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Showing posts from October, 2005

A Conversation with Mike Allen

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Mike Allen is probably best known within the science fiction/fantasy/horror field for his energetic promotion of SF poetry, both as a writer and an an editor/publisher. He is currently the president of The Science Fiction Poetry Association and the founding publisher and editor of Mythic Delirium. His own poetry and fiction have appeared in Asimov's, Interzone, and Strange Horizons, among many other places. He has won the SFPA's Rhysling Award, co-edited the Rhysling showcase anthology Alchemy of Stars, and also participated in the Speculative Poetry Symposium I moderated for Strange Horizons earlier this year.

Mike's latest books are both published by Prime: Disturbing Muses and Strange Wisdoms of the Dead (forthcoming). He lives in Roanoke, Virginia with his wife, Anita, and works as a reporter for a Roanoke newspaper.

When did you begin writing poetry? Why SF poetry?I never made a conscious choice to write sf poetry. It's what I write naturally.

I discovered or wa…

How to Kill Time

Whenever I have a lot to do, I do other things. This, of course, causes stress and anxiety and lateness and all sorts of other maladies, but it also leads to the discovery of things that I might not ever discover. I currently have an entire book to read before a class tomorrow, but am I reading it? No. Instead, I have been looking for fun stuff on the web, because that's why the web is there, isn't it? To provide me with fun stuff. Here, then, is what I have found by doing everything other than what I should be doing:A great backup program for Macs: SuperDuper
MacGems, a weblog I'm sure everybody out there who uses a Mac already knows about, but which was a revelation to me.
Via the above, I discovered pearLyrics, a freeware program that searches for lyrics to songs in iTunes and then adds them to the file. The Dashboard widget is great. (I've never really bothered with the Dashboard in OS X.4 before, but, you know, when you've got a lot of other things to do…

Exercises in Style

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Writing too much about books full of pictures is probably some sort of crime with its own circle of hell, but two art/graphic/comic/something books I've read/looked at recently have held my attention: First & Fifteenth: Pop Art Short Stories by Steve Powers and 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style by Matt Madden.

Powers's "pop art short stories" aren't exactly stories -- they're more like incidents, moments, glances, jokes. First & Fifteenth looks and feels and even smells like an art book, and it is an art book, but it's more than that, too -- it's a subtle bit of fun, a way to take a couple kicks at some of the assumptions of what a story can be and do. It's not profound, but since when did anybody go to pop art for profundity -- pop is the province of weasels and corn: it can sneak up on you, and plant roots.

99 Ways to Tell a Story is a more substantial book, and a more ambitious one. It's an attempt to do to the graphic fo…

All the Links that are My Life

It's Monday, so it must be time to purge the bookmarks.First, I keep forgotting to link to the various discussions going on at the LitBlog Co-op about the various books that were nominees for the Read This selection this quarter. There's been some pretty interesting stuff, though, including A few words from Kirby Gann, author of the book I nominated, Our Napoleon in Rags; another nominee and its author; and the final nominee.
Ambition and genre(via Collected Miscellany)
'It is nice," said John Banville on Monday night, "to see a work of art win the Booker prize." The winner was Banville's own book, The Sea. When he doesn't write art, he uses another name. Thoughtful of him to help us distinguish between the two, don't you think?
A Booker judge speaks out.
Bullcrit
"Signposts for a Naturalist Criticism"(via The Valve)
One-star Amazon reviews(via Emerald City)
"The Truth About the Colleges"
The Movie Quote Database

The First Annual Mumpsimus "Cup of Coffee for a Genius" Award

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been alluding to a plot to reconfigure the entire economic, cultural, and political face of the world, and now I am ready to reveal it: A new award.

The Award
Yes, indeed, the world needs another award. Therefore, I have created a top-secret selection committee composed entirely of myself, and have a specific set of vague criteria to determine a recipient. The recipient mustbe an exceptionally creative individual, preferably a writer, preferably one whose work I've read
show significant promise for interesting future work, preferably writingThe award will therefore provide a qualified individual selected by the committee with the following prize:One $5 bill
A coffee mug made by Rick Elkin of Rising Moon Studios, a member of the League of New Hampshire CraftsmenThe goal of the award is to provide the recipient with enough money for at least one cup of coffee, plus a cup for that coffee.

