reading list

The End of the Story (Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith Vol 1)
Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
The Faded Sun Trilogy Omnibus, C.J. Cherryh (good, but the ebook is riddled with typos)
Resurgence, C.J. Cherryh (am sticking with her Foreigner series even though nothing happens in this or the previous installment)
The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy, Mervyn Peake (not what I expected -- these books have been described as a "fantasy of manners")
The Last Good Kiss, James Crumley
Mythago Wood, Robert Holdstock
The Eye of the Heron, Ursula K. Le Guin
The Beginning Place, Ursula K. Le Guin
Worlds of Exile and Illusion, Ursula K. Le Guin (three early sf books by her)
The Genocides, Thomas M. Disch
Stalingrad, Anthony Beevor
Shōgun, James Clavell
C.S. Forester's Hornblower books (never read these)
Various series novels by Alastair Reynolds, Linda Nagata, Tony Hillerman, Arthur Upfield, Ngaio Marsh, Georges Simenon, Colin Dexter, etc etc

marketing music (or not)

Jonathan D. Kramer, Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening (Bloomsbury, 2016), chapter 10.8:

"...When Beethoven put on concerts for his own financial benefit, he was marketing his wares. Paganini and Liszt cultivated public personae of considerable magnetism, in an effort to draw attention to their product -- that is, their spectacular compositions as they themselves flamboyantly played them. Were they selling out when they composed music with an eye toward the marketplace? Or is selling out a particularly modernist idea? Schoenberg refused to sell out. He did not try to market his wares. His Society for Private Performance was created to avoid all influence of commodification. At that stage in his life, he wanted his music to be heard only by those who were likely to be interested in it and sympathetic to it. He was not trying to convert outsiders to it; rather he was willing to welcome into his circle those who were ready to enjoy and appreciate his music and that by his colleagues. He decidedly did not want to use showmanship to attract large audiences. He preferred small audiences of true appreciators to huge unwashed masses..."

A Farewell to Arm Candy

Gore Vidal, discussing Mailer's The Naked and the Dead: "[M]ost war books are inadequate. War tends to be too much for any writer, especially one whose personality is already half-obliterated by life in a democracy. Even the aristocrat Tolstoy, at a long remove in time, stretched his genius almost to a breaking point to encompass men and war and the thrust of history in a single vision. Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms did a few nice descriptions, but his book, too, is a work of ambition, in which can be seen the beginning of the careful, artful, immaculate idiocy of tone that since has marked both his prose and his legend as he has declined into that sort of fame which, at moments I hope are weak, Mailer [seems] to crave."
The Wikipedians apparently consider "careful, artful, immaculate idiocy of tone" to be complimentary but Vidal has really nailed EH.
Read almost 90 years after publication, Farewell is a trifle, and EH appears through luck, force of personality, or connections to have been undeservedly canonized with this work.
The plot in a nutshell: Frederic Henry is a rich kid who for unexplained reasons has joined the Italian army as an ambulance driver in WWI. (The Italians fought the Germans and Austrians in that war.) Henry drinks and banters with Italian soldiers. A shell explodes while he is eating cheese and he goes to the hospital for several months. He drinks and banters with nurses and falls in puppy love with a British (or maybe Scottish) nurse Catherine Barkley. After many pages of puppy love banter he heals and goes back to the front just in time for a major Italian retreat. To avoid the stalled vehicles on the main exit throroughfare he takes the back roads and gets his ambulance hopelessly stuck. Wandering around the countryside on foot with his company he shoots one of them (an Italian) for desertion and then in the confusion of the retreat is mistaken by the main Italian force as a deserter himself.
Frederic jumps into a river and escapes the Italians, then tears the stars off his uniform because war is no fun anymore. He finds Catherine the nurse and discovers she's pregnant. After more puppy love banter they escape to Switzerland and hole up in the mountains, where he drinks, cashes checks from home, and banters with Catherine. She has a difficult pregnancy and both she and the baby die in childbirth. The End.
"I didn't care about the characters" is a hackneyed complaint but in this book the reader truly doesn't. We don't know enough about Frederic or his history to be involved when he gets shelled or meets his dream girl. We don't know enough about Catherine to know what she sees in this shiftless playboy. But we get lots of banter:

“It’s a fine room,” Catherine said. “It’s a lovely room. We should have stayed here all the time we’ve been in Milan.”
“It’s a funny room. But it’s nice.”
“Vice is a wonderful thing,” Catherine said. “The people who go in for it seem to have good taste about it. The red plush is really fine. It’s just the thing. And the mirrors are very attractive.”
“You’re a lovely girl.”
“I don’t know how a room like this would be for waking up in the morning. But it’s really a splendid room.” I poured another glass of St. Estephe.
“I wish we could do something really sinful,” Catherine said. “Everything we do seems so innocent and simple. I can’t believe we do anything wrong.”
“You’re a grand girl.”
“I only feel hungry. I get terribly hungry.”
“You’re a fine simple girl,” I said.
“I am a simple girl. No one ever understood it except you.”
“Once when I first met you I spent an afternoon thinking how we would go to the Hotel Cavour together and how it would be.”
“That was awfully cheeky of you. This isn’t the Cavour is it?”
“No. They wouldn’t have taken us in there.”
“They’ll take us in some time. But that’s how we differ, darling. I never thought about anything.”
“Didn’t you ever at all?”
“A little,” she said.
“Oh you’re a lovely girl.”
I poured another glass of wine.
“I’m a very simple girl,” Catherine said.
“I didn’t think so at first. I thought you were a crazy girl.”
“I was a little crazy. But I wasn’t crazy in any complicated manner. I didn’t confuse you did I, darling?”
“Wine is a grand thing,” I said. “It makes you forget all the bad.”
“It’s lovely,” said Catherine. “But it’s given my father gout very badly.”
“Have you a father?”
“Yes,” said Catherine. “He has gout. You won’t ever have to meet him. Haven’t you a father?”
“No,” I said. “A step-father.”
“Will I like him?”
“You won’t have to meet him.”

