Review: Jonathan Issue 11

Jonathan Issue 11 journal cover, image from Goodreads

Jonathan Issue 11: A Queer Fiction JournalJonathan Issue 11: A Queer Fiction Journal by Raymond Luczak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With issue 11, Jonathan diversifies from fiction written by gay men to fiction written “by self-identified queer writers from all across the LGBTQ spectrum.” I haven’t read the previous ten issues, but the quality of the stories in issue 11 convinces me to purchase the back issues and also look forward to upcoming issues.

Many of these stories are about acceptance and transformation. “Skylark” by Lucy Jane Bledsoe is about a song that needs to be sung, and it sets a tone of affirmation for the entire issue that I just love. This first story leads into “The Wilderness” by Norman Belanger, one that captures coming-of-age in the 1970s, and a different kind of affirmation. I love how the tone and mood changes from story to story, providing a variety that led me eagerly from one story to the next.

Some of the stories lead to danger. “Bird Bones” by Calvin Moen abruptly confronts the dangers of violent bigotry near the end, and I held my breath while reading how it turned out for the protagonist. “Going to the Grampas” by George K. Isley is even darker: what begins as a beautiful, idyllic fairy tale setting and circumstance is eventually revealed as something evil and stomach-turning. Not every story can have a happy ending.

For whatever reason, I was expecting realistic fiction, but I was delighted to read both realistic and fantastic stories, including magical realism, fairy tale, and supernatural. I also appreciate how these stories explore the complexity of their characters rather than just their queerness. Stories like “Pilgrim Soul” by Trebor Healey is about pain and death and human connection, with a protagonist that just happens to be gay. Whether these stories are specifically about LGBTQ-related experiences or explore more universal topics, they are all wildly successful. The editor obviously took great care in selecting these stories and arranging them in a fascinating order.

I’m eager to read more issues!

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Review: The Machinery Second Edition

Cover for The Machinery Second Edition. Image from Goodreads.

The Machinery Second EditionThe Machinery Second Edition by Himanshu Goel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like the previous issue, I love the art that illustrates each poem and prose piece. Standouts include Mawia Hunter illustrations for the poems “Clarity” by Jason Alford and “Pathetic Fallacy” by Maximilian Heinegg, illustrations in which figures emerges out of colorful and vibrant splatters and drippings of paint. The artists and the writers are from various parts of the world and part of the charm and enjoyment of The Machinery is how writer and artist from different backgrounds are paired together.

I also really enjoy the writing this time. Even poems I found somewhat opaque in meaning were gorgeous in imagery and language. Several made good use of repeating phrases (anaphora), such as “I don’t” in “Reasons to Skip Breakfast” by Larissa Wirstuik, and repeating lines, such as the wishes in “Wish” by Chris Stewart. I particularly love poems that end with a final line or two that takes the poem in a new direction or toward a philosophical moment or a surprise, and several of the poems do so here, such as the surprising use of “penultimate” in the last line of “We Wanted to Write the Poem” by Corey Mesler, the heartbreaking and hopeful possibility at the end of “I Blush for Erza” by Amanda Besserer, and the unexpected recent memory at the end of “Earthbound Words on a Flight of Fancy. ETA Uncertain.” by Sangeetha Balakrishnan. I want my black socks to fly away and return with a gift, too!

My favorite of the short stories is “For Better and Worse” by Yi Han, a wonderful and inventive fairy tale that subverts the cliches of the genre with a magical corner of a room, inclusive characters, and acute longing. This is the second time I’ve read “For Better and Worse” (The Machinery also publishes each piece on their WordPress website and I had read this particular story a few weeks ago) and I think I understood this time how the characters know each other, an understanding that makes the story even better and more poignant.

Some of the stories also have surprises in their last few sentences. The twist at the end of “Gone Riding” by Sue Ann Porter is humorous, but also a little shocking; just why has the character been feeling so intensely throughout the piece!? The funny ending at the end of “The First Plague” by Phil Temples contrasts with the revelation of what is going on.

I think The Machinery improved greatly between the first and second editions, and now I’m really looking forward to the third!

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Review: The Machinery First Edition

Cover of The Machinery First Edition

The MachineryThe Machinery by The Machinery
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A young group of artists from India has organized a new literary magazine of poetry, prose, and art and photography. I liked the poetry and prose, but none of the pieces really stood out, in my opinion. I was most captivated by the lovely photographs and drawings that illustrate each piece. For example, in “Home Cooking” by John Grey, a soldier home from Iraq reflects on how a domestic setting is different from the war front; the illustration is of an empty egg shell in black and white set against a black background, which helps illustrate the meal preparation and kitchen setting of the poem.

I was a little worried at first about the diversity of writers in the issue: the first several poems all seem to be written by white men from western countries (based on included bio images.) Later in the issue, however, there are a few writers from other backgrounds. The illustrators are all young men and women from India, I think, and I’m eager to see more of their work in future issues. The art really is stunning.

I like this first issue and it was strong enough for me to want to seek out the second issue.

