Archive for July, 2010

“The Orange”, by Benjamin Rosenbaum

July 29, 2010 1 comment

“The Orange” is probably the shortest story I will ever include here.  The whole thing fits neatly on one page.  As a matter of fact, it would take you longer to assess my review of the work than it would just to read it, so why not short-circuit the decision and just read it?  I’ll even make it easy:


The Orange, by Benjamin Rosenbaum

An orange ruled the world.

It was an unexpected thing, the temporary abdication of Heavenly Providence, entrusting the whole matter to a simple orange.

The orange, in a grove in Florida, humbly accepted the honor. The other oranges, the birds, and the men in their tractors wept with joy; the tractors’ motors rumbled hymns of praise.

Airplane pilots passing over would circle the grove and tell their passengers, “Below us is the grove where the orange who rules the world grows on a simple branch.” And the passengers would be silent with awe.

The governor of Florida declared every day a holiday. On summer afternoons the Dalai Lama would come to the grove and sit with the orange, and talk about life.

When the time came for the orange to be picked, none of the migrant workers would do it: they went on strike. The foremen wept. The other oranges swore they would turn sour. But the orange who ruled the world said, “No, my friends; it is time.”

Finally a man from Chicago, with a heart as windy and cold as Lake Michigan in wintertime, was brought in. He put down his briefcase, climbed up on a ladder, and picked the orange. The birds were silent and the clouds had gone away. The orange thanked the man from Chicago.

They say that when the orange went through the national produce processing and distribution system, certain machines turned to gold, truck drivers had epiphanies, aging rural store managers called their estranged lesbian daughters on Wall Street and all was forgiven.

I bought the orange who ruled the world for 39 cents at Safeway three days ago, and for three days he sat in my fruit basket and was my teacher. Today, he told me, “it is time,” and I ate him.

Now we are on our own again.


There?  Back now?  Good.
This is exactly the kind of surrealistic story that I adore when done well, and that Rosenbaum has done it well at least one other time, in “The Ant King: A California Fable”.  I also like it just for how in-and-out it is–he knows what he wants to do, and gets it done in under two minutes.
I’m not the only one who’s been captured by this: unique among stories I’ve got on the agenda to describe here, it’s been made into a short film.  Hey, why don’t you watch it, too?
Awards: honorably mentioned in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 15, and the short film won Best Animated Short, SXSW 2010

Replay, by Ken Grimwood

NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN.  Includes explicit sex and great personal loss.

Replay begins with one of the lines that I remember mostly clearly of all
lines in fiction: “Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.”
And that’s the end for him; he’s quite dead.

Except he doesn’t stay dead.  The next thing he remembers, he wakes up in his
college dorm room, twenty-five years in the past, twenty-five years younger, and
remembering absolutely everything of consequence that’s going to happen in the
next twenty-five years.

Needless to say, he lives a very different life.  Wouldn’t you, if you knew the future? If you could make long odds bets. . . and win?

He lives a whole life. And then he dies again.  And wakes up.  Again. And again. And again.

Replay is about what Jeff learns to value, what he gets out of another
viewpoint on his life, and how he learns to love.  It’s not an easy book in
places–there’s a couple of scenes that always make my skin crawl.  It’s
joyously upbeat overall, however.  A book that I’ve reread any number of times
since I discovered it when it won the World Fantasy Award in 1988. It always makes me want to tell the folks that I love how much they mean to me.

Unfortunately, Grimwood never wrote anything else nearly this good.  The three
novels he wrote before Replay (Breakthrough, Elise, and The Voice Outside)
have not lasted the years since their original publication, all being out of
print for at least a decade.  His follow-up novel, Into The Deep, was vastly
better than than the first three books, but it was still only good, compared to
Replay’s greatness.

Grimwood passed away in 2003, and at the time of his death, was writing a sequel
to Replay, which it seems will not be published.  This I consider a tragedy. If it was half as good as the original, it would be well worth reading.

Buy Replay at Amazon
Buy audiobook of Replay at Amazon

Winner, World Fantasy Award for Novel, 1988

“When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth”

July 27, 2010 2 comments

I have been a fan of the Disney theme parks for, depending on how you measure, either one or three decades. So when I heard that a science fiction novel called Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, set in a future Walt Disney World, was coming out, I put it on my to-read list, and moved on.

Then I found out that the author, Cory Doctorow, had made it freely available. While being blown away, I downloaded it, loaded it onto my handheld, and started reading it.

It was good. It was so good that I didn’t finish the electronic version; I wanted to support this author, and so I went and bought the book. And that was my first experience with free fiction–power, immediacy, value, and infectiousness.

When I had the idea to do this blog, I knew–knew–that the first author I was going to recommend was Cory Doctorow. I assumed that it would be Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. But then I decided that I was going to focus largely on shorter fiction, and I was left with a problem. Sure, I’ve told you that I’m going to make exceptions and include longer works, sometimes non-free fiction, sometimes non-fiction even. . . but to make an exception in the very first post seemed bad policy. If you can’t keep to a rule even once, it isn’t much of a rule, now, is it?

