Tuesday 25 January 2022

Short Story Review: The Walker by Izumi Suzuki, transl. by Daniel Joseph

The Walker

The Walker by Izumi Suzuki
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Test available online at https://granta.com/the-walker/

Izumi Suzuki was Japanese writer living between 1949 and 1986. The most informative account of her I found is from 2021 posting on Literary Hub (https://lithub.com/a-writer-from-the-...) from around the time her story collection Terminal Boredom: Stories appeared in English with stories translated by Polly Barton ( whose name I recognised from several other translation of modern Japanese writers), Sam Bett, David Boyd (who has written about translating her work https://hopscotchtranslation.com/2021... ), Aiko Masubuchi, Helen O’Horan and Daniel Joseph who is the translator of this story. That collection is all the has been translated thus far.

According to Granta, Daniel Joseph holds a Master's from Harvard in medieval Japanese Literature and who according to his Amazon's page he specializes in both modern and classical literature, science fiction, pop culture, music, and the avant-garde, and if this story is anything to go by that list may qualify for the addition of the term 'weird' ,

The Walker is a short 4 page story, set in some unknown time and place where a narrator seems to have been walking for ages and seems icompelled to continue to walk, except that she encounters a woman with food cart. ******SPOILER ALERT*** hungry and with no money she exchanges an item of jewellery for food. This seems a fantasy encounter, told quite realistically, but the final twist left so gobsmacked, my only though was 'How strangely weird!'

I've put Terminal Boredom: Stories on my To Be Read List 


Postscript: Daniel Joseph has also written about her on Art Review  in 2021 (https://artreview.com/how-izumi-suzuki-broke-science-fiction-boys-club )

Monday 24 January 2022

Book Review: The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov transl by Andrew Bloomfield

The Dead Lake 

by Hamid Ismailov

transl by Andrew Bloomfield

3* out of 5 

I've recently been introduced to the Peirene Press and their series of translated short, under 200 page novels. This is the first one I have picked up to read although I have had its write, Uzbek journalist Hamid Ismailov on my to be read list for sometime having come across his name via the BBC World Service where he worked following his exile from his homeland of Kyrgyzstan. As with all translations I check out the translator as well. This one is by Andrew Bloomfield who I then noticed had translated several other Russian, Ukranian writers including the sci-fi series by Kazakhstan born Sergei Lukyanenko beginning with Night Watch which I listen to on Audible some years back,a sort of vampire storyline set in modern day Russia, good v evil, light v dark story.

The Dead Lake of the title refers to the environmental impacts of the Soviet block series of nuclear tests carried out at the Semipalatinsk Test Site (The Polygon) in eastern Kazahkstan between 1949 and 1989  and Chagan Lake formed by a blast and often called the world's most dangerous lake.

The book tells the story of a young boy Yerzhan who grows up in a community of 2 families manning an isolated railway stop, who makes his living selling to train passengers, and plays the violin well. But all is not as it first seems, Yerzhan is not the twelve year old he appears to be, because his growth has ceased. He is twenty seven. His life has been shapped by the Steppes and by the explosions, his isolation and the callous disregard of human beings as politicans sanctioned a race to out do America. The fact that the continuing impact of this still impacts Kazaks today makes the story all the more poingant. It is as gruesome as a grizzly fairtale, reads like a folk tale or parable. As Yerzhan's story unfolds to the unamed train passenger narrator we see the simple humanity of the members of those two families as the live, love, survive and die. Beautiful and sad.

(YouTube Interview with Hamid Ismailov about the Dead Lake by Columbo Post in Sri Lank)

( 100 books to read from Eastern Europe and Central Asia )

Sunday 23 January 2022

Short Story Review: To Jump Is to Fall by Stephen Graham Jones, read by LeVar Burton

extreme, extreme sport, parachute, sports equipment, skydiving, skydive, sports, parachuting, air sports, parachutist, skydiver, atmosphere of earth, windsports, Free Images In PxHere 

To Jump Is to Fall by Stephen Graham Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another story from the marvellous LeVar Burton Reads Podcast. The story text is available online at https://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fi...

For me this one had a slow start and took a bit of time to engage me. I was aware early on of the precarious position of the sky diving telepath upon his survival with the plan eing to get him to a hospital staffed by his employers people but the reason for the twist at the end I did not see coming as he considers his one jump for a golden payoff v his moral compass!

Monday 17 January 2022

Book Review: Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan

Luckenbooth Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read Jenni Fagan's other two novels, The Panopticon and The Sunlight Pilgrims and I have her fourth Hexon order and I am a growing fan. With Luckenbooth I believe she is finding her narrative voice particularly with the core of the story, namely that of Jessie MacRae, the Devil's daughter, sold into surrogacy. It is when telling the story of Jessie, Elsie and their daughter Hope that a wonderfuly gothic ghost story leaps of the page in such a vivid way it will have to be made into a movie sometime very soon, I hope.