The 2005 Award
The recipient of the 2005 Mumpsimus "Cup …

Tom DeLay: Shape-Shifter

According to the Washington Post, Tom DeLay has extraordinary powers:Former House majority leader turns himself into sheriff's office in carefully planned appearance
-R. Jeffrey Smith 5:42 p.m. ETIf anyone has photos, please let me know -- the Post only has pictures of DeLay as a human, but I bet he makes a pretty handsome sheriff's office.

Quote for the Day

American writing, its roots in Poe, Twain, Melville, and extended through Faulkner and, for gawd's sake, everyone else -- is encompassing, courageous, omnivorous. It gobbles contradiction, keeps its eyes open, engages with the culture at every possible level. But boundaries being crossed make the inhabitants of the increasingly isolated castle of the status quo all the more anxious. If we're free to use these methods, allowed to talk about everything we know, if we are allowed to describe the world of advertising, the world of capitalism, the world of pop culture, the actual world where the elements described as of high- and low-brow are in a constant inextricable mingling -- if we let down our guard, where will our status emblems be? What credentials will we burnish? How will we know we are different from the rabble outside the gates? Again, it's sheerly class anxiety that is expressed in these attacks. And, as well, a fundamental discomfort with the creative act, with th…

The Greenstone Grail by Amanda Hemingway

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A guest review by Marrije Schaake.


The Greenstone Grail could have been a fine book. It's the story of Nathan, who visits other worlds in his dreams. At first they are only dreams, but gradually he goes over to those other places (disappearing from his bed) and begins to influence events in the dream worlds -- and begins taking people back from them to his own world. It's also the story of his mother, Annie, who has lost her husband before Nathan was born, and perhaps even before he was conceived, and of their protector Bartlemy, who cooks the most splendid food and who may have been around for much longer than you'd expect.

There are also dogs named Hoover, water spirits, witches, dragons, ancient prophecies, grails, murder mysteries and English policemen -- and many more ingredients that could have produced a great fantasy novel. The writing is good, too: Amanda Hemingway has a great ear for quirky, believable dialogue and comes up with wonderfully engaging characters. I …

If Dickens Were Alive Today, He Would Be Me

A few people have linked to an article in The Guardian about genre ghettos and the Booker Prize. There are plenty of things to argue with in the article, and I'm only going to attack one right now, because it's something I've heard from all sorts of people over the years (and certainly not just people trying to defend the honor of genre writers).

To say, "If Dickens were alive today, he would write soap operas," is nonsense, not because it's unlikely, but because if Dickens wrote soap operas, he wouldn't be Dickens. Dickens wrote lots of things, but we remember him for his novels. If he didn't write novels, he would have been doing something very different from what the entity we celebrate as Dickens did. What Dickens did was expand and exploit the possibilities of the novel. Change that, and you change everything. A truly great writer's greatness depends on an unlikely convergence of many different qualities, and the greatness usually comes …

New New New!

There's a new issue of Strange Horizons available. I don't think I've mentioned the latest SH fund drive yet, but it's up and running. Please don't punish them for publishing me -- they do publish some good stuff, like the new interview with Holly Phillips by David Lynton. And fiction and poetry and the a marvelous new series of daily reviews of all sorts of things. And yes, I have a new column there this week, the most amusing part of which is the pullquote on the contents page: it's taken from my quote of James Wood in the column. It's a great sentence, so I'm perfectly happy to be associated with it.

In other new news, there's a new SF Site out now. I'm behind in reading, so haven't had a review there for a month or so, but there are interviews with Gwyneth Jones and Simon Clark, plus reviews of a wide variety of books.

It's not really new, but I haven't mentioned it here before, so it's new to this site: SciFiction has re…

Links in the Rain

Here in the wilds of central New Hampshire, it has now been grey and rainy for a week. But still, there are things worth looking at out there in the internets..."The Rain" by Robert Creeley
The Reign of Phil
Clarion lives!
"Rain" by Shel Silverstein
The link between Pinter and Gromit
Weather war!
When pop songs meet cosmology...
"After the World: A Poem Against the Rain"
Print-on-demand books of photography?(via Philobiblon)
Jeff Ford on ants and rain
La Gringa returns!
A little rain never hurt no-one...P.S.
I know I promised to begin fomenting a revolution by the end of this week, but one of the necessary coordinators is not around for a few days, so the revolution must be momentarily postponed. I readily admit I suck at teleology.

