The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi – Selection #25 of Deal Me In 2017

 

The Card: ♥2♥ Two of Hearts – *wild card*

The Suit:  For this year’s Deal Me IN, the suit of Hearts is the domain of Atropos, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato, sings of things that are to be (i.e. the “future” for Deal Me In purposes). This story is set in a distant future where human physiology has been enhanced by the incorporation of machines.

The Selection: “The People of Sand and Slag” was originally published in 2004 and was a nominee for the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novelette. I own it as part of the anthology The Very Best of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volume 2. This was a wild card selection and I picked it because it was in a source I was already using for Deal Me In 2017 and because I had read the author’s novel “The Windup Girl” last year. This story may be read online at the author’s website.

The Author: Paolo Bacigalupi  – A Colorado writer most famous for his novel, The Windup Girl, which was named by Time as one of the top ten books of 2009. Learn more about him at his website.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

The People of Sand and Slag

“Still, I remember when the dog licked my face and hauled its shaggy bulk onto my bed, and I remember its warm breathing beside me, and sometimes, I miss it.”

I don’t know how much more dystopian you can get than a world where there are no longer dogs, or at least one where they’re so rare that hardly anyone has ever seen one. Such a world, however, is inhabited by Jaak, Lisa, and Chen – three security-guard types who, at the onset of this story, are sent off to intercept and eliminate the source of “hostile movement” within the corporate boundaries of “SesCo’s” mining operations.

What they find is not some perpetrator of corporate sabotage or espionage, but an old, wild, and mangy dog.  They can’t believe their eyes, believing at first it’s some kind of quadrupedal “bio-job.”  Jaak confirms the ID, however, saying “Oh yeah, it’s the real thing all right. I saw a dog in a zoo once. I’m telling you, this is a dog.”

But what would three bio-engineered, machine-enhanced humans of the future do with a dog? Lisa laughs that “It’s hard to believe we ever lived to evolve out that. If you chop off its legs, they won’t regrow.”  (Lisa’s broken femur from the team’s “helo-casting” into the slag pits already having healed.). The company flies in a biologist (“You mean a bio-engineer.” “Nope. Biologist …they study animals”) to take a look at it.  He confirms authoritatively that it is indeed a dog, and the team are surprised that he doesn’t want to take it with him.

One member of the team wants to eat it. One wants to keep it. All are worried about the hassle of taking care of it and providing for it. Food, for instance, is an issue. These humans can eat rock and sand, which provide all the “nutrients” their types of bodies require (“Who needs animals if you can eat stone?”).

What will become of this poor creature while under the “care” of its new masters? You’ll have to read the story yourself to find out the rest.

windup girl

As I mentioned in the intro, I also read Bacigulapi’s novel “The Windup Girl” last year and, while I didn’t quite connect as much as I hoped to, I found it – and it’s own dystopian future – quite interesting.

 

 

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“Hippies and Beats” by Edward Hoagland Selection 24 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♦8♦ Eight of Diamonds

The Suit:  For this year’s Deal Me IN, the suit of Diamonds is the domain of Lachesis, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato, sings of things that were (i.e. the “past” for Deal Me In purposes). This essay deals with “Beats” and “Hippies” two groups that are hard to find representatives of these days.

The Selection: “Hippies and Beats” – originally published in volume #80 of New Letters magazine. I own it as part of my Pushcart Prize XXXIX Best of the Small Presses anthology.

The Author: Edward Hoagland  – A well-traveled American novelist and essayist born in New York n 1932. Learn more about him at http://www.edwardhoagland.com/

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Hippies and Beats

“The Beats were patriarchal, for the most part. Women were crash pads where you showered, pigged out and got your ashes hauled, after driving night and day… Hippies by contrast were sisterhood, matriarchal…”

The author of this essay, Edward Hoagland, finds himself writing of two social movements, both of which he experienced but neither of which he was truly part of. As an accident of the timing of his birth, his own “sociological awakening” took place in the borderlands between these two movements. Perhaps this gave him just the right perspective for this brief essay comparing and contrasting the two. As he puts it: “Being a little younger than the Beat Generation writers and yet older than the mainstream Hippie movement later on, I observed both with a certain skeptical affinity.”

