Book Review: Siege 13

Book Review: Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy

During World War Two, Hungary was one of the Axis powers, with its own fascists led by the Arrow Cross Party.  At first this seemed like a good idea, as Hungary gained back territories it had lost after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  But late in the war, it became obvious that they were on the losing side.  The Hungarian government tried to broker a separate armistice with the Soviet Union, only to have their country occupied by the Germans.  As a result, they were forced to fight to the bitter end.

Siege 13

In late December of 1944 through February of 1945, the Soviet Army encircled the city of Budapest and besieged the troops and civilians within.  It is that siege that gives us the title of this book, which contains thirteen short stories all of which tie into that event in some way, even if the characters are living in the Hungarian diaspora community in Toronto.

“The Atlas of B. Görbe” is about a struggling writer in New York City who turns to an older author of children’s books for assistance in finding his way.

“The Animals of the Budapest Zoo, 1944-1945” is set within the siege itself as the zookeepers come to realize they might not be able to keep themselves alive, let alone their charges, and the extreme steps one of the keepers takes.

“Sailor’s Mouth” takes place in Romania, where a man has come to adopt a child of Hungarian heritage.  He may have become misled by his carnal urges.  One of the themes in this story is “The Museum of Failed Escapes” that Judit, the woman the man is seeing, tells him about.

“The Restoration of the Villa Where Tíbor Kálmán Once Lived” concerns a deserter who joins the Communist occupation after the war.  He takes over the home of a man who used to provide people with false papers to escape the Axis, and betrays their names to the Soviets one by one.  But he gets the distinct feeling the villa  is rejecting him…this one won an O. Henry award.

“The Beautician” is about a college student preparing his thesis paper.  He finds a possible topic in the dark past of the manager of the club for Hungarian exiles in Toronto.  But is that something he really wants to make known?

“Days of Orphans and Strangers” follows up on the Kálmán family mentioned in “Restoration.”  One of them has been talking in his sleep, but not in the language you’d expect.

“Rosewood Queens” concerns the narrator’s relationship with her father’s lover, a collector of chess pieces (but never full sets.)

“The Encirclement” is about a lecturer on the topic of the Budapest siege, who finds himself with a persistent blind heckler who presents a different version of events.  The details are too close to be fake, but that’s not the way the lecturer remembers it.  I thought this story was the best in the book.

“The Society of Friends” features a long-standing love triangle among three Hungarian emigres.  It reminded me a bit of the movie Grumpy Old Men.  It shares a character with “Beautician.”

“The Miracles of Saint Marx” concerns a secret police officer’s search for a dissident who spreads tales of miraculous events.  It becomes personal when one of those stories is about her.  Also very good.

“The Selected Mug Shots of Famous Hungarian Assassins” is about a boy who handcrafts trading cards featuring what he says are Hungarian assassins.  It seems to be all his imagination, until the narrator finds a book on the same topic years later…  This story includes slurs against people with mental disabilities as a plot point, getting the boys in deep trouble.

“The Ghosts of Budapest and Toronto” is another tale of the Kálmán family.  Ghosts are seen in two cities as separated members of the family miss each other.

“The Homemade Doomsday Machine” finishes the volume with a genius child who seeks the destruction of society and the Nazi atomic scientist who shares that interest.  Has perhaps the happiest ending in the book.  Has a character that seems too eager to diagnose the child as autistic, especially as she has no psychological or medical training.

Most of the stories are bittersweet, with a few downer endings.  I found the writing competent but not compelling on average.

There are frequent mentions of rape, and suicide comes up a time or two. While the travails of the Jewish and Romani people in Hungary are mentioned, the emphasis is on ethnic Hungarians.  There’s some period sexism and a number of the female characters express dislike of the patriarchal Hungarian family culture.  Due to the heavy themes, I’d recommend this for college age and up.

Overall, I am glad I got the chance to read this.  Books on the Hungarian experience are uncommon, and I discovered much I did not know.  Recommended for other people wanting to broaden their experience.

