Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Shellie: Keeper by Kathi Appelt


Mini Synopsys:   This is a children’s and pre-teen book where the main character is Keeper. She is an almost ten year old girl who lives on the beach by the gulf of Mexico in Texas. There are a menagerie of animals in her life - two dogs, a cat, and a seagull, but what is special is that she can hear them talk.

She is well loved and cared for by Signe, her mom by default, their friend Dogie (a healing war veteran turned local surf board rental guy), and an old Russian sailor named Mr. Beauchamp. Keeper is like many young girls of that age, still believing in the magical, which includes ghosts and “merfolk”.

One particularly bad day she gets herself into very hot water, or should I say ocean water, in an attempt to find her “real mother” whom she believes to be a mermaid. We can only imagine what can happen here, as myth and folklore are combined and fantasy seamlessly blends into reality in this sweet and heart wrenching tale.

My Thoughts:   I loved this little book because it is a wonderful introduction to multicultural mermaid lore for a youngster (and in my case, adult). The author includes “merfolk” from different cultures within the story including characters whom are multicultural as well; their ethnicity is not completely defined. Because of these elements and more I believe Keeper will be an excellent teaching tool. It can be used as a spin-off for lessons on water safety, myth/fairytales/folklore and their definitions and differences, some science based lessons on geology and marine biology, as well as the defining of reality and make believe. All are important concepts in a growing mind, and if I remember correctly are included in many state curriculums.

Examining things further with the theme of adult “joint or supervised read”, the book has a number of time shifts where the author goes back and forth between the present and the past giving the story a complexity which some younger readers may struggle with, if not explained by or discussed with an adult. The story also includes  issues around abandonment, as well as the importance of creating family ritual, which a younger reader may not completely understand unless they are discussed. These all can be very good things if the book is moderated.

In addition the book contains illustrations which are simple that will interest a younger reader transitioning into more wordy books. The author also has a way of creating simple yet very deep and meaningful language which cuts to one’s heart and which is lovely for both children and adults. I think that the most special aspect of the story is that it contains several wonderful and key GLBT characters. Lastly, the ending is the type which I prefer, not completely that of a fairytale but with a slight tweak making one think, feel, and remember.

Highly recommended reading for adults who like myth and folklore mixed with realism, and for those who read to and teach children. As for children I would say all but a few will love it. I am rating this a 4 stars. I imagine that this story will be nominated for a variety or children’s book award.

The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight – A Novel by Gina Ochsner


Synopsis:    Within a current day setting in Russia, with all its difficult economics and  “shell shocked” population, a number of diverse individuals relay their lives via an omnipresent narrator in separate yet interrelated chapters. They all live in the same dilapidated building where the plumbing has been non existent for several months. They are coping, but it seems there is nothing they can do about the situation. Most significantly the group experiences a death of one of their fellow residents via suicide. Because the “dead guy” is not buried properly in contravention of the demands of his Muslim tradition, he haunts the others with hilarious, heart wrenching, and smelly results.

Layered within this story are the difficult and sadly comical experiences of each of the individuals. Each leading lives with a shared, conflicted yet accepting, desperation. All with differing perspectives due to varying ethnicity, age, and gender. Each are both thoughtful and dark.

As the characters are developed, the story starts to revolve around several American museum facilitators of “Russian Extraction” who will visit and determine if they are to help the Russian group and their local “handmade” museum. It is a promise of a monetary donation, but as the residents try to meet the Americans’ exacting standards and try and plan out a reasonable way of showing the donators that their museum is worthy of support, that they lead normal and sane lives, havoc ensues.

My Thoughts:   The above description of this book unjustly simplifies it, since there is so much more complexity within the book than can be described within three paragraphs. There were so may wonderful examples of complex and unusual word usage. I found myself laughing and amazed. The most fun aspect of the book is the way that the author seamlessly incorporates folktales, knowledge and tradition from each of the respective religious backgrounds. “Magical realism” melded with the reality of life - heartbreaking yet hopeful. The book is a linguistic mix of metaphor and imagery.

