Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Looking Back at 2009

This is the time of year when people remind you that this is the time of year when we all look back at the previous 360 odd days and make judgements on all the crap that has taken place, then with a satisfied grin, look ahead, confident that the year is now placed firmly in a dull cardboard box labelled, "2009". But just because it is the end of the year, that doesn't mean the future won't be affected by it. Time doesn't begin and end, time is continuous. I wish it wasn't. I wish Time Machines were available on the open market or via rentable booths near Starbuck's. I'd use it now, for instance, to go back in time and knock that breakfast burrito from out of Past Me's hands. That guy's a jerk.

I won't get personal, or at least not too personal. I don't know you THAT well. We aren't drinking after each other so don't assume you have access to my soul.

Did you know I had Crohn's Disease? Oh, the blank look. Yeah, I get that sometimes. Increasingly common, however, is the response, "I know someone with that." Which helps. I won't bore you with details, click on the link if you're the curious type and hopefully not a cat. It's not cancer. You don't die from it you just live a crappy life with it as it accompanies you every damn place you go. Unless you are in remission. Oh and there's no cure. And get this, they have no idea what causes it! See, all the research money goes to AIDS, a disease you gotta work to get for the most part and let's avoid this road, come, take my hand as we make a tiny detour.

I've had it since puberty and blah blah blah in January of this craptastic year I ended up in the hospital to undergo surgery, the first time I'd had to do that. Then follow that with an infection in February and I spent a combined total of 2 weeks in a hospital bed with a phone that didn't have internet service. Pretty sure Hell blocks out all wifi access. Try it, go a few days with no internet. You shuddered just now, didn't you. Sorry.

In February I joined the social networking time sucking website known as People of Walmart Twitter and promptly judged it "stupid". The months after February until maybe the middle of June saw me lose a couple of pounds per week, get nausea, have extreme lethargy, and ballroom dance. Because dance is my muse. Doctors, plural, didn't know why this was happening. An odd symptom was that the texture and taste of food repulsed me. Everything tasted horrible and felt like chalk in my mouth, which turned me off of food, along with the nausea. What about water, I hear you in the back asking. Okay, FINE, water was okay. Don't get picky with me. There wasn't a doctor I saw who knew what or why this taste aversion thing was happening. Even an Ear, Nose,& Throat Doctor who appeared to be in his early 120's said he'd never heard of it.

Finally my sister inserted her forceful self into the process, finding me a doctor that prescribed me Prednisone, a steroid. When I swallowed the first pill I weighed 108 pounds. By the time the prescription needed a refill I had gained 10 pounds and could taste food. But long term, the stuff is very bad for you so I am off of it now.

Got better sure, but then in October Crohn's flared and the drug I inject into my thigh or stomach doesn't work. So at year's end, I have more bad days than good. Also, I was on my ex wife's health insurance and on October 1st the coverage disappeared because she lost her job. A month later I signed off on divorce papers and after dropping them off at the Post Office, got into my truck to hear "Come Out And Play" on the radio which made me think this was the right thing.

About the time I was in the middle of taking the refill of the steroid I tried Twitter again and figured it out. It is something of a gobal chatroom and if you are reading this, chances are extremely good that you are on there. Yeah, okay, I see you waving, hello. Oh cool, you're here, and you, wow, didn't know you came here, thank you.

So I met and ontinue to meet some amazing people there. I even talked with Ashton Kutcher. Wil Wheaton. that guy from that NFL team whose name I cannot for the life of me remember now. Shaun something. So, yeah, important people and regular people alike are finding out what I had for lunch and reading my witty, touching, and superawesome tweets. And I read theirs. And some tell me their secrets, and some I tell mine to. And some I don't really understand, and some I envy and some I really, really, really want to meet and will in 2010.

And no one close to me has died, and my nephew and his gf have treated me well since my return to this sunny place and my 13 year old truck still works great and golly life is wonderful or at least not too horrible and sometimes I make some pretty good food and often I enjoy eating it too and a few times there is no pain afterwords.

I took down one shed and put up another. I received a text from Ron Artest. I went to the beach a lot. I walked my dog. I felt an earthquake on my birthday and I read 37 books. And I started a blog, duh! and I've written a book...(if you add all the 13,000+ tweets together and assemble them onto numbered pages.) and I consider that a nice feat to have accomplished.

So I am tossing this year in that cardboard box over there, the one next to the roll of packing tape and after closing it up, shoving it in the garage. I see the box containing 2010 is at the door. I sense there are some great things in there amidst some bad things. But that's been the trend and I am old enough to accept it.

