31 March 2007

A Little List

Lists always grab my attention. They are potential stories, full of possibilities between their items. I love to move the pieces around in my imagination and see what sorts of sounds and shapes they produce. Restrictions on lists particularly appeal to me -- what constraints do they have to meet? How creatively do they meet them? Personal lists are fun, too, in what they reveal about the list-maker. (Many fine writers -- Thomas Disch and Gilbert Sorrentino come immediately to mind -- have used lists to great effect in their work, efficiently and amusingly revealing much about characters and situations, attitudes and moments.)

By clicking through various webpages without reading very carefully, I somehow ended up at this collection of lists of what short stories writers would include in an introductory level course on "the short story". From the lists, I started evaluating not only which writers I would like to take a class with, but which writers' lists made me curious to read their own fiction. Some of the lists are staid, predictable, and unimaginative, and fairly or unfairly I imagined the list-makers' own stories as likely to be similar, while other lists (e.g. those of Lynn Coady, Peter Darbyshire, Tony Burgess, Tim Conley, and a few others) are marvelous.

And then I got to thinking that it would be fun to make a list of some sort, because I haven't for a while. Something a little odd, perhaps. After a nanosecond or so of thought, I came up with this idea: A list of 5 stories that I wish I had read sooner than I did -- stories that might have helped me become a better writer or thinker or person or something, stories that I wish I could put in a time machine and send back to myself before I first encountered them. I decided to add another criterion: Each story must be available online. So here we go...
  • "The School" by Donald Barthelme. A story I read out loud every year to my students, which probably is a sign of some sort of dementia, but it reads aloud so well, and it's a perfect blend of humor and horror, absurdity and profundity. I first read it in college, I think, or maybe a little later. I would have loved encountering it in high school -- it might have sparked a more complex passion for fiction than I had then.

  • "Ward No. 6" by Anton Chekhov. I dithered between including this or including "Gusev", which is, I think, a better story, but I settled on "Ward No. 6" because I would like to send this story back to get myself to read Chekhov's fiction sooner. I developed a love for his plays my freshman year of college, but it took much longer for me to learn to appreciate his short stories. Partly, I think this happened because I started with the wrong stories -- I started with "The Kiss" and a few others that are lovely but not stories I really feel passionate about even now. "Ward No. 6" has, for Chekhov, a relatively strong plot, and it's a brilliantly rich and thorough tale, wonderously and intricately constructed.

  • "The Golem" by Avram Davidson. I first read this story three years ago. I'd read other Davidson stories and enjoyed them, but it wasn't until I read "The Golem" that I sought out every Davidson book I could find. It was, for whatever reason, exactly the right story to make me not only appreciate his work, but adore it.

  • "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" by Kelly Link. I don't know what the first Kelly Link story I read was, but it was probably this one, though it might have been "Louise's Ghost". Whichever one it was, it wasn't nearly soon enough. Link is a writer I wish I'd paid attention to when she first began publishing, because just about at that time -- the mid to late 1990s -- was when I was not finding much contemporary fiction that excited me. I finally picked up a copy of Stranger Things Happen, her first collection, after numerous people told me I would love it. I realized then that for years I had had a copy of the issue of Century magazine with her story "Water Off a Black Dog's Back" in it, but had never bothered to read it. Stupid me!

  • "A Country Doctor" by Franz Kafka. Though I discovered Kafka when fairly young, I focused mainly on things like "The Metamorphosis" and the novels. I somehow missed "A Country Doctor" and first read it, I think, five or six years ago after reading something William Gass wrote about it, though I don't remember where or quite what he said. In any case, the story was a revelation, different in feeling from a lot of Kafka's other work, and so beautifully constructed. I think it's the sort of story I would have puzzled over for hours and hours when I was a teenager, and I would have enjoyed that experience immensely.
This exercise was harder than I expected it would be, because so few of the stories I would have wanted on such a list were available online. Normally, I would find choosing 5 stories to be nearly impossible -- choosing 50 would be hard enough -- but the limitation of having online texts made it much simpler, though not as representative of certain techniques and ideas as I would like. Nonetheless, an interesting list, at least for me.

