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Showing posts from July, 2004

A Conversation with Cheryl Morgan

Cheryl Morgan is currently nominated for two Hugo awards: for best fan writer and for her fanzine Emerald City. I've been reading Emerald City for a year or so, and corresponding with Cheryl for nearly as long, but knew very little about her. An interview, I thought, might clear some things up.

So I started out by insulting her.

I have the impression, which may be inaccurate, that you are Scottish but live in California. Should I have paid better attention and not make assumptions?Yes, most definitely. My family is Welsh, but they had the bad taste to have me born just over the Severn Estuary in England. I know that many Americans don't know where Wales is, but if you think about how upset Canadians get when you describe them as American you'll understand how I react to the usual American habit of conflating Britain and England.

I have no connection with Scotland whatsoever, aside from being very fond of their whisky. I strongly recommend that you avoid all Scotsmen for…

Mumpsimus Cultural Concurrence Index

It all started with Terry Teachout, who created a kind of quiz for cultural elitists called "The Teachout Cultural Concurrence Index". He claimed later, once it had spread like syphilis through the blogosphere, that it was a joke, but a meaningful one. Indeed, it was. I liked it, but I'm a sucker. I scored somewhere around 50%, meaning I can expect to agree with Teachout about 50% of the time, which seems right.

Amardeep Singh created a version that made me feel like an idiot, because there were many items on it I didn't recognize. However, I liked his perspective, and am now seeking out some of the items I didn't recognize on the list.

I haven't seen a cultural concurrence index that quite encompasses my own tastes, though, so I thought I'd create one here to cause consternation and boredom. Here's a refresher on how it works: Choose an item either from the left or from the right. At the end, count up the left column (my choices) and subtract…

Books I Haven't Read

At some point, those of us who love reading have to face the fact that we will die without having read everything we wanted to read, or even a majority of it. Were I to list all the classic books (whether classics of literature, classics of science fiction, classics of car repair) that I haven't read, I would look like an illiterate bumpkin. (Maybe I am an illiterate bumpkin...)

So, in that spirit, here are links to some good writings about books I haven't read:The Cultural Gutter on Joe Haldeman's The Forever War

Peter Tsungen has three interesting posts about Italo Calvino's Time and the Hunter: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

MadInkBeard looks at Gilbert Sorrentino's Under the Shadow

Dave Schwartz on Alice in Jungleland, an extremely rare book written by the mother of Alice Sheldon (better known as James Tiptree, Jr.). Just for fun, I looked up what a copy of the book costs -- the best price I found was $195. I was glad to know Dave's copy is circulating through the…

The Value of Zines

An interesting conversation has begun between Chris Barzak and Catherine M. Morrison about small press "zines" and what they add to a writer's bibliography. The dialogue begins with a post by Morrison about her own ways of perceiving writers, wherein she says:Some folks have a huge list of pubs, but when you look at them 90% are smalltime 'zines with no whuffie. And that's when I think "oh, small time writer, going nowhere fast" and dismiss the person. On the otherhand if a writer had pruned the dreck and had listed a half dozen or a dozen solid pubs (which were buried under the crap), I probably would have looked at the list and been impressed, thought the person was possibly someone to look for.Chris responds with some of his own thoughts, ones that elaborate on what Morrison wrote (it is, as I said, a conversation, not an argument). He says much that I liked, and even sticks his neck out for the executioner to take a look at:One of the interesting …

Hugo Voting

I just submitted my votes for the Hugo Awards to the good people at Noreascon. Yes, I'll be at WorldCon, at least for the weekend portion. I've actually never been to a science fiction convention before, because I don't tend to like conventions of any sort, but it's been a while since WorldCon last plopped itself down ninety minutes from where I live, so I didn't think I could get away with resisting this one.

Voting for the Hugos this year was difficult because, for the most part, I disliked most of the choices in every category except novelettes, and there I really wanted a tie between a few of them. I didn't vote for a novel, because I haven't read any of them, or any short dramatic presentation, because I hadn't seen any of them. The professional editor category was the easiest -- although in a perfect world, I think Gordon van Gelder of F&SF and Ellen Datlow of SciFiction would tie, I voted for van Gelder as #1 and Datlow as #2. I expect G…

Linkdump

For your weekend reading pleasure...

