Book reviewer, cat photographer, fanzine editor, map blogger, snake whisperer.

Month: February 2016

Rattlesnakes and Men

Magazine cover: Asimov's Science Fiction (February 2015)Michael Bishop‘s “Rattlesnakes and Men,” which appeared in the February 2015 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, is one of six finalists for the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Novelette. (The nominees were announced over the weekend.)

It’s a story that imagines a Georgia town where rattlesnake ownership is mandatory, where people wear pit vipers on their belts for protection, and where death by snake bite is carefully hushed up. “Rattlesnakes and Men” is a transparent parable for the out-of-control gun culture in the United States, and some readers and reviewers have found its allegory a bit obvious and heavy-handed.

But given that Bishop’s son Jamie was one of 32 people killed in the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, I think he’s earned the right: this story can properly be read as a primal scream of frustration. In March 2015 the Atlanta Journal-Constitution talked to Bishop about his story and the gun control advocacy that was born of his loss.

(“Rattlesnakes and Men” is not online at the moment. Publishers frequently make award finalists available to read online, though, so check the Asimov’s website in a few days.)

(Update, March 8: It’s now available online.)

The Semi-Secret Life of Andrew J. Offutt

Andrew J. Offutt was a well-known figure in the science fiction and fantasy field. Though he never quite levelled up to the top tier of writers, his stories and novels were well-regarded, he was a frequent presence at sf conventions, and he served two terms as SFWA president. Less widely known was the fact that most of his writing was pornographic novels for men—a genre that more or less disappeared with the advent of home video in the mid-1980s. Offutt published hundreds of them, under a variety of pen names, using a system that enabled him to write them in a few days.

my-father-pornographerWhen Offutt died in 2013, his son, the writer Chris Offutt, inherited his father’s papers, including the smut, both published and unpublished (the latter including four thousand pages of an erotic comic called Valkyria). Going through those papers has resulted in the younger Offutt’s memoir, My Father, the Pornographer, out this week from Atria Books.

The portrait of Andrew Offutt that emerges from My Father, the Pornographer is not a flattering one. A difficult crank by the most charitable definition, the elder Offutt built a world around himself where he could be in control, like a big fish building a small pond around itself: his work, his family, his convention appearances. Many families will find something familiar about the Offutt household, where other family members twisted themselves in knots to accommodate his demands. The catalyst was when Offutt quit to work full-time: he basically disappeared into his work, and his office, where he could channel his private demons into his writing.

To be sure, the daddy issues are strong in this one, but while unflinchingly honest, Chris Offutt is unfailingly empathetic: more than capable of expressing compassion for a man who was not himself always kind or generous or (for that matter) present, a frankly tormented individual who found in words a means of escape. (Chris is considerably less kind with sf fans, no doubt a result of having been dragged to conventions as a child and then left to fend for himself while his parents were off having fun.)

My Father, the Pornographer is mainly a family history; if you’re primarily interested in the writing side of things, much of what’s in the book can be found in Chris Offutt’s piece for The New York Times Magazine, which came out last year. But the book, in its portrayal of Andrew Offutt the person, is far more haunting.

I received an electronic review copy of this book via NetGalley.

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