I hope your 2010 is filled with more good than bad, and slip some awesome in there too.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Orleans, Five Years Ago, And Today.

The Ghost of Christmas Future should have accompanied him five years ago this month. Did he know what he had? He thought he did. He didn't know, however, how easily it could leave him.

He drove south, to New Orleans, with his newlywed bride in the car passenger seat, sleeping. She always slept on car trips. Something about the motion of the car, the sensation, lulled her off to dreamland every time. This left him free to play whatever he wanted on the radio. The lush green trees on each side of Interstate 59 giving way to more and more swampland as they entered the area of Slidell, Louisiana. She awoke for this sight, for it wasn't something either of them had seen everyday.

Then crossing the bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, a bridge seemingly without end. This being five years ago, it was pre-Katrina, and unsullied. Then: New Orleans, the huge stadium, the city, the aura; all compelling. He drove them to their hotel, The Hotel Monteleone, where they had reservations. A stunning hotel, awash in Christmas decorations and many posh displays of the holiday season all over town.

This was their honeymoon. And the Ghost should have told him to hold her hand more. Look at her more. Talk to her more. BE there with her. Treat her special, something.

They toured the city, the music live, vibrant, and ever present. Over the next two days they saw the Mississippi River up close, toured an outdoor market where she bartered for this or that item. They had beignet's, she had coffee, he, Coke. They ate lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and thought it pretty decent, especially the waiter quizzing them on all the minutiae of the film, Forrest Gump. They dressed nicely for a romantic dinner in a candlelit restaurant where they sampled gumbo and etouffee.

They walked around a lot. Watching street performers, so many of these. Carriages pulled by horses. The Ghost would tell him, now, to grab one for her, but he did not. So many opportunities for romance, but the Ghost wasn't there to prod him into acting. The man took his bride for granted.

They attended a marvelous church choir celebration in a stunning church where a young couple who sat next to them told them their life stories, eager to be best friends, quickly. He and his bride chuckled over this. They visited an old used bookstore, each of them wandering off to different sections. They went to Central Grocery for a muffaletta sandwich, that he didn't care for as much as she did. And it was so large that they took it back to their room. They took a trolley around town.

They walked the city, night and day, avoiding Bourbon Street for it smelled pretty bad. They drank, but not overly so. And they loved. Overly so.

They took pictures, but now, five years later, he does not have these photos. So many rolls of film were rolling around in a junk drawer, the New Orleans roll added to it, they never got around to developing them. His bride may have them now, if so he would like to see the one of them, arm in arm, in front of the hotel Christmas Tree. But maybe it's best he doesn't see it. Yes, the Ghost of Christmas Future would tell him it's best he only has to deal with this image, the memories, only in his head, and not on photo paper. It's easier to forget them this way, and since he isn't listening to the Ghost about BEING there, soaking her in, learning to be with her, he doesn't deserve any memorobilia. Except for the coat with the hotel's logo on it she bought for him right before they checked out and headed for home.He will always have that.

The Ghost of Christmas Future could have told this man, five years ago, things that would have led him on a very different path. Or perhaps not. When we have the opportunity to do something over again, will we truly act any differently? Are second chances really all they're cracked up to be? Maybe the future unfolded the way it did for a reason, and any altering of it would alter other things, better things, that await us in the future. This is perhaps why we don't get any "do-overs". Why a future self can't whisper in your ear and advise you. Because you are going to do what you are going to do, no matter what, and you learn from these mistakes.

The man and his bride had a glorious time for their honeymoon in New Orleans five years ago. From then it got worse, until the inevitable heartbreak happened. But the memory brings smiles. And given opportunity, the path probably wouldn't have been altered, so enjoy what was. And learn. And go forward with that knowledge, using it in the future, so that a trip with someone else is a memory both can look back on and smile. Together. As they hold a photo album. Of photos that have been developed. With captions. And flair. Because it's nice to have memories somewhere other than in your head.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A redneck dog goes Hollywood

This is my dog, JJ. Today is JJ's birthday. Maybe. Who knows, it very well could be. My ex wife (let's refer to her as Ivy from here on out) got him when he was just a puppy from a woman who took in rescue dogs and gave them out to homes she felt would treat the dog right. He was a few months old when we got him and he instantly became attached to me, for I am something of a dog whisperer Jr.

