November 2016

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So November. I think it’s safe to say that the first week of it did not play out as expected. The many long weeks since then have pretty felt just like shell-shocked aftermath. It’s anybody’s guess how exactly things will play out over the next four years, but it’s almost guaranteed to be difficult and ugly on a lot of levels.

But Thanksgiving was nice, so there is that.

Anyway, beyond the holidays — which was just me, my sister, our parents, and my sister’s cat — and politics, November was a pretty uneventful month. I read one book and thirty-two short stories, watched sixteen movies, and listened to a little music. It was that kind of month.

The book

I read Company Town by Madeline Ashby for my monthly book group. And I didn’t much like it.

It wasn’t terrible, but I think the group largely agreed with my own assessment: there’s way too much going on in the novel, with too few of its threads connecting or being resolved. And the ending…ooh boy. It’s rare to find a book where you want many, many longer stretches of exposition just so you can better know what’s going on and who everybody is. The book’s pacing is really weird, and it really does feel like working on a mystery without any clues.

It seems to set itself up for a sequel — despite rumors it’s a one-and-done — but I don’t think I’d read more. Maybe another book by Ashby, or even a completely rewritten and expanded version of this book, but no, not a sequel.

The stories

I read thirty-two short stories in November, upping my one-a-day habit all the way up to two-a-day on a couple of occasions. (I took all of Thanksgiving week off from work.) These were my favorites:

  • “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny)
  • “Kamanti’s Child” by Jennifer Marie Brissett (Uncanny)
  • “The Place of Bones” by Gardner Dozois (F&SF)
  • “Where I’m From, We Eat Our Parents” by John Wiswell (Daily Science Fiction)
  • “Project Earth Is Leaving Beta” by J.W. Alden (Flash Fiction Online/Nature)
  • “Spirit Tasting List for Ridley House, April 2016” by Rachel Acks (Shimmer)
  • “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar (Uncanny/he Starlit Wood)
  • “Migration” by Tananarive Due (Nightmare)
  • “Natural Skin” by Alyssa Wong (Lightspeed)
  • “A Shot of Salt Water” by Lisa L. Hannett (The Dark)
  • “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang (Stories of Your Life and Others)

All but the last two were from 2016. I don’t set out to read current short fiction and nothing but, but it does often turn out that way. After last month, when I read a whole bunch of much older reprints, I was probably due.

The movies

  • All the President’s Men:

  • I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House:

  • The Hitcher:

  • 13th:

  • Arrival:

  • The Neon Demon:

  • Sunset Boulevard:

  • Duel:

  • Sing Street:

  • Martin:

  • Seven Men from Now:

  • Hell or High Water:

  • Chunking Express:

  • Carnival of Souls:

  • My Left Foot:

  • Big Fan:

The music

October 2016

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And then October was behind us.

I spent the better part of a week traveling, campus calling for work in Indianapolis. I visited Purdue (an hour’s drive away in West Lafayette), IUPUI, and the University of Indianapolis, talking with instructors on campus as I do. All I feel confident in saying about Indianapolis is that it’s a place. It seems like a nice enough place to return to and visit for the first time. But I saw practically none of it. I stayed a fifteen-minute drive from the airport and didn’t get a real sense of the city, or even of the schools I visited. It just was a place.

But now it’s November, and all I have to do is write up my notes from that trip, which, if luck is with me, I’ll manage sometime before the end of the year.

Other than that short trip, my October was relatively uneventful. As usual, I read some stories, read some books, watched some movies, and listened to some music.

The stories

I read thirty-three stories in October. A lot of those were horror, perhaps appropriately enough, and several were from Penguin’s American Supernatural Tales collection. I might have more to say about that collection when I actually finish it — I’m very close — but overall it’s kind of meh. Some good stories, some arguably classic, but a pretty mixed bag overall.

Still, I read few others elsewhere that I liked:

The books

In October, I read two books: Slade House by David Mitchell and I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas.

