Aug. 25th, 2013 02:36 pm
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Sitting in a pub on Bethnal Green Rd, drinking cider and listening to classic soul. About to watch Matt Damon's (read his name as said on Team America) Elysium. Took an hour to walk here. Spent 707 calories. Boyfriend is nearby, writing in his journal.

The people looking from outside are just looking at their own reflections... or taking selfies.

Madder Rose

Aug. 5th, 2013 01:02 pm
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Troglodyte RoseTroglodyte Rose by Adam Lowe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently stumbled upon this novel in Wattpad, where it's available for free as a novella. I was drawn to it because it was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, an award that celebrates "the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books of the year".

Troglodyte Rose is a sci-fi that feels like a mesh between Mad Max and Tank Girl. It's written in short, psychedelic sentences, mostly through the eyes of a young woman, Rose, who lives in an apocalyptic underworld with her lover Flid, an intersex (hermaphrodite) referred to in the text with the gender-neutral pronoun "per" (borrowed from Margaret Piercy's "Woman on the Edge of Time".)

Rose and Flid are addicted to a drug that blurs reality and fantasy, and their lives are centred on stealing this drug while also dreaming of one day escaping to the overground. They nonchalantly save four princesses from a nearby world early on and the princesses join them in their robberies. Like most dystopias, this one has its monsters that keep the population in check: the Justicars hunt down anyone perceived to have committed a crime and are terrifying creatures nearly impossible to destroy. Soon, one of them is after Rose, Flid and the princesses.

This was an enjoyable, punchy read that left me wanting more. Some of its zest reminded me of Poppy Z. Brite's early novels. I look forward to whatever Adam Lowe comes up with next.

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A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some time ago there was a television interview with a literary critic who was asked if any current authors were "our Charles Dickens". The point of the question was that Charles Dickens was a populist writer in his time and many didn't think his work would be of interest to the future. The interviewee went on to speculate if Jackie Collins or Stephen King were the new Charles Dickens - their work to survive the centuries while more lauded writers fell into obscurity. I don't know if George R.R. Martin could be our Charles Dickens, but he's certainly a better story teller than Collins or King.

It didn't dawn on me until this third book in his "A Song of Ice and Fire" series how Shakespearean he is. Perhaps not in poetic terms, but definitely in his themes and in the exploration of his characters' motivations and inner worlds. Sansa has something of Ophelia, Tyrian could be Falstaff if he was a little taller, Cersei channels Lady Macbeth very well, and so on. Unlike most fantasy worlds, including J. R. R. Tolkien's, Martin has reinforced in this novel that he's not afraid to kill off characters we hold dearly, or to offer redemption for those we'd written off as evil and immoral. But Martin is no James Joyce, though he's as wordy: his novels are long, classic page turners that stick to the tried-and-trusted structure of suspense through escalating conflicts and reversal of fortunes, culminating in climaxes that leave you itching for the next book in the series.

Like Dickens, his twisted and deformed characters are well thought out creations that rise above the narrative and stay with you, sometimes in mind-troubling ways. It's impressive what a giant cast he has created and expanded here, spread out across many continents, and how he moves them without giving away his larger vision for the series. His world is more magical here than in the previous two books, explained before as a result of the appearance of three hatched dragons and, potentially, a red comet in the sky. It's also gorier.

As with the two preceding books, there are certain twists to the novel that take the reader by surprise and throw into doubt where exactly Martin is taking the whole narrative. The twist that recently got everyone upset with the TV series caused in me insomnia and a bad night of sleep (that will teach me not to read his novels before bed time.) I do wonder what the future will make of his work. Are they popular because they say something about our world today? Do we crave something more explicit and gory in our entertainment, like the Romans before us? Are we allowing ourselves to explore more taboos in fiction? Do we see our world as chaotic as the one these characters live in, and their struggle to make sense reflects somehow our own struggles? Is that where the pleasure in reading these books comes from?

