Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: "Asimov's Science Fiction" - December 2012 - Vol. XXVI, no. 12, Issue 443

Being awfully late in my reading queue I started reading December's edition of Asimov's with a worrying amount of delay. As a matter of fact I already got my January 2013 issue before I was half through with December's so I read it in a rush. In addition a banana I forgot in a backpack damaged the digest sized magazine irremediably (I won't go into detail, but you can imagine my happiness when I found about it).

Issue 443 gives us a beautiful novella by Steven Popkes and a few other good stories. I enjoyed reading most of this issue and I would suggest buying it for the cover price.



  • "Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected" by Steven Popkes is the only novella in this issues and it's worth reading it. This story uses Artificial Intelligence and music to serve the purpose of making the answer to the question "What is human?" a little bit closer to being answered. I think this story is well written, Dot is characterized wonderfully and most readers will find Popkes's work enjoyable.
  • "The waves" by Ken Liu is a novelette and is pleasant to read. If your "self" could go surfing through the universe, sharing a sort of Borg-like knowledge (but keeping individuality), than this would be the perfect adventure. It's a tale of immortality and I recommend reading it.
  • "The Caramel Forest" by Chris Beckett is a short story and it is the cover story. It's a nice tale in which two children will discover that not everything looks like what it is. I found peculiar that the goblins could speak to the human's minds.
  • "The wizard of the 34th Street" by Mike Resnick will remind most readers of the TV series "The booth at the end" starring Xander Berkeley. I enjoyed reading it, especially the final twist, but I found it too similar to its TV show counterpart to think of it as a truly original work. Don't get me wrong, it is darn good so if you haven't seen the TV series you will find much pleasure in it.
  • "The Black Feminist's Guide to Science Fiction Film Editing" by Sandra McDonald. In a partially dystopian future movies are edited so that women are the heroes of the movies. "Total Recall" star is not Arnie but Sharon Stone. In such society all the 1980s macho movies must be revised which is not an easy task. In this story the main character finds the last copy of the movie "The Ginger Star" and will start thinking deeper about her job. What I found of particular interest is the fact that the first part was quite funny, while the second part was quite serious. 
  • "The Pipes of Pan" by Robert Reed. Ok, don't bring this story to any Creationist's Museum. Interesting read, but in my opinion too obsessive.
As I said previously, this issue is quite enjoyable and I recommend it to you.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Review: Weird Tales - Fall 2012 - Issue 360 - Vol.66 No.4

I could not expect a better gift for Halloween than Weird Tales. And so it was: on October 31st 2012, while preparing the kids for trick or treating, the mailman delivered the magazine. Unfortunately, I failed to notice if his eyes showed the unmistakable empty look of a cultist who just read a small portion of the Necronomicon. He probably did.
With such excitement I started observing the creepy cover picture by Danielle Tunstall. Good news: the old WT logo is back.



Before I proceed in the analysis of Issue 360, some warning is due:

  • This is the first issue edited by Marvin Kaye and his gang. Ann VanderMeer's involvement is now officially over. Thank you Ann for your amazing work in being the Herbert West of such a niche magazine.
  • This issue contains an important tribute to late Ray Bradbury. I will not review it, but I suggest everyone to take a look at it. I loved the back cover by David Hartman.
  • Although I generally enjoyed most of the stories, I have serious issues regarding two subjects. I will discuss them in the "Philosophical Issues" section of this post.
The Stories.

Issue 360 is packed with stories. There are no interviews or any other distracting material. I do not know if there were any originally intended for Issue 360 and later removed because of Bradbury's tribute, but I admit that at least quantitatively this is a packed up magazine, with seven stories related to the Elder Gods and four non-thematic stories. In addition there are four poetry pieces. I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum.

  • "The Long Last Night" by Brian Lumley is quite enjoyable. London is overwhelmed by the usual monstrosities we would expect in a strange tale and is also towered by a weird twisted structure. In this story there are two characters, one is the narrator and one is an old guy; they are trying to reach the evil tower by using the subway (ok, tube!) tunnel system. The plot and setting are interesting, but the narrator seems like an idiot during the whole story except at the end. He is seriously too passive and this gave away the ending. This is a story themed around the Elder Gods.
  • "Momma Durtt" by Michael Shea is another enjoyable story about small-time criminals, real human monsters and toxic environments. In this story we learn what a dude, Lazarian, is up to. This is a story themed around the Elder gods.
  • "The Darkness at the Table Rock Road" by Michael Reyes. This is a dream-like state story in which two veterans meet after being together in a campaign located in the middle-East. One of the two, Robert Blake, claims to have become rich. Is he hiding something? Hell, yeah! This is a story themed around the Elder Gods.
  • "The Runners Beyond the Wall" by Darrell Schweitzer. A poor kid dies in the XIX century when his ship, with his parents on it, wrecks on the Cornish coast. In his afterlife the kid will meet Lord Blessingleigh, an evil son of a bitch which expects the kid to accept him as father. This story is twisted enough to be probably the most enjoyable among the various works in this issue. This story has an aftertaste of "Dante meets the Elder Gods" and is quite well written. This is a story themed around the Elder Gods.
  • "Drain" by Matthew Jackson. Have you ever feared that something might crawl from the drain hole in the bathtub? Well, if you do, this story will creep you out enough to pour gallons of acid in it, just for safety. Not that it would work. Read, sit back and enjoy even thou the story itself is pretty dumb. I admit I felt much pleasure in reading about the whole situation around the thing crawling in the narrator's house. This is a story themed around the Elder Gods.
  • "The thing in the Cellar" by William Blake-Smith. Funny! Yes this flash-fiction story is quite funny and makes fun of all of us, the lovecraftian idiots that secretly wish that the Necronomicon was true and that Cthulhu was as sweet as the plushes. This exchange between the narrator and his stepfather was quite epic:
"Sir, I think that some dark spawn nameless terror has torn its way into our cellar seeking to swallow the living souls of the innocent." I spoke clearly and slowly.
He looked at me and winced. "What?" he moaned.
"Shapeless horrors are loose in the cellar. Mankind may be in danger." I said, rephrasing to correct for his ignorance of the proper nomenclature.
"You've been reading that Lovecraft crap again, haven't you?" he said.
"Uh, no Sir," I lied. "Just trying to keep you informed of the house's little quirks."
"Your mother and I told you not to read that junk," he said.