They’re both a little slight, but I much preferred the Mitchell book, which manages to invest you in some pretty unlikable characters…which may be one of the problems I had with Mamatas’ book. Maybe if I recognized the Lovecraftian crowd he’s directly parodying in the book, or was more widely read in Lovecraft himself, I would have enjoyed the book more. It has some nice touches, but I found it overall kind of disappointing.

The movies

I watched eight movies in October:

  • The Legend of Hell House:

  • The Darjeeling Limited:

  • Ghosts of Mars:

  • Shadow of a Doubt:

  • Sleeping With Other People:

  • Futureworld:

  • Out of Africa:

  • Lights Out:

The music

And I listened to some music. So there.

September 2016

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And then one day, it’s October.

I don’t know how this has happened, but September is over. It wasn’t a super-eventful month, but it also wasn’t too terrible as far as these things go. I read some stories, read some books, watched some movies, and listened to some (not much, actually almost none) music.

The stories

I read 39 short stories in September. And I liked a bunch of them:

  • “Scent” by Maria Haskins (Flash Fiction Online)
  • “Prophet to the Dogs” by Bethany Edwards (Escape Pod)
  • “See the Unseeable, Know the Unknowable” by Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed)
  • “Talking to Dead People” by Sarah Pinsker (F&SF)
  • “The Voice in the Cornfield, the Word Made Flesh” by Desirina Boskovich (F&SF)
  • “Rooms Formed of Neurons and Sex” by Ferrett Steinmetz (Uncanny)
  • “The Old Man and the Phoenix” by Alexandria Baisden (Apex)
  • “The Warrior Boy Who Would Not Suffer” by Abhinav Bhat (Apex)
  • “Houston, Houston, Do You Read James Tiptree” by Rachael K. Jones (Nature)
  • “Delta Child” by Malon Edwards (Fireside Fiction)
  • “Only Their Shining Beauty Was Left” by Fran Wilde (Shimmer)
  • “The Flight of a Village in the Midst of War” by Daniel Ausema (Daily Science Fiction)
  • “The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight” by E. Lily Yu (Uncanny)
  • “Your Body by Default” by Alexis A. Hunter (Fireside Fiction)
  • “Lucite” by Susan Palwick (Asimov’s)
  • “The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles” by Rachael K. Jones (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  • “The Invisible Stars” by Ryan Row (Shimmer)
  • “La Héron” by Charlotte Ashley (reprinted at Podcastle)
  • “My Mother’s Death — A Sonnet” by John Guzlowski (reprinted at Fantastic Fiction Online)
  • “Standard Loneliness Package” by Charles Yu (reprinted in Sorry Please Thank You)

The books

In September, I read two books: Stay Crazy by Erica L. Satifka and Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente. I thought the former was an impressive debut novel and the latter, while not the best thing I’ve read by Valente, is full of a lot of playful and poetic writing.

The movies

I watched ten movies in September:

  • Dope

  • Straight Outta Compton

  • Catwoman

  • The Man Who Fell to Earth

  • Star Trek Beyond

  • San Andreas

  • Anomalisa

  • F for Fake

  • Arq

The music

August 2016

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How is it the end of the first week of September already? August went by very quickly.

I spent several days of it in Kansas City, MO, attending the 74th annual Worldcon (or MidAmeriCon II). After last month’s Readercon, where I wasn’t necessarily firing on all cylinders, I was maybe a little nervous about this one. It’s also the first really big con I’ve ever seriously been to.

(I mean, there was that comic book/sf/Star Trek convention I attended in…oh, I want to say 1988 or ’89? I was there only for a couple of hours, with my very bemused father, and I don’t remember much of it, beyond a lot of Trek costumes and my youthful enthusiasm at obtaining what in retrospect isn’t a particularly worthwhile comic. Oh, and a panel where, as near as I recall, Forrest J. Ackerman and Isaac Asimov amused themselves by being slightly dirty old men and celebrating one of their birthdays.)

Anyway, I had a lot of fun at Worldcon. It was not without its nervousness — I think I lasted all of five minutes at the late-night Tor party — but everyone I met was really great, and I attended some terrific readings and panels. I’m almost certainly going to next year’s in Helsinki.

