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  • Ryan Britt 5:00 pm on 2014/12/16 Permalink
    Tags: adam wilson shelly oria, ann vandermeer, , justin taylor, , neil clarke, , , , , , ,   

    Short Stories to Stuff Your Stockings: 9 of 2014’s Most Giftable Collections and Anthologies 

    The Time Traveler's AlmanacGift-giving can come with a lot of commitment issues. If you buy a novel for a certain someone and they “just can’t get into it,” it’s like you failed as a person who buys books as presents. However, short stories don’t have quite that same threat, because even if the person doesn’t love ALL the stories in a collection or anthology, they’re bound to like a few. Here’s a list of 9 short story collections or anthologies published in 2014 to help you hedge your holiday book-buying bets.

    Flings, by Justin Taylor
    You ready for short stories about guys in mushroom costumes, struggling poets, and Ph.D students? Of course you are. With his usual brand of smarty-pants wit, Justin Taylor has done something you wouldn’t think possible: topped his debut short story collection, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever. A perfect gift for someone who thinks they don’t like reading short stories, or reading period. Meanwhile, if your giftee already loves good contemporary lit, Taylor is one of the masters.

    New York 1 Tel Aviv 0, by Shelly Oria
    If you’re not sure what the immigrant experience is like or the bisexual experience is like or the human experience is like, these stories have you covered. Shelly Oria’s prose is as addictive as her occasionally jokey epiphanies. The stories in this collection often come across as being orderly little lessons about what its like to be a person, and that’s exactly what they are. This is the perfect gift for someone who experiments with the truth of their life and finds something beautiful or sad every time they do. Essentially, give this book to your best friend for the holidays if you want to keep them. Give this book to a friend you’ve lost if you want them back.

    Unexpected Stories, by Octavia Butler
    If you’ve only read Octavia Butler’s excellent time-travel novel Kindred, that’s okay, but if you’re looking for a gift for someone who loves genre-straddling stories by a master of both science fiction and literature, then this is the one. Collecting Butler’s short fiction into one volume is a smart enough idea, but this one is made even more special because it includes unpublished material, specifically her story “Childfinder,” which sci-fi raconteur Harlan Ellison asked her to write for his unpublished The Last Dangerous Visions.

    What’s Important is Feeling, by Adam Wilson
    Featuring a weird rock band, a lobster, and impressively deft explorations of male friendship, Adam Wilson’s What’s Important is Feeling is a great gift for your grouchy brother who’s always complaining about everything. Either that, or your friend who always wears a bandanna and tells everyone she’s creating new kinds of art with colors that haven’t yet been invented. Not a book for your mom. Unless your mom was once like those people or any of the characters in this book. In which case: perfect.

    Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood
    Is it even fair how talented Margaret Atwood is? How does she possibly put out as many books as she has? If you’re looking to buy a book of stories for someone who’s an Atwood completist, then you’re in good shape. Or maybe you’re looking to get someone into her work without overwhelming them with the complexity of the Maddaddam trilogy. If so, these stories represent Atwood’s bananas creativity coupled with her excellent sense of humanity. Really, though, if you have any friends who are mistaken for vampires for whatever reason, this is the gift for them.

    The Time Traveler’s Almanac, edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
    There’s no one who doesn’t like stories about time travel. Except maybe actual time travelers. If you’ve got a Doctor Who–obsessed person in your life and you need to give them a gift that will totally educate them on the best short-fiction explorations of time travel, this new anthology from fantastic sci-fi editor Ann VanderMeer is the ticket. The thing is, because it’s all about time travel, you need to make sure your prospective present-getter hasn’t already read it…in the future.

    American Innovations, by Rivka Galchen
    Deceptively casual is the only way to describe the tone of the stories in American Innovation. If you’re buying a gift for someone who everyone thinks is an evil genius, you may want to consider this book. Everybody says certain kinds of stories are heartbreaking, but these ones really are, but subtly. So maybe they’re not heartbreaking, but instead, heart-fracturing? Galtchen’s subtlety is definitely for the literati, but a particularly introspective non-literary person would love these tales, too.

    Redeployment, by Phil Klay
    You heard this won the National Book Award, right? Do you buy this for the veteran in your life? Yes. Do you buy it for the literary snob in your life? Yes. Do you buy it for your landlord, your postman, or your former high school teacher? Yes. Yes. Yes.

