A Stained-Glass View into a Simpler Time

A Stained Glass Tour In Italy

In the early twentieth century, tourism was mostly an upper-class pursuit.  Due to the way the upper classes were (and to a certain degree still are) educated in those days, this made for a very different kind of tourism.  The mere concept of going to Coney Island for a Hot Dog Eating Competition would have been met with a mixture of derision and outright disbelief.

While you’re not really going to find too many equivalents of the glorious Grand Tours in the years just before the Great War, you still found erudite madmen going off on interesting expeditions.  Heirs to Victorian obsessions, these adventurers were hobbyists and diarists that make the people who dress up as Stormtroopers for Comic Con (or worse, science fiction writers) look like normal, well-adjusted human beings.

Many of them left books behind regarding the unlikeliest of subjects, I was delighted but unsurprised when a volume entitled A Stained Glass Tour in Italy appeared at the annual jamboree at our local Anglican Church.

But, before I talk about the book let’s talk about this church.  I’m not religious in the least (and certainly not Anglican), but I love the place.  It is a lovely stone building that looks like it should be situated somewhere in fictional Wessex in the early 19th century and not a block from my house in the middle of a heavily built up sector of one of the world’s megacities.  It was the perfect spot to find a book like the one above, my copy of the Stained-Glass tome.

St Saviour's Church Belgrano

The book itself is a first edition, albeit worn frayed around the edges and well-aged, and probably the thing that I loved most about it was the fact that I was the first person in its over 100 years of history to read the thing completely.  How did I know this?  Because some of the pages were still uncut.  So, for two dollars, I purchased a journey back in time and the thrill of trying to separate pages with a steak knife (long story) without tearing them.

The book itself was a charming example of something that would never have been touched by a modern day publishing house.  A couple of wealthy friends go on a tour of northern Italy for the express and arcane purpose of viewing significant works of stained glass in the regions churches.  As they guide us through the towns they visit, the focus is on the glass and a brief history of the art form, but glimpses of life in the Italian countryside before WWI peek nostalgically through.  My lasting impression of this book is one of sunlight bathing dusty country roads and sand-colored buildings, slightly crumbling but once magnificent.

The book itself is interesting, too, with a number of laid in photographs and a strangely folded map, its production values would be dismissed as an amateur production today, but carries the stamp of the Bodley Head, a major publisher in 1911.

But it’s the writing which carries the day.  This book functions as neither a comprehensive guide to Italian stained glass nor as a reasonable tour guide for the era.  A labor of love, written – and likely published – with little or no consideration for any commercial value, in a tone that is as affectionate towards the subject as it is to any reader interested enough to open the volume.  It’s the work of a generalist who happened to love stained glass, a product of a polymath and a man of his time (Charles Hitchcock Sherrill – ambassador, athlete and stained-glassophile) that we like to think would be an avid reader of Classically Educated today.

We were definitely avid readers of his book!

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer.  His best-known book is the science fiction novel Siege.

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Martha Stewart. Best Friend and Worst Enemy.

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Today, our guest post is by an Instagrammer who goes by the handle of theartofmom (@theartofmom on Instagram or use this link).  As a mother of three, with another on the way, she tells us how the obsession for perfection both helps and hinders the modern mother.  Oh, and the images below are a sample of what you’ll find on her Instagram feed if you follow her – beautiful aren’t they?

So you want to look amazing, house spotless and Instagram perfect, kids reading on the couches or folding the blankets while you wait for your guests with a beautifully laid table and warm pie smell in the kitchen.