I enjoyed reading this essay even though, like Hoagland, I was not a part of either movement (too young!). For me, though, counter-culture is always interesting as I find those who look at things a different way to be quite compelling. Of course, every movement has its crackpots and parasites taking advantage of whatever current direction the wind is blowing, but one would hope that, at its core, there is something there…

For my part, the hippies were a loathed anti-establishment force in the days I was growing up in a conservative Midwestern family. They were perceived as dirty, amoral and a general nuisance. I didn’t encounter many of them growing up in Indy, but was exposed to them on our almost annual summer camping trips out west. It seemed whatever campsite we chose in a National Park would more often than not have a group of hippies somewhere nearby in the campground. As soon as nightfall arrived a guitar would invariably be broken out as they sat around their campfire. Looking back now, I would probably view them as largely harmless, but I guess I might feel differently if I had children I was packing around the country and was trying to “raise them right.” I suppose this was the dilemma my parents felt they were facing.

I didn’t know anything about or discover The Beats until much later in adulthood and my view of them was forged by reading most of the books of Jack Keroauc (and some of the others) about 10-12 years ago.  Kerouac became a favorite of mine, not so much for the Beat movement he chronicled, but for the quality and freshness of his writing style.

What about YOU? Have you read any Kerouac, or any others of the “Beat” writers?

“I’d been pent-up, pull-mell like On the Road and like another perambulatory, though broader-beamed book of the period, Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Audie March, during the 1950s. And we need that kite-flying spirit back, minus Beat inebriation.” – Edward Hoagland

Stephen King’s “The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” — Deal Me In 2017, Selection 22

The Card: ♠6♠ Six of Spades

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s sings of things that are (i.e. the “present” for Deal Me In purposes). This story is set in, more or less, the present time. Though “time is funny here” as the story tells us…

The Selection: “The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” from my e-copy of The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2.

The Author: Stephen King – you may have read something by him before. If you haven’t read his memoir “On Writing” though, I heartily recommend it.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

New-York-Times-Logo

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates

“And don’t go to the bakery anymore on Sundays. Something’s going to happen there, and I know it’s going to be on a Sunday, but I don’t know which Sunday. Time really is funny here.”

***Spoilers Follow*** A mysterious title for a short story (you know how I enjoy puzzling over story titles) – and one whose meaning isn’t revealed until the very end.  It’s the story of Annie, and the aftermath of losing her husband, who died in a plane crash and is somehow able to call her two days after he has allegedly died.

Can we communicate with those who have passed out of this life? Though many, and I count myself among them, do not think so, there are legions of those who believe that we indeed can. This explains how cranks like John Edwards can become wealthy ‘fishing for information’ from credulous live audience members on talk shows, etc. “Does anyone in the room have a relative who’s recently died whose name began with an… “A”?”  What are the odds…

johnedwards

Author Stephen King does not make use of a ‘medium’ or any other facilitator in this story. The dead husband, James, makes contact himself, by calling his widow via a cell phone – a cell phone whose battery is almost dead. (I’m glad this happens on “the other side” too!)  Anyway, the story was great. It seems Annie is the only one who heard the phone ring when he called, and afterward, when she attempts to use *69 to call back, the last call it thinks she received was many hours before.

James doesn’t know where he is, and he isn’t afraid. He’s just “worried” that he doesn’t know where to go next, as he relates to Annie that he’s standing in someplace like “Grand Central Station” but there are no trains there, just doors. He tells her how some of his fellow passengers on the ill-fated plane are reacting to the situation. He tells her not to go to the bakery on Sundays anymore. It seems that, where he is now, he has some special foreknowledge of future events (“Time’s funny here.”) and also tells her not to employ a certain young man to clean the gutters next fall. Both of his warnings turn out to be valid.

