I've been ill. Now I'm maybe getting better, so I'm resuming this blog. And because I'm resuming this blog, I have to have something to write about, and science fiction, fantasy, folklore, Superman, comics and folklore seem like good things. Mostly I think I'll write about stories. And words.
As I get better, I've got to exercise. I'd gone long stretches of time without any real sustained activity, but there were always things that kept me moving. Except this time I was in the hospital for a while, and really couldn't walk much, and I've discovered what atrophy really is. So while I exercise, I've been listening to the On the Road with Ellison recordings. Pretty much perfect for me. And as I listen, I've been noting all the writers he mentions. It's an obvious thing to do--follow your favorite writer through the writers that shaped him/her. I'd done it for Vonnegut and others. This mainlining of Ellison material is in part brought about by the recent release of Can and Can'tankerous, which is the first new collection of his fiction to come out in a while. Just got my copy, and I love it. With all the material available at harlanellisonbooks.com right now, it's a bad time to be broke.
First on the list is Clark Ashton Smith, and I got "The City of the Singing Flame" in August Derleth's collection The Other Side of the Moon. Ellison apparently read this story over and over again. For the last few months I've been reading a story every day--either a folktale, myth, legend, short story, or what have you. Something short enough to get through in one sitting. I imagine I'll write about those stories a lot in the days to come. I've been going through Shirley Jackson's work (my favorite of which is "Just Like Mother Used to Make" from The Lottery collection, though I'm only four or five stories into that one). "City of the Singing Flame" is a great title.
Earlier this year, I noticed that everybody on the Internet was setting reading goals for themselves. Seems like a good idea, so my reading goal for this year is to read a lot of books and stories written by women. I don't want to put a number on it, just read a lot. I started with Ursula K. Le Guin's Gifts, then Naomi Novk's Uprooted, both of which I liked quite a lot. Le Guin sort of cheated with hers, keeping something from the reader to create tension that was ultimately a bit of a letdown once the truth is revealed. Still, I intend to read its follow-ups.
Uprooted surprised me. I'm not sure why I picked it up, probably saw it on a list of recommendations from some website or other, but I'm glad I read it. There's a little bit of everything in it--adventure, romance, action, magic, trees, oxen made of mud. I liked the way Novik described the system of magic, especially how it varied for each character and was something the protagonist Agnieszka had to figure out even while being taught. Uprooted has a very Slavic/eastern-European flavor, which I appreciated. Baba Yaga references. I opened it and started reading without knowing anything more than the title, and I think that's the best way to approach it. If you need a reason to pick up this book, here's one: It contains the line, "her laugh was like a song that made you want to sing it." That would be enough for me.
My own favorite writers who happen to be women--aside from Le Guin and Jackson--are Diana Wynne Jones and Flannery O'Connor. I've got some Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, and Kate Wilhelm waiting for me on the shelf. Should be a good year.