Philip K. Dick Debut

OK, we’ve all seen Blade Runner.  Most of us have also watched the sequel… I remember liking it when I watched it.  The thing is that the movie, in my mind, is more of a collection of sensations, generating the same kind of feeling that noir film of the thirties did, than something I analyze as a piece of science fiction.

Now, I’ve read every major SF writer out there, in depth and in detail… except for Philip K. Dick.  Why?  I’m not sure.  I’ve had the Library of America PKD collection in my shopping cart for about a decade, but it always seems to get bumped out by something newer and shinier.

A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick

But on my birthday a year ago, a friend gifted me A Maze of Death, one of his novels.

Let’s be clear, this book is not the conventional door into Dick.  That would probably be the novella that engendered Blade Runner: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  Additionally, this is a dark book, whose central theme–as foreshadowed by the title–is the human propensity to cause other people’s deaths.

So what did I think?

This boy has potential.  If even one of his minor works is so intriguing, I can’t help but think that his classics must be amazing indeed.

So let’s have a look at this one.  Without being overly spoilery, this one has three separate layers of reality all transpiring concurrently, of which one, in what, from what I’ve read online, is a typical display of Dick’s sense of humor, is only evident in the chapter list.

The book is interesting more on an intellectual level than as a typical literary enterprise.  The characters are, to put it mildly, unlikable, and they die in mostly uninspiring ways.  Nevertheless, the reader is always kept engaged by the underlying mystery.

The style–perhaps intentionally, I won’t be able to judge fully until I read more of the man’s work–reminds me more of the work of the fifties than the seventies.  It’s reminiscent of A Case of Conscience, or even Mission of Gravity.

So, as a corporate boss might say, this is a good start.  I still need to get my act together and read the meat of his output in order to give my loyal readers a better picture.  Stay tuned!

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  His own exploration of the human psyche is strongest in his novel Outside.  You can check it out here.

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The Great American SpecFic Novel

A few years ago, another writer compared me to Neil Gaiman.

That is the kind of thing that makes writers nervous.  Gaiman, of course, is almost universally revered as one of the masters of the craft.  One might not like his stories per se, but no one doubts his ability or his magnificent talent.  So comparisons with Gaiman tend to take the following form: “Unlike Neil Gaiman’s wonderful work, this writer’s tale…”

Fortunately, this particular writer only commented about the similarity of my hair in a photograph to the good Mr. Gaiman’s.  Even so, it was assumed that I was following in his footsteps…  If I recall correctly, the exact phrase was “did you steal Neil Gaiman’s hair?”  That is the power of Gaiman.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I’ve reviewed Gaiman’s work here before, but, as I mentioned then, still had to sink my teeth into his meatier offerings.  The Tenth Anniversary Edition of American Gods is about as meaty as they come.

So, does the man live up to the hype?  In a word, yes.

The talent is there.  The craft is there.  The concept of down-at-the-heels gods isn’t particularly new, of course (if you’ve read Douglas Adams’ Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, you’ll know exactly what I mean… and if you haven’t, do so immediately) but Gaiman creates a novel of ideas out of this particular well-plowed field.

It’s a big book in more than just heft.  The title of this post is not whimsical.  If we ever do get the Great American Novel, it will likely be structured in a similar way to this one.  It’s a road movie of a book, a sprawling exploration of what America means.  If it’s seen through the eyes of a foreigner, then all the better.  Lolita didn’t suffer for that, and American Gods doesn’t, either.

It’s a book that’s hard to put down, with a compelling plot driving it relentlessly forward, but that’s not what makes it great.  The greatness is in the little things, wonderfully turned phrases and scenes that, though slightly off from reality, are perfectly realized.  Some of those scenes promise to stick in the memory for a long, long time.

In conclusion?  You may or may not like this book, but you will agree with Gaiman apologists that the man deserves the accolades.  The craft and the talent herein are impeccable.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose gods also sometimes walk the earth, particularly in his novel of ancient Greece, The Malakiad.  You can check it out here.

