Month: December 2020

This is where I came in

December 1975. A good month, if only because I was born in it (well, a good month for me, anyhow). Of course, the December 1975 issue of R&T was probably not published in December, landing on newsstands sometime in November, and it certainly didn’t report stuff happening in December. But it’s still, to a certain degree, “my” issue.

Starts off with a good cover for me. No econoboxes on my month, but no overly ostentatious exotica, either. Just a weird, one-of-a-kind concept car that was too strange to build more of. Sounds about right to represent me, so I’ll leave off the analysis and dive into the mag.

As an old-car enthusiast, I found the article on the 25th Anniversary of the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance to be a wonderful piece, especially since it speaks to the origins of the concours which is still going on 45 years later. Delightful.

The rest of the issue also worked for me, as Road & Track went the interesting cars route for this issue, eschewing the more mundane stuff your neighbor was driving in ’75. So Alfas and Maseratis and Porsches (lots of Porsches) instead of Fords and Cadillacs.

A side note when talking about the competition pieces is that this is the issue where R&T reported the death of Mark Donohue. If this hadn’t been the December issue, this post would have dealt entirely with Donohue, who was truly a one-of-a-kind driver. He raced, retired and was miserable out of the cockpit, so he returned and was killed in an F1 practice. Knowing just how bad his life was without racing, maybe it was for the best… but the sport lost a beloved ambassador and a man equally at home developing race cars as driving them. The hole he left is still felt today.

Other than that, the racing coverage was amazing, which ended up making me think that the good folks at R&T built it especially for me.

They didn’t, of course, but who’s going to take away a newborn baby’s fantasy?

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a fast-paced action adventure romp with genetically modified monsters. Fun from page one. You can check it out here.

Lost and Found and an Emotive Surprise

I write in a bunch of genres and receive very different kinds of contributor copies for my efforts. Sometimes the cover and general look and feel of the book make me think it’s going to be great, and other times, awful. When I saw my copy of Lost and Found, I wasn’t expecting much, even though the book appeared solid and well printed.

But I always read my contributor’s copies, so I read it… and was blown away. The stories in here pull at the heartstrings, and they pull hard. Of course, I should have suspected it. After all the subject of loss lends itself to hugely powerful situations, and the table of contents of this book was full of names I recognized as talented practitioners.

It’s an emotional roller coaster containing everything from fantasy horror in an amusement park to straight literary fiction, and it’s well worth the read. Editor Terri Karsten has done a wonderful job.

My favorite was probably “Lost Lamb” by Paul Lewellan, a mature tale that reads just the way I like my mainstream fiction. Well done. Also memorable was “It Happened at Stratosphere Heights”, by Antonio Simon Jr. – by far the weirdest one in here.

Another thing I really liked was the section entitled “On the lighter side” which, as the name implies, is a collection of stories with more levity – some outright funny, that breaks up the serious nature of the book very well.

In conclusion, this one was a hit with me and proves again that judging a book by its cover is a bad idea, especially when the cover is perfectly fine, just not quite the one you would have chosen. This one is worth the time.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose literary fiction is collected in the book Love and Death, which is a novel told in short story form intertwining the lives of characters who, for the most part, are unaware of how their lives affect everyone else. You can buy it here.

Aliens in Science Fiction – A Critical Text

As most of you here are probably aware, most of what I read is fiction, interspersed with magazines around various topics (or maybe it’s the other way around). But I do find the exercise of literary criticism fascinating, and read texts when they come my way.

So it was delightful when I was given a copy of Elana Gomel’s wonderful book Science Fiction, Alien Encounters, and the Ethics of Posthumanism.

As the title implies, this one is a scholarly text at a university level and needs to be read carefully. Some of the technical terms on the philosophical and ethics side forced me (an engineer) to do a little bit of studying. Nevertheless, the book is anything but opaque; the arguments and analysis are clearly stated and easy to follow. Gomel also pushes her theories with strong argumentation and vivid exemplification from selected SF novels which helps the reader understand what is being said.

As a reader (and a science fiction reader in particular), the delight of this on lies in discovering books and stories that I wasn’t aware of. Gomel’s genre knowledge is as deep expected of the author of a book of this kind, but it is also broad, casting a wide net that includes more obscure titles and less commercial work from behind the iron curtain.

