Monday, October 31, 2011

Asimov's Magazine - November 2011 - The Novelettes


Well, I thought I would have more rather than less to say about the novelettes. But, as it turns out, I have less to say. Therefore, I have decided to combine my experience and interpretation of the two novelettes into a single post.

The Outside Event

The introduction to the author, Kit Reed, gave me a double take. Initially, I read 'transgendered' when 'transgenred' was written. In any case, she has her own webpage if you want to learn more about her and/or find more works written by her. It's not a great website, but it's certainly better than nothing.

The Outside Event is written from the perspective of a young teenage protagonist. She has gone off to what is a haunted house as a participant in a sort of reality show for writers. The competitors are a mix of young adults. However, it does seem that it's their social relationships that dictate the winner rather than their writing or the quality of their writing. While there are several mentions of how one writer or another manages to write six lines or a page or a few thousand words, this does not really seem to make much of a difference. It is not always clear what the real reason why a single member is eliminated or a swathe of members. There is no voting, there are no competitions or trials for them other than to follow the basic rules set in the beginning of the story.

I think it would be a very interesting topic: scifi reality show. However, I don't know if this novelette is particularly interesting or accurate to the genre. I think she could have done a much better job in this way.

I did not find the story all that interesting, but it did give birth to several ideas of my own. That in itself can be more important than just about anything you can find in a short story.

My Husband Steinn

Eleanor Arnason has a rather healthy list of published credits posted on her Wikipedia article.

Trollet som grunner på hvor gammelt det er, 19...Image via WikipediaThis is a story set in Iceland. Superficially, it's a story about a girl who lives in a hermitage. Far away from civilization, a girl, Signy, ends up winning the admiration of a married troll. That troll she kills or freezes by exposing him to full spectrum lights which resemble the sun's actual rays. He turns to stone as a result. Of course, one could reverse the myth and say that as soon as light appears, it turns out that it's not a troll and it's just a rock that kind of looked like a giant man.

In any case, the troll's wife comes along and finds him frozen in stone. She inquires about the reason, and finds out that her husband had been trying to cheat on her. Rather than get angry at Signy, she forgives her and blames her troll of a husband. Feeling bad for her, Signy takes it upon herself to feed her children.

There is a large hydro dam being built near Signy. As a result, nature and the magical creatures which hide in her embrace, are under a serious threat. Despite the elves best attempts at stopping the construction, it goes on, and they all decide to leave. Signy gets to be a witness of it all, and is asked to keep a historical account describing what happened.

A little further past the surface of this story, there is something a little more interesting. Again, this seems to play with the trope of conflict between religion, substituted with myth, conflicting with science (the building of the dam). It is about  how the further science and engineering encroach upon nature, the further back myth and nature get pushed.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Asimov's Magazine - November 2011 - The Man Who Bridged the Mist

Kij Johnson readsImage by Philip Weiss via FlickrKij Johnson is a very busy writer. I say this because of her webpage which is uniquely and glimpse at her page on  to see that she is very active. Apparently, she writes a lot, she publishes a number of her efforts in a variety of venues, and she gets nominated for awards. She's even won a few awards, including the Nebula.She also teaches the craft of writing from time-to-time. That all said, time to dig into the relevant work, "The Man Who Bridged the Mist."

This story is very low profile. There is not a lot of action in it. There is some suspense. I'm not sure it's what I would call science fiction, but more maybe something I would liken to fantasy. I don't see anything wrong with that, and since my experience with Asimov Magazine is limited to just the first two stories in this particular edition, perhaps it's not uncommon, or perhaps it is common, for what I'd call a fantasy work to coexist with science fiction.

I suppose, considering the fact that it is about the building of a bridge, that could be considered science. Kit, the protagonist of the story, is an engineer who is building a  bridge... over some funky mist.

The mist would have to be the main antagonist here. Kit's job is to build a bridge over this sort-of river. It's a river of mist, not water. Within that mist lives fish the size of large whales. These whales-sized-fish are fairly common, and are often attracted to certain types of noise. From time to time, a ferry in the act of crossing this river of mist gets swallowed up by one of these 'big ones'.

The culture in which Kit lives is rather primitive. Locomotion is provided by work animals. The ferries are paddled across. So, there are no engines to speak of. He becomes involved with a semi-celebrity of the area, Rasali Ferry, whose name is no coincidence. She is the one who ferries folks across the river mist in her boat.

The language is very fluid. It is skillfully written and it is well polished. Overall, I enjoyed the story - even if there weren't any laser firing spaceships and light sabre wielding green midgets.
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine - November 2011 - Stealth

Asimov's 2011 04-05Image by sdobie via Flickr"Stealth" is the first story in this edition of Asimov's Science Fiction. The author is Kristine Kathryn Rusch. She is credited with a number of accolades including winning a Readers' Award, AnLab from Analog, and she apparently now has a series of novels behind her and near fruition projects which will be published shortly.

