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Showing posts from April, 2004

Pause

Various elements of real life are drawing me away from the much more pleasant life of literature, and so I need to pause for a week or so (I hope not longer) from work here.

I can't resist leaving you without a few links of interest:

Alan De Niro has posted a 6-part story, "Home of the", on his weblog. For easy reference, here are all the links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and the complete story is available as a PDF file. I haven't had a chance yet to read the story, but I like Alan's work a lot, and expect this one is as worthy of your attention as everything else he has written.

Scribblingwoman, one of the most consistently interesting blogs I've encountered, has posted a lot of interesting things over the past week or so.

(There are a bunch of other excellent literary webblogs out there, by the way, which don't treat genre writing as inherently incapable of containing interest for people over the age of 13, including Daniel Green's magnificent The Reading…

What to Read?

In the comments to the previous post, somebody asked what science fiction/fantasy magazine is my current favorite. I've been thinking about the question quite a bit, because I'm not sure I know the answer.

However, a couple of recent interviews with Gordon van Gelder (at The Internet Review of SF and Locus) made me think about how much I've been enjoying The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction over the past year or so. It's the only magazine that, when it arrives in the mail, a certain spark of excitement hits me, because with just about every issue there's at least one story that at least feels like it was worth spending the time to read. I can't say that for any of the other magazines these days.

The online magazines -- SciFiction, Strange Horizons, Fantastic Metropolis, Ideomancer, etc. -- have all produced some excellent work, with SciFiction generally, and usually deservedly, getting the most notice. Editor Ellen Datlow is one of the greats, I ag…

Gardner Dozois Steps Down

Locus Online reports that Gardner Dozois is stepping down as editor of Asimov's after 19 years, with Sheila Williams taking over and Dozois remaining as a Contributing Editor.

I'm stunned. While I haven't found Asimov's to be the most compelling of the magazines for the past few years, nonetheless it's still a force within the field, and a major market for short fiction. Dozois became editor right around the time I started reading SF, and his editing of the magazine and of the Year's Best Science Fiction series has shaped my sense of the literary possibilities of the genre more than any other influence. The first five years or so of his editorship of Asimov's (then called Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine) provided one issue after another of diverse, challenging, and entertaining stories. Most of the best writers of the '80s and '90s benefitted from his support.

Dozois's own writing has been overshadowed by his editing, though earl…

Nick Mamatas at Dark Fluidity

Nick Mamatas is the featured author at Dark Fluidity right now, with a new story, "Quiet Types, Loners Mostly...", an interview, and reviews of two of his books.

"Quiet Types, Loners Mostly..." is worth taking time with, worth reading more than once, worth nominating for awards. It accomplishes a tremendous amount in few words: philosophical speculations which suggest a frightening world beyond the words, while simultaneously reflecting our own world and, worst of all, our own most detestable desires. It is a disarming story as well as a disquieting one.

The interview by d.g.k. goldberg is also worth reading. Here's a bit to whet your appetite (there's much more in the actual interview):He dislikes it when writers, "Stack the deck against positions they disagree with, write Hollywood movies-in-text, play to the social fears of whites (especially white women), write about whatever they did a few days ago, with the climax being the decision to write t…

Dorothy Allison on Science Fiction

I'm using Dorothy Allison's novel Bastard Out of Carolina in a class at the moment, but I haven't read any of her other work, and so I was surprised to see the following in a 1998 interview:You are very out about being a lesbian and other renegade aspects of your sexuality, and yet, in a funny way, your lifelong love of science fiction may be your last dark secret.
That's because it's an area in which there is a huge amount of contempt, partly because of the fantasy element. I subscribe to a discussion group on the Internet for feminist science-fiction writers. I barely qualify. I've published a couple of science-fiction stories. But I am a writer, and I am a science-fiction fan, and I get to have amazing conversations with Vonda McIntyre and Nicola Griffith, writers whose work I absolutely adore, who have been writing science fiction for 20 years or more and who get no respect. They are doing serious work. Their work is an assault on conventions so enormous tha…

The Nebulas

Recently, I was contacted by my evil twin, who sent this note:

So what about them Nebulas? What kind of group calls itself "The Science Fiction Writers of America" and then gives awards to stories that aren't even remotely science fiction? Good lord! And one of them fellas is a Brit! What is the world coming to?! And what was that guy thinking when he called his story "The Empire of Ice Cream"? The ice cream was just a device in that yarn -- it would be like calling Starship Troopers "The Zap Gun" or some other stupid title. And did any of those people who voted actually read "What I Didn't See"? Pretentious drivel by some little girl who wants people to think she's got one of them special college writing degrees. Not science fiction, that's for sure. Not even much of an adventure. Dull, dull, and more dull. What happened to the sense of wonder?! What happened to The Future?! I thought that's what science fiction…

Pattern Recognition Redux

William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, which I looked at a couple of months ago, has gotten some interesting notice both within and without the science fiction world. While many reviewers, including John Clute, have examined if and how the book fits the label of "science fiction" (given that its setting is only barely science fictional), others, such as Fredric Jameson and now J.W. Hastings, have considered (among other things) the book as a representation of contemporary life -- making it perhaps the sort of contemporary American novel Mark Sarvas has called for.