Key concepts which I found interesting within the book are the nature of truth and how cultures define what they choose to relay to the population through the media, what they hide, and who it is that decides what is shared. It is here that we see that Russians as indirect by cultural default. But we also see how frustrated and powerless they feel about their country’s conflicts. Here is a wonderful example where the main character Olga struggles with her job of translating for a local newspaper, where she is required to create euphemisms for the public to read:

Through the snow Olga trudged, dimly aware that in faraway places people spoke with purer words of unvarnished meaning. Or maybe not. Maybe at other news agencies in other countries people simply told more palatable lies. And as she rounded the corner and climbed over the remains of the broken stone archway that marked the entrance to the courtyard, she felt despair sliding down her throat, setting up quick residence in her stomach. Language was, after all, just word shaped stains, simply another way to evade and obscure the truth.

As I read, I felt the cultural angst. It was a fascinating glimpse into the Soviet psyche which I now understand is more complex than many of us realize. We find that the country has residents of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian background – all with their generalized terms and stagnant beliefs about themselves and others, not unlike the US or any other country for that matter. Here the author sums up human character via Olga:

Olga wagged her head slowly from side to side. It never ceased to amaze her what the human animal was capable of. What great great acts of generosity and cruelty. And how a human could harbor the inclination for both within the same heart! She wished she could say it was beyond her. But it wasn’t, because she felt it, too: compassion and rage, love and hate. Even good people could – and did – commit acts of cruelty. Even people like Olga.  How many times had she wished Afghanistan and everyone in it would simply fall off the map?

There are many other examples in the book which exemplify its wonderful language as well as its important concepts. It is a lovely and complex book which was originally published in Great Britain in 2009. The version I read had language appropriate for the area, and will be changed for the American audience. The quotes reflect the UK version. It did feel like a translation, however I could find no evidence of it being one.

I loved this book, and recommend it for people who enjoy unusual and creative language, metaphor and imagery, slipstream/magical realism, as well as art, art history, and cultural perspectives. I rate it at 4.5 stars. I will be looking for a hard copy of this book for my personal collection and I have also included Gina Ochsner on my list of authors to watch.

Here is a link for an article I recently found regarding the lack of complete information disclosure within Russia - here.

Genre Links - Fairy Tales and Quiz which Character Are You?


Faerie and Myth Related links:

  • This is a link for Faerie Radio, some great tunes - (click first and listen while you surf.)
  • A link where fairy tale is elusively defined at SurLaLune
  • Another to the wonderful Endicott Studio, which cataloged mythic literature.
  • This is a book that will be of interest to writers whom plan to write within this genre: The Uses of Enchantment - the meaning and importance of fairy tales by Bruno Bettelheim which I found at Rhiannon Hart’s Blog.
  • An interesting article from the UK Telegraph on the ancient origins of fairy tales.
  • This is an intellectual and academic site called the Mythopoeic Society, for the true fairy tale and myth geek. It has just announced the nominees for the Mythopoeic Award Finalists which are listed for 2010. The winners will be announced in Dallas, Texas at Mythcon 41, July 9-10.
  • A lovely ezine called Cabinet des Fees.  
  • Neil Gaiman has an audio recording on libraries and fairy tales, which includes a retelling of a Goldilocks -"ish" tale.
  • A big festival happening at the end of July and beginning of August, in Oregon, USA called Faerieworlds. Link there to see more about this  event and to see its gorgeous pictures.
  • Suvudo had Faerie Week the last week of May with some interesting posts and interviews where I found a few of the links which I have included here.
  • To take the quiz go to which fairytale character are you? Then go to this site and type in  the character you are. Choose a picture and add it to your post or link it here.

A New Genre? Slipstream vs New Wave Fabulism

This is a re-post from Emily Cross’s post on The Writer’s Chronicle – June 30, 2009.


Recently I've been thinking a lot about 'categories' and 'genre' in regards to my writing and that of my favourite books. "The Gargoyle"; "The Book Thief"; "Darkmans"; "Beyond Black"; "Life of Pi"; "The Book of lost things"; "Kafka on the shore"; "Neverwhere"; "American Gods" Often when some one asks about these books, its hard to call them, fantasy/ science fiction/literary because they are both but neither. As Carter Scholz & Bruce Sterling states, there is this new emergent genre:

it is a contemporary kind of writing which has set its face against consensus reality. It is a fantastic, surreal sometimes, speculative on occasion, but not rigorously so. It does not aim to provoke a "sense of wonder" or to systematically extrapolate in the manner of classic science fiction.

