I Got Nuthin’

For the first time in many month, I have endured a terrible week where no new reading material arrived at the library of Winkelman Abbey. At this rate I may end up reading as many as 50% of my books before I die of old age, and that thought makes me feel oddly claustrophobic.

In reading news, I finished Ours is the Storm by D. Thourson Palmer, and have just opened The Nine by Tracy Townsend. This is another ConFusion acquisition, as was the Palmer book and several others from earlier this year. I love being able to read and enjoy the works of people I know personally (if not well). ConFusion is wonderful like that. I am also progressing through Jessica Comola’s poetry collection everything we met changed form & followed the rest. I hope to have both books complete by the beginning of June, as summer looks to be extremely busy.

The photo for this post is one of over five dozen fish in a mural created at 555 Monroe Avenue here in Grand Rapids. The specific fish was created by local artist James Broe.

Appropriate Cover Art

Books acquired week of April 20, 2019

Spring is in full bloom here in Grand Rapids, which means we need to pull plants indoors overnight on account of random catastrophic snowstorms. Fortunately I have enough books in my house to keep us insulated in the event of an April snowpocalypse.

The May 2019 issue of Poetry is the only reading material to find its way to my house this past week. Fitting, I suppose, for the last full week of National Poetry Month.

In reading news, I have been burning through poetry collections as fast as I can turn the pages. In the past week I completed Wyn Cooper’s Postcards from the Interior and CJ Evans’ A Penance. I am now about halfway through the superb Gestures by Artis Ostups, published by Ugly Duckling Presse. I should have it completed before the end of the month, just two days away.

Three days ago I finished Laurus, and am still processing my emotions. I can’t describe the book without running out of superlatives. It is magnificent. I would put it on a shelf with Eco’s Name of the Rose, Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, any of the fiction of Borges, and probably (and of course) Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. Vodolazkin’s particular use of the holy fool (юродивый) characters blurs the edges of reality and moves Laurus well into the real of magic realism. I will certainly be reading this one again in the years to come.

With Laurus done, I have just begin D. Thourson Palmer‘s Ours is the Storm, which I picked up at ConFusion this past January. Though I am only about twenty pages in I am already hooked. It’s a good one so far.

Over at The Ringer, Brian Phillips has written a wonderful remembrance of Gene Wolfe.

Acquisitions and Losses

It’s been another quiet week for literature here at the library of Winkelman Abbey. The only book to make its way into my collection is the above, It’s All Just a Draft by Tobias S. Buckell. This book is a Kickstarter reward.

I met Buckell a few years back at the ConFusion science fiction convention. He is a semi-regular guest and panelist, and a fun person to talk to at the bar in between sessions. He writes some excellent books, of which my favorites are his Xenowealth series, Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose.

In reading news, I am most of the way through Postcards from the Interior by Wyn Cooper, who I almost met a couple of years ago at the Lost Lake Writer’s Retreat. Almost, because though Cooper couldn’t make it to the retreat, his books did, and I bought some of them. I didn’t have much time or brain-space for reading, so my poetry intake is languishing. I should be done with it today, and then on to the next one! I am also almost finished with Laurus, and should be on to the next evening read by the end of the week.

The “loss” referred to in the title of this post is, of course, the legendary Gene Wolfe, who passed away last weekend at the age of 87. I have been an on-again, off-again fan since the mid-1990s, when I first read his superb Shadow of the Torturer. I met Wolfe briefly at a science fiction convention (probably ConFusion but also possibly a different one) back in the early 2000s. I still regret not having got a book signed.

Here is a brief list of remembrances and appreciations of Mr. Wolfe.

Remembering Gene Wolfe, Valya Dudycz Lupescu
Gene Wolfe Was the Proust of Science Fiction, The New Republic
There Are Doors Everywhere, CSE Cooney
Valar Morghulis, George R. R. Martin
The Bureaucrat has Left the Planet, Michael Swanwick

Big Books for Cold Weekends

The first full week of the year brings four new bound piles of printed pages to the library at Winkelman Abbey. On the left is Kolyma Stories by Varlam Shalamov. I heard of this one when The Paris Review published “Forty-Five Things I Learned in the Gulag“. Finally ordered it. Apparently this is the first of two volumes to be published (the second to be released this year). I will probably dive into it after I complete the current few books on my “currently reading” shelf.

