post Office refill system: refill online. Really? You mean, there’s a 21st century solution? My goodness, what’s next, bandages and drugs instead of leeches and poultices?

So I go to the recommended VA website which is very happy that I am there and asks me to login with my VA credentials, which I can’t remember. No problem, hit ‘forgot username’ and that very much pleased the site and they said, Great! In order to retrieve it, use your DS Logon.

Oh. No.

For those of you uninitiated in the ways of military administration, the DS Logon is the single most complicated, irrational, incomprehensible and downright evil means ever devised for accessing military sites, especially those containing personal or personnel information. Like your pay and benefits. DS stands for “Defense Self-Service ” which already clues you about the overthinking involved. The DoD is so terrified someone will gain unauthorized access to a veteran’s information that they make it nigh on impossible to do so. It’s easier to break into Ft. Knox than log into your own account. 

First, there’s the user name. Which you would think would be easy, but there’s lots of people who have served in the military and there’s lots of similarity in names. In my unfortunate case, my Dad and I both served and I am named after him, the only separation of our two identities being “Jr.” Which DS Logon does not recognize. When I first established my account, you have no idea how long it took me to convince the Pentagon computer system I wasn’t some nefarious Nazi spy trying to obtain information on a WW2 veteran who died 20 years ago. Ve vill get back that Luger you took during the Battle of the Bulge, American! Finally, it compared the differences in our service numbers, which I had to provide from his old records and relented. Then it asked for a password.

Oh. No.

The DS Logon password is a cruel and hateful string of nonsensical letters numbers symbols whathaveyou that bear no logic nor ability to memorize. It’s akin to the symbols you see above a cartoon character’s head to simulate profanity. The password has to be sixteen characters long, cannot contain a recognizable word or sequence, and must have some capital letters and the aforementioned numbers and symbols. And you have to type it out twice before it gets accepted. And it changes every six months.

Guess how long it’s been since I’ve logged on?

So, yeah, password expired, so I have to log on with the old one to get a new one. Fortunately, I wrote the old one down and entered it … and got rejected. Several times, almost to the ‘permanent lockout’ point, so I said ‘figidabowdit’ and hit ‘forgot password.’ 

First thing DS wanted, my username, So I provided it. “Wait a minute … that’s the name of a WW2 veteran who passed 20 years ago! Are you a Nazi spy?”

Oh, Lordy. A few iterations later, it finally went, “Oh, THAT D Krauss. Alright, let’s answer your security questions.”

Oh, Lordy.

DS security questions are not the conventional ones you expect, like your Mom’s maiden name and the name of your first pet. Oh no. They’re along the lines of, “What is the compression ratio of a rebuilt 1967 Dodge Charger?” “Who was the first member of the Moldavan royal family?” and “What was your Dad’s third assignment after his first release from active duty?” So there are real answers to these questions, not ones you just type in, and DS knows. It knows. So, after some research, I was able to answer the ones they asked me. And, glory hallelujah, I got to change my password.

Except the nonsensical sixteen characters I selected were suspiciously close to a previous password I used about seven years ago, so no go. Since they are all nonsensical, there is no way to know what you used before, so I changed my mental algorithm to something never used before and came up with a series that passed muster. Immediately wrote it down because it’s not possible to memorize. So I’m in.

Great! VA says. What took you so long? Whatever, you can now access the VA site. Which I did. Great! Good to see you! To verify you are who you say you are, use your DS Logon to proceed.

Grumble, grumble, grumble, there. First use of new password.

Good, great! Do you want to see your prescriptions? You do? Well, use your DS Logon to access it!

Nonsensical symbols floating above my head like a cartoon character, then logged on again with only one mishap that caused the US to go into Defcon 3 and threatened me with a drone strike if I got the password wrong again. So I was real careful.

So you want us to renew your prescriptions? Great! Guess what you have to do?

Five. More. Times. Before I got the renewal confirmed. Expecting a drone strike at any moment.

Next time, I’m just driving over there.

Posted in Tales of the Tragically Hilarious | Comments Off on Death by Logon.

Ten Best Trilogies I’ve Read, so Far

I love trilogies, stories so big they need three novels to complete. Which is the big difference between a series and a trilogy- the story ends. Or, at least, ends one thing to start another. A series goes on and on, usually centered around a couple of characters. And while some series start out as trilogies and can be safely so regarded until the fourth or so book shows up, I make the distinction thusly: the story ends with the third book. That particular story, anyway. Thus:

10. The Tripods trilogy, by John Christopher. The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, The Pool of Fire. I read this when I was a kid because, well, it’s a kid’s story. Intrepid Will Parker and his friends defy their Capping Ceremony, mandatory at age 13, and escape to the White Mountains, ahead of the alien Tripods. Sort of pre-Hunger Games, but with aliens.

9. The Arthurian Saga, by Mary Stewart. The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment. I have mentioned The Crystal Cave at other locations, but the entire trilogy is a masterpiece. The story of Arthur as told through Merlin’s eyes, this is the best modernization of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King that I’ve seen. I think this was the base for that extraordinary Excalibur movie, but don’t quote me. And, yes, Stewart has written a few other novels on the theme, making this more series than trilogy, but the original three are complete in themselves.