25 March 2007

BAF: The Contents

It gives me great pleasure to be able to announce the contents for the first edition of Best American Fantasy. Head on over to the BAF blog to see. (We'll also be posting excerpts from Ann & Jeff's introduction in a few days.)

BAF represents a tremendous amount of work by a lot of different people, especially Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, who have been tireless readers and organizers. Advance review copies will be going out in a week or two, and the book is currently available for pre-order from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Hog Wrangler

I am at the moment looking for a new job, because I've been at my current one for long enough, and so it is possible, even likely, that I will be saying goodbye to my beloved New Hampshire. Stories like this one make me all the more reluctant to go, because where else will I find a state where the former governor -- a man who was once the Chief of Staff to the great and powerful President George H.W. Bush; a man who co-hosted that fine contribution to American culture known as "Crossfire" -- accepts and celebrates his latest official title: Hog Reeve of Hampton Falls.

23 March 2007

BAF: The Preface

We'll be posting the table of contents for Best American Fantasy in the next few days, and in preparation for that I've put my preface up on the blog. Next week, we'll also be posting the version of Ann & Jeff's introduction that Jeff read at the AWP Conference.

22 March 2007

The Genizah at the House of Shepher by Tamar Yellin

Jeff VanderMeer has reported that Tamar Yellin is the first recipient of the $100,000 Jewish Book Council Award for her first novel, The Genizah at the House Of Shepher. This is excellent news, indeed, and I thought I would take the opportunity to reprint here a review of the book that I wrote for the Summer 2005 print edition of Rain Taxi:

Now that we live in an age when all codes decipher to Da Vinci, it is difficult to approach a novel like The Genizah at the House of Shepher on its own terms, because here we have a story of religious scholars and lost Bibles and intrigues of mysticism, the bare plot of which might suggest the author was gunning for bestseller lists and Hollywood. But Tamar Yellin's first novel is not a thriller, nor will it appeal to anyone looking for grand conspiracy theories. It is, instead, a family memoir wrought in fiction, a contemplation of history and fate, a mishmash amalgam of memories and myths.

"Genizah" is the Yiddish word for a place where manuscripts (generally defective or damaged) are stored. Shepher is the name of the family whose history is chronicled by Shulamit, great-granddaughter of Shalom Shepher, the greatest corrector of scrolls in Lithuania and a man who may have made contact with one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Shulamit, a British biblical scholar, returns to her family's home in Israel to learn about the codex that has been discovered in the attic of the house, a codex that may be the most perfect extant text of the Hebrew bible, or it may be a fake. She lays out the family history in glimpses and puzzle pieces, paralleling the story of her visit to Jerusalem with shards from the Shepher past.

Early in the novel, Shulamit says, "The line of tension between choice and chance is the thread by which the miracle of existence hangs," and this idea becomes the foundation of each of the novel's short chapters, as Shulamit explores not only her family's history, but her own relationship to it. She is a curiously hollow person, someone who has fought against the emotions of her life by drowning herself in the minutia of scholarship, afraid of her sense of dislocation and longing, unsure of her own motivations and desires. It is only toward the end of the book that Shulamit's own personal history is revealed in any detail, though by then it is too late, because having been merely a conduit for her family's story up to that point, it is difficult for her to attract much attention, and so she dissolves into the haze of the book's last pages.

The Genizah at the House of Shepher is a magnificently crafted novel, with each paragraph seemingly placed with tremendous care, each sentence polished to a metallic shine. It is not a difficult book to admire, but the hollowness at Shulamit's core prevents much emotional connection to her or the story, and so the reader is placed in Shulamit's own position, left to analyze and weigh the evidence presented, to sift the stories and weed through the myths with even more objectivity than Shulamit herself possesses (being, as she is, a part of the tale). Unlike a mystery story where the resolution provides the most pleasure, here we have a story where few mysteries are definitively resolved, little is truly in jeopardy, and the pleasure comes not from the cessation of suspense, but from the intellectual journey offered.