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Gary Numan : Warriors by See Gee
Gary Numan : Warriors, a photo by See Gee on Flickr.
I returned to Electric Dreams last Friday. It was good - solid four hours on the dance floor - but emptier than the previous time. I've noticed a pattern with the DJs: start out with popular synth tunes, get the dancefloor going. Then, bring on a DJ that plays obscure stuff that only the hardcore enjoy. Finish it off with a third DJ returning the popular tunes (even Madonna!). 3am, lights go on, everyone goes home.

It's a dying scene though. Always the same (old) faces. Everybody stuck in the same decade. Thatcher is gone but we still keep dancing. As soon as it hits midnight 31st December 1989, we get thrown back to the start of the decade. Everyone else moves on.

On Saturday, I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness on 3D. It was fun, or maybe I was just too gobsmacked by the £17.50 ticket to see it for what it was. No wonder downtown cinemas are dying. The meagre audience had a good chuckle when the screen said after Fast and Furious 6 "reserve your tickets now and avoid the rush." "What rush?" asked the woman beside me holding the tiny £5 popcorn bucket.

I've been going for runs in Victoria Park during week mornings and, last Sunday, I returned to the local pool after a year away. I've been reading loads, working loads, working out loads, wanting to go out loads... but broke.

I'm supporting Norway in tomorrow's Eurovision.

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Books by nnnnox
Books, a photo by nnnnox on Flickr.
We've started a Short Story Club with a couple of friends who live near us. They invited us over yesterday for an Easter roast, followed by some wine, coffee and stories by George Saunders read out loud. We also did a bit of creative writing inspired by Lynda Barry's exercises. (The one where you pick a random noun and have to explore a memory attached to it.)

These friends live in a beautiful loft in Hackney, north of Victoria Park. Wooden floors, books everywhere, vintage furniture, and now a piano in the living room. My boyfriend played with it for a bit before requesting we hum 80s synth pop melodies so he could try to pick them up on the piano. I hummed this one-hit-wonder.

Halfway through the afternoon, they asked me if I'd like a free one-year subscription to the London Review of Books. They had just renewed their own subscription and won the chance to nominate a friend for the prize. They also gave me a copy of Granta's The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists as they already had a copy. It was Christmas come early on Easter!

I've had a cold this whole Easter break (I only get sick on holidays and long weekend breaks) so it was nice to leave the flat and be a bit sociable. We had to read George Saunders' "Jon" before our meeting - a story about young people raised in a compound for the sole purpose of testing product advertising. When a couple in love decide to leave the compound, the outside world's reality peeks in.

I remember first encountering George Saunders years ago, at the Hay-on-Wye Festival with my boyfriend, [ profile] naturalbornkaos and [ profile] kixie. We'd bought tickets to see Zadie Smith interview him (drawn to her celebrity at the time) and we were all converted by his warmth, intelligence and humour. He mostly writes short stories which tend to be funny pokes at modern life. He's a sort of Kurt Vonnegut, actually.

In the evening, after our Easter roast, we walked up the road to the Hackney Picturehouse and watched Cloud Atlas, which I was surprised didn't suck. For the complexity of the novel it is based on, I think the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer did a good job. I was particularly impressed with Halle Berry, the best actor out of the whole lot. And, of course, my neighbour Ben Whishaw! I do wonder though how comprehensible the story was for anyone who'd not read the book. Did it do well in America? I'd be surprised!

Today, I'm having breakfast with a friend at the Pavillion then meeting Silky Bonadutchi this afternoon. Excessive lemsip has done its job and I don't feel so clogged up today. Sadly, this lovely long weekend has gone by too fast...
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The Fear IndexThe Fear Index by Robert Harris

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Opening with a quote from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and set in the rich enclaves of Geneva (where Frankenstein was originally written), this thriller follows an unlikeable physicist (and billionaire) - Dr Alex Hoffmann - through 48 hours of his life as his world begins to fall apart. Hoffmann, married to a beautiful artist who's about to launch her first exhibition, co-runs a successful Hedge Funds Investment company alongside a smooth talking Brit good at bringing in rich investors. But when his mansion is broken into by a maniac wielding a knife, he finds himself slowly hunted (and driven mad) by someone with a personal vendetta.