(And yes, I was at that panel. It was exactly the trainwreck that’s been described. Which is a shame, really, because it could have been a very interesting discussion, worthy of much debate. That it seems to have been the only major controversy at the con, and that it was handled so quickly, is, I think, a real testament to the MidAmeriCon II organizers.)

So what else happened in August?

I read some stories, read some books, watched some movies, and listened to some (not much) music.

The stories

I read thirty-four short stories, and I think I only counted one that I heard read at Worldcon, rather than read myself. (I mean, if I’m going to count podcasts in my one-a-day habit, readings have got to count too.) Anyway, my favorites included:

  • “You Are Not a Metaphor” by Marina J. Lostetter (Flash Fiction Online)
  • “The Time Cookie Wars” by Benjamin C. Kinney (Flash Fiction Online)
  • “Those Brighter Stars” by Mercurio D. Rivera (Lightspeed)
  • “The Finest, Fullest Flowering” by Marc Laidlaw Nightmare)
  • “Red House” by Gavin Pate Nightmare)
  • “First Light at Mistaken Point” by Kali Wallace (Clarkesworld)
  • “The Assassin’s Secret” by Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed)
  • “An Ocean the Color of Bruises” by Isabel Yap (Uncanny)
  • “The Gentleman of Chaos” by A. Merc Rustad (Apex)
  • “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” by Betsy Phillips (F&SF)
  • “My Grandmother’s Bones” by S.L. Huang (Daily Science Fiction)
  • “Exquisite Corpse” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Daily Science Fiction)
  • “Thundergod in Therapy” by Effie Seiberg (Podcastle)
  • “Between Dry Ribs” by Gregory Norman Bossert (The Dark)

I also really enjoyed the two stories I read in Jeffrey Ford’s A Natural History of Hell collection: “The Word Doll” and “The Angel Seems.” Both of them appear to be doing very simple things at first — the former is actually more short meta-fiction than short story — but both are doing much more interesting things under the surface. I said this on Twitter, but it bears repeating: I mean this in the best possible way, but Ford’s stories are kind of fucking with my head.

The books

I finished three books in August:

  • Experimental Film by Gemma Files
  • The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
  • Clockwork Phoenix 5 edited by Mike Allen

I’d read most of the Clockwork Phoenix collection earlier in the year, and I’ve mentioned some of the stories previously. Even when I didn’t love every story in the book, I loved the weird mix that Mike was going for, similar but different to the sometimes disquieting, sometimes dreamlike tales he publishes in Mythic Delirium. (Full disclosure: I had a story in that magazine last year.) The collection really is a uniquely impressive mix of stories.

I read Experimental Film for a book club…that actually met while I was at Worldcon. I probably would have gotten around to it anyway, though. There’s demonstrable proof that I’ve enjoyed Files’ writing in the past, for one thing, and I picked up a copy last year at Readercon. (Or maybe World Fantasy? I’m pretty sure I picked it up last year, along with her short story collection, last year at a con.) And I liked the book a lot — maybe less for what it has to say about film than about human interaction and storytelling. For instance, this:

…you’d be infinitely surprised what people will accept as a miracle, so long as it gives them something they really want: forgiveness of sin, unconditional love, the idea that your wounds make you special. That doing you art — your work — can help you save your own life.

I’m still not sure what my book club thought about it.

And finally I read The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin, which is the sequel to a book I read earlier in the year, also for my book club. Like that book (The Fifth Season), this one is genuinely remarkable. If I was less gobsmacked by it, that was only because the rich world that Jemisin has created was slightly more familiar this time around, and there was maybe less for me to puzzle out as a reader. But her writing is just staggering, and there were lots of passages that left me breathless. Like, for instance, this:

Yes. It’s all so understandable, really, when she thinks about it. The way of the world isn’t the strong devouring the weak, but the weak deceiving and poisoning and whispering in the ears of the strong until they become weak, too. Then it’s all broken hands and silver threads woven like ropes, and mothers who move the earth to destroy their enemies but cannot save one little boy.

Seriously, it’s hard to imagine not nominating this for a Hugo next year. I’m just disappointed I’ll likely have to wait another year for book #3.