The story actually follows Annie’s life a few years down the road – providing ample time for his warnings to make sense – and even after that much time has passed, she still remembers the phone call:

“She has dreamed of that call so many times it now almost seems like a dream itself. But she has never told anyone about it.”

When the story ends she is still ‘plagued’ by the memory and tormented by any unanswered call. Near the end she returns home and her sister, Sarah, is in the house with the music blaring, not hearing the phone ring. Annie can’t get to it in time to answer. When she *69’s it, a recorded voice “offers to sell her The New York Times at special bargain rates that will not be repeated.”

The funny thing for me about reading this story was that, apparently, I’ve read it before but have no memory of it. I know that I got Stephen King’s “Just After Sunset” story collection once for Christmas and read it, but I didn’t remember this story. I’ll have to find my copy of that and see if I underlined or made any notes in it at that time. It’s very strange that I don’t remember anything about a story – almost like I only dreamed that I read that book…

This was my 22nd story or essay that I’ve read for Deal Me In 2017 (I’m supposed to read one a week and am behind as usual.) I haven’t been able to blog as much in recent months as I used to, so rather than try to catch up and post about all the stories in order, I’ll just try to share one here or there as I’m catching up. Okay? 🙂

How about YOU? What is YOUR favorite Stephen King short story?  There are certainly a lot to choose from.

 

 

Exciting/Challenging plans for next month’s #24in48 Readathon!

I’ve been away from blogging for a while but hope to come roaring back in June and July. First, I must catch up on posting about my Deal Me In 2017 stories. I’m about 9-10 behind, but have read four of those. I’ll probably do some “collective” posts dealing with several stories at a time. This is the worst I’ve fallen behind since 2011 – the very first year I attempted the Deal Me In challenge. 😦

What I’m starting to geek out about though, is an idea I have for my reading during next month’s #24in48 readathon. The last few times I’ve participated I’ve tweaked the format, reading 24 short stories in 48 hours, using my Deal Me In approach (what is the “Deal Me In” challenge?) of assigning each story to a playing card in a “euchre deck” and drawing them one at a time to randomize the order. I’ve always found that reading short stories during a readathon helps me avoid getting “stuck” in a longer work.

For next month, though, I’m going to up the ante. I’m making this one a “52in24in48” readathon, reading a full deck’s worth of stories with the catch being that they’ll all be stories by Ray Bradbury, the beloved science fiction/fantasy/however you want to label him writer. Reading 52 stories may take me the whole 24 hours too, making this the first time I’ve done the #24in48 in its pure form (of the “24” meaning HOURS, not 24 short stories). I’ll come up with some prize donations for the home site of #24in48, and maybe offer a few on my own site for commenters, or those who read & post about something by Bradbury during the challenge, or even just for logging into and “liking” The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies’ Facebook page. Heck, you should do that last thing regardless of the #24in48 readathon anyway, right?

I’ll firm up the details of this project in the next few weeks.  One thing I have already decided, though, is that one of my “suits” from my 52 cards will be Bradbury Stories recommended by my fellow bloggers, so give me some recommendations starting… NOW! 🙂

(Below: One of Bradbury’s stories later evolved into the iconic novel, Farenheit 451)

the fireman

I should note also that today (June 5th) marks 5 years since Bradbury passed away. It’s hard to believe it’s been so long already.

(below: one of my favorite Bradbury pics – taken with him posing in the driver’s seat of the Time Machine prop from George Pal’s film adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel.)

Ray-Bradbury-In-Time-Machine.jpg

What about YOU?  Are you doing the #24in48 Readathon next month (7/22-7/23)?  Do you plan to read anything by Bradbury? What are your reading plans for this fun challenge?

