24 September 2010

World SF

Suddenly my RSS feeds are full of people posting the table of contents for the upcoming Apex Book of World SF vol. 2, and with good reason -- this is really an exciting ToC, at least at first glance:
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (Philippines)–Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life
Ivor W. Hartmann (Zimbabwe)–Mr. Goop
Daliso Chaponda (Malawi)–Trees of Bone
Daniel Salvo (Peru)–The First Peruvian in Space
Gustavo Bondoni (Argentina)–Eyes in the Vastness of Forever
Chen Qiufan (China)–The Tomb
Joyce Chng (Singapore)–The Sound of Breaking Glass
Csilla Kleinheincz (Hungary)–A Single Year
Andrew Drilon (Philippines)–The Secret Origin of Spin-man
Anabel Enriquez Piñeiro (Cuba)–Borrowed Time (trans. Daniel W. Koon)
Lauren Beukes (South Africa)–Branded
Raúl Flores Iriarte (Cuba)–December 8
Will Elliott (Australia)–Hungry Man
Shweta Narayan (India)–Nira and I
Fábio Fernandes (Brazil)–Nothing Happened in 1999
Tade Thompson (Nigeria)–Shadow
Hannu Rajaniemi (Finland)–Shibuya no Love
Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Mexico)–Maquech
Sergey Gerasimov (Ukraine)–The Glory of the World
Tim Jones (New Zealand)–The New Neighbours
Nnedi Okorafor (Nigeria/US)–From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7
Gail Har’even (Israel)–The Slows
Ekaterina Sedia (Russia)–Zombie Lenin
Samit Basu (India)–Electric Sonalika
Andrzej Sapkowski (Poland)–The Malady (trans. Wiesiek Powaga)
Jacques Barcia (Brazil)–A Life Made Possible Behind The Barricades
Wow -- it's rare that I encounter an SF anthology where I'm not familiar with at least half the writers' names, and it's hard for me to express how truly excited I am to see so few names that I know, along with some folks whose work I really respect.  I know lots of folks who buy anthologies because they are full of familiar names, and I do that, too, but the real excitement for me these days comes from anthologies that really seem to have put effort into mixing things up.  More exciting still is the global representation -- this really is, within the practical limits of any book, a world anthology.

I know what it takes to put an anthology together; it's always a lot of work, but this sort of international anthology usually requires even more work, so huge kudos to editor Lavie Tidhar and all the folks at Apex for being willing to put the effort, time, and resources into it.  I have no idea what I'll think of the individual stories, but I'm already grateful this book will exist, because international collections such as this help us all, I think, have a better perspective on literature and the world. 

For such collections to continue to exist, we're also going to need to buy them, and I hope folks will do so.  The Apex Book of World SF vol. 2 is scheduled for release next year; keep your eyes out!

21 September 2010

Film for the Day

Plastic Bag
written & directed by Ramin Bahrani
narrated by Werner Herzog

Catching Up with the Dream King

I'm doing a terrible job of posting links here to my Sandman Meditations column every week (following Gestalt Mash on Twitter is the easiest way to be updated).  We've finished with Preludes & Nocturnes and have now moved on to The Doll's House with "Tales in the Sand" and "The Doll's House".

I also wanted to mention that Tor.com recently reprinted one of my favorite Gaiman stories, "Bitter Grounds", a story I've admired since its first publication, and one I'm thrilled to see available online.

Gender and Science Fiction Crowdsource Question

I've just been approved to teach a class next term at Plymouth State University called "Gender and Science Fiction".  It's an upper-level Topics in Women's Studies course, open to any major.  I've been talking about such a course to my colleagues at the university for at least a year now, and so I'm very excited and have spent a lot of time coming up with possible syllabi.  I now have, I think, at least 5 years worth of material that I'd like to share and discuss in one term.