    Clarkesworld Year 6, edited by Neil Clarke 
    There’s a lot of great science fiction being published online these days, but Neil Clarke over at Clarkesworld always manages to put out a physical version of all the best stuff he’s championed in a given year. If you’ve got a budding sci-fi/fantasy writer who needs some inspiration this holiday season, any of the Clarkesworld anthologies are a surefire win.

  • Ryan Britt 5:00 pm on 2014/11/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , fantasy casting, ,   

    Here’s Who Should Play the Baudelaires , the Snickets, and Count Olaf in Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events 

    dreamcastingThis week, one of the best book series of all time received extremely fortunate news: A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket, is getting a second chance at becoming a great live-action adaptation, this time in the form of a Netflix original series. There’s no word on casting for the show yet, but why should that stop us? Here’s a dream cast list—a phrase that here means: NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN—for the new Series of Unfortunate Events series!


    Anna Kendrick as Violet Baudelaire

    Yes, she’s 29, and the character is supposed to be 14, but Kendrick has been killing it playing smarty-pants girls of all sorts of ages since Rocket Science. Casting actual children as children is tough, but Olivia Newton-John was 27 in Grease and Stockard Channing was 33, and they were supposed to be in HIGH SCHOOL! Kendrick has the right attitude for Violet, and if the new Magicians TV show can’t have her as Julia, then Netflix’s Snicket should get her as Violet.

    Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 11.06.09 AM

    Owen Best as Klaus Baudelaire

    You may not remember this guy, but he played the young Sam Flynn in Tron:Legacy back in 2010, and he also shows up in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie. Put some glasses on him, and I say you’ve found yourself the book-loving Klaus.


    A baby as Sunny Baudelaire

    Will have to be a baby. Maybe a baby that is computer-generated. How Netflix will figure out that time when she sword fights with her two teeth is a mystery.


    Owen Wilson as Lemony Snicket

    He’s the narrator and “author” of the entire series, trailing just behind the Baudelaire orphans and telling their story. He once had a thing with their mother, and he’s part of a secret organization that may or may not be out to stop fires. In the last film adaptation, Snicket was voiced by Jude Law, which, while fine, was probably a mistake. A comedic, offbeat, and original voice might be ideal here, and if Snicket is ever seen in this version, it may as well be Owen Wilson.


    Luke Wilson as Jacques Snicket

    In later books, both of Lemony’s siblings appear as active participants in the story, as opposed to the narrator’s more phantomish presence. If we’ve got Owen Wilson as Lemony, why not his real-life brother Luke Wilson as Jacques? I’m not saying they should get Wes Anderson to direct A Series of Unfortunate Events, but someone should probably at least think about it. (Or at the very least try to rip off Wes Anderson’s style.)


    Tina Fey as Kit Snicket

    Kit Snicket’s backstory is slowly, slowly unfolding in the newest series of Lemony Snicket books—All the Wrong Questions—but in A Series of Unfortunate Events, she’s a grown woman who heroically aids the Baudelaires in later books. As with a lot of these characters, a comedic presence makes sense to match the tone of the prose. Fey has already played a character with “Lemon” in her name, so it’s just a hop-skip-and-a Snicket over to Kit.


    Adam Driver as Count Olaf

    Yeah, right, like Adam Driver is going to have time for this! But imagine how great he would be if he somehow did. The idea of Driver playing the scheming nemesis of the Baudelaires (and the Snickets, and the V.F.D.) might seem a little nuts because he’s too young, but there’s something about the modulation of his voice that seems both threatening and hilarious at the same time. In the original film adaptation, Jim Carrey’s performance is okay, and he certainly looks like the excellent Brett Helquist illustrations from the original books, but for this iteration, maybe something a little stranger is needed. Plus, Driver’s got the eyebrows.


    (OR Peter Capaldi!)

    Speaking of eyebrows, and already kind of looking the part, and being age-appropriate, current Doctor Who incumbent Peter Capaldi would make a perfect Count Olaf. Too bad we’ve gotten used to him being such a good guy lately…

    Who would you cast in the new Lemony Snicket series? Which other characters are you excited to see?

