Ray Day is coming: why you should memorize writing that moves you / El día de Ray está cerca: ¿Por qué deberías memorizar los escritos que te conmueven?

F451Do you remember the first time you read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? Do you remember Montag’s arrival at the camp in the woods where the drifters who had escaped the authoritarian government memorized books? That scene has never left me, and ever since Bradbury died in 2012, it has seemed more important than ever.

Is it because I love books? Is it because stories are central to my very being? Is it because our current political leadership is trending authoritarian? Is it because net neutrality is in danger? Is it because those grubby drifters strolling through the forest and reciting great works, seemed authentically human in a world where those with power were (are?) technologically advanced, corrupt and soulless?

Yes.

August 22nd is Ray Bradbury’s birthday. Last year I proclaimed the day “Ray Day,” and, just like the drifters, a few friends and I memorized a few lines from stories we love to honor of Bradbury and, more importantly, to honor his message to all of us about the importance of stories and all the interesting, vital, moving, shocking, essential thoughts humankind has ever recorded.  Continue reading

I knew there was something odd about that chaiwalla on the corner….

Because I am a sucker for any good story inspired in part or wholly from the places, people, nature, art, music, history, politics, or social customs of the subcontinent, I had to post this link to an essay by Sami Ahmad Khan about speculative fiction in India. Khan’s just published Aliens in Delhi, a geopolitical science-fiction thriller depicting how contemporary India responds to an alien invasion. Speaking as someone who lived in Delhi for five years, If I were a member of an extraterrestrial race of reptiloids preparing to invade Earth, Delhi is the last place I’d try to invade, but the book sounds fun.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a dozen times. We need more writers, native and foreign, sharing the fascinating particularities of the subcontinent with the rest of the world. And, we need better international distribution channels because, as I type this, I’m also trying to order the book and I am getting the dreaded  “not available to ship to the United States” message!!! Damn it, why? Why is this always an issue for books published in India? Ok, rant over. I’ll get it sooner or later. Watch this space.

The Hugo Awards, writing and the shifting world

As soon as the Nebula Awards wrapped up, I reluctantly looked at the Hugo nominees, hoping there might be a few new glittering titles worth reading. Now that’s a pisspoor attitude to have toward one of the few popular award programs for my preferred genres of good writing, but there we are. After several years of small-minded snipes and scandals, I was not excited about the Hugos. I must admit, however, the 2017 nominees look pretty good on the surface. Will 2017 be the year that we stop trying to make science fiction great again and simply try to produce good writing and tolerate our unique talents and differences?

The full list of nominees is here. You will see  a lot of overlap with the Nebulas in several categories and a smattering of titles that bellow their continued alignment with a particular contrariness purporting to be authentic, bold and politically incorrect. They may be any or all those things to some readers. I just find them boring and/or childish, but this is not another critique of the Sad Puppies, or whatever they are calling themselves now. It’s a musing on how our polarized literary landscape mirrors the polarized political landscape. It seems that the reactionary protests among some authors about “real” science fiction, fantasy and horror and their disgust with writers and works that don’t follow the traditional scripts and genre features were just foreshadowing of what we see happening today in many different parts of society and political expressions.

I hope the writerly community is on an upward trajectory, but even if it is questions and considerations remain. Where, in the continuum of motivations, does this reactionary surge come from? Is it more fear- or hate-based? Can that even be quantified or does it simply depend on the individual? While we go on arguing nature versus nurture, my experience in the world of public health makes me wonder if perhaps fear/hate is caught like a virus. If it is the latter, how do we inoculate ourselves? The well-known public health preventive measure of social distancing seems exactly what we should not do, so maybe that metaphor doesn’t hold up.  Continue reading

“Sabbath Wine” by Barbara Krasnoff captures a piece of early 20th century Brooklyn

Note: This the last of the reviews of the short stories nominated for the 2017 Nebula Awards. The full list of nominees is here, and you can find the other reviews by scrolling down and looking at recent posts on this site, or search by the author’s name in the search bar. 

I didn’t think I was going to get to “Sabbath Wine”, published in Clockwork Phoenix 5 before the SFWA Conference, but author Barbara Krasnoff took that extra step and sent me the link to the online version of the story, which you can find here. I’m so glad she did. “Sabbath Wine” is nothing like any of the other nominated stories. It’s the mildest ghost story you’ll ever read There’s not a scare in the whole tale, but it’s sweet portrayal of dead children and grieving fathers that captures both a certain place and time and a universal truth or two.

Young Malka, a nine-year-old Jewish girl meets a slightly older African American boy, David, on a stoop in her neighborhood in Brooklyn, circa the 1920s. Malka wants to invite David for a Sabbath dinner, which will take some effort to arrange, including convincing her atheist father and finding wine in the middle of Prohibition. David promises that his bootlegging father can provide the wine, and the two families ultimately meet for the Sabbath dinner.

At first, I was impatient with the story. It feels very old-fashioned with its straight-up realism and slow dawdling around in the neighborhood, describing places and pushing out a lot of preliminary dialogue. It is old fashioned. That’s not a crime though, is it? Once I settled my mind down and read to absorb the setting and voices of the characters, I enjoyed the story.

In the end, I took away two things. First, we really do need to remember to read for the pure pleasure of being transplanted to an entirely different place, time, and social structure. These narratives somehow give us a foothold for understanding what people were like during that time in history, and as we move solidly into the 21st Century it feels like it is time to start preserving the voices of the 20th Century.  Second, this is a delightful story, but it hardly qualifies as fantasy or horror. The story is more about the living than the ghosts that inhabit it, and I immediately took the children’s story as a starting point to look for the darkness.

It’s the fathers. My apologies to the author, who probably had no intention of her story being anything else than it is, but my interest was provoked by these two men who have the audacity to drag along their dead children’s ghosts to a new place and keep them around for self-punishment? comfort? companionship? This smells of moral corruption, no? I’m inspired, in the worst possible way, to wonder what happens next.

Thumbs up and 4.25 of 5 stars.