Publication Day! and Other News

Hey readers, I’ve got a quick, exciting update for you. Most recent news first.

  1. I’m insanely happy to announce that my short story “Flat Nose, Empty Head” is now live at the fantastic Hypertext Magazine. Please please please pop over to their site and give it a read. This is my first publication and I couldn’t be more excited.
  2. If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you know I was struggling to decide my future next year. I’ve finally made a choice. If you want to find me after August of 2015, I’ll be at Iowa State University, writing and writing and writing. I look forward to seeing you there.
  3. A new review will be on the way soon. What book is it? One mentioned in a previous post: American Gods

That’s all for now. Until my next review!

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Publication Day! and Other News

Remember a couple weeks ago when I was dying of anticipation?

In a previous post, I detailed the daunting task of waiting to hear back from admissions committees on MFA candidate decisions. As of last week, all the schools I was waiting on have responded to me.

The results were completely unexpected.

I applied to three schools this year, telling myself this was my practice year and that I would apply to more next year after receiving three prompt rejections. The three schools were: UCSD, University of Hawaii-Manoa, and Iowa State University.

Results:

  • UCSD: Rejected
  • UHM: Accepted
  • ISU: Accepted

I think I’m now dying all over again at being accepted at two of my favorite graduate programs in all of higher education.

Hawaii’s program (actually an M.A in creative writing) is one of the most unique programs I’ve ever seen. Professors study and teach in topics ranging from science fiction to native Hawaiian storytelling, and touch on topics such as gender, sexuality, and feminism within all these media. I’m astonished and so grateful that they picked me to be one of their cohort. I would love to be a part of that amazing program.

Iowa State is another great program with an interesting focus of environment. They tend to interpret this word loosely, but it makes for an interesting mishmash of social and natural environmental writers working together. Iowa also supports multi-genre focuses and wants me to work in both fiction and drama, which is exciting!

Unfortunately, for Hawaii, Iowa offers me free tuition plus a teaching assistantship. Hawaii currently isn’t able to offer me anything but admission. That’s understandable, but I do wish I was able to consider Hawaii without financial strains.

It looks like I’ll be in Iowa next year, writing my ass off and molding young freshman minds in composition classes. I can’t wait.

P.S. If you’ve heard from anyone else who got in at Iowa State, please put them in contact with me!

Remember a couple weeks ago when I was dying of anticipation?

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: Science Fiction at Its Forte

These days, science fiction is more popular than ever and it’s easy to find good science fiction. What I’ve noticed is that a lot of the SF we’re reading now utilizes fantastical elements to create a futuristic or science fictional world. The science is brushed over for the more interesting, unusual aspects of the world. AND I THINK THAT’S GREAT. So much of the SF written this way is fantastic. And yes, hard sci fi does exist, but no one has been doing it in quite the same way as the old masters did it, as Wells, Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke did it. A large reason for this is likely that those writers were in some capacity scientists as well as writers, whereas nowadays, many of us are writers first and scientists only as a hobby or interest. I thought the days of beautiful, creative science fiction created by writer-scientists was over. Then I found Cixin Liu and The Three-Body Problem (thanks to translator Ken Liu and publisher Tor Books for this great discovery) and I realized how wrong and myopic I had been.

The Three-Body Problem has only just been translated into English from the original Chinese in the last year. I pulled the trigger and bought this book after seeing Cixin Liu called the “Chinese answer to Arthur C. Clarke.” I had to verify this ludicrous claim. I verified it.

Liu grew up during China’s Cultural Revolution and his reading inspirations were the American SF greats, as he tells in the book’s afterword. Before becoming a writer, he was an engineer. Mixing simple prose (with an eye for the beautiful) and the meticulousness of a career scientist, Liu hasn’t imitated or recreated the old greats, he has become one of them. In fact, the way Ken Liu has portrayed the prose is reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke, as other have stated. Beyond that, the vibrant, original plot is brimming with wonder, science, and philosophy, just like we used to see in the days of Clarke. The novel also presents a solid cast of characters, mostly scientists from different backgrounds. My favorite, though, is the police officer and detective Shi Qiang. Da Shi, as he is also known, is a rough-around-the-edges cop who isn’t afraid to open up the rules in higher dimensions and manipulate them. This is the kind of quirky, aloof, and ultimately lovable character I’ve come to expect from Haruki Murakami’s works, but he fits right in in this world of intrigue, subterfuge, and betrayal.