  • Ryan Britt 3:30 pm on 2014/09/25 Permalink
    Tags: , fantastic voyage, howard pyle, , , , paycheck, , , sir arthur conan doyle, , the merry adventures of robin hood, , , whovians   

    A Reading List for the New Season of Doctor Who 

    doctorwholitinspirationsOverwhelmingly, fans of Doctor Who have strong opinions about Doctor Who. Do we love Peter Capaldi’s no-hugging grumpier Doctor, or are we having a hard time understanding his accent? Does everyone miss Matt Smith already? Are the new episodes too confusing, or not confusing enough?

    Perhaps we need to put our quibbles aside and start reading. Because if you take a look at this season’s plot lines, you might notice the show is drawing heavily on books, books you should probably read right now.

    Here’s a rundown of Doctor Who’s new season so far, with the great books that inspired each episode.

    “Deep Breath”
    The debut of Capldai’s furious-eyebrowed Doctor began in a Victorian setting, a departure from the past several modern-day Doctor regenerations. This gaslight atmosphere was for more than just mood, as elements of the plot were taken from the heavy-hitters of Victorian literature: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde. In the episode, a rogue dinosaur spontaneously combusts, leading the Doctor to play detective in order to determine if there have been similar mysterious occurrences (of spontaneous combustion…presumably there was just the one rogue dinosaur). His deduction—that the dinosaur blowing up was murder—is totally in line with a Sherlock Holmes leap of logic, and the idea of an apparent accident concealing a planned murder is a big part of the classic Holmes mystery “The Bruce-Partington Plans.” Madame Vastra and Jenny’s presence in this episode also continues their Holmesian relationship with Scotland Yard. Despite the fact that characters like Robin Hood are often “real” in the Doctor Who universe, it appears Sherlock Holmes is still “fictional.”

    This one also has a little bit of a The Picture of Dorian Gray thing going on, insofar as the blowing up of the dinosaur (and all the other deaths in the episode) is part of a master plan to conceal all the evidence. Dorian Gray, too, has a friend totally dissolve the corpse of an artist in order to dispose of some evidence.

    “Into the Dalek”
    The premise of this one is a science fiction oldie-but-goodie. In order to perform surgery on a Dalek, the Doctor, Clara, and a group of soldiers have to be shrunken down to super-tiny size. When the Doctor gets wind of this, the first thing he says is “Fantastic idea for a movie,” a nod to the film Fantastic Voyage, the novelization of which was written by prolific sci-fi author Isaac Asimov. (This would be like John Scalzi or recent Hugo winner Ann Leckie writing the novelization of Transformers: Age of Extinction.) Asimov did eventually write an original “sequel,” Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain. Guess what part of the body the miniature people have to enter.

    “Robots of Sherwood”
    The title makes this one fairly easy to spot; clearly, the episode was taken from the legends of Robin Hood. Ah, but which Robin Hood legends? This Who adventure posits that the fictional Robin Hood was actually a real person, yet not all the events we see correspond to those super old ballads (where he’s sometimes called Robyn Hode), instead relying mostly on Howard Pyle’s 1883 novel The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, which in turn heavily influenced the famous Errol Flynn and Disney films. To put it another way, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood is a novelization of a ballad of an oft-told story, meaning a lot of what’s in there was invented for the book. Still, it’s a great read.

    In this episode, the Doctor gets really interested in ghosts, and, in particular, the familiar fear of someone grabbing your foot from under the bed. Through topsy-turvy, timey-wimey shenanigans, we learn the ghost under the Doctor’s childhood bed was actually a time-traveling Clara. This episode might not have an obvious literary ancestor, but the repetition of the word “Listen” is a big tip-off to a possible inspiration. The second chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, begins: “Listen. Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” The subject of Slaughterhouse-Five obviously concerns how time travel makes one feel about life, and Vonnegut also employs the word “listen,” both in this book and in other works and speeches, as a sort of signal for kindness. In this excellent Doctor Who episode, it’s the same: at first “listen” seems ominous, but later, it becomes a word of kindness for the Doctor, and comfort, too. Vonnegut probably would have loved it.