 

Open Thread: Top Posts of 2016!

Open Thread: Top Posts of 2016!

I’m sure you all know how top ten lists work, so let’s get straight into it!

The Financial Expert

Top Ten Posts of 2016
1. Book Review: The Financial Expert
2. Anime Review: Urusei Yatsura
3. Open Thread: Minicon 51 Report
4. Comic Book Review: Batman Deathblow After the Fire
5. Book Review: The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds
6. Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans
7. Manga Review: Ooku 10 & 11
8. Comic Strip Review: Kill 6 Billion Demons 1
9. Book Review: Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail
10. Book Review: The Guns of Navarone

The Financial Expert by R.K. Narayan was the dark horse victory of the year. It was a book randomly selected off the shelf at a used bookstore for my #ReadPOC2016 challenge. And somehow, my review of it is within the top ten of Google results for this book!

Now let’s compare to the list of all-time favorite posts as selected by you, the readers.

Urusei Yatsura

Top Ten All-Time Posts
1. Anime Review: Urusei Yatsura
2. Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (USA)
3. Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right
4. Comic Book Review: The Forgotten Man Graphic Edition
5. Manga Review: Vagabond Volume 1
6. Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans
7. Anime Review: Magi – Labyrinth of Magic
8. Book Review: The Financial Expert
9. Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency
10. Book Review: Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments

As you can see, “Those Annoying Aliens” is a series with legs.

Time to break it down into categories, starting with the media type this blog is mostly about.

The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds

Top Ten Books 2016
1. The Financial Expert
2. The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds
3. Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailor, Pirates and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail
4. The Guns of Navarone
5. White Fang
6. They Talked to a Stranger
7. The Black Tulip
8. The Inugami Clan
9. The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder
10. Thanks for the Feedback (tie)
10. Jewish Noir (tie)

Four of these eleven were #ReadPOC2016 selections, but more notable is the dominance of older works.

Active Raid

Top Ten Anime 2016
1. Urusei Yatsura
2. Active Raid
3. The Kindaichi Case Files Return
4. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency
5. The Rose of Versailles
6. Tonari no Seki-Kun
7. Matchless Raijin-Oh
8. Mushibugyo
9. Invaders of the Rokujyoma!?
10. Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches

Active Raid, Kindaichi and Jojo’s have all had new seasons since my reviews.

Cover of Batman/Deathstroke

Top Ten Comicbooks 2016
1. Batman/Deathblow After the Fire
2. Showcase Presents: Weird War Tales Volume 1
3. Vertigo CYMK
4. Teen Titans Earth One Volume 1
5. Showcase Presents: The Great Disaster Featuring the Atomic Knights
6. Child of the Sun
7. Showcase Presents: The Trial of the Flash
8. Essential Sub-Mariner, Vol. 1
9. Essential Rampaging Hulk, Vol. 1
10. Showcase Presents: Super Friends

Apparently there was a huge jump of interest in Brian Azzarello’s early DC work this year.

Ooku 11

Top Ten Manga 2016
1. Ooku 10 & 11
2. Vinland Saga Book Seven
3. Dream Fossil
4. Ayako
5. Die Wergelder 1
6. Princess Jellyfish Volume 1
7. Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches #1
8. A*Tomcat
9. Let’s Dance a Waltz (tie)
9. Assassination Classroom (tie)

More mature titles were strong this year, with the first young adult title coming in at #7.

And now, let’s look at where you, the all-important readers are coming from!

The Naturalist Theodore Roosevelt

Top Ten Viewing Countries 2016
1. United States
2. United Kingdom
3. Canada
4. Russia
5. France
6. Germany
7. Brazil
8. India
9. Australia
10. Japan

There was one lonely visitor from Bahrain–tell your friends!

The number one search term this year was “Images of Bela Lugosi in ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau.'”