  • "Found in a Bus shelter at 3:00AM, Under a Mostly Empty Sky" by Stephen Garcia. At first the strange editing looks cool, but it distracted me too much. Honestly I do not really understand the meaning of the whole concept other than "looking cool". This is a story themed around the Elder Gods.
  • "To be a Star" by Parke Godwin. When you prepare your Christmas tree you feel that someone is telling you... something. Well, this story explains why. Very enjoyable.
  • "The empty city" by Jessica Amanda Salmonson. This is more fantasy than anything else, it is a nice voyage in a forgotten city. Will you get stuck in there?
  • "Abbey at the Edge of the Earth" by Collin B. Greenwood. Flash-fiction. There isn't much to say other than it's a trip in someone's doomed destiny.
  • "Alien Abduction" by M.A. Brines. Another piece of flash fiction. I will just say it's not exceptional and it is very very short.
Philosophical Issues.
While I certainly enjoyed reading WT360, I have some issues with two concepts that have been introduced with the new management: 
  1. The anthological idea
  2. Lovecraft (I can't believe I am saying that).
According to the editors, from now on WT will have one theme which will differ from issue to issue. For example, WT360 was "The Elder Gods Issue" and WT361 will be the "Fairy Tales Issue". This might lock WT writers from releasing new interesting material and, especially, new ideas. The editors claim to be available to publishing every sort of genre, but putting such a limit - leaving complete freedom to just a few stories - might damage irremediably the freedom that is necessary to an "out of the boundaries" magazine. I could understand two "locked" issues in a six-issues a year magazine, but I really can't accept that all the four issues are bounded so tightly. I personally think that this move will remove good parts of the necessary imagination that made Weird Tales the important pulp magazine it is. In other words, I think anthologies exist already and I am not sure the public needs an anthological magazine. If I want several works related to the Elder Gods, I simply go to my local library or B&N and I get it. If I want several works related to Fairy Tales, I just go get it. A magazine, such as Asimov's SF, Analog, Ellery Queen and so on contain variety. That's their strength. In Ellery Queen I read a story inspired by Agatha Christie and the next story is completely different. How beautiful is that in a magazine? I might be wrong - I hope I am, and it wouldn't be the first time I am; just ask my wife! - but I think that in the long term this will be a move that will be regretted.

The second issue, is Lovecraft. Disclaimer: I love HPL. I love Cthulhu, I think Azathoth is quite cool. I play Arkham Horror and I love reading HPL's epistolary. However, Lovecraft is not Weird Tales and Weird Tales is not Lovecraft. The editors affirm that HPL will be an integral part of the magazine and I dread this decision. I do not even get the meaning of their idea. Okay, HPL is cool and made WT what it is today. So does R.E. Howard (his Conan is more famous than Cthulhu and any of the Elder Gods). So does Seabury Quinn that published in WT more than HPL and any other author (see S. Connors in "The Weird Fiction Review", Number 1, Fall 2010). So, why HPL over Howard? Why HPL over Quinn? I don't see why Lovecraft's shadow should be all over Weird Tales, why should we expect the readers to read lovecraftian horror? I strongly suggest reading Jeff VanderMeer's article about Lovecraft on his Weird Fiction Review (http://weirdfictionreview.com/2012/09/moving-past-lovecraft/). I completely agree with him. One day I will explain how R.E. Howard liberated me from the tentacular fiction of H.P.Lovecraft. WT editors claim that one of the reason is that they have a lot of material intended for H.P.Lovecraft Magazine. Well, then publish that magazine and leave WT free of any chain. Do not hold readers and writers accountable of the apparently sinful idea that Lovecraft is necessary to Weird Tales. He is NOT. The weird tale used Lovecraft, he was merely a tool. A darn good tool, nonetheless a tool. Lovecraft's spirit will always live in one form or the other on Weird Tales, and he will always affect strange tales writers anywhere. He will always be somewhere in any writing even from new masters such as Stephen King. It doesn't need any push from the editors. Listen to Mr. VanderMeer, and listen to Lovecraft: Cthulhu doesn't need the cultists and so Weird Tales doesn't need Lovecraft. 




Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"The yellow wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is one of those stories that albeit short (about 6000 words) it can be read on many separate levels that any dissertation should discuss in order to avoid a void in the interpretative function.


At first, Gilman's story can be simply classified as Gothic fiction. In the story we have the classical unreliable narrator, a strange situation, an uncanny event and some satellite characters that are unable to understand what is happening, worsening the whole situation. As in Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart", the narration is obsessed with something or someone, although it should be noted that the typologies of obsessions are slightly different. Poe's narrator tries to find freedom from the evil eye but committing a murder, which is a traumatic event external to the problem. Gilman's narrator tries to find freedom by using, spoiling and interpretating the meaning of tapestry, which is an event intrinsic to the problem. In other words, Gilman's narrator needs the tapestry, while Poe's narrator wants to get rid of it. In both stories we do not know much of the details of the narrator; however in "The Yellow Wallpaper" we know that she is diagnosed with some sort of post-partum depression. For this reason her husband decides to confine her to the attic, removing any sort of intellectual stimuli. She desires to do some work around the house, but she is not allowed to. She desires to do something than just getting bored, but she is not allowed. Bored to death, she starts believing that the wallpaper is not just a regular yellow wallpaper but it hides some mysterious secret. Day and night she is so obsessed in her belief that she starts seeing it move. Her condition worsening, she thinks that women are hidden behind it and come out at night and by tearing it apart she will free them and free herself. In the final scene, the husbands finds out that her condition is now unrecoverable (I won't spoil the precise ending).
The story itself is quite intriguing, and it interesting to observe how the narrator's mental health worsens daily.



The second level of interpretation of this story is feminism. Gilman's story is a small manifesto for woman's liberation. Here's where the husband comes in play. Although he may seem a simple single dimensional character (honestly, in part he is), he is actually the stereotype of the possessive husband, very popular in the years Gilman lived in but being a doctor he has seemingly good motivations for his choices. He is a doctor convinced that is wife is going crazy and he tries to cure her. His solution? Drive her even crazier. The problem which Gilman is clearly talking about is not that the husband is wrong, but that he does not listen to what she says. In every conversation he never believes her (and he is right) and never listen to her suggestion (and he is plainly wrong). Clearly he works as a metaphor for the low value that men placed on women's opinion back then. With her story, Gilman tries to explain that a woman by the use of her head is free, no matter what chain is she constrained to. 


Another level is the scientific one. By researching online (well... reading on wikipedia) it becomes clear that Gilman had issues with an early psychologist/doctor who treated her depression by removing almost all distractions from her. In a figure of speech, there is not much difference between Gilman and the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper". Clearly, the author wants to criticize certain scientific methods that are based on traditions, guesswork and little else. She also criticizes those doctors that don't listen to patients because they are so sure of their methods that they would not change them even if hard proof is in front of them. Until irreparable damage is done.
Obviously, I strongly suggest reading this classic. It was one of Lovecraft's favorites and for a good reason. The text is freely available on Project Gutenberg. In addition two movies, one transposition by BBC and one that took some liberties, have been made (I haven't seen either).


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Readings & Writings. Or, I am sorry the day is not a Sol.


Although I am a bit behind on my SF magazine reading queue (I haven't read latest Asimov's, Analog or F&SF yet), I have read several classic short stories. I wish a day was as long as a Sol (Martian day). I will quickly review them in this post. 
For your information, right now I am reading "The power of habit - How we do what we do in life and business", by Charles Duhigg. I am halfway though it and I can gladly say it's a nice, easy, reading. I never realized how similar we are to apes and mice, at least in regards to how habits form in our head. My loving wife is studying psychology - I guess she needs to use me as a guinea pig - so when I told her about what I am reading she was already aware of the subject. Since the book deals with habits, how they form and how the companies exploit them I guess my wife is ready...
... check check ... interruption!...
I was writing the above section at a Starbucks with the book next to my computer, when a funny looking guy, wearing a "New York City" baseball hat and Woody Allen glasses, interrupted me asking about Duhigg's book. Apparently he is a brain-fanatic, he loves studying the human brain and learning. He told me he is an instructor and he reads a lot. He suggested three books to me. Here they are:
- "Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything" by Joshua Foer.

-"Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious" by Gerd Gigerenzer

-"Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" by Malcom Gladwell

The topic seems interesting enough to put the above readings on my infinite queue.
... going back to what I was writing:
Since the book ["The power of habit"] deals with habits, as the title implies, how they form and how companies exploit them I guess my wife is ready to work for the malevolent Umbrella Corporation and use humanity for her scientific experiments.
I plan to write a better review when I am done with the book, but just let me tell you that even if the subject is not simple at all, it is a very easy read.