My edition of this novel came with a Q&A by Richard & Judy with the author, bookclub questions and a further article where Robert Harris talked about his fiction writing. I wasn't at all surprised to learn that The Fear Index is already in development to become a motion picture. The entire novel reads like a Michael Crichton "techno-thriller" with the expected twists and turns, sex scenes, grubby killings, police chases and Hollywood ending.

Because it was written with cinema in mind, character development sits behind plot. Robert Harris does have one big, and interesting, concept based on the recent banking crisis and the misuse of our technology but no space is left for characters to leap off the page. The storytelling is decent and the pace picks up towards the end but the original idea that holds the story together isn't strong enough to make this a memorable read.

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In Other Worlds: SF and the Human ImaginationIn Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a personal collection of essays and book reviews by Margaret Atwood, with a few sci-fi excerpts at the end, that is a pleasure to read if you are a fan of the genre. She travels through the genre's more popular and well known texts (and a few films), starting from her own discovery of it as a child, through her studies as a university student until her more recent lectures as a published author. She sticks with texts from sci-fi's mainstream and general themes, like utopias and dystopias, that have stayed with the genre from its birth. They are the departing points for her ruminations on why these works had an impact on her own work and life.

Her well known "controversy" surrounding speculative fiction vs science fiction is here - it turns out that what she calls "science fiction" is "fantasy" for many other sci-fi writers (like Ursula K. Le Guin). I've read some reviews which call this collection a very limited look at sci-fi, which I think is unfair since Atwood herself makes it clear in her first paragraph that she's not presenting essays meant to be canonical or definitive. If anything, she goes along way to opening the genre to readers who are sceptical about it. (If you know anyone who doesn't like sci-fi, give them this book!)

I'd love to read Ursula K. Le Guin's collection of essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, The Language of the Night, and see how they sit alongside Atwood's. One of the best essays in this collection is a review of one of Le Guin's collection of short stories; I wonder whether Le Guin included any thoughts on Atwood's work in her collection?

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The Silent History sounds like something just down my alley. Is this what fiction and literature will look like in the future? 

From what I understand, it's an app only for iPads or iPhones (but I may be wrong.) You download it and every day it gives you a new chapter on the story of children being born across the U.S. (the world?) who suffer from a mysterious condition where they are completely silent.  Each daily chapter is through the point of view of someone related to the epidemic - one of the main characters, doctors, parents, etc.

There's an additional feature, the Field Reports, which are GPS tagged and entered by the authors and readers - they can only be accessed when you are near them.  Which has, supposedly, led people to travel across the U.S., and now even to London, to unlock them (though they are not essential to the comprehension of the main story.) 

The story comes to an end one year after you download and start the app.

I've been thinking for some time now about storytelling that is interactive with social media and gadgets - in line with some of the stuff Secret Cinema does as well as other arts organisations in London.  My own idea revolves around a bus route in London and how different aspects of the story related to it can be unlocked/viewed if you: travel the route; visit certain houses near it; read certain newspapers; etc.

But my idea didn't include contributions from the public - it would be purely my creation and perhaps involve some film making with actors.  I like though The Silent History's use of the public's imagination - I'm tempted to download the app right now and start filing some of my own "Field Reports" around my neighbourhood, adding to The Silent History's "myth".

Imagine the implications for other genres... a horror story, for example!  You could unlock a segment of the story once you visit a church after sunset.  Or a walk through one of the "Magnificent Seven" cemeteries in London.  The possibilities are endless actually, and they can be used to comment on a load of things.  It could also be a wonderful way of teaching history, languages, social concern.

Very curious now about other apps/stories like The Silent History currently in development.

It Lives!

