Monday, September 20, 2010

Reading, Publishing, and Writing?

Back again after another long blogging hiatus, with my first post since April. Once we decided to go forward with publishing The Worlds of Philip José Farmer 1: Protean Dimensions, the time I could spend reading dropped considerably. The time I could spend blogging about reading, disappeared entirely.

Since April I have managed to read a few books: Divine Invasions: The Life of Philip K. Dick, three or four books about editing and copy-editing, Nowhere Near Milkwood, The Percolated Stars, At the Molehills of Madness, The New Universal Book of Infamy, and The Postmodern Mariner (all by Rhys Hughes) and I'm probably forgetting a few others. I'm currently reading Engelbrecht Again (by Hughes) and the collection Before they were Giants.

So that covers reading and publishing, but what about writing? Back on May 30th, John Scalzi announced a fan-fiction contest which I decided to enter. Nope, I didn't win. But you can read my entry below. Much more importantly you can read the stories that did win, and stories by some big name talent, all trying to do the same thing; describe just what the hell is going on in that painting. And all the proceeds from purchasing this e-chapbook go to the Lupus Alliance of America. See, I told it was more important.

The following is a work of fan fiction. Characters and other trademarks in this story are Copyright of their respective owners.

The Assignment
by Michael Croteau

“...politicians, military leaders, captains of industry, professional other words, egomaniacs. Your assignment is to choose a figure who changed the course of history through the force of their personality, and prove your contention.”
Major Robert H. Heinrich stood tall and erect at the front of the auditorium scanning the sea of sophomore cadets in front of him. “Now, to make this more interesting—” this announcement was greeted with not-quite-silent groans, “choose someone unfamiliar to me, prove they had a significant impact on their society, and you’ll receive ten bonus points. The subject I deem the most obscure, while still meeting the criteria of this assignment, will receive twenty bonus points.” There were no groans now, as the class was beginning to find this interesting.

“Conversely,” he interrupted their thoughts, “if you choose someone as obvious as a ruler of a world power, or any Klingon ranked General or higher, I’ll deduct ten points. Oh, and I’ll warn you now, if I have to read one more report about Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, or Sara Palin, I will deduct fifty points.

“Class dismissed.”

As the other students filed out, Wesley Crusher remained in his seat already accessing his terminal. He decided to skip lunch as there was someone tickling the back of his mind. After an hour of sifting through his research from a prior assignment—a study of wars of the Palin era ironically—he finally found the man he was looking for. While history well remembers Athena Scalzi, the second female president of the United States of America, it has mostly forgotten her father’s meteoric political career.

“How’s it going Crusher, obtained your target already?” his squad mate, Joshua, asked.

Wesley held up a hand, gesturing to wait, while he finished reading. He shook his head, frowning. “Yes, I have a subject, and a good shot at that twenty point bonus, but studying him is confusing. This guy, John Scalzi, used to write a lot, a ridiculous amount in fact. However, after more than 350 years, the original meaning is lost because the frame of reference is so dated. Things I first assume are serious, were sarcastic humor, and articles which are so funny I can hardly read them, after some research, are revealed as true stories.”

“Like what?” Joshua asked.

Wesley consulted his terminal. “Ok, here is an article—one of many—he wrote about domestic felines. He claims that everyone he knows who owns a cat is a happy, fairly well adjusted person. At that time, there were tens of thousands of unwanted animals killed every year. So, after outlining all the societal benefits, his solution was to pass a law forcing people to adopt cats.”

“Wait, I thought you said he was a writer, how was he trying to pass a law?”

“Well, this is where it get’s interesting. He started out as a writer and was fairly successful. Then in 2010 he ran for president of his writers’ organization.”

“Really? There was an organization just for writers? What did they do, decide how spell new words?”

“Actually, I have no idea what this organization did. During his year as president, he stopped writing fiction. But, his daily output of rants, published electronically, increased significantly. Typically 3,000 to 5,000 words a day.” Will said.

