Reviewing Reviews

I’ve been remiss in blogging all of the reviews that Before and Afterlives has brought in. And while reviews don’t always interest everyone, they usually interest the writer of a book. So either indulge me or flee as fast as you can! One only has a book come out every so often (at least if you write at my pace), so I’m trying to enjoy the first several months in the life of my newest.

Last month, Lambda Literary reviewed the collection, and said this:

Barzak has a talent for pulling you into a story within the first two or three paragraphs. All writers strive to accomplish that, but few do with such regularity and finesse as Barzak. He weaves complex plotlines into a short space and brings to life an assortment of characters and personalities that each stand on their own as unique and believable, even amidst the supernatural hauntings.

– See the whole review by clicking here. 

Likewise the book lover Curt Jarrell had this to say:

Reading these tales is akin to consuming a literary banquet. You will be rewarded with the rich blend of fine, often lyrical writing, touches of the otherworldly (i.e. ghosts, mermaids, etc.), subtle plotting and characters you’ll identify with, people who will touch your heart. 

  The collection also contains a story I consider a masterpiece.Each detail, every word and description build images and emotions that linger in the mind and heart long after reading.

The Boy Who Was Born Wrapped in Barbed Wire” is a beautiful and terrible tale of a child born with a unique affliction. Easily the most lyrical of the collection, the story overflows with joy and sorrow, blood and laughter, love and loss. It is thought provoking and emotional. It reminded me of a story Flannery O’Connor might have written. I was dazzled, moved by it’s beauty and brought to tears at it’s conclusion. Wow!

You can read that entire review here.

And over at the Lit Pub, Eddy Rathke reviews the collection too:

Who is to say that the unreal and the real cannot inhabit the same pages? Barzak’s skill here is making a foundation in reality so solid and believable that when the world’s glimmering shifts fantastic you are so swept up in it that it had to be that way. His fiction does not contain magic and monsters to illustrate magic and monsters but to show how beautiful and unknown and haunting our world is. 

The entire review is readable by clicking here. 

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James Sallis reviews Before and Afterlives

Something really amazing came in this week: a review of my collection by James Sallis, in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

When I say it’s something amazing, I mean it. Because, man, I have never read a review that was written so eloquently and with its own poetic energy to it like this one.

And on top of that, it’s a great review of my collection, bookended with reviews of Kij Johnson’s latest collection and George Saunders’. Great company to be in!

In any case, I received permission from the publisher to show a decent chunk of the review here on my blog. I’m still bright-eyed from reading a review like this, by someone who reads really closely. This excerpt is the main body of the review for my book, but there are other bits in the whole review, which I’ll link to once it goes up on the magazine’s website:

Boxes, black or not, come in every imaginable size and shape. And there’s that word again. Imaginable. Imagination. Image.

     “Lying here in this abandoned hotel, I have done it once again. Once every year or so, depending on my finances, I allow myself to die. […] Now comes the burning sensation of re-entry, a tingling sensation that grows to feel like fire. As I find myself returning to my body, every cell expands, flooding with electricity. […] I gasp for a first breath, then howl like a newborn. After this I can see the people who killed me hovering over my body, their oval faces peering down, curious, amazed.”

“A Resurrection Artist” is a story that wears its subtext like a second skin just beneath the first, something that might be said of many of the stories collected here in Before and Afterlives. Are they about haunted houses, the death of a classmate one hardly knew, a world in which mermaids wash up so regularly on the beach that the police have clear procedures to deal with them? Yes. But for all their high fantasy and somber tones, the stories speak clearly and directly about straightforward things — verities, daily struggles, and choices. Like going on.

     And they move, forever restless, forever reaching.

     He has a taste for blurriness, Christopher Barzak has said in interviews, for stories that change shape as you read them, for writing fiction that skates around various genres, sometimes going straight through their territories, other times just around the edges, and oftentimes starting out in one kind of story and ending up in another.

     “What We Know About the Lost Families of — House,” the social history of a haunted house, abounds with the stories of those who inhabited it and with finely wrought sentences such as “And Jonas’s father, the gun cracking his life open like a pocket watch, to let all of the time spill out of him.”