And now it’s your turn! Have any thoughts on the winning media? What else have you enjoyed this year?

Happy New Year!

Book Review: Curiosities of Literature

Book Review: Curiosities of Literature by John Sutherland

This is a book of trivia, factoids and amusing stories about the world of literature.  The author is a professor of English literature, so he knows his stuff.  The book is organized by loose themes, beginning with food (both as featured in literature, and as eaten by authors.)  There are bits on authors’ pen names, sales figures and famous deaths.  After the index, there’s an essay on “the end of the book” where Mr. Sutherland muses whether the codex book as we know it will soon vanish, replaced by electronic media or even telepathic communication.

Curiosities of Literature

The illustrations are by Martin Rowson, who is in the old style of detailed editorial cartoons, and give a very British feel to the book.  (The words are less obvious about it.)

Being relatively widely-read, I had run across many of the factoids before, but there were some I had no idea of, or had long forgotten (like the true fate of V.C. Andrews.)  Mr. Sutherland makes no pretense of being neutral in his opinions–he’s particularly scathing about the Left Behind series.  His writing is informative and readable; it might be worthwhile to look his more serious work up.

As with many other trivia and lists books, this is less something one would buy for themselves, and more something to buy as a present for a relative who loves reading.  As such, it’s good value for money–but given that “mature themes” are discussed, I would not recommend it for readers below senior high school age.

Comic Book Review: Essential Tomb of Dracula, Volume 2

Comic Book Review: Essential Tomb of Dracula, Volume 2 mostly written by Marv Wolfman and art by Gene Colan.

When the Comics Code restrictions on horror were loosened in the 1970s, DC primarily went in for horror anthology comics, while Marvel Comics based entire series around horrific heroes and villains.  One of these was the classic (and public domain) character of Vlad Tepes, aka Count Dracula.

Essential Tomb of Dracula Volume 2

This series revealed that Bram Stoker’s book (highly recommended if you haven’t read it, by the way) was highly fictionalized, and Dracula had not in fact finally died at the end of it, only being very inconvenienced.  He had been various places, doing various things, temporarily being put of commission now and then…and this storyline opened with him once again being awakened to start his reign of terror anew.

Opposing the Lord of Vampires was a crew of vampire hunters including Quincy Harker (the son of Jonathan and Mina), now an elderly man confined to a wheelchair by injuries received in past battles with Dracula; Rachel van Helsing (great-granddaughter of Professor van Helsing) a crossbow-wielder who wasn’t always as effective as she’d like; Frank Drake, a descendant of Dracula (before becoming a vampire) who had wasted his wealth and had to man up over the course of the series; and Taj Nital, an Indian man who had been rendered mute when Dracula injured his throat.  Independent of them were Blade, who only hunted Dracula because he hated all vampires due to the murder of his mother by Deacon Frost, and Hannibal King, a detective that Deacon Frost had turned into a vampire, who avoided taking blood from living humans.

Of course, Dracula didn’t just have vampire hunters after him, but people who either wanted to become lord of all vampires themselves or otherwise exploit him.  The most persistent of these was Doctor Sun, a Chinese scientist who’d been turned into a disembodied brain hooked up to a computer, who wanted to take over the world.

At the start of this volume, Dracula learns of the current whereabouts of an artifact called the Chimera, which re-sparks his desire to conquer the world himself.  (He’d had to put that on hold as a vampire army large enough to take over would promptly drink the rest of humanity to extinction, and then where would they be?)  Fortunately for the world, Dracula is not the only one after the artifact, and it ends up smashed.

Dracula has noticed his powers waning, and this leads him to a near-final confrontation with Quincy Harker, before learning that it is in fact Doctor Sun behind it, and the action moves to Boston.  There the cast adds nebbish “true vampire story” writer Harold H. Harold and lovely but ditsy secretary Aurora Rabinowitz, who act as comic relief.