Hastings has some excellent points to make about Pattern Recognition, seeing it as a retelling of Thomas Pynchon'sThe Crying of Lot 49 and comparing it to Don DeLillo'sUnderworld:Though there are passages in Underworld, a Very Important Novel, where DeLillo's writing is on par with Pynchon's or Saul Bellow's, for the most part the book is not as satisfying as Pattern Recognition, which is me…

Help for Maud and Others

In case you don't know, Maud Newton runs one of the best literary blogs out there -- I envy her breadth of knowledge and her stunning ability to keep her blog frequently updated with lots of content. In a recent post (one which is mostly about what I wrote about in my previous post), a few paragraphs surprised me a bit, because I know she happens to read this site occasionally: I rarely read science fiction or fantasy books. I like William Gibson, Ursula LeGuin, Philip K. Dick, sometimes H.G. Wells, and Jonathan Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music, if those count. They probably don't. I read the Dune books when I was a kid but would probably find them unreadable now. I have the vague, nagging feeling that I'm doing myself a disservice by neglecting Neal Stephenson and a handful of others.

Mr. Maud's shelves are filled with sci-fi books. Occasionally I try them out, but I rarely finish. Ditto fantasy, save the likes of A.S. Byatt and Roald Dahl and Stephany Aul…

Political? Art?

Mark Sarvas considers the topic of "political art" at The Elegant Variation, and though every other month or so I tell myself I will never even think about this subject ever again, having survived far too many pretentious arguments about it, I'm drawn to the topic like a moth to a bug zapper.

Sarvas wonders where America's great contemporary political artists are and why more U.S. writers, specifically, aren't "chroniclers of this time which, in many ways, is as divisive and radicalized as any period in American history".

I'm one of those people who thinks all writing is political, because all life is political, but Sarvas is seeking, I think, a kind of writing that is more overt -- he mentions The Grapes of Wrath, and he could probably have mentioned writers such as Arthur Miller. I've never been much of a Steinbeck fan, though I'd happily read everything he wrote if it would save me from having to encounter Arthur Miller's name ever a…

A Curious Essay

I haven't read Mark Haddon's bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but an essay he wrote for The Guardian makes me want to read everything he's written (thanks to Maud Newton for the link). The essay is exactly what I like an essay to be: a variety of almost-disconnected thoughts from an interesting, insightful mind.

In one part, Haddon discusses the differences between "genre fiction" and "literary fiction". I have some reservations about his terminology, but I like what he says:Genre fiction says: 'Forget the gas bill. Forget the office politics. Pretend you're a spy. Pretend you're a courtesan. Pretend you're the owner of a crumbling gothic mansion on this worryingly foggy promontory.' Literary fiction says: 'Bad luck. You're stuck with who you are, just as these people are stuck with who they are. But use your imagination and you'll see that even the most narrow, humdrum lives are infi…

Miscellaneous Links (in an Imaginary Chain)

Time to dump out some miscellaneous links I've been collecting:*The NY Times has an article about Alexis Rockman, an artist who claims as influences both the Hudson River School of painters and Chesley Bonestell. An earlier article from Wired has some more of Rockman's paintings.

*Peter Lindberg has some interesting thoughts about Peter Bøgh Andersen's article "Genres as Self-Organizing Systems" (PDF), which I was able to read about half of before it felt like my brain was seeping out of my toenails.

*McSweeney's has a list of Movies Directed by Mel Gibson's Father, Hutton Gibson.

*I discovered a fascinating post offering thoughts on the classification of civlizations, which might even be useful to writers of good ol' fashioned hard science fiction, assuming one or two ever stop by.

*Here is a collection of numerous definitions of "science fiction", including the following from Northrop Frye: "Science fiction frequently tries to imagin…

Quote for the Day

...[I]t's helpful (as always) to look at the world of science-fiction, which has been more chummy and insular than the world of 'regular' fiction. It also possesses less of a critical/academic infrastructure for delivering accolades to the most worthy work, despite the best efforts of people like John Clute. One writer/critic in the field once said that discerning science-fiction critics had to be willing to read an awful lot of terrible and mediocre genre books--and thus, unless you're a peculiar sort of masochist who enjoys boredom, enjoy them--just to be able to find the good/great ones. I don't see any reason why this can't apply to all fiction.

--Waggish

Is There Anybody Out There...?

Over at s1ngularity.net, Gabe has made the fairly common complaint that speculative fiction is not known/understood/respected by the General Public. He writesNo one cares about us beyond the high, barbwired walls of speculative fiction. We are a tiny fragment of society, a single chink in a world-sized fence. We are a tiny fragging crack on the side of the universal dam.Choose any subculture and you will be able to fit the same complaint to it. That's what makes something a subculture. It may be Gabe is arguing SF shouldn't be a subculture ... but then, what should it be?