“In the midst of this, he managed a hostile takeover of his publisher, a company called Subterranean Press. They stopped publishing fiction and just printed a couple volumes a month of his non-fiction. These were very expensive limited edition books, but they went out of business in a year. Then he got into politics. He quickly climbed from mayor, to his state House of Representatives, to the US Senate. Once in Washington, he made a name for himself as the most vocal opponent of President Palin. He parlayed that into a Presidential bid in 2016.”

“Ok, so far so good,” Joshua said, “so how come I’ve never heard of him?”

“He liked to campaign where video would show an enthusiastic crowd, so he only appeared at science fiction, comic book, computer and electronic shows. He would go on stage with musicians and sing humorous songs about his political ideas. When he finally participated in a debate with the other candidates in his party, he unveiled a painting of the other four sitting around a table playing strip poker. Instead of chips, there were various sexual toys on the table. Apparently, the fact that none of the four ever sued him, shows that he did his research. But he lost the debate. He couldn’t stay on topic, or keep from singing.

“He lost the first primary. He came in sixth out of five candidates. Apparently a dead rock star received more votes than he did. Then he quit. He resigned his seat, went back home, and never left his house again. Years later he was diagnosed with Cozerotic Megalomania. Similar to syphilitic dementia, it causes delusions of grandeur. There were very few cases because so few people drank the beverage that caused it, in the extreme quantities, he did.”

“Ok, so how do you make a case that he had influence?” Joshua asked.

“His daughter of course.” Wesley said, “He dedicated the rest of his life to her political career. There was even a rumor they had devices implanted in their skulls so they could communicate by thought.”

“Your dad’s thoughts in your head? That’s more than a little creepy.” Joshua said.

“True. But she was an unbeatable debater. My problem is that Heinrich is going to poke holes in my paper if I can’t get a better understanding of his writing.”

“So why don’t you interview him?” Joshua asked.

“What, how?”

“The holodeck can compile all the archived data and calculate the most probable responses to your queries. It’s not perfect of course, but pretty close.”

“Sorry Cadet, the holodeck is booked through the end of the month.” The grinning clerk, who didn’t look the least bit sorry, told him. “Let me guess, you have a history report due for Heinrich.”

“Yes Sir. How did you know?”

“He always assigns his ‘obscure historical figure’ reports when he knows the deck is booked.”

“What about after hours? I can come back late at night if have to.” Wesley asked, desperation seeping into his voice.

The clerk shook his head, then replied, “There are no after hours. The deck runs twenty-four seven. The only way you could get in there would be to volunteer for one of the experimental sessions.” Seeing the encouraged look on Wesley’s face he quickly added, “But believe me kid, it wouldn’t do you any good. It certainly wouldn’t help you with your report.”

“I don’t have a choice, where do I sign up?”

Joshua let out a long low whistle as Wesley relayed his plan. “I don’t know Crusher, I’ve heard some strange things about professor Rocker. They say he’s spent more time in ‘deep space’ than anyone else...without ever leaving his office.”

The following morning Wesley reported to the office of mathematics professor Rudy Rocker, hoping to participate in an experiment that would allow him access to the holodeck.

“So tell me young man, the nature of simulation you wish to run.” Professor Rocker asked.

“I need to interview an historical figure, a writer and politician named John Scalzi.” Wesley answered.

“Is there much written about him, any video footage?”

“Yes Sir, very much. There are several million words he wrote himself, mostly non-fiction, although it can sometimes be hard to tell, that’s why I need to interview him.”

“Excellent! Millions of words written by the subject himself, I believe this could make a most interesting test case. Are you familiar with the nature of my experiments?” Rocker asked.

“Actually, no Sir. I made inquiries but no one understood it well enough to explain.”