Ken Liu has done a fantastic job with this translation, sparingly adding footnotes for a number of cultural references that most English readers wouldn’t have otherwise understood and offering small additional explanations within the prose for smaller integral details. I’m sad he isn’t translating the second novel in the trilogy, but I’ll reserve any judgement until the book is actually released.

No SF bookshelf is complete without a copy of The Three-Body Problem. Who am I to proclaim that? Nobody, actually, but trust me. It’s the truth.

Has anyone read this novel yet? If so, leave me a comment about your opinion of the future of Chinese science fiction in English-speaking readerships. Between this and Clarkesworld’s recent translations, I think we’re about to see an influx of great literature.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: Science Fiction at Its Forte

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler: Verily

I’m a huge fan of Lemony Snicket but until We Are Pirates, I had never read a book by the man behind the man, Daniel Handler. If you’ve read A Series of Unfortunate Events, then you’re familiar with Handler’s tongue-in-cheek style and ethereal interpretation of what the fourth wall is. As a youth, those characteristics pulled me ever deeper into his writing.

They’re all present in this novel, though in new iterations. Handler’s narrator is a sneaky investigator attending an open house at the main characters’ (the Needle family) who finds himself enjoying the pants-up, lid-down peace of Phil Needle’s personal toilet where he recounts (imagines?) the events of the last few months. Handler is true to his wry, biting sense of humor and satire throughout the novel, and it is indeed “strange,” as Neil Gaiman comments in his blurb. Handler even employs his familiar technique of phrase repetition to tie his themes together, one example being multiple uses of “during this era of American history.”

All this was present and yet, this novel fell short. It kept my attention while I was reading, but once I set the book down, I didn’t think about it again until I picked it up again.

Amidst the general okayness of We Are Pirates, Handler did manage to touch on a few interesting points. He talks a lot about the state of American society, neither condemning nor praising it, and that, I feel, is what the book is really about. Within that theme he discusses adolescence, individuality, ageism, aging, Alzheimer’s, generation gaps, and much more. What drew my attention most, though, was his (scant but sharp) look at racism. From describing (quite accurately) the way white people try to convince themselves they are prejudiceless, to pointing out that most of the characters are white, Handler’s comments are very conscious and quite hard to interpret. “Just about everyone one else, by the way, in this book is white,” he says, the non-white character being a man from Haiti whose boss thinks he’s Jamaican. So Daniel Handler calls out novelists writing only white characters, but it’s unclear whether he’s satirizing the situation or merely admitting to its perpetuation. Either way, his comments are worth noting after the joke he made following Jacqueline Woodson’s speech at the 2014 National Book Awards.

did laugh, I did like the characters. We Are Pirates is absurd, honest, and brutal–all the things it promised to be. But there wasn’t the magic that makes a good novel a great novel. Maybe I misread this one, but for me it wasn’t the novel that Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon, and Russel T. Davies promised it would be.

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler: Verily

Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon by Kirin Narayan

I’m a sucker for folklore and fairy tales. I feel like everyone says that. Well, I say it too. Combine that with a predisposition to whimsically splurge buying books and a University Bookstore sale, and that’s how you get your hands on a copy of this gem. Narayan was a folklorist at the University of Wisconsin, my alma mater, and I suppose she used this book in one of her classes. Someone sold it back to the bookstore I couldn’t be happier with their decision.

Narayan has collected here a sample of Kangra folktales told in the mountain dialect of northern India.

Here’s the soundbite on the back cover:

Twenty-one tales of women’s ritual power and adventure quests

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At first, this deterred me from reading the book. I was a different person then and didn’t fancy myself interested in women writers. Classic, right? If you’re reading this post and have reservations about this book because it’s about tales of women’s ritual power and adventure quests, please rethink a lot of things, but especially this book. I finally found the right time in my life to read this and here is what I found.

I opened the volume expecting the formulaic foreword, introduction, translator’s note, table of contents, and twenty-one back-to-back stories with occasional footnotes. What I encountered was a study on storytelling, relationships, culture, and character in an innovative form I’ve never heard of or seen. Yes, Narayan has included a preface, introduction, and afterword, but that is where the similarities with my expectations end. The tales storyteller Urmila Devi Sood recounts are short, usually five pages or less. The book is 225 pages long, leaving about 115 pages unaccounted for based on how I imagined the book.