The next one over is the December 2018 issue of Apex Magazine which, if I have my dates correct, is the last to be published in physical format. From now on the magazine will be digital only, which is fine, as it is well worth the cost of subscription in any format.

The last two are The Uploaded and Fix by the excellent Ferret Steinmetz. I hope to get them signed at ConFusion 2019 next weekend.

In reading news I am still working my way through Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning. I’m in the home stretch and should be through by the time I leave for ConFusion.

Selah!

ConFusion 2019 Schedule

Next week I head across the state to attend ConFusion 2019. This year I will be participating in three panels, all on Saturday, January 19. Here they are:

  • AI for Better or Worse – There’s no doubt that Artificial Intelligence will play some part in our future, but is it good, bad, or both? Panelists will discuss the future of AI, some of its uses, and some of its dangers.
    • Time: Saturday, 19 January, 2019 – 13:00
    • Room: Warren
    • Panelists: Anthony W. Eichenlaub (M), John Winkelman, Derek Kunsken
  • Let’s Talk Season 2: Computer Science! – A lighthearted talk on a hard science topics with smart and funny people. Let’s Talk: Computer Science will chuckle through the collapse of society as we know it. Come hear how silicon makes better decisions than carbon, protons as data, why you don’t need to be Slytherin to study Python, and what we are going to do with the leisure time we will have in 2025.
    • Time: Saturday, January 19, 2019 – 16:00
    • Room: Warren
    • Panelists: Daniel Dugan (M), John Winkelman, Anthony W. Eichenlaub
  • If you liked that, try this! – Our well-read panel will give you personalized book recommendations based on things you’ve read and loved.
    • Time: Saturday, January 19, 2019 – 18:00
    • Room: Dearborn
    • Panelists: Merrie Haskell (M), John Winkelman, Andrea Johnson, Karen Osborne, Sarah Hans

Between now and then I am spending my free moments gathering books I hope to have signed by other attendees, and getting everything around home squared away so I can focus on enjoying the experience. Hopefully one year I will be able to sign books of my own.

ConFusion 2018: Poetry in Novels

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I participated in at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

THE PANEL: Poetry in Novels (21 January 2018, 10:00)

PANELISTS: Amal El-Mohtar, Clif Flynt, Jeff Pryor, John Winkelman, Mari Ness

DESCRIPTION: “Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass include lengthy poems, placing them in a long tradition of long-form fiction that incorporates poetry into the work. How does writing poems for prose fiction differ from writing poems that stand alone? What distinct techniques does it require? Where do poems within stories exist in the landscape of genre poetry today?”

PRE-PANEL NOTES

PANEL NOTES

  • Poetry can be time-shifted in relation to the story in which it appears
    • In situ, as a bard or skald composes a poem based on events as they are happening
    • Used to imply history/world-building for the setting. An epic poem is written between the time of the events which it recounts and the time in which it is read.
    • The poem itself can be placed in a specific place in history based on written style or language or word usage.
  • Poetry can be used for world-building, either experienced by the characters or as related by the narrator.

MY THOUGHTS

Boy, did I over-think this one–in part because I love poetry, and in part because Amal El-Mohtar was also on the panel and I wanted to bring my “A” game.

ConFusion 2018: A Novel Look at the Short Story

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

THE PANEL: A Novel Look at the Short Story (21 January 2018 14:00)

DESCRIPTION: “Short stories require a different approach to pacing, character, world-building, exposition, and plot than longer works. Let’s explore the tools we use to convey important information to the reader when we have a lot fewer words to do it with.”

