31 July 2010

Third Bear Carnival: Rachel Swirsky Writes Fanfic!

The ever-marvelous Rachel Swirsky has posted her contribution to the Third Bear Carnival, "A Meta-Fictional Diptych Relating to the Stories 'Appogiatura' and 'Fixing Hanover'" (cross-posted to Alas, a Blog), which could be considered, as she notes, fan fiction. Now if only all fan fiction were like this...
Rebecca Salt, age fourteen, daughter of divorced middle class Jews from Long Island, was tired of being a Speller. She could still remember how things had felt before she got competitive, when Spelling was still a pleasure, when she had a sort of palpable sense of the l-u-x-u-r-i-a-n-c-e** of words and letters. She'd heard the symmetry between alphabet and language as a kind of ringing d-u-l-c-i-m-e-r, intricate and melodious. Sometimes the joy she took in words felt a-u-t-o-c-h-t-h-o-n-o-u-s, seeming to rise up in her from some ineffable, otherworldly source.

Six years into the rote of shuffling flash cards in every free moment, gasping out words as she ran out the door to school, eschewing the playground to snatch more time at recess and lunch, her evenings collapsing into a formless mass of homework seeping into study… well, six years into it she found herself waxing e-l-e-g-i-a-c about the days when words had seemed to sing and spin. It seemed almost s-a-c-r-i-l-e-g-i-o-u-s to admit it, but she regretted the k-n-a-c-k for words that had bound her to this labor.

Until she discovered s-m-a-r-a-g-d-i-n-e.

Read More!

29 July 2010

Brian Slattery Joins the Third Bear Carnival

The Third Bear Carnival continues, and will continue to continue over the next few weeks, I expect. The latest freakshow act contribution comes from Brian Francis Slattery, who offers some thoughts on "The Goat Variations" and "Three Days in a Border Town" over at The New Haven Review. Here's a taste:
One of the abiding pleasures of writing books, and being lucky enough to have them published, is the way in which they have led me to discover parts of the literary world I may not have discovered otherwise. Among them is a brand of science fiction and fantasy that’s been given all kinds of labels—my favorite is the New Weird—but basically boils down to books in which many strange and interesting things happen, and in which the writing is really, really good. My running favorite author in this group, which makes him one of my favorite living authors, period, is Jeff VanderMeer, a prolific and vastly talented writer perhaps best known for his books about a fantastical, decaying, and distinctly postcolonial city called Ambergris. In these books, VanderMeer displays not only an astonishingly rich imagination, but also a pretty ridiculous command of numerous fiction styles, from quasi-Borgesian to hard-boiled noir. His books are social, political, personal: everything I want in fiction. If I were the competitive type, I’d say he’s the man to beat.

27 July 2010

Sandman Meditations: "Imperfect Hosts"

My second Sandman Meditations column is now live at Gestalt Mash, this one looking at the second story, "Imperfect Hosts", and considering, among other things, the place of speech and thought balloons.

26 July 2010

The Sound of Movies

The wonderful online film magazine Reverse Shot has just released an entire issue devoted to sound, with essays on the sound of specific and quite varied films:
If one shot can contain an entire film in essence, then can a sound? And if the instantaneous break between two images contains shifts in perception that are the exclusive domain of cinema, then what happens when the aural element is added? Since the late twenties, sound has been as essential an ingredient as the shot or the cut in film’s construction, yet more often than not it isn’t discussed in film criticism, with all elements of mise-en-scène making it take a back seat.
I'm very sensitive to sound in general, and whenever I used to direct plays I spent nearly as much time on the sound design as anything else.  For the past eight months or so, I've been working as the sound recordist for an independent film some friends of mine are making, and that's made me even more aware of film sound than I was before.  Movies are often said to be "a visual medium", but this isn't entirely true -- they are, certainly, a visual medium, but they're not just that.  Part of the magic of cinema is that it uses so many different art forms at once, and sound is a central part of our experience of any movie.  Even silent films weren't actually silent.

