Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gift Idea: Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine is known as a "pulp": printed on cheap newsprint, a little bit larger than a standard paperback. The format is a throwback to the pulps of the 1940's and '50's where now recognized Grand Masters--like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Theodore Sturgeon--first refined their craft. And in that tradition, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine publishes short stories and novellas from current authors like Connie Willis and Alan Steele and new authors as well.

The stories vary in length, style, and subject. Some are hard SF, some are soft, occasionally there is fantasy. Each issue includes poetry, editorial columns, book reviews, web site reviews, and a Convention Calendar.

Subscriptions for one year (10 issues), U.S., is about $33.00. There are "double issues" twice a year. Check the website ( for details. There is also an online version.

I've been a subscriber off-and-on since the mid-1980's. A subscription is now on my permanent Christmas list (Thanks, Mom!). Some issues, some stories, some authors stand out more than others. Other authors have used the stories first published in Asimov's as a basis for their novels.

Content warning! This is not a magazine for children. Some stories contain adult language, adult situations--including sex scenes and drug use--and violence. Some authors are not sympathetic to organized religion--and that bias may show up in some of their stories.

A warning is usually included in the front of the stories the editors think might be the most offensive. However, everyone has different triggers. Over the years, I've noticed the themes of the stories come in waves: a spate of bionic soldier stories, a spate of global cooling stories, a spate of global warming stories, a spate of First Encounter stories.

Overall, the quality of the writing is excellent. The short story and novella format allows for a lot of experimentation with themes and ideas that isn't possible with a novel because a novel is a significant investment of time and money on the part of the author and the publisher.

Asimov's is my favorite "commuter" magazine: it's small and there's a lot of variety, both in story length and content. I usually find one story I really enjoy and there are some, like Connie Willis's annual Christmas story, that I look forward to. A year of enjoyment for the cover price of a single hardback!

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks, excellent for the discriminating SF reader.

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book Review: Hannibal

Hannibal open seven years after the Silence of the Lambs. Clarice Starling, now a full FBI agent, is on a drug bust with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the D.C. police, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. They're bringing in a woman who is running a meth factory and who Clarice has arrested previously.

The bust goes bad. Clarice, who is a champion pistol shooter, ends up killing the woman. Unfortunately, the woman was carrying her infant in a sling and used the child as a shield. Clarice was able to kill her without harming the child, but the TV news clips don't show the woman firing. Her family files suit and someone's head must roll to appease public opinion.

In the midst of all this turmoil, Clarice receives a letter. She recognizes the handwriting--it's from Hannibal Lecter who has been silent for these seven years. His letter alternately taunts and comforts Clarice and reignites the search for Hannibal.

The FBI, however, isn't the only entity looking for Hannibal. His sixth victim, Mason Verger, has been looking for him and is offering a reward. Because of the attack, Mason is bedridden and a paraplegic and, with nearly unlimited wealth, revenging himself on Hannibal has become his reason for living. Mason has his contacts within the FBI and knows what they know, usually before they do.

Hannibal, in the meantime, is now living in Florence, Italy, and is a curator, the previous one having mysteriously disappeared. His appearance has been altered during his stay in Brazil, including the amputation of the sixth finger on his left hand. He is content until a local police inspector begins to suspect who "Dr. Fell" really is. However, greed gets the better of the good inspector and he tries to capture "Dr. Fell" outside normal police channels, with disastrous consequences.

Thus Hannibal finds himself back in the Eastern United States and his seduction of Clarice Starling begins.

During the course of the story,the author, Thomas Harris, gives us some insight to Hannibal Lecter, clues as to how he became the monster he is. We also see more of what makes Clarice Starling tick and her frustration at being thwarted from rising in the ranks of the FBI. But I never felt any real sympathy for either of them as people. Mason Verger is absolutely evil--there are no redeeming qualities about him at all. His sister is hardly better. In fact, the character I thought was most fleshed out was the Italian police inspector: his motives for his actions were clear and plausible. The rest of them--eh, not so much.

I admit I have not read Silence of the Lambs and there might have been some important information about the characters there. Or Red Dragon, which I believe is the first book about Hannibal Lecter.

The ending was a let down.

Content Warning! Hannibal is still a cannibal. Graphic descriptions of what Hannibal does to his victims and of Mason Verger's physical state. Also graphic descriptions of what Mason does to his victims. Lots of morally unsavory characters as well.

Fortunately, I bought this copy at a Used Book Sale at my local library, so I'm not out full price. :)

On the March Hare scale: 2 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Now Back to Our Regular Programming

I hate migraines.

The old name for them were "megrims," which I think describes them a whole lot better. Because I do get pretty grim when I have one. This month I've had more of them than usual.

Modern medicine allows me to function, but there's a cost. By the evening, I am ready to sit on the sofa and be entertained by television--the fluffier, the better. Unfortunately, my family bears the brunt of my lethargy and grouchiness. So I try and pick up the slack when I'm feeling better, dealing with the stuff--like bills and budgets--that I didn't have the emotional energy to deal with when under a migraine attack.