PANELISTS: Scott H. Andrews, Amal El-Mohtar, Lucy Snyder, Jessi Cole Jackson

NOTES:

    • Interests from the Audience
      • Distilling vast research down to a coherent short story
      • Contrast between short story structure vs. novel structure
      • Writing short stories for specific markets vs. writing short stories, then searching for a venue
      • How do you keep a short story short?
    • Novel structure vs. short story structure
    • Alan Moore’s Jerusalem
    • 3-act structure, 5-act structure, etc
    • PLOT DOES NOT JUST HAPPEN
    • There is not 100% consensus over what a short story *should* be.
    • The defining quality of a short story is that it is short
    • Difficulty writing short stories of short story length can be mitigated by reading more short fiction, e.g. GET IN THE HABIT OF READING SHORT STORIES
    • Jo Walton – defining element of a genre is PACE – Western page, romance pace, fantasy pace, etc.
    • Lackington’s – really big on prose style, even over plot
    • A truism about academic research – you should get three books out of the same research: your thesis, a monograph, and a popular book.
    • Make words and phrases do double duty
    • Make sure everything in a short story is load-bearing
    • The Pink Institution by Selah Saterstrom – structure is linked (or not) short stories which make up a novel

 

 

My thoughts: I didn’t learn much that was new to me here. I did enjoy the conversation between the panelists, and I picked up a few new books for Mount Tsundoku.

ConFusion 2018: The Setting as Character

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

THE PANEL: The Setting as Character (21 January 2018, 12:00)

DESCRIPTION: “In Science Fiction and Fantasy , settings can literally come alive–be it via the talking flowers of Through The Looking Glass or the rage of Peter Quill’s creepy dad-planet in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. In Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch universe where ships have minds, main characters can be both people and places at the same time. Are living settings a science fiction/fantasy extension of the classic “Hero Vs. Nature” story? How do they exist in conversation with real-world beliefs about whether the world around us has a will of its own?”

PANELISTS: A. T. Greenblatt, Cassandra Morgan, David John Baker, Suzanne Church

NOTES:

My thoughts:

This was a good general overview of the topic. I was kind of hoping that there would be more focus on concepts like Genius Loci and the like, but on reflection the panel’s approach makes more sense, as setting qua setting is the environment in which the story exists, not a personality with agency per se.

ConFusion 2018: Science Fiction and Philosophy

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: “Science Fiction and Philosophy: Exploring the Connections”

DESCRIPTION: “SF has been called the literature of ideas, and the ideas explored in SF have become increasingly philosophical throughout the history of the genre. What are the most illuminating thought experiments in recent and classic SF? Which philosophical questions do they raise? And how are philosophers in today’s universities employing SF in their teaching and research?”

PANELISTS: Andrea Johnson, Dyrk Ashton, Ken Schrader, Nathan Rockwood

NOTES:

MY THOUGHTS:

This panel was interesting in that so much of the discussion revolved around listing works which address philosophical questions, and not a lot of addressing the questions themselves. This bothered me at first, but on reflection I realize that these panels are meant to be introductions and overviews, not necessarily deep dives into the subject; if for no other reason than that the panels all stand alone, and if two or more share a subject it is only by coincidence. That said, I appreciated the breadth of suggestions, and particularly that they included games. Computer games, if the narrative is sufficiently complex, can be seen as simulations and testing grounds for ideas which are not always easy for an individual to address in the real world.

ConFusion 2018: Immigration and Refuge in Science Fiction

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: Immigration and Refuge in Science Fiction (20 January 2018, 10:00)

DESCRIPTION: “Travel stories are classics in any genre, but in science fiction stories of travelling to a new home are often about colonization, or about intrepid explorers amongst the (primitive) aliens. Let’s talk about the science fiction stories that better reflect the experiences of immigrants and refugees in the real world.”

PANELISTS: Alexandra Manglis, Amal El-Mohtar, David Anthony Durham, John Chu

NOTES:

My thoughts:

There were many important ideas passed around in this panel, particularly in light of the racist, xenophobic, fascist policies of the current (c. 2018) U.S. president and his cabinet. One book which comes to mind which showed the POV of a refugee is What is the What, by Dave Eggers. Neither genre nor quite fiction, but a beautiful book all the same. As for fiction stories, well, I can’t think of any I have read. Not that they are not out there.