JJ is half black lab, and half whatever you want. People have said they see everything from pit bull to German Shepherd in his features. After much family discussion the name "Coffee" arose and nearly stuck, but I dislike coffee, the beverage and the name, so thought "Java" a cooler, hipper moniker. And because I am a writer, I had to edit the name by adding "Joe" to it and though, "Java Joe" is nice, "JJ" stuck for good. (Technically he is "JJJ" because my last name is Johnson, but let's not get out of hand.

JJ is a big baby, scared of many things, but his deep bark betrays this. He does not do kisses, saving any licking for himself, I suppose. Generally quiet, he is also good at whining. If you know of a home for JJ...just kidding, I had begun to sound like I was selling him or listing his qualities to give him away. You can't have him. Born in Alabama means he has a penchant for eating a lot. He goes through the Purina One like crazy, and really likes table scraps, comfort food y'all. He killed a possum the other night, but didn't eat it. Was waiting for someone to fix it with sausage gravy I assume.

When going through incredibly difficult times a year before I left Alabama, it sometimes felt as if JJ was my only friend there. I made the 2000+ mile drive from Alabama to California with him riding shotgun in my truck. Also, some doggy tranquilizers were involved. Some I even gave to JJ. He became accustomed to the hours long drive each day and, though he was obviously confused, he was relatively hopeful too. Mirroring my own outlook by the way.

He lives at my sister's house now and they all have welcomed him into their home. He appears happy and after a year here, still sees me as his pack leader, even though I only see him once a week at best. The weather is nicer here and a lot sunnier, so he has to wear sunglasses, just like a true Californian. No I don't have pictures of that. He is adapting well and for that I am glad. Merry Christmas JJ.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What Twtr means 2 me.

Allow me to demonstrate, through metaphor, my experience thus far with the microblogging website, Twitter. Imagine Twitter as a giant party you invite yourself to, the partygoers only people you want there. The only gatecrashers are people who quote non-partygoers and singer Britney Spears chowing down on someone's knee.

At first the room in which the party is being held is empty. People who don't 'get' Twitter place celebrities at their party and make a few comments about the room. The celebrities don't talk to them and they leave declaring Twitter, "stupid". I did this myself, at the start. Why I came back I don't know. But I did.

I used the Find User option and added names. Just names. Then I read what these people were saying. Soon, my party had a lot of people. The ones who never talked to me were escorted out. Here's an analogy: There's a room with millions of people, all with their back turned to you. You tap them on the shoulder (hit Follow) and they turn towards you and you can hear what they are saying. They cannot hear you until they tap you on your shoulder. Now you can, potentially, talk with them, have drinks, dance, whatever you like, it's a party.

Soon, many people are tapping your shoulder and the party gets interesting. Sometimes people laugh at what you say, sometimes you laugh. Mostly, though, you connect with people. People you never knew existed.

You can wear a mask at your party or you can dance completely naked. The extremes with which people are willing to share runs the gamut. I have chosen to be myself, generally. The best, wittiest version of myself. Outside of the party you would find me somewhat inhibited, more guarded. But at my party I try to put the lampshade on my head and sing bad karaoke. It helps to take me away from a downward spiralling life.

A few partygoers have touched me deeply. THIS is the surprise of Twitter, to me. I've been involved in social media for 15 years in the form of message boards and Yahoo chatrooms. I even met my ex wife in a chatroom, which should tell you a lot about me. Some of my closest friends are people I've never met, face to face.

I have enjoyed the company of many partygoers. Isn't this why we go to parties? For social interaction? For a good time?


That is to say, not necessarily. Some people come to the party to sell something; a product line, a blog, book, service, or even themselves. Some people only want attention. Slap a star on their forehead and they're happy. And that's all great. Good for them. Sell, sell, sell.

I follow some people like this. But I think most people are at the party to connect with someone. This isn't bad, for, as I stated earlier, the party has millions of potential guests, so there's a lot of potential for reward. I have connected with a few. Some I didn't expect to connect with. Maybe you yourself have been surprised at the level of closeness you have developed for one or another partygoer. You dance well together, in perfect step, to a tune you both enjoy. When he/she talks to you, you know there's something special going on.

But it's just a party. It's not real life. And the partygoers aren't there for you. The music has to stop sometimes and the dancing, the incredible dancing, ends. And it's no one's fault, really. But you need to step outside and take a break. Reevaluate things. Having fun at the party... is it worth it when you can't take the dancer home? And it's sure as hell not fun when you can't dance with her at your own party.

If you think this blog post is about you, you're right. You can read yourself into most things.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mike Resnick, "Beachcomber"

Robot learns about beauty

I've read this sort of story before. Robot learns to value beauty far more deeply than the humans that surround it. Well written but nothing much new is presented.