The book is set in, and is in many ways a love story about, Edinburgh but one told with the a mix of the grittty realism of Scotland's post-Trainspotting generation with the classic ghost tales and folklore of a nation and its historical and fictional horrors. For those of you who do not know the city , under its South Bridge lie vaults rediscovered in the mid 1980s which had been used at various points in time as tradesmans workshops, merchants storage, gambling dens, illegal whisky gins, drug havens and homeless hangouts. They are reportedly haunted.

There stands No.10 Luckenbooth Close, a traditonal Edinburgh Tenement with multiple flats/apartments over several floors, around a common stairwell, owned by the childless businessman Mr Udnam. It has been occupied by various families over the years and it is those people and their flat numbers which give the book its important 3 part structure , 3 Parts/ sections by time and within each of these 3 characters's stories told in 3 parts -

Part 1 set 1910 - 1939
Flat1F1 Jessie MacRae (the Devil's daughter) , Flat 2F2Flora ( a chimeric hermaphrodite) , Flat 3F3 Levi ( an African American working with bones in Edinburgh's famous Royal School of Veterinary Studies or as it is more commonly called the 'Dick Vet' ;

Part 2 set 1944 to 1963
Flat 4F4 Ivy Proudfoot (about to embark on being a 'Night Witch' with SOE), Flat 5F5 Agnes Campell (spiritual medium) , Flat 6F6 William Burroughs (the writer);

Part 3 set 1977 - 1999
Flat 7F7 Queen Bee ( gangster, mother, leader of the fictional 'Original Founders'), Flat 8F8 Ivor ( the phengophobic miner unable to do daylight work now the mines have gone), Flat9F9 Dot (daughter of the city).

These characters' stories are a mixture of purely fictional and real people explored in a fictional way within factual and historical detail eg William Burrough did visit Edinburgh, the Baska Murmanska polar bear, Nora Noyce was a famous Edinburgh 'madam', the Pubic Triangle is a real area of the city.

I loved this structure which reflects the building, its layers/levels spatially and temporally. After all it is the building that gives the book its title , this is a tale about the building, but like the building many tales lie within it, all linked to the life of the building and the lives in it linked by the march of the deathwatch beetles and their tap, tap tap as the building is slowly eaten away and the sound of the 'cloven hooves' of approaching death, all hanging round the central thread of the story of Jessie, Elsie Udnam and their daughter Flora and what happened to them from Jessie arrival to the final demise of both building and its final occupant.

Fagan's feminist perspective and Scotland's political history is also played out in the context - powerful corrupt men who fear and silence women get their cumupence. My favorite lines have to be in the final chapter ****SPOILER ALERT **** 'Edinburgh’s daughters – will not stay walled in.'

One reviewer of Luckenbooth, Lauren Beakes in the NYT , signed off her review with 'Stories can be like a house, somewhere you can inhabit for a while. The best kind leave behind a room inside you. For me that truly sums this book up.

Tuesday 4 January 2022

Dreechit Decembers by Sheila Ash

nature, water, drop, drizzle, rain, moisture, precipitation, liquid bubble, photography, monochrome photography, dew, black and white, liquid, glass, macro photography, Free Images In PxHere

Dreechit Decembers

Fog, rain, drizzle, drizzle,
Fog, rain, drizzle, drizzle,
Rain, rain, fog,
Rain, fog, rain
Drizzle, fog, rain, fog, drizzle
Fog, fog, rain, fog, fog
Drizzle, fog, rain, fog, drizzle
Fog, rain, drizzle, drizzle,
Fog, rain, drizzle, drizzle.

© 2021 Sheila Ash

(published in Friday Flash Fiction https://www.fridayflashfiction.com/poetry/dreechit-decembers-by-sheila-ash )

Monday 3 January 2022

Short Story Review: What the forest remembers by Jennifer Egan

What the forest remembers by Jennifer Egan

This story can be found in the New Yorker https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...

It starts as a fairy tale would "Once upon a time , in a faraway land, there was a forest" but these forest memories are not the memories of trees, but the memories of four young men in the mid 1960's going there to experience their first 'grass' . Yet it is none of these men who are recalling their memories telling others the story or stories of that night. Instead, it is the daughter of one who is the narrator of this story years later, after her father has died. Her own memory of it is a six year olds, and that amounts to him going away and returning from this "Short trip north, some fishing, a little duck hunting, maybe"

So how does she 'tell' the story of that night? ****SPOILER ALERT ****Why via one-foot-square yellow Mandala Consciousness Cube of course! It seems her father took part in a consciousness storage project and his consciousness stored for that academic experiment was later transferred to a Cube where she could view them, and later she had them transferred into the Collective Consciousness, where lucky for her as the narrator of this story she found all four men’s memories.

From these she has constructed the story, or at least a fuller version of the story of that night. Her authorial problem is in many ways the same as any researcher for a historical biography would have " ... my problem is the same one that everyone who gathers information has: What to do with it? How to sort and shape and use it? How to keep from drowning in it? Not every story needs to be told."

