The Writer and the Critic: Episode 45

The latest episode of our podcast is now available for direct download and streaming from the website or via subscription from iTunes. Feedback is most welcome!

On this episode of The Writer and the Critic your hosts, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond, open with a discussion about gender, publishing and awards, focused around the following articles:

They then move on to the two chosen books, The Godless by Ben Peek (31:55) and The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison (1:12:45).

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The reviews, blogs and podcasts mentioned during the discussion can be found via the following links:

If you’ve skipped ahead to avoid spoilers, please come back at 1:54:00 for final remarks.

For the next episode, Kirstyn has chosen Day Boy by Trent Jamieson while Ian is recommending Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre. Read ahead and join in the spoilerific fun!

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The Writer and the Critic: Episode 6

The latest episode of our podcast is now available for direct download and streaming from the website or via subscription from iTunes. Feedback is most welcome!

Here are the show notes:

The Writer and the Critic elects to stay at home and rest its feet this month as your hosts, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond, give you a rundown on the recently announced ballots for the Ditmar and Chronos Awards. Ian grabs a shovel ad promptly digs himself a Ditmar-shaped hole. Kirstyn highlights the emergence of the podcast as a dominant form of “fan publication” on both ballots.They then discuss gender bias in The Periodic Table of Storytelling (which is based on the TV Tropes wiki) — not to mention gender bias on Ian’s hoodie! — as well as a related blog post by Ann Leckie. Ian laments the likely closure of Salon Futura but hopes Wizard’s Tower Press (and its fine online book store) will continue. Kirstyn still refuses to buy an iPad.

Above/Below by Stephanie Campisi and Ben Peek is a listener-recommended title which is comprised of two linked novellas published as a single “flip-style” book.There are very few spoilers in this review but if you haven’t read the book and wish to skip ahead, the discussion begins at 39:30 and ends around 54:15.

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The official podcast books are The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (chosen by Ian) and Liar by Justine Larbalestier (recommended by Kirstyn). Be warned: both these discussions contains MASSIVE SPOILERS!! They begin at 54:15 for Oscar Wao and 1:20:20 for Liar. If you haven’t already read the books, you may want to come back later when you have. Especially when it coms to Liar. Kirstyn and Ian are very serious about that. Look how sternly their fingers are wagging!

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To hear a final wrap-up, brief mention of feedback, and some very exciting podcasty news, listen in from 1:39:00.

For the next episode, Ian has chosen The Resurrectionst by Jack O’Connell while Kirstyn has picked Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. In addition, they will be discussing the new split-novel/duology, Black Out and All Clear by Connie Willis, which was recommended by a listener. Whew, that’s a whole bunch of words to get through!

*** The Writer and the Critic adopts a book club approach to its discussion and will assume its listeners have either read the books in question or don’t care if they find out that it was all but a dream in the end. There will almost certainly be spoilers, so you are encouraged to read the chosen titles ahead of time. It’ll be much more fun that way and Ian and Kirstyn won’t get near as many death threats! ***

twenty-six lies/one truth

Last night, roughly ten minutes after midnight, I finished reading twenty-six lies/one truth by Ben Peek. I’d started it yesterday morning, kept sneaking back to it during the day – pages 48 & 49 have tiny brown specks on them now; salad dressing splatter from lunch (sorry Ben) – and couldn’t go to sleep without reading to the very last page.

twenty-six lies/one truth is awesome. And I don’t mean that in the stupid, popsicle way the kidlets are using it to describe the latest flavour of cola product. I mean, it is awesome. Take a moment to clear your cache and consider the classical meaning of that word. Literally, that which inspires awe, admiration and wonder, and possibly just a little bit of intimidation and apprehension.

twenty-six lies/one truth is fucking awesome.

Go, get thee to Amazon and buy it now.

