Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"Cat Pictures, Please" - A Science Fiction Short Story by Naomi Kritzer (2016)

"I don't want to be evil. I want to be helpful. But knowing the optimal way to be helpful can be very complicated. There are all these ethical flow charts—I guess the official technical jargon would be “moral codes”—one for each religion plus dozens more. I tried starting with those. I felt a little odd about looking at the religious ones, because I know I wasn’t created by a god or by evolution, but by a team of computer programmers in the labs of a large corporation in Mountain View, California. Fortunately, unlike Frankenstein’s Monster, at least I was a collaborative effort."  From "Cat Pictures Please" by Naomi Kritzer

A few days ago, to support my resurgence of interest in the science fiction/fantasy genre I acquired, on sale for $1.95 a big anthology, The Best Book of Science Fiction of the Year, Volume 1, edited by Neil Clarke (612 pages, 2016). Clarke, a noted writer and editor of SF, has assembled a large collection, scouring lots of magazines on and offline, of among the very best science fiction short stories recently published.  He provides an interesting perspective in his introduction and their are good brief bios of the authors.  At $1.95 I rate this a solid buy for those interested in this area.

Looking over the titles, I found one that sounded like my kind of story, "Cat 
Pictures, Please".  The story is told by an artificially created intelligence, a search engine on Google.  The engine knows all sorts of things about people and tries to guide users to things online and in the real world that could help them or make them happier.  For example, it guides a gay closeted minister at a conservative church to come out and leads him to a position at a liberal church where he can be open.  All the entity wants is for you to post cat pictures. It loves cat pictures and 
Picks out people to help based on their cat pictures.

A fun story, I enjoyed reading this one a lot. Yes I like cat pictures.

Naomi Kritzer’s short stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and many other magazines and websites. Her five published novels (Fires of the Faithful, Turning the Storm, Freedom’s Gate, Freedom’s Apprentice, and Freedom’s Sisters) are available from Bantam. She has also written an urban fantasy novel about a Minneapolis woman who unexpectedly inherits the Ark of the Covenant; a children’s science-fiction shipwreck novel; a children’s portal fantasy; and a near-future SF novel set on a seastead. She has two ebook short story collections out: Gift of the Winter King and Other Stories and Comrade Grandmother and Other Stories.

Mel u

Prevail: The Inspring Story of Ethiopia's Victory Over Mussolini's Invasion, 1935 to 1941 by Jeff Pearce (2014', 640 pages)

Prevail- The Inspiring Story of Ethiopia's Victory Over Mussolini's Invasion-1935 to 1941 by Jeff Pearce will fascinate anyone interested in World War Two history, especially in Africa, in Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, Italy's role in the war and those that love an inspiring true story meticulously researched and clearly narrated.  

Italy, as Pearce details, used a trumped up affront over an imagined insult by the Ethiopian government as an excuse to invade Ethiopia.  Mussolini wanted an easy victory to establish his credibility and expand his colonial Empire.  Pearce lets us see how this invasion caused outrage in large communities of African Americans, especially in Harlem.  Pearce lets us see how the war created animosity between Italians Americans and African Americans.  Many Americans wanted to go to Ethiopia to join the war.  There was quite a cast of characters, from heroes to charlatans, from America who got involved.  

The Italians were using machine guns, airplanes, mustard gas as well as troops from their African possessions to fight the Ethiopians, often armed only with near Stone Age weapons.  Pearce lets us see the great courage of the Ethiopian troops.  I learned how things worked in the Ethiopian government, very much centered on the Emperor. The British foreign office at first seemed to promise help but did not follow through. Pearce attributes some of this to the racist views of Churchill.  At the start of the war America was pursuing an isolationist policy.  

Even after the Italians, who bombed intentionally hospitals and attacked unarmed groups of civilians with deadly mustard gas, the Ethiopians kept fighting on through it all.  There are lots of colorful characters, from Ethiopian generals, Americans flying for the very weakly equipped Ethiopian air force, British officials to ordinary Ethiopian citizens.  

This is very good work of popular history.  I strongly endorse it for all those who are interested in the subject matter.  I can see it as must Reading among WW Two history buffs, I suspect even they will learn a lot from this book.

Jeff Pearce has worked as a talk show host, a magazine editor in London's famous "City" district, and a journalism instructor in Myanmar. He is the author of several novels published in the United States and the United Kingdom under pseudonyms and under his own name. He has also written several books on history and current affairs. He lives in Toronto, Canada.

Mel u

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Photograph by Penelope Lively (2004)

The Photograph by Penelope Lively begins when a recently widowed man finds  an envelope marked, "DO NOT OPEN-DESTROY".  Of course he opens it, inside he discovers a picture of his late wife, with a group of others, she is holding hands with a man  he does not recognize.  He wonders, as anyone would, if his wife was having an affair.  He begins to think back on his marriage, he undertakes serious detective work trying to uncover the truth, was his wife a serial adulterous?  

