This year’s reading. If I finished it, it was at least good. If it has an asterisk after it, it was great.
1. Echopraxia, by Peter Watts*
2. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King
3. The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013, edited by Tim Folger and Siddhartha Mukherjee
4. All Heads Turn when the Hunt Goes By, John Farris
- Touchstone, by Laurie R. King
- The Madonna and the Starship, by James Morrow
- Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell
- Horns: A Novel, by Joe Hill*
- The Door in the Mountain, by Caitlin Sweet*
- A Taste Fur Murder, by Dixie Lyle
- The Golden Princess: A Novel of the Change, by S.M. Stirling*
- The Secret Place, by Tana French*
- The Lesser Dead, by Christopher Buehlman*
- Last Plane to Heaven by Jay Lake*
- Last Song Before Night, by Ilana C. Myer
16. N0S4A2, by Joe Hill
17. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of those who survived the Great American Dustbowl, by Timothy Egan*
18. The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014, edited by Tim Folger and Deborah Blum*
19. The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry*
20. Nobody’s Home, by Tim Powers
21. We Will All Go Down Together, by Gemma Files (As of this morning, I’m two stories away from being finished with this.)*
Plus some, but not all, of the stories
“Hard Stars,” by Brendan DuBois
“Something going Around,” by Harry Turtledove
“Solstice Cakes,” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman,
“The Faery Handbag,” by Kelly Link
“Strange Attractors” by S.B. Divya
I got a couple of seasonal presents this week: Badass Book Reviews has listed Child of a Hidden Sea as one of their best 2014 fantasy novels in their annual round-up.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Arts Council has, on the excellent advice of ChiZine Publications, given me a grant to work on a horror novel currently titled See How They Run. ChiZine publishes books by so many authors I love–Caitlin Sweet, Gemma Files, David Nickle, Paul Di Filipo, Claude LaLumiere and Derryl Murphy–and by a plethora of other talented folks I hope to come to love as I get acquainted with their works.
I am, of course, delighted and grateful to both the OAC and ChiZine. My understanding of how the Writers Reserve program works is that it exists to allow small press publishers to direct funds to deserving authors. In other words, there’s no financial benefit for the publisher–they read the submissions, of which there must be many–for the good of the writing community.
My point? If you were going to buy a cool weird book this winter anyway, and you want to throw ChiZine some love, I can guarantee you won’t be sorry. I’m halfway through We Will All Go Down Together, by Gemma Files, and it is a freaky good time. Or if you want to see a fictional rendering of Toronto’s recent citypolitik (and other subjects too), give Dave Nickle’s Knife Fight and other Struggles a try. Got teens? The Caitlin Sweet book, The Door in the Mountain, is a YA novel about Ariadne and the Minotaur, with prose so fine it will make you weep. Or, possibly, bleed.
What’s better during the holiday season than tucking in somewhere cozy with a fine book? Nothing, that’s what! I wish you all good reads, good food, and downtime in what’s left of 2014.
Something I did in October when I was in Vancouver was to tell everyone I know that I’d be at Caffe Calabria in the mornings, writing if I had the place to myself, and socializing if anyone cared to show. I met Barb there. Badger came, as did Emily from our old condo. I figured I’d see some of the cafe regulars, but it turned out there are a shocking number of them: I saw both Toms, for example, the alternate-energy physicist and the religious studies professor. An aspiring YA author, Jenny, was there both mornings. I caught Adita and Harry, the snowbirds whose daughter is a poet, on their last day in Canada. Oscar was there (what I know about Oscar is TMI for the Internet), and Yespat the engineer. I even exchanged friendly hellos with a trio of people I think of (not that this reflects well on me, but their voices carry and all they do is bitch bitch bitch some more) as the Friday Snark Club.
The sheer number of people I had a “Hey, how are ya?” relationship with and the delight that came with seeing them made me realize how many connections I’d built up just by going to work at dawn in the same place, 6-7 days a week, 2 hours a day. It drove home that I hadn’t even begun to do that particular kind of in-community root-growing here.