21 March 2007

Thanks to SciFi.com

I just discovered that The Mumpsimus (that is, here) is SciFi.com's Site of the Week this week. Wow -- with all the great SF sites out there, I'm thrilled and humbled to have this one chosen. Thanks to A.M. Dellamonica for the kind words. Now I've got to try to write some posts to live up to them!

The Delany Piles

Yesterday I delivered a rough draft of my master's thesis about Samuel Delany to the professors reading it for comment, and in my excitement at having a draft done I decided to pile most of the books I've been using for research on my couch and take a picture of them before returning some of them to the library and friends I borrowed them from:Together like that they don't feel as immense and encompassing as they did when I had them scattered all around me as I wrote...

As it exists right now, the thesis is about Delany's novels from The Jewels of Aptor through Dhalgren, plus some substantial bits about his early critical essays. I ended up emphasizing the importance of the pornographic novels Equinox and Hogg more than I thought I would when I began, but Equinox seemed to me a pivotal novel separating the pre- and post-Nova books, and Hogg I decided to compare to Dhalgren, because the two books were written almost simultaneously and share some elements; more importantly, I thought, they illustrate a lot about Delany's ideas of reading strategies, because both books exploit and confound the tools readers use to make sense of them.

I expect to have more to say once I've rethought and revised the thesis ... at the moment, I'm just relieved to have one phase of this project complete. Now I can try to catch up with all the emails I owe people and all the other reading I need to do...

15 March 2007

"Finding rhymes is hard for diseases"

Tom Waits:
This project that they’re doing in England…I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen, but they said, "pick a disease" and they had this long list of these terrible diseases, and they want you to write a song about this disease, then they’re going to put it all on a record. It’s just gotten out of hand. I didn’t want to get involved. I just said, "No, I can’t pick a disease." Scurvy is a disease. Finding rhymes is hard for diseases. Scurvy. What rhymes with scurvy? "She had scurvy, but she was so curvy…" That’s not going to fly.
Sounds like he needs Dr. Lambshead.

Kwani? Fiction Online

In writing the previous post about Sunday Salon, I realized I hadn't checked the Kwani? website for a while, and lo and behold -- they've got fiction from Kwani? 4 online! Not only that, but among the stories are "The Obituary Man" by Muthoni Garland and "The Other Side of Knowing" by Dayo Forster, both of whom will be reading on Sunday night at the Salon.

Sunday Readings in Nairobi and New York

The good people of New York's Sunday Salon are branching out, and this week will offer readings not only in Brooklyn, but also Nairobi (and next week, as usual, in Chicago). (Alas, I can't make it to any of them, but maybe some of you out there can...)

The line-up for Sunday night in Nairobi includes Dayo Forster, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Muthoni Garland and Stanley Gazemba. (Bios here. The only one whose work I know is Muthoni's, because for a few days she was part of our workshop when I was at the SLS/Kwani? LitFest conference. In fact, I think she was the person who first told me to read Going Down River Road...)

And the line-up in Brooklyn includes Kate Hunter, Mitch Levenberg, Shelley Marlow, Jeffrey Renard Allen, and musical guest Eric McEntee. (Bios here.)

12 March 2007

Predicting Morons

Ben Bova thinks more people should read science fiction because it's good at predicting things, and as an example of this he gives C.M. Kornbluth's 1951 story "The Marching Morons".

While I do think more people should read science fiction, it's not because of its predictive powers. Rather, SF at its best offers a kind of literature that is different from others, that presents a different way of thinking about language and life (yes, I've been reading a lot of Delany recently). Its "predictions" are less about the future than about the present, about how we live and why, about what it means to exist in an environment saturated with and determined by technology, about -- well, all sorts of things. But prediction's just about the least of it.

