Reviews – Snapdragon Alley, Sexy Teenage Vampires

felt like sharing a couple of interesting reviews i found on amazon, from people who have clearly read other stories of mine and have a sense of what to expect. such reviews are rare and, in the words of my father, ‘happy-making’

Snapdragon Alley

Like Most Lichtenberg, It’s All About the Journey, Not the Destination October 5, 2016
This novella has a plot. Some kids find a mysterious reference, on an old bus route map, to a street that doesn’t seem to exist anymore, (if it ever did). Said kids head out to find it. Maybe they do and maybe they don’t, and maybe they should and maybe they shouldn’t. Doesn’t really matter. At least the story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and as post-postmodern playfulness goes this is more coherent than most. What does matter is the many, many exquisitely phrased observations, descriptions, moments, and little scenes that are peppered generously throughout the book.

The main characters are kids, but that doesn’t make it a kid’s book. I can’t imagine a young reader getting into this, as a general rule, unless that young reader were particularly ambitious, flexible, and open to experiment.

The book struck me on two levels. On one level Lichtenberg treats the prospect of an escape or gateway to another reality with restraint, melancholy, and a hint of quiet desperation, which is not your usual approach to fantasy gateways. His various characters approach the prospect of such a gateway with reluctance or zeal or enthusiasm, but always tinted by an undercurrent of sadness or disappointment. An appealing approach that can get under the reader’s skin.

Of more immediate impact, for me, was the second level – the level at which the author created his kid characters. The two older kids, who first explore the references to mysterious Snapdragon Alley, are distinct and memorable characters, built from the ground up and unique in their perspectives and presence. Only relatively briefly on the stage, they remain in the mind. The third kid, Argus, is the youngest and the one most attuned to the ineffable mystery of the gateway, and he sneaks into the story and then takes it over about halfway through. I enjoyed every moment spent with this character, (and I understand that he reappears in later stories, although I have not read them yet).

So, if you would like to enjoy some lovely, restrained, but also edgy and acrobatic writing, well this might be just the right choice for you. (Please note that I found this book a while ago while browsing Amazon Kindle freebies. At this point in time I believe it is still free. I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)

Low-key and Melancholy on Platform 12 August 17, 2016
This is a collection of three short stories that follow two subway-lurking vampires. They look like teenagers, they aren’t terribly sexy, and they are pretty sneaky/subtle vampires. The point, though, isn’t to illustrate some sort of teen/romance/vampire story, so that’s all O.K.

Our vampires are sort of melancholy. The subway setting pretty much describes the limits of their existence. Their romance is sad, ironic and lackluster. At the risk of sounding a little artsy-fartsy, these are tone poems. Little works that offer such depth and insight as the reader cares to find. I’ve read enough of Lichtenberg’s work to find his stories oddly appealing in a low key sort of fashion.

So, if you’re curious and feeling a bit adventurous, this could be a nice way to sample Lichtenberg’s work

Recommended: Flashed by Peer Glen

Wattpad is a huge honking site and it’s got stuff all over the map – I’m thinking of it as a sort of Los Angeles of amateur writing. It’s got a good spirit and as a big fan of indie writing I’m enjoying my sortee through its wilderness. Today I was very pleased to come across an excellent collection of speculative/sci-fi short stories called Flashed, by Peer Glen, which includes some sparse but evocative tales containing a great deal of originality and unexpected depth. I have several favorites, and several favorite moments within them. Highly recommended!

“Rift or Die” has a unique take on the practical side of life extension, where even those who theoretically can live forever are still stalked and haunted by death, which has all the time in the world at its disposal.

“Free Fall” has an all-too-believable twist on virtual reality (hosted by The Environment ™)

“User Security” takes monopoly capital to a logical and desolate conclusion.

“Blackout” brings to life the kind of “internet of things” nightmare that my own current place of employment spends most of its time worrying about.

“Mesoplanet Triumphant” is a well-told tale of a friendly alien encounter – you wonder why there aren’t more like this in the annals of science fiction.

Recommended: The Sixty Five Years of Washington, by Juan Jose Saer

What I love most about literature is the rare experience of encountering a worthy mind. It’s not just about the story or the plot or the arc or the characters or the formula or the climax or the talent or the craft, it’s about how this other sees the world and expresses what they see. I want to know how their mind works, the connections it makes, the impressions it conveys. I don’t want to merely read to find out what’s going to happen, or how it’s all going to end, or what it’s going to make me feel. I don’t want to be nothing more than a passive subject operated upon as if mechanically by some technician who knows precisely how to manipulate my emotions. I can always watch a movie for that! When I read I want to come in contact with a mind through which I can discover new perspectives. This book – The Sixty Five Years of Washington, by Juan Jose Saer,  gave me such an experience.

I felt like I could live in this book, and it’s not something easily done. The structure of the story is simply two men walking together down a city street for less than an hour one morning, and the plot, if you can call it that, centers around their conversation about a birthday party that neither one attended. But I felt I was on that street with them, walking along beside them, listening not only to their words but to their internal digressions, their meandering thoughts, and feeling my way along with them through the pedestrian and vehicle traffic. The two men are not friends, just mutual acquaintances, who meet by accident and happen to be going the same way, but their worlds intersect and criss-cross on many levels. What matters in the book is, to put it in a word (or as the author says, “in two words, to be more precise”), “every things”.