H.G. Wells: Wargamer

Giant Monster Blog (from Brian of Weirdwriter)

Trent Walters on I, Robot, with a bunch of links I'd been saving to put in a post myself once I got to see the movie. Now I can move on with my life. One thing Trent doesn't note: Asimov's title comes from a story by Eando Binder, published in the January 1939 issue of Amazing Stories and made into a 1964 Outer Limitsepisode with Leonard Nimoy.

Hugo Gernsback on the wonders of technocracy.

A thoughtful review of Dozois's The Year's Best SF collection.

Chinese fantasy art

Finally, can you live without your own Monty Python albatross? (via Gravity Lens)

Genocide

Jeff VanderMeer has called on bloggers to pause for a moment from their regular subject matter and take note of what is happening in Sudan. I've tried to keep political discussions to a minimum here, but I also think it's important occasionally to note what is going on in the real world. "While the world debates, people die in Darfur," Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

"We actually could save some lives instead of lamenting afterward that we should have done something."
While we all may have different views on what the U.S. government's responsibility to the world is, or what our own individual responsibility is, at the very least we should not claim ignorance as a defense.During a three-hour flight over Darfur, hundreds of blackened and scorched villages were starkly visible against the red desert. Mrs Mousa walked for three days to reach Kalma after the Janjaweed militia attacked her village, Shatee…

"Old Tingo's Penis" by Geoffrey A. Landis

With a title like that, how could I resist?

Geoffrey A. Landis is best known as one of the better writers of "hard science fiction", but in this case ... well, you can fill in your own play on those words for this story, because I intend to write seriously for a serious audience, and I will not let myself become bogged down in puerile attempts at humor.

It's a little "just so" story that explains how men happened to come--

[Cough, sputter.] By writing this story, Landis may be throwing his credentials as a writer of scientifically credible work away, instead setting out on a quixotic, Lamarckian journey. Die-hard fans are likely to be disappointed, and I expect to hear accusations that Landis has sold out, and that his speculative abilities have become limp, his scientific imagination flaccid--

[Sputter, cough.] Despite all the amusement the story provides, there is an annoying assumption embodied in lines such as the following:...back then men didn't ha…

Boy Genius by Yongsoo Park

A child genius on a TV show in a South Korea ruled by His Excellency the Most Honorable President Park ("who created the heavens and the earth and saw that it was good"). Tough young boys who are actually wild dogs in disguise. A surgical procedure that allows Asians to look like rich white Americans. A neighborhood near Manhattan called Bogota (site of the First Bogota War and the Bogota Accords, which are brokered by Harold N. Napalm, principal of P.S. 38). And everywhere, the threat of Communism.

This is the world of Yongsoo Park's jaunty, gonzo, and hallucinatory novel Boy Genius. When it came out in 2002, the word most often used to describe it was "surreal", and the book it was most frequently compared to was Candide. Both are accurate, but not entirely helpful.

Certainly, the novel is surreal. After all, the main character, Boy Genius, swims across the ocean at the end (and even gets swallowed by a whale that spits him out, conveniently, exactly w…

Four Recent Stories by Carol Emshwiller

Carol Emshwiller's work has remained remarkably consistent throughout her long career, though it is only recently that she has attained wide recognition for her writing -- or, rather, wider recognition, since her name is still not known as widely as a writer of her skill deserves. Early on, she was published a few times in Judith Merrill's Best SF anthologies, and she had a story in Dangerous Visions, but until the last few years it was perfectly understandable for even the most voracious readers of science fiction and fantasy to have read none of her strange and unsettling tales, and for a while she seemed to have abandoned SF markets, a tactic that allowed her to garner some grants and even a Pushcart Prize. She came back to SF, though, and has developed a devoted readership and finally won some of the awards she has long deserved.

Emshwiller's stories work best when a few are read together, because often she seems to use her stories to explore variations on themes. F…

deadlanguages

I've only had time to read very short things recently, and of the very short things I've read, the only ones I think I should point out are those of Colleen Lindsay on her deadlanguages blog. Colleen is probably better known as an editor than a fictioneer or poet, and her La Gringa blog is known and cherished by many readers. deadlanguages has existed since April, but I only stumbled upon it this week. There isn't a tremendous amount of content there yet, but there are a couple of good pieces, including the story "Parcels" and two odd little "Word Exercises".