Short Stories:
-"The Tell-Tale heart" by Edgar Allan Poe. This is a beautiful short tale by the Master of horror himself . Obsession, darkness and madness all come together in just a few pages and all because of what the protagonist perceives as an evil eye. Should we believe the narrator? Read it here: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/poe/telltale.html
-"The storm" by Kate Chopin. A nice little story about betrayal and freedom. It is clear since the opening lines that the real focus is on the settings rather than on the characters. I didn't enjoy it that much, but I have to admit it is written with a very good style. Read it here: http://wps.ablongman.com/long_longman_mylitlabdemo_1/0,9668,1606831-,00.html
-"A&P" by John Updike. Written in 1961 this story puns closed minds and preconceptions. It is a beautiful story about rebellion, freedom and wasted lives. For sure it's one of the best storied I read in 2012. In it a young kid analyzes the reactions of a very conservative society after it gets stimulated by an external, unexpected, event. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Crazy Weird Tales. Updates on the routines and what I am doing

Ok, I admit it: I have been absent for about a month. Hey, I was busy! I promise this won't happen anymore (yeah, sure.)
Here's an example of an overloaded person unable to write on his blog and/or to answer the phone:



Weird Tales, what the hell are you doing?!



Something interesting happened in the literary world during the last few days. Weird Tales, the famous magazine, got itself into trouble. Deservedly. The editors initially decided to defend (with a post on weirdtalesmagazine.com) and then announcing to publish on the paper magazine the first chapter of a book titled "Revealing Eden" by self-published author Victoria Foyt.
I won't get much into the discussion other than saying that it was a BIG, HUGE fucking mistake. Everyone, and I mean everyone, agrees that the work is just a piece of racist literature. Big time racist. Usually I am pretty lukewarm toward those accusations, but reading the plot in the various reviews I cannot agree more on the xenophobic level of that tale supposedly written for young adults.  I haven't read the whole book, but I read the first chapter (yes, it's freely available on Amazon and other websites) and it's awful. I mean, in comparison Twilight is Dante's Inferno. Of course a revolution started and Weird Tales decided not to publish the excerpt anymore and also removed the original post on WT's website.
I believe that the editors have the right to publish whatever they want. They can publish the Mein Kampt, it's within their rightsBut they can't expect me or anyone else to agree or to forgive them easily. The thing that bothers me the most is that the editors told the world they received an impossible amount of original stories and that is why the submissions were possible only for a bunch of minutes. And then they decide to publish something that is already on the internet, it's not original, it's not pulp and, worse of all, it plainly sucks. The chapter I read is so bad I can't even find it controversial. It's just stupid and badly written.
I want to believe it was a huge mistake - it caused Ann VanderMeer to quit! -  but mine is more an act of faith (toward the brand Weird Tales) rather than a logical conclusion. The apology and the decision to stop the press is very wise.
If you want to get some literature from this case, here some links:

-----
Update on the routines... 

I was able to keep my writing routine for a while, but lately (past 20 days or so) I started having some conflicts on my schedule. It's not that I do not have a single free moment, but at night I am so tired I go to sleep pretty early (10PM). In the past few weeks I have been waking up at 5AM because I have boxing training at 6AM. Yes, you read it well. I decided to join Title Boxing, a health club focused on boxing. I preferred it over joining a regular gym. I figured out, after the most rightful suggestion by my wife, that I would soon be bored by swimming or cycling, especially since I am a bit demotivated by the plantar fascitiis (read here). There is nothing better than one hour of hitting the punching bag! Oh my, I never imagined it was so hard. At Title Boxing the lessons are one hour long and they are well structured. The first fifteen minutes are dedicated to cardio (running etc) so that the hearth rate goes up. The following thirty minutes is bag work. And by bag work I don't mean simply hitting the bag with the hands (or feet if it's a kickboxing class), but hitting at an almost impossible pace. The training is extreme and so far the teacher, a pro-fighter you may have seen on ESPN, is very good and focused. I have never sweated so much as in those classes. The last fifteen minutes or so are dedicated to strength exercise, mainly with medicine balls.
So far I have been very consistent, waking up at 5AM even on vacation days; I hope to go on. I lost about six pounds last week and since I am getting a lot of proteins I think I am building some muscles. I guess we'll see in a few months. In addition, I am sure this training will help me more in my Tang Soo Do (korean martial art), making me more enduring and a bit stronger.


What am I reading?


As for the writing routine, I plan to go back on track. I have to organize myself a little better... Right now I don't have much time even to read. By the way, I am reading "The stand" by Stephen King - (expanded edition). At this pace I will finish it in a couple of geological eras, but so far the book is surprisingly good (I am at page 180 or so).


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: Analog - October 2012 - Vol. CXXXII No. 10

After such beautiful issue as September's I eagerly expected another great issue. Unfortunately my expectations were broken very soon as I found October's issue pretty dull and not worth the cover price.
Analog this month gives us three novelettes and five short stories of which the best one is "The Journeyman: on the short-grass prairie" by Micheal F. Flynn which is a good story about a knight and a battle between the stars.
I found the cover story, "The liars" by Juliette Wade, was pretty much awful. I honestly had difficulty reading it through as the story didn't make much sense to me. The editors found it worthy, I did not so I guess it's just a matter of tastes.
"Ambidextrose" by Jay Werkheiser and "The end in Eden" by Stven Utley are pretty ingenious and enjoyable to read, but they are also poorly developed.
"Deer in the garden" by Michael Alexander is a nice dystopian story, but again it is another missed hit as the story has a "someone-already-did-this" feeling. I find that dystopian stories are important, and I love them, so I enjoyed reading it but someone else may find it too simplistic.
"Nothing but vacuum" by Edward McDermott is classical sci-fi with a pinch of sadness added to it. I think the formula works and I would like to see a longer story with the same concepts.
"Nahiku West" by Linda Nagata is an interesting story among the stars, but once again it doesn't deliver as it wanders around in its plot.
"Reboot and saddles" by Carl Frederick was funny to read. I have to admit that coming out with the idea of electronic - hackable -horse saddles is pretty interesting.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: "Analog" - September 2012 - Vol. CXXII, no. 9

The last issue of "Analog - Science Fiction and Fact" is better than what I expected. Usually I like one story or, at most, two. This time, I liked them all but only one by Brad Aiken is truly outstanding.