Kornbluth was a satirist, and his sort of satire goes back at least as far as Jonathan Swift, who also wrote about worlds where idiots of one sort or another had taken control of everything. (Isn't that the meta-text of most satire?)

Bova says, "The point that Kornbluth makes is simple, and scary: dumbbells have more children than geniuses."

Basically, Kornbluth is advocating eugenics. Here it is in his words, with one of the genius few explaining to a man from 1988 (who has been preserved in suspended animation by an experimental dental anasthetic) why things in the twenty-first century are as bad as they are:
...while you and your kind were being prudent and foresighted and not having children, the migrant workers, slum dwellers, and tenant farmers were shiftlessly and short-sightedly having children -- breeding, breeding. My God, how they bred! [...] Your intelligence was bred out. It is gone. Children that should have been born never were. The just-average, they'll-get-along majority took over the population. The average IQ now is forty-five.
Or we could look at Kornbluth's 1950 story "The Little Black Bag":
After twenty generations of shilly-shallying and "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," genus homo had bred himself into an impasse. Dogged biometricians had pointed out with irrefutable logic that mental subnormals were outbreeding mental normals and supernormals, and that the process was occurring on an exponential curve. Every fact that could be mustered in the argument proved the biometricians' case, and led inevitably to the conclusion that genus homo was going to wind up in a preposterous jam quite soon. If you think that had any effect on breeding practices, you do not know genus homo.
There is a Straussian strain to science fiction, a desire for rule by an enlightened elite (of which, of course, the proponents inevitably consider themselves members), and Kornbluth's "Marching Morons", as entertaining as its vision of a future of idiots can be, offers grotesque flattery to its readers, saying: You who read this story are not morons, of course. You would be with the elite. The story asks us to laugh at the "moron" characters, it puts us in a position of superiority to them, it lets us feel the euphoria of power over them. By the end, it gives us a choice: disagree with its premises, or agree with them and side with the genocidal desires of the story's final pages.

Interestingly, Kornbluth wasn't advocating a racially-based program of eugenics. He goes out of his way to show in "The Marching Morons" that idiocy and genius are not limited to one particular race. No, stupid people and brilliant people come from all over, in all shapes and colors. It's just about intelligence. And class. (How do we know someone is stupid? They're a migrant worker, slum-dweller, or tenant farmer.)

In his introduction to The Best of C.M. Kornbluth, Frederick Pohl says,
I have seen criticism directed against "The Marching Morons," including a quite recent article that points out it is bad genetics (the plot implies that the tendency of lower-class families to be larger than upper-class ones is selective breeding for dumbness). True. But I have also had grown men say to me, with tears in their eyes, that "The Marching Morons" was the best story of any kind they had ever read, and that it had changed their lives. What the story warns against is not the degradation of the human germ plasm, but the degradation of human life, by cheapening values and substituting what is meretricious for what is true.
Well, no, not really. The story does warn against "the degradation of the human germ plasm" -- what Pohl might have meant is that it doesn't only do that. And that could be a good argument. But any argument for the strengths of "The Marching Morons" -- and I think Kornbluth was a good writer for his time -- has got to take into account its advocacy of eugenics and, perhaps more importantly, how that advocacy has held an appeal for many science fiction fans over the decades. After all, "The Little Black Bag" was included in the the first volume of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and "The Marching Morons" in the second.

It's unfortunate that as experienced and intelligent a writer as Ben Bova would advocate SF for its predictive powers (Peter Nicholls wrote in the entry on "Prediction" in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: "The most widespread false belief about sf among the general public is that it is a literature of prediction. ... For every correct prediction a dozen were wrong, or correct only if facts are stretched a little...").

Instead, perhaps Bova should could have said that SF is a marvelous tool for satire. He still could have recommended "The Marching Morons", but perhaps he might have paired it with some other texts ... for instance, Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream and Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos . The latter is all about the problems that humans' "big brains" have caused; the former is a science fiction novel by Adolf Hitler.