Chekhov and Perception

I promised a couple of weeks ago to write some posts about Anton Chekhov to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death, and so, to at least begin keeping that promise, here are a few small thoughts about Chekhov and the nature of perception within some of his works.

Consider the stories I said in that first post I would discuss: From the early stories written as little more than comic filler in newspapers ("The Telephone", "After the Fair") to the somewhat more developed stories soon after ("Dreams", "Kashtanka"), to the mature masterpieces ("Gusev", "Ward No. 6"), one of the central subjects of Chekhov's short stories is the way characters perceive the world, and how their perceptions can conflict.

Ideological critics have often twisted themselves into all sorts of interpretive contortions to prove that Chekhov stands for one philosophy or another in his work, but while his biography and his letters prove him to ha…

Thank You for Hitting Me

Well, according to SiteMeter, since August 19 of last year, there have now been more than 20,000 hits to this site. No, that doesn't mean 20,000 people have read this site or anything -- SiteMeter tends to count hits from search engine spiders, and my IP address changes frequently enough that it doesn't always ignore my own visits -- but I think there are about 100 regular readers out there, and so I thought I'd take this opportunity to thank you all. If you'd told me a year ago I'd actually have an audience for this endeavor, I'd have thought you needed a hole drilled in your skull. (Ahh, the lost art of trepanning!) Thank you for putting up with my inevitable inconsistencies, irresponsible thoughts, half-completed ideas, and dead links. I'll do my best to continue at least being a mildly amusing diversion between porn sites and spam.

Cheers,
Matt

Elitists of the World, Unite!

Nick Mamatas has already given something close to a definitive reply to a new article at Strange Horizons, "The SciFi Superiority Complex: Elitism in SF/F/H" by Tee Morris, but there are a few small points I'd like to add at the risk of merely reiterating more blandly what Nick has already said.

Either I'm too tired these days to make sense of a logical progression of thoughts (quite possible), or Morris does not make a coherent point. I can live without coherent points if an essay is otherwise stimulating, and this one certainly tries, but I couldn't get enough of a grasp on much that was in it. Apparently, it is elitist not to like bad movies, and worse than that, it is elitist to proclaim that bad books are not worth my time.

Anyone who is incapable of seeing a qualitative difference between Shakespeare and H.G. Wells -- never mind Shakespeare and Stephen King -- has not developed any sort of aesthetic judgment other than "Imaginary islands are cool.&qu…

Books to Look At

The physicality of a book is not, generally, as important to me as the text. I go to most books for the words they contain, and though I would love to be able to afford beautiful rare editions, prudence and necessity have led me to choose to own many cheap books rather than a few expensive ones. However, I do have a few volumes that I venerate as much for their design as for their content.

To that latter list I must now add McSweeney's Issue 13, a comics issue guest edited by ChrisWare. If you want to know about the content, read Matt Peckham's thorough review. (I know almost nothing about comics, so I defer to Matt, who is quite well read in that area.) All I can say is I bought the book because more than one review said it was beautiful, and I wanted some beauty that day. For the cost of a regular hardcover book (a bit less than most, actually), you, too, can possess a thing of beauty. I wondered for a little while whether anyone who actually knows things about comics …

Considering Mieville

Adam Lipkin's review of China Mieville's new novel, Iron Council, despite some over-the-top pronouncements ("Mieville is just an abhorrently boring and pretentious novelist") offers a concise window into the strengths and weaknesses of one of the most popular, talented, and frustrating fantasy writers to come along in decades. (Jeff VanderMeer's Washington Post review of Mieville's previous novel, The Scar, raises similar questions about Mieville's strengths and weaknesses, though VanderMeer's tone is more balanced than Lipkin's.)

