Thursday, December 29, 2005


I decided to finally switch off of the template links and actually link to people I read on a regular basis. So please check out the people who do it better than me. And more links will come soon. I promise.
F&SF, JAN. 2006

Thought I'd squeeze this in before the end of the year too, so I can keep pace with my Asimov's thoughts. I finished this issue the other week, so my comments may not be as in depth as they normall would (or wouldn't, I guess).

The issue gets off to a good start with Robert Reed's "Less Than Nothing." It continues the story of Raven, a young boy of the People, who killed a man in the previous installment. He is now exiled from the People and learns surprising new things about himself and his family. The ending opens things up for more exploration of the world in the next story. Hope we see that story in 2006.

Next up is part one of the first serialized story in F&SF in many years - Terry Bisson's "Planet of Mystery" (also the story featured on the great pulp-style cover by Max Bertolini). It details the first mission to Venus, where things take a major turn for the unexpected...or is that just a hallucination? Bisson crafts a story of equal parts action and thought and I'm looking forward to seeing how it concludes.

One of my favorite newer writers is Matthew Hughes. "Shadow Man" is not a tale of Henghis Hapthorn or Guth Bandar, though. Rather, it deals with a disturbed individual. The story is decent but seems too similar to other stories to register too much. Probably my least favorite Hughes story ever.

I also didn't care too much for "Horse-Year Women" by Michaela Roessner. It was well-written and had some interesting parts but overall just didn't appeal to me much. Not everything can.

Ever considered renting out space in your brain for the government to use? Tony Sarowitz's "A Daze in the Life" tackles that question and what could happen to you if you fall in love. Yeah, a rather vague description but it's a solid story.

I love reading a first-time writer who gets it right. It makes me look forward to the next story from that writer and also gives me hope as someone who hopes to publish his first story soon. "Journey to Gantica" by Matthew Corradi is my favorite story of the issue. It's a tall tale in more ways than one with lots of fun bits and a moral message in the end. Right up my alley. Give us more, Matthew!

The issue closes out with Bruce McAllster's "The Boy in Zaquitos," a story about a different kind of secret government agent. That's all I will say about the story itself other than to say it is sadly not that far-fetched. It's also good.

So, Gordon Van Gelder gets his 2006 publishining year off to a good start. I expect no less from my favorite fiction magazine.

Here's the tracklist for my best of 2005 CD mix...

1. This Year/Mountain Goats
2. Use It/New Pornographers
3. I Wanna Know Girls/Portastatic
4. Sandie/Devin Davis
5. Call to Love/Crooked Fingers
6. Always Love/Nada Surf
7. Publish My Love/Rogue Wave
8. Alternative to Love/Brendan Benson
9. The Nurse/The White Stripes
10. Extraordinary Machine/Fiona Apple
11. My Mathematical Mind/Spoon
12. Land Locked Blues/Bright Eyes
13. The Apartment/Marah
14. Back to Me/Kathleen Edwards
15. I Will Follow You Into the Dark/Death Cab for Cutie
16. Fuel for Fire/M. Ward
17. Cattle and the Creeping Things/The Hold Steady
18. Concerning Lessons Learned from the Aliens/The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers
19. Video/Aimee Mann
20. Whatever Happened to Soy Bomb/Eels
21. 6 String Belief/Son Volt

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


As I mentioned in the previous post, I have had a goal for how many books I wanted to read in a year. I set the goal of 36 books for myself back in 2001 and this year I finally broke through. That first year I read 30, followed by years of 33, 34, 35, and then 38 this year. That is a grand total of 170 books in five years, an average of 34 a year. You know, seeing that number just seems astounding. I never thought of the grand totals, just about trying to reach the goal and hoping to enjoy everything I picked up. Naturally, not everything appealed and I had a few abandoned books along the way or others that took me a longer time to get through. On the whole, though, I was successful in enjoying at least parts of a book.

The author I read the most was T.C. Boyle. I believe I read all of his books during the past five years (I don't have an accurate record for 2001) for a total of 13 (his Stories collection contains everything from 4 previous story collections). He is one of my favorite writers after all.