Top Ten Tuesday – Authors I “Can’t Believe I’ve Met”

 

IMG_5998Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by the good folks over at The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s assignment: “Top Ten Authors I’m Dying To Meet/Ten Authors I Can’t Believe I’ve Met (some other “meeting authors” type spin you want to do)” Okay, so I went with “can’t believe I’ve met” but it’s really my Top Ten Authors I’ve enjoyed meeting the most. Here goes, in ascending order:

10. Marlon James – Met him briefly just a couple months ago when he was a guest at (local) Butler University. My book club ‘targeted’ his award-winning book “A Brief History of Seven Killings” specifically with the idea of going to see him en masse when he visited here – a plan which we executed to near perfection. He seemed genuinely thrilled that “a whole book club” came to the event together and asked us what other books we’d been reading, etc. I was also intrigued to learn during his talk & reading that a series of stories he’s working on now has been touted as “A Black Game of Thrones” with potential television development, etc.  I will look forward to that.

a_brief_history_of_seven_killings_cover

9. Mike Mullin – A local YA author, most famous for his “Ashfall” series. I met him at Bookmama’s Bookstore (in my old Irvington Neighborhood on Indy’s East Side) Where he gave a great presentation and reading (see post about it here). I’ve also recommended the first book of that series for one of my current book clubs, which now plans to read it in October, and we will see if we can tempt him to join us for that meeting…

mullin

8. Francesca Zappia – Another local author, who wrote the very well-received YA novel “Made You Up,” which I read after it being recommended to me by my nephew who went to high school with her but “didn’t really know her.”  She attended a book club meeting (also at Bookmama’s) that I went to and I was very impressed with her, both as a speaker and a “thinker.”

made you up

7. Ben Winters – Writer of “The Last Policeman” series, who also lived briefly in the Indianapolis area before moving on to L.A.  I attended the book launch of the third novel of his series (which I blogged about here), and one of my current book clubs also read his newest novel “Underground Airlines.”

winters.jpg

6. Malinda Lo – She was a guest at The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library a couple years back, so I went to hear her speak and was impressed enough to buy her book “Ash” – a “lesbian version of Cinderella” which I enjoyed, though I never blogged about. (I could’ve sworn I did, but a search turned up nothing – maybe it was another one of those ‘started but never finished’ blog posts I’m famous for…)

ash_malindalo_500

5. Dan Wakefield – A local literary treasure who’s attended a few meetings of the Vonnegut Library book club and who I’ve also seen at other public events at Indy Reads Books bookstore. His novel “Under the Apple Tree” was one of the favorites that I read last year.

appletree

4. Tim O’Brien – Author of the very famous “The Things They Carried,” which I have read several times now, once for myself, and later re-reading for a couple book clubs over the years. He has been the guest of the Vonnegut Library here in town a couple times, one of which I described in this blog post from last year.

obrien (1)

3. Ian Woollen – He ranks high on this list both on the strength of his novel “Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb” and because he graciously drove up from Bloomington to join one of my book club’s meetings (for the same book) last August at The Rathskeller restaurant downtown.  He and his book were a big hit with the book club, and he also had some kind things to say about us being “the best” group of the many meetings he’s gone to. I had also met him at a Vonnegut Library book club meeting and yet another one at Bookmama’s Bookstore.

woollen.jpg

2. Jon Eller – Jon is the seemingly tireless director of The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies here at IUPUI Indianapolis (please check out and like or follow their Facebook page!) and author of a three volume biography of that author. I initially meet him through the Vonnegut Library and later, when my short story reading group at work read Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” invited him to join us for that meeting. He and his wife did, and they’ve been regular members of our club ever since, adding much literary erudition to our group.

bradbury unbound

1. James Alexander Thom – I’ll put him at the top not because he is the best-selling author of all of these (though he is), but because of his graciousness at several book events I’ve met him at. He was also very nice to my Mom (Yes, the main reason he’s number 1 on this list!), who has read most of his books, especially “Follow the River” which is set partly in her home “New River Valley” of West Virginia. It was also once my pleasure to be the moderator at the Vonnegut Library Book Club’s discussion of Thom’s novel “Long Knife,” a fictionalized biography of William Clark, and before I knew it the library told me he was going to show up for our meeting(!)  No, that wasn’t intimidating at all. 🙂 Picture below from the author’s website.

thom

Most of these meetings have been facilitated through local bookstores or libraries (big thanks to Bookmama’s Bookstore, The Vonnegut Library, and Indy Reads Books, just to name a few) I have a lot of honorable mentions for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday too, many of them local: Robert Rebein, Roxane Gay,  Hanna Yanagihara, Bill Polian(!), Kevin Getchell, Greg Sumner, and Rick Gunderman.

