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Showing posts from June, 2004

"Women are Ugly" by Eliot Fintushel

I haven't read much online fiction for a few weeks, so I decided to catch up today, reading the last month of stories at Strange Horizons, plus "More Beautiful Than You" by M. Rickert at Ideomancer. All worthwhile reading, but the best of the bunch is undoubtedly Eliot Fintushel's story "Women are Ugly", which ties with Christopher Rowe's "The Voluntary State" for being my favorite story published online so far this year (though I haven't caught up with everything at SciFiction yet).

Eliot Fintushel writes truly bizarre stories, and "Women are Ugly" announces itself as bizarre right from the beginning, with an epigraph from Spinoza followed by a paragraph of fairly short, odd sentences about the repulsive qualities of women -- sort of like "The Lady's Dressing Room" rewritten for children by Hemingway.

It turns out that the narrator of the story is a man who is, probably, both mentally and physically handicapped, t…

Quote for the Day

It is those who care more about invented rules and silly shibboleths than about good writing who are the true barbarians.

--languagehat

From the cover of the new Locus

I'm very much looking forward to reading the new Locus because it has interviews with Jeff Ford and Alexander C. Irvine. Both are quoted on the cover:There are situations in life where you cannot quite name the experience -- you don't have the emotional maturity, or intelligence, or there is no way to name it ... You don't know how to describe the situation, so you tell a story around it to bring out that thing you couldn't name before.
--Ford

Everybody always has to complain about something, but in what time would you rather exist as a science fiction reader than right now? The days when science fiction was an adolescent literature are over. There will always be adolescent SF books, but the whole genre is no longer geared toward them.
--IrvineTo bide our time until the new issue arrives (with Locus Award results included), here are links to some other interviews with those two writers:Ford at Infinity Plus (interviewed by Jeff VanderMeer, SF Site, Bookpage, Trampol…

Fire the Bastards!

A unique and passionate work of literary criticism is now fully available on the web (and may have been for a while): Jack Green's Fire the Bastards!, a 50,000-word essay published in three issues of Green's underground zine newspaper in 1962. It's about William Gaddis's first novel, The Recognitions and the reviews it received upon publication in 1955. (For a full history of Fire the Bastards, see Steven Moore's introduction to the print edition.)

Fire the Bastards! is written with, for the most part, spaces instead of periods at the ends of sentences, very little capitalization, internal punctuation only when absolutely necessary (or when present in a quotation), and a freewheeling, informal prose style. It makes for compulsive reading if you're interested in how badly a book can be reviewed, and in revenge on those reviewers. For instance, here's Green on how reviewers use the term "ambitious" as a quiet criticism:but "ambitious" …

Hawthorne at 200

Once again I owe Mark Sarvas a debt of gratitude for reminding me of an important date (or, as he says, "more goddamned anniversaries!!!"): the bicentennial of NathanielHawthorne's birth on July 4.

Personally, I'm fond of Hawthorne's death, not just because I was forced to read The Scarlet Letter as a freshman in high school, but because he paused to shuffle off this mortal coil in my own hometown, Plymouth, NH, with the only president New Hampshire has ever been allowed to send to Washington, Franklin Pierce, by his side (Hawthorne had written a biography of Pierce). Few people in Plymouth know that Hawthorne died there, and the inn where he died has long since rotted from memory.

If you hate Hawthorne because of what high school teachers did to you, try to open your mind for this bicentennial. Some of his novels can be a chore, but he wrote many magnificent (and magical) short stories, including "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment", "Rappaccini'…

Blog the Boards

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes that On the Boards, a theatre devoted to contemporary performance, has created Blog the Boards, a way for audience members to write reviews of performances. I was initially interested because I know some people who have performed there, so I wanted to see if they got any reviews, but as I roamed around, I found the dialogue interesting and the entire concept fairly provocative. In terms of feedback, it's not much different from the message boards some magazines and publishers have set up, but I don't know of any theatres doing quite the same thing. Certainly, Amazon lets people write their opinions about everything from books to owl puke, but for a theatre to open up a forum on its own website for people to freely review shows that are still running ... that takes guts. The spirit with which it is done is a noble one:But what if our bloggers write negative things about our work? Actually, we expect there will be criticism; we're ver…

The Return of Tiptree

I just discovered, to my delight, that Tachyon Publications will be reprinting Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, a collection of the best stories of James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon), for whom the Tiptree Award was named. (Tachyon is also publishing The James Tiptree Award Anthology.) The book is due out in the late fall/early winter. A contents listing for the previous edition is here.