Veniss Overground

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I just reread one of the earliest posts on this site, a review of Jeff VanderMeer'sVeniss Underground, because today I picked up a copy of the new U.S. edition from Bantam, which has a magnificent cover and collects some of the Veniss stories originally included in Secret Life.

The review is not particularly well written or insightful -- it is weakened by the fact that I had just returned to reading SF after years away, and I had been so excited by the directions certain writers were pushing the field toward that many sentences suffer from a bad case of hyperbolic gush. But my basic opinion of the book, sans gush, remains the same. In many ways, I'm glad to have reread the review, because now having read so much more of Jeff's work, I'd begun to develop the feeling that Veniss was a minor element of his oeuvre, when it's really quite a good piece of writing in and of itself. (Yes, I still dislike the slang, but it's my problem, not the writer's.) Because…

Political Pinter

I expect I'll have more to say about Harold Pinter'sNobel Prize, because I have admired his plays for a long time, but for now I just want to make a quick note about his politics. Pinter is an aggressively political man, though, and his controversial statements have made it relatively easy for some of the more ignorant and illiterate denizens of the American right wing to proclaim that Pinter won the Nobel for his political views. Pinter himself seems to think this could be true. And it could be. But it's irrelevant, because even if Pinter were a neo-Nazi, the fact is, he's one of the two or three most influential and enduring playwrights alive.

There are no irrefutable, objective ways to judge a writer's worth, and there will always be dissenters, because tastes vary. But the tests of time and influence are useful ones -- a writer who influences the work of other writers, and whose own work survives for multiple generations, has made a valuable contribution to…

Quote for the Day

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REBECCA: Guess where I went after tea? To the cinema. I saw a film.
DEVLIN: Oh? What?
REBECCA: A comedy.
DEVLIN: Uh-huh? Was it funny? Did you laugh?
REBECCA: Other people laughed. Other members of the audience. It was funny.
DEVLIN: But you didn't laugh?
REBECCA: Other people did. It was a comedy. There was a girl...you know...and a man. They were having lunch in a smart New York restaurant. He made her smile.
DEVLIN: How?
REBECCA: Well...he told her jokes.
DEVLIN: Oh, I see.
REBECCA: And then in the next scene he took her on an expedition to the desert, in a caravan. She'd never lived in a desert before, you see. She had to learn how to do it.
Pause.
DEVLIN: Sounds very funny.

--from Ashes to Ashes
by Harold Pinter, Nobel laureate

I'm Getting Meta All the Time

When I started doing this blog, and then started writing book reviews for other places, I often wrote here about what I thought I was doing and why, etc. etc. It was more for myself than anybody, but it helped to put it out there so a few people would tell me when I said anything other than the obvious and when I was just ... well, being self-indulgent. I've tried to avoid too much of that recently, but now and then I have to indulge in some meta-blogging just to try to remind myself of why I'm here. (Yes, this is a warning that what follows is probably worthless.)

Mostly, I try to think about these things without writing about them publicly, but I've been thinking a lot about a good response John Joseph Adams gave to a question that was posed to him: "As an aspiring writer, is it a career-limiting move to write a bad review?" My name is invoked in his response, not because I specialize in bad reviews (though I've written my fair share), but because the ti…

Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell

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Below is a guest review by Justine Musk, whose first novel, BloodAngel, has just been released by ROC/Penguin.


David Gemmell's Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow is a novel as well-choreographed as its fight scenes. The first of a projected trilogy, it retells the story of the Trojan War from the perspective of Aeneas, also known as The Golden One, also known as the Lord of the book's title. But mostly we know him as Helikaon.