My writing stalls. All the wonderful entries and essays I've composed in my head disappear along with any desire I might have to sit in front of a computer and type. And, in these parlous times, I'm also hesitant to write during working hours while using my work computer and their servers. Hubs is somewhat jealous of the time and attention I give to outside endeavors as well.

So output slows to a trickle.

One of my migraine triggers is changes in the weather. This year we have had cold-and-sunny, warm-and-sunny, rainy, foggy, morning-fog-and-afternoon-sun. Saturday was the 111th Big Game between Cal and Stanford and I was sitting in the stadium in my shirtsleeves. It was warm enough to wear shorts--well, until the sun went down. Today, it's rainy and looks like November. The leaves from our liquid ambar tree are all over our driveway, the sidewalk, the front yard, and the street. They're rather pretty: deep red and bright orange. But they do need to be swept. Hopefully the weather will stay this way for awhile and let my head settle down.

And I'll be able to find a moment or two to write down my thoughts.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Heebie Jeebie--The Spirits Are About to Speak!

"Are they friendly spirits?"
"Just listen!"

--Courtesy of Jay Ward and the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show

The mood seems calm around the Conservative blogsphere, with warnings of how the Right should behave towards President-Elect Obama and what the GOP needs to do to renew itself. The biggest concern is how long before the "Fairness Doctrine" reasserts itself on the radio and affects the Internet--and if there are enough Republicans and "Blue Dog" Democrats to oppose reinstating it.

Of course, there is no discussion about adding print media under the Fairness Doctrine.

Looking into my cracked and foggy crystal ball, this is what I foresee:

  • The MSM, including (or especially) Print Media will give President Obama a longer than usual honeymoon for a couple of reasons. They want to appear "post-racial." They are afraid of being "kicked off the plane" or out of the press room. President-elect Obama is a Democrat and one of them. The MSM can't admit they're wrong.
  • Disillusionment will begin with the Base when ordinary folks discover that as President Obama can't pay their mortgage or put gas in their car. And when they discover that, according to the Democrats, they are now "rich."
  • We will rediscover that turning the Ship of State is kind of like turning the Titanic. It can be done, but it will take longer than most people think it will.
  • The Republican Leadership will still play by the old rules, although I think some are beginning to realize the rules have changed.
  • Unless the Republicans come together and work very quickly, the Democrats will hold the edge in Congress through 2012.
What do I think the message of the GOP should be in the intervening years?
  • The United States is a country ruled by law--and those laws apply equally to all.
  • Equality under the law does not mean equality of outcomes. Just as not everyone is capable of playing basketball (for example) at the NBA level, not everyone is capable of attending a top-tier university or being a CEO.
  • We are personally and primarily responsible for ourselves and our families. Educational reform begins at home, not with the government. Opportunity exists, but ultimately we are responsible for reaching out and taking advantage of it.
  • The United States as a country is not "wealthy." Her people are wealthy and are among the most generous people on the planet. We are generous in our private donations (as we should be) and also we have one of the highest rates of voluntary tax compliance. That will change, though, if the people feel they are being overburdened or unfairly taxed.
  • We have a duty to be good stewards of the planet; however, we also need to be mindful of the unintended human consequences of our actions, whether in maintaining a pristine environment or exploiting it.
But, hey, if the Powers That Be aren't listening to bigger, braver, and more articulate bloggers, they won't listen to little ol' me.

For example: This post on Hot Air by Ed Morrissey who channels Claudia Rossett. Yeah, Liberty is a great word!

On a final note: Yesterday I was reading baldilocks, who is one of my favorite bloggers. Juliette was discussing the results of the election with her step-father, a conservative Methodist minister, and a staunch Republican. He told her, "Don't you ever go to bed at night without praying for that man." Good advice. Sometime in January, once all the hoopla and the adrenaline dies down, President Obama will be mugged by reality. I think he's going to need all the spiritual support he can get.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Election


Then I remember why I began fasting and praying: "Not my will, but Thy Will be done."

For some reason, it's more difficult to leave the future of my country in His Hands than it is the future of His Church. :)

I have been reading A Year with John Paul II: Daily Meditations from His Writings and Prayers (edited by Fr. Jerome Vereb). The Meditation for today, November 5, is titled "My Deepest Thoughts":

I have lately given much thought to the liberating force of suffering. It is on suffering that Christ's system rests, beginning with the cross and ending with the smallest human torment. This is the true messiad (the true source or hope of belief in a Messiah).

--Letter to Mieczyslaw Kotlarczyk, November 2, 1939

I am also reading St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul: how the journey of self denial leads to perfect union with God. In Chapter V, St. John discusses the imperfections of the beginner in the matter of anger. Numbers two and three stood out for me: those who are angry with other people for their faults and who consider themselves "guardians of virtue" and those who become angry with themselves "with an impatience that is not if they would be saints in one day."

Here's the terrifying part: "There is no perfect remedy for this but in the dark night."

I don't know that I'm ready for a "dark night."

Meanwhile, Virgen de Guadalupe, pray for us and watch over this country. Open the minds and hearts of our leaders, both current and newly elected, to the Will of your Son.

Update: As usual, The Anchoress puts it all into perspective for me. :)