Instead, this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility. We could call this kind of fiction Novels of Postmodern Sensibility, but that looks pretty bad on a category rack, and requires an acronym besides; so for the sake of convenience and argument, we will call these books "slipstream."

He further continues that:

It seems to me that the heart of slipstream is an attitude of peculiar aggression against "reality." These are fantasies of a kind, but not fantasies which are "futuristic" or "beyond the fields we know." These books tend to sarcastically tear at the structure of "everyday life."Some such books, the most "mainstream" ones, are non-realistic literary fictions which avoid or ignore SF genre conventions. But hard-core slipstream has unique darker elements. Quite commonly these works don't make a lot of common sense, and what's more they often somehow imply that *nothing we know makes* "a lot of sense" and perhaps even that *nothing ever could*.
It's very common for slipstream books to screw around with the representational conventions of fiction, pulling annoying little stunts that suggest that the picture is leaking from the frame and may get all over the reader's feet. A few such techniques are infinite regress, trompe-l'oeil effects, metalepsis, sharp violations of viewpoint limits, bizarrely blase' reactions to horrifically unnatural events . . . all the way out to concrete poetry and the deliberate use of gibberish. Think M. C. Escher, and you have a graphic equivalent."

Is this the new wave for the genre of SF/Fantasy?
According to Rosenfield's article slipstream writers in reference to Carter Scholz and Sterlings article (above quoted and below listed) include just about everyone writing fantastic fiction working outside the "Science Fiction and Fantasy" section of the bookstore e.g. Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, Kathy Acker, William Burroughs, Steve Erickson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Phillip Roth
But what of New Wave Fabulism?

"Fabulism," you see, is a term used to describe Magical Realist writings by people who are not Latin.New Wave Fabulism is the term invented by Conjunctions to cast a broader net, to include fantastic writing that simply isn't Magical Realism. In practical terms one wonders what the difference between "New Wave Fabulism" and "Slipstream" really is? Why didn't Conjunctions just call the issue "Slipstream" and be done with it?

The real difference between the terms is an illustration of why we can't declare the tension between those inside and outside the genre finally over and break out the champaign. The term "Slipstream" was created by Bruce Sterling to describe people predominantly outside the genre, but because he himself was inside of it, talking to people inside of it, the term has come to be used primarily by the SF community. "New Wave Fabulism," however, was proposed by a literary magazine to describe people inside the genre, and it is already coming to be used by people in the Literary world as a way to describe SF writers who are, you know, "good," because apparently we can't just call it Speculative Fiction without turning people off. In 2006 an anthology was released with the unwieldy title of Paraspheres: Extending Beyond the Spheres of Literary and Genre Fiction: Fabulist and New Wave Fabulist Stories. In the statement-of-purpose essay from this anthology, editor Ken Keegan reveals:

On several occasions I initially described the work we would be publishing as "speculative fiction," only to receive a response like, "Oh, you mean science (or fantasy, or genre) fiction. I don't read science (or fantasy or genre) fiction. I only read literary fiction."

So essentially Slipstream and New Wave Fabulism are one and the same - a mix of literary and SF and according to Rosenberg's article both sides of this 'new genre' (literary and SF) are breaking out in hives at the thought of mentioning the other genre's existence.

The difference between Literary Fiction and Speculative Fiction is not the content, but the communities, communities which are often wildly ignorant about one another, and more significantly, openly hostile to one another. Which is not to say there aren't exceptions; obviously Bruce Sterling reads Literary Fiction and the editors of Conjunctions read Speculative Fiction. But the very existence of two terms, "Slipstream" and "New Wave Fabulism," to describe something that, if they aren't the same thing, might as well be, highlights the communal divisions even between the people who are most open to crossing their borders.

*sigh* i started this post, excited that i could label my favourite books with a genre name and be able to say i read 'such and such' genre and maybe be able to find more books that are similar. . . Now it sounds like i just walked onto the bookworld version of westside story!?!?!?!

