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Showing posts from July, 2006

Summer Break

Time for a break. I'm in the midst of various writing projects, preparations for the upcoming school year, etc. Also, rehearsals for a production of Twelfth Night (I'm playing Sebastian; the director has cast many of us against type, so I have to play a virile, masculine guy. And had to shave my beard. If you're anywhere near Sandwich, NH on August 8-13, stop by the outdoor stage at the Fairgrounds at 2pm to see the show.)

Because of all this busy-ness, I will try to refrain from posting anything here at least until the middle of August. I've got an interview with Juliet Ulman (senior editor at Bantam) in the works, and will post that whenever we get around to finishing it; also, I'll probably make an appearance or two at the LitBlog Co-op, but otherwise I expect this site will be dormant for at least a couple weeks.

Here, then, as a parting, are some new links:The Little Professor on the Dozois and Hartwell/Cramer Year's Best collections.
John Joseph Adams

Bryher

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Paris Press has been bringing out books by Bryher, a writer who was in danger of disappearing beneath the shadow of her partner, the poet H.D., but Bryher's own work deserves and rewards attention.

I've just turned in a review of The Player's Boy and The Heart to Artemis: A Writer's Memoirs to Rain Taxi for their next issue, but there were a few things I didn't have space to say, and wanted to add here.

The Player's Boy is a historical novel about a theatrical apprentice in England from 1605-1626, and while it's worth reading (and more substantial, I thought, than the first Paris Press reprint of Bryher's work, Visa For Avalon), it's minor in comparison to The Heart to Artemis, which is one of the most compelling memoirs I've read. The notable thing about Heart to Artemis is that it is most interesting in the sections that seem least likely to be interesting -- while the portraits of various notable Modernists are well written, Bryher's insis…

A Sign

Every now and then I get (or, rather, interpret) a sign that I've been reading too much academic writing. Today's was when I heard the following lyrics from a song by Mason Jennings:when all the world turns into hospitals and jails
i can always count on your love to be my bailand my very first thought was, "It's a Foucauldian love song!"

Emerald City 131

Cheryl Morgan has posted the latest issue of Emerald City online, and it's a particularly fun issue, because she offers an editorial on reviewing and bribes and, within the context of a review of Charles Stross's new novel, essentialism (which ties in rather well with the Adam Roberts post at The Valve that I linked to earlier).

I often get frustrated with reviews that go off on a philosophical or political tangent based on the thematic content of a novel, but in this case I like how Cheryl handled it -- we get a sense of the book, her perception of its strengths and weaknesses, and then a mini-essay about essentialism, which makes the review itself a provocative read. Now I look forward to sitting back and watching how people respond to her ideas...

All You Need are Links

PKD and Style

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I've been making my way through Carl Freedman's Critical Theory and Science Fiction recently, and though it's admirably ambitious, it seems, so far at least, mired in predictable academic Marxism, and Freedman's attempt to show that critical theory (from Kant till now) can be an outgrowth of science fiction and vice versa leads him toward some conclusions that seem to me (at least right now, and perhaps superficially) silly.

For instance, one section of the book is titled "The Critical Dynamic: Science Fiction and Style" and it attempts to show that the style of Philip K. Dick is not, as many of us have thought, in most cases rather clumsy, but is, instead, a kind of apotheosis of critical style, a perfection in and of itself. (I suppose it would be easy to believe this if you spend most of your time reading academic journals. Dick's sentences would, indeed, seem a revelation of clarity and eloquence.) The annoying part of the discussion is that Freedma…

Kafka Gass

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The August issue of Harper's includes an extraordinary essay by William Gass about Franz Kafka. Ostensibly, the essay is a review of Reiner Stach's Kafka: The Decisive Years, but Gass decided to approach it with a conceit that only a writer as brave and skilled as he could succeed with: he writes from the point of view of Kafka's writerly self, conflating it with Kafka's fictions, and beginning thus:I awoke one morning to find myself transformed. I had been a man, but a man who was treated by my parents and my sister like a bug. Perhaps I was not so much an insect at my office; perhaps I was something else there, a blotter or a trash basket. Perhaps, like a bum, I was warned not to loiter when I was out on the avenue, or, while traveling on the train, I became just another newspaper or another sample case. Perhaps, to my boss, I was a worm. At home, however, a bug was what I was, a bug in a bed, a bedbug, sperm of the kind you could find hidden in my name -- Greg…

LBC Summer

The summer pick of the LitBlog Co-Op has been announced, and it is Michael Martone by Michael Martone. The other books nominated for the Read This choice will be noted and discussed in the coming weeks.