After the Doctor Sun situation is resolved, Dracula takes control of a local Satanist cult and marries a woman named Domini, who he believes will give him a proper heir.  (The leader of the Satanists, of course, has other plans.)

Mixed throughout this volume are soap-opera subplots involving the various supporting cast, and interludes of Dracula’s adventures in other times and places.  Marv Wolfman’s writing is often excellent, but he sometimes doesn’t consult previous issues, resulting in some minor continuity glitches.  Gene Colan’s art is more consistently outstanding, and fits the mood well, especially in this black and white reprint.  (Some stories from the Giant-Size side series are included, with art by the less impressive but very competent Don Heck.)

Make no mistake, Dracula is the main villain here, and rare is the issue where he does not murder at least one innocent person just to remind us of that.  Much of his time is taken up with petty revenge against people who have crossed him and when he acts against other villains, it’s usually out of pride or personal vendetta.  Every once in a while, he does show a moment of kindness, but the door soon slams shut when his darker nature prevails.  Because he’s the title character, Dracula has what TV Tropes calls “Joker Immunity”; he can never be permanently killed off, only temporarily thwarted, so the heroes seem ineffectual.  (Quincy Harker broods about this frequently.)

These stories do take place in the Marvel Universe, though this series avoids most of the implications of that.  Brother Voodoo helps Frank Drake through a bad patch in his life, and Doctor Strange actually temporarily kills Dracula (but is hypnotized not to notice it’s not permanent until later.)

In addition to the expected violence (but relatively little gore–the Comics Code was still in effect), Dracula’s attacks on women are often treated in a sexualized manner.  There are some instances of suicide, both voluntary and forced.  Dracula is also depicted as being racist (mostly against Blade) and sexist (he is not at all kind to the memory of Lucy Westerna.)

And speaking of sexism, one story includes a woman who’s a bit of a “straw feminist”; the owner of a fashion house who only hires women even if a man would be more competent at the job (except one dress designer who might be gay given the coding) and who has an enormous grudge against the various men who tried to keep her down.  Dracula agrees to kill her enemies in exchange for information she can get more efficiently than he, but leaves her in a sticky situation at the end of the story.

Despite often high melodrama, there are some very well-written moments as well.

Recommended for vampire comics fans, Blade fans who want to see his early adventures, and those who enjoy Gene Colan’s art.

Anime Review: Hataraki Man

Anime Review: Hataraki Man

Hiroko Matsukada is an “editor” at Jidai, a weekly magazine.  What this means in practice is that she researches and writes articles, as well as working with at least one outside author who submits a serialized novel for the magazine.  At 28 and still single, Hiroko sometimes worries that she’s missing out on a woman’s “proper” existence–she and her boyfriend Shinji haven’t had sex in months due to their conflicting schedules.  But when the deadline looms and her creativity is engaged, Hiroko enters “Hataraki” (hard-working) mode, shutting everything else out, and the thrill of being published makes it all seem worthwhile.

Hataraki Man

This 11-episode anime was based on a short manga series by Moyoco Anno (Sugar Sugar Rune) which has also been turned into a live-action TV drama.  Each episode focuses on Hiroko or one of the people in her life (including her masseuse!) as they deal with their work and personal issues.  For example, the photographer who would much rather be taking pictures of nature, but is stuck as a paparazzi, taking scandalous shots because that’s what sells magazines.

Many episodes compare and contrast Hiroko with other characters.  Hiroko has a relatively brash, serious approach that comes off to Japanese people as “masculine” as opposed to, say, her co-worker Yumi Nogawa, who projects a pliant, traditionally feminine image to succeed in the world of sports reporting (what often gets denigrated as “feminine wiles.”)  Hiroko also often clashes with rookie editor Kunio Tanaka, who is laid back and tries not to let his job take over his life, but often turns in slipshod work and evades responsibility.

Towards the end of the series, Hiroko’s relationship with Shinji hits a crisis point at roughly the same time she gets a huge career break that will decide if she’s going to be on the fast track for promotion.

