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Showing posts from June, 2006

Blood on the Saddle by Rafael Reig

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Seeking a change of pace, I read Rafael Reig's Blood on the Saddle, a novel that could be described as Italo Calvino rewritten by Elmore Leonard. Sort of. It's kind of like postmodern-lite -- call it pomopop. (Or don't.)

For the most part, Blood on the Saddle is a hardboiled detective story, but there are dashes of science fiction and western and general surrealism in there, too, with an evil corporation performing genetic experiments in the background and writers hiring private investigators to find characters that have gone astray and gun-toting cowboys (the best gods we get from our machines these days) climbing out of the pages of fictional popular fictions just in time to save not the day, but a couple hours, at least, before finding a metafictional sunset to ride to. The structure of the book is loose and even haphazard, allowing all sorts of allusions to play together. In the end, the novel is pleasantly superficial, appealing but not exactly memorable, a fine b…

Readercon

People have recently been asking me if I'm going to Readercon in a couple weeks, and I've done my best to avoid a definitive answer, not out of coyness, but because I really haven't been sure I could be there. Today, though, I decided all of my hesitating was stupid, and so, yes, I shall be there from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning.

And if, after all of my waffling, Mike Allen will still let me be a part of the Mythic reading, I'll even be reading a few sentences of fiction.

Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany

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I've spent the past week reading Samuel Delany's early fiction in roughly chronological order, starting with The Jewels of Aptor, then continuing on to The Fall of the Towers trilogy, Babel-17, and Empire Star (which Vintage has conveniently packaged together). (And yes, I realize I've missed The Ballad of Beta 2 -- I misplaced my copy and so decided to continue on until I figure out which pile of books it got buried under.)

The only one of these books I'd read before was Babel-17, the first Delany novel I ever encountered, having been introduced to his work through the stories "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" and "Aye, and Gomorrah" in anthologies. It's been ages since I read any of Delany's pre-Dhalgren books, and the experience has been illuminating.

Delany's early work is the writing of an extraordinarily intelligent and talented young man, but The Jewels of Aptor and The Fall of the Towers really only possess …

Strange Gravitational Force Discovered by VanderMeers

MANCHESTER, NH -- Renowned gravitologists Jeff and Ann VanderMeer have discovered a strangely focused gravitational force in southern New Hampshire -- a force that has prevented them from returning to their home state of Florida.

Ann VanderMeer said, "As far as we can tell, this gravitational force only affects us, though it's possible many other people are affected, and we are simply too gravitized to be able to communicate with them."

The VanderMeers discovered the force on Sunday, June 25, when they first tried to leave New Hampshire. "At that time," Jeff VanderMeer explained, "we believed the crossing of our personal gravitations with those of Eric Schaller, who was flying back to New Hampshire from Ames, Iowa, prevented our return to Florida, but that hypothesis has subsequently been contradicted by further events. We met Dr. Schaller at the Manchester airport so that we could study him in his native environment, and we discovered that his gravitation…

Cemetery Man

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Not being anything more than an occasional viewer of horror movies, I hadn't heard of Cemetery Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore) until Dave Kehr mentioned it in his "New DVDs" column in the New York Times. It sounded like good fun, and not more intellectual than my brain can handle right now, and so I asked the Netflix gods to send it my way, and they did.

Cemetery Man has all the best elements of a low-budget horror movie -- special effects where the strings used to fly items are visible, cheesey music, gratuitous sex and violence, hilariously bad dialogue, terrible acting -- and yet it's also got some good acting, some clever dialogue, good zombie gore, and a surprisingly intelligent narrative overall. It's some sort of cousin of Shaun of the Dead (but with more nudity, because Rupert Everett is the sort of leading man one does want to see naked as much as possible).

Set in an Italian town where everyone speaks, or tries to speak, in a British accent, Cemetery Man

A Conversation with Tina Pohlman

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A few months back, Richard Nash of Soft Skull Press told me I'd probably enjoy talking with Tina Pohlman, editorial director of Harvest Books (the paperback imprint of Harcourt), because she had just acquired the paperback rights to three of my favorite books of 2005: Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet, and The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia. Indeed, this sounded like an extraordinary person, and so I contacted Tina and asked if she was willing to be interviewed. She was.

Where did you begin in publishing, and how did you get to where you are now?

I started as an editorial assistant at Houghton Mifflin in 1993. Then I went to Anchor Books/Doubleday in 1995 where I was promoted a couple times. Then Anchor was moved from Doubleday to the Knopf Publishing Group to join forces with Vintage Books and become Vintage-Anchor. I was with Vintage-Anchor for about a year and a half I guess. All told, I was with Anchor for about 5 1/2 years. A…

Claude Cahun

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I spent some time in Provincetown, Massachusetts with friends this weekend, but we only had time to see one film at the film festival that was happening there, a documentary by Barbara Hammer, Lover Other, about the surrealist writer and artist Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) and her step-sister/partner Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe).