For whatever reason, I was pretty indifferent to all of the nominees this round, so probably won't be saying too much, though during Michael Martone week I will at least put up a post asking for help understanding what people found so engaging about the book, since it was probably my least favorite of them all. (And then at the end of the quarter, I'll get to have a bit of revenge, because I was a nominator for the fall, and my nomination, along with two others, will be revealed. Bwahahahahaha!)

Total Eclipse by John Brunner

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I read John Brunner's 1974 novel Total Eclipse primarily because Fredric Jameson has praised it numerous times, and I was curious what might have captured Jameson's interest, since he's one of the most influential cultural philosophers alive and also happens to have a considerable and long-standing interest in science fiction.

Jameson listed Total Eclipse as unjustly neglected in a survey by Science Fiction Studies, and in "Shifting Contexts of Science Fiction Theory" he finds "the climactic moments" to be "extraordinary" and says the appeal of such books as Total Eclipse for him is that they "turn on the experience of discovery". He mentions Total Eclipse in his latest book, Archaeologies of the Future, where he calls it a "beautiful and melancholy fable" and notes how it works on multiple levels as an allegory and is distinctive for its focus on linguistic deductions about an alien civilization.

Contrast Jameson's opin…

Fantasy Magazine Interviews

I had begun to wonder whether the second and third issues of Fantasy magazine would ever exist as anything other than PDFs for reviewers, but the second and third issues were released simultaneously just in time for Readercon, and they are apparently now available via Clarkesworld Books. I have interviews in both; here are excerpts:

Theodora Goss:The best prose writing will have poetry in it, and the best poem will contain elements of prose. Fantasy and realism are also on a continuum. They are not literary genres but ways of writing, and even of approaching the world. I believe that we, as writers, have two opposite impulses: to describe our world as accurately as possible, that is, to represent, and to create something that we have never seen before, to imagine. Every story contains fantasy and realism, in different proportions. Pure fantasy: perhaps that would look like one of Lord Dunsany's dreamscapes, where nothing in particular happens but everything the narrator descr…

Maps and Fantasy

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There are so many unquestioned assumptions and shallow statements in a new article at Strange Horizons, "The Reader and the Map", that it would be exhausting to detail them all, and they're suffiently obvious that I doubt I really need to. Nonetheless, the topic of maps in books is an interesting one in some ways, and my frustration with the essay mostly stems from wishing the material had been treated with more depth and insight.

The first book review I ever published was in the fanzine Niekas when I was in my mid-teens, a review of L.E. Modesitt's The Magic of Recluce, a glowing review that, if I remember correctly, made only one criticism: that the book didn't have a map. I was not a regular reader of fantasy novels at the time (I was a science fiction snob; I read Recluce because I knew the writer and he'd assured me it was a rational, scientific fantasy novel, a fantasy novel written by a science fiction writer), but I was a regular player of role-playi…

DeNiro Events

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Alan DeNiro is running around giving readings from his marvelous first collection of stories, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead (about a third of which is available as a handy PDF here). It's great fun to hear Alan read (and if you bribe him appropriately, he might even try to read in Dave Schwartz's famous Minnesota accent), so if you're anywhere near these events, don't miss them:Tonight (7/10) at 8pm at Amherst Books in Amherst, MA
Tomorrow night (7/11) at 7pm at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA with the incomparable Theodora Goss and Kelly Link.
Tuesday July 18 at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis. This is the official book-launch party. The Small Beer Press site lists the time as 7pm, but the Magers & Quinn site lists it as 1am, so I don't know what to tell you. Show up at both times. Wear a funny hat. Speak in tongues.And if this isn't enough DeNiro for you, check out his Rain Taxireview of Paraspheres. (By the way, the article he cites …

Random Thoughts Post-Readercon

Unlike last year, I didn't take any notes during Readercon this year, so I don't have much to report, and I'm wary of mentioning too many specific people, because I know I'll forget a few important ones and end up feeling guilty, which I'm already feeling for not being able to write a more interesting post about Readercon, and much as I like it, I really don't need more guilt.