And then I remembered “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth”. A story which has never failed to make me cry, make me think, and make me proud to be a geek and former sysadmin. And I knew I didn’t have to break my rule for the first recommendation.

“When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” is an end of the world story, told from the point of view of one of a very special group of survivors. The people we spend the bulk of the story with are the sysadmins of the hosts and routers that run the Internet in and near Toronto. And as the world they know disappears forever, they have to decide what to do about that responsibility, while still balancing their personal issues and needs. And dealing with the decreasing amount of information flow–and hope–coming in from the outside world.

The story is enormous: it sketches the end of a large part of human civilization. It is tiny and personal: it details one man’s reaction to crushing loss. It is true to my experiences as a geek, as a sysadmin, and as a father. And it is beautiful. I’m proud to put it forth as my first recommendation to you. If you like this, you stand a good chance of having similar taste to me. If you don’t like this, I’d be very interested in knowing why.

Doctorow’s website
Text of the story

Full cast audio
Buy in print from Amazon
, as part of Doctorow’s collection Overclocked
Awards: 2007 Locus Award for best novelette

What kinds of stories?

Okay, here’s a confession:  I like genre fiction, mostly.  Almost everything I’m going to recommend will be genre.  Science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, superhero stories.  Pretty geeky stuff.  Not all of it will be fiction–occasionally, I’ll recommend an essay or piece of non-fiction, but with the same general sensibility.

I’m going to be recommending at least half short fiction, instead of novels, and on the rare occasions I recommend series, I’ll discuss the best way to get started with it.  (I strongly favor starting series at the beginning, but sometimes the beginning isn’t clear, isn’t available, or isn’t actually a good book to start with.)  Quite a number of the stories I pick will either be exclusively available in audio form, or at least have that form available.  (Right now, my favorite sources for short fiction are Escape Pod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod, the weekly science fiction, fantasy, and horror podcasts from Escape Artists.  As a podcast addict, it’s really easy for me to find new stories or authors this way.)

And–see the post about “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” for some details here–a decent fraction of what I recommend is going to be freely available, as a Creative Commons release or something like it.  (I originally thought that I was going to do all free short fiction, but then all the stories that are really good, but have the disadvantage of being, y’know, long, or from an author who hasn’t opted to open their work up, those stories started calling to me and saying, “Don’t ignore us!  We matter!”)

If a work is available freely, the link will be in the post, and if it’s available commercially, there’ll be a link to Amazon.  (These two things are not mutually exclusive, by the way.)  The Amazon link is as much for you to get other people’s reviews of the work as it is for the affiliate fee, but if you happen to buy it from that link, be aware that an undecided fraction of any profit I make from this effort will be funnelled back in to supporting free fiction on the web, and the rest will be used to offset my expenses.

I’m going to try to mention which works that have been nominated for or won awards.  I love me some award-winning fiction, and have a life-goal of reading everything ever nominated for the Hugo or Nebula.  If a story I recommend has won an award or gotten a nomination that I’ve missed, please do tell me; I’ll credit you and update the post.

So that defines pretty much the space we’re working in.  The only actual guarantee you have is that I liked it, but mostly genre, largely short, substantially free, significantly available-in-audio, and uniformly good.  At least, I’d like to think so.

Categories: Meta

What is this?

I’m here to recommend stories for you to enjoy.  At least, I hope.

I have been a bookseller at heart for more than half my life.  I started working in libraries and used book stores when I was fifteen, and moved on to a discount new book store at age twenty.  The next few years were a whirl of joy, as I realized just how addicted I was to connecting people with stories they’d love.  A slave to the buzz I get when someone loves a recommendation I make for a story, and asks for more.  I am trying to feed that need via this blog. 

Now, this isn’t completely selfish.  I’m a relatively successful recommender of stories, and I hope to be able to offer you some material you haven’t heard of, that you enjoy.  Of course, it’s possible we have different tastes, but you’ll find that out pretty quickly, if you try a few of my recommendations and we don’t click.

And so here I am, preparing to try to capture my spiel for some of my favorite books and stories, trying to convince you to read them.

What these posts are: An unabashed attempt to get you to read and like something I value.  Success for me is measured in your response; I want to hear that you tried the story I’m recommending.  I’d like even more if I then hear that you loved it, but if you don’t, tell me why.  The more information I have about people’s reactions to these selections, the better I can do for people in the future.

What these posts are not:  Objective.  I’m trying to convince you that something I like is good, and that you should read it.  And I may even tell you . . . how I feel.  I’ll be expressing my emotions about these stories, because to get a recommendation, a story has likely left a mark on me.

Please read these posts.  Please try and enjoy these stories.  If you do, please tell me what you thought, and if you thought the blog post honored the work, did a good job of leading you to it.  I’ve never “sold books” to a faceless person before, and it’s harder than I thought to do this without seeing your face.

Thanks, and I hope I can help you enjoy some amazing stories.


Categories: Meta