The movies

I watched six movies in August.

  • Green Room:

  • Keanu:

  • Suicide Squad:

  • Om Shanti Om:

  • Trick ‘r Treat:

  • The Nice Guys:

The music

I didn’t listen to a lot of new music in August, or at least not enough that made enough of an impression to make me want to include it on my monthly mix. But here, for completeness’ sake, are the three songs I did include on that mix:

July 2016

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I don’t know what happened to July, but I have it on reasonably good authority that it’s over.

I went to Readercon (for the second time) last month, and while I had a really nice time and attended some great panels and readings — and bumped into some really nice people — I think I was a little out-of-sorts for a lot of the time, maybe a little under the weather, and I was definitely a less active participant than I would have liked to have been. This month, in just a couple of weeks actually, I head out to Worldcon (for the first time), and I’m committed to being friendly and more actively involved.

I don’t always do well with that, but that’s the plan. There should be lots to see there, if nothing else.

Speaking of nothing else, that’s pretty much the rest of what happened last month. There was good and there was bad, but mostly it just went by ridiculously quick.

But I read thirty-six short stories (and one two books) and saw ten movies, so there was that at least. Also just a tiny little bit of music.

The stories

  • “The Last Sailing of the Henry Charles Morgan in Six Pieces of Scrimshaw (1841)” by A.C. Wise (The Dark)
  • “Magnifica Angelica Superable” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (Lightspeed)
  • “The Blameless” by Jeffrey Ford (A Natural History of Hell)
  • “The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek, or, the Luminescence of Debauchery” by Cat Valente (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  • “Jonas and the Fox” by Rich Larson (Clarkesworld)
  • “The Mountains His Crown” by Sarah Pinsker (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  • “Sabbath Wine” by Barbara Krasnoff (Clockwork Phoenix 5)
  • “Two Bright Venuses” by Alex Dally MacFarlane (Clockwork Phoenix 5)
  • “Binti” by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
  • “Pathways” by Nancy Kress (Clarkesworld)
  • “Something Borrowed, Something Blue” by Gwendolyn Kiste (Three-Lobe Burning Eye)

The books

ETA: I actually read two books, and I really liked the second of them…but for some reason forgot to mention it. That book was A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. My review over at Goodreads:

A Head Full of GhostsA Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this. One of Tremblay’s smartest moves is his choice of narrator, the (mostly) (unintentionally) unreliable Merry. I don’t think the book would have been half as effective if not seen through her not-always-comprehending eyes. The book is maybe a little too long, and there are some small parts of the plot that seem questionable, but it’s a serious look at the horror genre, and specifically exorcism, and where evil actually comes into play. In some ways, it’s a horror novel that made me feel a little guilty about enjoying horror novels.
View all my reviews

I finished one book, which The first book I read for a monthly meetup group. And…well, I didn’t much like it. As I wrote in my Goodreads review:

HexHex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m being generous here. It’s an interesting set-up, and one that almost works for a while, but I was actively not enjoying the book by the end. This never felt like a real place, with real people, and maybe some of that’s an artifact of the translation and moving the story to America, but it kept me at a real distance. There are plenty of disturbing ideas here, but there’s a big difference between that and haunting images, much less ones that are tied to genuine human emotion. The book creeped me out plenty, but it never scared me, despite near-constantly telling me how unbelievably scared the townspeople supposedly were. (The town might feel a mounting dread, but I rarely did as a reader.) The book has lots of upsetting images, but that’s all they are: upsetting. They don’t go any further than that. A witch with stitched-shut eyes is genuinely creepy, absolutely, but in the end she’s not used in service of an interesting story. I stumbled over a lot of the writing, thought it took way too long to tell what story it had, and by the last few chapters just didn’t care.
View all my reviews

The movies

  • Real Life:

  • House:

  • Spotlight:

  • Lost in America:

  • Alfie:

  • Harmontown:

  • Midnight Cowboy:

  • Everybody Wants Some:

  • Room:

  • The Hidden Fortress:

The music

There wasn’t much, but for the sake of completeness: