book #1

Jan. 3rd, 2009 05:09 pm
realthog: (Default)

Yes, I know, I'm supposed to be back on an unadulterated diet of Bogus Science-related nonfiction now that the new year has started, but one of the stack of books that the indefatigable Charles Tan ([ profile] charlesatan) very kindly sent to Pam and myself for Christmas began calling out my name as soon as it emerged from the box, and it continued to do so even after Christmas Day and all the way through until New Year's Eve, when finally I capitulated and began to read it. (This means I still have to read one more novel, this one for "quote" purposes.)

Dean Francis Alfar's novel Salamanca (2006) is a (quite short) piece of magic realism that stretches across much of the life of its central protagonist and through several decades of the Philippines' history. I've been slightly imprecise in that sentence because, while one spends perhaps as much as the first three-quarters of the book believing that, even during some longish periods when he is off-stage, the central protagonist is the oversexed writer Gaudencio Rivera, towards the end of the book, in a feat of tricksterism that made at least this reader grin appreciatively, one discovers this assumption was misplaced.

The book is full of plots, but the one that holds the others together concerns Gaudencio Rivera's discovery in Tagbaoran, a remote small town in the Philippines' island province of Palawan, of Jacinta, a young woman of such incandescent beauty that she has turned all the walls of her house to glass; of his desertion of her eleven days after their as-yet unconsummated marriage; of his decision years later to have children of whom he determines she must be the mother; of her initial reluctance to countenance the prospect; and of her eventual rediscovery of happiness through this unorthodox relationship so that, finally, she rediscovers also the beauty of her youth. There's a very, very great deal more to the book than these bare bones; indeed, it's astonishing how much Alfar manages to stuff into 160 pages or so.

It's a very writerly novel, too, despite that brevity, and I can't imagine any writer reading it without at least sneakily identifying with Rivera on occasion -- as when, in his youth, his lust (or could it possibly be love?) for Jacinta causes words and phrases and imagery to erupt orgasmically from every part of his body. Yet, as I say, at the end of the novel you realize the story isn't really about him at all.

Another discovery is the meaning of the book's title. I'd assumed it was a placename, and was slightly bemused by the fact that no reference to the Spanish city ever turned up, or even seemed remotely likely to do so. It was only on page 126 that I came across this passage:

He [Rivera] created powerful fantasies set in a reimagined Philippines, circa the time of Spanish rule, imbuing the land he called Hinirang, the Land Longed For, with tikbalang half-breeds that warred against their greedy oppressors; natives who went on impossible quests in the name of unattainable love and other abstract ideals; and wondrous galleons that soared through the skies fueled by salamanca, the mysterious magic of the gods of sky, field, and sea.

So in a way the title is yet another of Alfar's conjuring tricks.

I really enjoyed this book. Charles included also in his Bumper Package a collection of Alfar's stories that is now, of course, getting under my skin just by its very presence among my to-be-read piles; strong will is going to be necessary to hold off from reading it until my Bogus Science research is done. In the meantime, I have my memories of Salamanca to play with.

ego? moi?

Dec. 8th, 2008 10:36 am
realthog: (corrupted science)

The by now incontrovertibly indefatigable Charles Tan ([ profile] charlesatan) has just posted a glowing review of my nonfiction book Discarded Science on his Bibliophile Stalker blog. Here are some juicy extracts:

It was author Jeffrey Ford if I'm not mistaken who said that he mines pseudosciences for story ideas and if you're that type of person (I was certainly itching to turn on my computer and start writing), this book is certainly a treasure trove. John Grant gives us a history of everything, from creation to physiognomy, and narrates it in an informal style that gets to the point and doesn't require a bachelor's degree in whatever science to understand. [. . .]

What I particularly enjoy about Grant is that his writing is balanced. While the religious are typically the target of his criticisms in the book, the scientific community isn't exempted either and a good chunk of the book is devoted to their inaccuracies. Those looking to use the book for research purposes will find this to be a holy grail as far as referencing goes. [. . .]

Discarded Science was certainly an enjoyable read and one of the more densely packed but accessible texts. Critical analysis combined with restrained humor and compelling writing make me look forward to the sequel.

Y'know, I should definitely go put a copy of this book up in the [ profile] helpvera  auction.
realthog: (leavingfortusa)

Over at Bibliophile Stalker the indefatigable Charles A. Tan has just posted a review of the book that's almost embarrassingly favourable. Here are extracts:

Grant takes a mosaic-novel approach with his latest book, Leaving Fortusa. [. . .] The sequence of the stories significantly affects one's reading of the book as there is a noticeable shift both in chronology and atmosphere. It's certainly possible to read the stories on their own -- and some of them have been published elsewhere -- but they take on that extra layer of depth when taking the new paradigm into consideration. [. . .]

Leaving Fortusa is clearly influenced by modern events and the fiction is politically charged so much so that it's evident where the passion of the author is. Grant has several strong points going for him. The first is that his language is easygoing and casual, making him accessible even as he goes about explaining various sci-fi theories. He also knows when to lighten the mood, sprinkling comedy and satire when necessary. The other strength of Grant is his characterization and Leaving Fortusa is no different from his other short stories or novels. [. . .] The third strength of the book is its flexibility and Grant manages to infuse his stories with elements of fantasy, science fiction, and horror -- whichever is appropriate for the story.

Overall, Leaving Fortusa is an ambitious and daring book. [. . .]

That's two very pleasing reviews in a row. I'm beginning to think the book might be moderately okay -- in parts, at least. Sometimes.
realthog: (real copies!)


The Mike Allen anthology Clockwork Phoenix, containing my story "All the Little Gods We Are", was published yesterday by Norilana Books, and is already bringing in the reviews.

The Fix has
Elizabeth A. Allen (no relation, one assumes!) reviewing the book; as befits The Fix's policy, she reviews the individual stories -- and mostly very favourably -- rather than the anthology as a whole. Her comments on my own contribution start in such fashion that I was bracing myself for a panning, but in fact she seems to like the piece:

In “All the Little Gods We Are” by John Grant, John loves Justine. They feel utterly familiar to each other, as if they are two halves of the same organism. (To Grant’s credit, he describes John and Justine’s intimate fusion with such precision and matter-of-fact familiarity that the concept of soul mates, upon which this story hangs, feels fresh, original, and convincing.) They grew up together, but time parted them in their adulthood…that is, until John, single now, gets a call from himself in a parallel universe in which he has married and had children with his other half. As single John reflects on his past, we learn what happened to separate him from Justine. Like the authors he follows in this anthology, Grant takes an old trope of science fiction and refurbishes it on two levels. The parallel universes work as an SF construct and also as a powerful metaphor for the strength of wishes, denial, and memory. Another sad and satisfying story.

I'm a little startled (though I'm certainly not grumbling!) to find that "All the Little Gods We Are" is a parallel-universes story, since that wasn't what I thought it was; I thought it was about "the strength of wishes, denial, and memory" to create realities -- an interpretation with which Nick Gevers seems to agree in his exceptionally glowing (and as always neatly perceptive) review of the anthology in the latest edition of Locus. Here are extracts:

. . . a very strong first volume, Clockwork Phoenix, edited by Mike Allen. Established writers and new names all are in good form here . . .
       "All the Little Gods We Are" by John Grant is a rich meditation on the vagaries of romance. The protagonist met a girl at school he was convinced was his other half; and two possible lives unfold for him, one in which he remains inseparable from this heaven sent partner, the other in which he is single, lonely, unfulfilled. One day he makes a phone call, and lines cross between existences, selves are in impossible communication. This prompts deep reflection, a trawling of memory, an inner dispute over how one's will relates to reality, how we make our fates. [. . .]
       These and other contributions mark Clockwork Phoenix as a series of great promise.

All in all, both Mike Allen and Norilana must be feeling very pleased with themselves, especially since the two pre-publication reviews of the book -- by Charles Tan and by Publishers Weekly -- were likewise extremely positive.

realthog: (Jim's bear pic)
The excellent Charles Tan ([personal profile] charlesatan) has just posted on his Bibliophile Stalker blog a looooooong interview with me:

The interview is looooooong because my answers to Charles's questions are self-indulgently looooooong. If you choose to find out far, far more about me than you could possibly want to know, this interview's the one!

March 2013

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