As it turns out, each story is individually prefaced and followed by Urmilaji (the respectful name Narayan uses for her cohort) and Narayan’s contexualization and explication of the stories, mixed in with a delightful amount of Narayan’s beautiful and exact prose. While they sit together through seasons and temperamental weather, Urmilaji weaving stories she learned from her father and her community, Narayan transcribing, recording, and offering opinions, we see the two grow very close. Their respecting, admiring relationship is in stark contrast to the cold, often neglectful relationships between women in the various stories and we see in full detail the common struggle of a woman in Kangra society, divided between two homes, taking on the numerous duties the mother-in-law once held.

The story told outside the stories is as touching and compelling as the masterfully told and translated folktales themselves. Right from the first, I was grabbed by these wonderful tales. A few of the stories stand out as exceptional, even among the high average quality of the collection: “Across the Seven Seas,” “The Twelve Years of Affliction,” “Love Like Salt,” and “The Devouring Demoness.”

As the end draws near, Narayan and Urmilaji, now intimately comfortable with one another engage in enrapturing dialog about the final stories and Narayan recounts their conversations fondly. In my opinion, this isn’t a collection of folktales. It’s a reflection on Narayan’s fieldwork and a closely personal examination of how relationships develop. It’s a piece of fieldwork unmatched by any I’ve seen. I became deeply entrenched in the frequent meetings of the two outstanding women.

By the end of the last chapter, I was nearly in tears.

Read this book.

Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon by Kirin Narayan

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel Review: A Study in Memory

Welcome to my first post of Book Thoughts! Be prepared for lots of amateur criticism. I’m writing this blog to improve and expand the way I read books and I’m happy to start discussions and field constructive criticisms! Leave me a message in the comments and I’ll be sure to answer. Now, on to Station Eleven! (Oh yes, there will be spoilers.)


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) is an intricately woven tale of love and memory within a rapidly changing society. Split into nine parts and fifty-five chapters, the novel cycles through a whirlwind of third-person perspectives naturally and adroitly developing a story never quite in present or past about a traveling symphony and Shakespeare troupe traversing the Midwest in the later of twenty years after a global pandemic caused by the “Georgia flu” decimates the world population. A nearly equal amount of time is spent in the twenty or so years leading up to the flu and especially the days of the first worldwide outbreaks. Taken together, these temporal shifts illustrate how personal relationships and social memory remain largely unchanged even as society is broken down macroscopically.

If the premise seems strange to you, I urge you to suppress that feeling and read on. After reading the novel, I’m convinced that joining a traveling acting group is the most natural path to take after a devastating virus kills our conception of society. You’ll know where to find me once civilization has collapsed.

Mandel employs not only time shifts and flashbacks to construct the narrative but also shifts in tense. Scenes set in the post-fall time vary between a present and a past narration. The same is true for scenes in the pre-fall. This appears to be a storytelling technique consciously utilized to force the reader into jumping between a feeling of immediacy or a feeling of retrospection. The technique is effective and, in the end, logical. Logical because it seems that the character Clark holds all the pieces together. He is the glue between all the perspectives because he knew all of the characters who the story follows. In that case, it may be that the whole story is created or narrated by Clark and passed on, becoming a part of the oral tradition of the post-collapse, told for generations in his Museum of Civilization. If we take this to be true, a narrative style more fluid, imperfect, and talky makes sense.

In a sense, this book is Clark’s greatest contribution to his museum.

Fundamentally, this book is an exploration of how things change and how things stay the same. At its core, Station Eleven is a depiction of what Mandel sees as the unchanging, foundational aspects of human society and interaction, our relationships. This novel is a delightful, powerful, and accessible look at what makes us human and how we preserve and cultivate those relationships even in the most dire of circumstances. Station Eleven earned every accolade it garnered in 2014. I look forward to reading more of Mandel’s work in the future.

Discussion question: Now that Station Eleven has been optioned and purchased (!!!), who is your ideal director for the film? (Shout out to Pints and Cupcakes for, among a million other things, raising this question to me a few days ago.)


Coming soon:

Rat Queens

Kafka on the Shore

One Hundred Years of Solitude (read in Spanish)

And many others!

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel Review: A Study in Memory