THE SLIPSTREAM LIST - Carter Scholz & Bruce Sterling

ACKER, KATHY - Empire of the Senseless
ACKROYD, PETER - Hawksmoor; Chatterton
ALDISS, BRIAN - Life in the West
ALLENDE, ISABEL - Of Love and Shadows; House of
AMIS, KINGSLEY - The Alienation; The Green Man
AMIS, MARTIN - Other People; Einstein's Monsters
APPLE, MAX - Zap; The Oranging of America
ATWOOD, MARGARET - The Handmaids Tale
AUSTER, PAUL - City of Glass; In the Country of Last
BALLARD, J. G. - Day of Creation; Empire of the Sun
BANKS, IAIN - The Wasp Factory; The Bridge
BANVILLE, JOHN - Kepler; Dr. Copernicus
BARNES, JULIAN - Staring at the Sun
BARTH, JOHN - Giles Goat-Boy; Chimera
BATCHELOR, JOHN CALVIN - Birth of the People s
Republic of Antarctica
BELL, MADISON SMARTT - Waiting for the End of the
BONTLY, THOMAS - Celestial Chess
BOYLE, T. CORAGHESSAN - Worlds End; Water Music
BRANDAO, IGNACIO - And Still the Earth
BURROUGHS, WILLIAM - Place of Dead Roads; Naked Lunch;
Soft Machine; etc.
CARROLL, JONATHAN - Bones of the Moon; Land of Laughs
CARTER, ANGELA - Nights at the Circus; Heroes and
CARY, PETER - Illywhacker; Oscar and Lucinda
CHESBRO, GEORGE M. - An Affair of Sorcerers
COETZEE, J. M. - Life and rimes of Michael K.
COOVER, ROBERT - The Public Burning; Pricksongs &
CRACE, JIM - Continent
CROWLEY, JOHN - Little Big; Aegypt
DAVENPORT, GUY - Da Vincis Bicycle; The Jules Verne
Steam Balloon
DISCH, THOMAS M. - On Wings of Song
DODGE, JIM - Not Fade Away
ELY, DAVID - Seconds
ERICKSON, STEVE - Days Between Stations; Rubicon Beach
FEDERMAN, RAYMOND - The Twofold Variations
FRANZEN, JONATHAN - The Twenty-Seventh City
FRISCH, MAX - Homo Faber; Man in the Holocene
FUENTES, CARLOS - Terra Nostra
GADDIS, WILLIAM - JR; Carpenters Gothic
GARDNER, JOHN - Grendel; Freddy's Book
GEARY, PATRICIA - Strange Toys; Living in Ether
GOLDMAN, WILLIAM - The Princess Bride; The Color of
GRASS, GUNTER - The Tin Drum
HARBINSON, W. A. - Genesis; Revelation; Otherworld
HILL, CAROLYN - The Eleven Million Mile High Dancer
HJVRTSBERG, WILLIAM - Gray Matters; Falling Angel
HOBAN, RUSSELL - Riddley Walker
HOYT, RICHARD - The Manna Enzyme
IRWIN, ROBERT - The Arabian Nightmares
ISKANDER, FAZIL - Sandro of Chegam; The Gospel
According to Sandro
JOHNSON, DENIS - Fiskadoro
JONES, ROBERT F. - Blood Sport; The Diamond Bogo
KINSELLA, W. P. - Shoeless Joe
KOSTER, R. M. - The Dissertation; Mandragon
KOTZWINKLE, WILLIAM - Elephant Bangs Train; Doctor
Rat, Fata Morgana
KRAMER, KATHRYN - A Handbook for Visitors From Outer
LANGE, OLIVER - Vandenberg
LESSING, DORIS - The Four-Gated City; The Fifth Child
of Satan
MAILER, NORMAN - Ancient Evenings
MARINIS, RICK - A Lovely Monster
MARQUEZ, GABRIEL GARCIA - Autumn of the Patriarch; One
Hundred Years of Solitude
MATHEWS, HARRY - The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium
McEWAN, IAN - The Comfort of Strangers; The Child in
McMAHON, THOMAS - Loving Little Egypt
MILLAR, MARTIN - Milk, Sulphate and Alby Starvation
MOONEY, TED - Easy Travel to Other Planets
MOORCOCK, MICHAEL - Laughter of Carthage; Byzantium
Endures; Mother London
MOORE, BRIAN - Cold Heaven
MORRISON, TONI - Beloved; The Song of Solomon
NUNN, KEN - Tapping the Source; Unassigned Territory
PERCY, WALKER - Love in the Ruins; The Thanatos
PIERCY, MARGE - Woman on the Edge of Time
PORTIS, CHARLES - Masters of Atlantis
PRIEST, CHRISTOPHER - The Glamour; The Affirmation
PROSE, FRANCINE - Bigfoot Dreams, Marie Laveau
PYNCHON, THOMAS - Gravity's Rainbow; V; The Crying of
Lot 49
REED, ISHMAEL - Mumbo Jumbo; The Terrible Twos
RICE, ANNE - The Vampire Lestat; Queen of the Damned
ROBBINS, TOM - Jitterbug Perfume; Another Roadside
ROTH, PHILIP - The Counterlife
RUSHDIE, SALMON - Midnight's Children; Grimus; The
Satanic Verses
SAINT, H. F. - Memoirs of an Invisible Man
SHEPARD, LUCIUS - Life During Wartime
SIDDONS, ANNE RIVERS - The House Next Door
SPARK, MURIEL - The Hothouse by the East River
SPENCER, SCOTT - Last Night at the Brain Thieves Ball
THOMAS, D. M. - The White Hotel
THOMPSON, JOYCE - The Blue Chair; Conscience Place
THOMSON, RUPERT - Dreams of Leaving
THORNTON, LAWRENCE - Imagining Argentina
UPDIKE, JOHN - Witches of Eastwick; Rogers Version
VLIET, R. G. - Scorpio Rising
VOLLMAN, WILLIAM T. - You Bright and Risen Angels
VONNEGUT, KURT - Galapagos; Slaughterhouse-Five
WALLACE, DAVID FOSTER - The Broom of the System
WEBB, DON - Uncle Ovid's Exercise Book
WHITTEMORE, EDWARD - Nile Shadows; Jerusalem Poker;
Sinai Tapestry
WILLARD, NANCY - Things Invisible to See
WOMACK, JACK - Ambient; Terraplane
WOOD, BARI - The Killing Gift
WRIGHT, STEPHEN - M31: A Family Romance

