Category Archives: Fiction

Who’s got the Remote?

The snow started last night and left about three inches behind. Nothing to compare to the kind of weather they’ve been getting further south and west, of course, but enough to turn the landscape into the sort of scene Walt Kelly said cartoonists loved—all that snow makes it very easy to draw. And, in classic fashion, the clouds rolled out to make way for clear skies and rapidly dropping temperatures. The high today was about 10 above, and tomorrow should be cut from the same climate.

I drove to work cautiously, tense with the secret fear that haunts my winter commute—that I’ll stop at a red light on an uphill grade and not be able to get traction to move again, listening to the horns of equally frustrated drivers behind me. All of them would be saying to themselves, “That idiot’s in an SUV! Why doesn’t he switch it into four wheel drive?” And I’d have no way of explaining that my 4WD doesn’t work, and it’s too expensive to fix.

But I made it in OK. I even got up the driveway at work, a stretch that’s stymied me more than once in the past. Fortunately our crack maintenance team had risen with the roosters and plowed it out.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d gotten stuck there, though. The head maintenance guy is the one who discovered my drive deficiency in the first place. It’s nice to work somewhere where they know your failings and accept you anyway.

By way of Mirabilis, here’s a story on how scientists have reconstructed the poet Dante’s face. He turns out to have been a little less formidable looking than we’d all thought.

I finished Stephen White’s mystery Remote Control last night. This isn’t a review, though I might mention that I found it kind of hard to follow, and thought the ending seemed a little contrived. I have a question about White’s books.

I’m quite sure (though I’m beginning to doubt myself) that I first heard of White in a column at National Review Online. Somebody wrote about mystery writers conservatives could enjoy, and I’m sure I wrote down the names of Jonathan Kellerman and Stephen White.

Kellerman didn’t disappoint. In spite of having a continuing homosexual character, the Alex Delaware mysteries have become steadily more anti-PC as time has gone by.

But I’ve read three White books so far, and I fail to discern any evidence of conservative views, either political or social.

Remote Control begins with the murder of a saintly abortionist by a fanatical pro-lifer. In the course of the book, association with Operation Rescue is just assumed to be a sign of utter moral turpitude.

Did I write down the wrong author name? Do the books get better later on?

Give me the benefit of your experience.

Book on Troubled Dog Unwelcome

[first posted on January 30, 2004] A book published in November 2001 has sold close to 400,000 copies. It’s made a few bestseller lists. One copy was placed in a West Salem, Wisconsin elementary school library and checked out by the grandson of a former school board member, according to the Coulee News. Now, the book may make the ALA’s misguided banned books list, because Walter the Farting Dog didn’t go over well with grandpa.

The story is as common as dirt. It’s about a dog who—well—needs digestive therapy. He’s adopted at the pound by two kids who discover the problem too late to save their family from air pollution. Enter family strife until burglars are warded off by Walter’s “condition,” and Dad decides to keep the dog after all. Sickeningly heart-warming, isn’t it?

“[The publisher] said the book’s depiction in words and colorful drawings of a dog farting didn’t strike him as being a problem. ‘I don’t think it’s obscene in any sense, not in today’s world.” In fact, it’s vulgar enough to generate interest. Walter is the second best seller this publisher has ever had.

Perhaps the worst part of this article is the publisher’s statement, “It’s a work of art. And many works of art are of questionable social value.” I’ll grant that the illustrator has skill and that her work on this book has merit; but the book as a whole is ‘art’? Sit down, Mr. Publisher. Let’s not abuse our terms. You’ve got a vulgar novelty book which you’re marketing as a children’s book. Let’s leave it there. In my opinion, vulgarity counteracts art; the more of the one, the less of the other. The more vulgar, the more likely you will drag the artistic merit into the gutter, making it worthless. The more artistic, the more you must focus on praiseworthy things, leaving vulgarity beneath you.