As for the arguments themselves, the book does exactly what the title says it will: it takes alien encounters and analyzes them through a philosophical lens, focusing on humanism vs. posthumanism in particular. I found it fascinating but perhaps I found it fascinating for a different reason than academic readers will; in my case, a major source of the fascination came from seeing how differently certain beloved classics can be read when one has the critical tools to understand them beyond what a run-of-the-mill reader would see.

I think that exercise is worthwhile for any reader of the genre (especially if that reader, like me, is also a writer). Academic readers with a philosophy background will, of course, be able to absorb the conclusions more fully (and possibly disagree with them), but I simply dedicated myself to reading and learning stuff I’d completely missed.

I enjoyed it, and this one is worth reading regardless of where you stand on the regular-reader-vs-academic-reader spectrum. If science fiction–particularly science fiction about alien encounters–interests you, you will find something to like in this book.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer whose most well-received Science Fiction novel is Siege. You can check it out here.

The Perfect Snapshot of the Automotive Seventies?

Science says that people who apply stereotypes are right most of the time, but modern culture has assigned a stigma to using it for analysis purposes, so I feel a little bit guilty at stereotyping the seventies in a certain way. And yet, it’s nearly impossible to feel that the October 1975 edition of Road & Track magazine doesn’t represent the decade perfectly.

It’s possible the date has a lot to do with it; it’s hard to get more centrally located, temporally speaking, in the decade than late 1975.

But there are other things. For example, the Panther De Ville has to be the most 1970’s vehicle ever created. It cost Rolls-Royce money when new… and people bought them.

But there’s more to the seventies than random pimp-mobiles. There was also racing and, as anyone who knows anything about Hollywood is aware, the seventies were about Nikki Lauda and James Hunt. So it’s fitting to see that the two winners of Rob Walker’s race reports were… Lauda and Hunt.

Also, an art car created by Calder to run (weakly) at Le Mans? That should qualify as well (and it links to our more usual interests around here). As should the cover: the Chevette was considered a great car and there was a Formula 5000 inset. That could only be the seventies. And there was talk of regulation and safety and emissions.

So if you only pick up one 1970s Road & Track to try to understand the automotive decade, you could do much worse than to choose this one.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book is a monster book that could serve to define the monster genre in the early 2020s. After all, Test Site Horror contains genetically modified beasts, rogue scientists working semi-officially, Russian special forces troops and investigative journalists under fire. What more could a monster book need? You can check it out here.

The Bigamist was a Great Film… Except for the Title

I suppose the fact that the title spoils one of the ‘Aha!’ moments of the 1953 film The Bigamist, should bother me less than it does. But even though this reveal comes early in the film, audiences already knew it was coming… and it would have been a wonderful moment.

I suspect that this bad decision was caused by either the marketing folk sacrificing a delightful moment for a lot of box-office prurient interest (the film was on shaky financial footing pre-release) or the director wanting to stop the shock of the reveal from becoming the most important part of the film so audiences could focus on the human interest story behind it. Whatever the reason, it led to my main disappointment with this one. I would have loved to be shocked by the discovery that the main character was a bigamist instead of knowing exactly why he was worried in the first scene before it was revealed.

The other disappointment was knowing it would end badly. The Hays Code (which we hate) meant there could be no unambiguous (miraculous, seeing the mess this dude was in) happy ending allowing people to leave theaters uplifted. I don’t mind unhappy endings, but I prefer not to know it’s coming from the off. When that happens, it weighs on me all the way through the movie, the dread of bad news to come.

And the prophecy comes to pass, even if the ending isn’t as awful as some of the crime movies where everyone ends up dead.

Joan Fontaine is utterly charming in this one–an actress in her mid-thirties who was much more attractive than she herself was in her twenties, unusual as that may sound.

Anyway, you already know what the guy’s crime is, and you know it won’t end all that well… but watch it anyway. It’s a good psychological study which goes right to the heart of human emotion and is just as relevant today (perhaps more in our alienated world) as it was in 1953.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose own look at human emotion is a book entitled Love and Death, a novel told in short story form following a cast of characters whose lives, unknowingly intertwined, form a single coherent narrative. I won’t tell you whether it has a happy ending, but you can check it out here.

Ad Astra Again

For someone who’s never been a paid member of the National Space Society, I’ve received a reasonable number of editions of Ad Astra, the Society’s magazine.