I thought I would deliver a top twenty of the books I've read during this project. It puts a nice cap on things and helps to set the stage for the second half of my reading decade. And as always with this types of lists, on another day things could be different...

1. The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford
2. Stories by T.C. Boyle
3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
4. The Fantasy Writer's Assistant by Jeffrey Ford
5. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
6. John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead
7. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
8. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
9. The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix by J.K. Rowling
11. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
12. Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
13. Critical Space by Greg Rucka
14. Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
15. Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff
16. Little Children by Tom Perrotta
17. Counting Heads by David Marusek
18. The Savage Girl by Alex Shakar
19. The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
20. Parasites Like Us by Adam Johnson
BOOKS 2005

This is the year I finally broke through and met my reading goal for the year, passing it by 2 for a total of 38 on the year. It could have been even more but I only managed 2 books the last two months. As I mentioned the other week, I lost the thread somewhat. Anyway, this list contains the books I read and not just the ones published this year...

1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
2. Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
3. Counting Heads by David Marusek
4. The Girl in the Glass by Jeffrey Ford (his novella, The Cosmology of the Wider World, is also recommended)
5. Tooth and Claw by T.C. Boyle (also greatly enjoyed his novel A Friend of the Earth)
6. The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips
7. Air by Geoff Ryman
8. The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier
9. Home Land by Sam Lipsyte
10. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
TV 2005

There were a lot of good shows this year but I'll narrow it down to five for symmetry's sake...

1. Lost
2. Arrested Development
3. Deadwood
4. Gilmore Girls
5. Entourage

I actually managed to see 8 movies in the theater this year and I caught a couple more on DVD. Here's my top five for the year...

1. King Kong
2. Serenity
3. Batman Begins
4. The 40 Year-Old Virgin
5. The Wedding Crashers
MUSIC 2005

It was very hard to narrow this down. On another day, I would arrange the order differently or slide some other discs into the top ten. A good year for music, I think.

1. The Hold Steady/Separation Sunday
2. New Pornographers/Twin Cinema
3. Spoon/Gimme Fiction
4. Devin Davis/Lonely People of the World, Unite!
5. The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers/The Mother of Love Emulates the Shapes of Cynthia
6. Portastatic/Bright Ideas
7. Eels/Blinking Lights and Other Revelations
8. Bright Eyes/I'm Wide Awake It's Morning
9. Fiona Apple/Extraordinary Machine
10. Marah/If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry

I've spent the last few weeks trying to close some things out for 2005, so I can better jump into 2006. This has meant a dearth of posts, obviously. My plan is to finish up my 2005 posts with a couple best-of lists and then be ready to try making this place a daily stop for those who read it (and maybe get a few more of those people too). I won't be commenting on any of my picks in the posts but I will be happy to talk about them in the comments section. Please do so. And enjoy the rest of your 2005!

Sunday, December 11, 2005


I don't know what it is. Maybe it was the fall I had with the funerals and the harder than usual Thanksgiving trip. Or just how busy it's gotten around these parts. But I feel like I've lost the thread a little with pop culture here and the end of the year. I don't feel as plugged in. I've only read one book since the end of October (and am working on a second, but I'm not being very fast - and I like the book a lot!). I can't keep straight in my head which books I want for Christmas and which CDs I need. I don't know. Does anyone else feel like they aren't as tuned in to everything as the year winds down?

More errands than usual and trips to my parents' house and Joliet for a wedding left me even more time to listen to music in the car this past week. Here's the list...

1. Back To Me - I loved Kathleen Edwards debut the other year and her follow-up is almost as good. Not as many rockers on this week but she melds melodic countryish rock with solid lyrics. Unfortunately, the CD case disappeared. That's not a regular occurence for me - my anal retnetive nature has produced as system for where the cases are kept and so on. This case just up and disappeared. My wife thinks someone was in our cars (she was missing all of her change) - I'm not sure why they would take an empty CD case and leave the next one on the list alone but it could explain what happened to it.

2. Kimi Ga Suki - One of my favorite CDs of last year, this was originally released only in Japan but ended up being one of two new Matthew Sweet albums in the States. It's short and full of power pop goodness - crunchy chords and layered harmonies and ballads and full-on rockers. And you know, I still haven't picked up Living Things, his other album from last year. Hmm.

