Category Archives: Literature

An Interview with David F. Walker

comics-shaft-1
The talented and interesting Davd F. Walker, author of the current ongoing SHAFT comic book, drops by to talk about….well, the Shaft comic. The conversation meanders, of course, but loads of insight into the iconic private detective. Plus, we get teased with future hidden projects!

Enjoy,
Sagramore

A Totally Unbiased Review of Dancing with Eternity

My uncle wrote Dancing with Eternity. There, I said it. My review may be biased; I don’t know. I tried to keep it balls-to-the-wall unflinching and critical.

The novel is science fiction; don’t let the cover fool you into thinking you’ve wandered into a Scientology bookstore and are browsing the Dianetics selection. It is also incidentally very good science fiction. Author John Patrick Lowrie exquisitely blends the space-faring, exotic-chick-banging escapism of old school pulp with the introverted technophilism of 80’s cyberpunk into a really unique crossbreed. With the advent of “new weird” authors like China Mieville, sci-fi has steadily been slipping into fantasy, but Dancing with Eternity shoves that genre back where it belongs, in a cage of steel and computers and vaguely plausible science. No offense to Mr. Mieville; I love the one book he keeps writing over and over.

Back to Dancing with Eternity: in the future, no one dies. Well, some people do because the plot requires it, but most people live forever due to a vast living network that constantly updates one’s thoughts, memories, and everything else into the techno-aether. Bodies are cloned shells, easily replaceable, augmentable, and alterable. Unfortunately, the price for immortality is steep, and resurrection often carries along with it the yoke of indentured servitude and/or unpayable debt. Mohandas, our good protagonist, who has been many things, but is a stage actor when we first meet him, finds himself penniless and stranded on a backwoods planet somewhere in the location-doesn’t-matter-it’s-only-exposition star cluster. Through a series of events masking sheer luck, he eventually becomes an emergency crew replacement aboard the Lightdancer, a super sleek spaceship out hunting white space whales.

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My Problems with The Wheel of Time

I’m about halfway through Towers of Midnight: Book 13 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. It’s not a typo; this is the 13th 1,000-page book about the same exact people doing the same exact things. It has two authors. I am 25 years old; someone could write a book about my entire life, and it would be about 15 pages long. Even then, it might drag in some parts. The whole Wheel of Time series takes place over about 2-3 years. I can’t be specific because people magically teleport all over the place, so there is no reliable benchmark for time passing save when the author explicitly states “time has passed.” I am fairly confident it has been about 2 or 3 years since the beginning. I need to stop now, since I’m launching into my diatribe already, and I need to introduce the premise of this piece first. So, I’m reading the book now, and I decided to voice my complaints with the series instead of suffering in silence, which is not something I do usually. Suffering in silence, that is. I have set this up with numbers and topics.

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Space Soap Opera: Red Mars Review

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, and by extension the whole Mars trilogy, is an ambitious project. However, ambition is a two-faced creature. There are two types of ambitions: boring ones and exciting ones. Building a death ray is an exciting ambition; ask Tesla. Wanting to make assistant night manager at Linens-n-Thing is a boring ambition. Red Mars, unfortunately, falls towards the boring end of the spectrum. The novel’s sweeping scope seems to exceed its 600 page prison, but it’s boringly sweeping. Maybe in theory building lakes on Mars and heating its atmosphere could be engaging, but in practice the book is drier than the current planet. Writing about a lot is wonderful, but if the a lot is details about microorganisms being released into an atmosphe…………….wha?! Oh, I just woke up. What happened? Right, I’m writing a review.