Read it here.

Benjamin Rosenbaum, "Start the Clock"

Learning to live with the biologically aged folk

He shoots, he scores. Rosenbaum posits a future where the aging process can either be slowed or stopped and presents a friend of the protagonist who wants to "start the clock" and age normally. Well realized as a future and the future slang wand whatnot. I believe this is my favorite Rosenbaum story so far.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Benjamin Rosenbaum, "The Book of Jashar"

Ever wonder what the lost Bible book, The Book of Jashar, was about? Here ya go!

I wasn't expecting to like this one, but he reeled me in. It turned out not too blasphemous after all! Check it out on the Google.

Ted Chiang, "Exhalation"

Another universe, completely realized.

This is a story I can get behind. Chiang has created a universe and made it sing. It's one of the best stories I have read. This is what Science Fiction is for. Read this, people. It's amazing!


Benjamin Rosenbaum, "The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale"

A fairy tale, quite modern, taking place in California.

This was an odd one. It is indeed Californish. But it had a not-thought-through- feel too. I like the talent Rosenbaum seems to posess. But sometimes I wonder at the point he's making. This is from The Ant King and Other Stories and the entire collection can be found online. Use your Google to locate.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sheila Heti, "The Giant"

Oh woe is the giant.

Strange, short story. Giant gets depressed, goes to Paris and is changed. Pretty deep if you think about it. Recommended.

Read it here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rudy Rucker and John Shirley, "All Hangy"

Humanity is changing...all hangy-like

A couple of cyberpunk authors combine talents to create a freaky story positing a change in humanity. Just what that change is, you'll have to read. I enjoyed it.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Adam Roberts, "Dick Does Time"

Fun with Dick as he goes insane.

Crazy. Poor Dick. Dick is confused. Rob liked the way this adult situation was written in primary reader verse. But poor Dick. Poor poor Dick. Spot too.

Read story here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Haruki Murakami, "The Elephant Vanishes"

An elephant vanishes from the local enclosure in which it was housed and one man may know why.

This had the feel of a Millhauser story, but by the end it's Murakami-esque. The resolution leaves something to be desired. Or perhaps the elephant represents a certain culture in Japan. Or something. Entertaining and surreal none the less. Unless it's nonetheless.

Can be read here even though they mistitled it The Second Bakery Attack, it's really The Elephant Vanishes.

Mary Miller, "Full"

A woman sits around her cousin's house, being kinduva bitch.

Fun little story. Not usually do you read in fiction about a jerk of a chick. This one's bitchy but interesting. I'd like to read a longer story about this woman.

Read it here.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Haruki Murakami, "The Dancing Dwarf"

The dwarf in a man's dream takes over his life.

from The Elephant Vanishes, 1993.

I liked this story. I like how the man works at a factory that builds elephants. Not fake ones, but the real deal. I like all the descriptions of his jobs there. And all that oddness isn't really relevant to the dancing dwarf that takes over his life in potentially disastrous ways. Probably a fable where a lesson may be learned as well, for those who are inclined to do so.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Oscar Wilde, "The Nightingale and the Rose"

A beautiful fantasy story from Oscar Wilde.

This wonderful story can be viewed as a tragedy, the tragedy of sacrifice for love, or as a championing of the aesthetic movement Wilde believed in. Either way it is effective and I urge you to read it.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Charles D’Ambrosio, "Up North"

Families get together and nerves become raw.

"Sandy put on a red union suit and climbed the ladder into her bunk, and we tried to resume dinner, but soon she was leaning over the edge of the bed, shouting down at us.
“That’s the difference,” she said.
“Go to bed, dear,” Steve said.
“I want to tell you the difference!”
“O.K.,” Steve said. “What’s the difference?”
“You all have stories,” Sandy said. “And we have secrets.”
“Good night,” Mr. Jansen said.
“That’s the difference,” she said.

Extremely well written story by D’Ambrosio. The winter scenery is so evocative I was feeling cold during some scenes. Mostly, though, the dynamics of these couples is displayed incredibly well. The "secret" Sandy refers to is her husband's adultery, which everyone seems to know about. Highly recommended.

Read it here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Haruki Murakami, "The TV People"

from The Elephant Vanishes, 1993.

A slow descent into surrealism.

Crazy story. A man, the narrator, starts seeing people who bring him a TV. Slightly smaller than normal humans, they are doing something that is going to alter his life, and, possibly, ours. Lots of unanswered questions but they're entertaining.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Benjamin Rosenbaum, "The Orange"

An orange gets to be god.

