Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse

I read my first anthology in… I don’t know how long. This one in particular I found on goodreads.com and hunted it down through my local library. What made me seek out this book was it was all based on post-apocalyptic fiction! I was very excited and maybe I overhyped myself. I wound up only reading a few of the stories from Wasteland: Stories of the Apocalypse.

The title is a little misleading. All the stories are about what happens after the apocalypse. I’d love to read something about what happens during the apocalypse. Maybe that’s a short story for me to put together.

The first story I read was by Stephen King, which was good but I felt short-changed by the end. I thought there should have been more. Just as the story took off it was over.

Cory Doctorow had cool story about IT System Administrators surviving the end of the world. My favorite had to Richard Kadrey’s story. It reads like a punk rock song. It was like a big f**k you to the post-apocalyptic world. For the most part, not much grabbed like I thought it would. There were some heavy hitters in this anthology with stories I just couldn’t get into.

I can’t say I’ll rush to find another anthology anytime soon. If I do, I’ll buy it. Getting a copy out of the library kind of hampers my ability to bounce around from story to story.

Wastelands does provide some excellent imagery of a world that ended. I’ve always been fascinated by this concept. Just as equally as interesting is what happens when the dust settles and the stories of the people left behind.

I should also preface that there are no zombie apocalypse stories in this anthology. I’m a sucker for those but I can also appreciate the fact that these types of stories could fill their own Anthology.

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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

After reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I decided to rent the movie. Turns out the movie is a huge hit, but not bigger than the book. The movie version was made in Sweden and I’m probably in the minority when I comment that it was just OK. The reviews on Netflix and Rotten Tomatoes are really positive so go figure.

I give the movie credit for trying to incorporate most of the book, but certain aspects of book are left out. If I didn’t read the book, I would’ve thought this movie didn’t make any sense. There are a number of plot gaps and underdeveloped characters. Moreover, a lot of back story gets lost. The Vanger family has a number of dark secrets but the movie only concentrates on Harriet. Despite all that, the movie clocks in at about 2-1/2 hours. If you haven’t seen the Swedish version yet, you might want to sit tight till December when the Hollywood version comes out.

What the movie does get right is the Lisbeth Salander character. She’s the best part of the book and definitely the highlight of the movie. The movie captured just what I thought the character looked like. There is some of her back story missing from the movie but enough that I didn’t feel cheated.

TGWTDT is second Swedish film I’ve seen over the course of a year. The other movie was Let The Right One In. I’ve commented on this movie and book in a previous post. As usual, I loved the book and the movie was just OK. Again, Swedish film making leaves a lot to be desired. By no means am I qualified to critique directors or actors, but these Swedish movies are…slow and dull. For some reason though they get great reviews. Why is that? What does the rest of the world see that I don’t? Maybe I’m just a product of Hollywood slick movie productions. Maybe my untrained brain can’t process Swedish art like others can. Or more likely my preference of the book outweighs any enjoyment I could have watching the movie.

Progress on my new novel has been slow. I haven’t written much over the last two weeks. It’s my fault – I let myself get too easily distracted. The Chicago Bulls are in the Eastern Conference playoffs, I’m focusing on my health, and other things I use as excuses but aren’t. I read on another writer’s blog that the difference between published authors and ones that are not is hard work. It’s obvious but it’s something I haven’t been doing.

Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for some time. I’m a little intimidated by the 1,000 plus pages and have procrastinated because of it. I can’t complain too much because I’m reading The Girl With Dragon Tattoo, and that is roughly 600 pages in paperback. Maybe it’s good practice Atlas Shrugged? (number of pages not content!)

The movie for Atlas Shrugged came out this weekend, and I’m motivated to read the book. I prefer to read the book then the movie (Water for Elephants comes out this month!). I’ve never tried it the other way although I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on The Godfather or The Shining.

Like all books that become movies, if Atlas Shrugged the movie is sub par, I don’t want it to ruin my reading experience.