There are lots of good essays at Reverse Shot, though a couple of moments stood out for me.  First, I was glad to see Matt Zoller Seitz writing again about The New World, since he's been one of the film's most intelligent champions ever since it was released.  (BFI should hire him to write one of their Film Classics monographs about it.)
Taken together, Malick’s multiplicity of mirrored images and situations, repeated music tracks and sound effects suggest that the story of The New World isn’t meant to be interpreted as self-contained and linear—locked-off from the rest of time and space—but as a microcosm of a larger cycle, a lone rotation of a clock’s second hand. When spring and fall arrive, we open our windows. The sound of wind moving through hallways and rooms reminds us that one phase, one chapter, is ending, and another is beginning (or vice-versa); that we’re forever leaving one place, one space, and entering another. 
I was pleased, too, to read Elbert Ventura's essay on Heat, because one of my strongest memories from first watching the film (which I saw three times in the theatre on its first release) is of thinking, "Wow -- that's the most realistic gunfire I've ever heard in a movie!"  I was nineteen, still living in a gun shop when I wasn't at college, and I knew what those weapons sounded like.  I also knew, to some extent, how hard it is to capture the sound of guns, having taken a video camera to a couple machine-gun shoots (the noise totally overwhelmed the puny mic in the camcorder and almost liquified the tape).  There's a resonance to gunfire that is difficult to replicate.  Michael Mann cares about the weapons in his movies, he's fanatical about accuracy, and in the "Battle of Los Angeles" scene, he and the sound designers ended up choosing to use the live production sound of the guns firing.  There is a meaning more important than verisimilitude, though, as Ventura notes: "Beyond its authenticity, the bruising boom feels definitive, taking us beyond the disposable sounds of mayhem in other movies."

Wizard's Tower Press and Salon Futura

One of my favorite people in the science fiction community, Cheryl Morgan, is one of the people launching a new publishing company, Wizard's Tower Press.  From their own description of their primary publishing purpose:
We concentrate mainly on making out-of-print works available once more as e-books, and helping other small presses exploit the e-book market.

We will also publish a small number of limited-print-run anthologies with a view to encouraging diversity in the science fiction and fantasy field. 
In addition to that, though, Wizard's Tower will be launching a nonfiction webzine, Salon Futura, which Cheryl will edit.  This is great news, because in my own experience working with her, Cheryl has been a thoughtful, intelligent, and persistent editor, which is an ideal combination of qualities for an editor to possess.

Salon Futura needs submissions.  Read their guidelines and submit!  They pay money, and you need that, I know you do!

25 July 2010

The Lengths of Nolan

Some friends and I went to see Inception this afternoon because we had some time to kill and we were all curious about it. For a summer blockbuster, it's not bad at all.

But.

Of course, you knew there would be a "but". For a summer blockbuster, it's not bad at all, is the faintest of praise. It's not like the competition is exactly a pantheon of cinematic glory.

My feelings about the film are similar to those of Dennis Cozzalio, who wrote a long, thoughtful post that relieves those of us who agree with him from having to say a whole lot more. He says, "It’s not a dreamer’s movie, it’s a clockmaker’s movie," and that sums it up well for me. I didn't strain as much to keep up with the background and plot as he did, but I suspect that's just because I'm very familiar with science fiction exposition. (I think Abigail Nussbaum also has a lot of insight into the movie, particularly from the SF angle.) The puzzle aspects of the film are fun, and they keep our brains engaged while watching, which is more than can be said for most summer blockbusters.

But.

It's awfully long. That was the biggest impression the movie made on me. It wasn't as annoying to me as The Dark Knight, a film I thought so extraordinarily bad in many ways that I just couldn't get much pleasure at all out of watching it the first time (it's actually an interesting film to re-watch, I think, once you no longer expect it to be particularly good on the whole, because there are some moments of magic, and the ways that it's bad are, at least to me, interesting). Inception is entertaining. But it's awfully long.

I recently watched Christopher Nolan's first feature, Following. It's clever and enjoyable in that utterly-contrived-puzzle way that is Nolan's forte. It's also 69 minutes long. Just about the right length for its content. I haven't seen Memento for a while, but I remember it feeling more or less economic in its narrative -- or, at least, I don't remember it lasting for forty days and forty nights like The Dark Knight.

That got me wondering...

20 July 2010

Sandman Meditations


Jay Tomio has started a new website, mostly (but not only) devoted to comics, called Gestalt Mash, and he very kindly asked me to be a regular contributor. When he first asked, I thought he must have me confused with somebody else, because though I have some good friends who are comics experts, I'm only an occasional reader of them myself. The only comic I read regularly as a kid was G.I. Joe, and I didn't read my first graphic novel until I was well into my 20's. Jay asked if I'd write about Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, writing a short essay for every issue. I told him, with a bit of embarrassment, that I've never read Sandman; indeed, I only know Neil Gaiman's work in prose (and like some of it quite a bit). Jay said that would be the fun -- plenty of comics afficionados have written about Sandman ... but what happens when somebody who doesn't know much about comics does?

Well, the first of my "Sandman Meditations" has now been posted, and you can see for yourself. This is just the beginning of a journey, and who knows what it will all look like in the end. It's intimidating to write from a position of naivety about a work of art that is so beloved by so many people, but it's also a challenge that offers some interesting opportunities, and I hope to explore different ways of writing about the series as I go along.