Overall, I have a mixture of feelings for this novella. There is an overarching sentiment that I am getting from a number of stories, as well as a character type, which I'm starting to find not entirely to my tastes. In fact, I often like to start with a negative that I might leave off with positives. Kind of like eating your salad before you eat your meat or dessert. That said, the protagonist of the story is a 'galaxy's greatest scientist' faced with serious repercussions to her research (people die) which has given her a great deal of guilt over the accidents, and a fear that the technology, if mastery is achieved, might result in the ruling empire's having control over a technology which would give it an overwhelming advantage over her competitors. Thus, it becomes her mission to do her best to destroy the technology as best she might. She therefore becomes something of a terrorist, blowing up facilities while posing as a lead researcher.

Most of the narrative is told through third person limited, confined to the perspective of "Squishy"/Rosealma. Despite being described as a top level genius, there are times where her thoughts seem to parallel those of someone with not much education at all. For instance, the phrase, "She hadn't bothered to learn him in the same kind of depth that he had learned her." I have a hard time living with that line. It's not the type of phrase that a learned person would think. She doesn't use language in the way a scientist would.

One of the strengths of this novella is Rusch's interesting approach to a nonlinear story. It is relatively simple and easy to follow. Each reference to the past which has an effect on the 'now' has its own heading. Using this formula of switching between past and present, she manages to develop her protagonist's history with Quint, a minor antagonist/former-husband who works as security for the very empire she is working to undermine, as well as her reasons for blowing up the research station and showing that this is not her first time.

Rusch also has an excellent ability to fill out scenes with adequate descriptions that add to her story. She is an excellent storyteller. Again, my only quibble is with the sort of language that she uses from time-to-time as it's 'transcribed' from the thoughts of this super-galactic-scientific mind.

In the end, she gets away with sabotage. I don't really like the characters. I don't really like the plot. The only thing I really liked are her excellent descriptive passages and strong ability to conduct a temporally complex story in a very easy to follow way.

Just one thing I'd like to add: the subscription model deletes issues when a new one is loaded on, automatically. It is possible to go to Amazon's website and download a past issue. But then I had a hard time finding it. To be honest, I was not able to find it by hunting for the title. I did make a search for 'Asimov' and was able to find it and continue reading it. However, I think this is a poorly thought out idea. What they really ought to do is query the reader of whether or not they want that edition deleted or not. Also, it was impossible to predict when this would happen. I have a December issue even though it's not quite November yet. I find this annoying. 
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White Stains, Anaïs Nin

Portrait of Anais Nin taken in NYC in 70s by E...Image via WikipediaAnaïs Nin is something of a legend in soft core erotic literature. I remember finding her book on my father's bookshelves. I find most erotic 'literature' to be extremely boring and lifeless. Her stories are incredibly fresh (despite being decades older than I am), based on extremely interesting situations, which all have had a major impact on the development of my erotic psyche. Therefore, when I found the ebook, White Stains, on sale at for 99 cents, I was happy to pick it up.

Now, before I go any further, all of my real problems with this purchase have to do with the formatter who formatted this book. It's really awful. These are short stories which have no table of contents, no marking which one might fast forward to to find a favourite story, one must page through this book page-by-page rather than story-by-story or finding it in the table of contents and linking to it from there. This has got to be the worst ebook I've ever seen for this reason. Even to review it is a bit onerous. Imagine buying a paper book and not being able to navigate except by flipping every every page to get to it, one by one.

That said, as to the stories, they were not bad. There was one about deflowering a virgin which I wasn't terribly fond of, but it was still unique in situation. This gave it an interesting hue despite being in territory that isn't all that interesting to me. I'm not a fan of the deflowering erotica. The setup and buildup, however, are pretty erotic and it's well written.

Another story I liked was a story written in first person from the point of view of the sexual history of a man from the time of his youth. I enjoy it because it makes me think of my own situations which are still fresh in my memory.

Kama Sutra IllustrationImage via WikipediaThere is also an encyclopedia of f**king at the back which was interesting. Her reason for writing it was because she was not aware of any erotic literature that might be the basis of education for the erotic arts. I don't think she knew anything about the Indian Kama Sutra or the Japanese Shijuhatte. Thus, she decided to make one for people to study and read. 

I did not find this section particularly interesting. Also, she uses less than scientific terminology and more sort of the rough vocabulary more likely used by sailors. It's somewhat amusing, but I didn't find it particularly interesting, erotic, or informative.

Maybe it's worth the 99 cents. I guess it is. Ok, it is worth it for 99 cents. But, the formatter really made this book not-so-hot.
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Asimov's Magazine - November 2011

It's Been a Good LifeImage via WikipediaWhat can I say that hasn't been said about Isaac Asimov? Nothing at all, probably. The guy was a phenomenal writer and contributor to the genre of science fiction. Since 1977, this magazine has been publishing a lot of the finest science fiction in short form for 34 years.