That, of course, is not possible, so I'm pruning and shaping and focusing.  For instance, perfect as Trouble on Triton is for such a course, I can't imagine spending less than a month on it, and I also think most of the students would still struggle unprofitably with it, because most will not, I expect, be experienced readers of science fiction, so it's unlikely I'll use it, or at least all of it.  (I do want to include some Delany, of course, but may go instead with Babel-17, some of the short stories, etc.)  I also don't want to include only obviously feminist work, but also some things like, perhaps, Starship Troopers (also interesting because of the film of it).  Gender doesn't have to be the obvious concern of the text for us to be able to have interesting conversations about gender/sexuality/etc. within it.

Anyway, I have some questions for all of you out there sliding through the intertubes.  Did a work of science fiction (and I am trying to stick to science fiction rather than fantasy) ever really blow your mind with regard to ideas of gender roles, family, sex, sexuality, etc.?  It's okay if it's something that's attained classic status and I'll have probably thought of already -- part of what I'm weighing is how to balance obvious classics and less obvious choices (Russ's The Female Man will be included no matter what, I expect, but I'm really torn between Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness and Four Ways to Forgiveness, a book I personally enjoy more).  I also have to keep reminding myself that most of the students will never have read any science fiction beyond, perhaps, a few YA novels or perennial classroom favorites like 1984...

And if you're especially interested in these sorts of questions and want to answer some additional ones, here's some extra credit: Did you ever learn anything about science or society that changed your view of gender roles, etc.?  How did you learn it?  Did you ever read an article about science, or a work of critical theory, that memorably expanded your view of gender roles, etc. when you were in your late teens / early 20s?  If you were to make all the undergraduates in the world read one text about gender roles, etc., what would that text be (nonfiction or fiction)?  Is there a movie that for you represents either the best or worst of representations of gender in science fiction?

Thanks in advance for the suggestions, thoughts, and shared experiences -- my primary goal is, as I mercilessly cull my lists, to keep myself from inadvertently tossing out something that I'd regret not having included.  I'll report here later on what shape the class takes...

Ultimate Libation Avian Cranium Award Nominations

Jeff VanderMeer has announced the second year of the Last Drink Bird Head Award nominations, and I was wondrous amazed to find myself listed there in the category of "Expanding Our Vocabulary: In recognition of writers whose nonfiction, through reviews, blogging, and/or essays, exposes readers to new words and, often, new ideas..."

The other nominees in the category are the sagacious Anil Menon, the acroatic Abigail Nussbaum, and the argute Adam Roberts -- lambent flames of intellect, each!

The nominees in the other categories are marvelous as well, and I do not envy the judges their judging, because I would never want to distinguish between such distinguished folks -- in all of the categories, the nominees are people I read with great pleasure and from whom I've learned a lot over the years.

Now I must go back to poring over lexical tomes, preparing to vanquish my rivals in the grand mudwrestling-while-reciting-the-OED event that will, I'm told, determine the true winner...

16 September 2010


Elif Batuman's London Review of Books essay "Get a Real Degree", which is partly a review of Mark McGurl's The Program Era, a book I read a year or so ago, has been getting a lot of notice on the intertubes.  Because it's been a year since I looked at McGurl's book, I won't really address Batuman's analysis of it; my memories of The Program Era are just vague impressions at this point -- I found the discussion of Raymond Carver and Joyce Carol Oates especially interesting; disliked the charts and some of the jargon; thought many of the discussions/evaluations of individual writers were idiosyncratic and distracting (what McGurl says about Nabokov seemed so bizarre to me as to be humorous); was grateful for some of the research, but finished feeling that it was only touching the tip of a gigantic iceberg, and that, for instance, it was incomplete without any mention whatsoever of the parallel and complementary evolution of composition studies alongside workshop practices, though that may just be because my undergrad degree is from UNH, where Donald Murray's shadow loomed large.  For a good dissection of Batuman's representation/distortion of McGurl's book, see Andrew Seal's excellent blog post on the subject.