Slipstream/cyberpunk book reviews

Genre: Magical Realism

This is a repost by Emily Cross from The Writer’s Chronicles dated July 30, 2002.

Now i thought i had a handle on Slipstream/New Wave Fabulism. Recently though i wandered into a Waterstones in Dublin and came across the category 'Magic Realism'. Now i've heard of this genre type before, but when i looked at the books in the section, such as the dream eaters and the princess bride, i got more confused. Both would be considered slipstream?!?! Wouldn't they?
So now i'm going to 'try' and tackle 'magic realism'

While looking up this genre, i came across the Encyclopedia of SF and this is what they stated:

Magic realism (or magical realism) is an artistic genre in which magical elements appear in an otherwise realistic setting. As used today the term is broadly descriptive rather than critically rigorous. The term was initially used by German art critic Franz Roh to describe painting which demonstrated an altered reality, but was later used by Venezuelan Arturo Uslar-Pietri to describe the work of certain Latin American writers. The Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier (a friend of Uslar-Pietri) used the term "lo real maravilloso" (roughly "marvelous reality") in the prologue to his novel The Kingdom of this World (1949). Carpentier's conception was of a kind of heightened reality in which elements of the miraculous could appear without seeming forced and unnatural. Carpentier's work was a key influence on the writers of the Latin American "boom" that emerged in the 1960s.

With the elements of Magic Realism being:

  • Contains fantastical elements
  • The fantastic elements may be intrinsically plausible but are never explained
  • Characters accept rather than question the logic of the magical element
  • Exhibits a richness of sensory details
  • Uses symbols and imagery extensively.
  • Emotions and the sexuality of the human as a social construct are often developed in great detail
  • Distorts time so that it is cyclical or so that it appears absent. Another technique is to collapse time in order to create a setting in which the present repeats or resembles the past
  • Inverts cause and effect, for instance a character may suffer before a tragedy occurs
  • Incorporates legend or folklore
  • Presents events from multiple standpoints - ie. alternates detached with involved narrative voice; likewise, often shifts between characters' viewpoints and internal narration on shared relationships or memories.
  • Mirrors past against present; astral against physical planes; or characters one against another.
  • Open-ended conclusion leaves to the reader to determine whether the magical and/or the mundane rendering of the plot is more truthful or in accord with the world as it is.

