Tonight, however, I shall take some time to update. I had a nice nap this afternoon (the first time in quite a while I've taken a Sunday afternoon nap) so I'm not tired yet, and for only the second time this year, I encountered no rain en route to Charlotte, so I got here early. Naturally, since the roads were completely dry, I passed three accident scenes. But it was a moonless night, and there wasn't much to see in the dark, so the problems of gawking motorists slowing down traffic were minimal.
I had to make several trips up to Chicago and Milwaukee in July and August, which meant time in airports and airplanes. In preparation for that, I started up a nice fat fantasy omnibus, The Shadow Kingdom by Cory Daniells (which contains The Last T'En, Dark Legacy, and Warrior Code in one convenient and ridiculously fat paperback (Bantam Books, 2002)). Daniells is a newish author, which shows especially in The Last T'En, which suffers from stylistic glitches like randomly shifting viewpoints. Fortunately, the writing gets better as the trilogy goes on. The plot is fairly standard medieval fantasy; General Tulkhan leads his armies to victory over Fair Isle. To save herself and protect her people, T'Imoshen, last of the T'En (a race possessing various magical abilities), seduces him and becomes pregnant with his son. Of course, her previous betrothed, Reothe is leading a rebellion against Tulkhan, while Tulkhan's half-borther brother assumes the throne back at home and declares Tulkhan a traitor. Not a particularly outstanding trilogy, but it did keep me suitably entertained while sitting on a plane through a 4.5 hour ground stop, and much longer besides.
Next up, another fantasy, Dragon Weather by Lawrence Watt-Evans (TOR Books, 1999). Mr. Watt-Evans was the guest of honor at Trinic*Con, which I attended for the first time this year, so I figured I should read something by him. Dragon Weather is actually only the first part of a planned trilogy (Dragon Society is out, and the final book will be out later this year). The plot is again fairly standard fantasy fare. Arlian's home village is destroyed by dragons. Arlian survives only to be captured by looters and sold into slavery. He vows revenge against the dragons and the looters, and by the end of the first book, he has exacted his revenge on them, while learning much that will be useful in attacking the dragons. Again, an unchallenging, but entertaining book, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequels.
A for Anything by Damon Knight (Cascade Mountain Publishing, 1998) was originally published back in 1959. Dave Ewing has invented a device (the "Gismo") which is capable of duplicating any object, including itself, or even people. To avoid having his creation captured and controlled by the government, he mails several hundred of the devices to random recipients around the county. Within days, society collapses and after years of war, a new society, based on slavery, with a hereditary caste of free slaveowners, emerges. Obviously, if Knight were writing a bit more recently, the Gismo would be replaced with Star Trek's replicator, or more recently, nanotech. But with the exception of Thomas M. Disch (who has written a similarly-themed short story, the title of which I've forgotten), I'm not aware of any authors with quite such a pessimistic view of how humanity would react to the sudden elimination of scarcity. In Knight's world, it is those who immediately used the Gismo to produce weapons and enslave others who come to rule - by tightly controlling access to the Gismos. Depressing, but definitely an interesting book.
Moving on from novels, next up is 3000 MPH in Every Direction at Once by Nick Mamatas (nihilistic_kid), a collection of short stories and essays (Library Empyreal, 2003). The mix of fiction and non-fiction makes this a rather unusual reading experience; there are no introductions to the individual pieces, so you never know what to expect as you start each story. The fiction highlights are "Beer on Sunday" (a humorous take on life on earth after the Rapture) and "The Birth of Western Civilization" in which Socrates' atheism defeats the gods. Mamatas' fiction packs an amazing amount of worldbuilding and nifty ideas into extremely compact packages. Occasionally, the stories become too condensed, as with "Joey Ramone Saves the World", which has lots of interesting scenes, but in which I was completely lost plot-wise as it jumped around in time and place (it would probably help if I had any idea who Joey Ramone was). But Mamatas' frantic pacing is perfect for a story like "Your Life, Fifteen Minutes From Now", in which everybody gets their 15 minutes of fame, literally, but life is so accelerated that that's enough to appear on a game show, write a memoir, make some ads, write a poem, and be attacked in public by the next famous person. The non-fiction pieces range from a slight piece like "Do the Wall Street Hustle" concerning the gambling habits of Wall Street traders, to "How to Rid the World of Good", a short but relatively scholarly treatise on the origins of the concepts of good and evil, to "Old Men and Old Boilers", a charming reminiscence about Mamatas' father and his generation. Overall, a highly enjoyable and very unusual collection.
At novella length, first up is Mark Chadbourn's The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke (PS Publishing, 2002). The title refers to a painting by Richard Dadd depicting a fairy court, most prominently featuring a fairy woodsman about to split a nut with his axe (this is apparently a real painting, and is reproduced on the cover of the book). From the first time he sees the painting, Danny is obsessed with the painting's meaning; did Dadd really see into the land of fairy or was he just mad? As his life is falling apart, the quest to find out the truth redeems him. Chadbourn's prose does a wonderful job of building up a hallucinatory vision that entirely complements the bizarre artwork on which it is based. An excellent story.
Also at novella length, Richard Chwedyk's "Bronte's Egg" (F&SF 8/02) is a sequel to 2001's "The Measure of All Things". In "The Measure of All Things", we were introduced to a line of bio-engineered dinosaur toys, which proved to be far more intelligent and long-lived than planned. After many are abandoned or abused by their child owners, they are gathered together to live in homes sponsored by the Atherton Foundation. In "Bronte's Egg", the dinosaurs discover that they also have the unexpected capability of producing eggs, a discovery that must be kept from the world at large lest they all be taken away to scientific labs. It's a cute story, but not much more than that.
Only one short story this time, "Working the Game" by Michael Jasper (unwrecked) (Fictionwise 2002). Jasper is a Raleigh-based SF author, and "Working the Game" is set there, so it seemed like a good story with which to give Fictionwise a try. Inspired by the walls separating north Raleigh from the noise of the beltline, this story is set in a future in which society has been split into two classes, separated quite literally by the wall. Those on the inside live in cocoons which serve all their needs while those on the outside labor diligently to earn the points that they need to be permitted to go over the wall. It's an interesting if somewhat implausible background. Unfortunately, beyond the narrator, the characters are somewhat underdeveloped. Especially the girlfriend Lia needed to be more fleshed out in order for the ending to really work. Still, it's a decent little story.
The Embalmer is a very odd Italian film, about the dwarfish Mafia-connected taxidermist Peppino, who hires as his assistant the cute (and very tall) Valerio, obviously with ulterior motives. Unfortunately for Peppino, Valerio finds a girlfriend and shows no interest in Peppino. By the end, the film has become quite creepy, as Peppino stalks Valerio. The gray, desolate Italian coast provides a fitting backdrop. Lastly, Friends and Family is a cute little farce concerning a pair of gay Mafia hitmen, Stephen and Danny, and the complications that ensue when their families come to visit. As with many comedies, it drags a bit at then end while all the plot threads are wrapped up, but otherwise it's a pretty good light comedy.