David Stevens

Posts Tagged ‘books’

Notes to writers what I do not Know

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Dear Mr Kim Newman,

I am very glad at all the Anno Dracula books, even though years ago I had to work hard to track down the original so now I have two, and I keep telling myself no, you don’t have to have the paperback of Johnny Alucard to go with the others just because the hardback doesn’t fit in. But how come I keep thinking of you each morning at breakfast?

IMG_20170812_175204 (1)

…..

Dear Mr Jonathan l Howard,

Is Carter and Lovecraft ever going to be released in paperback, please, so I will buy it?

…..

Dear Ms Emma Cline,

Re: The Girls,

No there is no review here because – well, you don’t need it, but plus, I stopped reading. Not because it is bad, but because it hurt. You reach a certain age and you are trying out your coffin for size, and you think you have left things far behind. Not that I was ever a teenage girl, or an American, or a member of a Manson type cult, but my goodness, your descriptions of adolescence – the longing, the not understanding, trying to fit in, the ugliness, the smells, the skin, the rawness, the whole chemical bath your brain is swimming in – the description hurt bad. Flashbacks. Thoughts best left buried. Triggers. I’ll be coming back to it, but just for now Ms Cline I am sorry but I have to give The Girls a rest.

…..

Dear Mr HG Wells,

How are you? Here’s an admission. Until recently, I had never read you. Don’t get me wrong, I thought you were very good as Malcolm McDowell in Time after Time, and I read John Christopher’s Tripods books when I was a boy (which I thought of as the sequel to War of the Worlds once the Martians raided a pharmacy and popped some penicillin), but I had never read The War of the Worlds. Just read it, and loved it. You created a great retro feel (much better than Cowboys & Aliens. I mean, James Bond, really, what were you thinking? Not even one chest burster!). OK, I knew the ending, but so what, how many endings are surprises these days? I loved the country scenes, the connectedness to nature, and then the move to urban horror as the enemy advanced on London. The essay attached to the Penguin edition harped on about light and sunsets, but it was the clinical imagery that I was most intrigued with. All these sf classics still unread, when I should be being measured for my shroud. Perhaps not yet.

…..

Dear Mr Don Winslow,

Thanks, just got around to reading The Cartel, so glad I did. I think the first book of yours I read was The Winter of Frankie Machine, then The Power of the Dog, leading me to your back catalogue. Such different styles and different approaches, a great range from humour to horror and back again. I found The Cartel very powerful and horrifying, the savagery (yes, read Savages as well) unleashed by the uncontrollable desire of North Americans for recreational drugs. You worked me up, Mr Winslow, especially with the inevitable end of one character – his screams and cries and attempts at oblivion did not take away from his courage one bit.

……

Yours most sincerely,

Your obedient servant,

David Stevens

 

 

 

 

 

The scariest day of the year

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2016 at 7:27 am

The scariest day of the year is approaching fast. Will he…? Won’t she … ? Don’t they …? Should I …? is it legal to … ?

I’d remove Valentine’s day from the calendar, except my powers don’t extend quite that far … yet. The gifts are tacky and / or market forced upon us, everybody feels a little squeamish, and desperation hits town like a tsunami.

Here is the perfect solution. We are of course all literary types. What better gift then than an entire volume dedicated to lerve? And not just lerve, but lerve in all its strangeness. Weird love, Alien love. Impossible love. Deadly love. Buy it for yourself. Buy it for someone else, and if they respond weirdly, its ok, you were just being like, all ironic and post-modern.

But buy it you should, post-haste. “Love Hurts.” You know it does, and you know you want it. Its speculative fiction, and its about love. What’s not to like?

Love Hurts

Love Hurts

For the lover’s month of February, there is a promotion over at Goodreads which you can check out just by left clicking on this strangely highlighted text right here.

And in advance, here is a poem (for want of a better word) for Valentine’s Day:

 

Cute girl at the Indian take-away

She doesn’t just have eyes for me,

the girl who serves me Tandoori.

