Reading the Hugos (2019) The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington

Commenting on my last post, where I gave a harsh beating to the previous Hugo short story finalist, Alexandru Constantin mentioned that he “can’t get past the stupid titles.” Yes, I have thought about that too, and it’s a common issue with these award-worthy stories or those that give off some kind of literary aspiration: they usually have humongous titles. It’s like they are trying to compensate for something, or perhaps it’s a way to mark the story as one of their own. It reminds me of that amusing observation about the length of a country’s official names correlating with how undemocratic it is (e.g., People’s Democratic Republic of Something or Other.)

I’m pleased to announce that that does not apply to today’s story, and even if the title is ridiculously long and descriptive, in this case, it seems more a matter of extreme literalism and lack of imagination to come up with titles than anything else.

This one is good.

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To fictional characters and minions: please, stop charging to your deaths.

You know you are reading fantasy because everybody is a suicidal lemming with no self-preservation instinct. In fact, you know you are reading modern fantasy because everybody (especially the bad guys) cares about his survival as much as the random pin-headed monsters that populate video games: “Oh, look, here’s that guy who has killed hundreds of [insert enemy] like me. Let’s attack him! I’m sure this time will be different!”

Knowing that the writer of a story is drawing most of his (probably unconscious) inspiration from movies or video games —worse, that he is not aware of that and believes he writes “realistically”— has been for a long time my #1 source of reading wrath and frustration. And there’s hardly a better place to see that in action than when characters are trying to murder each other, and since I’m talking about fantasy & adventure stories here, that seems to happen quite a lot.

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November 13 post: A story to remember

Once there was a master pick-up artist for whom the tricks of his trade were to him as natural as breathing. He got around the world, worming himself into women’s mind and bedrooms with equal ease. But during his last escapade (to the exotic nation of Moldavia,) news of his arrival got around first (his social media posts stating “BITCHES be ready, I’M HERE” probably didn’t help either.)

The women had been forewarned, and some now were forearmed, and they shunned him in bars, shopping malls, coffee shops, and maternity wards. But The Master, for that was his professional name, had always known this could happen and had many contingency plans ready for such a situation and knew that, eventually, he would get around the problem.

With flair and finesse, he dressed himself up into a human peacock. Two long, dangling skull earrings, a crystal cane, a double-breasted coat that could have only been worn by Dracula himself, a silver stole, more rings you can count, a top hat, and a fanciful beard later, he was not only outrageously embellished but also unrecognizable. Ready for action, he got around the ladies with humor, guile, charisma, and judicious negging, and then, finally, he really got around with the ladies.


 

Yes, this is just a made-up story to help me remember the various meanings of the phrasal verb “to get around.”

November 12 post: the participial phrase (-ing verbs) pandemic.

This post has been in my draft folder for a long time. It’s one of the most common issues I see in texts I read or proofread, and it’s also the one that more easily sets me off. I’m talking about the overuse of participial phrases or, as you probably know them, -ing verbs. They are everywhere, and although they can be used correctly, they usually aren’t.

This is the pattern, and once I mention it, you’ll probably recognize it: “Character A did X, Y-ing something else,” or “Protagonist said, twirling his mustache.” The participial phrase is the entire, well, phrase, “twirling his mustache,” not just the word twirling. Grammatically, they usually work as an adjective, modifying a noun or pronoun (like the subject.) I was surprised when I discovered that because I had intuitively thought they worked as adverbs, saying how something was done (How did he say it? Twisting his mustache) but in fact, they modify a noun, here, “Protagonist.” Basically, it’s like saying “The Protagonist, he-who-is-twisting-his-mustache, said.”

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November 11 post: the writing of old bestsellers vs. contemporary writers, a comparison.

If you have read some of my posts, it’s no secret that I can’t stand most contemporary fiction. The last few posts have been an attempt to explain, mostly to myself, why I rarely can’t get past the first paragraphs of most books I open. Some of those posts have been quite successful and a few people have told me they have had similar experiences, so I guess I’m not the only one.

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November 4 story: The Dreadful Writer, Part I

This is the full interview with the British-American writer James L. Cunningham. It first appeared on All-Men’s Adventure Magazine in 1935. The original interview was half as long and its most “juicy” aspects had been cut off, probably out of fear of upsetting the moral authorities that back then were keeping a close eye on this kind of magazines. The writer died later that year from cancer, which could explain his strangely forthcoming and open answers. After Monroe Webster, the editor and interviewer, died in 1965, the original interview with lines marking the parts to cut out was found among his papers.


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November 1st story: “It was worth it.”

As I said in the previous post, this is the write-a-story-a-day month, so let’s begin with something unique (and longer than I had expected.) It’s not what I usually write, but I liked it anyway.


 

Like those astronomical objects that are first discovered by the effects they have around them, David’s first glimpse of her was indirect, of the fluttering of people orbiting around her and the deviations she caused in passersby’s trajectories as they got close to her gravitational pull.

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