Saturday, July 30, 2011

Black Fire, Tanith Lee

Tanith LeeImage by Danacea via FlickrThis is another story from Lightspeed Magazine. Tanith Lee is a name I recognize. I am pretty sure I've seen her name and wondered if reading one of her books would be a worthwhile expenditure of finance and time. However, if this story is anything to go by at all, I would say her works are both a waste of time and money.

Really, it was just so awful. It's about some trailer trash couple. While the man is off doing whatever it is he does outside of the home, an alien visits his wife and has sex with it. How does a story like this make it into a science fiction magazine? It's a poorly written drama with a barely discernible link to science fiction that certainly does not belong all by itself. Really, I expect more than this.

Perhaps I'm a bit spoilt, having been engaging my reading habits with elite writers of what is now classical literature. But this trash is really hard to stomach. I'd say that the concept of a black fire is brilliant. And, really, it is, but she reveals (to her credit, she's honest) it is a concept she found from Milton. Milton, of course, being one of the greatest weights in the English canon.
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Neurotransmitters: God's Way of Getting You High, Christopher Sedia

Winning the faceoff can be the key to some str...Image via WikipediaThis is a review of the article in Lightspeed Magazine. The author is giving a sort of meandering, generalized overview about how people get high.

He brought up an interesting point about how sports can cause a similar reaction as using certain types of drugs. When someone does sports to a point of exhaustion, the body manufactures chemicals to create a natural high. When consuming certain types of drugs, the same effect happens. For awhile now, I have considered the issue of sports. How often do children get hurt playing them, whether it's the game of football, hockey, or even badminton. Certainly in the first two sports, I would be willing to bet that there are thousands of injuries every year. Yet, no one cries out too much about making sports illegal. Meanwhile, if someone gets hurt or hospitalized, or even killed, from taking a drug, the politicians get their pens ready to draft some daft piece of legislation to take away folks' rights over their own bodies with yet another substance.

Off topic of the review, but recently I did a bit of reading about crack. It turns out that the stigma of crack addicts willing to sell their mothers for that next hit, lying around with dirty needles sticking out of their arms, is as much a stereotype as the burnt out hippy smoking a doobie and forgetting everything. It turns out that a lot of people who smoke crack are also able to lead relatively normal lives. The huge addiction that we're so familiar with hearing about is as much a myth as anything. Sure, there are some addicts like that. There are some who get strung out with needles hanging from their arms. But these are just the poster children for the government to use to justify its war on drugs. But, is that really a good answer? Will a crack addict be more likely to seek help if the government sees the addict as a criminal? Does the cultural treatment of these people also exacerbate what is already a problem for the individual? Isn't that a bit like giving someone a broken arm because they have a broken leg?

In any case, the essay does seem a bit like of a ramble with very little substance. Perhaps I ought to say it lacks academic credentials. (Kind of like my slightly off topic meander) It lacks hard numbers and merely seems to be there to stimulate conversation.
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Friday, July 29, 2011

Cucumber Gravy, Susan Palwick

Sea CucumberImage by Rob Hughes via Flickr"Cucumber Gravy" is the next piece of short fiction in Lightspeed Magazine's January, 2011 edition.

This story is something of a combination of two things that I have been thinking about for awhile: marijuana and science fiction. My ongoing work with the book, The Northern Lights, is a marriage of those two very things. However, it's not at all similar to this work.

The protagonist is Whitewell Smith, or Welly. He's a paranoid, possibly schizophrenic, living out in the middle of nowhere growing and selling marijuana.

I suppose it's not schizophrenia that is causing him to see and hear alien cucumbers sing and dance.

A priest comes along to pick up a bit of weed for a friend of his who's undergoing chemotherapy. He shares the mystery of the dancing, singing cucumbers from another planet.

It's these types of stories that generally keep me away from these types of magazines and makes me wonder how low their standards really are.
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A Lightspeed Review on Facebook in Fiction and Speculation

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBase

Not too long ago, I decided to make the financial leap of purchasing my first magazine through Well, I suppose that honour has gone to Lightspeed Magazine. I'm not sure if it was out of gratitude to Amazon for selling me an instrument which would make the great library available on pleasantly accessible or if I was genuinely interested in modern science fiction. But, whatever it was that motivated me, I ended up coughing up the $2.99 for the magazine at You can find the same magazine through either the link to Amazon or the ad I embedded to the right. 