3. Rendezvous - I got Luna's latest (and last, yes?) for Christmas last year and played it a few times before forgetting about it. I should remember it more often, as it has a number of good songs. Dean Wareham's delivery is reminiscent of Lou Reed, of course, but I can dig that.

4. Hollywood Town Hall - This came out in 1992 and is still one of my favorite albums of all time. I love the Jayhawks and hope the reports of their demise were as exaggerated as Gary Louris claimed. Let's have some new Jayhawks in 2006!

5. Let's Bottle Bohemia - Another favorite album from last year. I dug "One Horse Town" from The Thrills' debut but never got around to picking up that one. Their second is great, full of melodic rock and fun lyrical twists. Highly recommended.

6. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb - Yes, the U2 of today is not the same as the U2 of 10 years ago. I still enjoy their music, though, and this album continues to grow on me more than a year after it came out. Maybe it's just that I still love hearing the Edge play guitar.

7. Anything & Everything - A mix I made earlier this year and titled for the first two songs - "Everything Hits at Once" by Spoon and "Anything, Anything (I'll Give You)" by Dramarama.

Currently playing - My best of 2003 mix, titled for "From Blown Speakers" by New Pornographers. They will be on my best of 2005 mix as well. Word.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Hi. I've put up a bunch of posts this weekend, so please scroll down and find all the stuff you might not have read. I know many blogs tend to get a bit sleepy on the weekends but it's when I have the time and energy to tackle posts. I was going to do more but I decided to save a few subjects for the week ahead. Check back and see if I manage to get to them...and please give me some feedback.

I don't listen to the radio in my car anymore. The radio station I used to listen to, WXRT, is nothing close to what it used to be. The other Chicago FM stations are terrible. I occasionally put on ESPN Radio but I'm not one to listen to lots of sports talk. I like to listen to music when I'm driving, even if it's just to the grocery store. That means I listen to CDs in my car and I can get through several a week just driving to and from work and around town on errands. So, I thought I'd insitute a semi-regular Sunday feature where I talk about the CDs I listened to in the past week...

1. I Heart Huckabees - The soundtrack to the movie done solely by Jon Brion. It has a mixture of instrumental and vocal tracks. I bought it for the new Brion songs and two are fantasitc - "Knock Yourself Out" and "Revolving Door." The others are good, of course, but I'm surprised at how much I enjoy the other music. The expansion of the musical themes on subsequent tracks is very appealing. I don't listen to this all the time but it works as a whole album.

2. Guero - Yup, the latest Beck album. I like it but I haven't fallen in love with it like I did Sea Change. And I haven't learned to lyrics like I did with Mutations and Odelay. It is fun to sing along with the parts I do know of songs like "Hell Yes" and "Go It Alone" and "Broken Drum." His music works pretty well with just driving too. A good album but it won't come close to my top ten for the year.

3. The Man Who - I hadn't listened to this Travis album in a long time. Definitely more than a year. It still sounds pretty good - melodic sense never goes out of style. "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?" is one of those classic sad songs. They pick on Oasis on a few songs too - "What's a wonderwall anyway?" A good album but not something I'll start playing more often. One or two listens a year is probably good.

I saw a t-shirt in a magazine this week that reads "Joss Whedon is my Master Now." Funny, and something I would wear. After reading Jeffrey Ford's The Girl in the Glass a few months agao and The Cosmology of the Wider World this week, though, an even more apropos shirt would say "Jeffrey Ford is my Writing God."

The Girl in the Glass is his new novel, a paperback original (his previous novel, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, first arrived in HC but a paperback version is available and highly recommended by me). I was amazed to discover my local Barnes & Noble already had mulitple copies coming for the shelves when I went to order a copy for myself. Sadly, those other three copies sat on the new release table until just a few weeks ago.

The novel is set during the Great Depression and centers on a small group of con men who take money from the rich by running fake seances. In the course of one of those seances, the leader thinks his sees an actual spirit, the titular girl in a glass. From there, they have to decide what they've really seen and also uncover a nefarious plot involving secret experiments and more. That's a real bare bones assessment of that plot. Of course, with Ford that plot is only one part. He is wonderful with characters and ideas and writes beautifully.