Tradition and the Individual Talent – an essay by T.S. Eliot – selection #13 of Deal Me In 2017

 

The Card: ♠3♠ of Spades (image at left found here)

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “things that are.”

The Selection: “Tradition and the Individual Talent” from my hard copy of The Best American Essays of the Century (edited by Joyce Carol Oates). Originally published in The Egoist in 1919.

The Author: T.S. Eliot – You may have heard of him. 🙂 He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948, and one of his best known works is 1922’s “The Wasteland” – one of the “best known poems in the English language” according to Wikipedia.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Tradition and the Individual Talent

“Some one said: ‘The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.’ Precisely, and they are what we know.”

I have to say that this reading was one of the most challenging I’ve ever done for Deal Me In over the years. I guess it serves me right for including some essays this time, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, I pressed on and spent about forty-five minutes reading the mere nine pages this essay contained. Even the author himself seemed to recognize the difficulty of his subject – roughly the poet’s place in the literary tradition and his relationship to the past. At one point he even says, “To proceed to a more intelligible exposition…” which I found a remarkable thing for an essayist to “admit.” Near the end of the essay he begins a paragraph with “The point of view which I am struggling to attack…” if the writer himself is struggling, what may be expected of a poor reader like me?

One part of the essay I did find myself connecting with, however, was when Eliot employs an analogy from Chemistry, that of the concept of a catalyst, specifically, the reaction when platinum is introduced into a chamber that contains oxygen and sulphuric dioxide:

“When the two gasses are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum.”

Eliot’s chemical analogies continued, including: “The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.”

That’s all I got. I’ll leave you with that. What has been your most challenging read of Deal and In – this year or any year?

Next up: A Deal Me In quarterly report and the Deal Me In Challenge’s first-ever giveaway! Stay tuned.

“La Pulchra Nota” by Molly McNett – selection #12 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♠9♠ of Spades (image at left found here).
The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “things that are.”
The Selection: “La Pulchra Nota” from my hard copy of Pushcart Prize Winners anthology XXXIX “Best of the Small Presses.” Originally published in issue 78 of the “Image” journal. I also just realized I own this story in two places, as it is included in the 2014 edition of Best American Short Stories. Read it online here.

The Author: Molly McNett– She says she wanted to write a story about a music teacher and student, but didn’t want it to come out sounding like “Glee,” and her solution was to set the story in another time and place. Read more about her and this story at http://northernpublicradio.org/post/niu-author-best-american-writer (where the picture above may also be found)

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked! Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

La Pulchra Nota

La Pulchra Nota is the moment of beauty absolute, but what follows – a pause, however small – is the realization of its passing. Perhaps no perfection is without this silent realization.”

Okay. Full disclosure. This story is my new leader for favorite Deal Me In story of 2017. I am rarely truly moved emotionally by a story and rarer still moved in multiple directions, e.g., from extreme empathy, to clear disgust, and back again, as I was in this story. I also did my traditional “drive by” online research of the story after reading, and was quite pleased to learn some of the details of its origins. (I also note with interest that, as Easter approaches, Deal Me In has dealt me up two stories in a row with a “religious” element…)

The story is the first person narration of John Fuller, who lives in the late Middle Ages – the late fourteenth century to be exact. It is a time when human life remains hard and mere survival – and accompanying happiness – likely involves healthy amounts of both faith and luck. Fuller, for example, is the youngest of twelve children of which only five survived childhood. The other seven being “called back to the fold” by the Lord.