Next in the Continuing Saga of Mr. Darcy

Do you remember that bit of news on publishers seeking out fan-fic writers and a particular trilogy based on Pride and Prejudice? Will Duquette has read the first in that trilogy, An Assembly Such As This by Pamela Aidan. He says it isn’t all that bad. “Aidan’s Darcy is nevertheless an intriguing character, consistent with Austen’s Darcy.”

Speaking of fan-fic, November is National Novel Writing Month. I want to type out some fiction this month as well, not for a novel, but for sketches and stories. I may shove some of it to the blog so you have the “opportunity” to read or ignore it.

Robin Hood Redux Again

The Grumpy Old Bookman reports, “The new BBC TV series Robin Hood is turning out to be a disappointment, I fear, but if you’re up for a Robin Hood novel then Andrew Fish has a brand-new one for you: Erasmus Hobart and the Golden Arrow.” According to the book’s site, Erasmus Hobart and the Golden Arrow “explores what happens when a Nottinghamshire schoolteacher travels back in time to seek out the truth behind the Robin Hood legend,” and learns that Robin Hood was a crook.

I don’t know what to think of the book, but I do feel good about the author’s sensibilities from his rundown of Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: “The Kevin Costner version of the story was wrong on so many levels, from the use of a fifteenth century castle at Old Wardour, through to Costner’s complete failure at a British accent. Somehow, however, the film is still enjoyable, and Bryan Adams’ anthem sounds much better when you haven’t been subjected to it on the radio for weeks on end.”

The Litblog Co-op Pick: The Tale of a Rat

This quarter’s Read This pick from the Litblog Co-op is a curious tale of a Boston rat. No, it’s not political commentary. Ed Champion recommends it: “I was entirely unprepared to read a wry and remarkably thoughtful book about the state of imagination in American society. The book had teeth, perhaps a continuously growing set of rodent-like incisors ground to manageable size so that the teeth in question wouldn’t puncture the brain.”

Genes and Big Medical Questions

Speaking of Michael Crichton, his next book promises to have us asking some strange questions: “Could your loved one be missing some body parts? Is everyone at your dinner table of the same species? It’s 2006: do you know who all your children are? Do you know humans and chimpanzees differ in only 400 genes? Did you know one fifth of all your genes are owned by someone else? Could you and your family be pursued cross country just because you happen to have certain genes in your body?”

If we come to a point where we can define our bodies and our mental abilities while living or define them for our children (or by government mandate, one another’s children), then we will have lost our humanity or at least some of it. Mars Hill Audio has discussed this repeatedly, talking to Nigel Cameron about the ethics of current bio-technology. As C.S. Lewis said, if we gain the ability to define our attributes like we can software, we will not have conquered nature; we will have become its slave.

What do you think it means to be human? Are you and I really barely different than apes? Is your body only the vehicle for your soul or whatever is the real you inside?

Detective Novels: The Best Ones Are Written by Men

Maxine is calling for suggestions on strong detective novels written by women in response to David Montgomery’s list, 10 Greatest Detective Novels, which did not have one female author. Block, Chandler, Crumley, Hammett, Stout, and others make Montgomery’s list, and he explains in the comments on Petrona that he doesn’t like P.D. James and further: “My favorite contemporary female detective writers are probably Laura Lippman and Denise Hamilton. I think they’re both great writers, but neither quite cracked the list.”

An interesting discussion has begun. One commenter notes the dominance of American writers. That seems only natural to me. We, Americans, are the best in the world at everything, except maybe soccer and automobiles, so naturally we write the best detectives novels.

We blog better than anyone else too.

And stuff.

I will be ducking and running now.

13th Tale: A Deeply Moving Novel

Frank Wilson has a glowing review of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, which is #5 on USA Today’s best-selling list though I didn’t see it on the American Booksellers Association list. Mr. Wilson writes, “One thing is certain: Those who buy and read this complex, compelling and, in the end, deeply moving novel are unlikely to feel they’ve been shortchanged.”

The publisher praises independent booksellers for The Thirteenth Tale‘s success, saying it reminds readers “of the kinds of books, such as Jane Eyre, that they read as a child.”