I wish more had been made of this authorial dilemma. On one reading this I am left with thinking - Consciousness Storage is an interesting concept but not totally novel so why use it as a device in this story? Well the answer comes not in the story but in the linked New Yorker interview Egan does entitled "The Dangers of Knowing" https://www.newyorker.com/books/this-... .

So if you intend to read her forthcoming book The Candy House this is for you as that is where this is explored further through a common character, one of the men Lou Kline, the father of our story's narrator.

Sunday 2 January 2022

Short Story Review: The Uncurling of Samsara by Koji A. Dae

This short story is available to read and to listen to in the January 2022 Issue of Clarkesworld Magaine, https://clarkesworldmagazine.com/dae_01_22 

The author, new to me as so many of these CLarkesworld stories are,  has a website where many of her other short stories are listed there https://kojiadae.ink/published-elsewhere 

It is a story about grieving set on an generational ship making its way from to some brave new world.  The ship is called the Samsara,  the  Sanskrit word that means "world", the concept of rebirth and "cyclicality of all life, matter, existence", a fundamental belief of most Indian religions, the cycle of death and rebirth  and rebirth, regeneration and recovery are themes in this story. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sa%E1%B9%83s%C4%81ra )

Ever thought how food might be produced on such ships? One possibility lingers through this story. Gram and our narrator had been 'printing' food, trying to perfect recipes with the flavours, textures and tastes of old. But Gram has died and the narrator still in training for this role is left bereft and cannot bring herself to eat. We follow the  narrator through the month following Gram's funeral as she struggles to come to terms with her loss. On Day 10 facing the prospect of Potato stew in the canteen she considers that no one on the ship has ever eaten Earth potatoes so why do they have to copy them, to copy all their shortcomings - a bit like what I think about Vegan meat! 

Gram had been working on trying to perfect Cherry Pie, her famously good flaky pastry works but cherries are an altogether different problem, one she had yet to conquor. SPOILER ALERT  Our narrator's inability to eat eventually leads to her collapse and recovery and with it her novel solution to the cherry problem. Thus life goes on and it is all cherry pie! 

At the Creative Writing Group I attend we are always saying "forget the last line" as folk often overwrite it, but here the best  line of the story is undoubtedly its final one "Real cherries may not have had fat, but we're drifting curled un space, playing fugues on memories of Earth" Lovely.

Saturday 1 January 2022

Shoart Story Review: Different People by Timothy Mudie

Different People by Timothy Mudie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I listened to this on the LeVar Burton Reads Podcast https://open.spotify.com/episode/6Cl7..., and the originalstory is available online on LightSpeed Magazine https://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fi...

This was the first piece I'd read by Timothy Mudie and was pleasantly surpised. It is a well constructed, well written storyline which flows along well. It is about the issues surrounding a relationship between a man and a woman who was his wife in another universe, becomes his wife in this one, and the person who is this wife in his universe. Actually it is a deft way of showing the questions never asked in relationships which might have made the difference to us understanding each other better, of considering how one's life could have been different and what it might be like to meet one's doppelgänger. 

Good story, worth a read/listen.

Short Story Review: Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian

I read this and listened to the author's own narration in The New Yorker https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...

First, I'm cautious of an author reading their own works as when they are bad they are awful. Not so here, Roupenian 's voice has clarity of articulation and she reads at what for me is a good speed. 

Second, I came across this after seeing an article somewhere about how this story caused such a rumpus and went 'viral' on the internet. "Roupenian’s portrayal of an encounter between a young woman called Margot and an older man called Robert rode the wave of the #MeToo movement, and as a result readers often seem to use the work as a vessel for their own projections. The story provoked widespread anger among some men for its negative depiction of Robert, the man who shows his true colours at the end of the story, and whose wounded reaction to Margot’s rejection resonated with many women" ( The Cat Person debate shows how fiction writers use real life does matter by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, The Guardian 9 Jul 2021 https://www.theguardian.com/books/202...
I think we can all relate to the everydayness of the girl meets boy storyline, the stumbling and fumbling of first dates. But SPOILER ALERT as anyone who has read the interent discussion about this story or the story itself will know the innocence of the first part of the story slowly becomes diffused with seeds of revulsion, a meancing undercurrent which then wells up into Margot thinking "This is the worse decision I have ever made". Then Margot has to go through the whole 'breakup text' thing. Her friends do rally round her when he appears in the bar and usher her away. But then his texts take on a new, cruder, abusive, direction. 

This is where Roupenian chooses to end her short story. For me the ending worked, because to continue on would have necessitated the story becoming a different story, one where the abusive had to have a result, an ending, perhaps even the murder joked at in the story. Instead this reader at least is optimistic that Margot can 'escape' Robert by blocking him, having good friends, and by doing what the author did at the end of her story by not continuing the text exchange.

That is me the optimist talking, because as we all know things do not always work out that way. Moreover what this story should be reminding us is that everyone has the right to change their mind, even when they had previous said 'yes' and both men and women, girls and boys need to learn how to handle that situation and how to conduct themselves in a respectful manner.