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Ok. That’s not going to happen. Kids are running up and down the  corridor yelling and fighting over the last piece of candy. Baby amuses herself by spilling water on the sofa, phone beeps and rings with clients who forgot to design end of year cards and it’s December 30th. The tablecloth is wrinkled and you attempt to iron it but you don’t own an ironing board because you never really iron on a daily basis, so you iron it on the table. You take a deep breath, undo your hair bun and ask the kids to quiet down and lend a hand. They start placing cups and cutlery in the way they feel is ok (which is ok) and then you realize you don’t have embroidered napkins and you’ve run out of your beautiful paper napkins so… kitchen towels will do. Then something’s smelling in the kitchen… and it’s not the warm pie… it’s the burnt pie you had totally forgotten about because the alarm you had set in your phone got mixed with all the other beeps. Pizza it is! Kids are again jumping, now in joy because pizza party. So it’s ok. Kids are happy. And then embroidered napkins wouldn’t have matched the boxed pizza anyway. Then you remember friends are coming in no time and the fact that they are your friends and not the German Ambassador dawns on you and pizza and paper towels are more than fine and they wouldn’t have cared for an ironed tablecloth either. So you feel happy and relax.

And then in these five minutes left… since everything is already done… you improvise a centerpiece with bits of branches and lace. You tidy up the couch. You whip up some cream to top off strawberries for dessert, turn the music on, put on some make-up, add candles on the balcony table. Because you can’t help it! Because you really enjoy all these tiny details even though nobody can believe it from watching you.

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What can one do? And because yes: this is a free sample of what a mom of 3 and one on the way can accomplish in 5 minutes.

So, thank you Martha for your inspiration and thank you family for you are the real part of this and everything’s worth for.

It’s a good thing!

So Much Noir… So Little Time

Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer inspect a dead body in Out of the Past

Everyone knows The Maltese Falcon.  We’ve all heard about The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not, and we all know that noir sensibilities are synonymous with Bogart.  But the 1940s, as we’ve been exploring over the past few years (just type noir in the search box on the right for a recap), are as deep a mine for this type of film as the 1930s were for screwball comedy (still my favorite kind of funny film, even eighty-odd years later).

An aside here.  I’m pretty sure that younger generations, say people 30 years old in 2018 are not really familiar with any of the classics listed above.  Why?  I’d say that the internet has made it unnecessary to watch the kind of Saturday afternoon classic TV screening that introduced their elders to these movies.  Invariably, though, whenever they do get past their aversion to black and white and actually give these (or the screwball comedies) a chance, they come away shocked and pale and say things like… “I thought all old movies sucked.  What was that actress called again?”

That’s Lauren Bacall, young fellow.

“Oh, wow.”

Out of the Past Film Poster

Anyway, the film that brings us here today, though considered a masterpiece of the noir form, and re-filmed as Against all Odds in 1984 is not one that is familiar to the casual film watcher.  Out of the Past has no Bogart, no Bacall, and doesn’t suffer because of it.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  It’s a great film whose plot is so intricate that too many stars to pander to and give screen time to would have diluted its greatest strength.

Essentially, a man trying to make a clean break from a seamy former life, gets pulled back into it by both a man he’d double crossed and the classical film noir Dalilah figure he’d loved and lost.  It gets really bad for everyone from there on out…

Like The Big Sleep, the entertainment value in this picture comes from following the twists and turns of the plot.  Double and triple crosses.  A woman whose intentions you can never guess, who is always playing both sides against the middle.  A bad guy who isn’t senselessly violent, but cold, calculating and knows when to cut his loses.

It’s nearly perfect in the genre.

What’s missing?  Well, the star power.  Though Robert Mitchum is great, he will never be Bogart.  And don’t even get me started in comparisons between Jane Greer and the aforemntioned Miss Bacall… Or Ingrid Bergman or, god help us, Rita Hayworth in Gilda.  Just not on the cards.

So it isn’t quite as impactful, not as spectacularly memorable.  The set pieces don’t stick in the mind the same way.  It’s a quieter film (if a film about sex, crima and violence can really be called quiet), an even moodier one and definitely a darker one.

Notable also because it’s an early starring Role for Kirk Douglas whose status as still surviving cast member is shared with Rhonda Fleming.

Even in a decade awash with noir, where everything had to include the sensibilities of that genre, this one stands out.  But that’s only logical: when everything is noir, some of it is bound to be good.  Some even great.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine author with several novels to his credit.  His latest is The Malakiad, which most definitely isn’t noir.  He is also a husband and father of a young duaghter… with another on the way.

