Book Reaction: Wilde Stories 2016

31310785This is the kind of book that you read all at once and then keep close at hand to keep referring back to. 2016 was a great year for gay spec fic, with stories by veterans in the field such as Richard Bowes, and new-comers who are on their way to becoming the next big thing, like Sam J. Miller. The stories collected here are wonderfully diverse, from spaces of the imagination in the near future to the surreal.

These stories were largely published in major magazines originally, so I’d read a few of them before. But this collection is valuable in itself because it is a wealth of brilliant spec fic stories featuring gay characters. So often I feel strung along by bromantic novels that end happily ever with the main bro meeting a pretty girl in the final chapters. It’s a relief to suspend that hesitance I approach every story with, not wanting to be let down yet again.

And yet despite that hesitance, or because of it, I missed many brilliant stories throughout the year, such as “Imaginary Boys” by Paul Magrs, which instantly became a new favorite. This is a great resource to discover new writers (whether they’re new or you’re new to them) in the field of gay spec fic, and just an all-around essential book for anyone who needs more gay spec fic in their lives (and who doesn’t?)

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Book Review: Player Piano

cover_0I first picked this book up about three years ago, around the time I started my first full-time job. I’ve always been a dreamerand had a fear of selling my time and becoming a slave of the 9-5. Through this book I was seeking a way to make myself feel better about signing my soul over to the corporate world. I’d heard that this was a book that explored the idea of why work is important, why we need to keep busy and productive to be happy. But I was disappointed that Vonnegut’s conversational tone wasn’t present in his first novel, and found the story to be slow and boring. I read the first few chapters and put it down.

Fast forward three years into the future. To now. I absorbed the book in a couple days. I couldn’t put it down. What changed? Me. I’ve had my ups and downs in the corporate world since the first time I tried to read Player Piano. I now understand the cut-throat world of office politics, but also the fulfillment of a job well-done and the structure of a set schedule.

I’ve seen my job begin to be phased out by automation software, so the story of a working force displaced by machines really hits home. But what really kept me turning the pages was the career of the protagonist, Paul Proteus, one of the few people left with a stable job after machines replace humans in almost every part of society. What really drives the novel is Paul’s identity crises as he tries to decide if he wants to go for a promotion or give it all up to follow his ideals.

FIG16Despite the fact that it was written in 1952, and the technology sometimes feels dated (audio is always recorded on cassettes, and computers use physical cards to record data), Player Piano is a terrifyingly relevant story that brings to life a future that we have already stepped foot in.

Though Vonnegut hadn’t established his voice yet, Player Piano is a great work of literature reminiscent of other satirical dystopian masterpieces. Vonnegut acknowledged that he “cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World,” and it’s easy to see the similarities, but his story is a fresh one, with a wealth of insight to offer us more than half a century later. This is now one of my favorite Vonnegut novels (And I’ve read most of them). It belongs on the shelf alongside Brave New World (We)Fahrenheit 451, and 1984.

Book Reaction: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr Penumbra's 24 hr BookstoreI’ve started labeling these posts “Book Reactions” rather than “Book Reviews” because I don’t want to write up a full review on every book I read, but I want to share what excites me about them.

So, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Where to begin? I loved everything about this book.

I hadn’t heard of it until a friend recommended it, then it sat in my virtual reading list for months, until I finally picked it up last week. Maybe it was for the best that I didn’t read the book sooner, because I have since worked in marketing and now as a technical writer for a software development company, so I totally get where the main character Clay is coming from when he is let go from his marketing/programmer job and thrown into the world.

Clay is a really fun character to spend time with and he pulled me in right away. I really wanted to follow him through his world and see what he was up to, meet the interesting, brilliant artists and programmers and obsessive readers. The other thing that drew me in is the physical books vs. internet-culture debate that rages through the novel, and Clay’s thoughts on both sides. I love honest he is, how one minute he is fighting to create a marketing campaign for a failing bookstore, the next contemplating buying a book on Amazon because it’s cheaper.

As the novel progresses, an intriguing plot develops, and more fascinating characters and ideas about the future of humanity are presented. I devoured this book in a couple days because I had to know what happened, had to discover its secrets-and I genuinely enjoyed spending time with Clay and his friends.

As I was reading the copy I checked out from the library, I found myself wishing I was reading an ebook for the poetic experience it would provide. This was such a brilliant, beautiful reversal on the concept of a paper book being the sarcophagous of the literary form. This excitement for technology is alive in the pages of the novel whether you read the physical book or the ebook (though I can’t vouch for the audiobook if there is one, it may have some differences-you’ll get this if you read the book). As it was, I read a well-loved paper copy that was creased in just the right places, cover worn but not damaged, pages turned but not torn-and this was satisfying as well.