Funky little story. Short too. Go check it out. Interesting concept written well by Rosenbaum. This guy's a trip.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Haruki Murakami, "Sleep"

from The Elephant Vanishes, 1993.

"This is my seventeenth straight day without sleep."

I liked this one a lot. Wouldn't your life be very different if you no longer required sleep? This woman has the sleepless condition and uses it for a task I would, to wit, reading more. She reads Anna Karenina mostly, and muses on her life. Does it have to end the way it does? Probably. Fabulous story.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Haruki Murakami, "A Window"

from The Elephant Vanishes, 1993.

"Your overall score on this newest letter is 70."

The narrator is a Pen Master, one who responds to those who write him letters and critiques them. He's a young man and becomes interested in a woman who wrote him letters. Murakami takes this concept and weaves the nature of fate and randomness in our lives to enthralling heights. Another home run. Recommended.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Benjamin Rosenbaum, "Orphans"

from The Ant King and Other Stories, 2008.

An elephant talks and wears clothing.

Do elephants think this way? Would we treat them this way if they could talk? Is Rosenbaum experimenting more with form rather than substance? Yeah. Didn't really care for this one.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Haruki Murakami, "The Second Bakery Attack"

Man and wife are starving and rectify the situation at an all-night McDonald's.

I think this guy married a crazy woman. However, the logic is impeccable. They must do this thing in the McDonald's. But seriously, stock the fridge people. Once again, Murakami comes through with some oddness.

Here ya go.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Haruki Murakami, "On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning"

A what-if fable from Murakami

Poignant, melancholy, beautiful. Murkami works his magic again. Is your perfect mate out there? Will you meet him or her and will you test fate? What happens if you do? A magical story indeed.

Please read it online. One place to find it is here.

K. Bird Lincoln, "Sometimes We Arrive Home"

Dimension travellers arrive somewhere.

Atmospheric. Wasn't much heft to it, didn't really care for this one. At least it's short. If it had gone on a bit longer I may have liked it better.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

David Leavitt, "Dinners at Six"

Son and father have a scheduled dinner.

Pretty much just a man and his father talking during dinner. Well presented but not too compelling. I wanted to know what they ate. Is that odd?


Monday, February 23, 2009

Ted Kosmatka, "The Prophet of Flores"

Archaeology meets zealotry.

Very good, deeply researched piece of fiction by Kosmatka. A lot of stuff about the origins of humanity and religion. The characterization is fantastic. I really like the Kosmatka stories I've read thus far. Will try to find more by this talented author.

Read here.

George Saunders, "Al Roosten"

Inside the mind of a strange man.

I liked this one. Saunders likes writing fiction that sticks it to conservatives and George Bush, but this one is a character piece. Told in third person but feels more intimate than that. It's a fascinating slice of life of a man who rationalizes everything. We see that he may be a bit of a jerk, but in his mind...whole different story. Recommended.

Read here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Courtney Eldridge, "Sharks"

A fear of sharks is discussed over the phone.

I liked this story. Inevitably, it's about the fears we endure and our rationalizations for said fears. I dislike the postmodern absence of quotation marks. Speaks of laziness to me. But, yeah, I'm more aware of the deadly shark now, thanks Courtney!

Read it here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ted Kosmatka, "Deadnauts"

Fun with space!

I think the bottom line with this story is the author questioning when the soul leaves the body. I have definite views on that so the process of questioning it didn't move me. However, he captures the solitary nature of scientists in deep space on a research ship. Good stuff.

Read it here.

Kenneth Brady, "My Cows"

A family drive counting cows turns deadly.

Kinda creepy, this one. Ultimately, though, it didn't do much for me.


Kenneth Brady, "Emergency Claus"

Santa as Rambo.

Ever wondered what would happen if Santa Claus were working with the U.S. military? Wonder no more. Turns out he'd be kind of a jerk.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Kenneth Brady, "I See What You're Saying"

Take the title literally.

This is a duuurty story. I mean, the science if applied would probably have the consequences envisioned here, but....dirty.

Read through splayed fingers here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Kij Johnson, "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss"

A circus, a girl, and the monkeys that disappear.

"No one knows how the monkeys vanish or where they go. Sometimes they return holding foreign coins or durian fruit, or wearing pointed Moroccan slippers. Every so often one returns pregnant or accompanied by a new monkey. The number of monkeys is not constant."