Those aspects are at the forefront of The Cosmology of the Wider World, a novella available from PS Publishing (which means you can only find it on the net). It is the story of the minotaur Belius, a citizen of the Wider World. He is very depressed as the story opens and it is the maze of his mind that is the focus of the book. We get glimpses into his past in the "real world" and also meet his friends in the Wider World. There is Pezimote, a philandering tortoise, and Thip, a flea who sails the blood of Belius to help Shebeb the doctor ape. Other friends decide Belius is lonely and set about creating a female minotaur for him. Mixed throughout is the Cosmology itself, the writings of Belius and the philosophies behind his life. It all works together very well, tied together by Ford's prose.

Both are well worth your time and money and come highly recommended. Jeffrey Ford has done great work for four books in a row and I'm sure his upcoming collection, The Empire of Ice Cream, will be no exception. All I need know is for his first three novel to come back into print (the trilogy of the Well-Built City) and my joy will be complete.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


I managed to catch "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" this afternoon. I had to miss out on seeing it with family members after my lovely illness last Friday, so I saw it by myself this afternoon. You know, I've actually caught quite a few movies at the theater this year, more than I usually get to anyway. This was #7 (following "Star Wars," "Fantastic Four," "The Wedding Crashers," "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," "Serenity," and "Chicken Little" - guess how I saw that one!) and I will probably finish with an eighth ("King Kong," anyone?). Anyway, back to today's movie...

GOF was definitely my favorite of the Potter books at the time of its publication and may still be my favorite of the series. It is definitely the turning point for the whole series (and if you don't want to be spoiled on anything Potter, please stop reading now), showing a much more mature side of things and keeping the darker nature that was introduced in the previous book through the character of Sirius Black. It was also the longest book (since surpassed by book 5) and the movie producers had originally talked about splitting the story into two movies. Obviously, they didn't and I think it worked out this way.

I thought screenwriter Steve Kloves did a good job condensing the story to the parts that needed to be told to keep things coherent. In the book, the opening at the Quidditch World Cup takes up many pages but here they just get to the salient points - the introduction of Viktor Krum and the return of the Death Eaters. From there, the movie goes right to the arrival of the students from other schools and the announcement of the Triwizard Tournament. The tournament forms the spine of the movie, with all of the other events feeding in and out of the three challenges.

Director Mike Newell does a good job with the intercutting, capturing both the special effects granduer of the challenges and the small moments of character and plot development. He also handle the budding sexuality of the characters well - the kids aren't just wizard but boys and girls who have to go to dances and have dates. Newell also highlights the humor present in those situations. In fact, this is the funniest Potter movie...I laughed many times.

The performances are good as well. Brendan Gleeson is marvelous as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, "Mad Eye" Moody. Ralph Fiennes plays the now-returned Lord Voldemort and it's not just a scenery-chewing performance. And as always, the three main kids are great. Rupert Grint tends to steal the show as Ron Weasley but Emma Watson is right there with her pitch-perfect Hermione Granger. And Daniel Radcliffe does a great job inheriting the persona of Harry Potter. Can't imagine anyone else doing it.

So, my favorite book become my favorite movie. Not surprising. But for the second film in a row, the movie stands as a work of its own and not just a companion to the book. Of course, it's better if you read the books. It's always better if you read the books. Doesn't mean you can't watch the movie too.

Last year Oni Press released an OGN (original graphic novel) that had the indie comics kids buzzing - SCOTT PILGRIM'S PRECIOUS LITTLE LIFE by Bryan Lee O'Malley. I read nothing but praise for it but I didn't get around to picking it up myself. Volume 2 of the series was released earlier this year and the third volume is due out any day. In fact, it was the appearance of Volume 2, SCOTT PILGRIM VERSUS THE WORLD, on the comics shelves of my local Barnes & Noble that finally got me to pick up the first one from Amazon (and yes, this is not the kind of thing that the local comics shop keeps in stock). I managed to read it before I got sick over Thanksgiving and I am happy to report that it lived up to the hype.