    “Time Heist”
    This one is all Philip K. Dick. When the Doctor and Clara find themselves in the middle of a bank robbery with no memory as to how they got there or why they’re the ones robbing the bank, the first story that comes to mind should be “Paycheck.” In this classic Dick tale, a man named Jennings has his memory erased after doing a job for which he expected to be paid handsomely. Now unable to remember what the job entailed, the man is stunned when, instead of a paycheck, he’s bizarrely given a strange bag containing all sorts of stuff, stuff he eventually ends up needing very badly. As in the Doctor Who episode, breaking the law is involved, and, of course, the future benefactor who’s the big helper in “Paycheck” turns out to be a time-traveling version of Jennings himself. A character like Jennings can be forgiven for not figuring this out right away, but an experienced time traveler like the Doctor? No way.

    What are some of your favorite Doctor Who literary mash-ups?

  • Ryan Britt 3:30 pm on 2014/06/20 Permalink
    Tags: adam pelzman, adam wilson, , , , maria konnikova, , porochista khakpour, rivka galchen, ,   

    6 Unlikely Beach Reads 

    American InnovationsSaying you love a good beach read is a little like affirming your belief in ghosts or magic: most of us secretly like that kind of thing, but prefer not to talk about it outside of the proper settings. A “beach read” isn’t just a guilty pleasure, it’s a guilty pleasure living in an indulgent location, akin to bringing an entire chocolate cake with you into the Jacuzzi. But what if what the books we indulged in on the beach weren’t a guilty pleasure? What if they were simply something not only highly readable, but thoughtful, too? Here are six recent releases that aren’t guilty at all, but that do share some things in common with beach reads—they’re welcoming, relatable, and fun. Happy summer reading:

    American Innovationsby Rivka Galchen
    In this snappy new collection of tightly crafted, sometimes unsettling short stories (time travel! walking furniture!), the tales often read more like overheard conversations, which is part of their charm. My favorite story here is “Sticker Shock,” all about a woman and her mom, and the ultimate family questions of who owes who and for what. The stories in this book are playful, but that’s a cool deception: they’re much, much deeper. It’s been a while since I’ve read stories that made me sigh from recognition this much.

    Troikaby Adam Pelzman
    An affair is perpetrated in Pezlman’s debut, not in the style of a meandering literary novel, but instead with a multi-voiced, almost episodic zeal. These characters may be ready-made for television drama, but that’s what makes this book so refreshingly juicy. Demonstrating a considerable amount of restraint, the three first-person narrators don’t deliver a he said/she said account of various events, but instead focus on the varied emotional impacts of those events. Pelzman balances the plotting of a high-end drama with sprinkles of literary class to produce something effortlessly real and emotionally formidable at the same time.

    The Last Illusionby Porochista Khakpour
    Revisiting a Y2K New York City, Khakpour’s sophomore novel focuses on a boy who sort of believed he was a bird. We all construct different coping mechanisms for the terrible things in our lives, but in The Last Illusion, Khakpour has created one such mechanism that is both a little sad, but randomly funny, too. It also doesn’t hurt that the writing is super-smooth, and above all, extremely consuming. If you’re looking to be taken away, but with an anchor to the familiar, this is your summer novel.

    What’s Important is Feeling, by Adam Wilson
    One of the driest wits in literature, Wilson doesn’t really crack any jokes himself, instead letting his ridiculous characters do it for him. From hermit crabs, to failed garage bands, to unexpected blowjobs, What’s Important is Feeling is never raunchy, but will make you snort—either because you know these people, or because you can’t believe you’ve just (finally) met them on the page. Cadence and rhythm are often what’s important in an unexpected page-turner, and when it comes to those mystical powers of timing, Adam Wilson makes it all seem easy.

    Mastermind, by Maria Konnikova
    In this nonfiction, Gladwellian approach to Sherlock Holmes, smarty-pants Konnikova owns the conversation on how the most famous fictional detective of all time is so psychologically important. Part literary exploration, part how-to manual, this is one you’ll fly through even if you have just a passing interest in Sherlock, Elementary, or the Robert Downey, Jr., incarnations of Holmes. What Douglas Coupland did for Marshall McLuhan with You Know Nothing of My Work!, Konnikova has done for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (And though this book came out new in paperback at the end of 2013, it’s still recent enough to warrant a look!)

    My Beloved Brontosaurs, by Brian Switek
    Not a book for science geeks, Switek’s collection of essays reads more like dispatches from a superfan living firmly in the world of dinos. From discussions of whether or not they had feathers, to how they made other baby dinosaurs, Switek has the charm and knowledge to make what you thought you learned in 4th grade totally awesome again.

    What books are you taking to the beach?

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