“Well, I feel that the problem with the holodeck is the simulations are too correct. If six different people said they wanted to witness the assassination of Julius Caesar, they would all see the same exact program. The extraneous details and peripheral oddities are the depth that is needed to make the holodeck more realistic. These qualities, which I like to call ‘randomness’ and ‘weirdness’ make the universe interesting, don’t you think?”

“I suppose so, but I think—”

“Trust me,” the professor interrupted. “Ok, I will allow you to assist me in my next experiment. Transfer the data you have amassed and I should be ready for you in a couple of days.”

Four days later Wesley was scheduled to run his simulation.

"Ah, Cadet Crusher, I am just finalizing the parameters of our experiment. The amount of data, archived video footage, and personal recorded opinions of Mr. Scalzi required three days to process. He was quite the publicity addict, wasn’t he? With the excess of information, we are setting all variables to their maximum values. It will be an extreme experiment, as these levels are approximately four times higher than any other simulation to date.” Professor Rocker excitedly explained to Wesley as they approached the entrance to the holodeck.

“What sort of abnormalities should I expect professor?”

“It is not possible to expect what has been programmed to be unexpected,” mused Rocker with a faraway look. Turning his attention back to Wesley, he continued, “however, I can give you an example. One subject wanted to box Theodore Roosevelt and found himself in a mud pit grappling with the former President . That was the random segment, the weird portion was they were both clothed in women’s bathing attire and they...well never mind, best not to worry you.

“Since your subject did not leave his home for the second half of his life, that is where you will meet him. Shall we begin?”

Wesley stepped into the middle of the room, data recorder in hand. The next thing he knew he was falling against a black velvet sky, then details of his surroundings assaulted him, faster than he could assimilate them; the recorder was gone, replaced by a long heavy spear; his other hand held a leather strap; which was the harness of the unicorn he was riding; which was flying he realized as heavy wings beat out to his sides; a loud “merrrowww” brought home that his steed was in fact a cat; looking down he noticed more strangeness, his shirt bore an evil looking alien visage; his pants were gone, he was in his underwear and he could see gray hair on his legs. As both arms were already growing weary he had a sudden realization; he was old! Just then the pegasus unicorn kitten dove, plunging towards the ground and Wesley screamed in terror.

Below him was yet another surprise, he saw John Scalzi standing on his front porch. Only it wasn’t Scalzi, and not quite a front porch. A greenish brute with Scalzi’s face, wearing armor and wielding an axe, was raging on the cave’s ledge, yelling something. As Wesley swooped down closer he could just make out the words.

“Stop thief! That’s my cat!” the Scalz-orc wailed, “Fluuuuffffyyyy!”

Suddenly the room was bright and empty and Wesley was still standing. The doors opened and Professor Rocker ran in. “As soon as I saw what you were experiencing, I shut it down. My, that was weird, was it not? It will take me the some time to study the feedback. Thank you for your participation. I’m sorry you weren’t able to learn anything today.”

Wesley looked a little shell shocked, but light dawned in his eyes. “I did learn one thing today.”

“Really, in those few seconds, what did you learn?” the professor asked in astonishment.

“How to pronounce G-h-l-a-g-h-g-h-e-e.”

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Where to start reading Philip José Farmer

Judging by the ascending sales rank at amazon for the new Tor edition of Riverworld (an omnibus of To Your Scattered Bodies Go and The Fabulous Riverboat, the first two books in Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series), excitement is growing for the new Riverworld miniseries coming soon on Syfy.

While Riverworld is Farmer's best known series, last week I chose to reread The Maker of Universes, the first novel in what is arguably his best series: The World of Tiers. Maker is a grand adventure tale in the Edgar Rice Burroughs tradition but which also shows off Farmer's inventiveness. An immortal race of Lords create their own "pocket universes" which contain creatures, and even physical laws, different than in our own. These Lords have lost the knowledge to create their advanced technology and simply use the tools they still have. They have grown isolated and decadent and now their biggest thrill is trying to kill each other off.