Museums by Proxy

National Museum of American History

Here at Classically Educated, we love museums.  We visit them whenever we’re in a new city, we rank them whenever we’ve seen all that a certain city has to offer, and we try to enjoy all sorts.   Most people spend their time in art galleries, but we also enjoy history museums, science museums and even transport museums.  If you’ve never been to Brooklyn’s New York Transit Museum, you’re missing out.

But as I can’t spend all my time visiting museums (well, I could, but only if someone wants to a) pay for the trips and b) pay for the resulting reams of copy – operators are standing by), I have found another way to do so.  Find the official museum book for a couple of dollars at some used bookstore.

That’s what I did with the National Museum of American History.  I didn’t need and wasn’t particularly looking for a three ton tome (all right it might be a little lighter than that) about the museum, but once I saw it, it was mine (especially at the price they were asking).

National Museum of American History - Shirley Abbott

And I’m glad I bought it.  The book was published in 1981, so it covers most of the interesting bits of history (or at least the bits I don’t remember for myself) and is production values are so high that, in many shots, you feel like you’re standing in the museum itself nearly forty years ago.  As the museum was set up to bring to life many earlier eras, the excellent photography can take you back to 1891, or even 1650.

The book was written by Shirley Abbott and is split into three sections: At Home in America, The Headlong Century and Our Times (remember it was published some time ago) and the text around the images is well-written and engaging, bringing to light the often misunderstood times it highlights.

But as in the museum itself, it’s the visual experience that predominates, and I’m grateful that museums take the time to publish books like these.  Yes, it’s a big block of a book, but it truly is the next best thing to being there.  Even modern vido tours necessarily have to take a back seat to productions of this caliber.

And the nicest thing about this museum and the US in general?  It doesn’t get sniffy about showing machinery.  Is there anything more evocative of the age of steam than a huge bronze boiler and piston?  The stuff that made life what it was, from guns to toys, is all here – and it’s from 1981, remember, so no revisionism to fit with 21st century sensibilities, which is always nice.

Grab a copy if you can (they’re cheap), but spend some time in the gym first.  This is not a book for people with slipped discs or serious hernias.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose work spans several genres. His latest book is a humorous fantasy novel: The Malakiad.

The Razor’s Edge

Our guest blogger today is Clinton A. Harris, a travel writer who also writes fiction. You can check out his blog, Getting Out More, right here.  He is the author of Song of the Cinder.

The Razor's Edge - Somerset Maugham

The Razor’s Edge.

I have tried to read this book. Yes, I have an English BA, I am a writer, I have read many of the classics with varying degrees of difficulty, subtext, and mechanical artistry that make them nearly opaque. But for whatever reason W. Somerset Maugham’s story of Larry Darrell begins with the author himself standing right in the way, like someone with a really big hat sitting in front of you at the theatre, and he just never gets out of the way. So, I’m going to talk about the Bill Murray version of the movie instead.

Decades before Lost in Translation, this was his first serious role. Rumor has it that Bill Murray held out on taking the starring role in Ghostbusters just so this movie could be made. I read it on Wikipedia, so it must be true. Larry Darrell (Murray) is a member of the Chicago aristocracy. He is engaged to be married to Isabel Bradley and everything seems great until war breaks out in Europe. Like many of his peers, Larry volunteers for the war effort and finds himself postponing his marriage so he can be an ambulance driver on the Western Front. There, we get to see the absurdity of war as well as the tragedy of how easily human life is wasted. At a pivotal scene, Larry is riding shotgun in his ambulance, as Piedmont (played by real-life brother Brian Doyle-Murray), sings a flat, monotone rendition of Frere Jacques to the dying men as the Germans lob artillery shells at them.

The Razor's Edge Film 1984

The World War I scenes are marvelous, and often echo the expatriate tales of disenfranchisement started by writers of the Lost Generation such as Hemingway, who himself was an ambulance driver in Europe during the war. The scenes of battle, loss, heartbreak and disillusionment are nearly cut and pasted from this film into the widely more popular film which launched Brad Pitt’s career ten years later: Legends of the Fall.