Scott Pilgrim is a 23 year-old who plays bass in the band Sex Bob-omb and not much else. Oh, and he's kinda dating Knives Chau. She's in high school. All is basically fine until he meets an Amazon delivery girl in his dreams and then in real life. He's into Ramona Flowers. Complications ensue, such as having to tell Knives about Ramona; a band gig with Crash and the Boys (who now have a girl on drums); and a fight with Matthew Patel, one of Ramona's evil ex-boyfriends.

I really enjoyed the cross between real life (being poor, being in a band, relationships) and the surreal (the fact Ramona cuts across dreams in order to delivery packages quickly, the bludgeoning power of Crash and the Boys, the fight itself). I'm not giving much away being telling you what I have - it's completely original and can only be read to be enjoyed.

As for the art, O'Malley works in a modified manga style. What does that mean? Mostly big eyes and the use of action lines. He is also an amazing cartoonist, expressive and fluid. As a non-artist, I tend to get geeked out when I see someone who can draw buildings and fences in black and white and make them look real. O'Malley does that here. He also does a great job changing his art style for flashbacks within the story. That's the kind of stuff that makes me love comics.

I would highly recommend SCOTT PILGRIM to anyone and can't wait to grab the next book for myself.

The new issue of Asimov's got off to a good start before I even read a word. Why? A new Michael Swanwick story highlighted on the cover. Swanwick is one of my favorite writers a for a few years had an incredible run of stories in the magazine. He doesn't publish as much as he used to, unfortunately, but he still comes with high quality when he does appear. The new story, "An Episode of Stardust," contains a semi-tall tale within the story, or at least it appears to be a tall tale. It's a story of con artists in a setting of Faerie - a dwarf, a fey, a vixen, and other creatures populate the work. And while it may not be my favorite of Swanwick's stories, it is well-written and entertaining. A good way to kick off the issue.

I have a soft spot for tales of ships that take generations to reach their destinations and R.R. Angell's "In the Space of Nine Lives" is one of those. On this ship there are only 2 people awake at a time (at the most) - a pilot and the person he trains to be the next pilot. All of the pilots come from the same genetic stock but we can see differences in their personalities - they each grow up partly in stim with their own set of friends made up from the people traveling in hibernation on the long voyage. The story is about that old nature vs. nuture to a large extent, as well the nature of reality. I liked it.

Carol Emshwiller tackles another standard SF trope - the alien - in "World of No Return." What happens when you are an alien yet born and raised on Earth? How do you stay true to your people? Can you truly fit in with humans? Emshwiller is always worth a read and this story is no exception.

"The Last McDougals" by David D. Levine uses a McDonalds parody to look into the future at the state of the culture. It's solid.

I was a big fan of Allen M. Steele's Coyote stories, so I was looking forward to reading something outside of that milieu. "World Without End, Amen" deals with another standard SF trope, that of the dangers of technology. If we build powerful AIs, what's to stop them from taking over the world? Lawrence Kaufman's problem is that he was on the wrong side of that question and the story brings him to a place he can finally live in the world. Not as exciting as the Coyote stuff but still very enjoyable.

"Storm Poet" by Kim Antieau is set in the past during a drought and concerns itself with the bonds of family and the power of words. It's another solid one.

Stephen Baxter is a writer I always mean to read more of but never get around to (Kage Baker is another). He's very prolific, with many published novels and stories. "Ghost Wars" is set in his Destiny's Children sequence, which comprises three novels I haven't read and a myraid of short stories, some of which I'd read. Let's put it this way - I wasn't completely lost with the concept. A fighter crew of four ends up aiding a Silver Ghost (the enemy) against one of its own (known as the Black Ghost). Baxter tends towards hard science, so there is quite a bit about stars and advanced physics here but he always manages to make it readable. He's more of a plotter than a character writer although I always find enough character in the stories so as not to get lost in the science. This story is good. Will I finally start reading more of Baxter? Probably not any time soon.

There were no bad stories in this issue and I really enjoyed five out of the seven. A pretty good ratio and a good start to the year for editor Sheila Williams.