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More tidying of the drafts backlog. I read this issue back in 2011, holy crap; I’m not sure why I wrote about only these two stories. I did note that in the two old MF&SF issues that I own from the 1980’s, there wasn’t a single female writer, out of 17 total authors and several more columnists (also there were these spectacular ads).

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“From the Desk of Gilmer C. Merton,” Gene Wolfe: This was a terrible way to first read Wolfe. (I read The Wizard Knight duology, a very distinctive Arthurian retelling, shortly afterwards and liked it quite well.) The story is an extended and unfunny joke about sf&f publishing.

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“Down Among the Dead Men,” Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann: Vampiric Jew in a concentration camp. I say “vampiric Jew” rather than “Jewish vampire” because Dozois and Dann don’t seem to have put any effort into making this at all a particularly Jewish story, which seemed thoughtless and insensitive. The vampire character, and the narrator’s reactions to him, are clearly the products of western fictional conventions by way of Bram Stoker, which seems idiotic when you consider the wealth of fascinating, terrifying eastern European and specifically Jewish vampire folklore. The only Jewish thing the narrator does is participate in observance of Passover; otherwise we see him thinking about how he used to venerate another character as a “saint” and a makeshift weapon as a “holy relic.”

  • Encyclopedia Britannica: “The cult of saints in terms of veneration was not a part of the monotheistic religion of Israel.”
  • jewishvirtuallibrary.org: “Judaism, as a general rule, rejects physical manifestations of spirituality … perhaps the greatest sin the Israelites collectively committed was the construction of the Golden Calf … Today, Jews do not venerate any holy relics or man-made symbols.”

Encountering the vampire seems to have no spiritual repercussions for the narrator (which I have a hard time believing would happen even if he were a secular Jew – wouldn’t it make you start thinking hard thoughts if you were suffering at the hands of both mundane and supernatural embodiments of evil?); again his Jewishness is ignored, and the vampire trope is ultimately mined only to make fairly banal points about the contagiousness of violence and what people are willing to do to survive. All told, I had a hard time not seeing this as a by-the-book vampire story, with a distasteful veneer of seriousness and importance.

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BBCF: MF&SF, June 1983
Time Warp 1987: F&SF and a couple of soggy old men
More from the annals of F&SF

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In which Christopher Lee is amazing

I’ve always wanted to see the 1973 drama/thriller/sorta-horror classic The Wicker Man, and it ended up being a rollickingly fun watch for last week’s summer solstice.

In the film, straight-laced Sergeant Howie is dispatched to investigate the disappearance of a young girl named Rowan Morrison on Summer Isle, a remote Scottish island, only to find that not only does every villager on the island deny any knowledge of Rowan Morrison, but that his visit coincides with the island’s highly enthusiastic and – to the devoutly Christian Howie – unwholesome May Day preparations. Cue an increasingly frenzied search by the valiant but humorless Howie, a collision of equally blind faiths, and more references to to Celtic folklore and fertility symbolism than you can shake a Maypole at. There’s an inn named the Green Man; a sweet shop stocked with pastries and chocolates in the shape of women, leaping hares, and what look like rams’ heads; lots of nubile gamboling in graveyards and stone circles; a lush estate encircled by phallic topiaries… Oh, and Christopher Lee as the island’s erudite neo-pagan lord, who enjoys nothing so much as wearing a kilt and soliloquizing about the joys of the animal world while intercut with footage of glistening snails intertwining and set over a soundtrack of hypnotically pulsating drums and recorder.

Christopher Lee, plus kilt

No, I didn’t have too much fun watching this movie, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

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Date Read: 1.16.07

Book From: Boston Public Library

Reviewer: Kakaner

I happened across this book during one of my genre frenzies (this particular one being religious fiction), and after being bombarded with recommendations for this book in every genre search I conducted, I decided to read it. The story is about Father Agostino who is sent by the church inquisition to investigate Leonardo Da Vinci’s current painting, The Last Supper, and to find proof to convict Da Vinci as a heretic. Cue Christian religion conspiracy subplots.

As I am sure you can tell from the gist of my setup, this was like The Da Vinci Code in 300 pages, of which you may have already discovered Emera and I are entirely not fans. Admittedly, it wasn’t as excessively dramatic as The Da Vinci Code — now that would be an amazing feat– but it was an intensely painful read. Above all, it was *boring*, one of those books where you stop every 20 pages to look at the cover or read the blurb again to get a sense of what you’re holding out for. The main character was completely devoid of personality, although the supporting characters were slightly more developed. There was a crapload of anagramming and cryptogramming that required huge reaches of the imagination to seem plausible. Not only was the plot weak, but each 3-page chapter was also a subplot that didn’t really lend any meat to the overarching story, therefore rendering the quality of storytelling nil. Overall, I’d say this experience was a frustrating waste of time.

I’m curious as to whether this novel was influenced directly by The Da Vinci Code/Angels & Demons. After all, both garnered international fame and were published before The Secret Supper. However, it seems that Sierra has been publishing historical intrigue for many years and perhaps it’s just bad luck that he chose Da Vinci at this time and that I’ve been holding him up to Dan Brown.

Interestingly, The Secret Supper won the Premio de Novela Ciudad de Torrevieja award, a Spanish literary prize which is awarded to a promising unpublished novel and the third highest monetary literary prize in the world. Whew. I’d venture a guess and say Sierra‘s writing is probably stronger in his native language, and the translation may have messed with the word games, but I doubt it would still be able to make up for all the plot and story faults.

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Javier Sierra

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