Her quizzical glance and little smile,

is not an exchange of irony,

though I do react,

I cannot resist,

when she swallows me in

with big dark eyes

and the world shrinks down to size,

a planet built for two.

I sip on my mango lassi

while I wait for my curry,

and I watch while she does it again,

one after the other,

with all the men.

At last I comprehend.

She finds us hard to understand,

she speaks English but is not fluent

in Australian.

She stares straight at me

with huge eyes like an owl’s,

trying to comprehend

my flattened vowels.

Totally absorbed,

in the groove,

concentrating on how my lips move.

The tremble of her little duck pout

is just her working out

the words I said

by whispering them again

in her head.

“Tandoori chicken roll

on plain naan.”

“With mint sauce?”

“Of course.”

Smile.  Yearn.

So Excitement

In Uncategorized on February 2, 2016 at 12:15 am

So excitement is right. There must just be something wonderful about being a ‘Tim’. I’ve raved before about Tim Powers, and of course there is Tim Brooke-Taylor, and, er, I suppose, Tiny Tim. But Australian Tims are in another category altogether – and I am not (just) talking about Tim Tams.

Tim Winton releases a book (for adults – not ‘The Bugalug Bum Thief’, for example, despite the intriguing title), and I’m there. Tim Flannery, (almost) ditto – ‘The Future Eaters’ remains amongst my favourite books. Hell, I even liked Tim from Big Brother a few years ago.

The darker moments of a former career can be interesting companions at 3am, but one moment of pure pleasure was when I arranged for Tim Low to speak at a conference. He divided the audience, and that was great. People came up to me afterwards, both pleased and puzzled. ‘Feral Future’ dealt with exotic invaders and pests, at the same time revealing much I never knew about the modern history of Australia, and it was followed by ‘The New Nature’. An important part of both books is how we are dominated by the thinking of our age, an alleged commonsense which often does not stand the test of time, and how important truths may be counterintuitive. I would wish these books on anyone with an interest in nature and/or Australia, and our ecological future. However, very important, read them in order – TNN has a greater degree of (cautious) optimism, and was meant to given the topic of FF. I, of course, being me, read TNN, thought, this is great, and hunted down FF – also great, but man was I bummed out. In the words of the immortal-ish Molly Meldrum, do yourself a favour and read them both (but yes, in order).

But: so excitement – I have in my hands the latest Tim Low. I cannot really comment because I have not read it yet, but it is about one of my favourite things: birds! And plenty of Australian birds! (have I mentioned that I am a birdwatcher, though a very bad one? has my wife told you how hard it is to work through our holiday photos to find a photo of our children, when most photos are of a branch where a bird had been sitting only moments before?) And science! And did I mention birds? – well, birds! And the cover is absolutely gorgeous …

song began

Low is an amazing writer and speaker, a fascinating man. He is a scientist who writes with both passion and where appropriate, dispassion, about such interesting and amazing things, especially on topics dear to my heart. I look forward to diving into this.

 

I am an addict

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2015 at 11:50 pm

Is there a voluntary exclusion program for The Book Depository? Its not my fault … its right there, on my PC … the books, the books … you just press the buttons – yes, just like a poker machine, yes … a package comes in the post … like CHRISTMAS!

For years my wife has told me that I have a problem. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with it. I finally realised that I don’t. My wife has a problem. Me. Oh, and all the books. On the floor. And everywhere.

My father bought me an e-reader. There I am, vapering away in front of everybody, look, he has it under control. Its not as bad as Real Books. He’ll taper off.

Then. When they’re not looking. Paper. In my hands. Heft. Texture. Text. An object.

Books.

More books.