After reading the review of Iron Council, I read some of Lipkin's other reviews, paying particular attention to what he had to say about works I was familiar with. He's well read and thoughtful, a sensitive reader, and some of the more hyperbolic and general statements in his review could be ascribed to a few causes, not the least of which being Mieville's popularity. This is a writer who doesn't get t…

Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke: A Googlism Poem

Life has gotten suddenly busy, so I haven't had the mental stamina to do much hereabouts, but my brain is numb enough to create a poem about the "big three" science fiction writers (Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke) from phrases culled from Googlism:1.
Isaac Asimov is the original quidnunc,
your guide as you probe space
against Reagan's Star Wars,
though Isaac Asimov is not actually there.

Isaac Asimov is dead.

2.
Robert Heinlein is not someone whose views
I would think anyone wanted to quote in
Siamese tights fetish pics.

Right in the center of this group photo
Tom Clancy takes refuge in Buckingham Palace
and Robert Heinlein is the gnarly midget boggled by Peking
(Buck Rogers moves to Siberia).

Robert Heinlein is the slippery large insertions;
Robert Heinlein is the fat chubby naked men.

The archdean was attacked by Uranus
if Robert Heinlein is to be believed
or imitated by Hollywood.
He tortures the nipple trainer.

Robert Heinlein is my …

Max Ernst's Collage Novels

The invaluable Giornale Nuovo has a new post about Max Ernst's collage novels (and an older post about Une Semaine de Bonte, ou, Les Sept Elements Cardinaux (A Week of Kindness, or, the Seven Deadly Elements), his greatest such novel, which is available in a good online version).

These images have influenced various artists, writers, and filmmakers, including China Mieville, who called it "The best comic strip of all time. The best illustrated book of all time. The best sustained work of surrealism of all time. A magisterial whodunwhat, full of little deaths and high adventure, insurrection and freedom."

Some people wonder if such a thing as Une Semaine de Bonte can really be categorized as a novel. I don't tend to worry about it, but if I did, I might suggest that "novel" is different from "collage novel", although I can't at the moment think of any reason why the distinction matters. It is what it is, and what it is is wonderful.

Update…

A Little Linkage

Three diversions for the day:The Tacky Postcard Archive: Hideously hilarious -- and you can email them! (via Plep)

The Word Spy: Words that have recently been sighted lurking at the edges of the language...

The Language Construction Kit: Because you've mastered Klingon and Elvish and want to create your own.

A Conversation with Alan DeNiro

I first discovered Alan DeNiro's work when I read the first of the Ratbastards chapbooks. Over the next few months, I found myself corresponding with Alan about the possibilities and limits of contemporary fiction and poetry. It's not often you find somebody who can discuss definitions of hard science fiction and space opera along with the poetry of Lorine Niedecker and Jack Spicer.

The release of a third Ratbastards chapbook gave me an excuse to drag Alan into a public interview.

First, a bit o' bio: Alan De Niro has been published by Strange Horizons, Fence, Minnesota Monthly, Trampoline, and Polyphony 3. He runs Taverner's Koans ("A One-Room Schoolhouse of Experimental Poetics"), is a founding members of The Ratbastards, and has been shortlisted for such awards as the O. Henry.

If, for some perverse reason, you're interested in more of my thoughts on his writing, I wrote a post about his story "Tetrarchs" in May.

And now for some conversat…

Awards News

Winners from two awards have been announced recently: The Locus Awards and The Wooden Rocket Awards (for online SF & Fantasy).

Congrats especially to Neil Gaiman for his multiple Locus Awards (I will be circulating a petition at WorldCon to rename all this year's awards "The Gaiman") and to Wooden Rocket runners-up Cheryl Morgan (the Empress of Emerald City) and Revolution SF, where Jayme Lynn Blaschke is fiction editor. (I know they got runnered-up for more than fiction, but Jayme's the only person there I've had any contact with, so I figure he can pass the congrats along.)

One odd things about the Wooden Rockets: the award for "Best Fan Site Homepage" is the only one that allows blogs, thus making winner Teresa Nielen Hayden and runners up Bruce Sterling and Jeff VanderMeer into "fans". I suppose they are, in some sense, but I tend to think of all three as slightly more than that...

Another note about the Wooden Rockets: Jed Hartman n…

Jeff VanderMeer at SF Site

SF Site has posted an interview I did with Jeff VanderMeer, as well as a short excerpt from the title story of Secret Life.