Piedmont’s cynicism is infectious and after his death and the war, Larry returns home changed. Isabel and his socialite friends haven’t missed a step, however Larry’s best friend, Gray, seems to have taken a liking to his betrothed, much to Sophie’s chagrin, as she was Gray’s fiancée herself. Larry seems indifferent to all this. Something inside of him has been lost since the war and so he decides to take some time to get his head back together. He goes to Paris where he lives in squalor, works menial labor jobs, and reads. Isabel makes a surprise visit one day and after seeing the state of Larry’s living conditions, she bolts and presumably gets more chummy with Gray. Larry is even more indifferent and so after being introduced to the Upanishads by a coal miner, he decides to go to India, then to the Himalayas.

The ahah! Moment hits Larry as he is freezing to death on top of a mountain where he has been reading and searching for answers in himself. Bill Murray captures this moment perfectly, in such a subtle way that makes the 1946 version of this movie so melodramatic and heavy-handed. You truly get to see Murray’s genius in this moment. He lets go and just starts burning the pages of the book he is reading for warmth. He had lost himself in the quest to find himself and has come through to the other side.
Returning to the world of his old peers, Larry seems relaxed. He has learned that Gray and Isabel are married, Sophie is an alcoholic prostitute, well, really a flapper, but potato-potahto. He doesn’t seem bothered by any of it. He takes in Sophie, gets her cleaned up and begins a romantic relationship with her, which pisses Isabel off to no end. The film ends in more tragedy, and even though Larry is saddened by it, he continues on. The years of his life and the pain being so many pages going up in flames. He isn’t lost or ruined. Larry continues on in spite of the way things have turned out.

I would consider this movie to be more of a travelogue than anything else. In his travels, Larry realizes that the person he is has been with him all along, but in his journey, he has lost so much of what has burdened him along the way. I think it is a story of survival as well as revelation, and would put it in the same category as Laura Hillenbrand’s novel, Unbroken, about Olympic runner, Louis Zamperini who was held as a prisoner of war by the Japanese during World War II, and also Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, which is a story of overcoming addiction and self-destruction and finding oneself at the other end of a long, difficult journey.

Those stories, as well as The Razor’s Edge are played off as victories, unlike the narrative of Chris McCandless’s ill-fated, yet fairy predictable tale told by Krakauer in Into the Wild, which though fascinating, is much more suited to the sub-genre of something more like Titanic or White Squall. A car-crash in slow-motion we continue to watch, but cannot pull ourselves away. We are at first wowed by the wonders and then tradegy brings it all into focus, rather than emerging from the chaos to find a sort of truth.

Stories like these are cathartic. The climax of the story is often reached when the protagonist learns a vital truth about themselves or the world and is better for it. Why did I drag everyone through this analysis of a 1984 movie? Because as a person who wants to write about traveling to places, I want to convey the spirit of the experience. How in leaving the comfort of our own homes and regions, we not only explore these places we are seeing, but also how we fit into the large scheme of things. By being open to new experiences we often reach a moment of catharsis. We lose something of what we once knew or held as sacrosanct and it is lost, yet replaced with something new. A broader perspective.

In writing fiction, you often take a kernel of truth and surround it with a fictional universe, or at least one that is somewhat recognizable. In writing about travel, you are drilling down through the layers to find that kernel and bring it into the light. An “enlightenment” in a very real sense. Sometimes our adventures are a mess and sometimes they are a way to find peace. The reality of both is being able to look into these experiences and gain from them, rather than detract. Anyway, that’s what I’m going with.

The TD;DR is This is Larry. Larry went through some bad times. Now Larry is happy. Be like Larry.

 

Pop Art, Back Then

Today, we’re delighted to pretend to know about art again.  Here’s our last art riff in case you’re interested in our top 5 New York Art Museums.

Our subject is Pop Art.

If you happen to mention Pop Art to anyone who isn’t an art expert, there is one name, and one name only, that will come up:  Andy Warhol.  He’s become synonimous with the movement in a way that few other artists have come to dominate their milieu.  While I expect that readers of this blog would likely be able to name another (Roy Lichtenstein, most likely), the same can’t be said of the general population.  Today, Pop Art begins and ends with Andy.