Hi. I’m David, and …

My Gregory gush

In Uncategorized on September 20, 2014 at 1:50 pm

If you are already planning on reading ‘Pandemonium’ by Daryl Gregory, don’t read any further. There are no more spoilers here than on the back cover blurb, but …

I went on a Daryl Gregory binge last weekend. I’d had ‘Raising Stony Mayhall’ on my wishlist at The Book Depository for some time, and received a price drop alert, so I pushed it up the queue and purchased it. While I was doing that, I looked at his other novels and immediately bought ‘Pandemonium’.

‘Pandemonium’ – what’s not to love? The blurb had me by the end of the second sentence: ‘It is a world like our own [except that in] the 1950s, random acts of possession began to occur’. OK, done, sold. If only I hadn’t read the description further, what a great ‘What the … ?’ moment I would have had (and I live for those moments, folks). His ‘quest for help leads him to Valis, an entity possessing the science fiction writer formerly known as Philip K Dick’. BAM! Hit ‘Purchase now’. Two of my favourite books are ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Valis’, all my buttons were hit and lit up.

I have to confess, I would have preferred a different resolution, that the clues that had been laid led to a different place, but hey, I enjoyed the weird ride, and the ultimate ending was satisfying. The stranger the setting, the odder the world, it is essential, but harder, to create believable characters. The protagonist was believable with his existential struggle and nightmare life, and I cared about him and the crises he faced.

I went straight from that to ‘Raising Stony Mayhall’, also set in a world like our own, except that George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ was a documentary of a zombie outbreak that was quickly contained, and now the world lives in fear of a repeat performance.

I know there are people who hate zombies. The official position of Clarkesworld is that there are no good zombie stories. ‘Stony’ is a good story, that happens to be about zombies. Purists might not like them, hell, for those for whom the big debate is fast v slow zombies, the deviations and twists to the standard zombie line here may be too much. Too bad, I enjoyed it, I liked the protagonist and the choices he was faced with, I was intrigued by the world of disappearances and secret prisons, of zombie politics and terrorism.

I was then in a bookstore and saw Gregory’s latest, ‘Afterparty’, and stopped myself. Patience, David, patience, leave yourself something for later.

I’ve said it before, I’m no reviewer (at least I didn’t use the word ‘nice’, bugger, there it is, it slipped in), but I can say I really enjoyed ‘Pandemonium’ and ‘Raising Stony Mayhall’, both rose above so much predictable genre work, satisfying my need for good story and weird shit.

Book Review: Sad Jingo by Ron Dionne

In Uncategorized on June 1, 2013 at 9:28 am

(Having mentioned Ron Dionne in my first post, here is a review of his novel SAD JINGO I previously posted elsewhere)

We know why the children who read Harry Potter identify with the main wizard.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was magic in the world?  And if there was, of course I would be one of the magicians.  Even if I couldn’t be Harry (though secretly, why wouldn’t I be?  why shouldn’t I be?) I wouldn’t be a muggle.  Once upon a time, I could watch zombie films and apocalypses until the mutant cows came home (1).  Omega Man, Mad Max 2, The Terminator, Afternoon Tea of the Dead, and always, I’d be identifying with those swift survivors, the ones who scurry just ahead of the blood thirsty hordes.

But what is the truth?  Almost to a one, even if there was a secret world, the millions of children reading HP would have no access to it.  They would be ordinary.  Just like they are now.  At best, at the very best, they would be the failures of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, who took their one shot and flunked out of the secret exam, and even had the fact that they tried wiped from their minds.(2)

Without even a whiff of the fantastic (3), Ron Dionne has in “Sad Jingo” written a novel about magic.  The magic of the real world, of the fantasies in our head.  The longings that leave us all muggles, staring in through windows at the other worlds of which we can never be a part.

Jingo is sad.  Something is broken, and does not allow him to put together the pieces that let us get through the day.  He makes magical guesses and throws disparate parts together, in a sort of lottery of hope that they’ll stick and he can make his way in the world.  Like all lotteries, the winner is someone else on TV holding an oversized cheque, which Jingo does not get to see at all, spending the night in the Tombs instead.  Others around him, like Chinee Chester, with his music and different girl every night, seem to win all the time.

