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Showing posts from August, 2004

Significant SF Films

John Scalzi is writing The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film and has put out a call for nominations for his list of "The 50 classic Science Fiction films":In my own brain, I see this list as the list of the most significant science fiction films, as opposed to the "best" or the most financially successful. This gives me latitude to, say, include films that are influential on science fiction filmmakers, but not necessarily the audience (or, vice versa, as the case may be).He's got a list of things he's already thought of (most of the obvious stuff), and is inviting comment at his blog.

The only thing I thought should definitely be on his preliminary list is anything by Terry Gilliam. I'm partial to Brazil, myself. Alas, I can't say that SF films are my favorite type of cinema ... often, I go out of my way to avoid them. (Though the upcoming Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow does look intriguing.)

I hope that Scalzi includes a list or discuss…

Light Again

North American readers have been impoverished, not having been able to read one of the best science fiction novels ever written: Light by M. John Harrison. Follow the link from the title there, though, and you can order the new Spectra edition.

Yes, I'm shilling for this book, I'm exhorting you to buy it, I'm threatening you with eternal damnation if you don't. Not because Harrison or his publicists or anyone told me to -- I've had no contact with any of them, and I would have been much more reluctant to speak so vociferously if I had. I wrote about Light back in March, and I have since been rereading it very slowly, trying to put together thoughts for what will, if the heat death of the universe doesn't arrive before I complete it, be a long essay about Harrison's recent novels. The experience of rereading Light has only made me respect the book more, because I am doing to it the sort of close reading I have done for only a few books in the past ... th…

More Links than A Vegan Sausage Factory

A couple of miscellaneous things to tide you over until I write a real post someday:

*Jeff VanderMeer has been blogging up a storm over at VanderWorld, writing about all the books he's simultaneously reading.

*I just read the new edition of Michael Moorcock'sWizardry & Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy, available from Monkey Brain Books (which will soon be publishing Jeff VanderMeer's collection of nonfiction, Why Should I Cut Your Throat?). Here's a taste:The sort of prose most often identified with "high" fantasy is the prose of the nursery-room. It is a lullaby, it is meant to soothe and console. It is mouth-music. It is frequently enjoyed not for its tensions but for its lack of tensions. It coddles, it makes friends with you, it tells you comforting lies.
*Chris Barzak has moved to Japan and is now writing about his experiences.

*The new version of Amazing Stories is now looking for a new editor, since Dave Gross got an offer he couldn't …

The Bravery of JPK

Jim Kelly is offering a story, "Lisa", for people to read now and see workshopped at Worldcon. Apparently, after the good people of the Cambridge SF Writers' Workshop have their say, the audience will get a chance to respond. This sounds to me like the most frightening and potentially painful experience short of being forced to sit through a Ron Howard movie marathon, and it just goes to show that along with being one of the most patient and tolerant people I have ever known, Jim is also one of the bravest.

I haven't read the story, but in my experience ignorance never stopped anybody from offering their opinion on a subject, so I thought I'd give those of you who will be attending the workshop some suggestions to offer Jim:*Add more robots.

*The beginning didn't work for me. Have you read Dancer of Gor? I think what the Amazon.com reviewer said of it is important for all writers to think about: "Woman need to know that they are wanted but also to s…

How a Teacher Chooses Some Books

There's been a fair amount of linking around the blogosphere to this article from the NY Times, headlined, "Why Teachers Love Depressing Books", and while I don't have much to say about it, not having read much YA lit, I've been spending a lot of time over the past week or so deciding what books I will use in the classes I teach this year, so I thought I'd share some of the thoughts that go through one teacher's head when faced with writing a syllabus.

First, some background. I'm going into my seventh year teaching at a private boarding school in central New Hampshire. While some of our buildings might remind you of Dead Poet's Society, the school I work at is not at all the sort of Americanized Eton portrayed there. Many of our students have been, for better or worse, labeled with some sort of learning disability, and though we are specifically a college prep school, the graduates go off to a wide variety of colleges. We don't have a huge…

August IROSF

The August issue of The Internet Review of Science Fiction has a nice variety of articles: Cheryl Morgan writes about awards, Christopher Garcia offers a strangely touching memoir of a fanzine-that-might-have-been, Mahesh Raj Mohan writes about Comic-Con, and Robert R. Shelsky gives advice to writers who are using Medieval towns as settings for their stories and novels. There's also an editorial from John Frost and reviews and criticism of short fiction, a Borderlands novel, and the recent film The Village.