On Amazon's site, there is a subscription service which costs $2.99 for a monthly magazine. There are a number of stories in the ebook totalling about 95,373 words, plus four poems, an editorial, three articles including one from scifi legend Robert Silverberg, and a book review. This puts it on par with a 300 page novel. While there are a number of novels on Amazon and for free or significantly reduced prices, Azimov's stories were written by skilled authors and edited by skilled editors. Thus far, the only real competition to this magazine that I have read would be Fantasy and Science Fiction. That magazine is a bimonthly for $.99 for, if I remember correctly, roughly 60k words. Thus, the two magazines seem to be on-par with each other when using a strict words vs. cost comparison. It is likely that my thoughts about Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine will weigh heavily in my mind as I analyze the value of this current edition of Asimov's magazine.

Before writing these initial thoughts about the November 2011 issue, I actually read the first novella and a substantial fraction of the following. Thus far, I am not disappointed with this side of the equation in determining the value of the subscription. I will go into details later. In fact, due to the length of this magazine, I have determined to critique each novella and novelette separately, and the short fiction together with the poems and articles.

Other initial thoughts are that the formatting of this book is very easy to navigate. Controls are clear and intuitive. The table of contents are very clear and easy to navigate and use. The job the designers did on this is excellent and, I think, equal to what Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine did.

One critique I have that is common for all eMagazines thus far is that they seem to review hard cover books exclusively rather than ebooks. I'm reading an eMagazine, not a paper magazine. It ought to reflect that the audience is interested in ebooks rather than paperback books. After all, if we were interested in the paper version, would we not have a physical subscription?

Also, I would not mind seeing a bit of science with the science fiction. I know it's not a science journal. But, surely, they could add an essay section to the online version without too much trouble. There are no constraints in length (practically speaking). I think speculative essays would add a very nice dimension to the magazine.

I do not really like how Kindle magazines cannot be organized by putting back issues into collections. The magazines are immobile from the general titles navigation. This is a problem I have with all the different magazine subscriptions thus far. That said, despite the limitations, I do not regret ordering an eSubscription, and I will likely keep it active for a long time. There are positives that are obvious, but I feel compelled to outline: I'm in Korea, mailing to here is very expensive. I can take the collection on a plane without worrying about adding weight. I do feel that the benefits of eBooks and eMagazines outweigh the drawbacks.
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Monday, October 3, 2011

West of Tularosa, Louis L'Amour

I remember in Jr. high school, maybe grade 8 or 9, there being a bookworm of a kid who shared classes with me who could always be seen around with his nose in a Louis L'Amour book. That made an impression on me. The second thing that I can think of is that there were lots of L'Amour books in the library. Enough to keep the kid going and going for a long time. I'm also rather fond of the western genre in movies with a special fondness for John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, to name the first two that come to mind. But, up to this point, I've never picked up a book of the genre or even a L'Amour. So, when this book showed up in the 99 cent special bin for the Kindle, I decided to splurge and treat myself to the book. Currently, it can be purchased for $5.59 for the Kindle.

Well, having recently enjoyed the great layout and formatting work from the two magazines, eFiction and Fantasy and Science Fiction, I can't help but be disappointed that more thought isn't put into most books that ought to make use of it. However, West of Tularosa is not really that bad (unlike the Anais Nin books I recently bought, which are nightmarish). At least there is a linkable TOC. However, there is one nifty little difference between this and all the other ebooks that I've read: if you hit 'menu,' you get not just the Kindle number that is customary (what that exactly stands for, I'm not sure...), but there is also the page number of where the text would appear in the paper version. I think that's great, and I wish they'd all do that.

This short book is actually made up of short stories.

Hondo (film)Image via WikipediaThere are a number of terms I had to come to grips with. The first of which is the term 'nester.' Now, nesters appear frequently throughout the book. A nester is another word for a squatter. It's someone who is living on some land that they don't own or have a right to in the legal sense. They just have a little home on some land that's owned by a rancher. Usually the rancher has an obscene amount of land and so they usually tolerate nesters. (At least, that's the way it's played out throughout the stories in which they appear.)

The second thing that becomes very evident is that the heroes of all of these stories is roughly the same man. He's between 17-under-50, lean, very strong for his size, tough, and a fast draw. He's got a great deal of honour and knows how to hang onto his image. For instance, Ward McQueen in the title story, "West of Tularosa," is taken as the likeliest suspect in a murder, he refuses to be taken to town in chains. He does, however, consent to be taken on his horse, without chains, and his sidearms. The impression on prospective juror members was important to him. A man in chains looks guilty whereas a man on his own horse doesn't.

A note on the editing job: it was only the last few pages that a few mistakes cropped up. The common criticism that I've heard about spelling mistakes and other artifacts of carelessness do not apply to this book. It's well done. Though, it was kind of funny to see a few mistakes appear in the last page.

I really enjoyed this book. In its way, it kind of reminds me of Tarzan: the primitive man, tough, honourable, and in his element, quite intelligent. I think 99 cents was a real bargain for this book. It was a lot of fun. However, I don't think I would have paid $5.59 for it. At best, maybe $2.99. That's a maybe. I think if another one of his books does come up for $1.99, I could easily purchase it. $2.99 I'd have second thoughts. $5.59, there's no way I'd buy it. Still, it's a good book.
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