Category Archives: poetry & short stories

Zombies vs. Unicorns (eds. Larbalestier and Black) 4*

You remember how Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson had that fabulous splitscreen “walk-off” in Zoolander.  Here it is, in case you need to laugh your ass off again:

Zombies vs. Unicorns is kind of like that.  Team Zombie and Team Unicorn pitch story after story, and in between there’s so much trash talk that you’ll be reaching for your beer.

zombies vs unicorns

You may have noticed that I’m writing in second person.  This is in honor of the story below.  You know how sometimes you read a story collection and just want to tear out one of the stories and pin it on your wall so you can grin crazily and stroke the pages every time you walk past the living room?  It’s like that.

First page of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Alaya Dawn Johnson:

Think of it like the best macaroni and cheese you’ve ever had.  No neon yellow Velveeta and bread crumbs.  I’m talking gourmet cheddar, the expensive stuff from Vermont that crackles as it melts into that crust on top.  Imagine if right before you were about to tear into it, the mac and cheese starts talking to you?  And it’s really cool.  It likes Joy Division more than New Order, and owns every Sonic Youth album, and saw you in the audience at the latest Arctic Monkeys concert, though you were too stoned to notice anything but the clearly sub-par cheesy mac you’d brought with you.

What if he — I mean “it” — were really hot?  Tall and lanky and weirdly well muscled, with bright blue eyes and ginger hair?  So, he smells like the best meal you’ve ever eaten, but you kind of want to bone him too.  Can’t have it both ways.  You aren’t a necro.  But a boy’s got to eat — maybe you could just nibble a bit at the edges?  A part he won’t miss, and then fuck the rest of him.  Eat an arm or something.  He can still fuck with one arm.  Not that well, though.  Probably wouldn’t like it.  Okay, a hand.  Who ever needed a left hand?  Then you remember that Jack — that’s his name, the mac and cheese — plays lacrosse.  That’s probably where he got all those yummy muscles.  You need two hands for lacrosse.

A pinky?  Damn, you might as well starve yourself.

You didn’t even know you needed a zombie romance.  A gay zombie romance with lotsa blood and a little bit of brain-eating, just maybe maybe?  How can this be happening?  The section headings form a mixtape, which you will soon be YouTubing.

Shout-outs to “The Care and Feeding of  Your Baby Killer Unicorn” by Diana Peterfreund (venomous, unkillable man-eating unicorns, but aww this one’s just a baby), “Inoculata” by Scott Westerfield (grown-ups suck but you kids are dicks), and cover artist Josh Cochran, whose endpapers fill me with joy.  It’s like a bad trip to Narnia.

zombies endpaper detail

Dreamsongs II (George R.R. Martin) 3*

As much as I wish George would stop putzing around with other stories and get on with it, I do have to admit that his various byproducts are enjoyable.  Dreamsongs II contains:

  • Two stories of Haviland Tuf, very fun.  I will have to read Tuf Voyaging, which collects the linked stories in I, Robot style.
  • Two screenplays, one for The Twilight Zone and one for a sadly aborted series called Doorways, which could have been Heroes-sized if the universe had stepped left.
  • Some Wild Cards stuff that I skipped over.
  • “The Skin Trade,” a diverting story for people who like detectives and mysteries.  Apparently it was very well received on the awards panels, though I feel something is slightly lacking in the hot female detective.  We’re just told that she’s hot.
  • “The Hedge Knight,” which everyone has probably read two or three times already while gnawing their hands waiting for the next Ice and Fire book to come out.
  • “Portraits of His Children,” a creepy magic realism story that could have been written by Orson Scott Card at the top of his game.  Seriously, this one would fit perfectly inside The Changed Man.  I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance and will probably end up mis-crediting this story.  For one thing, since when does Georgesong come up with good titles?

Twilight, part 2

How can these wretched books be taking up 4 of the top 12 Amazon bestseller spots?  Simultaneously!

When I compare the “Twilight phenomenon” to Potter-mania, Twilight comes out looking like the neighborhood crack dealer.  It glorifies suicide attempts, teen pregnancy, stalking, emotional abuse, co-dependency…all these things are understandable and even commendable as long as true love made you do it.  (This is all according to the internet, as I have better things to do than read the rest of the books.)  Interestingly the same right-wingers who forbade their children to read Satanic books about a bespectacled wizard child think Twilight is an awesome book about abstinence.