     Much as Kij Johnson’s “Fox Magic” led to her novel The Fox Woman, Barzak’s “Dead Boy Found” later grew up to become his novel One for Sorrow. Part coming-of-age story, part the portrait of a dissolving family, part ghost story, it recreates for us the far-reaching effect of a boy’s murder on a fifteen year-old classmate barely managing to hold himself together, tugged this way then that, in the flash and tamped-down fury he sees about him.

     Another begins, “There was once a boy who was born wrapped in barbed wire. The defect was noticed immediately after his birth, when the doctor had to snip the boy’s umbilical cord with wire cutters.”

     Like Kij Johnson’s, Christopher Barzak’s stories do not take the shapes we anticipate; they continuously mutate, changing as our eyes move down the page, as language doubles back to catch its breath, as a comma pauses to hook its tail into a sentence. And dense as they are — “Dead Boy Found” spins from a domestic argument to the mother’s paralysis in an auto accident, to discovery of the murdered child, to the haunting of the girl who found the body, to Adam’s own unsettling encounter with dead Jamie, then flashes forward to what his life will be — the stories unfold easily, nary a bump in the road.

     Determined that something undeniable and nontrivial will happen to the reader.

Kirkus reviews Before and Afterlives

A late but  better than never review from Kirkus Reviews came for Before and Afterlives at the tail end of last week. It’s a goodie. I’m happy. I can only post a couple of lines from the review without infringing on copyright stuff, lalala, so I’ll post two of my favorite lines here, and then link to the rest of it, which you can read at the site itself.

“The 17 stories collected here bring readers into worlds where mermaids beckon to the sea, where a boy wrapped in barbed wire becomes wrapped up in love, where the end of the world is just another way to find yourself, and where ordinary characters meet extraordinary circumstances. Barzak takes what readers know (or think they do) and skews the view, exposing a new side of reality. Fans of speculative fiction especially will enjoy this ride through the fantastic worlds Barzak conjures.”

Read the rest by clicking here.

Advanced Reviewers Wanted

Dear Readers (specifically, dear book review bloggers),

As a lead-up to the release of my first full-length collection of short stories, I’ll be giving away an advance review PDF copy to book bloggers who promise to write an honest review of the book in the months prior to the release date.

Before and Afterlives will release on March 18, 2013. I’d love to give away enough advance review copies that would enable a book review per week between the months of January and late March. If you review books regularly, and aren’t back-logged, and would be able to read and write a review of the collection within that period of time, please contact me at christopherbarzak AT gmail DOT com.

I’m excited for this collection to appear.  Here are the two initial blurbs from the authors Jeffrey Ford and M. Rickert:

“Although Christopher Barzak is now better known as a novelist, I’ve always been an admirer of his short stories. His new collection, Before and Afterlives, will make you one too. This generous offering of his best work displays impressive range, depth of feeling, a sharp sense of humor, and a fantastic imagination both lyrical and dark.”

-Jeffrey Ford, author of Crackpot Palace and The Physiognomy

“How to conjure souls? Resurrect the past? Speak to the dead? Christopher Barzak has a talent for ghosts. In a world composed of more than its material aspects, Barzak seems to know that the things unsaid are what haunt us most. He offers his considerable gift of story as a talisman. Before and Afterlives is a generous contribution to the art of being human.”

-M. Rickert, author of Map of Dreams and Holiday

I’d love to have reviewers join into the conversation about the book as it gets nearer to launch date. So please send me an email with a link to your book blog to join in.

Thanks very much, and feel free to link to this post in your own networks.

The Birthday of Birds and Birthdays

Birds and Birthdays has officially released into the wild.  It’s been available directly from the publisher for the past couple of weeks, but will be appearing in other marketplaces now, like Amazon.com (where they say it’ll take 1 to 3 weeks to get the book, but that’s only because they’ve just recently placed orders for stock with the publisher themselves).

