Magazine Review: Haute Dish Spring 2016 edited by Debby Dathe
This pun-titled periodical is the thrice-yearly organ of Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It features the artistic (mostly photography) and literary talents of the students there. This issue is thin compared to most college literary magazines I’ve seen, and the written contributions short–the longest doesn’t quite make four pages.
Of the photographs, the one I enjoyed most is Debby Dathe’s “Apprehension”, showing a steep wooded staircase from a kitten’s point of view. Another good one is “Tulip” by Jeremiah Grafsgaard, a dew-sprinkled tulip blossom about to open; this is placed directly opposite the prose piece “Iselder” by Alyssa Kuglin, which is about recovering from trauma and has tulip imagery. The juxtaposition of these two pieces is easily the best editorial decision in the issue.
“The Student Body” by Debby Dathe (again!) struck a nerve with its tale of being chosen last in gym class. But my favorite of the prose pieces was “Evidence” by Gina Nelson, about a person being coached through how to make a screenshot,,,for disturbing reasons. There’s some poetry too, none of which stood out for me.
This magazine will be of most interest to students and alumni of MSU, and perhaps their family. But collectors who take the long view might consider these sorts of things as investments should one of the authors represented hit the big time so that their early student work becomes valuable.
Book Review: Great Historical Coincidences by Pere Romanillos
“Serendipity” is the good fortune that comes when you discover something useful or interesting while you were looking for something else. Knowing how to grasp the opportunity offered by serendipity is one of those skills that every scientist and artist should have at their disposal. This book, originally published as ¡Menuda chiripa! Las serendipias más famosas covers many instances of serendipity, mostly in the area of science.
After a lengthy introduction on the subject of serendipity and fortunate coincidences, there are 49 essays on individual discoveries divided by scientific field. We begin with physics and Archimedes’ Principle (and the origin of “Eureka!”) and end with archaeology and the terracotta soldiers of Qin. Many of the stories were familiar to me, such as the melting chocolate bar that revealed the existence of microwaves; while others were new to me, such as the origin of the Pap smear.
This book is heavily illustrated and the translation by Janet Foster uses language that should make this book suitable for bright junior high students on up. (Some parents may find discussion of the biology of sex unsuitable for their kids.) There’s some clumsy phrasing from time to time. There’s no index or citations, but there is a bibliography to search for more information–much of it in Spanish.
This is one of those books primarily meant as a present; the treatment of each discovery is short and only covers highlights and often context is missing. Consider it for a budding scientist or history buff, perhaps as a pair with the same author’s Great Historical Blunders.
Right up front, I have to say that the title is the most annoying thing about this book. Did anyone ever use “rad” as an adjective unironically? That said, “radical” is not an unfair term to apply to many of the women whose short biographies are written in this volume. There are forty stories set around 30 “countries”, starting with Enheduanna of Mesopotamia, the first named author that we have records of, and wrapping around the globe to Emma Goldman, born in Russia, anarchist and advocate for worker’s rights.
This is a sequel to Rad American Women A-Z by the same creators; the greater scope allows them to have more variety. There are scientists, athletes and entertainers, politicians and even a princess! The book is written for middle-grade girls, but some of the subject matter may be difficult for more sensitive readers. (A couple of these biographies moved me to tears.) Many of the women covered I had heard of before, but a few were new to me.
The papercut illustrations by Miriam Klein Stahl give the book a distinctive, rough-hewn look; it also ties the appearance of the volume together better than a mix of photographs and paintings might have, as there are both historical and contemporary women covered.
This book also wears its politics on its sleeve, obvious in the selection of women to write about. Politically conservative parents might find it uncomfortable that Kasha Jacqueline Nagabasera (fights for gay rights in Uganda) and Buffy Sainte-Marie (anti-war activist) get full entries while such right-wing icons as Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa don’t even make the 250 honorable mentions in the back. The poem about “the stateless”, refugees, exiles and others torn from their homelands includes the line “No human being is illegal.”