If you read nothing else, be sure to read the interview with Clive Barker, wherein Barker talks with Brett Alexander Savory about writing, painting, filmmaking, BDSM (bondage & discipline/domination & submission/sadism & masochism ... that ought to bring some interesting Google hits here...), Quentin Tarrantino, etc. Here's a sample:It's very important to me to, when I can, lend my voice, whether it's a fictional voice or whether it's a voice being …

"Cold Fires" by M. Rickert

There are many reasons to subscribe to F&SF, but my own has become a simple, single one: because Mary Rickert publishes most of her work there. Yes, plenty of other good writers appear in those pages, but Rickert is my favorite for the moment, because her stories are enigmatic gems, sometimes sharp and disturbing, sometimes gentle and funny, and often a mix of quotidian details with tropes from traditional fantasy and myth (or, occasionally, science fiction). In her stories, dream logic creates understructures of metaphor -- subtexts and echoes play off the other elements of the story to create a rich imaginative landscape.

The latest issue of F&SF (the October/November double issue) contains "Cold Fires", a complex new tale from Rickert that manages to be three stories in one and much more than that. It starts off like a tall tale of a brutally cold winter:
It was so cold dogs barked to go outside, and immediately barked to come back in, and then barked to go ba…

Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas

Move Under Ground is an impressive novel, one that draws from a range of seemingly unconnected traditions and styles to create what is, essentially, a character study of a pitiful man lost in his own legend.

Much of the attention the book has received, both positive and negative, has boiled it down to its basic conceit: Jack Kerouac in the universe of H.P. Lovecraft. The Cthulhu Beats ... R'lyeh rising off the coast of bohemian San Francisco ... a naked lunch with the Elder Gods ... subterranean exterminators haunting the dark...

As conceits go, this one is cool and clever, but it's not what the book is about; it's just a way of getting there. Various reviewers have addressed the question of whether one needs to be an afficionado of both Kerouac and Lovecraft to "get" the book, to appreciate it, to grok its inner mythos. (The answer depends, it seems, on whether the reviewer liked the book.) Because Mamatas writes from Kerouac's point of view in an almost…

One Year

I'm terrible with dates. August 18 was the one-year anniversary of this website, and I completely forgot.

But the first substantive posts didn't appear until the next day (a bunch of them ... I don't remember writing them, and must have done so before the actual day of posting, because there are a lot, as you can see from the archive).

It's been a fun year. Thanks to everybody who has come along for the ride so far.

Misc.

Claude Lalumiere has started a weblog somewhat related to his fine Lost Pages webzine. I was surprised and flattered to see that Claude's first post was in response to The Mumpsimus Cultural Concurrence Index (itself a response to Terry Teachout's wildly popular idea). I scored a lot higher on Claude's index than he did on mine, which proves, I think, the superiority of his choices.

I just turned in a review to SF Site of Horses Blow Up Dog City & Other Stories by Richard Butner. It's a $5 limited edition chapbook of 5 stories, most of which are really really really really good. Published by the ever-wonderful Small Beer Press, this one is worth going out of your way to get. But hurry, because they only printed 400 of the things.

Review of Electric Velocipede at SF Site

A review I wrote of the sixth issue of Electric Velocipede is now available at SF Site.

I warned Alan DeNiro that I wrote at length about his excellent story "A Keeper" and that I hoped he still recognized the story I'd written about...

(I think it says something about my current [warped] tastes that my favorites of the SF stories I've read so far this year have been "The Voluntary State" by Christopher Rowe, "Women are Ugly" by Eliot Fintushel, and Alan's "A Keeper" -- three very strange tales. Very very strange tales.)

Linkdump

Time for a short post, no?

Some stuff, mostly links:

Jonathan Lethem at a Kerry rally:"This time, it's not only the poets who are filled with passionate intensity, not only the rock stars, not only the comedians. This time, even the novelists are filled with passionate intensity. And when you have roused even the novelists to the barricades against you, I am here to suggest that your days are truly numbered."

(via Rake's Progress)Think writing a novel is easy? Check out Empire of Dirt, the blog of mystery writer John Rickards, which contains multiple naughty words, including the following:Still kinda wish I could get away with writing "Fuck" 30,000 times and handing the finished manuscript in to Penguin. Sadly, not only would they shout and throw things - or have me committed - but there's a clause in the contract that says "work of publishable quality". Cunning, cunning devils.

(via Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind)The Cryptozoo collect…

A Charlatan Among the Visionaries

Michel Basilieres, doesn't like the work of Philip K. Dick. That's fine; Dick is definitely not a writer to everyone's taste. But Basilieres doesn't want anybody to like Philip K. Dick, and he's particularly annoyed that Dick's books are popular both with general readers and certain literary and cultural theorists skulking through the halls of academe. Even that opinion wouldn't be too bothersome if it were supported with real argument, but all Basilieres can do is bluster.