The Tachyon website notes: "This update of the 1990 classic Arkham House edition contains revisions from the author's original notes." That could be good or bad, but the original collection is a masterpiece, filled with some of the most magnificent SF short stories of the past fifty years and a fine introductory essay by John Clute.

Not much of Tiptree's best work is currently in print, the out of print collections can be difficult and expensive to get copies of, and I know of only two stories available on the web: "The Women Men Don't See" and "The Screwfly Solutio…

Quote for the Day

Whether the internet or any other technological marvel can halt the slide into boredom and conformism I seriously doubt. I suspect that ... the human race will inevitably move like a sleepwalker towards that vast resource it has hesitated to tap -- its own psychopathy. This adventure playground of the soul is waiting for us with its gates wide open, and admission is free.

In short, an elective psychopathy will come to our aid (as it has done many times in the past) -- Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, all those willed nightmares that make up much of human history. ... [T]he future will be a huge Darwinian struggle between competing psychopathies. Along with our passivity, we're entering a profoundly masochistic phase -- everyone is a victim these days, of parents, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, even love itself. And how much we enjoy it. Our happiest moments are spent trying to think up new varieties of victimhood...

J.G. Ballard

If You're Anxious for to Shine in the High Aesthetic Line...

Rake's Progress points to a marvelous article in The New Yorker, a review by Louis Menand of the bestselling punctuation handbook, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It's much more than a review, though, which is the best sort of review to read, especially when you have no intention of reading whatever is being reviewed.

First, Menand turns the book into a rotting corpse and dissects it:We are informed that when a sentence ends with a quotation American usage always places the terminal punctuation inside the quotation marks, which is not so. (An American would not write "Who said 'I cannot tell a lie?'") A line from "My Fair Lady" is misquoted ("The Arabs learn Arabian with the speed of summer lightning"). And it is stated that The New Yorker, "that famously punctilious periodical," renders "the nineteen-eighties" as the "1980's," which it does not. The New Yorker renders "the nineteen-eighties" as &quo…

A Conjunctive Grumble

They may have been there for ages, but I just noticed that three of the best stories from Conjunctions: 39, The New Wave Fabulists are excerpted online: "Entertaining Angels Unawares" by M. John Harrison, "Lull" by Kelly Link, and "The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines" by John Crowley.

Now hear me grumble. These are teasers! Magnificent stories, but only the beginnings of them. Not just little bits, but pages, and then, suddenly, a note: "The complete text of [title] can be found in the print issue of Conjunctions:39, The New Wave Fabulists." There's enough of the Harrison and Crowley to cause the average reader to be able to decide whether they want to spend the money to buy that issue, but there just isn't enough of "Lull" to get a sense of what Kelly Link is up to.

I think I'm getting too used to having whole stories available on the Web. I shouldn't be greedy. The authors and editors need to get paid f…

June IROSF

The June issue of The Internet Review of Science Fiction is up, and, as John Frost notes in his editorial, this issue contains two pieces by people who happen to share the last names of (in)famous vice presidents.

I said once that I think every reader will find at least one sentence, and probably a whole paragraph, to disagree with in my piece, which throws out more grenades than it knows what to do with. It was intended as a beginning, not an ending.

IROSF is a valuable forum and a diverse one, so please, even if you hate everything I write, support the site. Subscriptions are still free, so this is a great time to sign up.

Anton Chekhov, an introduction

I always forget birthdays and every other date of any significance, so I owe a debt to Mark Sarvas for noting that we are fast approaching the 100 anniversary of Anton Chekhov's deathday.