8. The Crossroads Trilogy, by Kate Elliott. Spirit Gate, Shadow Gate, Traitor’s Gate. I’ve mentioned this trilogy in other locations because it remains one of my favorites. In the world of the Hundreds, the Guardian gods have withdrawn, leaving the eagle-riding reeves as the only authority as an unknown, murderous horde begins its march through the lands. The bride-to be, Mai, remains one of my favorite literary characters 

7. The Karla Trilogy, by John le Carre. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honourable Schoolboy; Smiley’s People. Yes, the character George Smiley makes this more series than anything except these three books are considered a separate story and you do not need to read any of the other Smiley books to understand it, although you should. George Smiley in battle with his main KGB nemesis, Karla, and it took three dedicated books to resolve it. 

6. The Maddaddam Trilogy, by Margaret Atwood. Oryx and Crake; The Year of the Flood; MaddAddam. Yes, it’s Atwood, and everybody’s all agog with The Handmaid’s Tale, but this is superior. In the wake of a pandemic, environmental disaster, and mad scientist bioengineering, Toby, one of the last humans, must convey an oral history of the world to the Crakers, human offshoots that are taking our place.

5. The Imperial Radch Trilogy, by Ann Leckie. Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy. This has gone on to be a series, but the first three books stand alone. Breq, now a common soldier who was once the starship Justice of Toren, seeks revenge against the Lord of the Radch, who betrayed her. A soldier who was once a starship: mindblowing.

4. The Riverworld Trilogy, by  Philip Jose Farmer. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, The Fabulous Riverboat, The Dark Design. Yes, I know, I know, this is no longer a trilogy but a series but, as far as I am concerned, it stopped with the third book, in which it feels very much like Farmer had grown tired of the story and simply wished to dispense with it. Despite that, this remains among my favorites. All of humanity wakes up one day alongside a world-girdling river and must figure out why. They woke up, I mean, not why the river girdles the world.

3. The Inheritance Trilogy, by NK Jemisin. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms; The Broken Kingdoms; The Kingdom of Gods. Stunning. Just stunning. A world where the gods are slaves. 

2. The Inhibitor Trilogy, by Alastair Reynolds. Revelation Space; Redemption Ark; Absolution Gap. About page 75, you’ll be going, “WTF?” But, stick with it, because this is another mind-blowing saga. Dan Sylveste teams up with the cyborg crew of the starship Nostalgia for Infinity to discover what happened to the Amarantin civilization. Before it happens again.

1. The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson. Quicksilver; The Confusion; The System of the World. What an epic, jaw-dropping story. From the Stuart Restoration through 1714 London, Daniel Waterhouse pursues the rational in a world transforming from the superstitious to the scientific. Everyone is in this story, from Isaac Newton to Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, as well as the seemingly immortal Enoch Root. And let’s not forget Half-Cocked Jack, who manages to save the world from time to time without realizing it.

There you go. Odd that most of these trilogies are speculative fiction. I’m guessing that’s due to all the time necessary to world-build before you can get into the story itself, which tends to make the first book of a trilogy somewhat pedestrian. But stay with it; you’ll be rewarded.

Posted in Reading itself | Comments Off on Ten Best Trilogies I’ve Read, so Far

Well, THAT was fun …

The other day I was on Twitter and some guy posted a tweet saying that indie books were rubbish and he hadn’t come across a decent one yet so I replied, yeah, I had the same problem and, see image above. Because the guy was being sarcastic and meant exactly the opposite.

Should probably work on his sarcasm but that’s fine, I shouldn’t have been so direct because, Holy Hannah, the “Twitter writing community” just exploded. No, not over the initializing tweet which apparently the “Twitter writing community” understood as sarcasm because they know the guy– I don’t. Silly me — but, instead, that I agreed with it.

It was like criticizing the Politburo. And the response was very North Korean. 

Accused of creating a false issue to get publicity, that I thought I was better than everyone else, that I was an asshole … well, I am, but that’s reserved for my wife to point out. I haven’t seen a reaction like this since I told the head cheerleader her hair dye looked weird. It is an 8th grade world.

So what exactly is the problem here?

Well, it’s two fold: the demand for support, and Twitter as a writer’s group.

Twitter. As a writer’s group. Oh, please.

You want a writer’s group, go to Facebook, or better yet Backspace.org, which was, for years, the best writer’s group on the web when Karen Dionne  was running it. Or go to your local library ‘cause they usually have a writer’s work group of some kind but, Lord, not Twitter.

Twitter is the devil. And the devil cares nothing for your feelings.

But the “Twitter writers’ community” sure does, and thou shalt not criticize! Thou shalt support and nurture and encourage and ohmigod, I can’t stand it. What are these people going to do when they finally release their opus magnus into the wild and readers get ‘aholt’ of it and start ripping it to pieces? 

Well, they’ll pout and cry and accuse readers of being assholes. Because they are making the same mistake every starry eyed with-dreams-and-visions bestseller wannabe makes: if their support group likes it, then it must be good.