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Book Review: The Year’s Best Fantasy First Annual Collection

Book cover of The Year's Best Fantasy First Annual Collection edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

The Year's Best Fantasy First Annual CollectionThe Year’s Best Fantasy First Annual Collection by Ellen Datlow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me over a year to read this 1988 collection of short stories selected by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, but it wasn’t because of any problems I had with the anthology. I’m rating this 5 stars for a very good reason: nearly ever story in the collection are themselves 5-star worthy. Some stories overwhelmed me so much with their greatness that I had to take a break to process them, which led to gaps in my reading this anthology when I fell into reading some other book. Every time I came back to this anthology, though, I immediately encountered another incredible, thought-provoking story.

I mean, the anthology starts with “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight” by Ursula K. Le Guin! This is one of my absolute favorite stories and it is one that lingers. So many stories in this anthology are like that. I sometimes didn’t want to move on; I wanted to savor and think about what I had just read. Sometimes I even fell into a jealous gloom, despairing that my own writing will ever come close to the level of craft on display here.

There are other stories that simply shattered my understanding of how short stories in particular fantasy genres should work. Stories like “Haunted” by Joyce Carol Oates and “Halley’s Passing” by Michael McDowell scared me half to death! These are decidedly disturbing, even icky, horror stories that showcase their author’s incredible use of craft. In “Halley’s Passing,” for example, McDowell uses a close third-person narrator that relays real-time violence in matter-of-fact, even bureaucratic detail. That combination elevated my terror from the very beginning, so that when I reached a horrifying further revelation near the end, it wasn’t all that surprising, considering.

Yes, absolutely chilling and disturbing horror, often offset by other genres of fantasy that are more humorous, soaring, and absolutely gorgeous in setting and detail. Mood often shifts story by story, though there are also interesting pairings of stories with similar moods and subject matter throughout the anthology. Stories like “Words of Power” by Jane Yolen and “The Maid on the Shore” by Dalia Sherman offer powerful moments of empowerment and achievement soon after other stories of frightful horror.

I would love to write a review about each and every story, but the last one I’ll focus on has to be Alan Moore’s “A Hypothetical Lizard.” Until this last story, the one criticism I had about the anthology was the lack of diversity in characters. There are (too) few people of color, though it is possible that readers could see diverse characters in stories that don’t really describe the characters in great detail. Until “A Hypothetical Lizard,” there are no LGBT characters; instead, there are jarring uses of “faggot” in a couple stories, though the characters uttering this word are meant to be despicable.

The last story, and Windling’s pick for best fantasy story of the year, is “A Hypothetical Lizard,” and it is a stunning and inclusive story to end on. Not that it has a happy ending, but Moore’s characterization of the transgender character Rawra Chin is very loving, though in keeping with 1988 one would not expect Her story to have a happy ending. I think that Moore’s use of homosexual and transgender characters to tell a universal story of love and betrayal is powerful and very much appreciated in an anthology of stories that otherwise ignores LGBT people.

The other thing I love about “A Hypothetical Lizard” is Moore’s level of craft. In fact, he’s on an entirely different level than any other writer in the anthology, and this story, at least in my opinion, seems the most timeless because of it. The cinematic vividness of his descriptions includes a scene where the character imagines the black stones of the courtyard below her as a pool of water, and what it would be like for her to dive into the water and swim away. I’m going to be studying this and other passages for years as I try to improve my own writing. Another example: a perspective change that is jarring but absolutely perfect for the story. I cannot rave enough about Moore’s level of craft. It’s just stunning.

So, yes, this anthology took me over a year to read, but it is also my most favorite book over that same period of time. It includes some of my favorite short stories ever. What Le Guin, Oates, McDowell, Moore, and everyone else in the anthology accomplish with their tales is so inspiring.

I’m in awe.

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Olivia De Havilland at 100

Fantastic list from the Nitrate Diva and now I want nothing more than to dive into these movies. I have been wanting to watch The Heiress for years.

This is the age of Olivia de Havilland. We’re just lucky to be living in it. Today, on July 1, 2016, she turns 100. To celebrate her talent, her courage, and her breathtakingly diverse legacy of screen performances, I embarked on an “Oliviathon” and vowed to watch or rewatch all of her films by the end […]

via 100 Reasons to Love Olivia de Havilland (Part I) — Nitrate Diva

Book Review: Writing the Paranormal Novel by Steven Harper

Writing the Paranormal Novel: Techniques and Exercises for Weaving Supernatural Elements Into Your Story.Writing the Paranormal Novel: Techniques and Exercises for Weaving Supernatural Elements Into Your Story. by Steven Harper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Writing the Paranormal Novel by Steven Harper covers beginning writing with a focus on paranormal genres. There are sections I particularly enjoyed and found helpful, including advice about how to conduct research, interview experts, etc (Chapters 4 and 10). There are sections that served as good review about elements of craft (the chapters in Part III) and getting published (Part IV.) It’s always nice to be reminded that “writers write” and Harper provides lots of this kind of inspiration, with a healthy dash of humor. He uses several good examples from the works of other writers of the paranormal.

I think the book was a little long for this basic material, and at times repetitive. It also relies on platitudes and generalizations, a style that put me off a little. There isn’t a lot of depth, but for beginners and those in need of a review, I think this book may be handy, and it will suggest to you topics you’ll want to explore further elsewhere.

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