Let's indulge, then, in some exegesis:It's hard to escape the growing cult surrounding Philip K. Dick; articles about the author are appearing everywhere these days. This probably would never have happened if Hollywood hadn't discovered Dick's literary canon. Three major films based on his books have already been made and another is in the works. Of course, as it always does, Hollywood picks what it can use from his work and discards everything else. Thus even the be…
I've been trying very hard to ignore Nick Mamatas, because I promised him that I would write about his novel Move Under Ground and I haven't even finished reading it yet, but his latest LiveJournal post is so worth reading that I can't help but point you toward it.

You will find when you read it that Nick applies some ideas from Dale Peck's Hatchet Jobs to science fiction, in response to a post by Jed Hartman (as well as the comments that followed).

Yes, Dale Peck has ideas other than that every novel since Ulyssessucks (except for his own, of course), and in fact the essay that Nick is, I think, relying on -- about contemporary gay fiction -- is one with some good insights, and it seems to have been ignored in the fracas over Peck's other, more hyperbolic reviews.

I'm not quite sure where Nick's going with some of the ideas, but I think it will be interesting to watch.

Meanwhile, go buy Move Under Ground. (I think you can still get signed copies for $20 h…

"The Liberation of Earth" (and other stories) by William Tenn

I meant to read just one.

After all, I've got a lot to do right now -- promises to keep, miles to go on untaken roads -- and I don't have time to be spending hours reading one old story after another.

Because really I just wanted to say that William Tenn's "The Liberation of Earth" remains one of the most painfully funny satires since Swift.

Yes, that's what I was going to do: write a post about "The Liberation of Earth". To do so, I had to reread it. So I grabbed Immodest Proposals, the first of two NESFA Press volumes of Tenn's collected fiction, a book I got for $5 somewhere because the binding is coming apart, and I read "The Liberation of Earth" for about the fifth time.

It didn't take me long, so I decided to revisit "Down Among the Dead Men", in which prejudice is condemned, including prejudice against soldiers built from the corpses of war casualties.

Of course, then I had to reread "Brooklyn Project",…

Reviewing Cliches

In The Telegraph, Tom Payne offers an exhaustive, not to say exhausting, list of book reviewers' cliches. The article has it all: edgy attitude, amphetamine-fueled listmaking like William S. Burroughs on acid, a searing indictment with countless penetrating insights you won't want to miss. Payne hits the ground running in the deceptively simple, inimitable style of Edgar Allen Poe meets Margaret Thatcher:When did you last come across the words "coruscating" or "magisterial"? It's unlikely to have been in a holiday brochure or a recipe. Surely it was on the back of a book or in a book review.Continuing at a breakneck speed by this stage, each paragraph becomes an achingly beautiful emotional rollercoaster of high-octane panoramic sweep with "fluent prose" written all over it. At its core, Payne's article is a tour de force of literary scholarship that is as good as any novel -- truly magisterial.

The dogged investigation of the article&…

Poetry Note

The Rhysling Awards have been announced by the Science Fiction Poetry Association. The winners were "Just Distance" by Roger Dutcher from Tales of the Unanticipated (short poem category) and "Octavia is Lost in the Hall of Masks" by Theodora Goss from Mythic Delirium (long poem).

You can still get copies of The 2004 Rhysling Anthology, which was sent to all SFPA members, through the website for $9.45, and it's worth the money, because some of the nominated poems are also excellent. I was particularly impressed with the work of Sonya Taaffe, a poet I hadn't paid enough attention to, but who has a deft sense of line and diction, as well as an imagination that offers continual surprises in her poems. There's a density to the poems that you don't often find in pieces labeled as "speculative poetry", which so often is the realm where jokey short-short stories go to die. (I believe that the next issue of Flytrap (#3) will feature a few poems…

One King, One Soldier by Alexander C. Irvine

I'm not going to write much about Alexander Irvine's new novel, One King, One Soldier, not because I didn't like it, or because I don't think it is worth thinking about, but because I'm mad at John Clute, who said everything I wanted to say about the book, and plenty I hadn't even thought about saying. I have no desire whatsoever to write dueling reviews with John Clute, a fool's quest if ever there was one.

Actually, I'm lying. Or vacilating. Or something. I've been thinking about One King, One Soldier for a few days now, thinking about its story of the Grail, the Knights Templar, Oak Island, Rimbaud, Jack Spicer, baseball, imperialism, and fate. The writing is strong, both clear and evocative (particularly in some of the sections about Africa), and the story is engrossing. Even if the last quarter of the book is not particularly convincing, not nearly as satisfying as the beginning, it would be hard to imagine any other way Irvine could have…

World Fantasy Award Nominations

The World Fantasy Award nominations have been announced, and all I can say is I'm glad I'm not voting, because having to choose between some of these nominees would be difficult, painful, and heartbreaking.