I’ve heard nothing but great things about the book so I know I won’t regret the time investment. Movie wise, I’m hearing mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes didn’t have anything too positive. I’m hearing and reading a lot of words like “low-budget” and “unfamiliar cast” which never spell anything good for a movie. In this situation, it’s the message that’s important.

I understand the movie to be the anthem for conservatism . I guess, it depends on who you talk to. Ayn Rand wasn’t a Republican, but she wasn’t a Democrat either. I’ve learned she was an individualist and devoted much of her efforts to fighting communism. I can get behind that. I worry the book does a better job conveying the message of limited government and self-reliance while the movie is preachy in the same regard and turns people off.

I’ll have to wait and find out. I know that Atlas Shrugged has been regarded as one of the best novels of the 20th century and can’t wait to discover it – right after I’m done with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Rock Paper Tiger

I found out about Rock Paper Tiger on Nathan Bransford’s blog about six months ago. This novel by Lisa Brackmann piqued my interest because it was her debut. The story is about an Iraq war veteran, Ellie, living in Beijing. She’s separated from her husband, who cheated on her; suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome; has no direction in her life; hangs out in an artist’s colony; etc. I’m listing all of this because this is how the book reads. There’s not much plot – just a bunch of stuff that happens and none of it seems connected.

As a consistent reader of Bransford’s blog, I expected more of this book. Bransford was a literary agent (recently left the profession) and Rock Paper Tiger was a book he promoted vigorously on his blog. This is a very average book, and I’m not sure what Bransford saw in getting it published. Maybe it was the anti-war rhetoric from the main character, or the many liberal leanings that Brackmann preaches throughout. Maybe I should change my political ideology to get published?

What I do like about this book is how it covers China. I might be travelling there in 2011 so I was eager to dive into this setting and was not disappointed. From what I have learned about Brackmann, she lived there and absorbed much of the culture. This plays out really well in the book. The locales constantly change and gives the reader a nice visual of what China is like from a foreigner’s perspective.

From the reading as a writer standpoint, I like the pace of the novel. It’s constantly moving forward and doesn’t dwell on too much. There aren’t any high concepts that slow down the story. The showing versus telling ratio is admirable. I like the first person style. It serves the novel well especially as the main character bounces to different parts of China. Character development is weak. Ellie, main character, is a pill popping nomad with no direction in her life. I don’t like her. She spends much of the book angry and bitter about her pending divorce – I can understand that but at the same time the character is one-dimensional. The Ellie character reminds me a of a grumpy old man. No matter who she comes across she’s feisty and irritable (like she’s complaining about those damn kids to get off her lawn!) If Brackmann tried to generate sympathy for Ellie, she missed the mark. Ellie also has these flashbacks about the war in Iraq which really has nothing to do with the story. It’s interesting she’s a vet but what it adds to the story – maybe I missed it. The other characters are shallow and don’t add anything to the story. Above all, there’s no plot. Ellie bums around China because she’s friends with some controversial artist, who has a Chinese dissident buddy. She’s wanted by some US security firm for what I’m not exactly sure. I know she needs to get information but nobody provides it. Factor in the online role-playing game, and you’ll be left wondering what’s the point of it all! The ending is disappointing. Nothing is tied up and issues are still open. I’m not left wanting more, I’m left frustrated.

Read this book as a travel companion for China, but if you’re looking for a story that grips you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Oryx and Crake

My continuing effort to read as a writer has landed me in the world of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. It’s a wonderful dystopian novel that is poetic in its descriptions. From the first page, the tone is bleak and you already have an idea of how the book ends. Getting there is the interesting part and worth reading.

Atwood tells the story of Jimmy in the present and how he got to his certain position in life. Most of the book is told in flashback on Jimmy’s part. I haven’t read a book told in this manner, which I found refreshing. I found the jumping back and forth between the past and present helped with the tempo. Just when you’ve had enough of Jimmy’s bleak present you’re transported back to his past to explain something.

