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.