Category Archives: Review

Meet Kyth, The Taker


Kyth The Taker
Jonathan L. Howard
Paperback, 112 pages
Published May 1st 2017 by Air and Nothingness Press

“Kyth liked tiled floors the way other people liked venomous snakes.” With that, we enter the world of Kyth, not a thief, but a taker. She is a mercenary finder of things and solver of problems with an eye for detail and a well-earned experience with traps, like the ones hidden by tiles. Structures talk to Kyth through that experience. She has an almost supernatural ability to divine the creator’s intentions, be he a dying tyrant or bargain-minded priest, and unravel his tomb, tower or temple.

For fans of classic sword and sorcery like Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, or even role-playing gamers with their own hard-won experience, these stories are a delight. The three tales don’t really interconnect aside from Kyth, and we learn little about her. There is a backstory unsaid there that begs more tales. What we do have are “The Beautiful Corridor,” “The Shuttered Temple,” and “The Silent Castle.” Each structure comes with its own purpose and challenges for Kyth to unravel. “The Beautiful Corridor” is the humorous story, but the second two are darker in different ways. “The Shuttered Temple” is as psychologically and philosophically dangerous as it is destructive, and perhaps the most fiendish sort of trap about which I have ever read. “The Silent Castle” is a sort of magical cautionary tale with deadly consequences.

At the end of 112 pages, the reader is left with a Kyth-shaped hole in their life and an urge to urge Jonathan L. Howard for more. This book, like all the books from Air and Nothingness Press, is a jewel-like tiny treasure. They specialize in translations reproduced in hand-made letterpress editions. You will want to share it and handle it, but with a print run limited to just 100 copies, you might be best served locking it away behind fiendish traps. An afterword by the author helps place these stories in context and explain why this is all there is. But rest assured, if Kyth has found Howard before, she may yet be his muse again.

Review: Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing


I got a chance to read Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing. It is a fast read. In just 150 short pages, interviewer David Naimon, host of the Portland-based podcast Behind the Covers, conducted the interview for broadcast by KBOO 90.7 FM in Portland Oregon. The book moves quickly through Le Guin’s thoughts on writing fiction, poetry and nonfiction. This is not as in-depth as some of her other writings about writing. You will find longer, more in-depth interviews elsewhere as well. (See her interview with Bill Moyers for example.) What you get from this book are some of Le Guin’s last thoughts on the subject. If you have never heard her speak on any subject before, there is much here.

Le Guin’s world outlook is heavily influenced by asian religion, Buddhism, the I-ching, Taoism and Naimon digs into that. On some broad level, that Asian worldview influences her work, but not visibly at the macro scale of obvious plot. In many ways, the concepts are so broad and fundamental that they influence the rhythm of EVERY part of her work. Right down to the words. Right down to the rhythm of the words in sentences. Right down to the way words convey the structure of alien thought. She argues forcefully that good prose ignores the current “fads” of writing, digging for something deeper. Good prose follows the rhythm of thought. It is an idea she credits to Virginia Woolf.

I left the book feeling I had gotten the barest taste of her thoughts and it brought back the sorrow and hollowness of her passing. At one point in this book, she discussed the inability to see sexism in the science fiction genre at a book level. Often, modern science fiction will exhibit strong female characters. But, she stresses, when you look at the broad level, the tendencies of the genre are apparent. She cites the fading of C. J. Cherryh from the canon while authors like William Gibson remain. I hope we have changed. I hope that observation isn’t prophecy for her own body of work. It would be tragic if Le Guin joined Cherryh in under-appreciated obscurity. When Ursula speaks, even beyond the grave, even in such a slender volume, we should listen.

Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing

Do you know Annalee Newitz?

download-8Do you know Annalee Newitz? You should. Her first novel,Autonomous: A Novel, is out, and it extends her career nicely. Confession, I was a fanboy of her “Techsploitation” column online and in the Metro Silicon Valley from 1999 through 2007 when I was in the Dot Com trenches. As a reporter in the bay area, I occasionally called her for insight or background on stories that overlapped with her editorials or reporting She was always generous with her time and advice. I was thrilled when they gave her IO9 in 2008 and doubly thrilled with her first novel, Autonomous: A Novel late last year. So needless to say, I’m a big fan.

Newitz has a wisdom about technology and sees fully the apparatus of capitalism in the technology sector of our economy. She also has a great sense of the cultural, racial and gendered seams in our culture and a witty and open approach to writing about sex. I’m inviting you to discover her.



In the Attic – Ursula K. LeGuin: Hainish Novels & Stories

leguin1Ursula K. LeGuin: Hainish Novels & Stories from Library of America is a slipcased, two volume set collecting LeGuin’s Hainish fiction along with a number of relevant essays and introductions. It includes the Nebula and Hugo winning The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed along with 32 additional novels, short stories, essays and introductions. Editor Brian Attebery previously worked with LeGuin and Karen Joy Fowler editing the Norton Anthology of Science Fiction. Working on this set must have been a delight, something akin to reuniting the worlds of the Ekumen themselves.

