Thanks to the fine folks at Galaxy’s Edge — Mike Resnick, Taylor Morris, and Shahid Mahmud — who have consistently published a fascinating mix of science fiction and fantasy stories every odd month since 2013. You can purchase digital or paper subscriptions and buy individual issues directly from the Galaxy’s Edge website. Enjoy!
For trivia fans, I’ve included a snapshot of Alternate Kennedys, the short-story anthology in which “The Winterberry” first appeared, published by Tor Books in 1992 as a mass market paperback. And let’s not forget The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century, where the story landed again in 2001.
Finally, just for fun, check out this list of the Best Alternate History Stories according to goodreads. It’s an incredibly comprehensive list. I’m talking hundreds of books! Alternate Kennedys came in at a respectable 156, and the Best of the 20th Century at a slightly better 63.
I’m happy to announce that one of my short stories is in the brand new March/April 2019 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. F&SF is celebrating 70 years of publishing some of the genre’s finest tales. I’m thrilled to be among so many excellent authors, including my two great pals John Kessel and Rich Larson.
Special thanks to C.c. Finlay and all the fine folks at the magazine. You can find the issue in bookstores in the US, including most Barnes & Nobles, or buy directly from F&SF. (I’ve copied in some order info at the bottom of this post.)
Since I’m digging on short stories so much lately, I’ll take this opportunity to recommend Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women. Just as the title suggests, each story is about a man who is haunted by a woman he cannot possess. Murakami is one of my favorite authors. He’s a brilliant stylist who is equally adept at the long and short forms. I enjoyed this book for its many layers of complexity and surprisingly sensitive exploration of men and the inner workings of their hearts. (For you writers out there, Literary Hub published an interesting compilation of Murakami’s writing advice well worth exploring.)
Books and stories about writers are a dime a dozen. Movies about writers are not terribly uncommon. But a good TV show in this narrow genre is a rare find, which is why I’m ever so happy to recommend Bored to Death, an HBO original series about a struggling noir author who begins moonlighting as an “unlicensed” private detective on Craigslist to help make ends meet.
The show stars Jonathan Schwartzman, who brilliantly plays the role of Jonathan Ames, an insecure novelist and inexplicably overconfident gumshoe. Equally hilarious are Zach Galifianakis as comic-book writer/illustrator Ray Hueston, and Ted Danson as New York magazine mogul George Christopher. It’s a pleasure to see these three guys together on screen as they fumble their way through Jonathan’s ridiculous detective escapades, while trying to deal with their multiple neuroses, bad habits, and dysfunctional relationships with women.
The only bummer about the series is that it ran for just three seasons (2009-2011). I’m in the middle of watching it a second time around and enjoying this trip even more than the first. You don’t need to be a writer to get this show — the comedy works on many levels — but if you are, all the better.
Read the NYT recommendation for the show here, and watch it for free on Amazon Prime.
(Rating: Gut Busting Silliness!)
I love short stories, and it’s always a joy to read an anthology that includes the work of friends. So it is with Strangers Among Us: Tales of Underdogs and Outcasts, a sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes tragic, and often inspiring gathering of tales about people wrestling with mental illness.
Lucas K. Law writes in the book’s foreword, “Mental illness can target any age group at any time. Mental illness can afflict a person for a period of time or become a life-long struggle. Mental illness can spring from many sources and manifest in many forms.”
Whether we realize it or not, we all know someone who is fighting with depression, PTSD, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, or some other mental challenge. These stories, in their own unique ways, shine a light on such struggles and help us understand them through the gentle art of storytelling.
Of note: The anthology and some of its authors were nominated for several Canadian literary awards. A portion of the book’s revenue will be donated to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Buy many copies and give them to your friends and loved ones, especially those who are dealing with some form of mental illness. They’ll thank you for it.
I just got finished reading ASTOUNDING: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee (2018)
This book is the story of how John W. Campbell Jr., the editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, and three writers most closely associated with him, shaped the American mind. It provides a detailed and objective account of the personalities, relationships and accomplishments of these four figures, both for good and ill.