However, the most interesting character in the book, who becomes the protagonist from the third book on in the series, is not a Lord, but a thorn in many of their sides; Paul Janus Finnegan, also known as Kickaha. Picture a Tarzan-like character with a wicked sense of humor. One who, if he doesn't have time to take a few women while raiding an enemy's camp, will at least pause long enough to pee in their stew pot.

Philip José Farmer has described Paul Janus Finnegan (note the initials) as having characteristics he wish he possessed himself. While Peter Jarius Frigate, from the Riverworld series, behaves much more as Phil himself does.

As a rule I don't care for Book Club books, but the SFBC World of Tiers omnibus collections published in the 1980s were my—and many others—introduction to Farmer. They are one good place to start reading him.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I finished two books last week. The other was The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont. I thought I knew what to expect going into this book, and from the reviews and word of mouth I had high expectations. This book exceeded them on all fronts.

First, for some twisted reason, I love reading about writers. My favorite books by Isaac Asimov, of which I've probably read a hundred, are his autobiographies. Often my favorite part of anthologies and short story collections are the introductions giving you some of the story behind the story. I even love reading about writers in fiction. One of my favorite scenes in a P.G. Wodehouse novel goes something like: Aunt Dalia called. Though Nero Wolfe was about to have Archie call Inspector Cramer to bring everyone to his office so he could reveal the killer, I had to put the book down and go to her. (That's from memory and so no where near as good as the original). And don't even get me started on Philip José Farmer's fictional author period.

So, I knew going in the book was about Lester Dent and Walter Gibson, with L. Ron Hubbard and H.P. Lovecraft thrown in as well. But many other authors appear, including several science fiction writers (I won't say who as one of them is a surprise). So Paul did a wonderful job peopling the book. But where it really surprised me was the adventure itself. Just like in the pulps the book celebrates, the action builds and builds and keeps coming at you, one surprise after another. This is the part of the book that really went way beyond my expectations.

I'm definitely looking forward to reading his second book, Jack London in Paradise, and perhaps a sequel to Chinatown sometime down the road.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Journeys Beyond Advice

I've been so busy lately I've had almost no time for blogging. I finished two books last week and this is my first chance to talk about them, and I only have time for one. Maybe I'll get to the other one tonight.

One of the keys to enjoying fiction is the "willing suspension of disbelief," and Rhys Hughes is its poster child.

Journeys Beyond Advice is, fittingly, a collection of stories about people going on journeys. Bad ideas all of them. If you found yourself in the any of the protagonists' shoes, you'd take them off and run like hell in the other direction.

In almost all these stories, and much of Rhys' work, you read them as a spectator. You don't identify with the character and see the story through their eyes, or if you do, you don't for long. There is no agonizing over why the character made a decision you would not have made, because you would have made the decision not to be in the story in the first place!

One of these days maybe I'll come up with another word or phrase to describe Rhys' writing, but for now I have to stick with surreal. Here are a few highlights from the collection:

One of my favorite stories is the longest in the book, "The World Beyond the Stairwell." It is an epistolary story made up of journal entries, letters, a radio interview and even a manuscript outline sent to a publisher. Somewhat uncharacteristically it starts out like a "normal"--perhaps a little gothic--story. A man visits his friend's home out in the country, the friend isn't there but has left him a simple task; climb a stairway and block the door at the top. Of course the stairway is longer than he can imagine, longer than you can image. No really, even longer than that. And things happen on the stairway to make him change his quest and well, it doesn't really read like a "normal" story anymore.

"The Swine Taster," was a hoot, but no thank you, I don't think I'll try the Voluntary Ape Pie.

"The Semi-Precious Isle," has a couple of meta-fictional twists in it, I don't want to say more and give anything away.

"The Herb Garden of Earthly Delights," is one of several stories by Rhys I've read that make me think he's probably backpacked across Europe a few times. But that's the middle of the story, the really cool parts are the beginning and the end.