Postings From an Amorous Tomorrow -- Corey Mariani

The first story is "Postings from an Amorous Tomorrow" by Corey Mariani. It is the first published fiction by the author.

It somehow combines an angst against the social juggernaut, FaceBook, with an angst against a relatively pacifist culture. The average person has millions of friends. Those who do not have at least a certain number of friends are considered to be dangerous.

This is because of a single incident involving a person who had had no friends that went on a murdering rampage. The adults were unable to do anything about the problem because they had long been programmed against violent tendencies. There are no more wars. No one gets into fights. Everyone knows and likes each other, and therefore, there's no reason to fight. However, in the mean time, they have lost the ability to deal with violence when it does come. The solution, they found, to the terrorist, was to breed certain young children to attack and kill the provocateur.

To overcome the ingrained pacifism which the young protagonist had already been programmed for, he is exposed to violent images. In the end, he and others who are trained with him are armed with lighters. Those lighters are used to cause a fire at the home of their target, Nick. However, a consequence of doing this meant that the people who were trained to do the killing became anti-social. Thus, in the end, it is inferred that it is merely a matter of time before he loses his last thread to the rest of humanity, and therefore becomes a target of the next band of youths, trained to take preemptive measures against an antisocial.

Well, there is something to the story. In some ways, I could say that it's not unlike how old men often send young men to wars to fight. Youths are always sacrificed for the wants of the elderly. Sometimes it's a matter of defence, and sometimes it's a matter of getting a bit of property away from the control of another. In which case, it will become an endless cycle of youth-killing-youth. For, as each group of youths are programmed to kill, they lose their love for humanity, and thus become the target of the next group programmed to kill.

One might also say that there is a glimmer of Orwellian implication in this story. One might wonder if the narrator is really an insane terrorist or really just one cog working on a wheel.

In any case, this ought to be just the first of several reviews as I read the fiction in this magazine.

There is also a short interview with the author about the piece.

The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades: Guessing the Aesthetics of Tomorrow's Social Media -- Genevieve Valentine

This is an article that follows the interview. It also concerns Facebook. Therefore, I decided to include it with my review of the short story.

This article appears in the January 2011 edition of Lightspeed Magazine. Genevieve clocked the total headcount at 500 million users. Today, I took a look at how many figure in Facebook's tally (today being July 29, 2011), and they claim 750 million users. However, I would suggest that many people have more than one account. I can think of several people who have more than one account. My reason for having more than one is because I want to interact with my students, or at least have that possibility, while not exposing them to some of the adult interests I have.

WeImage by Bill McIntyre via FlickrZamyatin might have said that today we live in digital glass houses. Genevieve uses the word iGlass to depict the glass house theory. That is to say, people advertise to their customers through Facebook have a wealth of information on hand to help the advertiser target individuals who might very well be interested in the products that they are selling. Personally, I cannot find any objection to that. Having ads that are interesting to me is not a negative. That's a positive.

Genevieve sort of meanders around a few speculative ideas about the invasion of privacy. However, this very aspect is what is so attractive. That is to say, it has made finding long lost friends and family easier. I don't seem to communicate with them much more than I did in the past, but the potential is there. From time-to-time, I do see a tidbit of their lives on it. That's better than nothing, which is what I might have in Korea in the absence of Facebook.

Thus far, I do not regret my investment of $2.99 for this entertainment. Perhaps I will invest in another purchase from the makers of Lightspeed Magazine.
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A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain

June 15

Cover of A Tramp AbroadWhat can be said about Mark Twain that hasn't already been said? Many hours of my youth were spent on his novels. They were adventurous and provoking. I cannot say I tried to read everything that he wrote. But I did read a good measure of them. I think of all his stories, my favourite was "The Mysterious Stranger." In any case, this review is not about that short piece of fiction, but of A Tramp Abroad. A Tramp Abroad is available freely via To be honest, my approach to Twain is like that of revisiting a childhood friend who will never grow up, get older, or change at all. The only thing that changes is me. I suppose one might say, if I found a change in Twain, I would really be finding a change in me. So, perhaps by reading this book, it will be like revisiting the imagination of my youth.