"Done that, never been there" by Brad Aiken is what science fiction is all about, especially for short stories. It is a murder mystery with strong technological implications and believable characters. It is a futuristic Sherlock Holmes in which deduction is the pillar over which the story is built. In addition, it provides a decent dose of adventure which is uncommon for 'brainy' stories. Good job Mr. Aiken.
I completely disagree with Locus's review, I found the story between Roger Bennett and Doris a good subplot - but it should have been developed a little bit more - which gave more depth to the main character.

"Elmira, 1895" by Michael F. Flynn... what if Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling not only discussed alien forms and spaceships but also dealt with them? This is a nice story featuring two great artists, definitely worth reading.

"The voices" by Alec Nevala-Lee is my least favorite in this issue. January, the main character, hears voices and is under therapy. She interacts with the voices and issues come along...

"Rent in space" by Susan Forest is about black holes in your own backyard. Well, they are not really black holes and they are in an office and in an apartment, however they can... be used as nuclear waste disposals. Is it a good idea or not?

"The long view" by Jerry Oltion narrates a moon landing in which the astronauts find an alien time capsule. The idea is pretty good but the story unfolds boringly and at times it seems as if the author is trying to pontificate "peace and love", which isn't a bad thing per se if done well.

"Mythunderstanding" by Carl Frederick is a ridiculous story on a church trying to evangelize/conquer alien planets and forms of life. It is enjoyable and funny enough to be read, but I would not consider it a masterpiece.
  
Analog Website: http://www.analogsf.com




NOVELETTES
Done That, Never Been There by Brad Aiken
Elmira, 1895 by Michael F. Flynn
The Voices by Alec Nevala-Lee
Rent in Space by Susan Forest
SHORT STORIES
Mythunderstanding by Carl Frederick
The Long View by Jerry Oltion
SCIENCE FACT
Sigma: Summing Up Speculation by Arlan Andrews, Sr.
READER’S DEPARTMENTS
The Editor's Page
In Times to Come
The Alternate View
by Jeffery D. Kooistra
The Reference Library by Don Sakers
Brass Tacks
Upcoming Events by Anthony Lewis

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tang Soo Do: The injury and the poem.


A while ago I read a poem.
“I fight.Not simply with my opponent. I fight  With the demons of doubt, With my exhaustion, With my past failures, With my injuries, With my anonymity, With the unrelenting voice that tells me to stop. But I am a fighter.And one thing is sure: I will be victorious.”

I simply love this poem because it encompasses all the problems that a martial artist - from the Bruce Lee-Chuck Norris-Van Damme-cool-and-strong-guy type to the most out of shape-sucky-guy  type like me - will face.
When I joined my Tang Soo Do dojan, as with many other activities, I did not realize how difficult it would be. The most important thing I failed to understand is that the difficulty is not only physical, but mental too.
It is incredibly hard to go and practice after a tiring or boring day at work. It is hard to kick and punch without a decent physical flexibility. Much of it is often discouraging; I find myself asking “what am I doing in this dojan? I am overweight, I am not flexible and my core strength would be considered a joke by most human beings, let alone martial artists!”. I feel mental and physical pain many times, but luckily my family and most of my fellow practitioners are supportive and amazing.
Right now, I am injured. The doc told me I have plantar fasciitis and, as he described, some “internal bruises” in my foot. A google search would confirm how common it is and how painful it could be (get informed and find what to do to prevent it, such as good shoes and stretching). It is not a tragedy, but still something that gets in the way of life. When I asked the doc about martial arts he told me that I will have to avoid any martial arts training for at least a month, then if pain is gone I might try to practice using shoes with arch support. Otherwise I will have to wait at least three months before I can come back. He was happy that I went to see him as soon as the problem started showing, but he was very afraid that it could get out of control. Apparently plantar fasciitis is very unpredictable and subjective; many people were left out of their favorite training even for several years.

