Friday, May 25, 2012

Has Science Fiction lost touch?

Increasingly this is a question I ask myself: has science fiction lost touch? More precisely, has science fiction lost its relevance?

The Golden Age of science fiction saw giants writing not about the actual science of the day, but of science that might or could be. The main question of the stories from Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Wyndham, Sturgeon and van Vogt (to name but a few) was What If? These writers dared to imagine, dared to push the boundaries of science as we knew it and say, what if we could create an artificial intelligence, what if we actually were able to meet aliens, what if we were able to replace lost limbs with living prosthesis? What if...?

From those minds sparked the Promethean birth of many of the electronics, medical advancements and sociological changes that weave into the fabric of 21st century life.

But those days have faded. Not since Ellison, Herbert and Le Guin have we seen anything truly original or daring. The science fiction writers of today are wired into the marketing departments of the Big Six publishers, bashing out clones of tired ideas and dystopias. Why? Because it's a safe commercial sell. The minds that once dared to dream now dream of dollars. The altar of vision has been replaced with the altar of commerce. We do things this way because this is the way it's always been done, and the bottom line must forever increase.

And nowhere is that mentality more prevalent than in one of the bastions of short science fiction: Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine.

How can I dare to state such heresy? Easy. Take a look at their writer's guidelines.
We do not accept simultaneous or electronic submissions.
I had to re-read that last section: electronic submissions. No electronic submissions.

It boggles the mind. It gives one pause to check the title of this magazine. Indeed yes, the title includes the phrase Science Fiction. How then can it be that one of the bastions of short science fiction does not accept electronic submissions? To say electronic submissions is still a new technology would be ridiculous in the extreme. And if this is a magazine exploring science fiction, how can they not embrace one of the fundamental tools of the 21st century?

They don't even have a Facebook or Twitter presence!

And further, they plainly disregard the fact we are right in the middle of the greatest environmental experiment of human existence, and so perpetuate the use of paper, and fuel to ferry that paper, and fuel to return or recycle that paper, heedless of the carbon footprint they create.

The publishing heads of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine plainly remain in a vacuum from the 1990s. They are 20 years out of date, and decades beyond that antiquated.

Has science fiction lost relevance? For me, yes.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: The Enchantress Of Florence: A Novel

The Enchantress Of Florence: A Novel
The Enchantress Of Florence: A Novel by Salman Rushdie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The publisher's blurb for The Enchantress of Florence does credit to the surface plot of the story. However, to read a Rushdie novel is all about depths, dimensions -- mirrors, if you will. And it is mirrors this novel addresses, from the handmaiden of the Enchantress herself, to relationships, histories, and philosophies. To read this novel is like looking at a mirror reflected in a mirror; the depths are infinite.

There is the mirror of Qara Koz and her handmaiden, and again of that relationship reflected in the whores known as The Skeleton and The Mattress. There is the reflection of Jodha, Akbar the Great's conjured queen, in the reincarnation of Qara Koz. There are reflections of a menage a trois, of battles won and lost, of political maneuverings.

As with any of Rushdie's work, he makes no apologies for expecting his readers to be fully engaged and all synapses firing. A light, escapist read this isn't; neither is it a plodding literary tome one feels obligated to read. Rushdie draws this huge cast of characters, many of them lifted directly from history, with a very realistic, human hand, and just when a narrative is in danger of becoming too self-important, his wit takes flight and brings all sensibilities back to the common man.

Even while his writing is without peer, in this novel he also created such pathos that in the end, for me, there were tears. This is a fascinating read from a literary, an historical, and a plain old entertaining perspective.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sorrel and romaine salad with pear and orange

Scrounged around the kitchen this afternoon for a light, refreshing lunch for Gary and me and came up with this lovely salad, utilizing some of the early produce of our garden.

The Salad
6-8 leaves fresh sorrel, sliced thinly
6-8 leaves romaine, sliced thinly
1/3 cup finely chopped chives (I use the flowers as well.)
1 clementine orange, peeled and segmented
1 bosc pear, cored and cubed
1/4 cup cubed summer sausage

Combine all ingredients in a salad bowl.

1/4 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons orange juice
pinch of sea salt
cracked black pepper

Whisk together all ingredients and pour over the salad, tossing well.

I think this would be great with some nice, tangy blue cheese or Gorgonzola.