This is a Short Story nominee for the 2008 Nebula Award. I thought it was very creative. Kij is a technical writer, and, like Bentley Little and probably others, uses some of that profession in her writing. There are lists, there are bullet points. I like how she teased out the mystery. It was a thoughtful examination of the unknown. Recommended.

Read it here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Haruki Murakami, "Ice Man"

A woman falls in love with a man made of ice.

I dig Murakami. Writes some strange stuff, literary fantasy set in today's world. I am certain the ice man is a metaphor for something. If I were in University I would have to figure it out. I'm not so I won't. Just go with the flow baby, let Murakami tell you a story.

Read it here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Frederick Busch, "Frost Line"

A woman attends the funeral of the man who told her not to marry his son.

"I thought again of his father’s insistence on the splinter of ice in the heart."

The woman in this story seems conflicted. But her morals aren't held in very high esteem so you can understand the ending. That splinter of ice in the heart describes these people, ugh. Overall, the descriptive powers of Busch make the story worth reading. However, I didn't care much for any of the characters, except maybe the cab driver. He seemed cool, lol.

May be read here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Kate Chopin, "Regret"

An old woman from olden times experiences regret.

On a classic short story bent here of late. Kate Chopin wrote some pretty strong fiction at the end of the 19th century. "Regret" is a good one. Just when you think maybe you can fool yourself that going through life put you where you want to be, you get a taste of what could have been and, bingo bango, regret. I dug it.

Read it here.

John Cheever, "The Swimmer"

A man starts swimming across his neighbor's swimming pools.

This is one my all-time favorite stories. It's awesome on so many levels. Cheever is that guy who writes middle to upper class white person fiction and that can be one-note. But this story is fascinating from concept to the heartbreaking end. The idea of swimming across the neighborhood via their pools is fascinating to me. We read this in one of my college lit classes and I was blown away by it. Reread solidifies it as a classic in my mind. Very highly recommended.

Please read it here.

Norman Partridge, "Apotropaics"

A kid returns home and his buddies are freaking out, for good reason.

Quite an effective horror story here. Apotropaic is an adjective for something that wards off evil. I did not know that. I'm sure I will forget it. Partridge writes some creepy stuff and this is no exception. I liked the ending. This kid will go places.

Read it here.

Joe R. Lansdale, "Surveillance"


"The only place he had found any privacy was under the covers. He could pick his nose there."

I LOVED this story. Come to the rooftops with me and urge people to read this one. What would happen if cameras were EVERYWHERE, even your bathroom, monitored by those who think they have your best intersts at heart? I'm not a paranoid freak, but I have seen throughout my life the trend towards State Monitoring. Have you noticed the cameras at busy intersections? Congresshumans wanting to legislate our fat intake? Cops pulling you over because you aren't wearing a seatbelt, and, here in California, you cannot cell phone and drive!! How is that different from talking to a passenger in your car?!?!?

Lansdale hit a nerve with this one. Why NOT observe the citizenry with the "objective" of "helping" them live better lives? The protagonist is in the future, however it isn't a very FAR future, trust me. It's short. Read it!


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Charles Stross, "Trunk and Disorderly"

Something happens involving a dwarf mammoth in the far future.

Um. Huh? Stross is usually good but sometimes he's too clever by half. Whatever that means. Always wanted to write that phrase. Probably doesn't apply though. I was lost regarding this story. His far future civilizations are fully realized but this one didn't grab me.

Listen to it here.

Geoff Ryman, "The Film-makers of Mars"

Real-looking movies from 1911 show up."

This was a lot of fun. Very well told and for a film buff like me, hits the cinema spot. Not a big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs but that didn't matter. Highly recommended.

Read it here.

James Patrick Kelly, "Don't Stop"

Lisa is screwed up. She also sees dead people.

Kind of an inspirational tale, this one. Lisa needs to figure out why she sees dead people. I think she figures it out, but I wasn't all that interested to find out. Read it and tell me what you think.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Warner Law, "The Alarming Letters from Scottsdale"

from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December, 2008.

Letters from a hermit-like author get weird.

This epistolary story was very good. I'm a dog lover so it had me pretty early. You kinda know where it's going but it's short and a lot of fun getting there.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Wayne Wightman, "A Foreign Country"

from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December, 2008.

Third Party Presidential candidate wins and does strange things.

Here we have a light piece of SF about another kind of alien takeover. Kinda quiet and unassuming. Pleasant work but nothing to seek out.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stephen Baxter, "Last Contact"

The world and everything you know ends.