Here’s the thing. How will I react? I have never been consistent; sometimes I would miss two weeks of training in a row, sometimes I would go there every day. Life and spur of the moment get in the middle sometimes.
But today, I want to react. This small, stupid, common, injury made me think about the need for a change. Radical changes will be needed in diet, training, and especially, mentality. I weight about between 180 and 185lbs. I have to reach 160-165lbs. And most of the fat I don’t lose will need to become some sort of muscular tissue.
So here, I have two choices:
1)      Wait three months, don’t practice, stay in front of the TV and just wait while I slowly turn into a potato.
2)      Exploit and insult this injury, by training, losing weight, gaining some muscles and flexibility.
I hereby declare that I will take the second option. I know that my family and tang soo do friends will support me even on this journey.
Basically, I will use this time off… to get better! No distractions, no complications. There is only one goal: to get better.
This is how I have to see myself:

  


I will have to not worry even if I will probably look like this:




So, here’s what I am planning (my other plan, the writing routine plan, is perfectly working. I am at almost 5000 words and I am probably 10/15 days ahead than planned). I will go to the gym every week day - It doesn’t matter if it is for 15 minutes or 2 hours because what I need the most right now is a routine - and I will do one or more of the following:
a.       Cycling (doesn’t affect plantar fasciitis)
b.      Elliptical
c.       Swimming
d.      Stretching
e.      Lift weights (upper body only at first and very light weight training for legs if I don’t feel any pain)

In addition I will change my diet but without being paranoid. A good steak or a good barbecue might not be the best and leanest choices but they might bring some happiness, which is a necessary element in any effort, even if it requires more gym work. Breakfasts will have to be more nutritious and a more positive attitude.
If I don’t have any problem after two weeks I will start throwing punches at the punching bag at the dojan, pivoting my feet and snapping the waist as I should but without any jump.
This is what fighting with my past failures and with my injuries means; I will make the unrelenting voice stop telling me to stop. And when I go back to train, I will be better than when I left. This is what a martial artist does and this is the most important teaching I learn from the higher belts in my dojan;  I just hope to be able to do it. Wish me luck.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Don't dream" by Donald Wandrei

Wandrei's "Don't dream" is certainly an interesting experiment in pulp weird fiction. It is a short story without much pretense, and is fun to read.
What would you do if everything you dream of - or think of - becomes true? What if you thought of something that suddenly becomes reality? Most of us would say that it is fantastic, but Wandrei shows how much of a nightmare it actually is (except for having unlimited cash).
In this story the main character carries a sad, meaningless life. He hates his wife ("she nagged when awake and she snored when asleep". How cool is that?) so much that he dreams of her death. And she dies indeed. Is that murder? He just thought of it. Is that an accident? He really wanted her to die.
After his thoughts killed his wife he is arrested for murder, and all sorts of issues come up of which I can't write about without spoiling the story. If you like strange tales, this is definitely worth reading.

"For Donald Wandrei, as always - August Derleth. 1945"

Thursday, June 21, 2012

”The man who never lived” by Donald Wandrei

Last night I read for the first time a short story by Donald Wandrei, ”The man who never lived”, published in the thirties of the past century.
Although the premise of the story is pretty interesting and the idea of using monism as a plot device is nice, the story is quite dull. Being really short, the weight of the plot is not really felt - basically it's a grocery list of events, going backward - furthermore the characters (two) are not credible. It is unknown what is actually happening, the ending doesn't really have much meaning and the style is way too simple.
It is not a horrible story (I was hoping for something horrendous) in itself, but it's absolutely forgettable. To say it positively, it's ok for a bedtime reading if nothing else is available or if the reader wants something simple but disguised as serious.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Readings

Just got the following from the local library:




So here we have a book about REH, a book about Lovecraft and a collection of stories by Wandrei. Not bad, I would say.
In addition I just received September's issue of Analog.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: Fantasy and Science Fiction, May/June 2012, Vol. 122, No. 5 and 6

Quick review. This month Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine should be titled Just a bit of Fantasy & Science Fiction. There is only one story that can be defined as Fantasy and that is "Maze of Shadows" by Fred Chappell.
Chappell's story is complex but entertaining, with talking cats, stolen shadows and a setting that reminded me of The Elder Scrolls.
"Liberty's Daughter" by Naomi Kritzer is an interesting piece, politically charged, about a disappeared girl. In my opinion the characters do not really live up to the plot, but it is nonetheless a plausible view of a possible futuristic society and its structure. I would say that Kritzer did a good job.
"Asylum" by Albert E. Cowdrey is surely the best piece of the issue. It is a story about life, death and the after-death. Enjoy the party until it lasts!
"Necrosis" by Dale Baley is worth mentioning for its quality and its brevity.
"City League" by Matthew Corradi is about family memories and memory storing. To use a cliche, the story is a homerun because it is about baseball. Baseball plus Sci-Fi is a sure success with me.
Summarizing, this issue of F&SF is pretty much average. However, we need more fantasy!

Friday, June 15, 2012

What do I read?

Here's a list of periodicals that I usually read.

On paper:
- Fantasy & Science Fiction
- Weird Tales
- Asimov's science fiction
- Analog
- 2600
- Texas highways
- Texas wild and parks
- The baseball research journal
- Avionics magazine
- Rotor & wings
- American Historical Review

Online:
- Baseball prospectus
- CNN.com (not really a periodical)

Sometimes I read:
- Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
- Alfred Hitchcock magazine
- Locus
- Doctor Who magazine

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I am writing!