Serves 2 generously.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Old Poetry

Twenty or so years ago I used to scribble a great deal of poetry, much of it abysmal. This one, however, always stuck with me. And given I'm wasting time this afternoon instead of working, thought maybe I'd put it out here for perusal.

Kamikaze Girl

Kamikaze girl
looking in a haunted mirror
will you cry
is there a fear you're
fading fast?

Shades of night
subdue the lamplight,
in the glass
there is the dull light
of a tear...
but then it's glass
which holds sweet madness
not the girl
who stands there unclad...yet
where is she?
Where will she be?

Kamikaze girl
with the sun upon your forehead
fly before you dreams are long dead
in the past.
Crawl into the darkness,
bed the shroud--
the living coffin
of your dreams...
but then your dreams
are just reflections
of a sun
in broken mirrors--
there's no now
it's all shining in the night...
ghost and flight within a long night
in the glass.

Kamikaze girl
flying on a broken night dream,
wedged forever in the cool seam
of glass and ghosts.
Reflections are not real,
it's what you are
and what you feel--
the path of razor steel--
that buries you.
Cool down the sunlight
lie beside the glass, the ghosts
shattered in you.
Lull your madness into harness
spread your flesh onto the cold glass...
Where are you?
What will you do?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review: Enter, Night, by Michael Rowe

Enter, NightEnter, Night by Michael Rowe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is much to be said for Michael Rowe’s novel, Enter, Night. It is a refreshingly traditional vampire story. No eco-friendly, glittering, James Dean vampires here. Rowe harks back to Bram Stoker’s original vampire incarnation, which in turn borrowed heavily from ancient legends.

Overall, the novel clips along with aggressively spare and gritty prose. No poetic metaphors here. Every word, every scene, every character is crafted to make you take notice.

And therein, for me, lies part of the problem.

The novel opens with an introduction to a vampire through the point of view of a bus driver. The vampire is nameless. That first chapter then abruptly shifts point of view to the vampire. Nothing wrong with choosing an omniscient point of view, in general.

Our interest in the following chapter is invested in a runaway adolescent male who makes a desperate journey back to an abusive household to save his mother. We are rather heavily invested in his story when three chapters later he’s dead.

By chapter five we’re introduced to yet another cast of characters, in this case Christina (grieving wife), Morgan (grieving daughter) and Jeremy (grieving brother). For the most part the novel remains about their journey, and retains a fairly tight and consistent point of view. Their stories are heart-breaking, particularly Jeremy’s, and if for no other reason the novel is worth time because of this clear, incisive narrative.

Throughout the following chapters, Rowe deftly tells the story of a vampiric relationship of another sort, that of a soul-sucking matriarch in a Northern Ontario mining town and the three people (Christina, Morgan and Jeremy) who are forced to throw themselves upon her non-existent compassion and agenda-packed charity.

What follows, vampires aside, is a truly insightful, raw tale that takes centre stage (part Oedipal, part Brokeback Mountain), a taut counterpoint to the subtext of the secondary story that’s introduced in the town of Parr’s Landing, that of Billy Lightning who is searching for his father’s murderer, none other than the vampire from the introduction, Richard Weal.

Lightning’s story is another very human, tragic tale, one that revolves around the horrors of Northern Ontario residential schools, and backwoods bigotry.

Together these two tales intertwine to create a psychological thriller that is extremely poignant.

However, by the time we reach the denouement, the mayhem, gore and death become somewhat predictable. We know that cop should not go down to the dark, dank basement. We know that boy should not go out and look for his dog. We know all these caveats from hundreds of horror novels and movies that have filled modern minds for decades, so that after several chapters of this character being killed off, and that character smearing all over the landscape, it seems the catastrophe is never going to end. And when it does end, there are of course only two survivors (well at least it wasn’t just one).

But the story doesn’t end there. Instead, Rowe introduces us at the very end of his novel to the historical back-story of the evil that dogged the town of Parr’s Landing, that of the doomed Jesuit settlement of St. Bathélemy. By now, we know exactly what this story is and how it’s going to end, because history repeated itself in the first part of the novel. And it is here that I felt Rowe made his most fatal artistic mistake.

Instead of tacking the historical back-story on to the ending like an afterthought, I couldn’t help but feel the suspense, the tension and interest of the novel could only have been heightened had Rowe woven this historical narrative throughout the modern story. By doing so, he would have eliminated the feeling of an enormous information dump at the end, and he would have given historical context to the entire narrative.

Overall, a good read. But, for me, not a great one.

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