Now THIS should have won Best Short Story Hugo. It is by far the best story of the five as well as being one of the best I've read. What SF should be. Great science, touching relationship and dynamite ending. What would you do if you knew the exact date the universe would end? Take it from there, Stephen!

Read it here.

Franz Kafka, "The Hunger Artist"`

Title pretty much says it all.

Kafka is kool. I love The Metamorphosis. The guy could write. Here we have a man who goes around displaying his fasting ability for people everywhere. It's a fascinating story because the allegorical nature of it lends itself to many interpretations. I, personally, saw a Christ figure for whom people have less and less respect and, when he's gone, are happy to move on to bigger, better things. Highly recommended.

Read it here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dean Whitlock, "Changeling"

from The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, January, 2009.

A man gets involved with a strange female waitress.

Pretty good at setting the scene, Whitlock creates a small town feel with a river and foreboding island. Why this kid is so eager to follow this woman around is beyond me. And just when a mystery could be solved, guess what... it ends. Okay to pass the time with, but nothing special.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Martha Wilson, "A Short Story About Nova Scotia"

This is not really a story about Nova Scotia.

"Before I finish writing this short story, I should try to convince the reader that it was worth reading. Given that this story is art and not therapy because it has found its public, is it good or bad art?"

Do you enjoy meta-fiction? I do. Meta-fiction calls attention to itself. It can be frustrating to non-English majors but English majors like myself have more exposure to it, so it's perhaps more acceptable. Meta-fiction occurred as early as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and can be seen in great effect by John Barth and Kurt Vonnegut today.

The story by Wilson doesn't have much to do with Nova Scotia. But it is pretty funny and insightful.

Read it here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mike Resnick, "Distant Replay"

A man meets the spitting image of his dead wife.

I don't get it. Another nominee for best Hugo, short story division, 2008. It was dumb. So what? You see the ending coming a mile away, stilted dialogue. Blah. THIS is one of the five best of the year? Criminy.

Read it here.

Robert Reed, "A Woman's Best Friend"

Love across dimensions!

Robert Reed is another short story master I enjoy. He has a way of writing accessible stories that are usually fresh takes on old ideas. This story concerns a man who gets to meet another dimension's version of his wife. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

Read it here.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Terry Bisson, "Catch ’Em in the Act"

A man orders an out of this world camera. Wackness ensues.

Terry Bisson writes fun science fiction and fantasy. I have enjoyed his stuff quite a bit. The collection "Bears Discover Fire" is a very good book. This story left me flat, however. Just didn't feel any compassion for the main character. And the motives behind others escaped me. Nice try Terry.

Read it here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Patricia Ferrara, "Rising Waters"

from The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, January, 2009.

A boy. A lake. A submerged house.

It's supposed to be scary. It confused me. Couldn't wrap my head around the submerged house thing and why the boy can't swim away. Long paragraphs of narration with little dialogue didn't help me. I likes my dialogue.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Carol Emshwiller, "The Perfect Infestation"

from The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, January 2009.

Aliens among us! Don't be afraid.

Another space aliens invade our world story. Yay! This one is light and wry and some would say frivolous. You may not look at your dog the same way.

Couldn't find this one online. Sorry.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Steven Millhauser, "The Invasion from Outer Space"

An invasion from outer space hits a town.

"We had wanted, we had wanted—oh, who knew what we’d been looking for? We had wanted blood, crushed bones, howls of agony."

I love Steven Millhauser. He's one of my all-time favorites. He crafts prose so elegantly it puts me in the scene. I cannot recommend him highly enough.

Imagine my surprise over finding a story in the New Yorker, and it's science fiction! Elegant and short, we are treated to a benign (?) invasion from space. I, personally, would not want to live in this town in the aftermath. There's something creepy in the ending. I leave it to you to discover this major talent.

Read it here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Anton Chekhov, "The Lady With The Little Dog "

Love and longing in Russia.

IT was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog.

Chekhov is a master of the short story. I was alerted to this story by watching the movie, The Reader, where it is read to Kate Winslet's character and is also a story she uses to learn to read. I'm not certain about the link to the movie. The story involves a middle aged man falling for a woman nearly half his age. Both, however, are married.

Much of the story involves the juxtaposition of desire and duty. Gurov and Anna seem almost to be selfish people in their actions, however they do not leave their lives or spouses. Chekhov paints a fine portrait of Russia and uses minutia of daily life masterfully in conveying it's opposition to the struggles of this couple. Highly recommended.

Read it here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ken Macleod, "Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?"

A man pays off a fine by accepting an assignment to find out what happened around an experimental colony several light years away.