As promised, I am actually writing. It is too early to draw any conclusion, so I will wait until next week to post a status update.
In the meantime, here's a suggestion by Gareth Powell:

“I will give you the best piece of advice I was ever given: just write the fucking thing. Getting the words down on paper is the hard part. And it doesn’t matter if your first draft sucks. All first drafts suck. The important part is that you write the story. Then, when you’ve finished it, you can go back and edit it, polish up the text to make it shine. Editing is easier than writing. So, if you have a story to tell, just write it down without worrying how it sounds. You will not hit perfection first time. But you will get a completed first draft that you can then work on, to bring it up to professional quality. A lot of people make the mistake of trying to edit as they go along – of trying to make each sentence perfect before moving on to the next – and that is deadly. Just write. Tidy up later. Go for it”  ( http://www.garethlpowell.com/all-first-drafts-suck/ ).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Master Plan: The writing routine

I have talked about it for years. I have dreamed it for years. I pretended it for years.
Now it is time to write - and write seriously, there are no more excuses, no more issues and no more delays. I cannot leave ideas alone, I gotta try. It is a matter of survival.
For the first time I have a plan and it has to work since it is pretty simple. I have two short stories and one long story in my mind. I think that they can somehow work after I have put them on paper (well, on screen). Since I am not trained nor a full time writer (ok, I published some stuff in a couple of Italian magazines, but it's different) I will need to stick by a believable routine. Every professional writer says that a writing routing is the key to get something out.

"You must write every single day of your life... You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads... may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world." (Ray Bradbury)
"If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word" (Margaret Atwood) 
Apparently even Jerry Seinfeld does not joke about it.


So, here's the objective:
First short story (about 5000 words)
Second short story (about 8000 words)
Novel length story (76955 words; incidentally it is the length of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's stone plus one word).

That is how I plan to reach the objective:
First short story, about 200 words a day.
Second short story, about 250 words a day.
Novel length story, about 500 words a day. I guess.

How will I proceed? Simple... I will write down the first short story. If math does not change, it should take twenty-five days to write it down. While I am writing it, I will not revise it. Then, I will let it sleep for about one week or ten days. Then the revising part will begin. I plan to spend the same amount of time revising it. In fifty days (ok, it might be sixty but don't say it out loud) I should have a publishable story which I will submit. As much as I want it, I do not expect success but to learn something.
Then I will proceed with the second story, using the lesson learned while writing the first story. In reality I already have in mind how I will tackle the long story but this is not right moment to work on it.
Right now I won't say how I will proceed with the second story; my brain has to work mainly for the first so no distractions.
In addition, I will update this blog with the progress and whatever comes to my mind.
The most difficult part is going to avoid life to get in the middle, so plenty of organization and support will be necessary.





Friday, June 8, 2012

Review: American Gods

Cut to the crap: "American gods" by Neil Gaiman is a masterpiece.
This said, let's examine it a little bit further. Shadow is released from prison the day his wife, Laura, dies in a car accident. Still shocked by her death he meets a mysterious guy, Mr. Wednesday that knows about Shadow more than Shadow himself. After a long conversation on the plane, Mr. Wednesday hires Shadow as a personal bodyguard. Obviously, from this moment forward Shadow's life is going to change radically. He will have to deal with ancient gods and new gods, he will have to overcome several trials and he will even play a deadly game of checkers, resembling the most famous chess game of Bergman's "The seventh seal". The book has several subplots, most of them very interesting.
This book, made me think about forgotten gods. What happened to them? Are they still gods? How would they feel if they knew that humanity forgot them? How would all the people that sacrificed for them feel if they knew that their gods were written off human history? Most likely this is the intent of the author.
Gaiman succeeded on writing a polyhedric book while keeping Shadow the only main character, without ever distracting the reader. In all truth there is one more main character: America itself. This book is also an amazing panoramic road trip in the soul and shape of this land.
Reading online, some of the criticism comes from the length of the book. Yes, the book is pretty long, but not too long. I do not think that any part could have been removed; in other words, shortening this book would have been a heinous crime. In addition, saying that a book is too long is similar to saying that a Mozart's symphony has too many notes.


I strongly suggest the reading of this book; I actually believe it should be mandatory.
Good job, Mr. Gaiman!


 


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Possible baseball readings (living list)

Some possible baseball readings. This note is for the future. I will buy some of these, I will get some other at the library and I will discard a few. This is a "living" list, so it will change in the future. Let's see:

  • "Beyond Di Maggio" by L. Baldassaro. List price: $34.90, Amazon price: $24.90. Will get it for sure.
  • "Bottom of the 33rd - Hope, redemption and Baseball's longest game" by Den Barry. List price: $14.99, Amazon price: $10.99. Will read for sure.
  • "The everything kid's baseball book" by Greg Jacobs. List and Amazon price: $8.99.
  • "Ball four" by Jim Bouton. List price: $15.95, Amazon price: $10.85
  • "The boys of summer" by Roger Kahn. List price: $14.99, Amazon price: $9.67. Will read for sure.
  • "The lords of the realm" by John Helyar. List price: $29.99, Amazon price: $24.99. Will probably read.
  • "The glory of their times" by Lawrence Ritter. List price: $14.95, Amazon price: $11.84. Will probably buy.
  • "Babe: the legend comes to life: by Robert Creamer. List price: $16.00 Amazon price: 10.88.
  • "Games of shadows" by Mark Fainaru-Wada. List price: $15.00, Amazon price: $6.00.
  • "Baseball between the numbers - Why everything you know about the game is wrong" by John Keri and the Baseball Prospectus team. List price: $17.95, Amazon price: $12.91
  • "Pinstripe empire: The New York Yankees from before the Babe to after the Boss" by Marty Appel. List price: $28.00, Amazon price: $16.80
  • "Baseball before we knew it: a search for the roots of the game" by David Block. List price: $19.95, Amazon price: $13.53
  • "The girl who loved Tom Gordon" by Stephen King. List and Amazon price: $7.99.


