‘The Blue Summit’, R. Taguchi

There’s a stillness here that’s like the stillness you find in the snowy, bleak plains of Siberia.
— Taguchi, Randy (2012-11-20). Fujisan (p. 3). AmazonEncore. Kindle Edition.

I read ‘The Blue Summit’ as the first of the three short stories in Randy Taguchi’s book ‘Fuji-san’. This book has taken Mt Fuji as the central theme as far as I can see after having read the first story and the introduction, and tries to present a few narratives around this central character. I originally thought that it sounds like quite a good idea — after having read the first story, I am no longer as confident.

Why I am not as confident is that the story felt forced. It was certainly interesting, but I also felt that it didn’t have flow as I expected a story to have. Reading it felt like reading something the author wrote because he had to write it — not because the story wanted to be told. In general, I am not a fan of authors who write like that.

Maybe this feeling was as prevalent because the story tried to be more serious than it should have been. By this I mean that while the story was serious, my main problem is that this seriousness felt forced — as I mentioned in the paragraph above. I think Mr Taguchy would have done far better if he had tried to write a somewhat lighter story.

It is not even that the author writes badly — there is a lot of material in this story that could be considered “quotable”. It’s just that I don’t get the feeling that these words enjoy having been put down on paper, and that certainly diminishes the joy I get from reading them.

And that is part of the reason why I’ll read someone else next. I’ll get back to the two remaining stories in this book for they are not long and I want to take a look at them, but before that I’ll read something that I know wants to be read.

As far as words go, there are two kinds in my book: words used for conveying some meaning, and words used for other purposes. I am able to understand words used for conveying one matter or another, but I am unable to understand words used for any other end. Or it may be that I refuse to understand.
— Taguchi, Randy (2012-11-20). Fujisan (p. 17). AmazonEncore. Kindle Edition.

 

EDIT (30/06/2013): I somehow managed to write the author’s name down wrong in the title. This unfortunate error has been fixed now.

‘The White Road’, T. Hershman

Tania Hershman is a very interesting writer. Now, I can tell this by having read just one of her short stories. The one I’ve read is called ‘The White Road’, and it can be found online here. I would suggest to read it first, and only then to look to my thoughts — I won’t reveal any spoilers, but I think that there is a certain thought to the story which comes across better if my words are not in the way to begin with.

I’ll also add that the first time I read the story must have been years ago. A chance event took me to the link again, and here I am commenting on it now.

Assuming you’ve read it if you want to by this point, here I go: I can imagine that whiteness. When I read those lines, I can see it happening in the most real way possible. My mind can picture the entire whiteness of the continent, and it can also picture the golden hues of the sun. The summer sun or the winter night: it is there, and I wonder whether the gold or the white is prevalent.

I think that the author deserves a fair bit of credit for coming up with a story like this — it is not common for me to be as moved as I am by ‘The White Road’. I think that this effect is brought about by the conjoint efforts of the setting and the emotions of the woman in the story. There is a primal feeling hidden in these words, and it is just so raw and pure it encapsulates me thoroughly.

I have long wanted to read other stories by Ms Hershman to see if this effect is also present in those. Unfortunately thus far, I have not had the chance. I think that reading ‘The White Road’ again has made me want to delve deeper into that thought though. When I do, I’ll let you know what I find.

And my mind can still imagine the whiteness…

‘Manhattan In Reverse’, P. Hamilton

Look at you, what you’re doing – you hoard entire planets in readiness for the day when you can dismantle them and fabricate something in their place. What? What can possibly need building on such a scale?
— Hamilton, Peter F. (2011-10-07). Manhattan in Reverse (Kindle Locations 1319-1320). Macmillan Publishers UK. Kindle Edition.

I like a very grand scale. Peter Hamilton has been able to provide it in his other work I’ve read, ‘The Great North Road’. In this collection of short stories, he has done that again — but in a way where he introduces me to his other universes. And I liked them. There is a certain grandeur to anything spanning tens (and tens of thousands) of light years, and the author has certainly not held himself back in creating these possibilities.

Of the short stories in this collection, I was pleasantly surprised by nearly all of them. ‘Watching Trees Grow’ appealed to me mostly due to the lasting nature of what was a horrible crime – a murder committed in the early 19th century would take a few centuries to be solved. And yet, due to the near-infinite lifespans (well, infinite by the end of the short story at any least) the perpetrator could be brought to justice. And what perseverance to not give up in search of who the person could have been! I wonder if I had the same sort of tenacity if I had need of it. I hope I would.

‘Footvote’ was appealing due to its critique of a government — and the thought that if there was a greener pasture, people would go move if it was easy and accessible. And I think that any person reading it can think of the events at the very end of the story as a measure of what anyone has to give up for whatever purposes. I do not want to give the ending away, but in a sense I would like to do that — it could create a debate worth having in my opinion. Read it, and see what you think. 😉

‘If At First’ and ‘The Forever Kitten’ are not that remarkable, but I have no real objections to them either. I do not recall them very well, although ‘If At First’ makes for an interesting morality question that would go along the lines of: is the ‘criminal’ here a criminal since he is improving the livelihoods of millions of people? Probably the answer is yes since he is doing that with the purpose of self-enrichment, but I know that not everyone would agree with me.