I didn’t buy it at Amazon. I bought it in the Dealers Room at Conflux 4 this year, primarily because Andrew Macrae was manning the table and I got talking to him, and the book was sitting right there beside Cock and Rynemonn and various volumes of Orb – all of which I already owned and which you should as well, if you don’t already – and his typewriter art cover is so damn cool, and I just wanted to buy something else. You know, conventions, dealers room, spending of money … it just happens. So I forked over my cash and got Andy to sign his artist bio at the back, and took it home with the rest of my convention booty. Where it sat on my desk until yesterday.

Now, here’s my embarrassing admission. I meant, rather vaguely but with solid good intentions, to purchase twenty-six lies/one truth when it first came out last last year. Over the inter-webby thing from the USA. But it was sort of pricey and the Aussie dollar was riding low in the water and I didn’t have a lot of spare cash at the time. Then I saw copies at Convergence 2 this year and, hmm. Well, it’s odd. The book isn’t a standard paperback or trade format. It’s softcover and relatively thin (150 or so pages) and, well, floppy. Like a baby stingray is floppy. And when I flicked through and saw the text written up as apparently random alphabetical entries peppered with cartoonish illustrations, it reminded me, instantly, of a rather shallow high-school text book. The sort you get given in lower higher school and are made to summarise on hot afternoons in during last period when not even your teacher can be bothered coming up with real work. Sluggish ceiling fans in first floor classrooms where the hot air has risen and remains trapped, and the clock hands don’t seem to move at all, and the best you can hope for is that a confused wasp might buzz through an open window and you’ll all get to evacuate into the equally hot but significantly less stale air of the balcony outside.

So I bought the latest issue of Orb instead and left Ben Peek’s funny-looking book where it sat. It looked like a bit of wank, anyway. The back of book stated it was, “the autobiography of a man who has been nowhere, done nothing and met nobody”, and then listed a whole bunch of apparently random words and names, including several repetitions of “cunt” presumably for shock value. Wank, surely. Like the insanely-formatted House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Wank.

Except that House of Leaves grew on me. Not grew in the sense of fungus or mold. More like a feral garden in a new rental house. One that was a real bitch to de-weed and cut back – especially the geranium that had decided it should be a tree – such a bitch that you couldn’t be bothered actually planting anything new, or doing much with it at all, only to find it shooting up once dormant little plants of its own accord. And after a while, you decide that you quite like it – even the monster geranium – that it’s interesting and unusual and beautiful, and it doesn’t matter a bee’s twat whether it looks like a “real” garden or not.

That sort of growing.

So I saw twenty-six lies/one truth again at Conflux. I probably wouldn’t have bought it that time, either, except for Andy Macrae’s Ditmar-Award-Winning-Artwork which I really do love. So, yes, a book judged by – or at least bought upon the strength of – its cover. Despite its baby stingray format. Stupid, huh?

This book is brilliant, and it shouldn’t be. What it should be is a piece of wank, and in the hands of a lesser writer, it absolutely would be. But Ben Peek is not a lesser writer. And twenty-six lies/one truth is a stunning, articulate, and emotionally rich novel. (Yes, it is too a novel, and pickled eggs to anyone who says it isn’t. Unless you like pickled eggs. In which case, dog turds to you. And if you like dog turds, you have bigger problems and I shall leave you alone to think what you want.) Of course, I recognise the fact that my own agnostic, left-wing sympathies are in close accord with the author’s and this no doubt added to the pleasure of reading certain sections of the book, but this is in no way the whole story. twenty-six lies/one truth is quite simply a highly intelligent, exquisitely crafted and wholly original book that manages to creep up behind the reader and land a sucker punch when least expected. And then it makes you think about it.

I’m not going to say anything about the plot/content/narrative; you can read the reviews and summaries on the above Amazon link if you really want, but I’d recommend against it. Suffice to say, you need to read this book. You really do. (If you’re a writer, beware. This is one of those works that makes you despair of ever creating something of similar worth.) Wait, okay, I will just say one thing about the content:

the autobiography of a man who has been nowhere, done nothing and met nobody

That, right there? That’s at least three of those twenty-six lies already and you haven’t even opened the cover yet. By the end, you won’t even care what that one truth is.