Surprisingly and already, the book has received its first review yesterday as well!  It’s over at Tor.com, and it’s a good one.  So if you can’t take my (very biased) word that the book is good, take this reviewer’s.

I’m excited to have this book made real.  For a long time, I’d thought it would be very unlikely to find a publisher for it, even a small indie press, who might be interested in a collection of three short stories and one essay, centered around the surrealist art of three women from the early half of the 20th century. But while that was a realistic doubt, it proved not to be true.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to be occasionally blogging here and in some other places about the book, its conception, the process I went through in researching and writing of each of the stories, the artists whose paintings inspired these stories, and how I went about organizing the book itself.  It’s a small book, just a little over 100 pages, which seems as small as a grain of sand in a world where hugely huge epic page-turners pound the pavement around it.  But I’ve always been fond of small things, the contained and hermetically sealed worlds of snow globes and dioramas, and I know there are folks out there who like things like this too.  So I’m hopeful this small book might reach their attention, despite the clamor and bustle of the giants lumbering around it.

If you’re interested in reviewing the book, contact me by email and I’ll see about getting a copy into your hands.  And if you read and enjoy the book, and feel so inclined, please help me tell other people about its existence.  Share links to it on your social networks, review it on Amazon or Goodreads or other places.  I appreciate any help my readers can lend me.

In a day or two, I’ll begin posting about the topics I mentioned above, but for now, if you want a sneak peak at one of the stories in the book, you can read the second story, “The Guardian of the Egg,” for free at The Journal of Mythic Arts, where it was reprinted several years ago. That story was written in response to a painting of the same name by the artist Leonora Carrington.

And be prepared for a giveaway soon, too.

Happy birthday, Birds and Birthdays.

Pre-viewing, pre-ordering, pre-mourning

There have been lots of pre-reviews of this anthology popping up in the past month or two, all of them positive. I’m happy to be included in this review as one of the reviewer’s “favorites”. If you go to Amazon.com right now, you can pre-order the book at an extremely reduced price.

Incidentally, this story is also a story thread of the YA novel I’m working on at the moment.  It’s been great fun to write so far, and I’m two-thirds of the way into it.  I’m actually pre-mourning the day it’s done.

Off to the Nebs

Off to the Nebula Awards weekend in Cocoa Beach, Florida tomorrow morning. This is the second time I’ve been nominated for a Nebula. The first time was in 2007 for my novelette, The Language of Moths, which you can read by clicking here if you missed it when it came out (I really need to publish a short story collection. Okay, I don’t *need* to, but I would *like* to). It’s always exciting to be nominated for such a wonderful award as the Nebula. I plan to enjoy the weekend no matter what.

Until I’m back, here’s an awesome pre-Nebula Weekend review of the nominated novels from Real Change News. My book is one of their favorites.  An excerpt:

The 2009 Nebula Awards, awarded to science fiction and fantasy writers by their colleagues, will be announced the weekend of May 13 – 16. Interestingly, there’s no space travel in the six nominees for best novel. Two are set in the present, one in the past and only two on other worlds.

My favorite candidates share a theme — how culture shapes our perception of reality. “The Love We Share without Knowing” by Christopher Barzak is a sweet meditation on human connection. Marketed as a fantasy, it could be magical realism. Its finely crafted language evokes the meaning in everyday events.

Barzak explores relationships among Japanese citizens and American expatriates after the events of 9/11. None of the characters knows everyone in the book, but all are affected by each other. The themes of cultural shock and alienation explore how we are alone in our connection and connected in our loneliness. Barzak sums it up in his final lines: “The fireflies glow off and on in the mist-covered fields, calling out, Here I am, waiting for another light to appear in the darkness. Here I am, one calls to another. Come find me.”

See you all in a few.

Reviews of the new Interfictions

Two really well done reviews of the new volume of Interfictions are out.

