Saturday, April 19, 2008

Spring Flowers

I don't usually take pictures of people's houses. But this arrangement of pink and yellow is too unusual to miss.

PS: if you click on this photo, you can see a larger version. Blogger seems to have shrunk it for some reason.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Basil Seeds Coming Up!

I planted them seven days ago. My windowsill garden consists of one pot of (perennial) oregano and one pot for basil.

Around here, basil seed sells out faster than the other seed packets, so you have to move fast. I went to two stores before finding "plain" Italian basil. Then ended up trying the "lime basil" anyway. Sounds yummy.

They're so cute.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Modern Authors Part 2: Emma Bull and Will Shetterly

In Part 1 I talked about Steven Brust, and therefore the only possible way to start Part 2 is by mentioning Freedom & Necessity, the epistolary novel co-written by Brust and Emma Bull. It is a very good book, arguably better than anything they've written individually. A charming book.

As Steven Brust tells the story, this book began when his friend Emma walked up to him, handed him a letter, and walked away without a word. He feared that he had accidentally offended her so badly that the only way she could communicate about it was in writing. What a relief it must have been to see that the letter was dated "9th October 1849" and was written by one James Cobham to his cousin Richard, to the effect of "I'm at an inn. I don't remember how I got here, and I've only just remembered who I am, who you are, and what your address is." (That is the first letter in the book -- I have no idea if it was the letter Bull gave to Brust, or even if she wrote it.)

Other books by Emma Bull:
  • Territory. I have just finished reading this, her newest book -- published in 2007 -- believe it to be the first novel she's published in a while. It is a "Western fantasy", on analogy with "urban fantasy." I'm not a huge fan of Westerns but I liked this. It moves along at a good pace (indeed I fear that it moves so fast as to leave some questions unanswered.) The style is deceptively simple; there are a whole lot of ideas packed into this little book.
  • Bone Dance. I like this one of her books the best, for entirely personal reasons. It contains two of my favorite things: androgyny and Voudou.
  • War for the Oaks. This is probably her best-known work. As far as I can tell, it was one of the first examples of the urban fantasy genre, or more specifically the late-20th-century revival of urban fantasy. (I would love to write about earlier examples.) Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to read it until after having read many of its successors; in other words, I didn't realize how original it was, which is too bad. But it is certainly very good. It was written in the 1980s, and the male protagonist reminds me of Prince (I don't mean that in a bad way.)
Will Shetterly is Emma Bull's husband. He has written some mediocre books, and I once came across one of his early works which was just appallingly bad (some sword-and-sorcery thing), but he has also written one book that makes up for all of that. It is absolutely one of the best books I've ever read. It's magnificent. It's called Dogland.

Dogland might be described as the story of a family who moves to Florida in the late 1950s to run a pre-Disney World theme park (the theme being "dogs.") It might be described that way, and has been described that way, and it is based on events from Shetterly's childhood but it is in fact a fantasy novel. Mixed in with "ordinary" Southerners, black and white, the Yankee family, and a whole bunch of dogs is another cast of characters, including Norse gods, Egyptian gods, a vampire, a traveling couple named Mary and Joseph whose son died a long time ago, and the Devil himself.

Those who read it as memoir perhaps accept the many strangenesses as normal for the South, or as a child's imagination, or as bad writing. I don't know, but I have read some very funny reviews, most of which contain the sentence "The ending doesn't make any sense." A book that can be read and enjoyed in two such different ways is a masterpiece -- and people do enjoy it as a memoir.

Dogland also confronts the issue of racism. It does this explicitly, as part of the plot, but more subtly as well. The Satanic character is named "Nick Lumiere." Everything about him is white -- his skin, his car, his clothes. Lumiere, meaning "light," is reminiscent of "Lucifer," but I also read it as a comment on the stereotype of light-equals-good and dark-equals-evil.

I can't say enough good things about it. If I had written anything like Dogland I would never write another novel as long as I lived. It is quite possibly unsurpassable. But we all need to earn a living, and perhaps Mr. Shetterly has lost his taste for day jobs.