Chekhov is, simply, the one writer whose works I would not want to live without. Hundreds, even thousands of other writers are important to me, but Chekhov is the writer to whom I always return, the voice and imagination I trust the most, the dreamer whose dreams never fail to enchant me.

Thus, even though I'm not a proponent of numerology, I now have an excuse to write about him here, because I have wanted for a while to address the common perception of Chekhov as a realist, an idea I think limits his accomplishment. While certainly his work borrows much from both the Naturalists as a group and from realism as a mode of writing, the influence of the Symbolist movement on his stories and plays should not be discounted.

I'm writing off-the-cuff at the moment, and need to spend some tim…

Rabid Transit: Petting Zoo

The third chapbook from the estimable Ratbastards, Rabid Transit: Petting Zoo, deserves attention, for the six stories within it exhibit skill and ambition. The book doesn't seem to me to possess any stories of the quality of, for instance, Chris Barzak's "The Blue Egg" or Kristin Livdahl's "Even a Worm Will Turn" from the first collection or "Gramercy Park" by Haddayr Copley-Woods from the second, but there is fine work here.

M. Rickert (currently the featured author at Ideomancer) provides a typically evocative story, "Art is Not a Violent Subject" -- in addition to writing lovely prose, she has created some of my favorite titles of recent years -- and John Aegard's "The Golden Age of Fire Escapes" is a surrealist epic in fourteen pages, a story that succeeds at being both a pleasure to read and, ultimately, unsettling. Amber van Dyk shows real skill with maintaining a consistency of tone and style in "Storyv…

Site Note

The saga of commenting systems continues... I've switched from Squawkbox, which was completely unreliable and buggy, to Enetation for comments, and will, over the next week or so, restore as many comments as I can to earlier posts. With any luck, this will be the last change in commenting systems, at least until Blogger develops a less primitive system itself.

I Am Reviewing You, And You Are Dead

Once upon a time, I noted the existence of the book I Am Alive and You are Dead, a book about Philip K. Dick. I have not read the book, so I can't comment on Charles Taylor's take on it for the NY Times, but it's a lovely example of a scathing review:...the writings of Dick, the hugely influential science fiction writer, function as the dope that sets Carrere off on one mind-blowing theory after another, man. Rambling on while the reader sinks into catatonia, ''I Am Alive and You Are Dead'' (never was a book so aptly named) reads like a hyperadolescent spouting forth trippy what-ifs: ''What if a fiction writer found out that all the stories he made up were true?''; ''What if nightmares yanked us into alternate universes?'' The result winds up reducing Dick's writing to bubble-gum Pirandello, or Borges rejiggered for Saturday afternoon movie serials.
Update (6/21/04):In the comments, Mark Kelly points out that the L.A. Tim…

Alternate History

If alternatehistorystories are your thing, be sure to read all of Howard Waldrop's various "unblog" posts about "Hitler Wins" scenarios: part 1, part 2, parts 3 & 4.

Also worth checking out are Jed Hartman's posts on Deep Alternates and why the Sidewise awards are dominated by men.

Finally, be sure to read what David Moles has to say.

Public Service Announcement

What follows is an unpaid commercial advertisement...

Between now and Tuesday, if you buy a minimum of 3 books from Nightshade, you'll get 50% off your order.

This is not some nambypamby, oh-wouldn't-it-be-great-if-Heinlein-were-still-alive-and
-people-still-wrote-like-E.E. Smith publisher. No, these people publish Nick Mamatas (and let him work for them, too).

So you could get Nick's Kerouac-meets-Cthulhu novel Move Under Ground in hardcover for $12.50.

Or you could get Leviathan 2 (because though you read Leviathan 3 every day, you never got around to getting the earlier volumes) or The Thackery T. Lambshead Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases or Album Zutique, all edited by Jeff VanderMeer, whose first novel, Veniss Underground is also available and very much worth owning at full price, never mind 50% off.