As is common in collections of short biographies, only the highlights of any given woman’s life are included, and edited according to the author’s intent. Many of these women were controversial during their lifetimes, and some of them are still controversial now. A reader who takes a particular interest in one of the subjects would be well advised to seek out more complete biographies. I’ve previously reviewed biographies of King Hatshepsut http://www.skjam.com/2016/01/20/book-review-the-woman-who-would-be-king-hatshepsuts-rise-to-power-in-ancient-egypt/ and Queen Lili’uokalani http://www.skjam.com/2014/02/21/book-review-lost-kingdom-hawaiis-last-queen-the-sugar-kings-and-americas-first-imperial-adventure/ , for example.
I expect that this book will end up in a lot of elementary school libraries. I’d also recommend this volume to parents of middle-grade kids (yes, boys too, to go with their many books about famous men) with the caveat (or bonus!) that you might want to sit down with them to discuss some of the topics that will come up.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for the purpose of writing this review. No other compensation was offered or requested.
Book Review: Festival of Crime Edited by Christine Husom, Mickie Turk & Michael Allan Mallory
Minnesotans have a reputation for being a bit mild-mannered and reserved. But we love celebrations just as much as anyone else, and the state is filled with fairs and festivals, from small-town scarecrow contests to the crowded Pride in Minneapolis. And sometimes crimes happen at these events. Thus this collection from Twin Cities Sisters in Crime, a local writers group.
Most of these 19 tales are indeed crime stories, but not always murder, and a few have mystery elements. A couple have supernatural elements, though only one has it proven. Some merely take place at or near a festival, while others have it essential to the plot.
The collection begins with “Sawbill Checkpoint” by Michael Allan Mallory (wait, isn’t he one of the editors?) A man is shot during a dogsled race, and his final word may be a vital clue…if only someone knew what it meant. The last story is “All Sales Final” by Douglas Dorow. A pair of art dealers discover a treasure trove owned by two elderly women. Now, how to get it away from them before the old ladies figure out how much it’s worth?
Stories I enjoyed the most were “Looney Daze” by Cheryl Ullyot, in which a gambler woos a woman obsessed with wiener dog races; and “Corn on the Cob” by Colin T. Nelson, about a sheriff faced with criminals he can’t put in jail, and an election coming up.
“No Time Like the Present” by E.B. Boatner is about a man who spots some anachronistically-dressed people, and learns their secret. It feels a little too tidy, with a long-winded wrap-up.
Content warning: homophobia, torture and domestic abuse come up in different stories.
The writing is decent on average, and I only spotted a couple of minor typos. There are author bios in the back if you decide one of the stories makes you want to read more.
Recommended primarily for Minnesotan crime story fans, as they’ll be most familiar with the local color, but any fan of crime stories should be able to enjoy this.
Book Review: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Once, Mars was a place of mystery. Humans looked at it from the blue Earth with feeble telescopes, and imagined what life, if any, might inhabit that red dot in the sky. Were there canals filled with water? Bloodsucking tripod operators? Beings that had never fallen from grace with God? Ray Bradbury looked, and imagined stories of Martians and Earthlings, and the doom of both.
Several of the stories in this volume were written in the latter half of the 1940s, and then connected with interstitial material in 1950 to make a chronological narrative. The book opens with “Rocket Summer”, when a January 1999 Ohio winter is interrupted with heat from exhaust tests on the launchpad. It ends with “The Million-Year Picnic” as refugees from war-torn Earth arrive on Mars in October 2026, and see the new Martians. In between is the coming and going of the human presence on Mars.
The first three expeditions to Mars all die; perhaps if the U.S. government hadn’t outlawed science fiction and fantasy (but apparently not religious texts) in the 1970s, they would have been better prepared. But they get posthumous revenge; in a nod to H.G. Wells, by the time the Fourth Expedition arrives, the majority of Martians have been killed off by a common Earth disease.