Got news for you, cupcake. 

There is a vast, unbridgeable difference between your support group and the reading public. The reading public demands a scrupulously scrubbed manuscript, copy edited and developmentally edited and rewritten a hundred, a thousand times, until it is logically and semantically tight and readable. And that’s before they decide if your story is any good or not. Trad publishers offer such products. Well, mostly, with exceptions (I’m looking at you, Dan Brown). Unfortunately, many indie writers do not. Far too many.

Because they confuse nurture and support with good writing.

Writing is anarchy. It is a Visigoth invasion, slash and burn, and you have no friends here. That is, if you actually intend to publish your 1000 page elf orc saga, or do you simply tweet about how much you wrote today and, ooo, I have this new character! and the rest of the Twitter writing community is all ‘you go, you go!’ If that’s it, then you’ve found a home. But when you add a cover and upload to Amazon, your lovely bunch of friends on Twitter aren’t going with you. You walk this plank alone.

And far too many of you indies are leaping off that plank with a deflated duck float and the inability to swim, because your Mom and your friends and the Twitter writing community urged ‘you go, you go!’ But your book is so unreadable I can’t get past the first page without turning it into a frisbee.

I have encountered far more of these unreadable indies than ones I could actually finish, at about a 3:1 ratio, to the point I don’t read an indie book anymore unless it has been vetted, like through Indies United Publishing.

Of which I am a member, because I need vetting, too. All of us do.

Highly recommend you join.

And highly recommend you stop relying on Twitter for your writing support. Find some asshole to review your drafts, someone with impossibly high standards who will brutalize it and make you cry, questioning your career choice.

Gold comes out of a crucible.

Posted in Writing itself | Comments Off on Well, THAT was fun …

Top 10 Thrillers I’ve Read So Far

I have a rather broad definition of a thriller. It’s any exciting, violent, conflictive combative story that doesn’t involve the supernatural or science fiction. In other words, pretty much everything that isn’t romance or a mystery or literary fiction. It includes police procedurals and serial killer stories and spy stories. Techno thrillers and war stories are subgenres but still thrillers. So yes, this means I have a wide-ranging selection to choose from. Such as these:

10. Fail-Safe, by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. The ultimate nuclear thriller written in 1962, an arming code transmission accidentally jams and ends up sending a B-52 to drop nukes on Moscow. Every attempt to stop the bombing fails, and the President of the United States has to make a series of terrifying decisions. The flayed bull metaphor throughout the book is an apt description. This was made into a very decent, and quite stark, movie with Henry Fonda.

9. The Comedians, by Graham Greene. Mr. Brown inherits his mother’s hotel in Port-au-Prince and takes a ship there, meeting a few characters on board who will all figure prominently in the upcoming events.  The story of ex-pats in Haiti is overwhelmed by the horror of the Duvalier regime and the actions of its secret police, the Ton Ton Macoutes. Prepare to have your hair curled.

8. The Little Drummer Girl, by John le Carre. A Mossad agent recruits a young English actress to infiltrate a terrorist group and find out the leader’s identity. Then things get out of hand. Classic le Carre, where nothing is what it seems.

7. The Fifth Horseman, by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre. Libyan terrorists plant a hydrogen bomb in New York City and demand Israel vacate all Arab lands or they’ll detonate it. Published in 1980, it feels very current.

6. Child 44, by Tom Robb Smith. The first book in a series, it’s the only one I have read. This is supposedly about a Russian police officer’s search for a serial killer who preys on children, but it isn’t. It’s about something far more terrifying: the Russian justice system, which does not believe in fact or logic but in its own infallibility.

5. Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow. The first of his Kindle County novels, Turow weaves a police and courtroom procedural into one story. Rusty Sabich, deputy prosecutor of Kindle County, becomes the lead attorney investigating the murder of his colleague and former lover, Carolyn. Until he becomes the lead suspect.

4. The Odessa File, by Frederick Forsyth. A German journalist investigating the suicide of a Holocaust survivor stumbles across a secret organization providing new identities and protection to former SS officers. It’s The Boys From Brazil without the science fiction aspects.

3. The Charm School, by Nelson DeMIlle. What really happened to the MIAs of the Vietnam War? Well, they’re in Russia, helping a new generation of KGB agents to perfect their Americanisms. So they can blend in better. Because they have things to do here.

2. The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth. French intelligence must stop an assassination plot directed at Charles de Gaulle. Problem is, no one has any idea who the assassin, nicknamed the Jackal, is. This was turned into a very decent movie starring Edward Fox in 1973. Please don’t confuse it with that awful Bruce Willis movie called The Jackal.

1. The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris. The grand poobah of the serial killer novel, this is probably the best book of the type, although Red Dragon, the forerunner to this novel, gives it quite the run for its money. FBI Agent Clarissa Starling seeks the assistance of convicted serial killer Hannibal Lector to identify another serial killer called Buffalo Bill, because he skins his humps. 

Posted in Reading itself | Comments Off on Top 10 Thrillers I’ve Read So Far