Or then there's Zoran Zivkovic's The Fourth Circle, of which Tim Pratt wrote in the June Locus: "...Zivkovic has created a marvelously inventive …

Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

One of the first science fiction novels I ever read was The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.. It was loaned to me by my mother's boss, the person who insisted I become a reader of science fiction (because, he said, it was what intelligent people read). I thought Biggle's novel was fascinating -- an adventure story about culture, music, and aesthetics, written by a man with a Ph.D. in musicology. The book was out of print at the time (and had been for years), and searching for it led me to discover the (now sadly departed) Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop in Boston, where I bought the first of a few copies I was to own. It became a book I loaned out a few times, but one that was never returned.

(It also led to a title I've always wanted to use somehow -- when writing a note to someone once, my mother, quickly recommending a book, typed the title as The Still Small Vice of Strumpets.)

Not having read The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets in many years, I decid…

Report from the Set of A Scanner Darkly

Philip K. Dick's children report from the set of the upcoming film of A Scanner Darkly, directed by Richard Linklater:A Scanner Darkly is one of our father's most personal stories because much of it is based on his own experiences. For this reason, it was especially important to us that it be done with all of the right intentions. His struggle with drug abuse is well documented, and he (and we) have witnessed many casualties. The novel is filled with his humor and his own tragedies. And we believe that Richard's screenplay manages to capture these key elements -- he has even included our father's poignant afterword in his adaptation. ...

Like a graphic novel come to life, A Scanner Darkly will utilize live action photography overlaid with an advanced animation process to create a haunting, highly stylized vision of the future. The technology was first employed in Linklater's 2001 film Waking Life and has evolved to produce even more impact and detail.I would be mor…

Quote for the (Blooms)Day

From "Ariadne's Dancing Floor" by Guy Davenport, in Every Force Evolves a Form:Joyce's achievement is to have fulfilled in a masterly oeuvre a particular promise of art in the twentieth century. We can define elements of his mastery by placing him beside his peers. Pound, so curiously hostile to the Wake and eventually disenchanted with Ulysses after he had championed it, was working parallel to Joyce in that he was tracking the beginnings of civilization and cultures, and meditating on what qualities made them vulnerable to destruction or guaranteed them long life. But whereas Pound hoped to instruct mankind and display history as a lesson, Joyce did not. Man is tragically man, never to elude his fate.

Thomas Mann and Proust both attempted an inclusive and exhaustive configuration of European society, and both built complex symbolic structures which can be compared to Joyce's. Mann beside Joyce apppears pedantic, mechanical, humorless. The life that Joyce …

Science Fiction, Change, and Rationality

The ever-generous Maud sent me the text of a London Times article available only through subscription: a short essay by Stephen Baxter answering the question "Has the march of science made science fiction obsolete?" (Can you guess his answer?)

One of Baxter's premises is that science fiction, while seldom intended literally to predict the future, habituates its readers to thinking about change -- often large, world-shaking change -- and that we need such thinking now more than ever. He ends by saying:So, in 2004, do we need science fiction? Some features
of the world of 2004 resemble science fictional dreams
of the past; some science fiction scenarios are
obsolete. But history hasn't ended yet. In the coming
few years climate adjustments alone will ensure that
whatever else we run out of -- oil, fresh water, clean
air -- change itself will not be in short supply. There
will be no shortage of raw material for science
fiction literature, whatever becomes of genre
cat…

The Course of the Heart by M. John Harrison

Nightshade Books will soon be releasing The Course of the Heart by M. John Harrison, the first time the novel has been published in the U.S. I'm working on an extended essay about this book along with Harrison's Light and Signs of Life, so I'm not going to say much here except that The Course of the Heart is worth both your money and your time, though, as with all of Harrison's writings, it demands a lot of the reader, and the ratio of reward to effort depends on what you're willing to bear.

In the print version of a Locus interview with Harrison, The Course of the Heart is described as "literary fantasy" (to contrast with the "literary science fiction" of Signs of Life), a problematic term for many reasons, but I suppose it was intended to both honor Harrison's ambitions and skills and to warn readers that if they're looking for a David Eddings clone, then perhaps this isn't the book for them.

