Two books with trains…
My reading, as you, oh faithful reader, already know, has been all over the place of late. As you can see from the sidebar on this page, I’m currently reading Circus of the Grand Design and Iron Council, both of which feature trains (to greater or lesser extents). The opening of the Wexler is very smooth, and reminds me a lot of “In Springdale Town”, which you all have already read. Good stuff.
Matt Cheney mentions that Ideomancer has new material from M. Rickert online at the moment. I’d not read much of Rickert’s work until last year, when she suddenly seemed to have a story in every second issue of F&SF, most of which were very good. It turns out she’s had exactly a dozen stories published, and I just read her 13th, “Cold Fires”, which is in the Oct/Nov issue of F&SF. It’s a wonderful, touching, funny and even poignant fantasy about pirates, paintings, and love. One of the year’s best. Actually, I’ve read about half of the Oct/Nov issue, and it seems particularly strong, with great stories from Rickert, Gene Wolfe, Dale Bailey, Mike Bishop and others. In fact, if we at Coode St could exhort you to one path of action for the day, it would be to subscribe to Gordon Van Gelder’s fine magazine.
Stories, stories…it’s all stories
Well, I’ve got myself in a bit of a fuddle. I should be writing a new column, and I should be logically, consistently reading through all of this year’s magazines and anthologies. Instead, I’m dipping into this one and that one, reading finished books and magazines, galleys, print-outs and some onscreen stuff. Which is all good, but I need to be careful that I don’t just miss things.
Stories that have really stood out for me of late include a very good Bradley Denton novella, “Sergeant Chip” from the September F&SF, a terrific and very funny Dale Bailey short, “The End of the World as We Know It” from the Oct/Nov F&SF, Paola Bacigalupi’s pocket-Dune short “The Pasho” from the September Asimov’s and a handful of others. I’ve also been reading through the mostly unimpressive ReVisions anthology (it has a good Doctorow/Stross tale in it) and the very impressive Brett Cox/Andy Duncan anthology Crossroads. You should, as they say, check it out when it hits the shelves. In addition to a number of very sharp reprints, it has a great mainstream Michael Swanwick piece and a wonderful Richard Butner story, “The Wounded”, which seems gentle, delicate even, but is powerful and very well told. I’d not read much Butner before, but along with Jay Lake, Chris Rowe and a few others, he’s a writer to watch.
We went to Kites for Kids
I don’t get to do enough fun stuff with the family, but not long ago we went to a ‘Kites for Kids’ event, and had lots of fun. Here, as they say, is a picture.
PS: That’s Jess. She turned four about three weeks after this picture was taken.
Thoughts on alternate history (or, it’s just rubbernecking, baby)
I finished reading John Birmingham’s alternate history novel Weapons of Choice last night, and it’s pretty good. The opening, as I’ve said before, is filled with the kind of Tom Clancy techno-action stuff that leaves me cold, but once the story gets established Birmingham really gets hold of his characters, has some interesting things to say about the differences between the mindsets of his 1942 characters and his 2021 characters, all of which, obviously, are intended to address those of us living in these Bin Laden Days. It is also romantic, tough-minded at times, and very funny. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be surprised to see big budget movie one day that would actually be worth seeing.
Reading the book did make me stop and think about alternate history and why it tends to bother me. I think the reason that I have troubles with it is as a form is that so much of alternate history seems to be devoted to what I’d call rubbernecking. There are basically two types of rubbernecking, and they usually overlap or are intertwined. The first type involves the likely or unlikely intersection of two famous people. Ooh, look there’s Alexander the Great and he’s sharing a latte with Elvis Presley! Or, who ever would have thought of Charles Dickens dating Barbara Cartland! I wonder what they have to say? A variant on this involves technology or weaponry: what I call the ‘Alien v. Predator’ or ‘Enterprise v. Millennium Falcon’ subtype. The other type of rubbernecking involves putting the aforementioned people or technologies into a famous event to see what might happen. Nothing wrong with it in general principle, except that it usually results in an endless ‘what if Germany/The South won WWII/the Civil War” riff. The problem with rubbernecking itself, though, is that usually these stories offer no insight at all into character, events, or anything other than of the simplest, most voyeuristic kind. The fiction tends to be shallow and facile, with no depth and nothing interesting to say. Now, Birmingham’s book does transcend that, as does Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross’s forthcoming tale “Unwirer” (which turns on a change in not very well-known communications law), and Christopher Priest’s The Separation and Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt are great examples of what can be done with alternate history, but it remains a bit of a worry. Too often it’s just dumb, ignoring the complexities of history and pretending to make meaningful observations about famous people that are complete tosh.