Wave after wave of Earthlings arrive, most of them from the United States, as it monopolizes the construction of interplanetary rockets. In the story “Way in the Middle of the Air”, the entire black population of the Southern U.S. decamps to Mars. (in this bleak future, race relations did not advance beyond the early 1950s; poll taxes have only recently been abolished as of 2003. and the Klan is still very active.) One particularly virulent racist panics when he realizes he will soon not have African-American people to oppress! There’s use of the N-word and other racist language, so this story is sometimes left out of school editions of the book. Because of the stitched-together nature of the collection, this large population of emigrants is never mentioned again, and their fate is finally revealed in a completely different short story collection.
Eventually, once the early settlers have made the place relatively safe, the moral guardians who eradicated speculative fiction on their homeworld arrive to make Mars just as joyless. “Usher II” has a multimillionaire who is still hopping mad about their destruction of his library take revenge in inventive ways mostly inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. Mr. Bradbury was tangentially involved with the comic book industry, which was undergoing the attacks (“think of the children!”) which would lead to the Comics Code. He would return to the theme of book burning in Fahrenheit 451. As a kid I could easily imagine boring grownups banning all the good stuff.
Eventually, atomic war breaks out on Earth, and most of the population of Mars returns to that planet in a probably vain attempt to help out their relatives or home nation. “The Silent Towns” concerns one of the very few people left, a miner who’d been up in the hills without communication for a few weeks when everyone else took the rockets home. He’s initially thrilled when he learns there’s a young woman also still on Mars, but isn’t pleased when he actually meets her.
Some of Bradbury’s stories from this time period showed a nasty streak of misogyny, and this is one of them. Genevieve stayed on Mars because she’d been constantly bullied about her weight, but rather than treat her sympathetically, the narrative flow treats her as a gross monstrosity for daring to be fat, and indulging herself in ways roughly equivalent to those Walter had done earlier in the story. Walter escaping and hiding from her for the next twenty years is treated as a happy ending.
“There Will Come Soft Rains” is also included in this collection, one of the most perfect short stories ever written. After the atomic war on Earth, we look at the last day of a “smart house” that hasn’t quite figured out that all the humans in its city are dead.
One of the interesting things about the stories is that in the early ones, while the Martians are still flourishing, we see their petty sides and moral failings; but after they have mostly died off, those fall by the wayside and their great accomplishments and gentleness are emphasized.
Ray Bradbury really does have a gift for poetic turns of phrase, and his nostalgia for Midwestern small towns shines through. Sometimes the poetry can get in the way of comprehensibility, or become self-indulgent, dragging on for a paragraph or two too long. And of course, he made no attempt to be scientifically accurate even to what was known about Mars back in the day–he readily admitted that the stories were really fantasy.
Several of the stories were adapted for EC Comics, and there have been some television show versions as well.
The book is certainly well worth reading at least once, even if it will not be to everyone’s taste.
Superheroes as we know them more or less started in the comic books of the late 1930s, with the most obvious first “true” superhero being Superman. And comic books have largely shaped our perceptions of costumed superheroes ever since. But sometimes prose is a perfectly acceptable way of writing about people with unusual powers and distinctive appearances who fight crime and injustice. There have been quite a few anthologies of short stories in the field, and this is one of them.
The sixteen stories cover various aspects of the superhero genre, from the superheroes themselves, through supervillains, and to the civilians who have to try to survive in these larger than life worlds. The lead story is “Sunlight Society” by Margaret Ronald. A nethead (a cyborg able to interface with computers) is called in to deal with a virus in a superhero base’s computer. But that’s not all he’s there for, and the information he seeks will cost him dearly.
“Wonjjiang and the Madman of Pyongyang” by Gord Sellar is the story of a South Korean superhero who’s been forced into the role of leader for a multi-national team operating in his homeland and sometimes in neighboring countries. Unfortunately, politics has freed his North Korean nemesis, budget cuts have gotten Wonjjiang laid off, and our hero’s overbearing mother is pushing him to get married. (Sadly, the one woman he’s interested in already has a boyfriend.) One of the more “traditional” superhero stories in the book.
A couple of the stories are of special interest. “Wild Card” by Leah Bobet is set in the Shadow Unit continuity, about a secret group of government agents that normally battle serial killers who’ve developed super-powers. Except that this time, the “anomaly” has picked on someone whose personal mythology comes from comic books, and he’s decided to become a full-fledged super-villain. Somewhat lighter than the usual Shadow Unit story.
Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn) contributes “Dirae.” Suddenly in the city there’s a woman who appears out of nowhere to save lives like a real-life superhero, then vanishes again until the next rescue. It’s told from the perspective of that woman as she slowly comes to realize she literally does disappear between those incidents, with no clue where she’s spending the rest of her time, if any. She tries to work out who she really is and what’s happening to her. Mr. Beagle is an excellent fantasy writer, and this is one of the best stories in the book.
The weakest story for me was “Secret Identity” by Kelly Link. A young woman comes to a hotel to meet a man she got to know on the internet; by coincidence (or is it?) there’s a superhero convention going on at the same time. The secrets she’s been keeping from her prospective lover are compared to a hero’s secret identity. I didn’t like the main character and found most of the people she interacted with boring. Overall, a decent collection of 21st Century superhero themed writing.
There’s some vulgar language and sexual situations in the stories, and a couple of them deal with euthanasia. I’d recommend this to senior high students and up.
Book Review: Time Frames: A Speculative Poetry Anthology edited by Terry A. Garey
Poetry related to the various genres of speculative fiction (SF, fantasy, horror, etc.) is pretty common. You can see samples by ones or twos in many magazines and spec-fic collections. But full hardback anthologies of speculative poetry are rare. So Rune Press in Minnesota brought out one in 1991, and I recently got my hands on a copy.
The slim volume features eleven poets; the only name I recognized immediately was Ruth Berman, who starts the volume and has a couple of nice pieces involving the Oz books. From her “Wizard’s Road”:
Home in Omaha at last
It was hard to believe
In a probable world.
To be honest, most of these poems are the modern free verse stuff I don’t fully understand, and don’t know good from bad. There are a few exceptions with more formal rhyme and scansion, and one attempt at a rare Welsh form called a “toddaid.” It’s not very good, but I appreciate the poet’s effort to stretch. I did like Roger Dutcher’s “The Smart House” about an AI-run domicile that learns from other houses’ mistakes.
The book ends with John Calvin Rezmerski’s “Challengers”, a memorial to the Challenger disaster of 1986. I do not know if the poem moved me of itself, or because of my lingering sorrow over the event.
As is often the case with poetry, those who are trained in its ways may enjoy it much more than I. It is, I understand, quite rare, so you may have trouble tracking down a copy.
Book Review: Twin Cities Speculations: An Anthology of Sci-Fi and Fantasy edited by Eric Binfet
As I may have mentioned before, I have a soft spot for local writers, of which Minnesota has many. One Twin Cities writers’ group got together and self-published an anthology, and here we are. Eight stories of SF and fantasy, all first officially published in this book.
The opener is “Space Aliens on Maple Lake” by Bill Cutler. It is ice-fishing season, and a downed alien spacecraft lands on Maple Lake. The aliens need to avoid detection by pretending to be an ordinary ice fishing shack, but will they be able to fool the Earthlings? Light comedy with Minnesota stereotypes.
“The Cursed Years” by Cecelia Isaac is the only story with no mention of Minnesota, being set in a fantasy world. The protagonist, Py, is cursed to wander far from his kingdom for seven years. He starts his journey voluntarily in an effort to make the curse less onerous, but soon discovers even thinking about returning home is dangerous. He acquires a talking sword, and an actual goal when he learns there may be a way to break the curse. This is one of the better stories in the volume, and has an obvious sequel hook–it could also be turned into a doorstopper trilogy with enough padding.
“The Harry Hawkins Experience” by Jonathan Rogers has a would-be biographer tagging along with the title character, a wealthy adventurer. They investigate a tomb with restless inhabitants. The writer is a filmmaker, and it shows with a very “this could be a movie” feel. Sadly, Mr. Hawkins is an annoying character who is supposed to become more endearing as the story wears on, but doesn’t.
“Heaven Help Me” by Lindsey Loree is a monologue by a fallen guardian angel. Turns out that Heaven is very judgmental and not at all big on redemption. The protagonist unwittingly helps set an alternative plan in motion.