LeGuin-Hainish1The stories are notionally a collection of tales about the peoples of the world Hain, which colonized the stars and forgot that fact, only to spend a great deal of effort rediscovering it. But that makes it sound more coherent than it is. LeGuin’s Hainish stories do not occupy an intentional shared universe, but rather a repurposed one, a casual one, tightly interwoven here and vaguely notional over there. She muddled timelines, forgot things, changed things and reinvented things. It is one of the reason’s LeGuin herself rejects “The Hainish Cycle” for the collected title of these works. A cycle implies intent and deliberate connection which she just did not have. The works were also published over her career from just starting out through celebrated and accomplished, as such, they represent the author at different levels of accomplishment and stages of her own life. This diversity in timeframes and publications has made gathering them together something of a quest. Between 1964 and 2002, you would need to track down nine novels from five publishers and 13 stories published in 13 separate publications The collections, Worlds of Exile and Illusion, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, and The Birthday of the World  could help you carve the task down to just nine volumes.

LeGuin-Hainish2The Hainish books are thematically and stylistically diverse as well. Reading them straight through will not take you on anything approaching a coherent journey. In addition to dealing with the many stories she told within the shared worlds of the Ekumen, you also get to play hopscotch from adventure yarn to anarchist utopia and points beyond. But that has always been true of these stories. You found them, you read them, because you wanted to go on those journeys and having read one, you trusted LeGuin to take you on another. So in that sense, this set has made it easier.

The two volumes of Ursula K. LeGuin: Hainish Novels & Stories has made the journey easier in another way. Attebery has selected the essays and original introductions in the appendices of the two volumes with an eye toward the preservation of LeGuin’s ideas and motives as the author saw them at the time. In the additional introductions and essays by LeGuin, she affirms this choice eschewing revisionism for relevance and rediscovering for herself her own assumptions and intentions. With the final two introductions dated November and December 2016, they speak not just with authorial authority, but with no small measure of finality.

Above all, as the final essay, “On Not Reading Science Fiction,” affirms, these particular “stories about ideas” are not just stories about ideas. Science fiction is so often viewed, judged and sometimes even created, around this residual pulp aesthetic. These stories can and should be enjoyed as literature, for their playfulness, for their verisimilitude and for their humanism, even when she has to make it an alien concern for us to explore it. The series has lowly beginnings, starting as one short story in Amazing Stories and two un-agented publications as Ace Doubles, an imprint so near to pulp fiction as to be occasionally indistinguishable. The entire field grew up and into her work, maturing as she wrote. If, as LeGuin points out, the language of science fiction moved on from quaint notions and dry language, then LeGuin is one of the greats that helped it get there. Thus by nestling the works and the ideas in additional material so snugly in one place, this two-volume set is both the journey and the road taken.



You can find the introductions to volume one here and volume two here.

Ursula K. LeGuin: Hainish Novels & Stories from Library of America tables of contents:

Vol. I

Rocannon’s World (1966, Fomalhaut II)
Planet Of Exile (1966, Werel)
City Of Illusions (1967, Terra)
The Left Hand Of Darkness (1969, Gethen)
The Dispossessed (1974, Anarres | Urras)
“Winter’s King” (1975, Gethen)
“Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” (1971, World 4470)
“The Day Before the Revolution” (1974, Urras)
“Coming of Age in Karhide” (1995, Gethen)
Introduction to Rocannon’s World (1977)
Introduction to Planet of Exile (1978)
Introduction to City of Illusions (1978)
Introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness (1976)
“A Response, by Ansible, from Tau Ceti” (2005)
“Is Gender Necessary?” Redux (1987)
“Winter’s King” (1969 version)

Vol. II

The Word For World Is Forest (1972, Athshe)
“The Shobies’ Story” (1990, M-60-340-nolo)
“Dancing To Ganam” (1993, Ganam)
“Another Story Or A Fisherman Of The Inland Sea” (1994, O)
“Unchosen Love” (1994, O)
“Mountain Ways” (1996, O)
“The Matter Of Seggri” (1994, Seggri)
“Solitude” (1994, Eleven-Soro)
Story Suite: Five Ways To Forgiveness
“Betrayals” (1994, Yeowe)
“Forgiveness Day” (1994, Werel)
“A Man Of The People” (1995, Yeowe)
“A Woman’s Liberation” (1995, Werel)
“Old Music And The Slave Women” (1999, Werel)
Notes on Werel and Yeowe
The Telling (2000, Aka)
Introduction to The Word for World Is Forest (1977)
“On Not Reading Science Fiction” (1994)