It was a pleasure to meet people I'd not had the chance to meet before and to catch up with friends I hadn't seen in a while. I'd tell you about some of the treasures I got in the dealer's room, but then I'd feel guilty for causing jealousy and being generally boastful. I'd tell you that one of the highlights of the con for me was learning to play Mafia (Michael Cisco will never trust me for the rest of my life; Laird Barron is a brilliant Mafia player), but that might make it sound like I didn't appreciate the various panels and readings I went to, or the gre…

Infodump Assumptions

I've been wondering about exposition recently, particularly exposition of the infodump variety, wherein an author needs to convey a lot of information and does so by coming out and stating it. Telling vs. showing. Choosing efficiency over subtlety.

Here are some ideas, questions, and assumptions about exposition that could be entirely wrong, because I haven't really analyzed them very hard, but perhaps they will spark some discussion. I've numbered them for easy reference, not linearity.

1. It seems to me that an aversion to exposition in fiction may be a 20th century thing. Earlier literatures seemed more comfortable with it than 20th century literatures. If this assumption is correct, does the new aversion come from a move toward more verisimilitude in writing?

2. Why do infodumps feel unrealistic to us, particularly in dialogue? Much of what we say every day is expository. But transcribed into dialogue in a story, most of our expository conversations would feel un…

Transcendent by Stephen Baxter

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reviewed by Finn Dempster

The Die-back: a struggling Humanity's name for the gradual erosion of Earth's environment through global warming. The governments of this uncomfortably near future are taking partially successful steps to halt this, or at least to treat the symptoms, and most people, jaded middle-aged widower Michael Poole included, are content to accept this compromised solution. Poole is jolted out of his complacency by his son's near-fatal involvement in a Die-back induced explosion of hydrate gases under the Earth's polar caps, and he begins to investigate the possibility of using his engineering expertise to ease the struggling planet's burden ... a task made no easier by recurrent, fleeting visitations of his dead wife and a fraught relationship with his son.

Enough ingredients already for an dramatic tale, you might say, and I'd agree. Baxter goes somewhat further. Alongside Poole's story we get that of Alia, a teenage girl born on a spaceship…

Possible Futures of Indian/South Asian Speculative Fiction

A little while back, I got an email from Samit Basu, asking if I would be willing to be interviewed for a project he was working on about Indian and South Asian literature, speculative fiction, etc. My first thought was, "I am about as ignorant as it's possible to be on this subject," and my second thought was, "Well, let's give it a try," because I figured that even if I had nothing but ignorant statements to make, at least it would give people something to argue against, and maybe that would be worthwhile, because the topic of how fiction gets written, published, distributed, and read outside what I, at least, tend to think of as the major centers of publishing is one that is extremely important.

Samit did not merely interview me, but rather got a whole spectrum of people to respond, and the fascinating results can be accessed from here. The conversation will be continuing, as it should.

In Desperate Attempt to Create Content, Blogger Posts Links

Lacking anything even remotely interesting to say myself, I will now perform the traditional blogging ritual of sharing links to other people's stuff, much of which you've probably seen linked to by other people, but it's not like it's my problem that all you do all day is read blogs and follow links, so just shut up and--

Sorry -- I guess the Evil Monkey movie awoke some deeply buried reserve of hostility in me...Alex Ross on composer Gyorgi Ligeti
Classic Film Preview on the great Renoir films Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game (easily in my top 5, along with 20 other movies).
The University of Nebraska Press has a blog.
Andy Duncan has a blog.
NYRB: Tim Parks on Beckett, remembering Beckett, and after Beckett.
Edmund White on "The New Gay Fiction".
The Miami Herald discovers Borges.
Ron Silliman on rejecting genres.
Scott Esposito on Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano. (I read the book some years back while staying in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where it is set, for …

Kit Reed interview

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Nothing much happening around here today, but if you go over to SF Site, you'll find an interview with Kit Reed that I conducted, talking about writing and morality, her new novel The Baby Merchant, and biscotti. Among other things.