“Robbing the Grave” by Eric Binfet concerns a guilt-ridden man having dreams that seem to predict the future…and the future is murder. Is this his dead brother giving him another chance to prevent innocent life from being taken, or just his guilt finally causing a permanent breakdown? There’s an in-joke for Marvel Comics fans, and an interesting police character. The protagonist’s relationships with his best friend and girlfriend come off a bit tedious.
“Kreet” by Tina S. Murphy is about a grif, an insectoid creature, named Sooe Han-Cen who is going into the desert to find the stronghold of the titular Kreet. The Kreet are an invasive species with an explosive population curve, and a penchant for eating grif. Sooe’s mission is complicated by all her fellow Agents having already been eaten, and the presence of a foolish treasure hunter who thinks she’s trying to steal his goodies. This is the longest story in the volume, and comes with an extended coda that reveals the consequences of Sooe’s mission from a different perspective.
“Volunteers” by Susan L. Hansen is told in reverse order, starting with the heroes having had successes against the alien slavers called Jakooma, and flashing ever back to how they got there. The most imaginative bit is the psychic whose powers are normally kind of useless due to the future changing every time someone makes a decision, but in dire circumstances that narrow the possibilities, becomes Earth’s one hope for freedom.
And the book closes with “LOST” by Lizzie Scott. Lilith, grieving the loss of her husband and children, has isolated herself in a remote farmhouse. During a blizzard, a very lost little girl named Pyry shows up on her doorstep, and Lilith must put aside her own problems to help the child. But what she does may be more dangerous to Pyry than the thing that got the girl lost in the first place! This too was a good story, that followed through on its fantasy concept well.
I regret to say that spellchecker typos, the bane of self-publishing editors, are frequent, especially in “Kreet.”
Overall, a decent enough collection of stories, but mostly of local interest to Minnesotans. Others might want to invest in case one of the writers eventually becomes famous.
Last Wednesday, I went to an event titled “Bloggers Get Social”, which was held at a Davanni’s in Edina. Getting there was the first hurdle, as it started at 5 P.M. and I got off work at 4:30 several suburbs away. I found an express route that worked on paper, but when I got to the bus stop, discovered I’d left my paper with the route number and the address of the Davanni’s back in the office. Fortunately, I was able to work out which express bus out of the dozen that serve that stop it was by elimination.
Next problem: When I got on the bus, I discovered that there were no schedules for the route on the bus–I knew one of the cross-streets where I had to get off, but not the other. And everyone near me was firmly attached to their headphones except one lady who had no idea where that cross-street was. The good news was, it was the very first stop the express made in Edina, and the Davanni’s was clearly visible from the side of the bus I was on. I was there only about fifteen minutes late!
Of course, that meant that the other attendees had already clumped up into tight groups at tables, so I was at a loss at first. Good news, though, Davanni’s put on a nice spread for us, showcasing their variety of party foods. Their party room space is also very nice. https://www.davannis.com/location/edina/
The organizers of the social night were the folks from the MN Blogger Conference, which next meets at Concordia University in Saint Paul October 16th, 2016. http://www.mnbloggerconference.com/ After the owners of the Davanni’s gave a nice speech about the history of the restaurant and how their employees have helped build their menu over the years, a couple of other latecomers joined my table, and the organizers reminded everyone to switch tables every so often so that we would meet different people.