It’s all because of being a science fiction writer, of course. SF writers, as a breed, are usually kindred spirits to NSS members (except for those writers who specialize in whiny near-future pessimism). We look to the stars and believe that humanity is essentially awesome and that we’re going to be facing the challenges of life in space sooner rather than later.

So some of my activities get me into positions where copies of Ad Astra come my way.

The first time was back in 2008. As a total unknown, I entered a contest for an antho called Return to Luna, sponsored, in part, by the NSS. As one of the winners, my story “Ménage à Trois” was published in the resulting book. Part of the prize was a year-long membership in the NSS, and I received a year’s worth of the magazine.

More recently, I scored second place in the Jim Baen Memorial contest, and got to go to the Award Ceremony in Washington in 2019. The ceremony took place within the framework of the National Space Society’s annual convention, so I got another chance to grab copies of Ad Astra. (As an aside, the story which came second was eventually picked up by NewMyths.com and should be available to read in their December 2019 issue by the time this post is published. So if you’re curious, go ahead and have a look).

Since I was given a copy of the Winter 2019 edition of the magazine, I read it.

And I loved it. Not so much for the specific information it contained or for any spectacular achievements in writing or graphic design (It looks decent but not hyper-polished) but because of the sheer optimism it exudes. It’s nice to feel surrounded by people that, when faced with a difficult problem say “what if we try this?” instead of shrinking from the challenge. The kind of people who believe the only true failure is the one you don’t learn from.

In a world where people seem to respect pessimism and seem to celebrate those who remain within the accepted limitations imposed by society while not overreaching, Ad Astra rekindles ones’ faith in humanity. We aren’t just a bunch of angsty whiners; some people are still looking outward and striving for greatness.

I’ve gone on record saying that I think the moon landings are humanity’s greatest achievement, and that we’ll never do anything more important than that until we leave Earth. This magazine is my proof that I’m not alone.

Hopefully, I can win a few more of these as time goes on. If not, I may just have to join the NSS!

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose book Siege looks forward into humanity’s far future where the challenges of space colonization and posthumanism come into sharp focus and are faced off against humanity’s unconquerable spirit. You can check out the well-received novel Siege, here.

How do they keep it up, week after week?

We’ve spoken about The New Yorker here before. As was probably evident from that post, I am not a subscriber to the magazine, but I am an enjoyer. Essentially, I buy the available issues whenever I’m in the US and read them when they cycle through my TBR pile (apparently, it’s currently sitting at a year and a half).

While some of the news items in The New Yorker are obviously not going to be relevant all that time later (I’m clearly not going to make it to the July 2019 premiere of Midsommar), most of the content can be enjoyed whenever. Even the political stuff doesn’t change that much from one year to the next.

For a magazine that prizes itself for getting high-quality hot takes into its readers’ hands, one thing I admire is how enjoyable it is much later. Long-form journalism of this type appears to be a dying breed and where it isn’t, it is so skewed by the writer’s (or the editor’s) political leanings that to be almost unreadable. The New Yorker has a political lean, of course, moderate left, but they attempt to avoid letting that skew get in the way of the truth.

Take this issue’s cover story, for example: “Faith & Other Drugs”. It could have been an attack on Christianity, especially hyper-organized big-church Christianity in the US, but it wasn’t. It was an introspective piece on the comparative effect of religion and drugs on the mind and persona of one specific person. As such, it’s readable by all, alienating no one.

The thing that amazes me most is how they manage to sift through the reams of submissions to find the nuggets that work, and to print an eclectic selection that keeps everyone engaged. I can only imagine what kind of a constant tornado the TNY offices must be.

Of course, no one is perfect, and the fiction I’ve seen has been uninspiring at best and depressing at worst. Now, I can’t say that this is a constant because I read maybe three or four issues a year. I may just be unlucky. This issue’s story, unfortunately, is not among the best fiction I’ve read this year by any stretch of the imagination. I may be suffering from excessive expectations – I assume that TNY has access to the best work from the best writers… but I never seem to see that in the published work. It’s also possible that I may simply prefer a very different kind of fiction, and the problem is in the reader in this case. But I find the fiction–and only the fiction–pretty much pointless.

But other than that, it’s invariably a great read. Snobbish and elitist? Perhaps, but that is part of the enjoyment. I like nodding along when I’m in on the subject as much as the next person… and when I’m not, I’ll learn something. Win-win.