Funnily enough, however, it wasn’t always so.  Those familiar with the way art movements evolve will be unornsurprised to learn that the movement began with a series of manifestos and mind-numbingly dull critical assessments, but people who think that Warhol got up one day and began painting soup cans and silk sceening Marilyn might be a bit surprised.

Another surprise is that the movement, far from being an American creation was borin in dreary 1950s Britain.  The very term “Pop Art” was coined by English art critic Lawrence Alloway and the first brushstrokes took place not in New York but across the Atlantic.

That situation was soon corrected and the movement did find its spiritual home in New York, but The Factory and its eccentric ringmaster, though influential, were not considered central by the critics of the time.  In fact, he was more likely to be mentioned as one more among the notable New York practitioners of the style.

Pop Art - Lucy R. Lippard

A good primer to see this attitude in action is in Lucy R. Lippard’s Pop Art.  This tome was originally published in 1966 and gives a wonderful look at the movement as it happened.  Is it perfect?  No.  It’s a bit dry and eminently academical (back then people who wrote art essays apparently didn’t feel the need to make them attractive to a general audience), but it does the job as a first approach, and is especially useful to those who see an image of Soup Cans whenever the term “Pop Art” is mentioned.

What I particularly like about this book is that, after taking a longish chunk of text to tell us about the British roots and American precursors to the movement, it only stops in New York for a couple of chapters before jumping to California and back to Europe and other places.  It really puts things in perspective.

After reading thism, it’s amazing how Warhol’s name and work have transcended the pasage of years while his peers – many more critically respected than he was – are now invisible outside of certain museums.  I personally like Lichtenstein more than Warhol, albeit for all the wrong reasons (nostalgia for a time I never knew, mainly) but even he has been overshadowed by the man synonimous with their movement.

Yeah. It’s safe to say that Andy’s the last man standing and that he is having the last laugh.  In fact, looking at his work, one suspects that, under that serious demeanor, he was laughing the whole while.

And I still love the way he was depicted in Men in Black 3.

 

Gustavo Bondoni, apart from blogging about art also writes funny novels about Greek heroes and giant sea serpents.  The Malakiad can be purchased here (paperback) and here (kindle ebook).

When the Anthologist Gets it Wrong

Before Martin H. Greenburg died in 2011, Gardner Dozois had a tradition of dismissing his anthologies (usually filled with major genre writers) as “pleasant but minor”.  In general terms, I disagree with Mr. Dozois because I found Greenbergs antho’s to be both entertaining and solid.  Whenever I gought one, I knew that great writers were going to take me on a fun ride.

However, I’ve got to give the nod to Dozois if he happened to make any snide remarks about the book Olympus, edited by Greenberg and Bruce D. Arthurs.

Olympus - Martin H Greenberg and Bruce D Arthurs

This one is pleasant enough, and a reasonably entertaining read, too, but it truly is minor in the most Dozoisian use of the word, and it isn’t 100% the fault of the anthologists.  Greenberg and Arthurs got together a stronglineup of writers–Friesner, Watt-Evans, De Lint, Huff, Michelle West–and asked for tales based on Greek mythology.

The writers, I feel, fell on their faces.  Sitting here looking over the stories, I think what may have gone wrong is that the book was published in 1998, when the fantasy genre was in the midst of the urban-fantasy doldrums.  Stoies about Greek gods set in 1980s-style cities with late 90s morality are just unmemorable.  Comptently written by a raft of professional writers, but not very noteworthy.

The best, in my opinion was “To Hades and Back” by Karen Haber, mainly because it goes the full 80s rockstar route.

Anyway, there are better Greenberg anthos out there.  Perhaps finding one of those is the best bet.

 

About the blogger: Gustavo Bondoni, apart from reading everything he can get his hands on, is also a novelist.  His latest book, The Malakiad, is a hugely entertaining take on the Greek heroic era.  He doesn’t want to say it’s better than the book reviewed above, but…  Paperback here, Kindle edition here.