Hiroko smokes and drinks (as do other characters) and grouses about the sex she’s not having.  We see her topless a couple of times (the camera angle keeping the audience from seeing too much.)  Sexism is a running theme, both in direct actions by Hiroko’s male co-workers, and the question of whether fitting into a gender role or defying it is a better life plan.

Overall, it’s a reasonably realistic look at working in the world of magazine publishing, full of little epiphanies and setbacks.  Even Hiroko’s large successes don’t come without their costs, and the ending is bittersweet.

Bonus feature–here’s the ending theme from the live-action version!

Open Thread: Top Ten Lists 2015

Like many bloggers, I keep a close eye on the stats of which posts get traffic, and it’s time to reveal the winners for this year.  You all like list posts, right?  So here are the reviews you the readers felt were important in 2015.

Urusei Yatsura

Top Ten Posts of 2015

  1. Anime Review: Urusei Yatsura
  2. Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right
  3. Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (USA)
  4. Manga Review: Assassination Classroom
  5. Comic Book Review: Essential Sub-Mariner Vol. 1
  6. Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans
  7. Magazine Review: Analog Science Fiction and Fact June 2015
  8. Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency
  9. Book Review: They Talked to a Stranger
  10. Manga Review: Shonen Jump Weekly (USA) 2014

I might be better off as an anime and manga reviewer, it seems.  Now let’s see how that compares to all clicks since the beginning of the blog!

Shonen

Top Ten Posts Cumulative

  1. Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (USA)
  2. Comic Book Review: The Forgotten Man Graphic Edition
  3. Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right
  4. Manga Review: Vagabond Volume 1
  5. Anime Review: Urusei Yatsura
  6. Anime Review: Magi: Labyrinth of Magic
  7. Book Review: Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments
  8. Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans
  9. Comic Strip Review: Spacetrawler Book 1 The Human Seat
  10. Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency

Admittedly, older posts have an advantage as they just keep having people stumble across them.  Now, let’s break it down by type of review!

Jojo's Bizarre Adventures
Dio and Jonathan

Top Ten Anime of 2015

  1. Urusei Yatsura
  2. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood /Battle Tendency
  3. Mushibugyo
  4. Magi: The Kingdom of Magic
  5. Matchless Raijin-Oh
  6. Magi: Labyrinth of Magic
  7. Argevollen
  8. Invaders of the Rokujyoma!?
  9. I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying
  10. Humanity Has Declined

You folks love your classic anime, it seems.

Flag

Top Ten Books of 2015

  1. Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right
  2. They Talked to a Stranger
  3. Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments
  4. White Fang
  5. Thanks for the Feedback
  6. Global Friendship Vol. 5: United Kingdom-Zambia
  7. The Pirate Princess
  8. Strip for Murder
  9. The Blue Fairy Book
  10. The 47 Ronin

Non-fiction dominates with the top three spots!

Essential Sub-Mariner

Top Ten Comic Books of 2015

  1. Essential Sub-Mariner Vol. 1
  2. Batman: Earth One Volume Two
  3. Showcase Presents the Great Disaster Featuring the Atomic Knights
  4. Showcase Presents: Weird War Tales Volume 1
  5. Bodies
  6. Child of the Sun
  7. Essential Rampaging Hulk, Vol. 1
  8. 47 Ronin
  9. Showcase Presents: Superman Family Volume 4
  10. Showcase Presents Superfriends

Who would have thought Namor McKenzie would be so popular?

Assassination Classroom

Top Ten Manga of 2015

  1. Weekly Shonen Jump (USA)
  2. Assassination Classroom
  3. Shonen Jump Weekly (USA) 2014
  4. Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit
  5. UQ Holder, Vol. 1
  6. My Hero Academia #1
  7. Vagabond Volume 1
  8. Showa 1944-1953 A History of Japan
  9. Vinland Saga Book Four
  10. Yukarism

Shounen dominates this list, probably because I review Shonen Jump every year.  Now let’s take a look at where my visitors came from this year.