Jan. 11th, 2012 09:58 pm
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Out of This World: Science Fiction But Not as You Know itOut of This World: Science Fiction But Not as You Know it by Mike Ashley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Out of This World was an exhibition at the British Library in 2011 that explored the appearance and development of science fiction in (mostly) Western Civilization. It was a gorgeous exhibition too, with book covers from all sorts of periods on display alongside posters and info on how visits by the gods to the moon sometime B.C. could be just as sci-fi as William Gibson's cyberspace. For anyone who didn't know much about the genre, it was the perfect introduction.

This book is a companion piece to the exhibition, with info on all the major movements in the science fiction genre as it developed along the years, brief info on key figures and writers, and tons of gorgeous images. Thankfully, you don't need to have visited the exhibition to enjoy it.

A perfect coffee table gift for that special geek in your life.

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Seen after rain by Roland Ramanan
Seen after rain, a photo by Roland Ramanan on Flickr.
I leave the flat at 8am. Storm gushing down on the EastEnd, the sky dark like a fairy tale. People huddled underneath the bus shelter on Roman Road, their umbrellas open and protecting their flanks. I walk past them and avoid the puddles because I know the holes in my Doc Martens won't be able to resist a drink. I hold my UNIQLO umbrella against the wind pushing me towards Mile End, admiring its resistance.

On a crowded platform I wait for either the District or the Central line to arrive. I edge my way in and stand at the foot of the aisle. A short woman keeps elbowing me from behind. I've got a copy of the book published by the British Library last year for their Sci-Fi exhibition - essential read for anyone who loves the genre.

When I finally get a seat, a guy I recognise from my gym walks in and stops by my feet. We avoid eye contact. He's reading a Clive Cussler paperback and sporting autumn colours. His beard has really grown this winter.

I switch at Oxford Street and finally come out at Vauxhall. The sky is now blue, sunny - clear. I can almost hear the seagulls above the Albert Embankment din. I've entered a new city - the start of my work day.


Dec. 24th, 2011 09:16 am
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New Atwood

Oct. 6th, 2011 01:55 am
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Reasons to be happy: Margaret Atwood has a new book out and it's a collection of essays, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

Reasons to be sad: this last bit from an interview with Jascha Hoffman:

I’m past the age when things scare me. But if I were younger, I would be looking down the line with some apprehension. A world with more than 9 billion people is not going to be very habitable. We’ve already used 90% of the fish in the sea. Global warming will make it worse: more droughts, more extreme weather and limited harvests. People think they will fix the problem with technology, but famine may fix it for us. Either way it will be a pretty miserable life. The infinite inventiveness of humans sometimes makes me feel hopeful, but we’re just as capable of inventing horrible things as good things.

Dead Geeky

Aug. 22nd, 2011 03:30 pm
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I just bought this game, which I may soon grow to regret (thanks to its hundreds of hours of game play):

Reasons to buy it:
- [ profile] wink_martindale will fly to Canada soon for two weeks and I'll be home alone
- I do like videogames and haven't played anything immersive in years (this game has received good reviews)
- It looks fun
- I like sci-fi/fantasy

Reasons I shouldn't have bought it:
- I could use my spare time for yoga or the gym / writing a novel / going out / watching films
- I could have used the money for a nice meal out plus drinks
- All that time could be used revitalising LJ with tons of posts
- My reputation will be potentially damaged

Also, has anyone played Dead Island? Is it any good? *stern look at [ profile] naturalbornkaosand [ profile] sarahofthedead*
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The past couple of days have been wonderfully long and enjoyable. It started on Friday with a talk on time travel at the British Museum as part of their current exhibition on Science Fiction, Out of this World. Audrey Niffenegger, who wrote The Time Traveller's Wife, was part of the panel as well as sci-fi novelist Stephen Baxter, some guy who writes for Dr Who, some other guy who writes on the science of time travel and a woman who works in publishing (and who chaired the talk.) Audrey was a cross between Margaret Atwood and Tori Amos, all deep husky voice and very funny down-to-earth comments. The audience had a few nutters who shot theirs arms straight up when it was question time. I spotted a few friends of [ profile] hester 's in the audience but I couldn't remember their names or LJ handles.