In 1937, when Campbell became editor of the magazine at the age if 27, popular science fiction was a minor subset of the action-adventure genre.
His ambition was to make science fiction not only a source of entertainment, but a way of thinking about science and the future.
He was an outstanding editor, full of ideas, able to prod and provoke writers into doing better work than they thought…
Laurence Housman, an Englishman who lived from 1865-1959, was mostly known as a playwright, often with a somewhat scandalous bent. He also wrote a delightful collection of original fairy tales titled Moonlight & Fairyland. Along with the stories are 16 fabulous full-color illustrations by Pauline Martin, inset on glossy paper (see snaps below).
Housman has a nice feel for the fairy tale form. The stories are sweet, sad, creepy, violent, scary, funny, and entertaining. He understands that fairy tales are guilty pleasures, like candies, that should be gobbled up and enjoyed. As some of you know, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with folk and fairy tales over the past few years, having written many of my own. I’m happy to add Housman’s wonderfully produced volume to my bookshelf. This was a gift from a friend. Publication date 1978.
(Rating: Fairy Tales Are Like a Box of Chocolates!)
I’m once again moonlighting as a film reviewer. Both of the following are free on Amazon Prime and two of my favorites that I watched in January. If you’re up for a bipolar evening of movies, watch them back-to-back.
House of Games is an interesting little grifter film from 1987, written and directed by David Mamet, about a gang of small-time con men just trying to make a living. You can see the wheels of Mamet’s duplicitous mind in motion as the story builds, and the do-gooder psychiatrist played by Lindsay Crouse becomes the mark. It’s fairly early work for Mamet. He had only a few screenplays under his belt before it, but this is his directorial debut. The acting is surprisingly awful, so bad that it actually added to my enjoyment of the movie. I’m guessing some of this was intentional as Mamet wanted to give the film the feel of early noir. But wow! Crouse is a nightmare in this movie. Drop it on your watch list just for fun.
(Rating: Don’t Burn the Popcorn!)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Steel Toes. This film, released in 2007, set in Montreal, is about a skinhead who brutally murders an immigrant and must own up to his crime. If you can stomach the violent opening scene, you’re in for a fascinating debate between the angry skinhead full of rage and hate, and the compassionate Jewish lawyer who chooses to defend him in court. David Gow wrote the screenplay and the original stage play upon which it was based. The performances are riveting, with both leads showing incredible range. A very relevant movie in our current social climate, well worth watching, contemplating, and discussing.
One of my favorite local St. Pete hangouts is Haslam’s Book Store. I never seem to tire of browsing and buying used books there (or anywhere else, for that matter). Sometimes, the rattier the look and smell and feel of the books the better. Here are my first three hits of 2019. All of them wonderfully well-worn, as you can see.
Pseudo-People is a collection of science fiction android stories originally published in 1965. It includes tales by Ray Bradbury, Harry Kuttner, Isaac Asimov, Richard Matheson, and more. Most of the pieces were originally published in the 1950s. Classic stuff. I was surprised to find a page for it on goodreads. If you want to check it out, here it is.
(Rating: A Rocket Blast From the Past!)
Lewis Shiner was, for a while in the 1980s, one of my favorite authors. I first fell in love with his short stories. I held onto his novel Deserted Cities of the Heart for a long time as a treasured artifact from when I was learning how to write fiction. It was originally published in 1988. I’m not sure what happened to my copy. I probably loaned it out and never got it back. I can’t wait to re-read it — after 30 years! (Sigh.)
(Rating: The 1980s Weren’t All Bad!)
Zane Grey is well known as the master of the western genre. Most people are familiar with his novel Riders of the Purple Sage (1912), which has lived on in film and print. But it was The Mysterious Rider that caught my eye in the bookstore. I dashed through it in a few sessions of casual late-night reading. The language, style, dialogue, and especially the characters and their sensibilities were delightfully reflective of the Old West as well as Grey’s own time (original publication date 1921). I was surprised to find an annotated version of it on Kindle. Read and enjoy!