This physical book vs. ebook dilemma really sums up my experience with Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. It is a celebration of the written word and its power in all forms. It is a celebration of humanity, of life, and a love-letter to the potential greatness in us all.

To learn more about Robin Sloan and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, visit his website.

Book Reaction: Above by Isla Morley

I was planning to review this book, but I decided to only post a quick reaction instead because everything I want to say about it would give away one of the things I loved most about it. All I will say about that is: in a way, this book is a retelling of Plato’s Cave. It’s bizarre that I came across this book when I did because I was just trying to think of a way to write a novel based on the allegory of Plato’s Cave, but figured the idea was too vast. I couldn’t figure out how to contain all the implications in the lives of characters and in the pages of a book, but Morley nails it.

The reason I’m talking around this book rather than about it is because I felt like I was at first being carried along the currents of a predictable story about a girl named Blythe who is kidnapped and forced to live in an abandoned bunker. In her captivity her present is interwoven with memories of the real world she is cut off from.

Maybe I was oblivious, or maybe I was just too close to Blythe’s experience, feeling the lack of wind and the soil all around instead of below, but I was shocked and fascinated by what happened in the middle of the book. It swept me along and made me look at the world in a different way.

This book was an exciting and surprising experience for me, and one that I won’t soon forget. It is crafted from madness and terror and all the ugliness of the world, but it is also a beautiful thing, held together by Morley’s poetic voice.

Isla Morley’s debut novel, COME SUNDAY, was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Award for Fiction in 2009, and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize.  It has been translated into seven languages. She has lived in some of the most culturally diverse places of the world, including Johannesburg, London and Honolulu.  Now in the Los Angeles area, she shares a home with her husband, daughter, two cats, a dog and a tortoise.

 

 

 

Book Review – Casualties by Kirsten Clodfelter

Book-Cover-194x300Describing Kirsten Clodfelter’s Casualties as a war book is like saying America is a war country. Yes, war is a prevalent theme throughout these five stories, but they are not primarily about war. These stories can not be defined by war, because they have so much more to offer, just as a country has more to offer than its soldiers and its potential for destruction.

Instead of being about war, these stories exist in a world at war; it is their setting, not their purpose.

From the moment you dive into Casualties, the silence is deafening. You are told by the title of the first story that “The Silence Here Owns Everything.” And that it does.

That silence doesn’t always occur because no one’s speaking. In “Where Will I Go in Search of Your Safety,” we are introduced to this distance that sound can only attempt to penetrate. A deployed soldier named Daniel calls his wife and “As he talks, his faint, uneasy laughter is swallowed by the crackling static, and I’m reminded that what’s binding us together in this moment is fragile-an electromagnetic transmission carrying our voices through a distant satellite to cover the six thousand miles between us-and the science of this feels so unreal that it’s like magic.” This is my favorite passage from the book because it is brilliant and poignant and just plain beautiful.

Later in the story, Daniel’s voice is described as “sounding lost somewhere inside his own body.” The silence in this story owns everything, not because no one is talking, but because there is too much to say, words and sounds cannot carry their meanings across such distance of space and experience.

In “Homecoming” a mother feels the pressure of war from all around her, pressure to support her deployed husband, pressure to take care of their baby all alone, pressure to welcome her husband back to a home that has been overtaken by the silence of his absence. “This is also a type of warfare,” Clodfelter writes. And this powerful assertion runs throughout all of the stories in the book. War is not only soldiers on a battlefield. It is countries of mothers and wives, and everyone on the planet, fighting in just as many ways.

“My American Father” tells the story of a Kuwaiti girl whose life is torn by war from the moment she was conceived. Her father was overseas fighting a war at the time and returned home to America before she was even born. She never knew her father because war pulled him from her before she was gone. Yet at the same time, war was the reason she was born in the first place. This delicate balance is also a type of warfare.

The collection ends with “What Mothers Fear,” a story that dives into the warfront. It shows the final cost of war as a family endures bombings and the fallout, the fear and uncertainty of shattered lives. This story takes the collection to the other side of the war, revealing the truth that war is not just America, it is every country in the world. It is terrifying and uncertain to everyone, no matter where they live, which side of the battle they are on, no matter whether they are carrying guns or children.

ImageKirsten Clodfelter is the author of a chapbook of war-impact stories, Casualties, published by RopeWalk Press in 2013. An adjunct professor of English and composition at Indiana University Southeast and Ivy Tech Community College, she also works as a freelance writer, editor, and social media marketing consultant. She is the Series Editor of At the Margins, a small-press review series at As It Ought to Be, where she is both an editor and contributor. She lives in Southern Indiana with her incredible partner and the funniest, cutest little girl on the entire planet.