Somewhat Scholarly Reflections on Science Fiction – Part 4

As you probably realized by the mere existance of this series, I love going back into the past of he genre and looking at the short fiction of the past.  Of course, the actual subject matter is dictated by my strict first-in-first-out reading order which, by making things even more random and eclectic aparently jives with our manifesto.

This time, we travel back to the sixties, and if we’re talking about short fiction in the sixties, one name towers above the rest: Judith Merril, the decades great anthologist.

By great, of course, I mean the most influential and trend-setting as opposed to the best.  I’ve gone on record more than once in saying that her attempts to turn science fiction into a bastion of literary experimentation aligned with the pop consciousness of the era were misguided.  She isn’t well-rememberedtoday outside of the students of the genre.

I still read any of her books I can get my hands on.  The history of SF in the sixties, though much less significant than the Golden Age, is still interesting. It was then that the genre gained a cerain amount of respectablity: stories from Merrill’s antho’s having origins as diverse as The Atlantic and even The New Yorker, something unheard of in Campbell’s time.

All of the above actually prefaces a Merril antho that is less literary than most – after all, as the major anthologist of her era, she couldn’t dedicate herself exclusively to the obscure, experimental and unreadable.  It’s entitled SF The Best of the Best Part Two.

SF The Best of the Best Part Two Edited by Judith Merril

By pulling out the best of the stuff from her series of anthologies, a certain amount of dross that seemed like a good and cutlurally relevant idea at the time could be eliminated.  The cream that rose to the top and populates this book is still an annoying mix of pseudoscience, PSI and media (in that infant era of media which thought it was mature) without much in the way of exploration of things that weren’t of concern to the intellectuals of the day, but at least it’s perfectly readable.  Any one of these stories inserted into a book of more traditional SF tales would make a nice change of pace.  There’s even  Sheckley stoy that foreshadows The Truman Show.  An entire book is a bit much, though.

A reader looking for far future stories, space opera or even just some fun Earth-bound tech stories, will need to look elsewhere.  For Merril, those things don’t belong in Science Fiction and are a bit lowbrow.

Even the Asimov and the afrementioned Sheckley are pretty much character driven social stories.  Not bad, just a little lacking in the sensawunda compared to other offerings from these two.  Aldis or Budrys, of course, are a much more comfortable fit here.

Anyway, this is an interesting book, like everything Merril edited.  She was influential even if she was guiding the genre in the wrong direction.  When SF stops being fun to lock itself in an ivory tower, what happens is wht is happening today: readers flock to fantasy in droves, and SF moves away from the printed page to the big screen.

Contributor Copy Reading – An Eclectic Mix

I’ve decided that, since people seem interested, I’ll be making the writing roundups of contributor copies I read a regular feature of the blog.  I’ve recently gone through three contributor’s copies of books that contained my work from 3 or 4 years ago (I make no apologies for this.  If you saw my to-be-read-pile, you’d understand).

For those of you who are not writers, a quick reminder: a contributor’s copy is a magazine or book containing a writer’s work that the publisher sends the writer to keep for his own records or to show it to his friends and brag about it.  They make writers happy, unless the writer’s name is spelled wrong, in which case they make writers homicidal.

Falling Star December 2014

The first of today’s eclectic mix is a small saddle-stitched magazine (saddle-stitching is when the sheets are folded in half and then stapled – a popular magazine binding format) entitled Falling Star.  This one contained my story “A Time to Reflect” which is the sequel to the ever-popular “Dangerous Skies”.  The mag was a quick read not only because of its short length but also because the weird holiday themes were very entertaining.  Recommended.

Love, Time, Space, Magic Cover

Next up is an antho we’ve featured here before.  You may remember that Elizabeth Hirst, the editor of Love, Time, Space, Magic, was here to tell us about the unique challenges of creating an SFF / Romance antho without offending the readers of both genres simultaneously.  She paints a much more edifying picture of that antho in her note than I ever could, so I will only say she succeeded.  I almost never read romance, but this book both entertained and, occasionally, moved me.  It’s a wonderful book.  This one holds my story “Modern Love”.

