review

Review: T-Mobile G1

I'm really enjoying telling you all about my new gadgets.

My old, crappy cell phone has been needing replacement for some time now, and given how enamored I am of my iPod Touch, an iPhone seemed like the logical choice. However, I balked at the 2-year service contract with AT&T. I've been without a yearly service contract for most of the time I've had cell phones— that is, since I got hit with an early termination fee in 2003 when I was going to Europe for a few months and decided it didn't make sense to keep my phone. It's a philosophy that's served me well; for example, when I moved to Vermont a couple years ago, I discovered T-Mobile didn't have any service in the state, so I simply canceled and got a month-to-month contract with Verizon. Then, when I moved back, I canceled the less-favorable Verizon plan and got T-mobile again.

So when I discovered that T-Mobile's Google Android powered G1 phone was available with my current, month-to-month plan, and I only had to add $25 a month for unlimited Internet, I was pretty well sold. Incidentally, my plan—called "FlexPay"— is only $40 a month for 1000 daytime minutes and unlimited nights and weekends, so with the $25 a month Internet it comes out to only $75 dollars a month total. This is significantly less than similar plans for the iPhone with its two year contract. (Though they don't seem to be offering my plan anymore, instead offering $40 for 600 daytime minutes and unlimited nights and weekends, which is still pretty good.)

Spaceman Blues

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I'll probably have more to say about this once I've finished it, but I just want to say that I'm reading Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery right now, and it's really, really good. May be the best book I've read since Cloud Atlas, and if you know how I feel about that book then you know it's high praise indeed.

Pretty Monsters

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I'm just finishing up Kelly Link's new YA book, Pretty Monsters (though nowhere on the book does it say its a YA book, even though she's referred to it as such). I just want to say for the record that she is (still) the best short story writing working right now.

What's the Issue with Issue 1?

So a couple of guys named Stephen McLaughlin and Jim Carpenter have created a new poetry Journal called Issue 1. It's nearly 4000 pages long and is available in PDF form here. It's been creating quite a stir among certain poetry circles lately, mostly because a quick survey of the contributors shows it to be possibly the most significant collection of poets ever assembled. With work ranging from the likes of William Shakespeare, my own 13th Great Grandfather Geof Chaucer, to Contemporary figures like Ron Silliman and Susan Howe, to less widely known but still enormously talented poets like Anny Ballardini, Amy King, and, um, yours truly.

Now, of course, none of us actually wrote any of the pieces attributed to us in the book, but frankly i kind of wish I had written my three contributions. "A Cat of Countries" (page 1248):

A cat of countries

The sympathy of darkness
Singleness
Beardless and eternal
A room of countries
Of progress
Reluctance and fun
Firing beside a cat
Like a considerable sweeping
Feeling love

"Whole as a passage" (page 2646):

Whole as a passage
Into a swept whisper a fascinating trader
   arrived
The passages mumbled
Those were whole
A rapid rib, cheap rib,
   useful rib of an impossible thieving
Was he impenetrable?
Let her stare
Should he have been silent?
From his difficult arm he hungered for
   one, having, from his throat demoralization
     waiting
That was the creek’s wilderness
Sorrow, you were
   not there, making like a head
Fascinating and enthralling
He would sooner
   be different,
Big and little
”I save brass,” he whispered
He was lived by a
   mutter
He was thinking of the ghastly lives
   of bailiffs, knocking silently beside reckless conceptions
Now the thievings filled in the breeze

And my favorite, and the one that sounds the most like me, "Changing news like intelligence" (page 3573):

Changing News Like Intelligence

To burn descending on an art
A person
His anodyne news

Beginning beside a tree
More minor than a beggar

Now, of course there are some people who think this is lame. Others who take issue, like Silliman who made some vague mention of legal action in his blog about it.

To such people, I say chill out. It's a nice piece of something. There's no damage to your reputation taking place here. Clearly the list of authors was gleaned in someway from Buffalo poetics/the kinds of magazines folks like us get printed in. And frankly, taking Rita Dove at one end, and myself at the other, of a spectrum of fame, none of us are all that well known to the point that anybody outside our little poetry world will care about this one way or another. Take it as a compliment and relax. This thing is the best piece of flarf I've ever come across and frankly, like Anny Ballardini said on the Buffalo list today, I wish I'd had the idea.

F&SF All Over Again

Another reviewer receives a free issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and is disappointed. This after, my own recent review of a different issue found it lacking.

It's clear to me at least that the editor of the magazine is hopelessly out-of-touch and, in general, may simply have poor taste. For good SF stories read instead:

Farrago's Wainscott
Clarkesworld
A Fly in Amber
Strange Horizons

All of which are free on the Internet.

The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway

Nick Harkaway's new novel The Gone Away World may have its problems. Its weirdness is sometimes too self-conscious, in a way common to first-time writers, throwing together as he does ninjas, monsters, mimes and other oddities. His view of corporations, around which much of the book hinges, is naive and simplistic; corporations in The Gone Away World are uniformly and inherently dehumanizing and evil without variation or exception, and the hierchy of their employees can be measured in exactly how dehumanized and evil they've become. Yet, whatever its faults, this is exactly the kind of novel I want to read. There's a temptation to call the novel cross-genre, as it mixes both science fiction and fantasy elements (to the extent that they can be distinguished or even defined) with a "literary fiction" sensibility (to the extent that that exists or can be defined). However, cross-genre for me brings to mind someone deliberately taking bits of two genres and joining them together-- the SF detective novel, the literary urban fantasy novel, the paranormal romance and so on. The Gone Away World doesn't so much do that as ignore genre boundaries all together; things happen according to the internal logic of the book, and not because of some loose system of conventions hobbled together over the decades. In the end, he creates something like a map of the human psyche, populated by freakish embodyments of friendship, fear and love.

I'm intentionally avoiding a plot summary because any one I gave would spoil the many twists and turns of the narrative. All you really need to know is that this is a book which is highly entertaining and also contains depth of character and elements of social commentary and satire. It is at turns fun and serious, wacky and emotionally tough, and is representative of a new kind of fiction gradually emerging, a fiction which knows no boundaries.

Fantasy and Science Fiction and the state of Fantasy and Science Fiction

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction recently made a marketing push, sending out copies of their latest (July) issue to any blogger who asked for one. I have mixed feelings about The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. On the one hand, everything about it from the covers to the editorial position seems generally rooted in 60s and 70s New Wave (strange how a magazine of a genre that thinks constantly about the future can dwell so much in the past). On the other hand, the stories in F&SF are generally better than those of its rival publication Analog (which is not just SF, but Hard SF, the most tired and irrelevant type of that genre), and more over, I'd much rather read F&SF than Glimmer Train or The Paris Review or any of the other publications running the MFA meat grinder for what passes for literary short fiction these days. At least I can read F&SF without falling asleep. Still, compared to quite edgier magazines like A Public Space, Weird Tales or Strange Horizons, any given issue of F&SF seems like a relic from another age.

Human Smoke Roundtable

Forgot to mention, I've been participating in a round table about Nicholson Baker's book about the causes of World War II, Human Smoke. This discussion, involving a bunch of really excellent, smart people that I'm flattered to be in the company of, is currently being serialized over at Filthy Habits.

This is What Awesome Looks Like

The Scott Pilgrim Graphic Novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Every once and a while a cultural artifact emerges that is capable of completely dividing generations. When I was in high school, for instance, Pulp Fiction came out and I remember vividly how in the theater people of my generation laughed at some of the graphic violence, and people of my parents' generation were shocked by it, and even more shocked by our laughing at it.

With that in mind, witness, and appreciate if you can, the brilliance of Scott Pilgrim.