I felt about Batuman's review much of what I felt about The Program Era itself -- that interesting insights were again and again undercut by something under-analyzed, simplified, or distorted.  Mostly, I'm just tired of people complaining about some monolithic thing called "MFA writers" and their boring books/stories.  It's a straw man argument, because to be convincing (to me, at least) a critic must show that a giant glob of the fiction being published in the U.S. today is 1.) boring; 2.) boring because of the effect of writing workshops on the writer -- that, in fact, this writer would be less boring had she or he studied investment banking.

Batuman and I agree that much of the fiction published today is uninteresting.  We definitely disagree about which kinds of fiction are interesting and which aren't; beyond that, we disagree about whether this is anything to carp about.

11 September 2010

Trashing Films

Some good fun for this Saturday: Matt Zoller Seitz trash talks some famous films. Such an exercise is amusing partly because most of the films he includes are solid enough in their "classic" status that saying nasty things about them seems more appropriate and balanced than it would against some poor, inoffensive effort that would otherwise disappear into the oblivion of time. And isn't there something in us that wants some balance against pure reverence? I mean, even the works of art that I absolutely revere, I do so partly with the hope and trust that somewhere somebody exists who detests them. Where's the fun in loving what is incontestably loveable?

Or maybe it's just that I pretty much agree completely with Seitz's reservations about these movies, so it makes it easy for me to celebrate his takedowns. If someone were to put 10 movies I love up to such an attack, I'd think the person an ignorant fool, blind to the wonders revealed to such a sensitive, perspicacious soul as I...

08 September 2010

Sandman Meditations: "The Sound of Her Wings"

My latest "Sandman Meditations" column has been posted at Gestalt Mash, this one about the eighth issue, "The Sound of Her Wings", which is the concluding story in the first collection, Preludes & Nocturnes.
With the eighth issue, the Sandman is free for the first time of all the concerns that occupied him previously, and so “The Sound of Her Wings” is a kind of coda to the tale up to this point. It’s a particularly interesting issue in that it has no overt conflict; what conflict there is exists within Dream himself.


04 September 2010

Some Good Fantasy Short Stories Online

I tried to leave a comment over at Torque Control, but filled it with links, so I expect it disappeared into a spam filter. Easy enough to post here.

A commenter, Saladin Ahmed, asked for suggestions of fantasy short stories, preferably under 3,000 words, that might make a good addition to an undergraduate course on writing fantasy. How could I resist such a request!? I intended to list maybe three or four stories, but kept adding one more, then one more, until I came up with this list, which is still utterly incomplete. (Not all of these pieces fit the length requirement, but so it goes.) I limited myself to one story per writer.

01 September 2010

Public Service Messages of the Day

First, the Norton Critical Editions have their own Twitter account.  I love love love the NCEs and, in fact, have assigned three of them (Heart of Darkness, Things Fall Apart, Modern African Drama) in a course this term.  I cannot express the incredible booklust the background photo on that Twitter page causes me...

Second, the NCE Twitterers are seeking people's favorite ghost/horror stories.  I said Joanna Russ's "My Dear Emily" and Robert Aickman's "The Stains", though could have certainly listed 100 others, too.  Maybe they'll decide to do a big Norton Critical Edition of horror stories....   Wouldn't that be fun?  Go share your own favorites!

In other news, I am not alone in connecting certain elements of the work of William Faulkner with that of Samuel R. Delany.  [In that discussion, I'm username Melikhovo]

In further other news, and also from Ta-Nehisi Coates's extraordinary blog, news from Paris Review editor Lorin Stein that there is an upcoming interview with Samuel Delany.  (And I expect by the time it's published, Stein will have learned to spell Delany's name!)  I think this is the first time I've beaten the Paris Review to an interview...  I haven't asked Chip about it yet, but will do so soon.

Finally, best thing I read all day: Zunguzungu on the films of Judd Apatow, masculinity, homoeroticism, homophobia, etc.