This lack of effort was no accident–in fact, I had it scheduled for November. I didn’t put much effort into a cafe hunt in May when we first moved to our new building. I knew there’d be guests coming and then travel and more guests and more travel, and the publicity push for Child of a Hidden Sea and then the film festival and more travel atop that. It was a thoroughly awesome summer and autumn, but I wasn’t keeping to the sort of schedule that makes it possible for me to settle into a routine.
Of course it was impossible I’d score another place quite as perfect as Calabria. It was 300 meters from my door, it opened at six in the morning, and Frank Murdocco’s eclectic curation of 20th century music is uniquely delightful, irreplaceable.
But! Now that October and all those trips are in the rearview, I’ve been going to a recently opened cafe called Portland Variety. The coffee is excellent, the atmosphere is right, the staff is lovely, tables are plentiful and the music leans to jazz (which is easier to tune out than pop, satellite radio’s litest hits or the go-to choice at Jimmy’s Cafe, the Doors.) I’m comfortable working here for hours on end, and there are starting to be other morning regulars. It’s not obscenely close to home, but the route back to the condo leads past the grocery, and that’s a significant plus.
It’s promising, in other words. I have high hopes that at last I’ve found this particular piece of my workaday puzzle.
Force Majeure (or Turist), from Sweden, 2014 (natch) directed by Ruben Östlund –
Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren
Kelly and I have been in foreign film withdrawal since the festival, and so when the Lightbox got this movie, we checked out the preview, and then beetled down John Street with all haste to see it.
I’ll start with the downside: this thing moves slowly. If you’re even slightly in the mood for action, this is not going to be the film for you. They come, they ski, they argue. There’s an avalanche, and you’ll be on the edge of your seat more than once, but it’s no thrill-ride.
What it captures is a nuclear family in the middle of an unlooked-for, necessary, and unattractive power struggle, wrapped in a version of that oft-told real life situation where a vacation that everyone expects to be be perfect–that they need to be perfect–goes irretrievably wrong.
Finally, I’ll note that could be argued that the overall message doesn’t offer any great compliment to men. (Which reminds me – we should talk about Scott and Bailey sometime.)
So, you might ask, what is cool about it? First, it is intricately scripted, in that way that allows one’s writerbrains to endlessly pick apart its pieces. Second, the husband and wife are interesting characters: flawed, believable, and in a situation you’ll absolutely buy. The avalanche invites you to ask: would I rise to the occasion? The film also examines traditional gender roles within marriages with kids. It drags to light a pretence parents in conflict sometimes maintain, for their own sanity–to wit, that their children aren’t aware of and aren’t affected by the fighting.
There’s humor, too. You won’t have a three-minute side-splitting belly laugh watching this one, but you’ll guffaw, more than once.
The avalanche scene and its after-math are filmed in a way that is singularly mind-blowing.
Ultimately, this is a movie about how honesty is hard. The main character has been building up a little pile of (mostly) unimportant lies around himself for years. Then he tries to get away with something bigger, because he’s desperate to cling to a little self-esteem. It doesn’t work, and he tries to brazen it out when it’s obviously not working. As he does, he sledgehammers the foundations of his marriage.
In a U.S. movie, this weaselly alpha-male would be played by Greg Kinnear.
The ski footage and the scenery at the ski hill, in the French Alps, is amazing and there’s lots of attention lavished on how the slopes are groomed–on how the entire ‘natural’ experience is artificially constructed. (The avalanche itself is a controlled fake, triggered by one of the mountains’ safety devices.) This is set against the family’s nightly grooming rituals: brush teeth, wash face, visit toilet. I’m not entirely clear on whether the director was saying that the basic human hygiene is also a construct, and essentially fake. But I am grateful to everyone who practices it, all the same.
So, everyone, what are you reading these days?
Christopher Buehlman’s The Lesser Dead has been out for about a month now, and if you like your horror horrible (as opposed to romantic, edgy, or cuddlesome) I cannot recommend it enough. Here’s my review at Tor.com, in which I try to say more than “oohh, oooh, squee, squee!”
This week I am reading fourteen student novel openings and a book that won’t be out until 2015. Sneak peeks are one of the perks of the job, and I’m looking forward to telling you about this one closer to its release date.