Monday, June 22, 2009

Kicking and Screaming...

...into the 21st Century.

I just joined Facebook. Though I think I'll skip Twitter. It seems like a whole lot of very little. I dunno. Reminds me just a little of Chinese Water Torture.

Anyway, look for me on Facebook. Although I suspect it'll be mostly family-ish stuff there. Who knows. We'll see.

At least I'm not as backwards as my parents. They only got a chordless phone a couple of years ago, still don't have an answering machine or messaging system, still running their internet on Dial-up. And this is MY dad. We had a desktop computer in our house before most people even knew what they were and bought our first VHS player when they were $1200 and video stores were few and far between!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Review: Historical Fiction/Bernard Cornwell

I do, on occasion, read historical fiction.

Some of you may be groaning right now. Historical fiction tends to have a bad reputation for being a bit dry, heavy with information and lacking in deep character development in favor of swashbuckling muscular men who have beautiful intriguing women falling into their beds--or being forced into their beds--at every turn, all being told in first person with a certain prefab style that is only just separated from sword and sorcery fantasy by the fact that the situations are based on real historical situations.

The great thing about historical fiction is that you, hopefully, learn something about history.

I've read Jack Whyte's Camulod Chronicles; Michael Curtis Ford's The Sword of Atilla, and The Ten Thousand; Michael Alexander Eisner's (Michael "Disney" Eisner's son? Looks like he could be.) The Crusader; Noah Gordon's The Last Jew; and I'm currently working my way through Bernard Cornwell's Alfred the Great Series.

Of these, I must say that The Crusader has been my favorite. It reads less like the standard format historical novel than any of the others. It, unlike all the others mentioned, is written in third person limited POV. Maybe that's why I like it so much. Who knows. I also liked The Last Jew.

I am enjoying Cornwell's books. They're historical adventure more than anything and spend less time than the usual with tedious historical detail. However, the hero, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, is the typical H.F. man's man. And something of a Harry Stu. He's just a LITTLE too perfect. He always knows the right thing to do, and no one else is as smart as he is. Part of that has to do with his personality. Remember, it's first person POV. So in part he comes off as arrogant, but it's believable to suppose that this sort of characteristic is a survival mechanism in chaotic times, so it doesn't bother me TOO much. I just hope my own characterization in writing isn't infected by it.

Of the two and a half volumes of Cornwell's series I've read so far, I probably liked the first best. Maybe because Uhtred was too young and untried to be quite so arrogant during the majority of it.

Still, as is the appeal of historical fiction to me, I'm learning some history in a slightly more interesting format than the majority of historical non-fiction. And I LOVE history.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Review: "Into the Cellar" by Ajani Burrell

I'm reviewing this story because it was simul-subbed to Flash Fiction Online a few months ago, but went to Barrelhouse before we could get it winnowed.

I was disappointed--not in the story, but in the fact that someone beat us to it.

"Into the Cellar" is the story of a man backed into a corner, and his triumph over himself. The main character, also the narrator, is contemplating his young pregnant wife as she stands at the top of the stairs. He's pressured from all sides--by the coming baby, finances, lost hopes and dreams--and thinks the unthinkable.

The power of this piece is that it lays bare the very kind of thoughts that most people, at one time in their lives or another, have entertained but kept buried inside. If you've never been angry enough at someone to wish they were dead, or sad enough to wish you could die, or frightened enough to wish you were invincible, or desperate enough to contemplate desperate measures, then you're a better person than I am, and a better person than, I think, the majority of mankind.

In the news today we're hearing all kinds of stories of people who entertained and acted on such thoughts. This story is the story of a man who entertained, but resisted acting on such thoughts. He's not perfect. In fact, he's quite ordinary, less than ordinary actually. He's not even middle class--and maybe that's what makes readers uncomfortable in getting into his mind. Maybe the fact that some low-income blue-collar guy thinks the same way you do? Maybe the idea that he manages to overcome, when many in better circumstances than him can't?

In the end, the narrator is as much a hero as Hercules or King Arthur. A man who overcomes desperate circumstances, who holds back the darkness just long enough to conquer the foe--himself.

I applaud Ajani Burrell for a fine story.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Flash Reads

I am currently reading a pretty good collection of flash fiction. It's titled, Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories, edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas.

Not every collection of very short fiction has been particularly pleasing. I can't, for example, recommend Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories, Edited by James Thomas and others.

But the differences between the two collections have more to do with taste than anything.

The first has some excellent writing, but more importantly has complete stories. The second is mainly 'stories' in vignette form. I'm not a fan of vignette, or slice-of-life as it is sometimes called. It's akin to peaking in a random window in a random city, seeing what's happening there but without knowing why it's happening or why I should care about what's happening. It's a device used often in literary fiction and narrative non-fiction but not one that appeals to me.

Some writers of such fiction claim it is supposed to engage the reader by leaving the unsaid up to the reader's imagination.

I don't know. To me, that's not why most people read. Which is why popular fiction is so, well, popular, and literary fiction is so, well, not.

But I won't harp on the poor writers of literary fiction.

I think you'd rather like to know where you can find some really great (or maybe not so great) very short fiction:

100 Malicious Little Mysteries, edited by Isaac Asimov
Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories, edited by Shapard and Thomas
Sudden Fiction (Continued): 60 New Short-Short Stories, same
Sudden Fiction International: 60 Short-Short Stories, same
New Sudden Fiction: Short-Short Stories From America and Beyond, same

Flash Fiction Online (of course!)
Vestal Review (stories of 500 words or less--mainly literary/mainstream)
EveryDayFiction (little bit of everything--a new story every day)
365 Tomorrows (daily sci-fi flash)
Story Bytes
Cafe Irreal (very literary, but some interesting stuff there)
Glossolalia (VERY literary--often more poetry than coherent story in style;this'll give you an idea of what is meant by 'high literary.' Like it? Neither do I.)
Flash Me Magazine
Long Story Short
Smokelong Quarterly

Podcasts and MP3 Downloads:
Sniplits (Some flash; MP3 Downloads)
Podcastle (Fantasy flash and short stories, podcast)
Pseudopod (Flash and short horror Pods)
The Drabblecast (flash and short stories of mixed speculative genres)

Happy reading (or listening)!