by ken

Book Bloat

I’ve been considering book bloat.  Literary logorrhea.  Volume avoirdupois.  The fantasy and science fiction best-seller lists seem increasingly dominated by physically hefty books of  massive page counts, generally installments of on-going series.

Fine.  That is what sells.  Many publishers refuse to even consider a manuscript submission that weighs in at under 90,000 words.  A larger book can demand a higher price.  Series fiction ensures repeat business.  And authors enjoy a large canvas to paint in ever more detail of the their painstakingly crafted universes.

For that matter I enjoy reading some of these encyclopedia length series.  A large book, a long series, allows for greater immersion.  Of course I am reluctant to pick up a book if the cover indicates that it is ‘part one of an ongoing series.’  I’m already committed to enough of those.  And frankly, some of them smack of pay-check cashing or hint at the author’s drift, lack of focus, or growing boredom.  I fear many of these are begun without a definite end in mind.  That suggests a violation of the unspoken agreement with the reader.

Autumn Reading

So, that’s it for summer then.  The first storm of autumn is rolling in from the Pacific, hammering the trees with wind gusts and dumping the contents of a few medium-size rivers onto Portland.

Perfect reading weather.

OK, it is always perfect reading weather, but humor me.  Does reading get more pleasant than being curled on the couch before a fire, a warm mug of tea at your elbow and a book in hand?  Rain may lash at the windows and drum on the roof, but when you are absorbed in a book the inclement weather either adds to the atmospherics or passes without notice.

Romance

Romance and marriage are atypical subjects of speculative fiction, usually either consigned to the B-plot or give short-shrift if included at all.  That’s fine: not every book must contain every possible element.  Absence of a wooing, dalliance, or long-term relationship should not be grounds for legitimate criticism of a work.

Tolkien wrote a romance without a great deal of romance.  What romance did reach the page was chaste, the courtly romance of the troubadours.  This is perhaps better exemplified by Gimli’s love for Galadriel than the decades long trials and courtship of Aragorn and Arwen.  That is the story the Good Professor was writing and it worked.

Brewing

Brewing

Today was brewing day.  I plan to have a five gallon keg of beer ready for my guests when I host a party next month celebrating the publication of my novel, “Reunion.”  So as I type this the kitchen smells terrific.  I brewed inside today for two reasons: one it is raining; two the propane tank for the grill is empty and I’ve been too lazy to replace it.

A friend of mine grows hops.  The vines run up the side of his house, providing shade, visual appeal, and – most importantly – wonderfully fragrant hop cones.  Today’s brew, therefore, is an India Pale Ale.

Cats

Cats

We’re cat-sitting at Casa Lizzi for the next three weeks.  There are two of them now making free with the place, climbing on everything and shedding enough fur to line a parka.  So I’ve been thinking some about cats.

What is the fascination fable makers have with cats?

Football Season

It is that time of year again. The weather remains sunny and hot but the days are growing shorter.  The first hints of autumn appear: yellowing leaves, an occasional shower or an overcast day breaking up the pattern of one sunny day after another.  This is nature’s way of telling me football season has started.

I realize this means nothing to many of you.  Football, or for that matter sports of any kind, are for some a matter of indifference or even abhorrence.  I understand that.  Sports, organized games, physical activities constrained by arbitrary rules are from a certain perspective pointless.  They celebrate the physical over the cerebral, prioritize group-think over the individual, and seemingly reward disproportionately achievement in meaningless contests above excellence in more objectively important endeavors.  They revel in war metaphors, rejoice in naked brutality and organized violence.  They engender divisions, create tribal affiliations of enthusiasts who despise one another for no reason other than supporting a particular team of ball players.  As if we need one more reason to hate each other.

To all of which I say – phooey.  I like football.  I like the visceral, second-hand thrill of watching my team make a remarkable play.  I like the glow of a victory.  Even the despondency of a defeat adds a certain bitter seasoning to life.

I like stories, drama.  But too often with a novel, movie, television show I have a pretty good idea of what will happen, the beats, the ‘surprise’ twists.  Football, sports in general, provides unscripted drama.  I truly have no idea what will occur.  And this spectacle often comes accompanied by beer and chicken wings.  So there’s that.

Football, and to some extent baseball, lend themselves to viewing while reading.  These are episodic sports.  The duration between plays, between pitches, generally provides enough time to get through the average length paragraph.  Basketball, soccer, and other sports in which the action is mostly continuous lack this multi-tasking aspect.

And let’s address the tribal division concern.  Stipulated that competition is inherently divisive, both for players and adherents.  One need only consider the riots in Byzantium caused by followers of the chariot teams, the blues, the greens, etc.  But there is another side to this coin.  Comradery.  The fellow-feelling between two supporters of the same team can bridge divides.  A bond can exist between two strangers at a bar pulling for the same team to win.  And that’s a good thing.  Hell, Hunter S. Thompson and Richard Nixon found common ground discussing football.

So, I don’t mind if you disdain or enjoy football.  I understand both positions and my attention is not to convert anyone to my point of view.  But I’m utterly content right now.  Let the games begin!