The Course of the Heart tells the stor…

Threepenny Realism

The latest issue of The Threepenny Review is out, and it's excellent. I don't tend to like their selection of fiction, but am usually quite happy with at least a few pieces of nonfiction and poetry, and some of those pieces, read over the past couple of years, have left an indelible mark on my own thinking -- for instance, a "symposium" on W.G. Sebald, or a magnificent essay on David Lynch's Mulholland Drive by Steve Vineberg (both from the same issue, which may simply mean it arrived at the right time in my life for me to be particularly receptive to the subjects and ideas).

In the current issue, I have been most intrigued by a review by David Cozy of Guy Davenport's The Death of Picasso: New & Selected Writing and by another "symposium" (a collection of short essays), this one not about a specific author, but about the word "realism".

Davenport is a favorite of mine, a writer of intimidating erudition, a man seemingly incapable of…

SF vs. Sci Fi

There's some discussion of the abbreviations "sci fi" and "SF" at Norman Geras's blog. This is an important discussion if you want to be sure not to insult particularly sensitive people.

Other people will probably find it about as meaningful as Henry Fonda's insistence on the distinctions between beer and ale in The Lady Eve.

A Conversation with K.J. Bishop

K.J. Bishop's debut novel, The Etched City, fascinated me in a way few other recent novels have. The more I thought about the book and my reaction to certain elements of it, the more I wanted to know about the author's ways of thinking and writing. Having corresponded a bit with Kirsten after writing about the book here in March, I asked if she would be willing to answer some questions. She was.


What is the attraction of fiction for you? Is it simply an impulse to tell stories, or is there another reason you write fiction rather than, say, soap operas?It's a mysterious thing. I didn't start writing fiction till I was about 25. Before then, art and music were my main creative pastimes. I wanted to be a guitar hero, but that was in 1989, when the extinction of the species was imminent! (Music lovers everywhere can thank the heavens.)

I don't think I have an impulse to tell stories so much as an impulse to spend time with characters. I always used to imagine thin…

Edwardians on the Moon

Did you know that there were Edwardians on the moon, discovered by the Apollo astronauts? The artifacts are on display in Boston until June 19. The product of a particularly interesting intelligence, I'd say.

Lambda Literary Awards

The Lambda Literary Awards for this year have been handed out, with Necrologue edited by Helen Sandler winning in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category. The only award winner I've actually read is Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith, a fascinating book.

Here's the official description of the awards:The Lambda Literary Awards recognize and honor the best in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender literature. From hundreds of books nominated by their publishers and other authorized agents, five nominees were selected in each of 20 categories. Panels of judges in each category, chosen to represent the diversity of the LGBT literary community, determined the final winner from the finalists.(via Scribblingwoman)

In Memory Yet Green

Today my favorite link to the outside world, the post office, is closed to honor the memory of Ronald Reagan, so I'm taking time to remember him by reading bits of The Death of Ben Linder and Gioconda Belli's memoir The Country Under My Skin.

Or maybe I'll just meditate on J.G. Ballard's story "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan":Motion picture studies of Ronald Reagan reveal characteristic patterns of facial tones and musculature associated with homoerotic behavior. The continuing tension of buccal sphincters and the recessive tongue role tally with earlier studies of facial rigidity (cf., Adolf Hitler, Nixon). Slow-motion cine films of campaign speeches exercised a marked erotic effect upon an audience of spastic children. Even with mature adults the verbal material was found to have a minimal effect, as demonstrated by substitution of an edited tape giving diametrically opposed opinions...

Internet Evils

Alas, the battle of Harlan Ellison vs. AOL is over. Ellison's suing of AOL because people used it to reprint some of his writings without permission seems to me like suing Xerox and the Postal Service because people sometimes use photocopiers and the mail to copy and distribute things they have no right copying and distributing, but it's always amusing to see Ellison bluster (unless, I suppose, you're the target of his blustering), and I thought Ellison vs. AOL was better than Celebrity Death Match.

