Empty Places, Part 2

In case you missed it, “Empty Places, Part 2” as performed by LeVar Burton launched on July 4. I use the term “performed” advisedly, because that’s a distinction I learned early on. Back when I was attending more sf/fantasy conventions, I was fortunate enough to attend a reading by Parke Godwin. I’d been to a few readings before that and I’d always enjoyed them, but this one was a revelation–Parke Godwin was an actor before he turned to writing, and he approached his readings the way an actor would approach a play–as a performance. The characters each had their own voices, the inflections were placed where he wanted them, the emphasis of one word over another precise and intentional. I was transfixed, and it was a lesson I always tried to bring to my own readings when it came time to do them. I never had the actor’s skillset to pull it off in the same way, but changing my approach improved my readings greatly.

LeVar Burton has those skills. Listening to him perform “Empty Places” Parts 1 and 2 was almost as if I was hearing the story for the first time, and I wrote the darn thing. I can’t recommend “LeVar Burton Reads” highly enough.

LeVar Burton Reads

Review: MORT by Terry Pratchett

Mort by Terry Pratchett, Harper edition 2013.

Death takes a holiday. Sort of.

It’s no secret that Death (an anthropomorphic personification, as he refers to himself) was one of Terry Pratchett’s favorite Discworld characters. Playing with Death for fun is, well, fun, but with a very serious subtext that’s never very far from the open and flat-out surface text. Where Death is concerned for each and every one of us, the last laugh is always on you. Regardless, Death as personified in Discworld is, in a sense, a human projection who is not human and can never quite get a handle on what being human is all about. He is curious about mortals. Or to paraphrase Sir Terry himself, “He doesn’t quite know where we’re coming from, though he does know where we’re going.” Continue reading

Review: Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle

summerlongSummerlong, by Peter S. Beagle, Tachyon, 2016

When is a mystery not a mystery? Obviously, when the mystery isn’t the point. Or the mystery.

Yes, that will require some explanation. It’s coming, but there are a few other things to cover first. Abe Aronson and Joanna Delvecchio are old lovers, as in both over fifty and they’ve been together for a long time. Abe is a retired history professor who attempts to brew beer, plays blues harmonica, and is writing a book on John Ball and the peasant’s rebellion. Joanna is a senior (as in ranking) flight attendant who likes to shoot hoops when she’s not worrying about her unhappy daughter, Lilly. Joanna is looking forward to her own retirement, after which she can fly anywhere in the world for free. They are almost but not quite living together in Abe’s home on an island off the coast in the Pacific Northwest. They are, in a word, comfortable with each other.

That comfort begins to unravel when, on a night out at the island’s only decent restaurant, they meet a new waitress named Lioness Lazos. She is, in a word, different, something that both Joanna and Abe realize right away. First, there’s her appearance, like someone who just stepped out of a painting by Botticelli. Her accent is unplaceable, she tells a story of her past which is almost but not entirely real, and in almost less time than it takes to tell about it, and at Joanna’s suggestion, she’s living in Abe’s garage. Then really odd things start to happen, like beautiful weather on the island, which isn’t known for this at all. And flowers blooming as they’ve never bloomed before, and Abe’s notoriously bad attempts at brewing beer suddenly start going right, and— Continue reading

Review: A Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford

A Natural History of Hell: Stories by Jeffrey Ford, Small Beer Press, 2016

 

It’s more than a bit awkward at this point, wanting to get on with the review and wondering if I should first introduce the author, Jeffrey Ford, knowing all the while I shouldn’t have to do anything of the sort. Ford is, no exaggeration, one of the finest writers working in the field he’s chosen to be associated with. Or the field that chose him, since in our culture the kind of thing he tends to do has no real framework outside that of the fabulist. If he’d been born in South America he’d probably be considered a magical realist instead. No matter. It’s all pigeonholes and ways of talking about a thing, rather than the thing itself.

Did I just say all that? My apologies. But that’s what Ford’s work tends to do—send the reader off on tangents of thought and realms hitherto unexplored. After the story ends, of course. Until that moment, the story pretty much has you where it wants you.

There are thirteen stories in this collection, and all of recent vintage. Here you will find modern fairy tales, metafictions where a character named Jeff Ford is part of the story, biting commentaries on modern politics and insanity—lately almost one and the same thing–, observations on wealth and class, and none of the above. What you will really find, excusing the short-hand descriptive phrases attempting to categorize them, are stories. That’s what they are, first and foremost. The words attempting to categorize them above are cheerful failures. The stories are not. Nor are they cheerful.

Seriously. With a title like “A Natural History of Hell,” you were expecting sweetness and light? Oh, you’ll get that, too, but sparingly. There’s a dark, unflinching heart at the center of these stories. It looks in humanity’s mirror and describes what it sees, with neither fear nor pity to hinder it. There’s “The Thyme Fiend,” where only a cup of tea brewed from the herb of the title keeps the horrors at bay, until the time comes when they simply must be let in. Or “Blood Drive,” when an insane premise is logically followed to its insane conclusion and the world turns merrily on. One of my personal favorites, “The Angel Seems,” where common sense humanity shows that it has learned the proper way to treat a god.

Quibbles? Okay, fine. One or two of the endings did not quite come together for me. I only mention this at all because those cases were one of the few times I was forced out of the story into a consideration of plot, which normally you don’t even notice in a Ford story, even though it’s always there. Whatever strangeness is going on, you just go with it. If, for an instant, you can’t, it is noticeable. Fortunately, it is also very rare.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I do confess to being slightly put out by one story. We tend to get that way when we read a story someone else has written and sigh, “Damn. Why didn’t I think of that?” This happened in the centerpiece story, “A Terror,” where Emily Dickinson takes that famed carriage ride with Death. That line from HS English –“Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me” is all it takes to set it off. Not that my complaint matters. If I had written a story on this premise, it would not have been like this. Ford did it his own way, which now seems to me the only way, and he owns it.

He owns all of it. Thirteen stories only Jeffrey Ford could have written. Fortunately for us, he was around to do it. May he write many more.

 

Well, THAT Didn’t Go As Planned

WRITING 02Anyone who follows this blog knows I’m a little late this week. I had planned to have a review of Jeffrey Ford’s new collection,  A Natural History of Hell: Stories. I still plan to get that done, but I hit a bit of a snag. Here’s the deal—Carol and had planned to take a printing class at the Cooperstown Farmer’s Museum last Saturday (they have a cool 19th c printing press there). We had arrived and were on our way to the printer’s shop when, well, there was an incident. Continue reading