"The Singularity Spectres," is what I consider to be a typical Rhys Hughes story. A character in an impossible situation, believing ridiculous premises, taking an unfathomable journey. Full of humor, surprises, double crosses. Lots of fun, but don't take my word for it, you can read it here. Just click on the "Download this ebook" pdf link.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Book Signings: a good habit to start young

I took my son Jordan and his friend Andrew, both eight years old, to a book signing today. Yup, Anne Rice was in town...just kidding! Actually I took them to the always awesome, Little Shop of Stories in downtown Decatur. We didn't go for Mary Pope Osborne on Thursday but we did pick up a few of her signed Magic Tree House books while we were there. We went Saturday for the Origami Yoda Event! Did we yes.

Tom Angleberger has written a book titled, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Not only did he read from the book (funny stuff), and show us all how to make our own Origami Yoda, but he also did fun things like challenge kids named Larry to try and snatch balls away from him while he was juggling.

He also did a great job with the signing, talking to the kids, and inscribing the books, "may the folds be with you," and drawing a picture of Yoda. The kids had a blast and I think Tom did too.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Time Masters by Wilson Tucker

I can't quite put my finger on what it is I like so much about Wilson Tucker's science fiction novels. There is, almost always, something about the protagonist you instantly connect with. Even when this character isn't an ordinary Joe, there is enough familiarity in their behavior that you have no problem seeing the world through their eyes.

Perhaps Tucker's strength is simply that he does everything well; he tells a good story, with good pacing, natural dialog, believable characters, and doesn't seem to make a misstep. He is definitely one of the most under appreciated writers of his era.

The Time Masters isn't one of his more popular books; like The Year of the Quiet Sun and The Lincoln Hunters. However, with the exception of The Long Loud Silence, it is my favorite novel of his so far. I enjoy a book that mixes some history in with the fiction, and The Time Masters does that very well.

I have a few more Tuckers on the shelf to read: Resurrection Days, Time:X, Ice & Iron and the suspense novel This Witch. But next up is The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Brain Candy

As expected, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Kinky Friedman's, 'Scuse Me While I Whip This Out. I finished it about 48 hours after bringing it home from the Library, but I have not had time to blog since then. So I'm already half way through the book that took it's place in the downstairs reading room, The Time Masters by Wilson Tucker. But more on that later.

Since I already returned 'Scuse Me to the library I can't quote from it, but I can give you a clear and vivid picture of just how good it is. It's so good; I actually enjoyed the (many) parts of it that talked about country music. Kinky is probably the only author in the world who could get me to read about country music. And like it. (Kind of like Bill Simmons my favorite sports writer at He's so entertaining I'll even read his columns about basketball.)

I went to a Kinky Friedman book signing in Atlanta once. I had a plan. When it was my turn, I would ask him if he read any science fiction. If he said yes, I would ask him if he read Philip José Farmer. If he said yes again, I would give him a couple of copies of Farmerphile and ask if he'd write an article for the magazine. It would be great, a real coup to get someone so far outside of scifi, and I knew it would be great, a really funny article.

When I finally got to the head of the line I asked him the first question, he replied, "Nah, I don't read that stuff."

Oh well, proof that he isn't perfect anyway.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Unchained and Unhinged

Joe R. Lansdale is an author I admire greatly. I just wish he wasn't a horror writer!

He claims he doesn't really write horror very much, but most of his work is darker than I normally like to read. I liked the first two Hap & Leonard novels, I really liked Bubba Ho Tep and I loved Zeppelins West, but the collections Best Sellers Guaranteed and Unchained and Unhinged, were hit or miss for me. I either love the story, or it's horror.

So, perhaps I need to just stick with the novels and not the short story collections?