Anyway, here they are, with some links:NOVEL
# The Etched City, K. J. Bishop (Prime Books)
# Fudoki, by KijJohnson (Tor)
# The Light Ages, Ian R. MacLeod (Ace)
# Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton (Tor)
# Veniss Underground, Jeff VanderMeer (Prime Books)

NOVELLA
# "A Crowd of Bone", Greer Gilman (Trampoline: An Anthology, Small Beer Press)
# "Dancing Men", Glen Hirshberg (The Dark, Tor)
# "The Empire of Ice Cream", Jeffrey Ford (Sci Fiction 02.26.03)
# "Exorcising Angels", Simon Clark & Tim Lebbon (Exorcising Angels Prime Books)
# "The Hortlak", Kelly Link (The Dark, Tor)

SHORT FICTION
# "Ancestor Money", Maureen F. McHugh (Sci Fiction 10.01.03)
# "Circle of Cats", Charles de Lint (Viking)
# "Don Ysi…

A Comment from Colleen

Colleen Lindsay left a fascinating comment on my Considering Mieville post, but since the discussion there had died down and her comment was number 23, I asked her if I could post it on the main page, since many people who might be interested in what she has to say might not have seen it. If you want the full context, you'll need to go back to the comments section of that post (quite an interesting discussion, actually).Hi all -- I'm Colleen Lindsay and I am Del Rey's publicity director. I am also China's personal PR machine. The fact that so many of you are grumbling about his celebrity means that I have done my job right -- thank you! :-)

First some thoughts on editing. I am not an editor, but I do know something about the editorial process at Del Rey especially where China's editor, a very gifted fellow named Chris Schluep is concerned. When Del Rey bought PERDIDO STREET STATION, it was, essentially, a finished book. We were simply publishing the reprinted U…

Iron Council by China Mieville

(Note: If you haven't read Iron Council, intend to, and don't like to know plot elements and details before you read, you should not stray much beyond the first two paragraphs in this post.)


I began to read Iron Council with a mix of emotions and biases: I had enjoyed China Mieville's earlier novel Perdido Street Station and found some of its imagery breathtaking; I had liked parts of his next novel, The Scar, very much, but overall found the book tedious; I was tired of the cult-like hero-worshipping displayed by some of Mieville's fans; I looked forward to seeing how Mieville's imagined world of Bas-Lag would be developed; and I hoped very much that the book would demonstrate a maturation of Mieville's craft and not a settling in to his fame and guaranteed readership.

Iron Council is, indeed, a maturation, a book of depth and richness, particularly when viewed as the third part of a trilogy. (Actually, as Mieville has said, the order the books are read in pr…

Quote for the Day

I am not interested in making plays that say, Here is the message. I am interested in plays that put into play in exhilarating fashion all of the different meanings circulating around us. Art is a place where you don't have to make life's desperate choices, but can enjoy their interplay. Many people confuse art with life.

--Richard Foreman

Speaking of Elsewhere and Other Things

Some things to look at:

*An excellent discussion of China Mieville and economics over at Crooked Timber. Start here with Henry Farrell, then move to here with John Holbo. I look forward to their take on Iron Council, which I have just begun reading and am enjoying much more than I did The Scar.

*Speaking of John Holbo, the weblog he maintains with his wife, Belle, called John & Belle Have a Blog, is always good and often excellent.

*I recently saw a new biography of Borges at a bookstore and somehow managed to keep myself from buying it (the $35 price helped). Here's a review from The Boston Globe. (via Rake's Progress)

*Speaking of things to buy, the great live album The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads is finally being released on CD, with some extra tracks. (Maybe I'll buy a copy for Jeremy...)

*Fantastic Metropolis has an interview with and a story by L. Timmel Duchamp. I have read neither yet, but will soon.

*Speaking of things I haven't read but will so…

"Artistic Merit" and Stephen King

Matt Peckham's new essay on Stephen King's Dark Tower books is one of the best pieces of criticism I've read in quite some time. It's the start of a series Matt will be doing on each of the books, as well as some of the peripheral works (he has just posted a draft on Salem's Lot). One passage I particularly liked was the following:It seems a bit shortsighted to me, to imply that the relationship between art and the public at large is a one-way street, that the responsibility for its reception as either sugar-coated and likable or barbed and unsettling lies with the author alone, and not the reader, a piece of the equation I think too easily and often dismissed based on a sweeping and pretentious generalization about the level of sophistication of the so-called masses. Besides, subversion alone is hardly a qualifier of artistic merit. Revolutionaries tend merely to replace what they've overthrown with their own brand of dogmatism, their own rituals of inclusion…