In Order, No Less

Serial killers are fascinating to me only because of the obsessive quality of their work; I don’t really care for the actual murder part of it…  Which probably explains why I enjoy Agatha Christie’s work.  Her cases, though involving the sordid occurrence of the death of one or more human beings, always steer away from any suggestion of violence or mess:  “Ooh. There’s a cadaver, let’s see who made it.”

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

The ABC Murders, though not considered one of Christie’s best, is interesting as it brings Christie’s style to the personality of a serial killer.  The sequence of murders is in alphabetical order, and they are all announced by a note giving warning.

After that setup, however, the rest of the book is classic Christie.  Poirot enters stage right and, though others appear to be leading the investigation, takes command.  He guides us through the plot and reminds us to keep an open mind even when things appear to be leaning strongly in one direction.

His cryptic comments keeping everyone honest are the reason this one stays fair, and I’ll give it high marks in that regard.  Also, readability is supreme, as is the obsession factor to know whodunnit.  I read it in a single day, unable to go to bed without knowing how it finished.

High marks and a good place to keep going once you’ve read the obvious candidates (Roger Ackroyd, Orient Express).

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist whose novel Outside is science fiction, but with an underlying mystery that should make Christie fans happy.  You can check it out here.

 

Hope and Terror in the Aftermath

I always read the contributor copies of the publications where my stories appear (when they manage to successfully brave the postal system between the English-speaking world and Argentina, that is).  I don’t always read them immediately, though, as they go into the to-be-read pile, which is often biblical in scope.

into the ruins volume 7

So the Fall 2017 issue of Into the Ruins, which contains my tale “Anchored Down in Anchorage” has just cycled through.

When I read the guidelines prior to sending my story through, I remember thinking that a collection of stories set in the ruins of civilization would make for somewhat depressing reading, but the reality is that the magazine was actually a different from what I expected.

In the first place, half of the stories focused on the potential for adventure after the fall of civilization.  It might be worrying if you stop to think about it, but while reading, these tales are mainly entertaining.

The other half of the stories are, interestingly, of the type where humanity falls into its basest patterns… terrifying for different reasons.

So these stories, though set in a world after global warming takes its toll, are not about the catastrophe (even though every single one of them uses global warming and rising sea levels as its starting point as opposed to some other kind of calamity).  The post-civilization world is just a setting to explore the ins and outs of the characters immersed therein.

My favorite was “The Cupertinians” by Damian Macrae, which might best be described as a morally ambiguous romp in the Indiana Jones style.  Wonderful.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  His latest novel is entitled Timeless, and you can check it out here.

Casting a New Light

I live about forty blocks from a street named FitzRoy.  A lot of streets, places and geographical elements in Argentina are named after old Robert, as well as his boat (called the Beagle) and passenger (some guy named Darwin).  It’s not particularly surprising, considering that all three made their names in large part because of the time they spent exploring the waters around Argentina and Chile.

Most people will assume that Charles Darwin was the most interesting character on those particular voyages, and perhaps they are correct–he’s certainly the one whose effect on popular culture (not to mention religious controversy) has been most pronounced…

this thing of darkness by harry thompson

And yet, the critically acclaimed novel This Thing of Darkness, by the late Harry Thompson, makes a compelling case for the naval officer Robert FitzRoy as the most interesting man aboard.  Certainly, he comes off as a man whose honor could never be besmirched, and a modern man in some regards.

Of course, in other ways, he is also portrayed as a man of his times (the first half of the 19th century), especially in certain inflexibility and in his religious outlook.  Nevertheless, his character in this book makes one question the silly postmodern conviction that being an officer and a gentleman is somehow a bad thing.  If there’s one thing the modern world could use more of it’s people like Robert FitzRoy.

Apart from casting FitzRoy in the role of the Hero–deservedly so–the book is notable for making a six-year-long voyage of hardship and unspeakable tedium read like an action/adventure romp.  While Thompson probably took large liberties with the characters of the men involved (and delved into their minds with unbridled imagination), he also created a page-turning novelization.