Though Fuller lets us know that though, at the time of his narration, he “no longer has the use of his hands” and his pain “is not inconsiderable,” and that he was born with a deformity of one eye, he initially enjoyed at least some good fortune, including a fortunate marriage to a nine-years older woman, Katherine. He and his wife are “blessed” with twins, though apparently in the Middle Ages many believed that twins “must be sired by two fathers” (something I was unaware of or have forgotten) and she faced condemnation as a harlot by many.

Fuller reveals that “divine providence was pleased to take the life of our dear twins two days apart from each other” – victims of a fever that the narrator himself contracts but survives. Though he notes that “every devout man knows the great mercy He shows us in taking a child out of the world” his wife never recovers from the loss, leaving him in – to the modern eye – a hellish existence with a half-mad wife, who goes on a sort of medieval hunger strike to coerce him into going to see the “anchoress” as a solution to their grief: “John, I have given you sorrow. But the Lord has a remedy. We must go to the anchoress, declare celibacy, and I will again wear white.” John, hardly surprisingly, resists this request.

In the meantime, he continues to follow his vocation as a music teacher, which includes instruction of new young student, Olivia, who has talent far beyond what he normally sees among his pupils. Indeed, his regular lessons with this particular student serve as a kind of lifeline for some scant happiness in his life. He feels she may be capable of achieving the titular “La Pulchra Nota,” the existence of which he reveals to her then quickly regrets. “…your voice at times comes close to a moment of perfection – what Jerome has called la pulchra nota. Let us begin to listen for it. Mostly it appears with no strain whatsoever. But be attentive, for when such a note comes, if you know it, you may ever after use its sound to guide you.” He fears he may have given her false hopes, yet later, in a subsequent lesson, she does achieve la pulchra nota and knows it. This has serious consequences for both teacher and pupil…

I’ve “spoiled” the story enough already, but if you should like to read it, it’s available online at https://www.imagejournal.org/article/la-pulchra-nota/

(I don’t know if the “Jerome” referenced in the story is St. Jerome, but I though it was a safe enough assumption to include a picture of a famous painting 🙂 )

“Winter Elders” by Shawn Vestal – selection #11 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: 10♦ of Diamonds (image at left found here.

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Diamonds is the domain of Lachesis, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “things that were.”

The Selection: “Winter Elders” from my hard copy of Pushcart Prize Winners anthology XXXIX “Best of the Small Presses.” Originally published in Ecotone magazine #15

The Author: Shawn Vestal – who grew up in Idaho, but is now a columnist and reporter for the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. See his info on Goodreads.com here.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Winter Elders

“He noticed he didn’t feel surprised. He hadn’t expected this, but now that he was in the middle of it, it didn’t feel unexpected.”

Our protagonist is Mr. Bradshaw. A new father, a former member of the Mormon Church, and a man who had expected to have “found his place” in the world by now, but is concerned because he still hasn’t. The story opens with him being visited by two young missionaries of the church, still hopeful of drawing him back into the fold. They tell him they’re just checking in to “see if there’s anything we can do for you.” He gruffly suggests that they could rake his yard, and when they’re done with that, clean out his gutters. Their undaunted reply: “Don’t think we won’t.”

Bradshaw’ wife Cheryl, once his “partner in cynicism” has changed now, since the baby had been born, and was “always serious” now. She has no patience for the missionaries who, throughout the story, exhibit a dogged persistence in their attempts to reclaim “Brother Bradshaw.”

A health crisis for the couple’s baby precipitates an angry driveway confrontation between Bradshaw and the more vocal of the two elders, which sets up the passage quoted above.

I enjoyed the story and felt it deftly described the inner struggles of a young father who has yet to truly come of age. There was a lot of great writing too, e.g. describing the missionary “…there was something stubborn in him and, deeper, the sense that he was proud of his stubbornness.” And once, during a theological argument with the elder, Bradshaw becomes frustrated and angry and “…a gate unlocked inside him. The beasts trampled out.”

I hadn’t read this author before, but certainly would be happy to again.

Did YOU read any good short stories this week?