Also reading this article, a number of the books mentioned in my previous post about slipstream are included under the genre of Magic Realism e.g. One Hundred years of solitude. The article does highlight however that the genre has recently been too broadly used to describe Harry Potter and the Stepford Wives.
Now i'm completely confused.
I'm hoping this might clear things up slightly though.

Magical realism often overlaps or is confused with other genres and movements.

  • Postmodernism – Magical realism is often considered a subcategory of postmodern fiction due to its challenge to hegemony and its use of techniques similar to those of other postmodernist texts, such as the distortion of time.
  • Surrealism – Many early magical realists such as Alejo Carpentier and Miguel Ángel Asturias studied with the surrealists, and surrealism, as an international movement, influenced many aspects of Latin American art. Surrealists, however, try to discover and portray that which is above or superior to the “real” through the use of techniques such as automatic writing, hypnosis, and dreaming. Magical realists, on the other hand, portray the real world itself as having marvelous aspects inherent in it.
  • Fantasy and Science fiction – Fantasy and science fiction novels, using strict definitions, portray an alternate universe with its own set of rules and characteristics, however similar this universe is to our world, or experiment with our world by suggesting how a new technology or political system might affect our society. Magical realism, however, portrays the real world minus any definite set of rules. Some critics who define the genres more broadly include magic realism as one of the fantasy genres.
  • Slipstream – Slipstream describes fiction that falls between "mainstream" literature and the fantasy and science fiction genres (the name itself is wordplay on the term "mainstream"). Where science fiction and fantasy novels treat their fantastical elements as being very literal, real elements of their world, slipstream usually explores these elements in a more surreal fashion, and delves more into their satirical or metaphorical importance. Compared to magical realism the fantastical elements of slipstream also tend to be more extravagant, and their existence is usually more jarring to their comparative realities than that which is found in magic realism.
  • McOndo – McOndo is a literary movement favored by several younger Latin American writers. It seeks to distance itself from magic realism and the stereotypes about Latin literature that some McOndo writers argue were perpetuated by magic realists and magic realism.

So - basically the difference is extremely minor between MR and Slipstream - it really is down to a matter of degrees of the 'extravagent fantasy'. Honestly between all the labels/genre names which exist for essential the same body of literature - it makes me wonder why all our little books don't have mutliple personality disorder!?!??!

Authors who have written in the style of magic realism (Encyclopedia source)
Authors A - H Authors H - W
  • Chris Adrian
  • Rudolfo Anaya
  • Chris Adrian
  • Rudolfo Anaya
  • Isabel Allende
  • Sherman Alexie
  • Jorge Amado
  • Mário de Andrade
  • Miguel Ángel Asturias
  • Louis de Bernières
  • Doris Betts
  • Jonathan Carroll
  • Adolfo Bioy Casares
  • Jorge Luis Borges
  • Mikhail Bulgakov
  • Italo Calvino
  • Alejo Carpentier
  • Angela Carter
  • Julio Cortázar
  • Steve Erickson
  • Laura Esquivel
  • Carlos Fuentes
  • Dias Gomes
  • Michael Gow
  • Günter Grass
  • Gilbert Hernandez
  • Jaime Hernandez
  • Alice Hoffman
  • Ernst Jünger
  • Franz Kafka
  • Daniel Kehlmann
  • Milan Kundera
  • Onat Kutlar
  • Saulius T. Kondrotas
  • Jonathan Lethem
  • Mario Vargas Llosa
  • George MacDonald
  • Subcomandante Marcos
  • Gabriel García Márquez
  • Yann Martel
  • Toni Morrison
  • Haruki Murakami
  • Tim O'Brien
  • Ben Okri
  • Arturo Uslar-Pietri
  • Franz Roh
  • Arundhati Roy
  • Juan Rulfo
  • Salman Rushdie
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer
  • Ngugi wa Thiong'o
  • Jeanette Winterson
  • *All above links connect to Encyclopedia of Speculative Fiction.