The Return of George Washington 1783-1789

Top Ten Viewing Countries of 2015

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Brazil
  4. Canada
  5. France
  6. Australia
  7. Russia
  8. Germany
  9. Italy
  10. Indonesia

The first two are no surprise, but way to go, Brazil!  And I had one lonely visitor from Curaçao; I hope they’ll be back next year and bring friends.

The top search term of the year was “Mack Hassler”; this science fiction poet is largely responsible for my Analog 1000 review doing so well.  I feel kind of bad my review of his work was lukewarm.

Which reviews did you enjoy this year?  Anything I should review in 2016?

Open Thread: Reading Challenges

Back in November, some folks in the Booklr community of Tumblr organized a challenge called #readwomen.  The idea was to deliberately read books written by women for pleasure in December.  For full participation, every book should be written by a woman, but I opted to just increase the proportion by picking from my to read stack with some deliberation.  There’s still a few books to finish–I might be able to manage two or three more books by women by New Year’s.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

Starting in January, I’ll be participating a bit in a challenge titled #readpoc2016, which involves choosing to read more books by non-white authors.  (I’m not counting manga, as I read plenty of that already.)  I hope to broaden my horizons by using “intentionality” (reading with a purpose.)  I’m not quite up for a #readLGBTQ challenge yet, maybe in 2017.

There are other reading challenges floating around that are more long-term projects:  Read a book set in/about each of the states in the United States; read every book that’s won a Hugo Prize; every single book written by Charles Dickens, etc.   Giving yourself a challenge can enhance the reading experience as you demonstrate progress and share what you’ve learned.

If you’d like to try it, here’s a scavenger hunt-style challenge for 2016 (books that hit more than one category count for all the appropriate categories.)

  1. A book written by a woman (if your reading material is mostly books by women, make this an author you haven’t tried before.)
  2. A book written by a person of color (likewise.)
  3. A book set in/about your home state or country.
  4. A book first published the year you were born.
  5. A book you had to read for school (does your impression of it change with the many years since the last time?)
  6. A book that won a prestigious award in its field (Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo, Newbury, etc.)
  7. A book that made #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.  (Popularity does not equal quality, but most of these are at least readable.)
  8. A book that you’ve heard is good, but it’s a genre you don’t normally read.  (You may need to try several different books; don’t force yourself to finish a book that isn’t working for you.)
  9. A book on a subject you know little about (probably non-fiction.)
  10. A book you got as a gift or prize, or otherwise randomly found for free.

Does this sound like a fun challenge to you?  Have you done other reading  challenges in the past, or plan to in the future?

Magazine Review: The Blueroad Reader: Stardust and Fate

Magazine Review: The Blueroad Reader: Stardust and Fate edited by John Gaterud

Yes, this is yet another literary magazine; I picked up a bunch inexpensively at the book fair.  This one seems to take its title from Jack Kerouac’s writing; this first issue was published in 2007.

Blueroad Reader: Stardust and Fate

The index is unusual for this kind of magazine.  Rather than a linear index, or arranged by subject or type of literature, it’s by author.  It also doesn’t distinguish between fiction and non-fiction–while some pieces sound more fictional than others, you will need to make up your own mind.

Insert my usual comments about modern poetry here.  The most interesting ones for me are “Postcards to Mike” by Ed McManis, a set of verses describing a school trip to Europe, the small disasters and odd moments of traveling with students.

A couple of the pieces are very much written in 2006, and feel dated now with their jabs at the Bush administration.  Deserved jabs, but still.  “Letter from Iceland” by Bill Holm and “Letter from London” by Donna R. Casella are both most interesting as time capsules, I think.