(below: great cover of  the issue (15) of Ecotone Magazine that includes this story. Buy one at https://ecotonemagazine.org/issue-15/ )

“The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” by George Alec Effinger – selection #10 of Deal Me In 2017


The Card: ♥8♥ Eight of Hearts

The Suit: For my version of Deal Me IN, this year, Hearts is the domain of Atropos, one of the “Fates” from Classical Greek Mythology who “sang of things that are yet to be” i.e., things in the future – the setting for this story. Atropos is also frequently represented as holding a pair of scissors with which she snips the thread of life which is spun by her two sisters, Clotho and Lachesis.

The Selection: “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” from my e-copy of the anthology The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2, from which I am taking several stories for this year’s Deal Me In.

The Author: George Alec Effinger (pictured at left, from Goodreads.com), author of the novel What Entropy Means to Me and a series known as the “Marid Audran” books. As the intro in my anthology says, “Much of his writing is marked by his strong sense of humor, which is in full flower in “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything

“Mother ship?” I asked. “You haven’t seen it? It’s tethered on the Mall. They’re real sorry about what they did to the Washington Monument.”

After finishing this story, and looking back at my Deal Me In reading over the years, it struck me how few stories I’ve read that could truly be considered humorous. This story made up for a lot of lost time in that regard!  When I picked the story as part of my 2017 DMI reading plans, though, I knew nothing about it (there I go, picking based on a title again).

The story documents a visit to a future earth (Washington D.C. in particular) by extra terrestrials. Maybe I should say a return visit, as they had come once before, during the Eisenhower administration. The “Nuhp” – as the aliens were called – came this second time expecting the earthlings to be prepared for their visit, but they weren’t. The story the aliens were told in the ’50s was that making their presence known to an unprepared public would be disastrous.

This story is also unique, at least in my experience, in that it’s first person narrator is the President of the United States. (This was a president I wasn’t that impressed with, though.) He seems lost without his advisers, and doesn’t seem to thrilled with any responsibility that falls to him. At one point the Narrator President inquires of his aide if the aliens disclosed anything about their prior meeting with Eisenhower (which the Narrator-President was unaware of) and is told that the alien’s leader “says all they discussed with Mr. Eisenhower was his golf game. They helped correct his putting stroke.”

It soon becomes evident that these aliens, though more or less benevolent, are insufferable in their sharing of opinions about things, especially when it comes to the quality of things. Early on, they comment that though Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is beautiful, it is “certainly not his best work” (in their opinion it his his Piano Conecerto No. 5 in  E-flat major).  This is according to “very rigorous and definite critical principals” naturally. While the Narrator-President is wondering “what could this Nuhp know of what Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony aroused in our human souls?” the Nuhp adds that even the Piano Concerto is not the best human musical composition (that honor apparently goes to the score from the motion picture Ben-Hur, by Miklos Rozsa(!) A good choice,I agree, but the best EVER?


The Nuhp soon immigrate to Earth in huge numbers, and quickly everyone grows fatigued by their opinions on everything.* The punchline (I guess you could call it that) of the story is that earth people begin to emigrate themselves, to other splendid worlds that the Nuhp have made them aware of, but NOT necessarily because of the attractiveness of those other worlds. Rather, they are mainly just tired of listening to the Nuhp and are fleeing their incessant and officious take on everything. What kind of places did they emigrate to? “These planets had one thing in common: they were all populated by charming, warm, intelligent, humanlike people who had left their own home worlds after being discovered by the Nuhp.”

All in all quite an entertaining story, and one that raised some interesting questions. One interesting passage, too long to quote here, was the story of a human named Barry,who was quite like the Nuhp in terms of being a self professed authority on everything and how everyone knew he was the man to go to if there was a question about something, but that no one did. Because they all hated him. 🙂
Other entries on the Nuhp’s Hall of Fame of Earth #1’s:

Best cuisine: Tex-Mex

Best U.S. president: James K. Polk

Best Movie: Grand Hotel (sorry, Ben-Hur, I guess  your great music wasn’t enough!)