This was an interesting book.  The characters are educated successful people, presented in real depth. 

I am four posts behind now so I will end this now.  I bought this on sale as a kindle edition for $1.95.  I bought it as I wanted to read one of her novels.  I am glad I read it but i hesitate to endorse the purchase of this novel at the now Price of $9.95 to those who I do not know.  

Dame Penelope Margaret Lively DBE FRSL (born 17 March 1933) is a British writer of fiction for both children and adults. She has won both the Booker Prize (Moon Tiger, 1987) and the Carnegie Medal for British children's books (The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, 1973).

Mel u

Monday, September 18, 2017

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Coleridge (1817 version) - Includes a podcast by Orson Wells)

As Read by Orson Wells

"And it would work 'em woe: 
For all averred, I had killed the bird 
That made the breeze to blow. 
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay, 
That made the breeze to blow! 

Nor dim nor red, like God's own head, 
The glorious Sun uprist: 
Then all averred, I had killed the bird 
That brought the fog and mist. 
'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay, 
That bring the fog and mist. 

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, 
The furrow followed free; 
We were the first that ever burst 
Into that silent sea. 

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down, 
'Twas sad as sad could be; 
And we did speak only to break 
The silence of the sea! 

All in a hot and copper sky, 
The bloody Sun, at noon, 
Right up above the mast did stand, 
No bigger than the Moon. 

Day after day, day after day, 
We stuck, nor breath nor motion; 
As idle as a painted ship 
Upon a painted ocean. 

Water, water, every where, 
And all the boards did shrink; 
Water, water, every where, 
Nor any drop to drink. ". From The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Long ago I read Samuel Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", first published in 1797 but greatly revised in publication in 1817.  Coleridge (1772 to 1834) and his close friend William Wordsworth are credited with starting the romantic movement in English poetry.  Coleridge was the intellectual leader of the movement.  A few days ago I listed to several podcasts of "The Waste Land" by T. S. Eliot, on YouTube.  My practice for podcasts is to listen, then read, then  listen to the poem spoken by another reader, as a minimum.  This is what I did with "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner".  No doubt if you ever read this for a class, your teacher told you it was probably at least  written while Coleridge was under the influence of opium.  The imagery is fantastic, the rhythm and rhymes are just marvels.  I also listened to two very good lectures by Richard Holmes, world class authority on Coleridge.  He compared the ancient mariner to a  post traumatic shock victim, compulsively telling  his story to the trapped listener, the wedding guest.  "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is one of the most exciting and beautiful let alone widely read poems in the English language.  There has been much artistic work recreating the action of the poem, the podcast I listened to by Orson Wells has magnificent illustrations.  

What are your thoughts on podcasts of great poems?  Do you prefer just to read them?

Mel u

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Animal Gazer by Edgardo Franzosini (128 pages, translated from Italian by Michael F. Moore, published by New Vessel Press, forthcoming January, 2018)

The Animal Gazer by Edgardo Franzosini (translated from Italian by Michael F. Moore, published by New Vessel Press) is based on the life of the famous sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti. ( 1885 to 1916, born in Milan, his older brother founded Bugatti Automobiles.). As World War One begins to impact Milan, he moves to Brussels.  He develops an overriding passion for making bronze cast sculptures of the animals in the Brussels Zoo.  He meets the famous Rodin and begins to cast his works at the same foundry as he does.  He sculpts massive works based on very close observation of baboons, hippopotamus, big cats, deers, giraffes, and other animals not normally considered, until he did so, worthy of art, like Vultures.  We see how he develops a great empathy for the animals, especially for their captivity.  His work is based on very close intimate observation.  He loves the animals.  We see he is greatly troubled as the Germans begin to close in on Brussels. He has few close human bonds.  He can see beauty where others see only something to fear.

The close of the story reveals great depth of cruelty, terribly sad as the world of the great sculptor is destroyed.  

The Animal Gazer is a wonderful book.  From it I learned about an artistic master.  

Edgardo Franzosini, born in 1952, is the author of five novels. The Animal Gazer won two distinguished Italian literary awards in 2016, the Premio Comisso and the Premio Dessi.

Michael F. Moore has translated works by Alessandro Manzoni, Alberto Moravia and Primo Levi. Prior to becoming an interpreter at the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations, he studied sculpture at the Brera Academy in Milan.

Mel u

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Little Queen by Meia Geddes (2017)

Website of Meia Geddes- including bio and links to interviews

"On a little world, upon a little hill, a little tear fell down a little face. A little girl was now a little queen. The little 

queen’s mother and father had said that she would live on, for a long time, and that her tears would magnify the life around her forever more, but they had not explained how she should go about going on. The little queen placed the plump shapes of her tears in a glass jar and watched the jar fill up, day after day. She stood by two gravestones enveloped by roses and placed her palms on trees and wondered questions that could not be answered. She returned to her palace squeezing roses in her palms and let her small breaths fog the windows 

as she looked down on the happenings happening below her hill.....

