Some Links

So, I realized that if I’m going to be focusing more on reviews and the like, I’m going to need to expand my reading a bit. Three Stephenson reviews and nothing else does not variety make.

I spent the last couple days writing fiction, and looking around for different ways for me to find new authors. Found a couple things.

There a list of the top 100 SF&Fantasy writers that seem to include some good ones. I’m glad to see all my favorites are on the list. I’m not entirely happy to see a lot near the top who I don’t know: we’ll have to fix that. This list is, just so you know, compiled through popular opinion. When I first saw it, I started doing the thing where you complain about how He or She isn’t above Him or Her, and it just goes downhill from there. So as much as it irks me that Stephenson is only 45. on the list, I think it might be better for me to use this to look up some of the authors I don’t know, hunt them down, and start reading.

It was good to see that Tolkien wasn’t in slot number 1, though. Not that he doesn’t deserve it: I just feel that he’s gotten slot 1 on so many of these things that perhaps he should be disqualified by default, to allow someone else a go at it.

There’s also Goodreads, which seems to be a sort of reading recommendation site. I haven’t made an account yet, but if/when I do, I’ll report on how good the service is.

If anyone has any points around the web that I might be interested in, do let me know. I like investigating things.




Generic updates

Well, I’ve now found a library that doesn’t charge me for biscuits whenever I want to use the internet. Thank god for that.

I’ve added an immense amount to the reading list, in order to better reflect how the reading is going. The local library is being most helpful. There are a few titles I don’t remember off the top of my head, but for the most part it is complete.

In addition, I’ve added another bit to the Blogroll, a wonderful person aliased Pyrogene, keeps a blog, Even So, which I just stumbled on through Chughes‘ page. It has some wonderful reflections on the arts of writing that nobody should miss, and certainly nobody who prides themselves on fiction of the speculative variety. She thinks like a lit. major, but takes Science Fiction and Fantasy seriously, which I’ve found to be a rarity in these days and age (Tolkein not-withstanding).

Check it out.

I’m working on about three works of short fiction, one of which involves the other characters of the other short stories I’ve posted.

I’m hoping the characters Sera, Terri, and Rebecca will eventually come together in a novel, which I think might be tentatively titled Artifice.EXE. I’m adding another category, and anything to do with the work will be added.

And, as a final note, while I’m good, for the most part, chugging along under my own steam, I do so enjoy getting comments, especially intelligent criticism, and especially on my fiction. I won’t demand, but I wouldn’t mind a comment or two here and there.




Zodiac is yet another title by one of my favorites, Neal Stephenson.

In Snow Crash, Stephenson dragged us through the virtual reality of Cyberpunk. In The Diamond Age, he yanked us through a nanotechnological world of post-cyberpunk sci-fi.

Now he gives us another time period and another genre—the time of Zodiac is now, and the style of Zodiac is noir.

Those of you who are familiar with noir already know that it came from the film noir movement, a style of film making that was infested with grittiness, both in the film quality and in the stories the films told. They had a propensity for violence, vulgarity, and a cynical, edgy feel that made them ideal for detective stories and mysteries.

Some of you may recognize the name Guy Noir, Private Eye, a popular character from NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion. All his exploits are captured in a farcically noir setting, full of busty women and intrigue. The old Loony Toons, where Daffy Duck ends always ends up saying Wait A Minute, I AM Dick Twacey! Both are light hearted mockeries of the Noir style.

Too be frank, I don’t much care for noir, especially as it is transferred into literature. It lends itself towards narrative devices that should be used with care, and infrequently. The substitution of people’s features for their names, for instance (a man with a pinstripe suit might be referred to as if his name is “Pinstripes,” and a man with a mustache becomes “Whiskers”) is a classic noir concept. Other tricks of the trade include: swearing a lot for no apparent reason; not fully describing anything beyond four letter words, to deepen a sense of mystery; having a cynical main character who runs a constant inner monologue of sarcastic thoughts about everyone and everybody throughout the entire course of the book.

In sum, Noir has a tendency toward non-descriptive, underdramatic writing, and tries to make up for it by having lots and lots of attitude. It is the antithesis of Pollyanna, that is, the standard romance novel, which has far-too descriptive and melodramatic writing. Too much of either one is not entirely good.

Zodiac applies noir styles to Neal Stephenson’s writing. Stephenson, I would normally say, has more attitude in his writing normally than any other novelist I’ve read today, but also a fair amount more brilliance in the art of description. When he dresses himself up in a grainy trench coat for a romp in noir, not too much changes. He gets more attitude, as one might assume. And he gets less descriptive—although only in quantity of metaphors. Even in Zodiac, when he describes something, he does it fiendishly well.

