I posted quite a while back after I’d read Maureen McHugh’s Half the Day is Night, that I was trying to get through some more books by some of my soon-to-be-teachers. I had a goal of reading two books by each teacher, minimum, by the time I arrive in Seattle, but it’s looking more and more unlikely. McHugh’s not a problem, as I think I’ve read about half of her published body of work — some of Mothers & Other Monsters, Mission Child, and Necropolis (though much of that first book mentioned is available online, and I spent a chunk of my day today on reading the stories linked from that page).
Anyway, I’ve progressed a little bit toward my goal, which is nice; I know the last two weeks before the Workshop, I won’t be reading much aside from students’ final projects in my various English Composition and Media English classes. Still, I have a few more books on the way, for that last week before the exams start, and I have a little pile to work my way through, along with some research texts. Here I’ll just list off the research books, and discuss what I’ve read already cursorily, as well as mention what’s in the rest of my stack.
I finished Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep the other day, and after I did, I took a deep breath. It was just such a big book, with so much going on. If you’ve ever heard Iannis Xenakis’ piece Metastasis, well, the book seemed to me like a very extended version of the first few minutes of that piece — so much crescendo, so much widening scope, so much going on down in the microdetail level. I thought the notion that Galactic civilization was dependent on a kind of internet-like structure was fascinating but a little, I don’t know, too familiar. I was also half-and-half about the Tines on a critical level, but as a reader, they were just cool and fun and really good in terms of a comparative species. I found a lot of comparison going on between humans in the Beyond and the Tines immersed in all this human knowledge all of a sudden. The Powers were interesting, and the Blight was fascinating too. Big, huge space opera but with brains. I liked it, and I was almost tempted to crack open A Deepness in the Sky immediately, but that’s another 600 pages and I have a feeling I might go for Across Realtime instead, if I have the time for another Vinge work before I fly, just in order to make sure I’ve read something quite different by the guy.
I’m about 3/4 of the way through Paul Park’s If Lions Could Speak and Other Stories, and finding that the blurb by Gene Wolfe isn’t quite right; Park actually does remind me of Borges, a little, sometimes (even though he himself said that he finds Borges doesn’t usually deliver what he promises), sometimes of a tamer, more artful James Morrow, and sometimes his stories remind me of The Twilight Zone, or of, I don’t know, of people who feel familiar to me. The story, “Self Portrait, With Melanoma, Final Draft” actually kind of reminded me of what might have been a fictional dream of a character in a Barry Hannah story I once read about a creative-writing prof. This is, of course, none of it really criticism as much as reflections. The man has a hell of a way with putting together stories. I can, however, feel something that he himself has said, which is that he comes at the genre from without, not as someone who grew up reading it. I don’t mind it, of course, since I’m in a similar position. This far I think “The Tourist”, “Get a Grip”, and “Tachychardia” are the most striking. (I read “The Breakthrough” aloud to my girlfriend, without any idea what it was about, and she seemed to enjoy it, perhaps even moreso because of her medical background. But she found it pretty disturbing, like I did.) And”Untitled 4″ reminded me of a plotline I’ve been thinking about playing with ever since a co-worker told me about a meeting that involved both Stalin and Gorky. (It also reminds me of an essay on poetry I once wrote, where one of the futures of poetry is that it gets popularized by the state as a form of pop-culture self-therapy. The ruination of verse, that would be.) All in all, an enviable book.
The stories I’ve read from Maureen McHugh’s Mothers & Other Monsters have been a revelation. In some ways, I see now that the way that she depicts normal, everyday life is part of what gives her such an edge when she writes about future cultures and worlds. “Ancestor Money” had me nodding my head, with it’s rather imaginatively odd afterlife — it made me feel a little ashamed about parts of the ghost-story novel on my hard drive) — and “Frankenstein’s Daughter” and “Eight-Legged Story” are mostly so strong because they’re not really about science or tech things, they’re about families and being human in a family, which means being human in a difficult structure and situation, which, again, is what made so many of the characters so fascinating in China Mountain Zhang. I shall definitely have to pick up this book, and McHugh’s Necropolis, when I get the chance.
That’s it for what I’ve read lately. I think tonight, once I’ve finished some work I need to do for school, and some editing work, I’ll finish off the Park collection and start in on Nalo Hopkinson.
The books in my stack include:
- Brown Girl in the Ring (Nalo Hopkinson)
- Breathmoss and other exhalations (Ian R. McLeod)
- The Dark: New Ghost Stories (ed. Ellen Datlow)
- The Light Ages (Ian R. McLeod)
- Across Realtime (Vernor Vinge)
- Mission Child (Maureen McHugh)
- A Deepness in the Sky (Vernor Vinge)
plus the following due here in a couple of weeks:
- The Midnight Robber (Nalo Hopkinson)
- Three Marys (Paul Park)
I would have loved to get my hands on Paul Pakr’s Celestis but the only place to order it would be Amazon, who’re famous for slow shipping over here, so I’ll try get it while in the States instead.
As for nonfiction research books, I have the following on my stack (about half of which I’ve read before and am just skimming to refresh my memory):
- To Change China: Western Advisors to China (Jonathan D. Spence)
- The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870 (Hugh Thomas)
- 1421: The Year China Discovered the World (Gavin Menzies) — yes, discredited humbug, but still interesting to me and helpful for my alternate history
- A scholarly book on Korean Folklore put out by UNESCO and Si-sa-yong-o-sa and Pace Research, and a collection of Korean folktales.
- Attack on Christendom (Soren Kierkegaard)
- God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan (Jonathan D. Spence)
- A couple of books on alternative economics.
- Darwin Among the Machines (George Dyson)
- A Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable (John Steele Gordon)
- The Victorians (A.N. Wilson)
They’re stacked on my kitchen table, anyway. As for getting to them, that’s another question entirely.
I also have a book by Matthew Fox on order, as I’m thinking about writing something that will involve the future history of the Catholic Church, and need to get at least one bizarre vision of the future Church besides my own. (Was hoping for a book by Bishop Spong, the controversial Episcopal Bishop, but the order time was going to just be toooooo long.) Also have Blish’s A Case of Conscience on order, for the same purposes as the Fox book, and, oooh, the new Bruce Sterling and some other goodies, but, like with many of my other books — including my long-awaited River of Gods, and Susan Petrey’s Gifts of Blood, which I received in the mail the other day from Debbie and Paul in Oregon (if you read this, take heart! my letter’s coming! really!) — I suspect more and more that they’re going to have to wait until sometime after my return to Korea in August.
But there’s one other book I’m almost finished, which is John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. You know, it’s a pretty useful book. I’m kind of kicking myself for not reading it years ago, but, on the other hand, I don’t think I’ve have benefitted as much from it then as I may be doing now. The weird thing is, it’s a pleasure to read. If it weren’t, I’d be enjoying some other piece of fiction on the side instead, but Gardner’s got some sensible things to say, and I like how he says them too. (Even when I disagree, it’s interesting.)
Looking at the list of books above, and then thinking about all the grading and editing I’ll have to do in the next few weeks… oh boy. Time to go get some PowerPoint presentations prepared.