A subscription wouldn’t make it to Argentina, and I don’t have time to read one of these cover-to-cover every week, but I will continue (and have continued) to buy them whenever I travel. Watch this space for more thoughts as they get to the top of the pile.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose literary fiction appears in Love and Death, a novel told in short story form which, he hopes, isn’t quite as pointless as the fiction he’s encountered in TNY so far. You can check it out here.

The Glory of Lella Lombardi

The July and August 1975 Road & Tracks continue the line we’ve been seeing in the 1970s, although I will admit that the writing is a bit more inspiring than in the earlier 1970s issues. How much of this is due to the fact that the regulatory excess had stabilized and how much was due to the simple fact that the writers were happier as automotive engineers began to get a handle on the stumbling blocks the legislators had put in there is not something I can elucidate on.

But one person simply took over the two magazines… even though it was probably unintentional.

The July edition contained a long article about Lella Lombardi, a female racer who had just gotten a Formula One drive for the 1975 World Championship season in a March. No one was expecting too much in the first year, both due to her inexperience and the fact that she wasn’t in a top-line car, but her simple presence, the first woman in nearly two decades to drive at the top level of motorsport, made her a significant character and someone worthy of a profile.

Not only that, but her presence inspired another article in the July issue: a review of the greatest female drivers until 1975. And yes, there were many and some were great, even in the early days of motorsport when driving was for seriously strong people , regardless of gender.

And then, in the August issue, serendipity struck. In the chaotic, tragic Spanish GP of 1975, a race marked by attrition and very few finishers (halted before the halfway mark and therefore only awarding half points), Lella Lombardi finished sixth, gaining half a world championship point.

To this day, these are the only points ever won by a woman in the Formula One World Championship.

And in 1975, that made put Lombardi among the greatest female drivers ever even though she probably wasn’t objectively as good as some of the giants that blazed the trail for her.

In 1975, no one knew that the greatest female driver in history was already contesting a few European rallies and entering the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a minor all-female entry. Michelle Mouton would come within a hair’s breadth of winning the World Rally Championship by taming a fire-breathing Audi. She won four rallies against the men, cementing her position as the greatest woman ever to sit behind the wheel.

And since then, no woman has managed to come close to her achievements. Danica Patrick came closest but, despite having top-line equipment, she only one a single race in her entire career and never on the world level, always in the US.

So our hats are off to Lella, a pure racer who is still unique in history.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose book Timeless is about another strong woman, a journalist who follows her story to the very last consequences–even at the risk of her life. You can check it out here.

A Crown Imperiled – Nearing the End of Another Great Series

It’s kind of sad if you think about it. All the great fantasy series I picked up in my early teens are coming to a close, and some of the authors have died (and now Terry Goodkind has died, too).

The Riftwar Cycle, likewise, came to a close in 2013 and, although I’ve yet to read the last book, I’ve just finished the one before that.

This installment was just another reminder of why this series has always been pretty much my favorite. Though, like most of its contemporaries, it’s composed of thick volumes of well-described and gorgeous places, it doesn’t overdo the description and every single volume is packed with more action that books twice the size by other authors.

That doesn’t mean that character development is neglected. Quite the opposite: Feist’s characters are memorable indeed, and truly make the books. While they aren’t in the same league psychologically as GRRM’s or Nabokov’s, they are more than real enough to carry a fantasy adventure series.

I have already ordered the final volume, and will be saddened when I finish reading it… knowing Feist, it’s going to a be a blood-drenched, explosive finale.

My reflection here is… what is replacing these series? I’ve seen a lot of very different kind of thing out there, but very few of the doorstop fantasies that worked so well to bring–and keep–readers in the genre. I’m sure there’s a big market for traditional fantasy based on medieval Europe with magic and evil orcs. Yes, I know it’s a cliché, but sometimes things are cliché precisely because people love them. I know Sanderson and Farland have series out there… but not sure what else worth notice is available. I need to get up to date on Terry Brooks, too.

Anyhow, if you haven’t heard of Feists Riftwar books, you’re in for a treat. Grab magician and read. You can thank me when you’re done.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book, Test Site Horror, is about Russian special forces troops attempting to survive the escape of genetically modified dinosaurs. You can have a look here.

Writing Advice that Sucks – and Some that Doesn’t

Are you a writer still looking for that first sale? Or maybe to move up another step in your career?