We're planning on posting a new piece every 7-10 days, which means this endeavor will take at least a year and a half to complete. Let the journey begin...

19 July 2010

Third Bear Carnival: "The Third Bear"

by Eric Schaller


[This post is part of an on-going series of explorations through, investigations with, and inspirations from Jeff VanderMeer's new short story collection, The Third Bear.]




The White Ribbon


The film ends in the head of the viewer, not on the screen.
--Michael Haneke
Perhaps because I'd recently read L. Timmel Duchamp's interesting and thorough review of the new Library of America edition of Shirley Jackson's major works, Michael Haneke's Palm d'Or-winning film The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band), felt like a movie inspired by a Shirley Jackson story.

It is, however, very much a Michael Haneke film, though a bit of a departure from the movies he's most famous for. We still have the focus on suffering, violence, and guilt; the tone and affect is still analytical, cold, distant; mysteries remain unsolved, their solutions unimportant to an overall scheme in which what matters is not so much the mystery, but the effect of the mystery -- and yet there is a tenderness to some of these scenes that has been rare in much of Haneke's other work. Part of that comes from the large cast of characters: it would be very odd to portray an entire village without showing any people who are basically decent, or without portraying any moments of kind, even loving, emotions. But there's a thematic purpose to the moments of tenderness, too.

18 July 2010

Drink Tank Hugo Special

Chris Garcia of the fanzine Drink Tank asked me if he could reprint my blog post on Julian Comstock in a Hugo issue, and after taking a look at some of the hundreds of back-issues, I happily said sure thing.  I'm woefully ignorant of most fanzines, but enjoyed what I read at Drink Tank, and the Hugo Special that's just been put up as a PDF is really a great read.  It's full of opinionated and not at all orthodox pieces about the Hugo Awards in general and this year's slate in particular.

At Readercon last week, I was talking with John Kessel and Brett Cox about generational differences in the science fiction world, and the fact that many young writers got into SF through movies and books of the '80s and '90s rather than classics from the "Golden Age" eras.  John said, "But you seem to know some of that work," and I said I'm a weirdo because most of the SF I read in my early, most impressionable years came from a college library that hadn't really updated its SF collection since 1980 or so.  In particular, I read the first three Hugo Winners collections that Isaac Asimov put together, and his commentaries on each story created my idea (at the time) of what science fiction is.  So the Hugo Awards are something special to me, and I'm happy to have been able to contribute to a Hugo-themed issue of a fanzine that has, in fact, been nominated for the award itself a number of times, including this year...

14 July 2010

Third Bear Carnival: "Shark God vs. Octopus God"

by Eric Schaller


[This post is part of an on-going series of explorations through, investigations with, and inspirations from Jeff VanderMeer's new short story collection, The Third Bear.]



13 July 2010

Third Bear Carnival: "The Quickening"

[This post is part of an on-going series of explorations through, investigations with, and inspirations from Jeff VanderMeer's new short story collection, The Third Bear.]

"The Quickening" is the one story original to The Third Bear, and it's a story that fascinates me because it is entirely composed of ambiguities.  I like ambiguities in fiction -- they respect the reader by assuming an intelligent audience that wants to be an active participant in the meaning and import of the tale.  (Speaking of awareness of the audience, I should note that this post will probably make most sense to people who have read the story.  Yet another reason for you to get the book!)

Third Bear Carnival

 



In honor of the publication of Jeff VanderMeer's new short story collection, The Third Bear, I've asked a group of writers to read a couple of stories each and create some sort of response over the next few weeks. Some of those responses will be analyses of the story, others will be personal essays, at least one will be a work of visual art, and, who knows, some folks might be inspired to create stories of their own, or poems, or movies, or stained glass windows. I've given them no limits or guidelines other than it has to be something they can either post to their own blog or I can post for them here.

I will keep updating this post with links to each entry in what I'm calling the Third Bear Carnival. If you happen to have a copy of the book, or even just of some of the stories in the book, feel free to create something of your own and link to it in the comments to this post (I'll add relevant links to the main set whenever I have the chance).

Many of the writers just received the book last week, so the Carnival is likely to be slow to start, but once we get going, I think some marvelous things will appear...

Readercon Reflections

Readercon 21 was, for me, exciting and stimulating, though this year in particular it felt like I only had a few minutes to talk with everybody I wanted to talk with.  I think part of this is a result of my now living in New Hampshire rather than New Jersey, so I just don't see a lot of folks from the writing, publishing, and reading worlds much anymore.