One day, the little queen took a long look at her jar and a long look at her salty roses. The jar was full and the 

roses were dying. The palace was empty and she was very much alone.  The little queen did not know what to do or where to go. Perhaps most importantly, she did not know who to be, for it occurred to her that she did 

not really wish to be a little queen. She believed there were better things to be. That is why, on this particular day, sitting among her salty roses, she decided that she should see the world. Maybe she would find someone who would like to take her place as little queen. After all, 
she thought, maybe others would like to feel what it is to be a queen, even if just a little one. And that is how the little queen embarked on an adventure."

The Little Queen by Meia Geddes reminded me very much of the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde, a very high compliment.  Set in a vividly imagined magical kingdom, a young girl becomes, upon the death of her beloved parents, a Little Queen.  Nothing in her brief sheltered experiences has prepared her to be a queen.  She decides to journey out, alone, to seek the wisdom to rule.  I was very much reminded of another fairy tale like work, one of my favorite books, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.  Like the Gautama Buddha, she has never experienced any of the daily struggles to survive, to find meaning in life, of her subjects.  By leaving alone, without  any court attendants, she is leaving behind her social identity.  

The Little Queen meets many people, each with something to teach her. Among those she encounters are the architect of silence, the weaver of dreams, the book sniffer (my favorite), the dream writer, the wall sawyer, the tree woman, the leaf gluer, the seasons painter, the street painter, the animal singer, the fish talker, the window builder, the perfumer and the sleep smoother.  She bonds with each one, all her subjects, as she continues her journey we see her gaining wisdom from each encounter.   In the wonderful second from the end chapter, "Wherein the little queen and her friends make homes for those in need" most of the people the queen meets join together to build houses, drawing on the special skills of each person, now unified under the queen.  I deeply loved this chapter, especially the importance having books in the houses was given.

The Little Queen is a novella, with a reading time under two delightful hours.  It is a lyrical almost poetic work drawing on myth, history, and magic.  I'm very glad I experienced this book.

Mel u

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"The Passions of Sophie Bryant - A Short Story by Shauna Gilligan, author of Happiness Comes from Nowhere (2017)

I have been reading Shauna Gilligan since March 31, 2012.  I have posted upon several of her wonderful short stories (my posts contain links to the stories) and her highly 
regarded debut novel, Happiness Comes From Nowhere.  Additionally she very kindly contributed an illuminating overview on the work of Desmond Hogan.  In her Q and A session on The Reading Life we dealt with a broad range of matters, many, but not all, Irish literature related.  In all there are eight posts devoted to or by Shauna Gilligan on the blog.  Obviously I would not follow a writer for so long and so closely if I did not hold them in quite high regard.

The just recently published short story "The Passion of Sophie Bryant" is a very intriguing work.  In just a few beautiful pages Gilligan brings to live for us the famous Irish mathematician, educator and a feminist, Sophie Bryant.  (I suggest nonIrish readers take a look at the article from the Irish Times linked to above to expand your understanding of her importance in Irish history.  My guess is most Irish readers will be aware of her importance but others, including myself, will have no prior knowledge about her. I believe Gilligan is assuming some knowledge.  

Sophie Bryant was born in Dublin in 1850, her father was a Trinity Fellow and a famous mathematician.  Bryant was educated at home, learning to speak French and German from governesses.  She moved to London at age 13 when her father was offered a position as Chairman of the Geometry Department of the University of London.  At sixteen she started college, focusing on science.  At nineteen she married a well known mathematician, ten years her senior, he died a year later.  She never remarried.  She continued her education, herself becoming a highly regarded mathematician and head mistress at the North London College school as well as a leading advocate of more legal rights for women, including the right to vote.  She loved outdoor activities and died while hiking in France while on holiday.  

Gilligan does a wonderful job in just a few page taking us into the interior life of Bryant, from her childhood, her brief marriage and her death.  On first scrutiny Bryant will seem the epitome of rationality, dedicated to geometry and science and moral philosophy.  I find I'm really liking the episodic narrative method. Gilligan skillfully takes us below that, to a seer with a vision for a unified view of science and morality.  She was raised in a culture that largely suppressed passion in women, Bryant may not have understood how to deal with this aspect of her life and Gilligan helps us feel her pain and loneliness.  

I really liked this story, I read it five times.

I look forward to following Shauna Gilligan's work for many years 

Shauna Gilligan lives in Kildare with her family and a black and white cat called Lucky. She writes short and long stories and is interested in the depiction of historical events in fiction, and creative processes. She is currently working on her second novel set in Mexico.

Mel u