First one from Strange Horizons:

If anyone else feels like we’re still drowning in slipstream—or, rather, drowning in definitions of slipstream—this follow-up to the 2007 anthology Interfictions certainly won’t offer any easy answers to the question of what’s been going on lately with all this genre-bending stuff. What Interfictions 2 does offer is a set of stories that, if united by only the most tenuous thematic and generic threads, couldn’t be more worth reading. Indeed, the folks at Small Beer Press and the Interstitial Arts Foundation have once again produced an enormously rich anthology that takes an almost manic diversity for its guiding principle, not so much in order to provide something for everyone, but seemingly to include something from just about everywhere.

Read the whole review, which is long and very detailed, and thus cool), by clicking here.

Second review from Charles Tan at Bibliophile Stalker:

Of course I don’t read interstitial fiction for interstiality’s sake. At the end of the day, I ask, did I enjoy this story, and did the form suit the function? In the case of Interfictions 2: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing, it’s a resounding yes. There’s no bad story here, and only a few are what I consider barely above mediocre. A lot are standouts and favorites (although not the “best of the best”) such as “The War Between Heaven and Hell Wallpaper” by Jeffrey Ford, “The Beautiful Feast” by M. Rickert, “The Two of Me” by Ray Vukcevich, “Black Dog: A Biography” by Peter M. Ball, “Child-Empress of Mars” by Theodora Goss, and various other authors that I’ve never heard of (making this a doubly pleasant read). And when it comes to agenda, as Jetse de Vries pointed out, there’s a couple of “international writers” (whether by descent or actual nationality) in this book and one only needs to read their stories to affirm how richer the book is for their inclusion, as opposed to simply being a token presence. (The Anglophone presence is also great.)

Read the whole thing by clicking here.

Great to see readers responding to the book so quickly.  Keep ’em coming!

Oh, Meryl

I love Meryl Streep.  And so whenever she has a movie out, I go, even if the movie sounds totally ridiculous.  Okay, so I missed Mamma Mia.  I just couldn’t bring myself to see it.  It was too far out of my range.  But I did go tonight to see Julie and Julia, which sounded promising.  Unfortunately, the movie was trying way too hard to be cute and charming, and I’m not sure there was a complex character in the movie at all; it was very clear that there were good people who always said the most wonderful things and loved each other perfectly, and there were bad people who said nasty things or who gave other people trouble.  That sort of thing.  At a certain point, I felt the main character was so obsessively cute and nice that I found her in need of psychological counseling.  I also felt that the audience was supposed to feel very good about marriage, and that Julia Child is also a sexual being, not just a pop culture icon in relation to culinary subjects.  It was kind of…awkward in that aspect.  Also, the most drastic conflict that the movie managed to rustle up was a tiff between Julie and her husband, who gets upset because she has become a narcissistic blogger, in need of major amounts of comments on her posts (this in and of itself would have made a much better movie had it been the focus) and affirmation from her upper middle class striving for success friends, which is why she begins blogging in the first place.  Yuck.  What a source of inspiration and impetus.  These are likable characters?  Really???  And yet there it is, saying yes! these are unbearably likable characters!  You can’t not love them!

But I just didn’t buy it.  Sorry.  I feel bad for Meryl, who is always trying to spin straw into gold.  But the movie itself was a bit thin, a bit too flat, too blandly benign.  I didn’t feel anything as I left the theater.  Considering Meryl Streep was in this, that feeling is just wrong.  Now I need to go watch District 9 or else Ponyo, in order to cleanse my palette.

In other news, the movie did make me mildly interested in perhaps checking out Julia Child’s cookbook, and trying my hand at some French cuisine.

Another satisfied reader

A few weeks back I was inspired to have a book giveaway and today another review from that giveaway has appeared.  An excerpt:

Is this a sad novel, given that a few of the stories focus on suicide and many on death?  In some ways, yes.  It’s even deeper than that, though, as it shows us how many people from all different walks of life can feel the exact same thing without realizing it.  That’s where the title comes in; all these people share love without knowing.  I can’t say it made me sad, though.  It made me thoughtful and it astonished me with its power.

I’m crazy happy that the book, despite much of the content being related to loss and absence, did not make this reader feel sad or depressed because of it.  That’s what I was really hoping for.

You can read the whole thing here.