The first section of Unchained and Unhinged was my favorite part as it contains five essays about writing. For some reason I love reading about writing and about writers. I've said here before that often my favorite part of anthologies are the short introductions giving you the background of the stories, instead of the stories themselves. I liked reading these stories, except when they got too gruesome. The funny thing is I especially liked the short-shorts, which have to be very clever very quickly, even though they were mostly horror.

So now I can't decide which of Joe's books I want to get next, The King and Other Stories, which is full of short-shorts, or Flaming London, the sequel to Zeppelins West. Maybe I'm coming around to Joe's way of thinking; some of these stories may be a little gruesome, but their not really horror stories.

I started two new books this weekend, Journeys Beyond Advice by Rhys Hughes, which so far is nothing like any of this other books. So he continues to surprise me. And 'Scuse Me While I Whip This Out, by Kinky Friedman, because sometimes I just need some brain candy. Kinky is always an easy flowing laugh out loud funny read. And he makes it look so easy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mike is thinking about publishing

The one—and only—bad thing about publishing Farmerphile: the Magazine of Philip José Farmer is how much it cut into my reading time. I announced the rebirth of Farmerphile as an Annual anthology a little over a week ago and it's already having a similar affect. Of course with the first issue being due out in June, just four short months away, it's almost as if we're back to doing a quarterly magazine.

I also started my attempt at relearning computer programing in earnest this week. So far this is going well, it but it is a another time eater. Which is why I was up until 2:00am last night finishing Tales of the Shadowmen 6. Ok, I would have been to sleep by 1:00 if I hadn't found Pearl Jam's performance on Austin City Limits online here. I had to watch that last night. Since then I've listened to it twice while doing other things; in fact I'm listening to it right now.

As I said in a previous post, Black Coat Press' Tales of the Shadowmen series somehow gets better with each book. Even though this volume has this awesomely creepy cover and the theme Grand Guignol, "is dedicated to simpler horrors and theatrical villainy," the book contains little "horror." I won't describe all the stories in this excellent collection, but here are some of the high points.

It starts with Christopher Paul Carey's first solo effort in a Shadowmen collection, "Caesar's Children," which at it's core is an astoundingly original idea. You know all those Utopian novels written by Thomas More, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Edward Bellamy, Ignatius Donnelly, Jack London, etc.? What if they all came to fruition, at the same time, spread out in separate city-states all over the world? My utopian society is better than your utopian society, that's better than my religion is better than your religion.

Win Scott Eckert's story "Is He in Hell?" is the first in a series of stories filling in the "numerous gaps in the secret history of Wold Newton..." and features The Scarlet Pimpernel! If that doesn't pique your interest, you can turn in your WNMS badge at the door.

Matthew Baugh & Micah Harris teamed up for the wildly entertaining story "The Scorpion and the Fox." This story tells of the same shared adventure from two very different points of view, those of Rakhmetov and Becky Sharp. Ms. Sharp was the more interesting character, so much so I'd like to read more of her.

"The Treasure of Ubasti" by Travis Hiltz was my favorite cross-over story, with Mowgli meeting the unadventurous Dr. Henry Jones.

John Peel's "The Biggest Guns" would have been my favorite story in this collection. It is also a story, I think it is safe to say, Philip José Farmer would have gotten a kick out of. But, there are major continuity issues with the story, especially the ending. The ending is so wrong based on previous published accounts, that this story loses all it's credibility. A shame really.

Dennis E. Power's "No Good Deed..." is another favorite in this volume. As is often the case, I'm not familiar enough with most of these French characters, so I don't get much of the deeper significance of what is going on during the story. But the "reveal" at the end of this one was the biggest surprise in the book. It certainly put the biggest smile on my face.

David L. Vineyard's "The Children's Crusade" is a fun story for those of us who enjoy tales of espionage, scams, stings, and other trickery. I could see the twist at the end coming, but not all of it.