Different though he is, not all of his everyday longings are so far from ours.  Trying not to stare at the nubile, breathtaking Nina.  All the things he cannot have.  The thing he wants the most though, is to play jazz.  And here, Jingo is like the daydreamer in all of us.  Jingo does not want to learn music.  He does not want to practice music.  He does not want to be able to read music.  “I gotta feel it, not read it.  For it to sound good.”  Jingo wants to be magic.  He just wants to play music, and not just that,  he wants to play like Thelonious Monk.  He wants the gods to fill him, only in this way, and but for a little while.  Is that so unreasonable?

Of course it is.   His cousin Harold knows what is going on.  Its “like you know something the world doesn’t and it requires special action.” It has to be special, nothing so mundane as practising more or learning to read music.  That’s too obvious, or not obvious enough in the cracked window through which Jingo views the world. “I like playing piano” he writes to Dianna.  “But I am not good because I have no one to play for.”  Of course.

Surrounding Jingo are those who want to live off the magic.  Some like Harold refuse to compromise, but know their place – “I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of guy”.  Others, the agent Rasmussen, and Howard’s business partners, may have been touched by the magic once, but now, more or less bitter, have nowhere else to go.  This is the only way they know to make a living.  And then there is Joy Chant, ageing singer, an actual artiste, who speaks the truth:  “Even those of us that get somewhere, Jingo, we hurt inside wishing we could get somewhere further”.  There is always another inner circle – “Wish I could belt one out like Tina Turner or Aretha now and then.  Or could improvise like Betty Carter”.  The magic is always just out of reach, for everyone.

Dianna terrifies me.  Her brokenness is not at the level of functionality.  Unlike Jingo, she knows what is going on, but she is scary in her desperation.  I am sure that I am not the only person blogging here who has half a novel or two tucked away somewhere.  That is how I came across Ron’s blog in the first place, where he makes insightful comments on the ultra-marathon of the persistent unpublished, and the new publishing paradigm.  Dianne’s making a fair living, good enough that she just can’t throw it away to risk everything on her dreams.  Then success, on a massive scale.  Again, Ron shows us those making their living from hovering close to the magic, the agents, promoters, and Mikkelsen, the bizarre 600 pound interviewer for Vanity Fair.  But the scary bit:

“scurrying about full of dreams and plots and characters and dialogue and settings, piecing them together, stopping when inspiration struck to write something down in her little notebooks, feeling charmed, feeling that one day she would make it, making it being having something officially hers on paper bound in bookstores where people could pay for it and take it home and read it … How certain she’d been that it would happen one day.  How long she’d felt that certainty.  And then how the certainty had fallen away.  And how in its place had grown the certainty of years of drudgery…”.

AHHH!!  Too close to the bone, Ron.  What, other people have little notebooks too?

Ron Dionne has shown me a world of New York jazz clubs that I will never know, and a world of literary success that I’d at least like to have a sticky beak at (I don’t need to win a big lottery prize, a little one will do).  This is a successful book about failure, about the consequences of dreaming.  His characters follow their dreams, and sometimes, someone else’s.  In many cases, they shouldn’t have.  I look forward to “Sad Jingo’s” successor.

Its cheap!  Buy it, download it, and read it for yourself.

Sad Jingo by Ron Dionne

(1) “corpses gathering outside a farmhouse, moaning and tripping over their feet, wearing the tattered uniforms of their forgotten lives: he’d loved such films when he was a boy, not understanding how true they really were.  What were the living dead, Wolgast thought, but a metaphor for the misbegotten march of middle age?”  The Passage by Justin Cronin, p 174 *sob*

(2)  These days, I don’t even identify with the survivor who is killed off early in the film.  I identify with the bleached skulls crushed so easily beneath the metallic feet of the stripped back T-100s, or with the anonymous basketball court dead of Contagion.

(3) I leave to one side the “Black Robes” magic of using words to put a world inside someone else’s head.