Chapters I and II were OK, but to be honest, I wasn't really woken up until the first remarkable bit that I ran into which was Chapter III, "Baker's Blue-Jay Yarn." It reads like a short story. A short story told by some man and then retold by Twain. It's about a hermit who has lived so long away from civilization, that he begins to be able to, or imagine that he is able to, understand the language of the animals. In particular, he mentions the language of the blue-jays. He then tells this funny story about one particular blue-jay who finds a hole. He becomes so fascinated by the hole, which happens to be the knot hole in the roof of an old abandoned cabin, when he drops an acorn in it to see if he could hear it hit the bottom.

What was most charming about this story is that it was so easy to see the descriptions of this particular blue-jay as it tried to study and understand the nature of this hole. It is exactly the kind of description which one might have recalled when observing a blue-jay. What starts as a simple mystery becomes blown way out of proportion. Before long, the entire forest of blue-jays have gathered around this mysterious hole until one old jay manages to solve the mystery of it, and finds all the acorns on the floor of the cabin.

Mark Twain photo portrait.Image via Wikipedia July 25

This book is quite long. For the most part, it does seem like it's an autobiographical account of experiences that Mark Twain had gone through.

The part I have been reading for awhile now is concerning his adventures in the Swiss Alps. He has gone on some massive expeditions, including about 150 members of a team, to ascend to the top of a mountain. However, the story quickly becomes ludicrous to the extent that I am inclined to believe that the whole tale is a mixture of what is true and what is not.

For example, where I'm at right now, Twain is trying to lead his climbing expedition back down to civilisation from the top of a glacier. His solution to getting down is to jump with an umbrella to slow down the fall. This is just one of the comical episodes which seems to beleaguer the poor folks who signed up to join his expedition.

July 29

Toward the end, I am given the impression that Twain greatly misses his own country. He refers to a significant amount of food that he misses. Certainly, I can identify with that. A lot of time I do find myself missing the vast quantity of choice selections one has opportunities of in Canada. The gigantic stores which exist even in towns which support very modest populations offer a seeming acre of choice selections. Everything from a hundred flavours of potato chips to an endless refrigerator of different flavours of ice creams. Meats in giant proportions and discount prices are also etched strongly in my mind. The Korean grocery store might offer more varieties of rice and seaweed... but I don't eat either one of them to the same proportion that the average Korean family does. Well, perhaps next year.

Finally, I have finished reading about Twain's epic journey on foot across Europe. A few thoughts: Twain at this time must have been very wealthy. Also, he did not tramp across Europe as the title implies. He did more travel via train and slept in hotels and in other ways lived the easy version of the tourist's life.

It is not a bad book. It has a certain charm to it. However, I am not altogether certain if I would recommend it for the period of time it took me to read it. There are a few interesting tidbits here and there. Really, it read like something he had written well after he had met with his literary success. As such, it was not written from the perspective of one who by necessity tramped across Europe (for a lack of funds). In any case, the absurd moments were funny at times and enjoyable. However, they are really needles in haystacks. Read at your own discretion. I will neither advocate for it or against it.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Discourse on the Evils of Dancing, Rev. John F. Mesick

Infamous hallucination sequence featuring Vane...Image via WikipediaThis is a very short text on how evil dancing is, and how it will corrupt us and deliver us into the hands of the devil. It is available freely at

I'm not really certain what attracts me to mad ramblings. I suppose it's like being on the highway when there is a nasty accident being cleaned up by authorities. The urge to look at the horror is difficult to resist. That's what reading this was.

To be honest, when I started reading it, I thought it was a tongue-in-cheek essay. With a name like Rev Mesick, I thought the author was admitting to being some sort of sick weirdo. But, no. The author seemed entirely earnest in his condemnation of dancing and how it leads to hell.

Paradise Lost 13Image via WikipediaWell, what can I say? The heaven that these types of men envision sounds a lot like hell to me. Imagine a heaven where nothing is permitted, where there's a supreme deity that can read your mind and your heart (move over big-brother! We've got big-dad!). And, anything that promotes joy and pleasure is forbidden. The only occupation one might have is, as Satan put it in Milton's Paradise Lost, warbled hymns” and “forced halleluiahs." How one might see that as paradise is beyond me. 

In any case, one would hope that such insane thoughts ought to have perished with the last two centuries. Unfortunately, it's still quite alive. So, ladies... please, when a boy asks you to dance, just dance with him. Otherwise you get sick lunatics like Mesick writing this kind of drivel.
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