Yesterday, I went to the garden's Summer Fair then met friends in the evening at Rich Mix for the documentary Senna. It's a wonderful film which is hard for me to be objective about. Because I'm brasilian, I grew up watching Senna race every Sunday, my family and friends filing my home with cheer for his victories or despair for his losses. Seeing his life played out on the big screen brought back nostalgic memories for me as well as some good laughs at how naff Brasil was in the 80s. Well, wasn't the whole planet?

Senna was to Brasil what Lady Diana was to Britain in their deaths: this outpouring of emotion that showed the true extent they had affected people's lives while alive. He was different from her though in how there was nothing contrived about him: he was pure talent, hard work and charisma. There was something about his eyes that was very beautiful, his smile too - that gave away how idealistic he was about Formula 1 and making a mark in the lives of the less fortunate in Brasil (I suppose similar in that sense to Diana).

Everyone in Brasil knows where they were when they heard he died (i.e. most were in front of the telly) just like everyone in Britain still remembers hearing of Di's accident in Paris.

Today, I woke up early to meet [ profile] kirsten at Columbia Road market for breakfast. It was rainy, cold, grey and horrible. We had a look around the shops and found a table in Restaurant Espagnol, which has lovely coffee and breakfasts (chorizo on top of fried eggs and toast; why did I never think of this?!)

We then drove to Camden so she could get a piercing at Cold Steel. On the drive back home we blasted 2 Many DJs and talked about Salt-and-Peppa and what the hell happened to them. Weirdly enough, a few hours later I watched a documentary by Chris Rock called Good Hair, which featured interviews with them. It's a bit of a surreal documentary that falls under that subgenre "we all live on a crazy planet". It looks at the multi-billion dollar industry surrounding hair in America in the black community, and its consequences to themselves and other parts of the planet. Funny at parts, weird in others. Made me wonder what will happen to all those people who spend thousands of dollars on their hair if the American economy continues to slide into the hole. It's completely unsustainable, like a lot of other things in America...

Tonight, we are watching Soprano episodes while eating our dinner, reading old newspapers in bed and listening to classical music. Global warming feels like a dream when the typical grim British summer returns to chill our apartment and cover the city with rain.

P.S. More Gingerganza this way! (thank you [ profile] kirsten for the link.)
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Untitled by Mr. Van Dinh
Untitled, a photo by Mr. Van Dinh on Flickr.
The Universe is like a dark forest - it is important to keep silent to avoid hunters. Alien civilisations do not reveal themselves, as to do so would be to invite destruction.
- Liu Cixin

There's a free exhibition currently on at the British Library which looks at the history of science fiction through books. All sorts of books: novels, science papers, greek myths, religious texts and essays.

I unfortunately didn't have a chance to see it all because the Library closed half way through my walk. I did however manage to buy the gorgeous book on the exhibition, Out of this World, and promise myself a return very soon.

The only thing that left me scratching my head was the inclusion of Neil Gaiman. He's a fantasy writer, not sci-fi (as far as I know). And he's a crap fantasy writer. But I suppose exhibitions need to cater to all tastes, even the poor ones...
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Ben Rivers Slow Action
Slow Action is a post-apocalyptic science fiction film that brings together a series of four 16mm works which exist somewhere between documentary, ethnographic study and fiction.

Continuing his exploration of curious and extraordinary environments, Slow Action applies the idea of island biogeography - the study of how species and eco-systems evolve differently when isolated and surrounded by unsuitable habitat - to a conception of the Earth in a few hundred years; the sea level rising to absurd heights, creating hyperbolic utopias that appear as possible future mini-societies.
You arrive outside a gallery near Mile End, between the park's sports' field and Regent's Canal.  It's not yet 12 noon so you sit on nearby picnic table and wait.  You talk to [ profile] shuffle81 and [ profile] wink_martindale about the gorgeous weather. Three friends sitting nearby chat along the same lines and sip coffee. A girl chains her bike and stands by the gallery's door until it opens. 