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Tragically Boring: A Review of Never Let Me Go

BOOM! First ever twin-media reviewstravaganza! Today, ladies and gentlemen, I will be reviewing both the book, and the movie, Never Let me Go. Yes, despite what the lack of book reviews on the blog may insinuate, I do still read. The problem is lately I have read very many good books, and critiquing good literature has always proved problematic for me. My own amateurish prose doesn’t ever seem to do justice to the source material. Bashing drivel, however, comes easy. I did recently finish Stephen’s King’s The Dark Tower Series Book VII The Dark Tower by Stephen King, but I don’t think a hard drive large enough to store the word file I would need exists. Additionally, as wonderful as the English language is, words disparaging enough to accurately describe King’s self-ascribed masterpiece don’t reside inside any dictionary. Try looking at a late-era Jackson Pollack painting; that is the plot of the Dark Tower. I find myself digressing. Luckily, I also just finished Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and that I can adequately bash in a blog post. I also saw the superboring movie of the same name, which I can also bash in a blog post. Here we go!

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Ondine, part 2

(Part 1 can be found here.)

“Hello,” she said.

“Hello.”

“You’ve never come up here before.”

“I was just thinking that.”

“I always wondered if you intentionally didn’t come up here, or if it just never occurred to you.”

“I think habit and repetition are to blame. My routine is always to walk up this branch, climb up the large slabs, then cut across the hill to the other fall.”

“What made you decide to come up here this time?”

“I don’t know. I was curious about what it looked like up here.”

“Are your impressed?” At this she flashed me a very self-satisfied smile.

“Very much so. This little channel you’ve cut is quite spectacular.”

She giggled and looked all the more smug. “I’ll have you know, I managed this in just under eight thousand years.”

I told her that was quite impressive.

“Oh pfft. You’re just saying that.” She flashed me that grin again. “But you’re sweet for saying it.”

We sat in silence for a moment. Her ermine foot sloshed casually in the rushing stream, and where the water touched her skin the two mingled and dissolved into one another. When she noticed I was looking she recreated her toes, pulled them out of the water, and wiggled them at me.

“May I ask your name?”

Apparently she wasn’t prepared for that question. She gazed downstream and ran her fingers through the aqua locks of her hair. “Ondine,” she said after a moment. “Yes, I think I will be Ondine for you.”

“How do you know a word like that?”

“You looked it up before you began writing this story.”

“You have access to my mind beyond this memory?”

Another giggle. “Of course. Your thoughts and I have regular intercourse. And furthermore, I am not confined to this one memory. You’ve been here many times, and this place is very important to you.”

“It is probably the most beautiful part of the farm.”

She leaned in close to me, so that I could feel the spray of her hair on my face. There was pride in her emerald eyes, and moisture on her lips.

“Come, let us climb down. I do not want you falling and getting hurt, especially since this is the first time you have been up here. You will have to circle back around the way you came. I will meet you below.”

I tried to protest, but she laughed and leapt off the cliff. I made my way back down the hill between the falls and into the lower creek bed. Ondine was standing directly under the fall, and the water mingled with her flowing hair and ran in sheets down her body.

“Will you join me?”

“I’m afraid I have to pass. I don’t really want to walk back to the cabin soaking wet.”

She feigned indignance. “If you’re going to spurn me, at least think of a better excuse.” Her voice was louder than before, stronger in tenor.

I tried to think of a more satisfactory reason, but before I could Ondine grabbed my arm and pulled me under the water. My memory had indeed grown sharper, and the water was icy cold. I jerked out almost immediately and shivered.

Ondine laughed. “How silly of me. I forgot that you have grown weak in your old age. Once you swam in my sister’s waters in February.” She wrapped her fingers around my hand and guided it back into the water. It was cool, almost lukewarm. When she drew the rest of me into the fall I did not resist.

“The water has never been this warm,” I said.

“This is your memory. It is as warm or cold as you want it to be.”

“But memories come from real experiences. We cannot change them.”

This time her laugh was full and husky, and echoed off the hollowed cliff face behind us. “And just what is your explanation for me, hmm?”

“Well, either you are a projection of my knowledge of Greek mythology onto my personal recollection of this place, or else the mind’s eye sees more than the waking eye, and you have always been here, and I too blind to see you.”

“My scientist! Such rational thought tempered with whimsy. If only I could keep you here to lecture me all day long. I think we both would learn so very much.”