Hav by Jan Morris

Strange Horizons has now posted my review of Hav by Jan Morris (not currently available in the U.S., but the U.K. edition is available for a relatively good price and free worldwide shipping via The Book Depository).

I wasn't sure about Hav when I first started reading it, but once I began to figure out what Morris was up to, it became fascinating, and I read and reread parts of it many times. It often felt like reading Leena Krohn's Tainaron, although Hav is less overtly fantastical than Tainaron.

There are some interesting bits about the original Hav book, Last Letters From Hav (now incorporated, with "Hav of the Myrmidons" into Hav), at this postcolonialism site.

11 March 2007

Illyria by Elizabeth Hand

a guest review by Craig Laurance Gidney

It was less like building a house than like colonizing an island, this freakish, lovely and marvelous atoll that rose from gray wasteland of St. Brendan’s High School like some extravagant Atlantis we’d willed into being. All of our previous alliances and identities were tossed aside—jock, freak, egghead, cheerlead and anonymous. (pg. 76)
Back in the early 80s, when I was fourteen, I was in a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. While I did not get the part I wanted (Ariel), I remember the days leading up to the 3 day engagement as halcyon. The time spent preparing for the play is one of those perfect bubbles of euphoria that we all strive to recreate. That brief moment in time was key to crystallization of my identity. Joining a stage production is like entering a rarified world, where everyone agrees to create an alternate reality out of a spellbook -- a script. (And Shakespeare is surely the greatest of those enchanters). Elizabeth Hand’s brief novella Illyria evokes the power of theater and its effect on performers.

Set in the late seventies in upstate New York, Illyria charts the artistic destinies of Rogan and Madeleine Tierney. Madeleine is the narrator in the story. She and Rogan, in a Shakespeare-worthy conceit, are soul twins -- he is the last child in a line of boys, she is the last in a line of girls, and both were born on the same day in the same year. They are both descendants of a great stage actress from the turn of the century (modeled after Sarah Bernhardt), and their mingled families have set up a colony of sorts in a small town on the Hudson River. Both Rogan and Maddy have the theatrical gene, which has skipped the rest of the Tierney family, and they are drawn to each other. Their relationship knows no boundaries, and, indeed, has a sexual aspect to it. Maddy adores Rogan, who is a wild child with a mercurial streak. She sees herself as the moon to his brilliant sun, and often saves him from going supernova.
Rogan looked like he’d fallen from a painting... His hair was reddish-gold... He had cheekbones in a feline face -- not like a housecats; more like a cougar or a lynx, something strong and furtive and quick. (pg. 13)
One day, in a secret crawlspace in Rogan’s room, they find a toy theater trapped within the drywall.
Inside the wall was a toy theater, made of folded paper and gilt cardboard and scraps of brocade and lace…Thumbnail sized masks of Comedy and Tragedy hung from the proscenium arch, and a frieze of Muses that looked as though it had been painted with a single hair. (pg. 28)
This mysterious theater glows with magical lights and possesses strange power -- at one point, it even snows glitter. The theater awakens both Rogan and Maddy’s nascent talents. Their Aunt Kate (called by Rogan, ominously, Aunt Fate) recognizes their talents and begins to nurture them. Both cousins end up in a high school production of the Bard’s Twelfth Night that forever changes them, and seals their fates. If Maddy is an actress, Rogan is the wild heart of the artist. He has the same dark energy of Rimbaud or Jim Morrison. Maddy performs the role of Viola, while Rogan becomes the Fool Feste. He brings the text to life.