Best Novelist: Alexander Dumas

Best Flowers: Hollyhocks

Best Car: 1956 Chevy Bel Air

Best Color: Powder Blue

 

The Little Book of the Hidden People by Alda Sigmundsdottir

little-book-of-hidden-people

Okay, so I’m planning a little trip to Iceland in about seven weeks.** Because of this,  I was looking for “something Icelandic” to read and started googling and found this book. I’ve always enjoyed reading folklore and “fairy tales” so I thought it would be a great light-reading snack in the midst of all my book club reading obligations, and… it was!

Author Sigmundsdottir tells us at the beginning of the book that she finds the media’s assumption that Icelanders have an “elf fixation” a bit annoying.  One anecdote she relates is how she was contacted by a representative of the media doing a story about how construction of a building had been halted because it was on a site where Icelanders believed elves lived. As it turns out construction was halted to confirm that no critical archaeological sites would be disturbed – a much less sensational story. She shares the stories in this book to help “set the story straight” regarding the role of elves in Iceland’s history, saying:

“Iceland’s elf folklore, at its core, reflects the plight of a nation living in abject poverty on the edge of the inhabitable world, and its peoples heroic efforts to survive – physically, emotionally and spiritually. That is what the stories of the elves, or hidden people, are really about.”

She goes on to say that the stories helped the early Icelanders “soldier on” during their period as an “oppressed colony.” She says, “The stories helped. A lot. They were the Icelander’s Prozac, providing refuge from the cruel circumstances people faced.” I suppose much folklore is born in such situations.

(below: [from Goodreads.com] – author Alda Sigmudsdottir)

I really liked how the book was organized, too, as each tale was followed by notes and the author’s explanations and observations. I was intrigued by many of the legends and beliefs, such as that “in those days (it was believed) that everyone was born with the ability to see the hidden people, but when the baptism water entered peoples eyes, they lost that ability.”

Also of interest to me was the concept of the “changeling” – where an elf might “switch out” one of its own race with a human child. This legend is not unique to Iceland either, but it could be taken to extremes there, as Sigmunddottir muses in her notes after one story titled “Father to Eighteen in the Elf World”:

“… an elf might come into your house and put her decrepit old husband who does nothing but howl all day long in your child’s place, after making him look exactly like your child so you can’t tell the difference. Remember that. Meanwhile, I have been pondering the significance of this “old people” business. I mean, why decrepit old people? Then one evening I was watching a telethon for UNICEF, where they were showing images of all these starving, malnourished children. They were so small, yet their faces looked so old. Like they had aged a lifetime from all that suffering. And it made me think. Were the children in Iceland back in the day also so malnourished that they looked old before they were even past infancy? The thought was rather disturbing, as was the idea that those children would be flogged mercilessly until “something happened.”*  Something. But what if nothing happened? What if they were starving, malnourished children, and were flogged mercilessly because someone thought they were changelings? It hardly bears thinking about.”

*Earlier in the book we learn this was the prescribed treatment for how one could determine if their child had indeed been “replaced” with a changeling.

(Below: gratuitous pop culture reference: In the Star Trek episode, “The Changeling” Captain Kirk  suspected that’s what the interstellar probe known as “Nomad” was.)


Many stories seemed to me to be transparently contrived to keep children – or even adults! – from straying too far from home in a dangerous landscape. Who knew what dangers – natural or supernatural – awaited them when they were away from shelter? All in all, a quite enjoyable read, and I will certainly keep my eyes and ears open when I travel there in April. 🙂

Other google searches by me found a popular trail which goes through a valley known as “The Land of the Hidden People.” See picture below. Looks beautiful!

(picture credit: http://www.iceland24blog.com/2014/11/viknasloir-trail-land-of-hidden-people.html)

viknasloir-trail

**Why am I going to Iceland? Part vacation and partly to play in the 32nd edition of the storied “Reykjavik Open” chess tournament. I’m an amateur player, but on my good days can play competitively with the masters. Not grandmasters, though, and so far there are 35 grandmasters registered for this tournament. I’m only the 110th(!) seed the last time I checked. My goal is score >50% in the tournament. Hey, it could happen. 🙂

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