I still think I missed about half the bloggers there, but did manage to give out all the business cards with my blog info on them. Not everyone had cards, but I did manage to get some. In no particular order:
Faces of TBI: This site is about people who have suffered Traumatic Brain Injury, both survivors and those who have passed on. The author is Amy Zellner, writer of Life with a Traumatic Brain Injury: Finding the Road Back to Normal. Her most recent blog post is an appearance by Dr. Bennet Omalu (played by Will Smith in Concussion) coming up in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota. http://facesoftbi.com/an-evening-with-dr-bennet-omalu-minneapolis/
Stacie Sayz So: A lifestyle blogger, a lot of her posts seem to be about beauty products from an affordable perspective. But Stacie’s not just about product reviews! Her most recent post is photography tips to enhance those pictures that come with your blog posts (I mostly cheat and just scan the book cover.) http://www.staciesayzso.com/2016/02/how-i-stepped-up-my-camera-game-for-my.html
Kale & Ale: Another lifestyle blog, this one about healthy eating and drinking. Lots of recipes and gardening tips! The latest post by author Valerie Dennis is about her trip to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico and the nice places she found to eat there. http://kaleandale.com/2016/02/15/old-san-juan-puerto-rico/
Jen Jamar is a content strategist and social media manager, which is the kind of person I want to consult if I ever try to monetize this blog. (Read me now while there’s still no ads 🙂 Her latest post is about a recent social media management tool update that looks scary, but probably is nothing to panic about: http://www.jenjamar.com/yoast-3-0-1-heres-what-to-do-instead-of-freaking-out/
Donna Hup writes about small town Midwestern life: cooking, entertainment, travel and especially trucking! Her most recent post is about a…unique…charity run she participated in for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Lots of fun pictures! http://donnahup.com/my-first-cupids-undie-run/
Paul Lundquist doesn’t have a blog as such, but is an advertising and commericial photographer if you can afford to commission the best pictures of stuff for your blog. You can find a portfolio of his work at http://paullundquist.com/
I also remember a fellow doing something called Lifemap which will be a site that allows members to put pins in maps of places they’ve been and write about their experiences there. I don’t think it’s in full production yet.
Davanni’s handed out gift bags, which contained Davanni’s glasses and a do-it-yourself Valentine treat kit. Their regular dessert bars with small pots of frosting and sprinkles so you could customize them for your sweetie. Thanks, Davanni’s!
I got a ride back to the big city from a fellow who works for Blackeye Roasting, a cold press coffee brewer. He was giving out samples of their product. Alas, I don’t like the taste of coffee, but here’s their website anyway: http://www.blackeyeroasting.co/about/
Sadly, I got a raging cold the next day, and hadn’t felt up to writing about the experience till now.
Please visit some of these folks, and in the comments, mention your favorite blog that needs more visitors!
Book Review: Slow Dancing Through Time by Gardner Dozois in collaboration with Jack Dann, Michael Swanwick, Susan Casper and/or Jack C Haldeman II.
The art of collaboration is an interesting one; two authors (rarely three) blending their skills to create a story neither could produce individually. Ideally, the reader should be able to see the fingerprints of the collaborators, but not the seams between them. Gardner Dozois wrote a number of fine collaborations in the 1970s and 80s, before taking on a full-time job as editor for Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.
This volume reprints fourteen of those stories, along with essays by the collaborators on the collaboration process, and afterwords for each story written by Mr. Dozois. (It also has a list of his other collaborations if you want to hunt them down.) The stories cover science fiction, fantasy and horror, with a couple of them on the edge between genres.
The first story is “Touring” (with Jack Dann & Michael Swanwick), in which Buddy Holly gets a chance to perform with Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin. It’s a Twilight Zone type story, although the language is saltier than Rod Serling would ever have been allowed to air. The book ends with “Down Among the Dead Men” (with Jack Dann), a chilling tale of a vampire trapped in a Nazi concentration camp. It was quite controversial at the time, and still packs a punch, despite where the horror genre went during the Nineties.
Standouts include “A Change in the Weather” (with Jack Dann), a bit of fluff about dinosaurs that hinges on the last line (and provided the endpaper illustration), “Time Bride” (with Jack Dann) about the use of time travel to emotionally abuse a girl (and with a downer ending as the cycle continues), and “The Clowns” (with Susan Casper & Jack Dann), another chiller featuring a little boy who sees clowns that no one else can.
Some of these stories may be hard to find elsewhere, such as “Snow Job” (wth Michael Swanwick.) This tale of a con artist and a time-traveling cocaine addict first appeared in High Times, which can be difficult to find back issues of.
Overall, the quality of the stories is good, but budding writers may find the essays on collaboration more useful to them. Recommended to speculative fiction fans.