While some knowledge of the play adds depth to Hand's story, the Shakespearean references mostly add texture. Illyria is the setting of Twelfth Night, a surreal landscape hermetically sealed from the rest of the world, where a set of twins find love and adventure. This mirrors Maddy and Rogan’s unorthodox relationship, and fuels it. Hand's story is primarily a bildungsroman in the realistic mode, though it is infused with fantastic elements, such as the magic toy theater and a not-always-benevolent fairy godmother. It’s a uniquely American take on similarly-themed works by Angela Carter or Jeanette Winterson, a sort of "mythic reality" fiction. As usual, Hand’s prose has a feverish quality where emotions and gestures are epic, and archetypes lurk just beneath the skin. On a deeper level, Illyria shows that talent is like an amoral force of nature, with the power to create and destroy.

I remember that play I was in long ago: How the actress who played Ariel went on to become a renowned scholar of Spanish literature, while the actor who played Caliban reportedly went through a dark, self-destructive period. Maddy sips from the fountain of inspiration, while Rogan drowns in it. Illyria asks the reader if artistic obsession is a gift or a curse, and leaves the question unanswered.

09 March 2007

Phillips Wins NBCC Award for Tiptree Bio

What phenomenal news: Julie Phillips's biography of James Tiptree/Alice Sheldon has won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography!

Awards frustrate me for lots of different reasons, but this news just made my day.


I'm a die-hard Terry Gilliam fan, so would have seen Tideland at the first opportunity no matter what, but even if I weren't a Terry Gilliam fan, how could I not be intrigued by the reviews it got -- "You watch the film feeling abused and exploited", "ugly visuals and even more unpleasant behavior", "easily the worst production Gilliam has ever been involved in", "has the effect of a prolonged shriek", "virtually unwatchable", "borderline unwatchable", "unwatchable", "squirmingly unwatchable", "one of the most stunning mistakes of the first decade of the 21st century", "It might be said that [Gilliam's] imagination knows no boundaries; it might be good if he found some."

Even though I have a certain perverse pleasure whenever I can disagree with just about everybody, I still went into Tideland with pretty low expectations, because ... well, I'd seen The Brothers Grimm. But I didn't hate The Brothers Grimm. I just thought it was slack and all over the place and unsatisfying. It had moments of marvel and wonder, which is what I most look for in Gilliam movies, but there weren't nearly enough of them, and they didn't add up to much -- it felt like Gilliam-lite.

Tideland, on the other hand, feels like what might happen if Gilliam took over a film directed by David Lynch from a screenplay by Tennessee Williams. The nasty reviews are hyperbolic, but it's certainly easy enough to see why Tideland caused some strongly negative reactions: much of the subject matter is pretty repulsive (not everybody's all that excited by human taxidermy, for instance), the pacing is generally slow, the characters are over-the-top even for Gilliam, and lots of nastiness is seen through a child's naive perspective.

I wouldn't say I'm going to rush out to watch Tideland again, but I'm also not as ready as many reviewers to call it a horrific mess. Too many images have remained with me for days after seeing the movie for me to dismiss it as worthless. And not just the repulsive stuff, either.

The film tells the story of a little girl named Jeliza-Rose, whose parents are junkies, and who goes off into the Midwestern wilderness when her mother dies and her father decides to flee. They live in the house Jeliza-Rose's father grew up in, now abandoned and vandalized and rotting, until everything gets much weirder. There's an element of grand guignol comedy to much of what happens, but the best moments are an unsettling mix of comedy, nausea, and tenderness. It's ridiculously sentimental and yet also oddly not, because though Gilliam's idea of childhood is as syrupy as Hallmark, his imagery continually undermines the syrup with castor oil. (Some of the most effective props are severed doll heads.)

I don't have any good way to sum up my feelings about the movie, and so I will now change the subject and send you off to read Matt Zoller Seitz's review of Zodiac, a movie I saw today and thought was okay but not amazing. The insights in Seitz's review make me want to see it again, though, because I think there's more there than I perceived on a first viewing. (Mostly, I thought it was a lesser version of an approach to police procedural stories that the excellent Korean movie Memories of Murder handled with more depth. Because Seitz saw vastly more in Zodiac than I did, I'm now curious to watch it again with his perspective in mind.)