Does he commit the crime of superposing his modern views on some of the characters and events?  Sadly, yes (judging the actions of the past by the standards of today is, of course, imbecilic) but he does TRY to avoid it, even if he’s not completely successful.  As a result of this effort, we gain a picture of this time as a moment in history in which scientific observation was in a life-and-death struggle with the philosophical status quo that had guided man through the enlightenment… and that means that Thompson succeeds where so many other modern writers failed.

This is a good book.  It will make you yearn for the age of exploration and seethe at the injustice of the colonial system, but most of all, it will keep you reading.  Also, it will teach you a bunch of stuff you didn’t remember about Darwin’s voyage.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer who also explores historical times.  His novel The Malakiad is a romp set in ancient Greece which… well, let’s just say it isn’t exactly based on facts.  You can check it out here.

The Science Fiction of JRR Tolkien

Yes, I was surprised too.  Tolkien isn’t supposed to be a science fiction writer.  The received wisdom is that he left such trifles to the other Inklings, notably C.S. Lewis, who was a moderately successful exponent of the genre.

However, Papa Tolkien was more interested in SF than most modern students of his work know, and his fascination for the forms of the genre come through in a little-known work entitled The Notion Club Papers.

Interestingly, I came upon this piece not through a search for Tolkien’s SF but because several versions of The Notion Club Papers are included in Sauron Defeated, the ninth installment of The History of Middle Earth, which is also Volume 4 of the History of the Lord of the Rings.  To add to the fun, The Notion Club Papers is part of The History of Middle Earth, but Unrelated to The Lord of the Rings, despite being concurrently with it.  Confused yet?

sauron defeated_christopher tolkien

And while the text is related to the goings-on in Middle-Earth, and therefore possibly fantasy, the framework in which it’s couched is definitely SF.  The story is that the papers are “discovered” in the 21st century after having been composed–documenting the goings-on of a club similar to the Inklings–in the 1980s.  Both of these dates were in Tolkien’s future, of course.

The most interesting part of the papers (aside from the way they segue into the Silmarillion story) is a discussion about the fact that science fiction fails as a genre because the need for a space-ship defies the suspension of disbelief.  Science Fiction (called scientifiction throughout) has merit as a way to explore societies real ills through the lens of a different world, but the act of getting to that other world is what destroys the illusion.

The conclusion they reach is that the only realistic way to reach far-off lands is to travel in the mind, in dreams or somesuch.

That’s a head-scratcher for sure, but there you go.

All in all, this is a brilliant piece of insight into Tolkien’s thinking, and, as a bonus, it also includes the concluding textual history of The Return of the King (see here for more), as well as some other texts linked to the Silmarillion story.

But, after reading his SF, it’s just as well that old Papa Tolkien concentrated on fantasy…  his talents weren’t in the scientifiction realm.

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book is a thriller entitled Timeless. You can check it out here.

 

Being Bad at Middles

writer at work

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m more of a hunter-type personality than a farmer.  This isn’t ideal for living in modern society, but isn’t completely unworkable…  It does, however, have some interesting side effects, one of which I’d like to share, as it definitely has to do with my writing process.

That side effect is being bad at middles.

I’ve always been fascinated by people who love process, in much the way that one is fascinated by gruesome traffic accidents or unusually large insects.  It’s an awful, awful thing, but you just can’t turn your eyes away.  In my case the reason for that is that I don’t understand it.  I love the rush of a new project, delight in the sense of something just about to finish… but have no passion whatsoever for the nuts and bolts of what happens in the middle.  I push forward to the best of my ability, but rely on whatever talent I might have, and the planning I did in the first throes of new-book enthusiasm to get me through at a hopefully high level.

In the middle of something, I often look around and see friends enthusing about their passion for rewrites or for tweaking their hyper-detailed outline for the hundredth time before starting the actual writing and I scratch my head and wonder how they can keep the enthusiasm alive for long enough to actually finish a book.

Honestly, experience tells me that many of them don’t and most books are sacrificed on the altar of perfectionism before anyone can even see their imperfections.

But some of them do get written, and polished, and edited and published.  I find that wonderful, in the sense that it fills me with wonder.  I know I would never have the follow through; I would drown in the mire in the middle.