Have you already read all the books (particularly On Writing) and everything online… and have gotten to the point where you actually welcome writing advice from monster book writers?

Excellent. You’ve come to the right place. Prepare to hear some hard truths.

If you’ve really done your homework, you’ll have been inundated with the following gems:
– Cross out all your adjectives
– The secret to writing is RE-writing
– Adverbs are from the devil
– The passive voice is unacceptable
– Use simple words
– If you don’t have several beta-readers you’ll never sell a word

Now, all of these are well-intentioned and there’s a reason each of these is posted a billion times online. Mainly, that reason is that a lot of bad writing is bad precisely because writers overwrite or miss an editing pass and agents and purchasing editors are tearing their hair out over it, so they pretty much convince themselves that if they see another adverb, they’ll track down the writer and shoot him.

But that’s only a part of the story. A lot of excellent writing is heavy with adjectives, written in the passive voice or even, shudder, in the second person. And the writing advice you’ll find online will be very discouraging if that’s your style.

So these are good for beginning writers, except for that one about the secret to writing being re-writing. I secretly suspect that that one was created by some successful writer who wants to keep newcomers out of the field by making the act of writing seem like torture. Because that is what excessive rewriting is… torture (you’ll need some rewrites to whatever you do, but knowingly writing a terrible first draft is just silly. Get it as good as you can and then polish as necessary, don’t relish the rewrite). I like Heinlein’s mandate to rewrite only to editorial command.

So throw all of them away. Here’s my take on how to become a writer:

  1. Be a reader. Preferably from the age of four (get a time machine and go back if necessary). If you can’t swing starting at the age of four, then start right now. Drop whatever you’re doing and grab the nearest book. Read to the end and grab the next nearest. Only once you’ve read everything you can reach without getting up are you allowed to leave your chair. And then, only to go to the bookcase and continue the process. Read in your target genre and out of it. Read magazines and theater. Read poetry (you can yell at me in the comments, but read it anyway). You’ll be surprised at how much your sense of what sounds right will take a quantum leap forward… a lot of writing is unconscious, and if the raw material isn’t there, the writing will be flat. This is the most important writing advice you’ll ever hear. An added benefit is that if you’re a voracious reader, you won’t have to study Strunk and White because you’ll absorb it from authors who already know it. If you try to write without being a voracious reader, you will suck, and you won’t even know it. Let me spell that out for you again: if you’ve ever said “I don’t have time to read,” you are a crap writer. Period. MAKE time.
  2. Write every day. Have writer’s block? Cool, force yourself to write a thousand words. Not inspired? Awesome, now, ass in chair and give me a thousand. Tired? Yeah, that sucks, especially since you are going to be writing a thousand words with your eyelids at half-mast. I think you get the point. Writers are people who write.
  3. Finish and submit your work. No excuses. Get it done, get it polished and get it subbed. It’s worthless on your hard drive and if an editor or an agent hates it, they’ll hate it. Fortunately, since you are forced to write every day, you’ll be thinking about your next piece when the rejection comes in. And once it does, you send it back out immediately. If you’re any good, it will eventually sell (or place in a 4-the-Luv publication). If you aren’t, you need to go back to step 1, above – remember that not everyone is born with Oscar Wilde’s pure talent… but everyone can learn to hear the rhythm of a sentence in their head and turn out publishable prose. I know one particular genre writer who has zero natural talent, but whose workmanlike writing is readable enough to have gotten him onto the NYT bestseller list and writing for at least two wonderful SF properties. I respect that.
  4. Do NOT worry about rejections. There are tens of millions of writers out there. If you’re doing 1-3, you’re already ahead of most of them. Now it’s just a a case of beating the millions that still remain onto a table of contents or a publisher’s release timetable. So getting rejections just means you’re one step closer to seeing that piece in print. Also, if you’re doing steps 1-3, the act of writing, reading and getting your rejected pieces back out there will restore that spark of hope.

So that’s my advice. Note that I’m not prescribing how to tell your stories. Your voice is yours, and if it’s good enough, you will be published. If it’s not good enough, keep reading until you can recognize a good sentence just by how it looks on the page.

It’s hard work, but then being a writer is very cool… and very competitive.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His latest book is a monster book (well, we did warn you) entitled Test Site Horror. It’s an action adventure piece set in the Ural Mountains where genetically-modified dinosaurs and Russian special forces troops battle it out to see who the apex predator actually is. You can check it out here.