James Branch Cabell: an Appreciation.

James Branch Cabell: an Appreciation.

Did America ever produce a more elegant writer than James Branch Cabell?  Every phrase, every simile, every line of dialog is smooth, cultured.  His work displayed urbane wit on par with Oscar Wilde.

Here is a paragraph from what many consider Cabell’s magnum opus, “Jurgen.”

So they fought.  Now Jurgen was a very acceptable swordsman, but from the start he found in Heitman Michael his master.  Jurgen had never reckoned upon that and he considered it annoying.  If Heitman Michael perforated Jurgen the future would be altered, certainly, but not quite as Jurgen had decided it ought to be remodeled.  This unlooked for complication seemed preposterous; and Jurgen began to be irritated by the suspicion that he was getting himself killed for nothing.

I love the droll, tongue-in-cheek understatement.  And the man filled volumes with this cultured verve.  Fritz Leiber often achieved similar heights, though he did not imbue his work with the same sense of aristocratic archness.  Clark Ashton Smith could weave words and worlds with the same facility as Cabell, but while both men wrote from a position of world weary cynicism, Smith seldom displayed the same degree of sustained humor and when he did it tended toward the grim rather than the philosophical.

And Cabell was doubtless a philosopher.  How should a man live in an uncaring universe, and does it matter?  Cabell addressed these issues.  And few since Shakespeare have delved as insightfully into love, lust, and marriage.

Cabell – at one point a household name – has sadly fallen into obscurity.  It is a shame that such a master – once banned in Boston, a sign of quality if there ever was one – should no longer be widely read.

What say we try to reverse that?

Manzanita

It is possible to pack in a lot of fun over a weekend, especially when you cut out early on Friday.  (It’s OK, I requested the time off officially.)  It’s important to break routine, to get away from our usual haunts and activities.  If not, we stagnate, even if our usual haunts and activities are pretty damn keen to begin with.

The Oregon coast, for those of you not familiar with it, does not provide that So-Cal bikini and surfer dude vibe.  Yes there are surfers out catching waves but they are few – and wearing wetsuits.  The August beach goers along the Oregon coast are tossing tennis balls to romping dogs, flying kites, carving three-wheel tracks in the sand on rented tricycles, setting out a picnic, piling up wood for evening bonfires.  And toting a sweater, just in case.

Now it wasn’t all vacation.  I did get some writing done in the hotel.  And I spent some time searching for sasquatch, though I never did catch a glimpse.

But I was primarily interested in recreation, recharging my batteries.  I got in nine-holes of golf, tossed the frisbee on the beach, and sampled some beer.  I chanced upon a copy of M.A.R. Baker’s “Flamesong” for three dollars at a used book store.  And I was able to hear your favorite band http://www.redelvises.com/ play in a small venue.  There is a certain increased immediacy to the music when the musicians perform in a small pub without a stage or any sort of barrier between them and the audience.

So with the batteries recharged, bring on the work week.  I’m ready.

Summer Movies

Apparently there are a number of science fiction and superhero movies out this year, a number of them purportedly even good.  I say apparently since – with the exception of Iron Man 3 – I haven’t seen any of them.  I don’t get to the theater often.  When I do it is usually to a second-run theater that serves food and beer.  My wife enjoys animated films, the sort marketed to children but with sly winks and nods to the adults in the audience.  And I like the well-written ones too.  So that’s what we usually see when we do get to the second-run theaters.

I tend not to see the big-budget releases until they get released as rentals.  And, honestly, a big screen television and a Blu-ray player doesn’t badly diminish the film watching experience.  Plus I can watch in the comfort of my own home, pause when I need to see a man about a horse, and I don’t have to pay through the nose if I want a snack.

But these big films don’t hit the rental market quickly, except for the box-office duds.  So, I’m going to have to wait.  And that means avoiding spoilers.  I understand there was some sort of kerfluffle regarding Superman.  I’m scrupulously avoiding details, I want to experience it without any preconceived notions.

So what shall I look forward to?  What did you enjoy at the cinema this year?

Timing

If there is one thing worse than being sick it is being sick on the weekend.  There go all your plans, out the window at the speed of vomit.  All those precious hours of ‘me’ time become shivering, pain-filled hours of misery.  No Saturday morning at the coffee shop writing.  No bike ride.  No pool side reading, no floating about with a can of beer in utter relaxation.

Now, sickness does free up some time for reading, but a pounding headache limits concentration and diminishes enjoyment.  And don’t even think about writing – well, think about it if you like, but once you’ve got the keyboard in your lap the viral ravaging of your digestive processes will put a stop to any serious attempt at stringing together coherent sentences.

There are writers who continue to work even while dealing with serious, chronic, or terminal illness, not simply my trifling 48-hour bug.  I will stagger to my feet, find a hat, and then doff it to them.  Because, seriously, finding the concentration to write through pain and medication is an inspiring display of willpower.

But I think my headache has subsided enough to allow a stretch of focused reading.  So enough.  I’m sure I will be well by Monday, just in time to get back to the office.  Of course.  But I’ve kvetched sufficiently.  There’s always next weekend.