The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction

I first saw a copy of The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction at Readercon and, on a quick look at the table of contents, was impressed, because here was as solid a collection of basic SF as I'd seen in a while -- indeed, for one volume covering the years it does in a general way, I don't know of a better one (The Road to Science Fiction is great, but it's 6 volumes!  Others I can think of are either more focused on a particular era or are more thesis-driven).

One thing that's important to keep in mind about the book is that it is intended as a teaching anthology -- its primary audience is any sort of "intro to SF" class (it even has a companion website with sample syllabi).  As such, it seems to me really strong.

Jeff VanderMeer raised a good point about the anthology's odd inclusion of very few stories from the last 20 years.  It's bizarre, and one of those things that tends to happen with books edited by a bunch of people.  It would be nice if the introduction addressed this weakness, because there are always compromises that have to be made in an anthology, and I imagine the editors probably thought that more recent work is more readily accessible to readers through various other anthologies and websites, so their focus should be on the older stuff.  Indeed, in a class, it would be easy to supplement this anthology by also using something like Dozois's Best of the Best and maybe some online stories.  Problem solved.

A more efficient solution would have been to end the anthology with Jim Kelly's "Think Like a Dinosaur" from 1995, and use the extra space and money on enriching some of the other decades, but I expect Wesleyan would have frowned on a book in which the most recent story is fifteen years old.

So the lack of representation for the last 20 years is weird, but I can understand it, and I would happily have such stories as "The Liberation of Earth" and "Desertion" and "When It Changed" and so many others easily accessible.  The only giant and inexplicable omission I've noticed in the book so far is its failure to reprint Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations", which is the story "Think Like a Dinosaur" is in direct response to.  (Eric Schaller notes this in the comments to Jeff's entry.  I emailed one of the editors to see if anyone's willing to talk about this omission, but haven't heard back yet. See update in next paragraph.)  One of the nice things about the book is that it is explicitly concerned with the idea of an SF megatext, and for that purpose, including "The Cold Equations" would have made a lot of sense.  There could be a problem with rights or something that prevents the story being reprinted in the book, but, again, it would have been nice to see it addressed in the introduction.  Godwin's story is mentioned in the headnote to "Think Like a Dinosaur", which only compounds the oddness.

Update: Just heard back from the editors of the book -- "Cold Equations" was on the original long list, but length considerations came into play, as well as a desire from at least a few of the editors to allow "Think Like a Dinosaur" to be something other than just a response to "Cold Equations".

(Eric also mentions that it would have been better perhaps to reprint "Mr. Boy", which is, I agree, among Jim's most impressive works.  But it's much longer than "Think Like a Dinosaur", and for an anthology like this, long stories take up so much space that they need to be absolutely essential to be included.  "TLD" fits the book's purposes well and is short enough that it doesn't hog precious space. Also, any of us would choose different stories by some of the authors, but that's the nature of anthologies.  Some of the selections that on a first glance I thought were odd -- especially Clarke's "The Sentinel" and Aldiss's "Supertoys..." -- make sense within the context of the book; in this case, it encourages connections to familiar media: both stories partly inspired films [indeed, films either directed by Stanley Kubrick (2001) or intitiated by him (A.I.)].  So while they're not by any means the best or most representative works by those authors, that's not the purpose of their inclusion in the anthology.)

Larry Nolen speaks truthfully when he calls it a "safe" anthology.  I expect the editors would agree, because that's part of the point -- this is an intro anthology.  To fill it with lots of esoteric authors or less-familiar stories would be counter-productive to the stated purpose.  I'm not the audience for it (except that I might assign it to classes one day), because I already have copies of 95% of those stories.  This is not a book you give to somebody who has a shelf full of SF anthologies covering a bunch of different eras.  This is a book you give to somebody who's seen a few sci-fi movies and maybe read a couple books or a short story here or there, or  to somebody who has only read current work and wants a one-volume crash course in some of the classics of the field.  For such a person, this is a marvelous book.  Just stick a note in the end with a list of some of your favorite recent anthologies, so they can see the wonderful diversity of what's been published since 1995...