Friday, April 30, 2010

Electron Boy Lives!


13-year old Erik Martin, living with liver cancer, always wanted to be a superhero. The Make-A-Wish Foundation and a whole bunch of other people get together to make his dream come true.

Behold Electron Boy!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Breaking the Rules


When you write fiction, you're told that your plot and characters have to be grounded in reality for your readers to connect to them. People aren't perfect, so your characters have to have flaws and obstacles or no one will buy what you're selling. What they don't tell you is the caveat: all the rules apply until they don't, and if you're really good you can make up your own rules as you go along.

Steve Kluger is that good.

I read Last Days of Summer years ago, and enjoyed it immensely. Kluger's story of a headstrong young boy and his relationship with his idol, a seriously cranky ballplayer, was funny and poignant. Epistolary novels are tough to pull off, but Kluger does it beautifully. I loved the book, wrote a staff selection card for it at the bookstore, and recommended it as much as I could.

But as is often the way, I eventually got distracted by other books and Kluger kind of slipped my mind.

So when I was doing some research on recommended reading lists for kids, it took me a minute to put together the Steve Kluger who wrote Last Days with the recommended book My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park. But once my brain finally kicked in, I put in my inter-library loan request and waited.

I can't tell you how glad I am that I did.

Once you've met these characters, you won't want to put them down. I laughed out loud countless times and totally irritated various friends by forcing them to listen while I read parts of the book out loud to them. The dialog is snappy and the pacing is great, but it's the characters that you'll want to hang on to: TC, whose mom died when he was six, but not before teaching him the importance of magic and dreams; Augie, TC's brother (by mutual decision, ratified by all parents), who loves musicals and old movies and hasn't yet realized that he's gay; Ale, smart as a whip, but who worries about disappointing her father (a retired ambassador) if she follows her true love of dance and the theatre; and Hucky, a six-year old kid who's deaf and fully believes that someday Mary Poppins is going to come and live with him. And I haven't even mentioned the grown-ups, who are just as fun to spend time with.

As in Last Days, the action unfolds entirely in letters, emails, and diaries, and again, it works perfectly. Is it believable? Certainly not. These kids are too perfect, and things work out way too easily. Does it matter? Certainly not, because these kids will absolutely charm the socks right off you, and sometimes that's more than enough.

So thanks for the reminder, Mr. Kluger--I won't forget you again.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reading Karma


I believe there is such a thing as reading karma. If you read widely and whimsically, picking up things that just sound interesting at the time, you will be rewarded when, seemingly out of the blue, something that you wouldn't have known if not for reading that book or article will be needed, either to answer a question or to enhance your understanding of something.

It happens to me all the time.

Most recently, I read an article about the discovery of the deepest known volcanic vent ever discovered. I have an interest in the ocean, especially the deep ocean, and black smokers are incredibly cool. Karma comes in with the arrival of a book called Sea Legs: Tales of a Woman Oceanographer. Imagine my delight upon reading the book to discover that Kathleen Crane was one of the people who discovered the existence of undersea volcanic vents in the first place.

Sea Legs is really episodes from Crane's life: how she came to study oceanography, her education and experiences as a woman in a predominately male field, the importance of oceanography to world climate and environmental health, and the politics and prejudices that make it difficult or even impossible for oceanographers, especially women oceanographers, to do their jobs. Fascinating stuff.

So cast your nets widely, my friends--you never know when a little bit of knowledge will come in handy.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Burning Your Boats


I'm currently ensconced deep in Burning Your Boats, the collected short fiction of fabulist Angela Carter.

Many short story collections are easy reads—quick tasty bites easily enjoyed and easily finished. Carter's stories are not easy. Her stories defy a cursory reading and demand attention. Her lush language and fecund imagery entangle the reader, forcing a languid pace and a dreamy sensibility. When you read her stories, you're surrounded by excess—the sweet scent of jungle flowers turned cloying, covering up the underlying odor of rot and decay.

You'll meet familiar characters and storylines, but these are not your mother's fairy tales. Loss of innocence is a major theme, both innocence carelessly given and innocence cruelly taken. Sexuality and eroticism is rampant, as is a kind of desperate tenderness. There is blood and violence aplenty, and a notion that we are animals at heart, giving the most unthinkable actions a patina of inevitability and sometimes terrible beauty.

Carter is able to re-work familiar stories into something new and uniquely her own, adding layers of emotion and meaning. There's simply no mistaking an Angela Carter story for anybody else's. She weaves an ornate tapestry that, if sometimes overdone in places, is nevertheless a masterpiece of decorative skill.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Minds Both Melded and Blown



SF Signal has a regular feature they call the Mind Meld, where they pose a question to a number of people in the SF community and post all of the answers. Their most recent question: What are some of your favorite genre crossovers? You can find my answer (and a host of others I'm totally jealous I didn't think of) here.

You can also follow the ongoing Lost conversation between me and fellow geek Mark Finn over on RevolutionSF, including our thoughts on last week's "The Package."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Weekend Book-O-Rama



Between an extra day off on Friday and a slight, non-serious illness, I broke the book bank this weekend.

I read Sugar Rush and The Bermudez Triangle, two YA books about lesbian first love. Neither had particularly happy endings, but both were fast-paced and had a strong sense of humor, and despite the endings, both featured characters coming to terms with their sexuality and being okay with it, which was good to see.

I read Margo Lanagan's novel Tender Morsels, a gripping and somewhat disturbing YA fantasy novel about growing up and living your own life. It's got some tough scenes, but a good message about how a completely protected life isn't a real life.

Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger is a ghost story in the mold of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw or Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House where we can never be quite sure if the malevolent presence is real or psychological.

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon is a brilliant novel about identity theft and, unsurprisingly, identity itself. Multiple storylines weave together to form a Pulp-Fiction-esque tapestry of interwoven characters.

And finally I feasted on Allison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, the true story of John Gilkey, who has stolen thousands of dollars worth of rare books. Gilkey is a fascinating character, but Bartlett's peek into the world of rare book dealers and collectors is equally fascinating.