Saturday, August 30, 2014

You don't like it? Are you sure?

For a long time, I thought I didn't like Neil Young.  Not Neil Young's music, mind you - Neil Young himself.

To find out how this happened, we have to make a mental trip to the early 1980s in southern Mississippi, back to my tweenage years.  It was a time and place where it was possible to not know things in a way that just isn't possible today.  There was no Wikipedia - no internet at all for that matter - and so it was possible to not know something and then to continue not to know it because the answers weren't available in the data accessible to you.  This aspect of the informational environment I grew up became relevant when my dad let me have an old stereo that he wasn't using anymore, along with a bunch of 8-track tapes that he didn't listen to anymore.  This was my introduction to Paul Simon, Black Sabbath, Jimmy Buffet, Steppenwolf, and a lot of other music from the late 60s and early 70s.

Which is how we get to Neil Young.  My music collection now included tapes from Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.  What I didn't have was context.  I didn't know who Neil Young was.  I didn't know about his history of being in Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills, nor about his friendship with Stills that predated Buffalo Springfield.  Instead, I had an information vacuum.  This was simply unacceptable.  So I created a story to fill that vacuum.  In my version of things, Crosby, Stills, and Nash had been a successful band, doing perfectly fine on their own, when Neil Young came out of nowhere and somehow (I was rather vague on this point) jumped on their coattails and became part of the band.  And I hated him for it.

My story was consistent with the (very limited) information I had, but it was obviously far from the truth.  Once I had the actual information, my opinion of Neil Young drastically changed - I'm currently reading his memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, and loving it.  But all too often it seems that people don't revise - they make their mental stories based on the facts they have available, then defend the story even in the face of contradictory facts.  Remember, folks, your mental stories about the world are just models, and in cases where the model is in conflict with reality, it's the model that's got to change.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014, part 4

This is the final installment of my blogging through the July/August 2014 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, guest-edited by C.C. Finlay.  The earlier parts are here, here, and here.

I enjoyed "The Aerophone" by Dinesh Rao, but not as much as I would have liked to have.  I love the mixture of different wordls:  An Indian scholar, working in Mexico, interacting with indigenous Mexicans, coming in contact with a world beyond ours entirely.  But the architecture of the story just didn't work for me.  It felt like the beginning of a novel that had just been truncated and an attempt made to pass off as a novelet.  In a way a hope that's what it is:  All things that I think make it a flawed novelet would make it an excellent chapter 1 of a full-length novel.

I was eventually able to forgive Ian Tregillis for not actually including diagrams in "Testimony of Samuel Frobisher Regarding Events Upon His Majesty's Ship Confidence, 14-22 June 1818, With Diagrams" because it's just such an excellent blend of the weird and the nautical (two of my favorite genres).  But, considering that the diagrams are mentioned both in the title and the story itself, I'd really love to see a chapbook edition of this that actually included diagrams.

I'm still not entirely sure what to make of "Five Tales of the Aqueduct" by Spencer Ellsworth.  It's a cluster of smaller stories that go together to make a larger whole, but I'm afraid I'm still not at all clear on exactly how they fit together.  Still, the quality of the individual pieces is such that I don't begrudge it a second reading to try to figure it out.

This issues movie column, "Girl Power in Dystopia" by Kathi Maio, examines the Twilight movies, the Hunger Games movies, Divergent, and other recent cinematic examples of YA heroine's tales - a very nice synthesis of a topic that's certainly worth a bit of thought.

I was looking forward to "Belly" by Haddayr Copley-Woods, as I've been friends with the author for years and she knew I was reading this issue and refusing to skip ahead to her story.  For starters, be sure to heed the warning in the biographical blurb at the beginning of this story:  Do not read this story while you're eating.  That being said, I don't want to give the wrong impression of this story - the disgusting elements aren't added for "mere" shock value.  This is a viscerally powerful story (pun intended) and one that I won't be forgetting anytime soon.  I challenge anyone to read this story and not have their feelings about fairy tale witches changed.

"The Only Known Law" by William Alexander reminds of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End.  Leaving your home planet is definitely going to change a species, and Alexander here shows one possible outcome of that change.

Based on the title, I never expected Alaya Dawn Johnson's "A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai'i" to be a vampire story.  But don't let that description mislead you and if you're the sort of person who doesn't like vampires, don't let that that keep you away from this story:  This is not like any other vampire story I've ever read.  For that matter, Johnson's vampires are like no other vampires I've ever encountered - she manages to capture the psychological distance between humans and vampires in a way that I've never experienced before (and in a way that, paradoxically, also highlights their psychological closeness).  Highly recommended.

So to sum up:  Would I recommend July/August 2014 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction?  Definitely.  Would I recommend Fantasy & Science Fiction in general?  Probably.  Keep in mind that this is the first issue of F&SF that I've read in over a decade, and that Finlay is a guest editor here.  Still, he wouldn't have been invited to guest edit without the approval of the regular editor, so I'm inclined to look positively on the regular editor so long as they don't give me a reason not to.  That being said, in the event that the F&SF ever needs a new editor, they could certainly do worse than offer the job to Finlay.