The best parts of the film were Cahun and Moore's artwork and the interviews with people who had known them when they lived on the island of Jersey, where, during the German occupation, they resisted the Nazis and were imprisoned. Unfortunately, Hammer tried to make the film into something more than a documentary by having actresses portray Cahun and Moore for some overwrought soliliquies and used annoying and amateurish visual stylizations in an attempt to replicate with film the effect of the original art, an unfortunate choice when the original work is so distinctive that any such manipulation is nothing more than distracting, and sometimes simply emb…

Bat Segundo, Poet of the Podcast

Donald Hall may think he's something for being Poet Laureate of the United States, but as far as I'm concerned, he's no Bat Segundo.

Bat can deny it all he wants, but I know this is love.

As for the things I say on the podcast ... well, considering how little sleep or food I'd had over the course of BEA, it's a wonder I uttered anything even remotely coherent.

Donald Hall, Poet Laureate

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Donald Hall has been named Poet Laureate of the United States, and though Hall is not by any means my favorite poet, I like his personality a lot, and it's always nice to see a neighbor get some recognition.

Because Hall lives down the road from me, I've had the chance to hear him read and lecture quite a few times, and have never failed to be at the very least entertained. Hall's poem "Without" (in the book of the same title) is one of the most viscerally, beautifully sad pieces of writing I've ever encountered. I much prefer his work when he reads it to when it is on the page, because his cigarette-scarred voice is somehow perfect for the lines he writes.

Hall's a good choice for the role of laureate, because his real strength is not so much his own poetry as his support for other poets, and the position is one that's as much about politics as it is about poetry. He's definitely a denizen of the more traditional and (aesthetically) conservati…

Age and Nostalgia

Brian Bieniowski makes an interesting point in the comments to this post, and it's one that is, I think, worth opening up for discussion. Talking about Dave Itzkoff's column, he says,His column seems too calculatedly ageist for me to take very seriously, as though his essential conceit is that we still shouldn't be trusting anyone over the age of thirty. It is too easy to diss nostalgia when it's your elders' nostalgia. Within the Itzkoff Retirement Home, 2040, where everyone reminisces of the days of internet fiascos and flame-wars, I can imagine the furious youth flaming the sepia-toned Ben Rosenbaum and Christopher Rowe short-story collections, and all that old-fogey blog crit nobody reads anymore.This reminded me of a conversation I had with a writer friend some time back, when he said he looked forward to the day when he and I would be like the old guys on "The Muppet Show" who booed everything and hated everybody. "Nobody's writing anythi…

Getting the Links Out

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Alan DeNiro quotes David Foster Wallace: "I think TV promulgates the idea that good art is just art which makes people like and depend on the vehicle that brings them the art. This seems like a poisonous lesson for a would-be artist to grow up with."

Cornell University Library's "The Fantastic in Art and Fiction"

Suggested Rules for Non-Transsexuals Writing about Transsexuals, Transsexuality, Transsexualism, or Trans ____.

The Book Depository looks to be a good source for books from the U.K., and amazingly offers free delivery anywhere. The web editor, complete with blog, is Mark Thwaite, of ReadySteadyBook. The site includes an interview with Gabriel Josipovici. (In fact, this will probably be my source for Josipovici's new collection of essays, The Singer on the Shore...)

Nick Mamatas: The Website

The British Science Fiction Association's critical journal, Vector now has a website, and it includes an essay I wrote some time back about the short fiction …

Dave Itzkoff Ponders His Inner Child

I had a fairly negative reaction to Dave Itzkoff's first science fiction column at the New York Times, but I'm more impressed by his second, particularly because he praises Christopher Rowe's marvelous story "The Voluntary State" and Benjamin Rosenbaum's fine story "Embracing-the-New". Such praise shows taste and thoughtfulness. I also thought Itzkoff's ideas about nostalgia within science fiction are astute, though I am far more wary of nostalgia than he.

I have one major concern with the column, however, and that is Itzkoff's bizarre decision to undermine his credibility by quoting an "online critic". Doesn't he realize he's writing for one of the great newspapers of the world? Why does he stoop to giving credibility to some yahoo with a blog? Itzkoff is a good and clearly intelligent writer, but such a tremendous lapse of judgment within an otherwise interesting column may be a sign not simply of an undigested inner …

Kinsey, Sturgeon, and "The Sex Opposite"

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Continuing where we left off with some thoughts on sexology and science fiction, let's consider some of the similarities between Alfred Kinsey and Theodore Sturgeon.