Only occasionally witty, this stuff goes on for pages.


"I wanted to find the fool who invented closure and shove a big closure plaque up his ass."
--James Ellroy, My Dark Places

David Marusek's Upon This Rock: Book I - First Contact (some notes)

David Marusek produced two brilliant science fiction novels in the '00s, Counting Heads (2005) and Mind Over Ship (2009), and then went dark for a few years.
He's back with the above-titled novel, the first of a projected three-parter.
In this installment an E.T. lands in the Alaska wilderness, planting mysterious artifacts encountered independently by a young park ranger, Jace Kuliak, and a Bible-quoting survivalist, Poppy Prophecy. The novel bounces between their points of view. Excellent and highly recommended with one minor quibble, discussed below.

Excerpts from the book published in a short story collection a few years ago introduced the park ranger character (then named Casey). His seemed to be the main POV and his narrative contained some of the novel's early exposition. The finished book, however, was apparently jiggered around to become mainly Poppy's story, beginning with scenes of his large, pioneer-style family coping in the Alaska outback. This is all fine, but Marusek has chosen to move some of the Jace material to what he calls "sidebars," something between footnotes and DVD "deleted scenes," which are placed at the end of the book and hyperlinked in the e-book text. This decision creates a few continuity issues.

In an introduction Marusek proclaims the sidebars "generally" not essential to the story but a couple of instances in the main narrative refer to events that happened in them (section headings from the book are used to identify these):

1. CW3 1.0 mentions the "mountain of grief unloaded on [Jace] and Danielle...on Lucky Strike Lane," referring to the shenanigans of Poppy Prophecy and family during a brief spell when they lived next door to Jace. Marusek describes those antics in the sidebar "Sex on a Glacier" (SG1 1.0); if you skip it, you have no idea what he's talking about.

2. More importantly, "Sex on a Glacier" gives the reader an objective description of what Poppy and his family look like to outsiders: a sizeable clan ("Dozens of children played in a yard already worn down to bare dirt... Older children tended goats in a makeshift pen or hauled water in plastic jerry jugs or helped prepare dinner at the fire pit") including three sons who are large and somewhat menacing ("In an instant, the three older boys were surrounding him. The eldest... was tall and dark. The middle one was heavyset and gentle looking. And the fiery youngest one was wearing a patch over his right eye. If Ben Cartwright of the Ponderosa and his sons had evil twins, these Prophecys could be them").

Reading the book from the beginning, from Poppy's POV, you don't know the sons are big fellows; Poppy describes them as "boys" and punishes one of them with a switch, creating the impression they're young adolescents, not grown men. Later descriptions eventually reveal their size but this seems more bug than feature.

3. CW2 1.0 in the main narrative also refers to the sidebar (SG1 1.0) descriptions of the "quarrelsome family" in the "lot next to [Jace's] house" that "pulled up stakes" and moved to a new location .

4. The "Sex on a Glacier" sidebar (SG1 1.0) refers to events in a later sidebar (HP1 1.0), confusing the chronology even more. Jace mentions the "odd pioneer family and their encampment" located at the "private parking lot at the end of McHardy Road." The Prophecys' brief control of a town parking is chronicled in the sidebar "A Herd of Picnic Tables" (HP1 1.0), which follows "Sex on a Glacier" at the end of the book.

5. The basic chronology of the Prophecy family, told asynchronously in the book and sidebars, is as follows: they travel from the Anchorage suburb of Palmer to a parking lot (which they camp out in and administer) in the smaller, more remote town of McHardy, then to the house next door to Jace (also in McHardy), then to an abandoned mine in a wilderness area outside of McHardy. The family's management of the parking lot and relocation to the mine are described in sidebars (HP1 1.0 and TM1 1.0, respectively). Well along in the main narrative, in a flashback, Poppy first learns about the town of McHardy and the parking lot is mentioned (LL4 1.0), again, without context. We aren't given any particulars of how the Prophecys actually obtained the parking lot concession when they first settled in McHardy.

Marusek has indicated that Book I may be revised at the time of publication of Books II or III of his saga. The above chronology could be clarified with a few paragraphs in the main story. It might be a good idea, at that time, for the author to kill his babies and ditch those sidebars. They're a distraction.

6. The main narrative (CW4 1.0) uses the phrase "go all kitten on them." This refers to an anecdote in a sidebar, "Kitten of Our Discontent" (KD1 1.0).