Best of the prose pieces from my point of view was “O Mary, Where Art Thou?” by Suzanne Lillian Bunkers.  It’s an examination of the various appearances of Mary, mother of Jesus, with an emphasis on the sites that the author has personally visited.  One of the qualifications for authenticating a visit by Mary, it turns out, is conformity with Catholic doctrine.  If your vision of Mary has her advocating ordination of women, you’re out of luck officially.

Overall, the theme is of road trips and journeys.  Many of the pieces are sad or bittersweet; others are nostalgic.  I do not know if any further volumes were published by Blueroad Press.

As with other literary magazines I’ve reviewed, it seems decent if this kind of literature is your thing.

Book Review: Fresh Fear

Book Review: Fresh Fear edited by William Cook

Horror anthologies are like a box of chocolates.  One story might be crunchy frog, another spring surprise, while a more disappointing one is just maple cream.  (Seriously, maple cream?)  This is because horror tends to be a balancing act between what the writer finds scary and what the reader does.   Two different readers looking at the same story may fiercely debate whether it’s terrifying or just kind of gross.

Fresh Fear

This particular anthology is listed as “contemporary horror” which seems to mean mostly recent stories, set close to the present day.  Other than that, there’s no real overarching theme or subgenre requirements.  After an introduction that talks a bit about why people read horror stories (among other things, to feel horrified), the opening story is “God of the Winds” by Scathe meic Beorh, a hallucinatory piece that is at least partially about the tendency of white people to appropriate Native American mysticism in stupid ways.  The final story is “Out of the Light” by Anna Taborska, a Lovecraftian-feeling story about a man who gets too heavily invested in reading a horror anthology.  Hmm.

I was a bit disappointed that the piece by big-name author Ramsey Campbell (“Britain’s most respected living horror writer”) was a reprint from 1988.  Which is not to say that “Welcomeland” itself wasn’t a fine story.  It concerns a man returning to his home town which has been partially rebuilt into a failed amusement park.  Or has it succeeded at its true purpose?  It doesn’t feel dated.

Also outstanding is Christine Morgan’s “Nails of the Dead” which looks at Norse mythology from the point of view of a very minor character with a small but important job.  Of local interest to me is “Just Another Ex” by Roy C. Booth and Axel Kohagen.  A man is sent to find another man who may be unfaithful to his loved one.  His reward is non-standard.

There were some typos, most clustered in “Spencer Weaver Gets Rebooted” by Thomas A. Erb, about a bullied high schooler who gets pushed too far.  Because of this, and the rather immature feel of the plot points, it felt more like something a high school student would write than something for a professional anthology.  (“Did I mention the head bully has a small penis?  Well he does.”)

This is an “18+” book, which has sex, rape, foul language, torture and in some cases excessive focus on body fluids.   Happy endings are few.  But with twenty-eight widely varying stories, there’s something for almost every horror fan.   Recommended for the horror buff who wants to try some new authors.

Open Thread: Minicon 50 Report

Over the Easter weekend, I went to Minicon, the Minnesota Scientifiction Society’s yearly convention.  This was the 50th convention, although not the fiftieth year, as a couple times early on it was held twice yearly.  To mark the milestone, the convention ran four days instead of the usual three, and had a whole bunch of Guests of Honor.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

Unfortunately, I was only able to take one day off work, so missed the Thursday events altogether.  I arrived Friday morning at the RadiShTree Hotel in Bloomington (it’s been a Radisson, Sheraton and now a Doubletree) and realized this was my thirtieth Minicon!  Wow!  The registration desk was well-organized and I soon had my badge with Michael Whelan art and programs.

The first panel I attended was an interview of Jane Yolen (perhaps best known for children’s fantasy books, but she also wrote The Devil’s Arithmetic, a historical fiction novel about the Holocaust) by a local writing group, the Scribblies.  Ms. Yolen mentioned that she didn’t get her doctorate because her thesis was on the use of fairy tales in childhood education and the gatekeepers didn’t like that.  It’s since become a standard text Touch of Magic and she has six honorary doctorates now.