It's dark inside and you can barely distinguish the girl who hands everyone high-tech headphones.  She shows where to adjust volume before another door is opened into a screening room.  A woman with a foreign accent speaks softly into your ears while the images on the screen move through an alien desert-like landscape.  It takes you a moment to realise that people are sitting on black leather bags on the floor.  You slowly inch forward and find one for yourself.  For the next forty five minutes you visit the post-apocalyptic societies of Eleven, Hiva (The Society Islands), Kansennashima and Somerset.

To me, this is true science fiction: it's our world viewed through an old camera but at the same time made strange and remote by the stories, facts and figures given by the narrator.  It's here and it's nowhere, it's ideas over action, it's completely devoid of clichés.  It's perfectly formed and delivered, from the gallery's setting to what's on screen.  True science fiction makes you look outside the window and shudder, makes you step out of your comfort zone, even if for a little while, and question the structures and lives around you.  It makes you look leave the screening room and see the outside through new eyes. 

Slow Action
ends today.
commonpeople1: (Log Lady)
What do you guys think of this recent UFO sighting in Jerusalem? My first thought was "Israeli army" but now that I've seen it a few times I'm thinking that it moves way too fast - unless it was attached to some kind of cable which pulled it up (and it was quite light). Very strange.

commonpeople1: (Psycho)
Roadside Picnic

Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic, 1972
Years ago a friend invited me to see Tarkovsky's film Stalker at a special screening in the National Gallery. The film was made in the late 70s and is still today a thing of beauty, though its slow pace (like all Tarkovsky's films) would drive most current cinema goers insane. It's the story of a group of men - the stalkers - who illegally go into a zone previously invaded and abandoned by aliens (which nobody ever met) to collect items which can be sold in the black market. Bracelets that spin eternally. Canisters that spray weird black liquid. That sort of stuff. The setting - some kind of muddy, gray cemetery for Soviet machines - is nightmarish and fascinating in the film, dangerous to any of the stalkers who make a wrong move (the reason why they are stalkers is because they know how to navigate this "zone"). I made a mental note to check out the novella, Roadside Picnic, after seeing the film but only got around to doing it this month when I suggested it as a read for my bookclub.

The film is based on just the first part of the novella. The nightmarish quality, though, remains in the book - that sense of things being slightly off kilter, reality not making 100% sense and foreboding hanging heavy over every thing. I wondered whether "the zone" stood for Western society, its amazing trinkets the sought-after prizes in a crumbling Soviet world. Or was it the other way round? In less than 130 pages, the Strugatsky brothers conjured a believable and intriguing world where the same questions we have today (science vs profit) rule and propel the planet towards a frightening no-going-back future. The novella's only weakness are female characters that are stereotypical sketches of American housewives and femme fatales from the 1950s. The pulpy element raised by them, though, is welcome.

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james macavoy
Originally uploaded by kirsti191
Cloud Atlas, one of my favourite reads from these last ten years, is being turned into a film. Director Tom Tykwer (who did the excellent Run Lola, Run and the poor Perfume) is apparently behind it and aiming for some big names: Tom Hanks (really bad idea), Halle Berry (okaish idea), James McAvoy (brilliant idea) and Sir Ian McKellen (pretty good idea). It's being produced by the Wachowski Brothers,
the pair behind the Matrix trilogy (oh dear!) and Natalie Portman (phew!) is rumoured to have already signed on. Source: NME

[ profile] wink_martindale sent me a link yesterday to an Independent article on literary journals/zines. Some really good ideas of places to submit fiction, poetry, reviews and so forth. Here are two publications they don't mention and which are worth checking out: Penumbra Magazine and the Los Angeles Review.

Can you recommend any publications seeking writers?

April 2017



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