Is the argument that Nightshade Books should be selling 10 million copies of every title they print? Well, that would, of course, be nice, but human beings have such a variety of aesthetic tastes that I doubt it will be happening anytime soon. The things that appeal to millions of people tend to be the most mediocre, the most blandly comforting, the most familiar and repetitive. I'm far more interes…

Hugo Nominations

The Hugo Award Nominations have been released. The only category in which I would have trouble making a choice is for Best Novelette, while most of the other categories seem to be incredibly dull representations of a year that was not in fact dull. Each category has at least one good nomination (well, Best Short Story is weak, and some of the writers there published better work in 2003 that wasn't nominated), but it looks like the nominations were mostly made by readers of Asimov's and Analog. Note to such readers: If that's all you read, you're missing a lot of good stuff. Fantasy & Science Fiction is, for my money, a better overall magazine, but most of the real writing, the best writing, is happening in original anthologies, online magazines, and small-press zines -- none of the best of which had a story nominated in any of the three categories.

The Best Editor award deserves to go to either Ellen Datlow (Nick Mamatas offers excellent reasons) or Gordon Van …

Jeff VanderMeer's New Face

The endlessly inventive Jeff VanderMeer now has two new websites: JeffVanderMeer.com, which is a complete redesign of his earlier site, and Ambergris.org, which is a companion site to his book City of Saints and Madmen and the Ambergris series of stories, novels, squid, and related paraphernalia. Jeff says a site map will be added later this week, but I recommend visiting before then for the joy of surprise -- let your cursor wander around over the beautiful Scott Eagle artwork, click every now and then, and see where you end up.

I haven't mentioned Jeff's upcoming collection Secret Life this week, so let me remind you that you still have time to pre-order it before it is published in June. I've been reading the galleys (slowly, savoringly) and will tell you now, with all the authority I can muster, that YOU MUST BUY THIS BOOK. (Yes, I know, there are numerous other books I also keep telling you to buy, and of course you should, but this one is truly magnificent. I don…

"The Redundant Order of the Night" by Jay Lake

I've wanted an excuse to write about Jay Lake for some time now, but all I could think to say was, "Read him," or "He's, like, totally prolific," or, "His name is fairly easy to pronounce, I think."

Now, though, I want to spend a few moments on two items by Mr. Lake. First, let me just point you toward his Handy Guide to Genre Distinctions, which, for those of you determined to discriminate genres, could be printed out and laminated and put into your wallet for confusing moments at a bookstore or library. Purists and impurists will quibble, of course, but notice that this is not labeled a "definitive guide" or an "all-points-of-view-democratically-represented guide", but rather a "handy guide", which could mean a number of different things, all of which I will leave to your imagination.

What I really want to write about, though, as you can tell from the title of this post, is "The Redundant Order of the Night…

No art, all fear

I previously wrote a post, "Art, Fear, and Violence" about a student who was expelled for writing a violent short story for a class at the Academy of Art University. The teacher was also fired (read the comments to the entry to watch Nick Mamatas attempt to enlighten me, and me respond by digging in my heels.)

Well, the story is, unfortunately, not over. Cory Doctorow over at boingboing posted the following, which he gave the excellent title "Academy of Art University: Free speech chickenshits":Neil Gaiman forwarded this note from Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler:
The Academy of Art University here in San Francisco - the biggest art school in the country - recently expelled a student for writing a violent short story, and then fired his instructor for teaching a story by David Foster Wallace the administration also found offensive.

As this story broke in the press the school has responded by announcing stringent policies regarding the content of stude…

"Born on the Edge of an Adjective" by Christopher Barzak

I should tell you what an effective and affecting story "Born on the Edge of an Adjective" is, what a subtle and odd and pleasurable and unsettling story it is, and I should praise the many skills of Chris Barzak, a real rat bastard, a writer's writer whose work is accessible and humane enough to appeal to a broad audience. I should compare him to Chekhov and Michael Cunningham and Frank O'Hara and my mother. I should demonstrate how the ostensibly plain prose of his story has an accumulatively poetic effect, and I should--

But, you see, Chris and I have been corresponding recently, and--

Oh, hell. I don't care if I'm totally biased: it's a great story, and Chris is such a good person that even if you were inclined to hate every word of everything he wrote, you wouldn't be able to, because the guilt would weigh you down until you were a microparticle of frustrated bile bubbling in the interstices of the universe you previously inhabited. And you w…

Impostor

After reading Kathi Maio's recent review of various movies based on Philip K. Dick stories, I rented the DVD of Impostor, based on Dick's 1953 short story of the same title. She laments the quality of such PKD-inspired films as Minority Report and Paycheck and calls Imposter "the genuine article".

Methinks Ms. Maio is a tiny bit desperate for a good PKD film, and therefore her critical judgment has suffered. Imposter is not a good movie, unless you find an interminable series of chases and unlikely escapes to be entertaining. Almost every other reviewer in the world panned it, the studio buried it, and viewers didn't view it.

Of course, good -- even great -- films sometimes get badly reviewed, thrown down the drain by the studio or distributor, and shunned by audiences. Impostor, though, deserves its fate.

I would not have any issue with Ms. Maio if she didn't claim that this was a good adaptation of Philip K. Dick. I don't mind people liking movies …