Even without the payload of suicide talk, Twilight carries enough Weapons of Mass Delusion to ruin a generation of lives.  Twilight says that love, like the lottery, just happens to you if you’re lucky enough.  Over here in the real world, relationships are houses that require serious time and effort to build.  It took me years just to do a few blueprints, and they all had foundational problems.  I do know a few couples who got started at Bella’s age and are happily celebrating their 10-year anniversaries now, but they’re nothing like Bella and Edward.  They started with building materials of great structural integrity, and then they mastered the art of carpentry with patient dedication.  Millions of girls are going to grow into millions of women who shiver in lean-tos and wail for the mansion that Twilight promised them.

Here’s a love poem that Stephenie Meyer doesn’t believe in:

On Marriage
Khalil Gibran

Then Almitra spoke again and said, “And what of Marriage, master?”
And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together.
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

Regret nothing

Antilamentation
Dorianne Laux

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering
any of it. Let’s stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

Idylls of the King (Alfred, Lord Tennyson) 4*

When I read Idylls of the King, I hear homeric bards reciting the lines with pacing that would make you proud to be human.  I picture listeners gathering night after night to hear the Great Stories.  Camelot is “the city built to music, and therefore never built at all, and therefore built for ever.”

It’s a past that never was (and certainly not when Tennyson wrote it), but it’s lovely just the same.  I particularly liked the story of Gareth and Lynette.

Taste it via Gutenberg.  I recommend the Gareth/Lynette and Merlin/Vivien chapters, since the Arthur chapters can actually be a bit confusing for new readers.

Nothing is exempt from resurrection

Waste
Kay Ryan

Not even waste
is inviolate.
The day misspent,
the love misplaced,
has inside it
the seed of redemption.
Nothing is exempt
from resurrection.
It is tiresome
how the grass
re-ripens, greening
all along the punched
and mucked horizon
once the bison
have moved on,
leaning into hunger
and hard luck.

horses in science fiction

Dr. Dea was getting rather better at falling off; he’d landed more-or-less on his feet this time. He made a lunge at the dangling reins, but his sorrel mare shied away from his grab. Dea jumped back as she swung on her haunches and then, realizing her freedom, bounced back down the trail, tail bannering, horse body-language for Nyah, nyah, ya can’t catch me! Dr. Dea, red and furious, ran swearing in pursuit. She broke into a canter.

“No, no, don’t run after her!” called Miles.

“How the hell am I supposed to catch her if I don’t run after her?” snarled Dea. The space surgeon was not a happy man. “My medkit’s on that bloody beast!”

“How do you think you can catch her if you do?” asked Miles. “She can run faster than you can.”

At the end of the little column, Pym turned his horse sideways, blocking the trail. “Just wait, Harra,” Miles advised the anxious hill woman in passing. “Hold your horse still. Nothing starts a horse running faster than another running horse.”

The other two riders were doing rather better. The woman Harra Csurik sat her horse wearily, allowing it to plod along without interference, but at least riding on balance instead of trying to use the reins as a handle like the unfortunate Dea. Pym, bringing up the rear, was competent if not comfortable.

Miles slowed Fat Ninny to a walk, reins loose, and wandered after the mare, radiating an air of calm relaxation. Who, me? I don’t want to catch you. We’re just enjoying the scenery, right. That’s it, stop for a bite. The sorrel mare paused to nibble at a weed, but kept a wary eye on Miles’s approach.

At a distance just short of starting the mare bolting off again, Miles stopped Fat Ninny and slid off. He made no move toward the mare, but instead stood still and made a great show of fishing in his pockets. Fat Ninny butted his head against Miles eagerly, and Miles cooed and fed him a bit of sugar. The mare cocked her ears with interest. Fat Ninny smacked his lips and nudged for more. The mare snuffled up for her share. She lipped a cube from Miles’s palm as he slid his other arm quietly through the loop of her reins.

“Here you go, Dr. Dea. One horse. No running.”

“No fair,” wheezed Dea, trudging up. “You had sugar in your pockets.”

“Of course I had sugar in my pockets. It’s called foresight and planning. The trick of handling horses isn’t to be faster than the horse, or stronger than the horse. That pits your weakness against his strengths. The trick is to be smarter than the horse. That pits your strength against his weakness, eh?”

Dea took his reins. “It’s snickering at me,” he said suspiciously.

—————-
Keep reading this novella? It did win the prize for best science fiction novella of the year, after all. “The Mountains of Mourning” by Lois McMaster Bujold, full text here.