I’m like that with everything, whether it be a project for work or a book I’m reading–but it seems particularly applicable to writing.  Generally, my enthusiasm for any given piece of work is lowest right in the middle.

I’ve developed a number of strategies to cope.  I often have more than one piece of writing going on at the same time, or I write something really short that I can get finished when the enthusiasm is still upon me.

Another way to cope is to borrow joy across different aspects.  Perhaps a few hundred words on a bogged writing project can be spurred on by the promise of reading the final fifty pages of my book in progress later on… or of starting a new drawing.  Small highs from other walks of life can spur things on.

Of course, nothing renews enthusiasm in writing like a sale… but that’s not something I can control.

Does my method always work?

No.

On those occasions, you need to fall back on that old staple: sheer bloody-mindedness.  It’s gotten me through more fallow periods than I can count.  It does have the downside that you may despise the words you’re putting down, but I’ve found that coming back a couple of weeks later will improve that text immeasurably… even if you don’t change a single letter of it.

Anyway, that’s how I do it.  Your own mileage, as always, will probably differ wildly.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist whose latest novel is a thriller entitled “Timeless”.  You can check it out here.

 

 

Writing in Several Genres, or Why Your Houseguests Might Find a Vampire Erotica Book in Your Living Room

cof

 

I write in a lot of genres.  Science fiction seems to be my main source of income, but I have written thrillers and fantasy, mainstream and horror.  I recently sold a crime story to Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.

For the most part, the genres I write in reflect the genres I read in–it’s very difficult to meet readers’ expectations if you have no clue as to how your chosen genre works.  You need to know which rules to follow, which to break, and which your glowing, luminous prose can transcend (just kidding, but I do know a few authors who actually think this way although, in my opinion, their particular prose tends to be of the plodding, ponderous type).

And yet, I’ve sold a number of erotic tales over the course of my career, despite it never having been a genre I read widely–or much of it at all.  The book in the illustration, Blood in the Rain IV (buy it here!!!), is an anthology of erotic vampire tales that includes my story “We Sail by Night”, and a good illustration of the principle.  My novel Timeless also straddles the line between a regular thriller and the erotica section of the bookstore.  I have another novel making the rounds that goes a lot farther than just straddling a line… although I think of that one as more of a literary effort than an erotic novel.  There are a number of erotic stories of mine out there, too (here’s a short example).

So why?  What makes erotica something that creeps into the work of so many authors despite the certain knowledge that A) people aren’t going to want to buy children’s books from you if they find out about it and B) that a lot of readers don’t like sex in their stories.

I personally think it’s because of the universality of sex in human lives.  We all either practice the art or spend an unconscionably huge amount of time thinking about it.  It’s the origin of everyone around us, and it’s also one of our most interesting sources of recreation.  It applies to everyone.

And that makes it natural that it might creep into the work of your favorite author when you’re least expecting it.  You can read a hundred of my SF stories and not find more than an oblique reference to the fact that, at some point, some of the characters might consider jumping into bed with some of the other characters.  And then, you blithely come upon “We Sail by Night” or “Pacific Wind” and stop to scratch your head at the adult content.

Hopefully, at this point you’re thinking “wow, I never knew he could write sex so well” . and move along with the tale.

So why is my erotic work selling despite not reading all that much in the genre?  Again, I think it’s linked to the ubiquitous nature of sex in the human experience, something writers share with everyone else on the planet. Of course mileage and emotions differ from one reader to the next, but finding the common ground allows the writer–even the one new to the genre–to tap into that commonality.  If you can manage that, the story will work.

Of course, the true measure of a brilliant erotic tale is in the “one-handed-reading index”, but that is not something that readers ever send fan mail about, so it’s kind of hard to gauge…

On second thought, maybe we should limit that sort of correspondence to email… not sure I want to be handling letters about that subject matter.

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel, Timeless, is a thriller about bestselling books, ancient monasteries and modern criminals.  You can buy it here.

Writing 2018 – The Year in Review

So, another year nearly done.  This is the last weekday of 2018, so I suppose it’s time to take stock of the year writing-wise.