Apex Book of World SF Volume 2

The third book is perhaps the most interesting of all, as The Apex Book of World SF Vloume 2 aims to showcase the best of non-anglocentric genre work (the “SF” in the title is open ended and includes fantasy and slipstream).  A book like this will always be limited by what is available in English, but the effort to locate these stories is commendable. The book does do a good job of finding good examples and most people, especially anglo-centric people, will enjoy it.

In my case, the only criticism I have for this series is that it tended to focus a little too much on colonial concerns (as in how colonialism affects everyone) and not enough on the real stuff that happens in all these other wonderful countries. What most First World citizens seem to have trouble understanding is that post-colonial thought is of interest only to Americans, Europeans and certain academics or activists within the former colonies.  The rest of the people there don’t care, and aren’t interested in fiction that speaks to it.  However, as World SF which speaks to the concerns of the Americans and Europeans (its target audience, after all), this one works very well.

My story “Eyes in the Vastness of Forever” is reprinted here. It speaks to the concerns of post-colonial thinkers… because I write mainly for American and European audiences… (what, me, a hypocrite?  How can you say such a thing???).

This batch left me shaking my head at just how diverse the genre is thematically speaking.  SFF is wonderful when you stop to think about it.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an award-winning novelist and short story writer who has just launched a new comic fantasy book in the Douglas Adams / Terry Pratchett vein.  He thinks you should read it.  It’s available here.  And also on Kindle.

The Other British Master

Looking back, I wish I’d combined this post with the one I recently wrote about Sir Terry Pratchett.  After all, Pratchett and the subject of today’s post, Niel Gaiman, were friends, collaborators and, by all accounts, shared a sense of humor.

Smoke and Mirrors - Niel Gaiman

More to the point, two of the books I read: Pratchett’s book of short stories and Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors are directly comparable.  Both collect lesser known work by two great writers and will be of more than passing interest to anyone who’s already familiar with their major achievements.

Now, I’m not a Gaiman fan in the traditional sense.  I haven’t read all that much of his work, other than Good Omens which I bought for the Pratchett content and enjoyed.  In light of this, starting with the less-acclaimed shorter work might not seem like the sensible thing to do.

That, of course, has never stopped us before, so why begin now?

So, from this book, I can confidently say that I like some of Gaiman’s writing.  Would I enjoy Sandman or American Gods?  From this sample, I really have no clue.  I always find graphic novels just a little thin and unfulfilling…  American Gods is certainly more promising.

And Smoke and Mirrors?  Definitely enjoyable, and the breadth of Gaiman’s interest in on display here.  Some stories are, naturally more memorable than others but all display Gaiman’s love for the slightly surreal and his sense that nothing is so serious that fun cannot be poked in its direction.  My kind of book.

It feels very similar to the Pratchett, somehow less solid than a novel-length work, but a very satisfying sprinkling.

Of the tales here, one of them sticks out as a nearly perfect example of… something.  I’m not sure what, exactly it is, but if you want to decide for yourself, it’s entitled “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories” (and you have to admire the kind of lunatic who would put “and Other Stories” in the title of his story, don’t you?).  It’s a strange and wistful and surreal story.  The ending wasn’t what I’d wanted it to be, but that might just have been the point.  I still think of it often.

Of course, if you’re reading Gaiman, that’s because you haven’t seen him on YouTube.  He is one of the most compelling public speakers I’ve ever seen.  If you can take a certain dose of Michael Chabon (did he create the Hipster persona or just perfect it?) without throwing your device out the window, I highly recommend this interview in which Niel Gaiman discusses his relationship with Terry Pratchett in detail.  It is mad and brilliant and still poignant and touching.

Anyway, this is a fun book, but I think the cool kids all started with Sandman, so that might be a good idea too…

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s is an Argentine writer whose latest novel, the Malakiad, is aimed squarely at those readers who miss Douglas Adams an Terry Pratchett and wish that there were more lunatics writing science fiction and fantasy.  It’s available in paperback and Kindle editions.