And ‘Blessed By An Angel’, ‘The Demon Trap’, and ‘Manhattan In Reverse’ are the ones which introduced me to Mr Hamilton’s Commonwealth. A galaxy-spanning entity of great power that has been able to secure peace in its lands and welfare for a number of the people (clearly not all of them), I would wish that we do not end up any worse (although I would not mind better!). Paula Myo is a detective whose other adventures I would like to read about (and I certainly will at some point), and I prefer the two stories which had her in it (the two latter ones).

Of their themes, ‘The Demon Trap’ might be the most interesting given it concerns the question of who is actually responsible for an action. It is difficult to describe, but a most interesting question once one actually sees what the problem is about. To make it succinct: if your consciousness was separated from your body at a time when your body committed a crime, are you guilty of the crime?

So, there we go. =)

Even now, fear is alien to her. This is the Commonwealth.
— Hamilton, Peter F. (2011-10-07). Manhattan in Reverse (Kindle Locations 2221-2222). Macmillan Publishers UK. Kindle Edition.

Short Stories

Into the flash fiction category belong a number of very fun and interesting short stories. I found a short page detailing a few of these here. I’d suggest people who are interested in these very interesting literary works to go and take a look.

I think my present favourite of these is Orson Scott Card’s “The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.”.

However, I’ll present two issues with that site I brought up in the beginning of this post: The story of Arthur Charles Clarke is an adaption he made to a very short (31-word) short story which you can also find at this site. It is titled “siseneG”, and also recounts the story of the world.

As the second issue: that story accredited to Ernest Hemingway on that short story listing is not actually Hemingway’s but is now taken to be authored by William R. Kane as a recent investigation into the matter proved (Slate article here).

Also, Wired has an interesting list that was, I believe, written in response to their competition for very short stories (they limited theirs at six words) here. The link above has some but not all of the ones present on the Wired site.

Jorge Luis Borges

I happened on a few short stories by J.L. Borges a few days ago. I would now term it as a fortunate chance, given that the name of the writer had been mentioned to be ages ago but only a second confirmation (now from The Economist, of all things!) actually made me look something up and read them.

The two short stories had an instinctive aura to themselves — indeed, the first one touched upon the subjects of mapping and cartography and I appreciated it very much. Check it out (*):

On Exactitude in Science
…In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.
Suarez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

Indeed, this story brings up one of the largest human mistakes that one can think of: the desire to do greater, build greater, be greater, even if there is no reason to do so. We are shown what mindless following of something that might be good can cause — and yet, given that the pursuit is here of cartography, an art which does not damage anything (one might argue, except resources in this instance) then it is harmless. It also reminds me of the stories of the old kings who looked to the dead and their valiant deeds instead of the living and their problems: a very small connection, but still something similar.

Inferno, I, 32
From the half-light of dawn to the half-light of evening, the eyes of a leopard, in the last years of the twelfth century, looked upon a few wooden boards, some vertical iron bars, some varying men and women, a blank wall, and perhaps a stone gutter littered with dry leaves. The leopard did not know, could not know, that it yearned for love and cruelty and the hot pleasure of tearing flesh and a breeze with the scent of deer, but something inside it was suffocating and howling in rebellion, and God spoke to it in a dream: You shall live and die in this prison, so that a man that I have knowledge of may see you a certain number of times and never forget you and put your figure and your symbol into a poem, which has its exact place in the weft of the universe. You suffer captivity, but you shall have given a word to the poem. In the dream, God illuminated the animal’s rude understanding and the animal grasped the reasons and accepted its fate, but when it awoke there was only an obscure resignation in it, a powerful ignorance, because the machine of the world is exceedingly complex for the simplicity of a savage beast.

Years later, Dante was to die in Ravenna, as unjustified and alone as any other man. In a dream, God told him the secret purpose of his life and work; Dante, astonished, learned at last who he was and what he was, and he blessed the bitternesses of his life. Legend has it that when he awoke, he sensed that he had received and lost an infinite thing, something he would never be able to recover, or even to descry from afar, because the machine of the world is exceedingly complex for the simplicity of men.

I quite like both the tone and capacity of the second one as well. Despite referring to greater powers, Borge does it in a way which differs completely from many “mainstream religious writers” (likely no one would even think of putting Borge into such a category) but it still has the well-placed sense of mystery and humbleness when in touch with such powers. I am somewhat biased though for the reason of the first paragraph speaking of a wonderful leopard — and leopards are magnificent creatures (much like all large cats): I do like the few stories where A.C. Clarke uses tigers a bit more than the others as well. Coming back to this one here, it is hard to say much more — I guess it has more to do with the feelings and sensations and thoughts that cannot be singularly described.

In any instance, I will do my best to look further into Borge in the near future.

 

(*) Referencing: Both of the short stories are taken from this link here where we’ve got a third one as well (which I incidentally liked less than the other two and therefore did not post).