27 September 2007

Subterranean magazine #7 – stories I liked and why

Though I'll say again that I'm not a reviewer, I do want to jot down a few thoughts about some stories I liked in the new Subterranean magazine #7, edited by Ellen Datlow and published by Subterranean Press.

The mother-daughter relationship was very touching in Lisa Tuttle's Old Mr. Boudreaux, and so real. And the importance of place was done with style and the sensitivity of that curiously titled person, the "expatriot". Age also, was something that I thought Lisa Tuttle wrote about with great trueness. The end was a surprise. A lovely surprise. I had only just read Tuttle's magnificently creepy short story, The Mezzotint, in Gathering the Bones (eds. Jack Dann, Ramsey Campbell, and Dennis Etchison) and am looking forward to reading more by her, as these were two very different stories indeed.

I liked Terry Bisson's Pirates of the Somali Coast! I don't know the fine points of how kids write to each other in emails (though I thought the spelling might be too good to be true), the only kids having emailed me I've had to say 'no' to, unless they could stop sending me attachments and they couldn't – but I do know that it isn't just kids who are getting their reality and fiction messed up; and who think that no matter what they do, no consequences for them will arise. Like 4-year-no-interest purchases or beating up on others who aren't expected to be able to hit back. The counselling was, I thought, the perfect touch, which leads me to recommend this superb piece by Andy Coughlin in a recent New Scientist:
Counselling can add to post-disaster trauma

Lucius Shepard's Vacancy reminded me in terms of tone and character, of some James M Cain (not The Postman Always Rings Twice, a story I've always thought weak) though I think Vacancy is better than anything Cain wrote (though that might be unfair to Cain whose stories suffer from emotionality and themes that didn't age well). Shepard's story is a splendid character portrait and has great annoyance power in that, once started, though I had other things to get to, I couldn't put it down till I had finished.

I've never read an M. Rickert story I didn't like. Holiday was another perfect gem, and I was surprised that I liked it because, like a cow who won't eat an orange that another cow has picked up and dropped, I generally don't like stories based on people the headlines have covered with slather.

My favourite story in this issue is Jeffrey Ford's Under the Bottom of the Lake. I like its circularity, but even more so, I loved the playful way he wrote it. There are certain places it just sings. Beautiful characters, too, made all the more real by the unexpected humour. His people who aren't yet adult have the integrity and dignity of being individuals in all the poignant, funny, idiosyncratic oddness that is a person and not a character.

Say "yohmmm" and eviscerate your durian

There's nothing like a durian to make you feel the interconnectedness of the natural kingdoms.

A durian as a companion has more personality than most of your modern dogs, and any supermarket fruit and veg.

A durian's smell is not what you might expect. This one just got more and more exotic as the days went on.

When it was finally torn open (do it with your bare hands, gingerly!) the insides were a sight to behold.

Take a tip from the ones who know the best. An orangutan would never use a knife to cut it, let alone that abomination, the effete spoon, to scoop it out.

Durians and your bare hands and your mouth and your stomach, and your durian-scented burps of remembrance. Incomparable!

So open wide!

The best portal on the web for everything about durians (including durian-flavoured practically everythings) is Shunyam Nirav's delightful Durian Palace.

26 September 2007

Wikileaks proves its worth

It has taken only weeks for Wikileaks' first project — "primary test country: Kenya" to make an impact that is good for Kenya, and good for everywhere else as well.

25 September 2007

Burma, and the world's "golden future" - We can all be goldsmiths

We are a disgrace in the whole world because of our rulers. But we hope for a golden future. We hope for the freedom of Aung San Su Kyi. Kyi, Rangoon - Accounts inside Burma, BBC News

It's funny what a role model is. The Guardian's current cold-sell snail-mail letter appeal(I got one last week) to get new subscribers for their weekly, brags about Nelson Mandela reading it. He probably read about the new statue of him unveiled in London, but he didn't have to because he was there, soaking up the praise in person. Lately, Aung Sang Su Ki has been called 'Burma's Mandela', as a compliment to her. And if she were ever freed, it would be interesting to see whether that would prove to be true. I think not. I don't think she would be content to soak up praise and do nothing of substance. When I think of the power that Nelson Mandela has and hasn't used, it makes me want the world to talk of the meaning of disgrace, and the worth of role models.

What would Zimbabwe be like now, if he had cared?

Why did South Africa, of all countries, vote against the recent UN Security Council resolution on Myanmar, a resolution largely the work of 'retired' Archbishop Desmond Tutu "who has been in the forefront of human rights in Burma" and former Czech President Vaclav Havel? And when that disgraceful act of unsolidarity occurred, why was it not condemned by the world's most admired man?

Desmond Tutu, on the other hand, has been audacious enough to talk about the gap between rhetoric and reality in South African democracy, and in the world at large. He has criticised the racism that is the basis for the respect for the dictatorship of Zimbabwe – for respect it is, to have let it go on as it is.

At this moment, there are thousands of people who are risking their lives for the common good. Almost none of their names will never be known.

The only disgrace is when we waste our attention in hero worship while ignoring those who cannot change the disgraceful way they have to live, because they are too crushed.

Suu Kyi on the road, August 2000 (that long ago?)

09 September 2007