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The Master of Ballantrae

The finest Robert Louis Stevenson novel I hadn’t read, The Master of Ballantrae (1889) blends the high-seas piracy of Kidnapped! and Treasure Island, with Jekyll & Hyde‘s dark doubled vision of humanity. It seems to have had a strong influence on Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer (1909), of which I was vividly reminded during certain long discussions in a ship’s cabin during a storm. And toward the stripped-down end of the novel, it turns into a grim frontier adventure reminiscent of Antonia Bird’s sublime Ravenous.

Highly recommended. Not all that hard to find online.

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“Before us was the high range of mountains toward which we had been all day deviously drawing near. From the first light of the dawn, their silver peaks had been the goal of our advance across a tumbled lowland forest, thrid with rough streams, and strewn with monstrous boulders; the peaks (as I say) silver, for already at the higher altitudes the snow fell nightly; but the woods and the low ground only breathed upon with frost. All day heaven had been charged with ugly vapours, in the which the sun swam and glimmered like a shilling piece; all day the wind blew on our left cheek barbarous cold, but very pure to breathe. With the end of the afternoon, however, the wind fell; the clouds, being no longer reinforced, were scattered or drunk up; the sun set behind us with some wintry splendour, and the white brow of the mountains shared its dying glow.”

I have no doubt that my recent one-day sojourn in Roatan spurred a renewed interest in Stevenson, but I ended up glomming onto this instead of any of his South Sea stories.

FLURB

Fearless Rudy went and did it. I am not sure what this betokens.
“Let a thousand flurbs bloom.”

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Virginians for The Virginian

Hey, Virg!We stayed in a funky little cabin at this resort in Winthrop, Washington, several nights ago:

The Virginian

There were Gideon Bibles in every room, but not a single copy of The Virginian, or even a videotape of any one of the numerous movies based on the book. Winthrop earns its place in literary history by somehow inspiring the novel that supposedly gave birth to the Western genre. When I suggested that motel guests might enjoy passing idle motel moments thumbing a copy of the very book that gave the cabin complex its name, the proprietor gave me a somewhat blank and bemused stare. But if you care to send a threadbare thriftstore copy to stock the motel library, I’m sure they wouldn’t object. Or, since they offer wifi, you can read it here while slouching on a springshot naugahyde sofabed:

The Virginian Online

Winthrop is currently swathed in smoke from the 100,000 acre Tripod Fire and everything came home smelling like a campfire. Conveniently, there is a smoke-jumper base situated right outside town, somewhere past the also-convenient Sullivan Cemetary, where many of the grave markers are etched with images of their occupants heading off into pristine mountains on horseback, a vision of the afterlife which I find more evocative than most.

In the evening, the town fills with smoke jumpers eating ice cream. We drove out to the Electrical Co-op and parked there in the night to watch the fires burning on the far side of a near ridge, until we started to worry we had attracted the attention of suspicious locals who parked nearby as if to keep an eye on us. Later I thought they were probably, like us, watching the fire. It is a constant presence above the town, a preoccupation as well as an actual occupation for many of Winthrop’s residents.

And the smoke has followed us home. We saw a burnt sienna pall above the mountains East of Monroe yesterday.

Trends in Japanese S.F.

My old friend Yoshio Kobayashi, under his pen name Takashi Ogawa, has written a nice piece on new trends in Japanese science fiction. I’m currently helping Yoshio round up some North American translators to assist with an anthology of short fiction by some of the more interesting new Japanese writers.

The Perfect 20th Anniversary Gift: Lead

As we close in on the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, National Geographic is running a feature on Chernobyl today in its April 2006 issue. Their website features a slideshow with many photos not included with the article. This article makes a perfect companion to Martin Cruz Smith’s fifth novel of Russian investigator Arkady Renko, Wolves Eat Dogs. It might also be handy if you’re planning a trip to Chernobyl. Avoid the milk; cheese is safer.

Great Breakthroughs in Darkness

“Great Breakthroughs in Darkness” first appeared in David Garnett’s New Worlds #2, and has made several appearances in slightly different forms since then (including the best version in Larry McCaffery’s After Yesterday’s Crash). The version I’ve posted has been available online for years at the Journal of Postmodern Culture, but it’s an early version and a really ugly text file. I’m reprinting it here and will continue to refine the version to reflect the later changes (when I can dig them up). I may also eventually figure out how to reproduce the photoillustration that originally ran with the story in New Worlds.

The Hypermodern Muse

People occasionally ask me for a transcript of “The Hypermodern Muse,” the keynote talk I gave at the first Austin Game Writers conference. I went ahead and posted it on the site. I’ve added a few links to references in the text, and will probably continue to do this as I track down related items.