Really there is too much to talk about in this book with nearly every story being well worth reading. The volume is closed out with the fifth installment in Brian Stableford's alternate history tale where the dead can come back to life. But not really in a scary way.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The God Engines

John Scalzi is on a serious role. Everything he touches (writes) lately, turns to gold (great reviews, strong sales, award nominations...). His latest novella, and first foray into fantasy, The God Engines, is no exception.

This book arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago, and it was so hard to not read it right then and there. But, I was already in the middle of two books that I wanted to finish first and for once I showed some self-restraint. As it turned out, the book is an absolute page turner and is nearly impossible to not read in one sitting.

Thanks to John, you can read the first chapter online at his website. Without giving any spoilers it's hard to discuss this short book in any detail. It is a very dark and bleak take on religion with a few gruesome scenes and a couple of surprises towards the end. Definitely not a book for the kids, or if you insist on happy endings.

Here's hoping Subterranean Press and John Scalzi team up in 2010 as they did in 2009 with a couple of short projects like this one and Judge Sn Goes Golfing.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Stories from a Lost Anthology

When I first started reading Philip José Farmer, in high school and college, a lot of it went over my head. For example I'd never heard of Doc Savage before I read A Feast Unknown and it's simultaneous sequels, Lord of the Trees and The Mad Goblin. Often I knew I was missing references, but, as I learned in subsequent readings years later, some things were so far over my head I didn't even know they were there.

I sometimes get the feeling the same thing is happening when I read Rhys Hughes. Either he's riffing on people I've never heard of, let alone read, or he's just that original.

There are a small handful of authors that, to me anyway, are on different plane than 99% of the writers in the world. These wordsmiths can simply do things with the English language that go beyond telling a story: Mark Twain, P.G. Wodehouse, Vladimir Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut and (believe it or not) Kinky Friedman, all have a certain artistry to their work. These are all writers who've made me think, excitedly, "I didn't know you could do anything like that," and at the same time, sadly, "just one more example of why I'll never be a writer."

While in my estimation Rhys Hughes has not yet reached those lofty heights, his writing does have a similar effect on me. He constantly amazes me.

Now that I've gotten all that out, as for actually writing a review of his collection, Stories from a Lost Anthology, I think I'll direct you to this excellent review by William P Simmons instead.

Next up on my reading list, The God Engines, by John Scalzi.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tales of the Shadowmen

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Steppe by Piers Anthony, which I finished last week, but have not had a chance to blog about. This was a fun read and very compelling. While I'm not familiar with the time period Piers references, I'm willing to bet he did his homework and got all that right.

The really fun part about the book is his idea on the effect serious computing power could have on games. This was a take on "virtual reality" games I've never seen before. Perhaps his really brilliant idea was the fact that people would watch other people playing these games on TV. Reality TV taken to the next level.

Don't be surprised if I read more of Piers this year. I have several books on the shelf I've never gotten around to: Chthon, Macroscope, Orn and a few of the Xanth books.

Since I finished Steppe I've been reading Tales of the Shadowmen volume 6. So far this is my favorite Shadowmen book yet. Jean-Marc really has a wonderful series on his hands as these somehow keep getting better and better. I'll give a review of this once I've finished it, but so far I've been blown away by the ingenuity of the authors. The ideas behind many of these stories are fantastic.

But, before then I'll be reviewing Stories from a Lost Anthology by Rhys Hughes, which I've nearly finished.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Quick Aside

I'm in the middle of two books and don't expect to finish either this week since my reading time is being cut into by a couple of projects. But, I just wanted to take a second to say, completely off topic, that the Beatles Rock Band for the Wii is awesome!

I've never understood the allure of Guitar Hero since you're not actually playing a guitar when you play the game. But, playing the drums is different, it is much closer to actually playing the real instrument. When I read the manufacturer's claim that if you can play a song on the drums on expert level you can pretty much play that song for real, I was in.

My secret plan was to use Rock Band to get my son (8) and maybe even my daughter (14) to play the drums. We have a real set in the basement but I can't get them interested in it, I'm the only one who plays (perhaps if I found some Star Wars drum heads, my son would...nah, never mind).