There’s a lot I liked in the author’s style, the translation, the language, his “bag of tricks” so to speak, but ultimately I kept reading with excitement to see what he was going to say next, what he was going to make me see next, what new world I was going to be able to glimpse.

Book Review – Captains of Consciousness

Captains of Consciousness, originally published in the mid-70’s but just as relevant today, is an interesting book on the role of advertising in the development of the new world. It’s only been a hundred years since the invention of mass production, which eventually required a culture of mass consumption to go along with it. What good is it to produce a billion widgets a day if there is no one to buy them? The result was the creation of the middle class, at least in America and Europe. Globalization is another matter – the growth of a middle class throughout the world is inevitable but lagging.

The cultural implications are also interesting. Previously, people in our culture were raised to value craftsmanship, quality, and thrift. These values became unsuitable, and had to be replaced with acceptance of disposability and debt. Tradition was replaced by trends. Also, people had to be made perpetually dissatisfied with themselves and everything around them, so they could be made to buy things which promised fleeting satisfactions.

The transformation has been so complete we are almost unaware of it. We take consumer culture so much for granted. Consider: Cultures used to have one book or central legend that lasted them for hundreds of years. Now every single day brings a new “Most Viewed” item on YouTube. Movies that lead the box office two weeks in a row are uncommon. A number one bestselling book or album spends only days at the top of the charts. This is clearly no sustainable economy!

The acceleration of this process seems almost asymptotic. The most significant event in the future history of the world may not even be perceived by anyone, because it will only last for a fraction of a second.

Recommended: The Conversations, by Cesar Aira

Cesar Aira has so much fun messing with his readers, but I fall for it every time. Here, in The Conversations, he starts us off with an erudite gentleman who enjoys ruminating over his recent chats with his various highbrow friends, so naturally we think we are in for something sophisticated and trenchant. He recalls one such conversation in which he pokes a little fun at a mistake in some crappy Hollywood film, where a peasant is caught with a Rolex on his wrist. How ridiculous, but these things happen. Our intellectual narrator is ready to move on to loftier topics, but his friend stops him and says, “what are you talking about? I saw that film and that was no mistake!” The next thing you know, Aira flings us all down one rabbit hole after another as our protagonist’s greatest fear may come true, that in fact his friends might turn out to be utter morons, in which case might not he be as well?

Someone less generous or more aggressive might have been pleased to discover that a friend of his was stupid. It would make him feel superior, safe in his narcissistic integrity, more intelligent than he thought: in a word, the winner. This was not the case for me. I felt depressed and distressed, like someone on the verge of losing something of great value.

As a famous American football coach (Jim Mora) once said, “you think you know, but you don’t know, and you never will”, and that is never more true than when reading Cesar Aira, from one page to the next.

Recommended: Searching for Von Honningsbergs by Rowena Wiseman

“Searching for Von Honningsbergs” by Rowena Wiseman is a travel novel, a journey through time and space but also through personal growth and development. The first person narrator, an unappreciated art gallery employee named Lawson, is clearly not the same person depicted in the novel as the one who is telling the story. Years have passed, and the events related have had a major impact on him. He tells the story on two simultaneous tracks – the linear track of things as they happened, and the series of paintings he has created based on those events. As we move from one place to another, from Australia to Ukraine to Siberia to China to Brazil and back again to China, and as we meet important characters along the way, these places and people become the subject of the paintings described to us. But the art came after, and we discover that Lawson himself only began to learn to become an artist later in the book. The tale hangs on the framework of an assignment to travel about and collect some important “lost” works of a world-famous painter, Von Honningsberg, but that artist’s work is far less interesting and important than the narrator’s own.

Lawson’s paintings do not so much depict the people and places themselves as their personal meaning to Lawson, and this relates to a central theme throughout the book. Indeed, the novel begins with a lecture from Lawson to an art gallery manager about the superficiality of the labels you see alongside paintings in galleries. These texts cannot tell us what the painting meant to the artist, only the dates and names and some generalized academic themes, which miss the point entirely, according to Lawson. Art IS personal meaning or else it is nothing more than illustration, mere appearances. The deceptive nature of surface impressions is also a strong theme throughout. Again and again Lawson characterizes the people he meets from his first impression, and only later discovers his error. The “fire dancer” is not at all a fire dancer. She only happened to be doing that one day. The Ukrainian in Siberian seems to be quite a disloyal person, a thief who ran in the night, then later seems the opposite, extremely loyal to certain objects, persons and feelings, only to turn around again. He is not what he appears, nor is anyone, really. The people who seem crazy and dangerous in China turn out to have very good reasons for their rage and anguish. The character Lawson is like a child drifting through these events, but the narrator Lawson has delved deeper and seen farther. We take some of these lessons with us when we read this exceptional book.

You can get it for one dollar at screwpulp.com and you should.