Meanwhile, Bruce Sterling has some warnings about evil and the Internet:Keynoting a morning session of Gartner's 10th Annual IT Security Summit here, Sterling said, "This is the birth of a genuine, no kidding, for-profit, electronic, multi-national criminal world. The global criminal world of oil, narcotics and guns now has broadband."

And, according to Sterling, they are fully utilizing the technology.

"These are not all old-school hackers. This is organ…

Quote for the Day

In short, if newspapers were written by people whose sole object in writing was to tell the truth about politics and the truth about art we should not believe in war, and we should believe in art.

--Virginia Woolf
Three Guineas

James Joyce and Science Fiction

Michael Cassutt has an amusing column this week at Science Fiction Weekly, looking at the connections between James Joyce and SF. It's fairly standard stuff until the end, which is almost as good as the ending of a Frederic Brown story.

If you hate James Joyce, you might like Tim Cavanaugh's article for Reason, in which he wonders "Why does a book so bad it 'defecates on your bed' still have so many admirers?" There are a couple of good points raised, and we discover that Joyce fans like dressing up as much as Star Trek fans, but there's a deep current of anti-intellectualism in the article, an underlying assumption that all literature, to be good, must be accessible on a first reading, must have as wide an audience as a Rambo movie, and must appeal to Mr. Cavanaugh's own tastes. (Maybe he should have read only a page a day.) Personally, I don't have any plans to finish Finnegan's Wake, but I can recognize that it's a huge literary ach…

Black to the Future Festival in Seattle

Mark Sarvas, who did some magnificent reporting from Chicago's BookExpo, let me know about this article from the Seattle Times about the upcoming Black to the Future Festival, a "3-day multidisciplinary festival featuring some of the nation's most accomplished science fiction novelists and essayists including Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes, and Walter Mosley."

Sounds phenomenal. Anybody out there going?

Reflecting on the Bests

Jonathan Strahan has some interesting reflections on the best SF of the year collection he edited with Karen Haber, and there's more discussion over at the Nightshade message boards (including a great note from Lucius Shepard about strict definitions of science fiction and his story "Only Partly Here" -- a subject I almost went on and on and on about, but I'm trying to practice restraint).

I think this year's crop of best of the year collections is interesting in its diversity, a diversity I enjoy, though I know some people think the fact that there's so little overlap between the books means that the SF field is dissolving. I long ago gave up on the idea of the bests being some sort of incontrovertible canon of perfection, and instead I read them as I would other anthologies, and have fun playing the game of "would I choose this?" with each story. Strahan and Haber's book has the largest amount of stories I had thought of as the best of the y…

Three Movies

Three films I've seen recently have made me pause and consider what I thought of them, because I wasn't able to come to any immediate conclusion except that, to some extent at least, I thought they were interesting.

In the Cut is a mystery/suspense movie by Jane Campion, based on a novel by Susanna Moore. I responded very strongly to the film, finding it mesmerizing, provoking an almost unbearable tension, but I know many people thought it was dull or self-indulgent. The plot is the greatest weakness of the movie -- it's not the least bit original, and the revelation of the killer is far less interesting than the relationships between the characters, the balance of various thematic elements against each other, and the magnificent cinematography -- but though it's disappointing that the basic material is less compelling than a mediocre episode of "Law & Order", the characters and the craft made the flawed plot far less annoying to me than it would have b…

"The Battle of York" by James Stoddard

The July issue of F&SF is a "Special All-American Issue", given to United States authors and themes. So far this year, F&SF has seemed to me to be the best of the print magazines devoted to speculative fiction, publishing a wide range of stories, a few of them excellent. The July issue may be the best issue of the year so far (I haven't finished reading it), and the first story, James Stoddard's "The Battle of York", had me laughing out loud. Consider:A man approached, a tall, inhumanly broad figure carrying a lantern that glowed with an unearthly luminance. Washington felt his mouth go dry; his heart pounded against his chest, for he thought he recognized the intruder. He wanted to hide, but there was nowhere to go if the Pilgrim sought him. He drew Valleyforge and held it close.

The figure paused a few feet from Washington. The lantern light spread at General's feet, turning the ground emerald and olive.

"General Washington," …