  • "Texas Baseball: A Lone Star Diamond History from Town Teams to the Big Leagues" by Clay Coppedge. List price: $19.99, Amazon Price: $14.99. Will get it for sure.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tyler State Park


No, death did not overcome me; the blog is still alive. I have been VERY busy trying to unpack all of our stuff. From a certain point of view unpacking is more difficult than packing because you want it to be over as soon as possible but it seems never-ending. Also, familiarizing with the new house may be an interesting adventure. Getting to know all the quirks, the walls, the tricks and traps of the building can be pretty overwhelming. In addition, having to take care of the yard may be an adventure of its own. I may post something about it later on.

Last weekend my family and I left town to go to Tyler State Park, in Texas. We camped out from Friday 25th to Monday 28th (Memorial day). 


The park is pretty big, more than 950 acres and, as the name suggests, is pretty close to the city of Tyler, TX. The park has several hiking trails and a decent-sized lake. Available activities are plenty. What we did the most was hiking, swimming and, of course, cooking. Pedal boats are also available for $10 for one hour or $20 for three hours. The park's dimensions allows it be pretty quiet and, with the exclusion of the main swimming area, is not overcrowded. 


We hiked three trails. The first we did was the beautiful B trail (about 3.5mi). Under trees and in the woods it is very inspiring. Tall trees cover the area and nature can be enjoyed at its best. We all loved this trail, although it was pretty long for our 5 year old kid (always bring plenty of water). One huge mistake was not to bring snacks for the hike.







The second trail was the Lake view trail. Disappointing, the contact with nature is minimal. It's pretty short (1.5 mi) and some parts are on the road or on RVs parkings. 


The third trail was the Whispering Pines trail. Very short (0.75mi) but also very interesting. It is an interpretative trail so many signposts provide the necessary information to better understand the environment.


The nights were very beautiful. Of course we made some fire (they sell firewood; $1 for 3 sticks), and we cooked hamburgers, hot dogs and s'mores on it with the help of a rack. 


The restrooms were a bugs nest. I mean, I was kinda scared of pulling it out. A couple of scorpions, several flying bugs and spiders were common voyeurs there. However, nothing really attacked us.

Voyeuristic Scorpion
We were able to spot squirrels, an armadillo and a racoon visited our campsite a couple of times (he was in search for food; unlucky for him, we ate it all!).
In the end, the long weekend was very beautiful, the kids had a lot of fun and now they want to go to a weeklong camping!


Friday, April 27, 2012

Moving or moving on?

Moving on is an important part of life everyone should strive for. Moving, meaning the act of boxing/unboxing/packing the car/renting U-haul/etc., is another part of life no one really strives for.
I recently became a homeowner. I will soon move with my family to a new house. It is the typical American house, with a nice front yard and a beautiful backyard. I am basically becoming a new Homer Simpson (which means I need more beer in my refrigerator and a decent load of donuts). So, should moving be considered a positive or negative activity?
The physical act itself is pretty tedious and stressing. Living for days between boxes – which are inside another huge box called ‘house’ or ‘apartment’ – can really make someone go postal. It requires organizational skills that most people, including myself, do not have. When moving, the mission is to save time and space. Not because aliens are invading us while our galaxy is colliding with a parallel universe, but because every possible step has to be taken in order to avoid additional and often ineffectual work as much as possible.
Moving means to reinvent the self, to reorganize the house and to reinvent the whole handling of issues. Schedules are changed, roads are different. Bills will be sent to a different address; even the driver license will be different.
So, from a certain perspective, moving is one of the many faces of ‘moving on’. Old habits will have to be left behind and a page will have to be turned.
As Leto Atreides warns young Paul in ‘Dune’ “A person needs new experiences. They jar something deep inside, allowing you to grow. Without them, it sleeps - seldom to awaken. The sleeper must awaken. ”

In other words, moving boxes from an old house to a new one is nothing more than the preface to the new experiences. Looking for the house, signing the contract, meeting the title lady at the title agency and moving the boxes can be defined, using John Campbell's method, as the 'separation' phase.
And later comes the mysterious part. Every new adventure brings challenges. The 'initiation' phase will begin as soon as we start sleeping in the new house. This will happen next week. What lies ahead? Is it possible to know or at least to have an idea? For sure I will have to fight with Texas' heat. Temps are way too high for grass to grow in peace. Bugs, snakes and maybe some scorpions will try to defend their kingdom and I, as Conan the barbarian, will have to destroy it. Who'll be the last one standing? I will prevail!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

April/May's (very variable) book queue.

I am currently reading "American Gods" by Gaiman. So far I am loving it. "Soon" a review.


I just bought "This Alien Shore" by C.S. Friedman.


Next in line is "The Plucker" by Brom. After reading "The child thief" I expect another great book by the author.