“I’m afraid to say anything, now, since you imply that I am wide of the mark. Please enlighten me, Professor Ondine.”

“Oh, but I have so little experience in teaching philosophy,” she said. “I would surely make many mistakes, especially if I accidentally tell you the truth.”

I stepped out from under the fall and leaned against the cliff face. Rather than being sheer and flat, it bowled inward, such that above me the shelf of the fall jutted out and obscured the sun. Ondine remained in the cascade, and whereas the water had splashed upon me and scattered everywhere, it streamed down the curves of her body without any displacement, as if she was a part of the fall and not an intruder into it.

“The expression, ‘not seeing the forest for the trees’ comes to mind.”

I furrowed my brow. “What?”

She pressed herself against the rock face next to me. “If you are not going to bother with the obvious, I suppose we can indulge in the obscure.”

“Artfully phrased.”

“Shameless. You thought of the words.” She slid closer. I worried that she would scrape herself on the rock. “Do you flatter me, or yourself?”

“I do not think that is a fair question. You cannot assert and deny your own agency. But for the record, I was flattering you.”

“Then I am afraid you have made a grave mistake, for you have made a poor showing of it. I will not stand for mediocre flattery.”

“But will you sit for it?”

That at least garnered me a giggle. “I might be inclined to recline for it.” She scrunched up her face. “I’ll thank you not to give me any more lines like that. If you want to turn phrases like that, feel free. But do not saddle me with such syntactical silliness.”

This time I was the one who laughed, at both the laborious alliteration and the fact that I had made her say it. She stuck her tongue out at me and splashed me with her hair. She was probably trying to distract me, so I would not notice that she was afraid.

Ondine, part 1

How many thousands of years?

I will write this all down now, while it is still fresh. A thought is a liquid thing, prone to flowing into the cracks of the mind and taking a shape not originally intended. But if you force it into ink and paper, it is fixed, for good or ill. The written word is the prison we employ to keep our thoughts from putting on disguises and escaping us.

At the time I was in Estate Planning. It was a paradigmatic example of the class: Dodson sat at the front, elucidating for us the best way to evade the Federal and State inheritance taxes, and I sat in the back, trying now and then to act like I was downloading all of it.

There is a $5,000,000 Federal lifetime gift tax exclusion.

He always spoke with a stern tenor. Some professors, you can tell that they know the material, but they don’t have the talent for teaching it. They fall into telling war stories, about how this one time they had this case out in Cheatam County, where the defense attorney did this or that. Not Dodson. He’s taught this class for more than thirty years. He taught Dad. He wrote his own textbook. If you send him a notice every year he’ll mail you the newest edition, so you can keep updated on the tax law.

Remember that for gift tax purposes only in Tennessee we still have Class A and Class B beneficiaries.

I tilted my chair onto its hind legs and leaned my back against the wall. The best perk of sitting at the very back was the ability to recline. No one else on the back row does it, but then most people are too busy updating their facebook or keeping track of the March Madness scores. You can’t very well tell your facebook friends that class is boring if you’re leaning back from your laptop.

Tennessee recognizes an unlimited marital deduction on gifts.

Earlier that night, in between classes, I stood outside with the smokers and listened to their gossip. They sneered at other students in our class, making comments like, “I worry that she’s going to embarrass our school when she gets out and starts practicing,” or “When she said that I looked back at Ben, and he was just as shocked as I was.” Banal noise. Then they discussed how many absences they had left, and how they intended to use them to avoid coming to the last three weeks of class. I stood with them, empty handed, and said nothing. I smiled, and snickered at the appropriate time, and muttered “Wow,” right on cue. In the end, I guess I can’t escape the need for social interaction. Do they think of me as I of them? Are we all but appliances necessary to satisfy the herding instinct?

The Tennessee estate tax was rendered ineffective by the 2001 Act changes to the federal tax laws, and is not now in effect.