Yes, there were a number of story sales (more than thirty), and publications (also more than thirty), so I won’t be doing an itemized list (that way lies utter readerly boredom).  Instead, I wanted to touch on the highlights.

Perhaps the most important thing that happened this year was that I had my most successful year ever on the short story front.  I earned more money from writing those in 2018 than any other year – and even though it’s nearly impossible to make a living writing shorts, it’s nice to see those story sales piling up and the pay increasing.

But that’s probably not what I’ll remember most about this year. in my mind, 2018 will likely go down as the year of the contest.  Though I didn’t actually win any of them, I made huge strides in some major places.  To begin with, I was a finalist in the Jim Baen Memorial Award, one of the two biggest SF contests out there.  That was a remarkable start to a good run.

The next contest was the James White award and, again, I did better than ever: second place and a special Judges’ commendation.  Special Commendation are as rare as hen’s teeth–less than a handful have been awarded in the contests decades of existence.  Huge for me…

Finally, I discovered something called the Wyrm’s Gauntlet, an elimination-round competition with nice cash prizes for all the finalists.  I made it to the final round and finished second… which was utterly cool!  This was the most fun I’ve ever had in a writing competition, as well as the most stress as I awaited the result of each subsequent round.

Malakiad-Gustavo-Bondoni-Cover

Novels were not neglected, but the cards fell differently this year, and I published no Science Fiction books.  The Malakiad, released in March, is a comic fantasy set in ancient Greece, while Timeless is a thriller.  Both are books I really love.

Timeless

In this regard, 2019 looks to be a good year for books.  I already have a couple on the schedule (a horror book and a literary collection of linked shorts), and there are three more under consideration with various publishers who’ve expressed interest in them – we’ll see how that pans out, but I’m optimistic that at least a couple of those will be bought.

All in all, a great year, and something to build on in 2019.  So this is me signing off until next year…

Happy new year, everyone!

 

The Era of the Echo Chamber

Democrats and Republicans

As an Argentine with a lot of American friends on social media, I find myself in the unusual position of being something of a neutral when it comes to the political discussion.  This is mainly because the strict “left” and “right” categories that everyone uses in the US don’t apply directly when transposed to South America.

So I have friends on both sides of the divide, and if I had to make a quick assessment, I’d say that they are all reasonable, intelligent human beings.  I can say nice things about people on both sides, and can state that, in 99% of cases, all the rhetoric about how the other side eats babies is just that: rhetoric.  No matter which side of the divide you’re on, the opposition, except for small groups of extremists on both sides (easily identifiable by the sloping forehead and small cranial capacity) really decent people.

And yet, each group is mistakenly convinced that everyone on the other side of the political spectrum is some kind of ogre… and I blame the “block” option on social media.

Lately, a lot of people have been posting political stuff on their feeds, with the result that, immediately half their friends blocked them.  After that happens a few billion times, people end up seeing posts only from people they agree with.

That’s fine, I guess.  It reaffirms that other people think the same way you do, gives you a sense of community and a feeling that you aren’t completely nuts.

Unfortunately, it also keeps you from reading any reasoned arguments that the opposition may be making.  Following the crowd–even if its your crowd–is not the right way to develop critical thinking skills.

And the critical thinking skills are declining at an impressive rate.  People on the both sides have decided to outsource their thinking to a few partisan–and highly irresponsible–media outlets and therefore feel free from having to actually confront an opposing argument.  After all, if the other side is saying it, it is the position of either a Libtard or a Fascist… and nothing a Libtard or Fascist says can possibly be worth listening to, can it?

Unfortunately, it can.  With such a close split in the political makeup of the country, the arguments on both sides are equally balanced in a way that hasn’t happened before.  The arrogant assumption that the other side is somehow worse is not only wrong… it’s dangerous.

So get out of your echo chamber.  Discuss points with the opposing side without losing your temper.  If anyone says “we have to be intolerant, it’s the only way to deal with these people”, that is the person you need to block.  Those people are the extremists whose obsession leads to things like Prohibition, Gulags and Kristallnacht.  Get them out of your life.

In short, your echo chamber is turning you into an imbecile.  You need to get out.