With the deft touch of a storyteller who's been doing this a long time, Gemmell builds his storyworld through a minimum of physical description and a maximum of character. The first 33 pages alone feature six different perspectives from major and minor characters alike. These multiple angles on Helikaon -- as well as the multiple names that he goes by -- establish him as both a legend in his own time (we first see him through the eyes of small Phia, who mistakes him for a god) and a flawed individual at war with his own fear and rage who suffered at th…

After the Flood

I went to a wedding in New York this weekend, and along the way to and from stopped in Brattleboro, Vermont to see Nick Mamatas, his partner in crime, Eli, and their wonder-dog, Kazzie. I had intended to go to various events at the Brattleboro Literary Festival, but only made it to one panel. Nick, thankfully, made it to a few more, and has already chronicled the experience. (Yes, they both fell asleep seconds after Sven Birkerts began talking. I was standing, and though I am entirely capable of sleeping while standing, I somehow managed to stay awake as Birkerts spent most of his time telling us how hard it was to come up with a specific element of Saul Bellow's work to discuss, because Bellow was, of course, both Shakespeare and The Beatles, and so, Birkerts told us, pinning down the specific elements of Bellow's style is a difficult task, an impossible task, really, and in the few minutes allotted to him, the minutes that he had said he would use to discuss Bellow's…

No Here Here. Go There.

MirrorMask Contest Winners

Thanks to everybody who offered Onion-style headlines about MirrorMask for the contest. I've got enough prizes for four winners, I think, so here they are, with first place getting first pick, second second, etc.:
FOURTH PLACE:
Gaiman and McKean reteam for first time in 3 hours
[anonymous]

THIRD PLACE:
New Wave of Movie Piracy for McKean/Gaiman's Mirrormask:
Substantial lucid dreaming community views film without paying.
[rohsiph]

SECOND PLACE:
Gaiman and McKean hold up Mirror to Muppet Archives, Masking Hidden Horrors
[Robb]

FIRST PLACE:
Mirrormask Fans Snubbed By Corpse Bride Fans, Mocked By Serenity Fans, Beat Up By Transporter 2 Fans
[Aramis Troche]

Thanks again to everybody who participated. (If you're the writer of the fourth place winner, please let me know so I can have the film's publicity folks send you something.)

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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If you expect Never Let Me Go to be about cloning, you will be disappointed. If you expect to be able to read it as a logical science fiction novel, one that extrapolates an alternate world that makes sense, you will find much to grumble about. You will not be satisfied. You will be annoyed, even bored. You will have missed the point.

Cloning is a MacGuffin that Kazuo Ishiguro uses to create symbolic situations and characters that coalesce in a powerful vision of life. The symbolism doesn't quite reach the level of allegory, because it's difficult to assign definite meanings to each scene and person, but nonetheless it quickly becomes difficult not to think about certain themes: mortality, love, fate, memory, art, nature. Each paragraph either illustrates or expands one of these themes. In the first half of the book, the ideas the novel personifies do not gain a lot of emotion, but by the second half of the book the characters have become familiar, their personalities d…

Fantasy Magazine

Though a quick glance at the cover might make you think it's catering to a different sort of fantasy than it is, the new Fantasy Magazine now has a website from which you can subscribe. Attendees of the World Fantasy Convention will get copies in the gift bag. It costs $5.95 for a single issue, $20 for a year's subscription.

Here's the table of contentment:"The Tyrant in Love" by Tim Pratt
"To Make the Dead Speak" by Margaret Ronald
Interview with Jeffrey Ford by Matthew Cheney
"In the House of Four Seasons" by Jeffrey Ford
"Bones Like Black Sugar" by Catherynne M. Valente
"The Finer Points of Destruction" by Richard Parks
"Hanging the Glass" by Sarah Brandywine Johnson
"Shriek: An Afterword" by Jeff VanderMeer
"The Sense of Spirals" by Sonya Taaffe
"Sun, In Its Copper Season" by Vera Nazarian
"Tear Her Standard Down" by Megan Messinger
"A Sure and Certain Song" by Erz…

Site Notes

First: I've had to add word verification to comments, because in the past couple days the site has been deluged with comment spam. I think I've deleted it all, but there was so much that it took a while, and I just don't have time to keep going through and deleting such things. Sorry for the added extra step when commenting, but it beats turning off comments altogether.

Second: Apologies for so few posts this week. A couple of projects unexpectedly ate up most of my free time. Most of the month of October is likely to be pretty light in terms of posting, but I hope what I do manage to post will have at least some substance to it. Thanks to everyone who has checked in, and thanks for the continuing additions to the MirrorMask contest.