In three years of leaning back against the wall never once have I fallen. I consider it a small victory, something praiseworthy. Often while I’m reclining I pull my smartphone from my pocket and check my own facebook. The vices we hate in others are the ones we covet ourselves. This evening, however, I did not pull out my phone. For one, the battery was dead from when I was playing with it during the last class, and for another I had to pay more attention in Dodson’s class since the Federal tax code is less than intuitive. At the beginning of the semester, Dodson told the class that when Congress wants to modify the tax law, they merely pass new statutes and resolutions, rather than actually edit or remove the outdated parts of the code. The end result of this wonderful system is that you need a ball of string and a smitten princess to navigate it.

In the audit of the tax return, Tennessee is not bound by any decision made by the Internal Revenue Service on valuation or other matters.

I don’t think I’ll ever do any serious estate planning work. It seems boring and technical. So much of it is devoted to evading taxes, and juggling the interaction between the State and Federal tax codes. My delight is to work with words, artfully constructing arguments and using the language of the law to support a position. Reading and re-reading tax codes and writing a will to carefully dance between the cracks in the law does not strike me as a fun or particularly fulfilling endeavor.

The purpose of these rules is to prevent valuation abuses in the family context.

But I digress. As I said, I was leaning against the wall, and I did not have my smartphone handy to check whether my friend from high school was going out to dinner that night, so my mind wandered. Always a dangerous prospect. Luckily this time my mind chose to venture back to the farm, which I had just returned from the day before. But for the obligations of work and school, I might well have stayed there another two or three days.

If Section 2701 applies, and the retained interest is valued at zero, then there is an up-front, taxable gift of the entire amount supposedly retained.

It was the first weekend I had been back to the farm since New Years, and when I got there I realized how much I missed it. It is as much a part of me as anything. Even though I have only spent about fifteen weekends a year there, I have always considered myself a child of the country, more at home in fields and forests than among streets and skyscrapers. So strange to me, those people who are creatures of the city, who find no comfort or beauty in unbridled nature, and who shriek with terror at the thought of being bitten by a tick.

If it is a family transaction, then you need to be able to establish that it is a bona fide business arrangement and that the terms are comparable to similar arrangements reach by arm’s length negotiators.

I reached back into those fresh memories. I found myself at the Twin Falls, where two creek branches, not twenty yards apart, dash onto sheets of limestone worn smooth by centuries before mingling together. On Saturday I hiked there, accompanied by my mother, my aunt, and my aunt’s girlfriend. This time, when I visited the Falls in my mind, I was alone, and rather than the echo of conversation there was only the soft splash of my boots as I made my way up the creek bed, and the faint chatter of the water as it leapt off the cliffs.

At the point where the branches met I turned right and made for the fall. I do not know the cardinal directions, but since I always approach the falls from the same direction I think of them as being on the right and on the left. The left fall is slightly taller and broader, and the water descends by way of several shelves of rock, so that it is more like a wide trickle than a strong flow. At its base is a broad sheet of limestone, with deep channels cut into the face where most of the water collects. The stream is clear of debris and detritus, and the whole bed for several yards out from the fall is a smooth surface of deep green.

Her sister, on the right, could not be more different. That we call them the Twin Falls is because of their proximity, not because of their similarity. Her fall is swift and narrow, running sideways down a small outcropping of rock and free-falling to the bed. The bed is a graveyard of cracked and broken slabs of rock. The fall itself is largely obscured by two huge tables, one leaning against the other, both covered in green mossy carpet. Considering how the rock face around the fall is sheer, one can imagine that some great event, Nature in her fierceness, tore the sheet of limestone in half and dumped the shards in the bed. There is more gravel in this branch, and the bed is not limestone save for the enormous sheets of broken rock. In one or two places tree limbs and branches have fallen and snagged in the bed, and those snags have grown into puffballs of dead leaves and rotting timber.