The poetic descriptions I mentioned above are the downside. I felt that Atwood went off the deep end in describing. The first few pages were a great example. After the first page, I knew Jimmy was living in a post-apocalyptic world. I felt that the description, while well-done, served as too much. I was already wanting to move forward but Atwood wouldn’t let me.

The science fiction was pretty cool. Although I’ve read that Atwood doesn’t like the term sci-fi but speculative fiction – whatever. It’s not to hard sci-fi that I feel I’m reading a college text book and not too soft that it’s a children’s book. The focus is about bio-corporations that splice animal DNA then start to try on humans to develop pills, procedures, etc that make them younger, sexier, smarter, happier, and so on. I won’ t reveal too much more but Jimmy is part of major catastrophe involving some aggressive splicing.

I plowed through this book and almost forgot to read as a writer at a few points. No question the writing is good. Certain passages are long and drawn out but this book delivers beyond just science fiction. It probably more literary driven now that I’m looking back at it. Much like I mentioned in Starship Troopers, O and C is character driven. Learning how these characters grow through the novel is fascinating. Moreover, floating back and forth with Jimmy paints a haunting picture of what could have been with love and success. All the while there is a science fiction theme in the back drop.

PubIt!

I’m unsure of when the technology was actually launched but PubIt! looks like its making a splash onto the scene this week. It’s a free site that allows authors to publish pretty much anything. Primarily targeted for e-books, authors can also upload essays, short stories, etc. The site is run by Barnes and Noble and looks pretty slick. I believe this is not the first site to do this but certainly the first big book seller to embrace the era of self-publishing.

I’ve toyed with the idea of self-publishing, but I can’t pull the trigger on that one. I still like the idea of an agent accepting my work and then trying to sell it to a publishing house. However, I do believe in e-books; they are the future for publishing. I have to think the overhead on an e-book is next to nothing compared to traditional print. The catch is how many Nooks or iPads can be sold to support this platform? I haven’t purchased one and it’s not that I’m resisting – I can’t afford one right now! It’s on my wish list for sure.

As an emerging writer I’m excited about this digital platform. I believe this will open up the publishing world for folks like me. Today’s print platform is so hard to break into because of the contraction of the market. There are so few players that they have the option to be stingy on what gets printed. I give this digital revolution another eighteen months to really ramp up. The price of e-readers will come down as competition heats up and prices come down.

It’s an exciting time to be a writer! Platforms like PubIt! will only further the change going on in the publishing industry and making it more promising for writers to emerge.

The Road

I just finished Cormac McCarthy’s The Road last night and it was exceptional. It’s been awhile since I read a book in a matter of days. I’ve also read McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men which happens to be one of my favorite books. The writing in both are top-notch and gave me a lot to think about in my own writing.

In The Road is about a man and his son travelling across a post-apocalyptic landscape to survive. What’s remarkable about this book is that McCarthy gives you very little details about how the world ended. There are a couple of references but you have no idea if it’s nuclear, nature, or meteor which changes the Earth to a gray and ash wasteland. I found this lack of information made the story that much more interesting. Sure, I would’ve like to know the end went down, but McCarthy is one of the best and if he thinks I don’t need to know I’m OK with that.

Another fascinating part of McCarthy’s writing is how he describes the man and his son. He doesn’t even give them names! Instead he refers to them as the man and boy. Moreover, he doesn’t a do a deluge of information about either character. I don’t know how old they are, where they’re from originally, the color of their hair, etc. and it all works! I compare this to my own writing and it’s the exact opposite. I’m trying capture every distinct aspect of every character in my book. After reading The Road, I have a lot to rethink. I can’t see myself having any description of a character(s), but if the writing is solid, the reader will develop a mental picture. I guess that’s the sign of good writing. I haven’t read a lot of Hemingway but I’ve talked to other writers who have, and he rarely included descriptions of his characters for the most part. I’m more aware than ever before that there’s a balance in descriptions.

I read The Road because I wanted to read a great book and that’s what I found. I also read it because I wanted to read as a writer and definitely learned a lot. Now it’s up to me to apply what I’ve learned to my writing to see if I can make it better.

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