The Kinsey Scale was not the first time a continuum theory of sexuality was proposed. Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs, Magnus Hirschfeld, Sigmund Freud, and Havelock Ellis each proposed a theory of bisexuality as the core state of human sexuality, which to some extent or another brought them toward a continuum theory. As the field of endocrinology developed, biological research confirmed the variability of sexuality in humans and other animals, while at the same time anthropological work by people such as Franz Boas and Margaret Mead revealed varying attitudes toward sexuality and gender in different cultural contexts. Mead developed a continuum model of masculinity and femininity, as did the psychologists and intelligence researchers Lewis Terman and Catherine Cox Miles.

Much of the above information comes from Jennifer Terry…

The F&SF Meme

Blogger has been buggy for the past couple days, so I haven't been able to post, but it seems cleared up now, and I can pass on the information that Paul Jessup's leftover issues of F&SF will be going to Mark Siegel, who is considering opening up the passing-along of magazine backissues to titles other than F&SF, creating an ongoing physical meme.

Elsewheres

Paul Jessup will send a box of F&SF backissues to the first commenter to the post I'm linking to. This continues the chain I began. Keep an eye on his site for some thoughts on the three issues he's keeping.

An interview with John Crowley

An interview with Alan DeNiro

A new issue of Lone Star Stories is now online.

Laila Lalami, author of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits and blogger of Moorish Girl, writes in The Nation about Muslim women, feminism, and the "burden of pity".

Last week was Television week at the LBC. Television was the book that won the vote to be the Read This! title for the quarter. Though the book didn't do much for me, the conversation about it was interesting, particularly the interview with translator Jordan Stump. (And, I assume, the podcast, but I haven't downloaded it yet.)

Last year's Ratbastards anthology gets a review at SF Site. I have heard that this year's actually exists, but it's not on the website yet, so che…

More Pontification

Jose at MemeTherapy has now posted an interview with me. Subjects include death, writing, death, voices, death, time, death, life, and death.

In the Future

This is just a quick post to say that I have various pontifications about the future and imagined futures elsewhere:

Jose at the MemeTherapy blog sent me a bunch of questions I wasn't the least bit qualified to offer comment on, but I did anyway, and the results are being posted, along with other people's more interesting responses, as "Brain Parades" on future shock, wiki democracy, and technological alienation.

Also, over at Strange Horizons, I have a review of One Million A.D., an anthology of far future stories edited by Gardner Dozois, wherein I pontificate on fantasy vs. science fiction, imagination, dullness, writing, etc. I wish this had been able to be one of the joint reviews SH sometimes runs, where people offer differing perspectives on a book, because I would love to have seen how somebody who is more of a fan of hard SF than I am reacted to it. Lacking that, here are links to some other reviews: Visions of Paradise on "Good Mountain" by Robert…

The Theory of Us

Clive James has a theory. It is that there is a group of people out there called "us" and they are ordinary, normal human beings without pretension, people who like to be entertained and yet who aren't afraid to think a little bit. He is of this us, just more so. That's why he and people like him are good movie critics. They watch movies the same way us do, and they like what us like, except they like it more eloquently.

Clive James says this is the difference between theorists and nontheorists. Theorists see stuff us don't see. But they're also blind. They like bad movies, because they don't know how to watch movies. Us know how to watch movies.

Movies are about first impressions, says us. "Or, to put it less drastically, in the movies there are no later impressions without a first impression, because you will have stopped watching." ("You" is one of us. Because you wouldn't read Clive James if you were not. You would ha…

Happy Thought for the Day

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People talk about the happy life, but that's the happy life when you don't care any longer if you live or die. You only get there after a long time and many misfortunes. And do you think you are left there? Never.

As soon as you have reached this heaven of indifference, you are pulled out of it. From your heaven you have to go back to hell. When you are dead to the world, the world often rescues you, if only to make a figure of fun out of you.

--Jean Rhys
Good Morning, Midnight

"The Gonads are the Very Citadels of Sex"

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One of the mottoes that has served me well in life is, "When all else fails, talk about sex hormones."

Classes for my masters degree are winding to an end, and the last one, soon to be finished, has been "Sexuality and Science", a marvelous exploration of everything from gay genes to intersex surgery to the case of the female orgasm. I wrote a paper on two SF stories, David H. Keller's "The Feminine Metamorphosis" and Theodore Sturgeon's "The Sex Opposite" and their relation to the sexology of their time. It's an adequate paper, but not much more, since I've been so scattered and busy that I couldn't give it the time it deserved, but the research was great fun, and I thought I'd share a little bit of what I discovered about a bizarre man named Eugen Steinach. (Well, I don't know if he was bizarre himself, but his experiments certainly were.)

Steinach was fascinated by sex hormones, and in 1912 and 1913 began experime…