I worked my way upstream, climbing my way over the leaves and jumping from table to table, and when I reached the fall I went around the rock to put my hand in the water. It was cool, but not icy. In the real world, it probably was icy cold, as the creek always is in March, but my memory warmed it somewhat. I scrambled up one of the huge slabs to the earthy slope between the falls, and carefully worked my way to the top of the fall. For some reason I have never once gone to this part of the fall, and I can’t recall ever walking the branch above.

When I reached the bed, even though it was memory and I could not be surprised, I was still in awe of it. The water, rather than flow wide in the bed as in the other fall, here had cut a deep, narrow channel into the limestone layers. The stream was barely one foot wide, and ran down the V-shaped crevice in the rock swiftly and deliberately, as if it was unaware that it has no other choice. Over thousands of years it has fashioned its own confines.

I sat down on a small bench of limestone next to the fall. Six inches to the right there was spray and open air. At my feet the water chattered, though its voice was muffled by the imperfection of my memory. I closed my eyes, and listened, and breathed, and tried to sharpen my memory enough to smell wet leaves and fresh spring growth. As the recalled details in my mind came into focus, and the sound of the water became clearer, I heard something else, soft and quiet.

I opened my eyes, and sitting across from me in the creek bed was a Naiad.

India has some problems: A Review of Aravind Adiga’s Between the Assassinations

Aravind Adiga understands the cosmic. He knows the world in which we live is governed by immutable rules, and in Between the Assassinations he endeavors to educate us of those guidelines with a tragic sense of the inevitable that would make 19th century Naturalists feel depressed. Oh, and it’s funny, too.

Told through a series of vignettes, the novel describes 7 days in the life of Kittur, a fictional Indian city, between the assassinations (see what he did there?) of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. So basically, the 80′s. And as every Reagan fan knows, if you weren’t white and and in America, the 80′s sucked. Adiga uses the separate tales to describe the injustices and ironies of Indian life. As we learn about Kittur’s physical geography, we are also introduced to its social makeup. By the time Adiga has fully explored landmarks like the train station, Lighthouse Hill, and the Muslim slums, he’s also exposed us to the people and social character of the city. These 14 stories breathe a certain character into Kittur, and by the end of the novel we are familiarized with a harsh, unforgiving city, but not one without a sense of humor. Though granted, it’s a very dark comedy.

Muslims, Hindus, and Christians co-inhabit the crowded mass of streets and construction, constantly coming into conflict with each other, and themselves. Adiga focuses his narrative on the downtrodden, on the poor. We are introduced to country bumpkins looking for work, small-time factory owners, Muslim luggage porters, hired maids, etc. But by the end of the novel we find ourselves asking, are there any free, rich people at all? We get the feeling even Mabroor Engineer, the alleged richest man in the city, most likely has many politicians he has to bribe, and limits even he can’t overcome. There never seems to be an actual “top” to the hierarchy. Just a sprawling caste system trapping everyone inside its procrustean confines. Adiga does mention that some people do seem to step outside the system’s boundaries; unfortunately, the few who do get out, die. (see: Indira and Rajiv Gandhi).

The short stories themselves are great overall though, of course, some are stronger than others. I personally liked the last 3 or 4 the most. The little narrative about the childless couple living near the woods bordered on poetry. It hits an almost Buddhist aesthetic, dwelling on the ephemeral nature of the world to really tug at your emotions. It’s rare to be so affected by 2 lives you’ve only read about for 20 or so pages. Also, The story about the old maid being hired out to richer families by her sister strikes a pitch-perfect balance between the ridiculous and tragic. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed at something so depressing. The old communist’s tale is great, too. It’s interesting to read about people who theoretically reject class distinction, and yet are forced to live in a world completely defined by the very concept.

The book is not without its flaws, however. The narrative can be a little blunt at times, and the book lacks the subversive sophistication of Adiga’s other novel, The White Tiger, which you should read if you haven’t. Also, a few of the stories are significantly weaker than the collective whole, and a couple tales step on each other’s toes thematically.

Though not as good as The White Tiger, Between the Assassinations is still an excellent book, and very worth your while. Highly recommended by your impetuous reviewer.

Later days,

Sagremor