Then it was time for the only panel I was on, “Anime and Manga for Speculative Fiction Fans.”  Somehow Programming missed my repeated messages offering to moderate the panel and picked one of the panelists at random.  The panel discussion was a bit weaker than I would have liked, but there were still many items mentioned, and you can see a list in my just previous post.

From there I went to an interview of Tom Doherty, the publisher of Tor, which is a big science fiction and fantasy label.  He talked about the challenges facing the book publishing industry, including the loss of small regional book distributors and smaller chain bookstores.  That means it’s harder to reach casual readers who would pick up a book if they happened to see one, but won’t make a special trip to the big box store.

Then it was “Publishing After the Door Slams” which was about the alternatives to major publishers (who after all want to print books that they think will sell.)  Apparently one segment of e-publishing that makes money hand over fist is Big Beautiful Woman erotica–a market that apparently is starved for content.

Next up, the Brandon Sanderson interview (he finished the Wheel of Time series, but is a good author in his own right.)  He talked about taking a job as night clerk at a quiet hotel so he would have plenty of time to write.  After that I went to the Terry Pratchett Memorial; several of the attendees had known him well, including Greg Ketter, owner of Dreamhaven Books and the one who convinced Sir Terry to come to Minicon 40.

The hugest event of the night was the reunion of fan favorite local band Cats Laughing (X-Men fans will remember Kitty Pryde jamming with them once.)  I do poorly in crowded concert venues, so skipped it, but heard bits and pieces as I visited several room parties.  Love tasty food, and some parties had very nice items.

On Saturday, I cruised the art show/science exhibit/hucksters room after breakfast–Some beautiful art by Michael Whelan and also by local artists.

Then I attended an interview of Larry Niven (Ringworld) and heard about his many collaborations and how they worked (the Internet has been a real boon to the process.)  There was more of this at the “Adventures in Collaboration” panel immediately afterward.

I don’t remember too much of the “Social Pressure in Fandom” panel, although harrassment policies were mentioned.  I was too busy mentally preparing for the mass signing event.  “The Evolving Business of Books” had more Tom Doherty–he stressed that e-books were not a threat, but an opportunity, as were audiobooks.  Tor is teaming up with NASA to create books to get kids interested in space-related career fields.

“Deviance in Fiction” discussed the role of bad behavior in creating a story–there was general agreement that sometimes too much is too much and it spoils the book for that reader.  (Lord Foul’s Bane and a particularly hideous act by the protagonist early on was given as an example of a point at which several of the people in the room gave up on the book.)

“I’m a Cover Shopper” was a panel about the role of covers in attracting readers–the trend is towards covers that look good in a two-inch size on Internet sites.  We also discussed whether the writer should have input on the cover image.  (yes, but not control.  One example was given of an author who insisted the picture on the cover match the colors described in the book; this made the cover a mess of brown and gray.)

More parties!

Sunday morning meant one more sweep; I’d won a couple of things from the art room and could now use the rest of my budget to buy books.  I enjoyed a panel on “Linked Short Stories and Serial Novels” where we discussed Dickens, “fix-ups” (two or more short stories rewritten into a longer work) and other fun topics.

After officially checking out of my hotel room (and thus having to carry my luggage everywhere) I checked out the latter half of “Collaborative Creative Projects” which was about art installations primarily.  The slideshow stalled on a particularly disturbing image that distracted me for the rest of the panel.

My last panel was “Middle Grade Optimism vs YA Dystopia”, talking about the difference between writing for the “middle grade” and “young adult” markets.  It was emphasized that these were largely artificial distinctions.  However, a general rule of thumb is that middle grade books are given to the child by a parent, teacher or librarian; while young adult is when they begin seeking out books on their own (and start disdaining “this is inappropriate for your age group” comments.)

Closing ceremonies were fun as usual; next year’s convention will have Seanan McGuire of Newsflesh and Incryptids fame.

 

Tell me about your most recent convention experience, or a gathering you hope to attend in the near future!

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