06 March 2007

On Being Interstitial

There is a now a blog associated with Interfictions, an anthology in which I have a story. The anthology is the first from the Interstitial Arts Foundation, and I'm looking forward quite a lot to reading it, because I really don't know what "interstitial fiction" looks like.

Niall Harrison has pronounced himself an interstitial skeptic, and there's been interesting discussion in the comments to the post.

Here's what I submitted when asked for an introduction to my story that would explain how it is interstitial:
Today the only labels I like for what I write are Wishes and Exorcisms. Sometimes the two labels overlap, like searchlights finding each other in a dark sky.

A few months before he died in 1904, Anton Chekhov wrote to his wife, an actress in Moscow. He was forty-four years old, living in Yalta, and in the last stages of tuberculosis, a disease he had suffered from for almost half his life, a disease that had claimed his brother, Nikolai, in 1889. He wrote, "You ask: What is life? That's just like asking: What is a carrot? A carrot is a carrot, and that's all we know."

I want my stories to be like life, which means I want them to be like carrots, which means each story is a story, and that's all we know.
In some ways, I was being coy. In more ways, I was being honest.

But I wrote the story for the anthology, and so at a very basic level of definition it is interstitial, because I wrote it with the book in mind, it was accepted by the editors, and will now appear with that label attached to it. It will be read as an example of something that I can't define, and I love the weirdness of that. Before writing the story, I read everything I could find about what "interstitial" meant to the IAF, and I still really couldn't put my finger on it, so I decided to take the word literally and write a story that crossed as many borders as I could think of while writing it. Writing it felt similar to writing "The Art of Comedy", and I think of the two stories as part of a sort of loose trilogy for which I haven't yet written the third piece.

"Interstitial fiction", then, has been useful to me as a way of creating a story I might not otherwise have created, and the term opened up a space -- the anthology -- in which that story could appear. More than that I would not want to claim for the term, though I'm certainly not opposed to people doing so. We all have different levels of comfort with labels. Whenever I encounter a label or definition of any sort, I have an overwhelming urge to find its exceptions and limitations. This could be a form of psychosis rather than a valid critical instinct.

Any label a reader encounters for a story will affect how that story is read, and so labels offer both a way of seeing and a way of not seeing. I hope the label of "interstitial" will help readers notice all the border-crossings in my story, because I think that will make it a richer reading experience than it would be otherwise, but I know, too, that the label will obscure things within the story. But things get obscured for all sorts of reasons, and no reading is ever comprehensive. I'm too much of a postmodernist to believe in any sort of "pure" reading. My hope would be that the stories could live both with and without the label, that they could acquire other labels and other ways of reading, that their meanings could expand and multiply, gaining richness and power. Without delineations we could see nothing -- we have to be able to say this is this and not that, we have to be able to distinguish, but there is no need to let the tools of distinguishing become chains. We need labels to show us what we would not see otherwise, but when the labels become more blinding than enlightening, they must be cast aside -- and any honest label-maker would, I hope, agree.

05 March 2007


Because I've been using Google Reader to create the Fresh Links list on the sidebar here, I haven't done a post of links for a long time. But it's lively out in the internets these days, so herewith some new things interspersed with some things I've put up on Fresh Links within the last few weeks...

03 March 2007

BAF: Recommended Reading

While we're not able to release the table of contents for Best American Fantasy quite yet, we are happy to launch the BAF blog today with our list of 25 recommended stories that for one reason or another are not included in the book itself, though each story was seriously discussed for possible inclusion, and we spent almost as much time determining the recommended list as we did the final contents of the anthology.

We'll be using the BAF blog for occasional updates, and, once we get closer to the June publication date of the book, I hope we'll be able to offer some fun extras. In the meantime, congratulations to all of the authors and publishers of stories on the recommended list. If we learned anything by putting the book together this year, it's that there is an extraordinary amount of excellent fiction out there -- far more than could fit in one anthology -- and it comes in a tremendous variety of forms and styles.