The Flame Alphabet

Silence is my drug of choice. I wish I spoke of pure, deep, clean silence, the kind in alpine meadows or anechoic chambers. The silence I refer to is nothing more than context for birdsong, traffic noise, muted conversations of neighbors strolling past an open window, and the tiny peculiar snore of a cat.

It is the silence both readily available and affordable to me. I cherish it. Revel in it. Anticipate it welcoming me at the end of the day more so than a lover, or a good meal. It is defined by the absence of language, and it makes me whole again.

Perhaps this is why The Flame Alphabet, by Ben Marcus, is one of the most meaningful books I’ve read this year.

Language has become toxic, and only children are immune. As a result, the story takes place in an increasingly silent world. Dialogue, as you may expect, is scarce. In it’s place the first person narrative relies on description and exposition heavy on the narrator’s state of mind. About fifty pages in I decided this needed to be an un-silent film.

Not a syllable of dialogue. Just gorgeous camera work, exquisite lighting, and a symphony of incidental and ambient sound. The rhythmic crush of gravel under boot heel with counterpoint of rustling leaves and ringing phones, all punctuated by slamming doors and squeaking floorboards. And maybe a cello, because cellos are fucking awesome. Mr. Aronofsky, if you’re interested, I can have treatment & storyboard ready in a month.

So who would this book appeal to? There are themes and tropes familiar to science fiction, but very little science. The children are the powerful ones, the agents of change, but they are not heroes, so it’s not a fairy tale. Is it literature? Well, there’s symbolism and metaphor, and insight into the human condition and all that meaningful inta-leckchewal stuff.

I guess what I’m advocating is that this is a book for people who like language and stories, and recognize the power of both.

Marcus is a bit of an architect with language, and there are likely whole pages the late Elmore Leonard would have rewritten because ‘they sound like writing.’ Fair enough, but the craftsmanship resulted in a tight, articulate, and thoughtful three hundred pages that made me think, feel, and choose my words (and my conversations, for that matter) more carefully.

Before signing off, a tip of the hat to SJ over at Book Snobbery for recommending the book in this post.

He Said, She Said: Production Meeting

He: So, which do you think would make better talk show hosts – ninjas or demons?

She: Ummm..ninjas would probably be easier to find than demons.

He: Not necessarily. I know a guy….

She: Of course you do.

He: I sense you’re not taking me seriously.

She: This coming from a guy who wants to produce a talk show with ninjas. How are you gonna get that on the air?!?

He: Two words for you – Fox Broadcasting.

How I Learned to Curse

My faulty spine and my grin, I get from dad. The freckles and curly hair come from mom’s side.

I absorbed obscenity and general vulgarities while helping dad with tractor repairs, yard work, and woodworking projects. But the fine art of cursing, of personal and specific verbal attack, I learned playing Scrabble with my mother.

Legend has it, as soon as I showed an interest in letters and words, mom put in front of a Scrabble board. Y’see, mom loves the game and dad doesn’t. This was her way of ensuring she had someone to play with as the years went by, and it has worked marvelously. But, back to the cursing.

In order to level the playing field, she would spot me 50 points. This lasted up to the age of 15, when I played a word that signified I had both an adult vocabulary, and a competent understanding of Scrabble strategy. Incidentally, it is also the day I heard the story of my birth.

It was just another game of scrabble on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Mom had a glass of wine, and I had a can of cola, and we shared a bowl of Hawkins Cheezies as we played. One of us, not sure who, had placed the word ‘log’ between the triple word squares at the top of the board. I had been sitting on the Z tile for a couple of rounds, and had finally gotten some vowels to go with it. In what family history recorded as the best scrabble move ever, I placed ‘zoo’ on one side of log, and ‘ical’ on the other to spell zoological. Two triple words and a bonus for using all seven tiles. This is as close to a royal flush as Scrabble gets. It was also as close to a stroke as I hope my mother ever gets. She tallied the points, slammed the pen down and told me:

“Jesus Christ! TWO triple word scores and a goddamn bingo! Two weeks late, 14 hours of labour, 23 inches long and shoulders damn near as wide as they are now and THIS is what you do to me?!?!? I brought you into this world and BY JESUS I am NOT afraid to take you out!!!!”

I knew she’d never ‘take me out’ of this world for being a worthy Scrabble opponent, but I never saw those 50 free points again.

Balancing big ideas and brief statements

I started reading The Death And Life Of Great American Cities recently. Man, do I miss the big ideas. I won’t say the Internet has ruined attention spans or intellectual capacity, but it has changed how we engage with each other.

Tweets and status updates are brief shouts from the rooftop, often focussing on reaction, emotion, and identity. Brevity does not do justice to ideas and concepts. Social media feels like reference and reaction over information and dialogue. It can skew perception and undermine understanding if it is the sole source of information.

Ideas get buried in links. They evoke a tl;dr response.
Emoting = attention. Information = intention.
Both have a place, but balancing the two is important.

A little bit of fun

On Wednesday, CBC had a little contest on Twitter that I took part in. The “Tweets from 2112” contest asked for headlines from the future, and seemed like too much fun to resist. So, I didn’t.

On my way into work (relax – I commute on transit) I rattled off a few.  When I peaked at the #canadawrites hashtag just before entering the office, it was slim pickings. So of course,  I added some more on my lunch break. By then, my fellow creative Canucks had weighed in with their precise prognostications and brief imaginings.

For posterity, here are my contributions:

Jars containing brains of Atwood, Reitman, Ackroyd, Coupland found exploded. Cronenberg’s brain missing, considered suspect.#canadawrites

Ottawa’s first Biotect living building develops acid reflux, no survivors. #canadawrites

Prime Minister elect refuses blood test, opposition fuels speculation she is derived from Pierre Elliott Trudeau DNA sample. #CanadaWrites

AI owned and managed iSent Cloud computing bans human customers for 72 hours, states cat pictures and porn hogging bandwidth. #CanadaWrites

Alberta Tractor-only lanes blocked province wide as GMO wheat gains sentience, fights back. #CanadaWrites

Kitsilano’s last hippie dead at 76. Coroner confirms death a result of complications brought on by zero gravity yoga. #CanadaWrites

Richmond BC to remain submerged after latest tsunami, Feds withhold re-floatation funds. #CanadaWrites
Good enough to win? Who knows, that’s up to the judges. I got a much needed kick in the creative pants which is what I was after.

Book review: The Hurricane

The HurricaneThe Hurricane by Hugh Howey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

tl;dr version:
Too many trees, not enough silos.

Real review:

For starters, the tl;dr review will not make sense if you haven’t read the Wool Omnibus and/or First Shift, which you really need to do.

I’m not feeling this one, and that’s OK. It’s on me – I’m very much a sci-fi guy, and this isn’t that kind of book. I’d be happier than stink in a barnyard if Mr Howey did nothing but expand the literary world he built in the Wool stories.

Thing is, that’s not fair to him as an author. He’s allowed to write different stories, with varying themes and different characters.

The book is well written, and Howey does a good job making his characters both credible and compelling, but the coming of age + family drama stuff just didn’t grab me. If it’s your thing, this is  a well paced story with credible and compelling characters, and odds are good you will enjoy it despite the lack of silos.

View all my reviews