Before I get into some thoughts on some panels and discussions, some pictures: Ellen Datlow's and Tempest Bradford's.  Tempest asked everybody to make a sad face for her, not because Readercon was a sad con (just the opposite!), but because it's fun to have people make sad faces.  The iconic picture from the weekend for me, though, is Ellen's photo of Liz Hand's back.  I covet Liz's shirt.

And now for some only vaguely coherent thoughts on some of the panels...

12 July 2010

Readercon Book Haul

I'm just back from Readercon and too tired to write up all the various fun that was had -- some great panels, lots of wonderful conversations with more folks than I can possibly remember to mention, not nearly enough time with even more folks than I could ever mention, etc.  Paolo Bacigalupi was so horrified that I had not yet read (or even procured a copy of!) his new novel Ship Breaker that he challenged me to Jell-o wrestle him to the death.  (I like his work so much that I swallowed my pride and declined to wrestle him, because, of course, being the monster of human strength that I am, I would crush him within seconds, and he, being dead, would no longer be able to write.)  Later, a young fan named Junot Diaz and I talked for a while.  He seems like a smart kid, likely to accomplish something one day -- keep your eyes on him.

A more comprehensive Readercon post will appear soon, but for now, here are some of the items I came home with, either from the dealers' room, from friends, or from a used bookstore I visited with Eric Schaller, Liz Gorinsky, and Brian Slattery...



07 July 2010

Birthday Bear

Today is Jeff VanderMeer's 24th birthday.  Coincidentally, his new collection of stories, The Third Bear, is being released this month, so it's the best of all possible worlds: you can make him happy by buying yourself a present!  Everybody wins!

I'll have more to say about The Third Bear next week (Yoda says, "Read it, you should!"). Mostly I just wanted to post this picture of Jeff in the wild:


When I advocated that he use this as his author photo from now on, he whacked me on the head with his tail.

Readercon

This weekend is the one science fiction convention I attend regularly, Readercon, and I'm on a couple panels:
Friday 11:00 AM, Salon F: Panel

Interstitial Then, Genre Now. Matthew Cheney, John Clute, Michael Dirda, Peter Dube,
Theodora Goss (L).

Although new genres may seem to be created out of whole cloth, they are of course
stitched together from existing literary and cultural elements. Today we call fiction
which falls between or combines currently defined genres or subgenres "interstitial
literature." Can we therefore read Mary Shelly's _Frankenstein_ or Edgar Allan Poe's
detective fiction as interstitial at the time of their creation, even though they
now read like pure genre exemplars? What other innovations in literary genre can be
fruitfully regarded as originally interstitial?

Saturday 3:00 PM, Salon F: Panel

The Secret History of _The Secret History of Science Fiction_. Matthew Cheney,
Kathryn Cramer, Alexander Jablokov, John Kessel, Jacob Weisman (M), Gary K. Wolfe.

In their anthology _The Secret History of Science Fiction_, editors James Patrick Kelly
and John Kessel have selected stories from inside and outside the genre to demonstrate
that "the divide between mainstream and science fiction is more apparent than real,"
and that "outside of the public eye," writers on both sides of the supposed divide
have been producing work that, on the one hand, has the ambition and sophistication of
literary fiction, and, on the other, makes use of the tropes of speculative fiction,
though not necessarily labeled as such by writers, critics, or readers. But does
their story selection support their assertion? Or, as Paul Witcover maintains, does
it in fact demonstrate that there really are substantial differences between genre
speculative fiction of literary ambition and what is written outside the genre, even
if it contains speculative elements?
I find being on panels really strange and challenging, because I much prefer writing as a mode of discussing ideas to extemporaneous conversation, but interesting stuff sometimes comes out through the back and forth of discussion, so we shall see...

04 July 2010

Cultural Appropriation

Hal Duncan's latest "Notes from New Sodom" column had me shouting, "Yes!  Yes!" at the morning air as I read it -- one of those wonderful moments when somebody puts into words ideas that I've felt in my own brain only as pre-verbal tadpoles swimming through mud.

The topic of the column is the phrase "cultural appropriation" as applied to works of fiction, and Hal uses the TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender and the recent movie derived from it to launch into a learned, thoughtful, and vulgarity-filled argument against the phrase.

I've never been comfortable with the idea of "cultural appropriation" applied to fiction, or anything, really, because of the way those words turn culture into property and force any discussion of representation into a discussion of ownership.  Instead, it should be a discussion of power.  Power not only of one group over another, but also the power that stories wield.  Words and narratives matter, they do things in the world.

For efficiency's sake, it's probably best to have the majority of the conversation over in the comments section to Hal's column, and I hope the conversation will be as lively and thoughtful as the column itself is.