The plot he weaves is a detective story, too, in accordance with tradition—with a cynical, sarcastic main character named Sangamon Taylor who has an unusual propensity for figuring out the mystery in the nick of time, and a cast of gritty characters who you can never quite tell are good or innocent until the very end.

There’s a twist though: Taylor is no normal detective. He’s an environmentalist, and the crimes he busts are toxic—like companies dumping toxic waste into Boston harbor. Picking up the book, I was worried. I thought that Stephenson, who I always saw as a paragon of mere commentary in a world of messages, was finally trying to persuade me of something, and I was in for a moralistic tale of saving whales.

Nothing of the sort here—if you like a detective story, you’ll love this. Stephenson tells a story of crime, murder, and confusing science that would make even Sherlock Holmes sweat. There’s real mystery here, and a real sense of horror when you realize that a whole lot of the chemistry and biology Stephenson talks about through the detective work—as always, presented in a brilliant way that even the layperson might fully appreciate—is actually accurate.

It all starts when Taylor, being the professional corporate pain-in-the-rear that all environmentalists are, discovers some PCBs in the Boston Harbor—a form of toxin that, unlike most unhealthy water-bound things, tends to kill people within a week, from insides-turning-to-jelly instead of years, from cancer, like most poisons to.

As he searches for the culprit, he manages to get on the bad list of half a dozen corporations, the FBI, perhaps the mafia, and a group of satanic druggies who misheard PCB as PCP, and have been on a jealous craze ever since. An, in the background, the looming threat of a contamination that would wipe out all marine life grows steadily larger in the background.

I tend not to like noir unless it’s at its best, and I liked this very much. The things that annoy me about noir still annoy me about the novel, but I’m willing to let them slide in light of all the good here. If you are a noir fan, this is a definite read. If you aren’t, pick it up anyway, or borrow my copy—it’s worth it, if only for the education.

Not as good as some of Stephenson’s other works, but still far better than most.

Finished Diamond Age

Finished The Diamond Age, and also finished Akira, within 24 hours of each other. I’m currently on the biggest sci-fi trip that has been known to man. Both of these are very bizarre, dense, and confusing stories. I’ve got enough of a grip on The Diamond Age to give my thoughts on it, which’ll probably be up tomorrow. I’m going to give Akira another read through before I post anything on it, because it requires at least that much just to get the story.

Planning on starting a book of spiritual writing next. Maybe Grace is Where I Live or something similar.


Added ‘Akira’ to the reading list

I mentioned before that I wanted to add a graphic novel to the reading list. Well, I found one: Akira, by Tatsuhiro Otomo. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. At 2000+ pages, it’s huge, but I’m beginning to work my way through it. It’s one of the greatest works of graphic novella to come out in recent years, and possible the quintessential Science Fiction work in that category.

I’ll post again once I finish.

Also, added a link to Cassie’s new blog, Oeuvre to the list o’ links. It’s a new blog, and doesn’t really have anything up yet, but Cassie’s a good writer, and I’m sure it’ll fill up with good stuff in no time.

Summer Reading List

1. The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson

2. Thirst, by Mary Oliver

3. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

4. Zodiac, by Neal Stephenson

5. Piano in the Vineyard, by Jean Janzen

6. Jagged with Love, by Susanna Childress

7. Surprise Child, by Leslie Leyland Fields

8. Grace is Where I Live, by John Leax

9. The Task of Adam, by John Leax

10. Otherwise, by Jane Kenyon

11. Amazing Grace, by Kathleen Norris

12. The Genesee Diary, by Henri J. M. Nouwen

13. Nightwatch, by John Leax

14. Country Labors, by John Leax

I’m currently working on the Diamond Age, and am a few bits and pieces into several other works. I’ll have these on a separate page on the blog as well, and cross them off one at a time as I get finished with them. I’ll probably even post some thoughts and recommendations as I finish them. I still need to grab a decent piece of fantasy for the summer, and am also planning on picking up a graphic novel or two, plus some Neil Gaiman to hold my interest. I’ll be impressed if I manage to get this all finished by the end of the summer, but I’ll definitely be able to try.

I’ve got access to a great bookstore called Schuler’s in Grand Rapids when I go back. It’s got a sort of Borders/Barnes&Noble feel to it, but it’s not a chain, and subsequently doesn’t have novels like “10 Ways to become a Latino Queen” in the literature section, while Tolkein wastes in the sci-fi/fantasy section.

In any case, this is me, heading off to reach the halfway point in Diamond Age.