This was the best of the Hugo nominees I've read so far. It has, from what I've heard, that space opera Ken Macleod scope and interstellar travel. Thing is, it ended so abruptly. Can we get some closure? I could have done with some. Maybe a novel will follow. Ah well, I enjoyed it.

Listen to it here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

My Absence

On Friday, January 9th, symptoms became so unbearable that I had to check into the ER. I was later admitted to the hospital, eventually spending 7 days there. I had what was believed to be a small abdominal abscess that could be treated with antibiotics but proved a bit trickier. It required surgery and the abscess was the size of a grapefruit. Because I have Crohn's Disease, about 70 cm of small bowel was removed. I went through a scare right after surgery when my heartrate climbed to over 150 and my bp was around 80 over 50. Somehow I recovered.

I am home but still in pain. Recovery is slow and I am way behind on reading stories for this blog. I will try to do better but thought I owed an explanation for my absence.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Michael Swanwick, "A Small Room in Koboldtown"

A murder mystery with strange creatures played all noir-ish.

Well this one sucked. So far Tideland wins. Didn't really care about what was going on here, despite the clever ending. It just felt really Middle Earthy and the award for which it was nominated is a science fiction award. I don't see how this fits SF. Full disclosure: I've had problems with Swanwick. Having read 950 books in my life, I've only failed to finish 2-3, one of them being The Iron Dragon's Daughter, by Michael Swanwick. Critically well-received, I couldn't make head nor tails of it. This story had me feeling I was back in that world and it was unpleasant.

Read it here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Elizabeth Bear, "Tideline"

A robot thing helps a young boy mature and thrive on the beach of a different (?) future planet.

This story recently won the Hugo for Best Short Story of the year. It was up against four other stories, all available online. I have vowed to read these other four stories, if only to see if they are as esoteric as Tideland. I'm not going to say Tideland is bad. It is not. It just didn't go where I would have liked it to. This robot-shiny-thing-gatherer is referred to as female. Why? And why is she gathering these gems for necklaces that are to be given to people she would never be able to hand out unless for the chance meeting with Belvedere?

The mood was effective however. You felt the sand on this beach and the boy, Belvedere is well crafted. It's just that, for me, the whole didn't hold together. Much ado about very little. I look forward to reading the competition.

Read it here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sherwood Anderson, "The Book of the Grotesque"

An old writer has a dream that compels him to write something.

"That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts."

What a stupid story. Maybe there was a point, but I fear the point is that truth is relative? Or something? It ignores a deity and posits a world where men make truth and implicates you in all this. Horrible, yet conveniently short. Tell me I'm wrong.

Read it here. If you dare.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

John McDermott, "Passwords"

A cubicle drone has to deal with that annoying "change your password" message in a creative way.

"He wished he could karate chop his monitor, a swift open hand right down the center. The glass would blow out, the gray casing would crack, open like a shotgun wound, the wires and boards tumble out like so many high-tech intestines."

McDermott takes on that annoying message from your company's security people who think changing your passwords every so often helps them more than it annoys you. He then goes on to extrapolate how accomplishing this task may alter the path of his life. I liked the work atmosphere and thought McDermott painted a cubicle drone's existence accurately.

What does the final password he typed in really mean? Could be some significance here that I fail to grasp in my diseased pain haze at the moment but I recommend you take a crack at it. 8/10.

Read it here.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Cordwainer Smith, "The Lady Who Sailed The Soul"

Romance among the stars of the far future.

Cordwainer Smith wrote some freaky science fiction in his day. Much of it I have yet to get through but it involves a future history about the Instrumentality of Mankind. This story takes place in that future. It's sort of Chaucer "Tristan and Isolde-ish" in that the romance is long to develop and timeless when it does.

Framed around a smart-assed girl from an even future future who is told the story, we have Helen America and Mr. Grey-no-more, destined to be together despite the odds! Some quaint 50's era sensibilities creep in to the story and much is devoted to Helen's scientific voyage among the stars, but overall it was a pretty sweet story. I liked the framing device, used to remove the saccharine quality of the romance, I believe, and the actual horrors of Helen's travels were conveyed adeptly. 7/10

Read it here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Emily Franklin, "43 Lake View South"

A woman in an apartment building describes certain events in her life.

This short piece was interesting to me in that this woman seemed to know more about her neighbors than she did herself. The unexamined life is not worth living, it has been said. She tells us of her job, her dog, her porn-watching neighbor and, ultimately, we feel her loneliness. A sharp piece of descriptive fiction. 8/10.

Read it here.