The surprise has been how much my wife enjoys playing the guitar and how much my son loves to sing! So much so in fact that everyone else in the house now refuses to be in the room during yet another rendition of Yellow Submarine. My daughter is the most versatile as she can play (the game version of) the drums, guitar, or sing, with relative ease, but she is the least interested in playing. I play the drums almost exclusively. I've only tried the guitar once and barely finished a song, and so far I am the only one in the house to FAIL while singing on the Easy level.

So, while my plan of turning my son into Ringo Starr seems to be floundering, I have been amazed at how much my kids are enjoying the music. I'm taking this as a great victory since I have had very little luck turning them onto good music so far.

Now if I can just finish, I Want You (She's So Heavy), on the hard level (current best is 87%), I'll be happy.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I did it again...

Earlier this year I signed up with Planet Stories Ongoing Subscription service, which sends me a new book every other month or so. In the mail Monday comes their latest book, Steppe by Piers Anthony. I did not plan on reading this book next, but you know how it is. I opened it up, I read the introduction by Chris Roberson, I read the first couple of pages of the book to see how it grabbed me and the next thing I know my legs go numb from sitting so long. So, Steppe is now my "downstairs" book.

A quick word about Piers Anthony. I know a lot of people don't like him. Many dismiss his Xanth series as juvenile (hmmm, how are YA books selling these days?). I know he had a bad reputation with publishers for years because he actually expected to be paid the amount of royalties called for in his contracts (shocking!). I know he was involved in some famous feuds in the 1970s. Personally, I've read about a dozen of his books and enjoyed them all, especially the Incarnations series. But more to the point, I have reached out to Piers three times, each time asking him for something (always related to Philip Jose Farmer) and each time he came through. Came through big in fact. So in my book, Piers is a prince and a very good writer, I have nothing but admiration for him.

I finished reading Nick and the Glimmung yesterday. It was interesting to see Philip K. Dick writing for a younger reader. Written in 1966, the book didn't feel dated, though it did seem somewhat incomplete to me. It's definitely worth checking out if you have read a lot of PKD and are running out of his books (as I am).

Saturday, January 2, 2010

More Distractions

Before I had a chance to start reading the next big book on my list, a Subterranean Press chapbook arrived in the mail. Judge Sn Goes Golfing by John Scalzi is 32 short pages of laugh out loud fun. I would assume it is even funnier if you play golf, which I don't unless you count disc golf. This story is set in the same world as Scalzi's humorous novel The Android's Dream. Now I can get back to Nick and the Glimmung downstairs and start something new upstairs.

More as a reminder to myself than anything else, here is a list of authors I hope to read a lot of this year.

First, Fredric Brown, Randall Garrett and Wilson Tucker. These are three "classic" science fiction writers that I really enjoy reading, but haven't been able to read their whole backlist, yet.

Rudy Rucker: the only author who I think messes with your head more than Philip K. Dick.

Chris Roberson: I keep hearing great things about him, but so far I've only read one novella of his.

Rhys Hughes: (see the last post).

Stanislaw Lem: maybe. The first book of his I read was The Cyberiad, and I loved it, I thought it was just wonderful. I've read several others since, but haven't enjoyed any of them nearly as much.

Charles R. Saunders: I really want to finish the Imaro series.

Joe R. Lansdale: I don't normally read horror, which I believed most of Joe's work is. But Joe assures me that most of it isn't horror. I've really liked Bubba Ho Tep, Zeppelins West, and the first two Hap and Leonard novels, so I'm going to try some more.

No doubt I will discover several new authors this year and try to cram in a bunch of their books as well. However, the most important book I need to read this year is C# 3.0 Unleashed With the .NET Framework 3.5. At 966 pages, plus appendices, it will probably take me all year. Gains in knowledge should make up for the lack in pleasure...