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Showing posts from October, 2004

Weekend Fun

I've found myself listening almost obsessively to Richard Thompson's accoustic guitar version of "Oops! I Did It Again!" (see the NPR story for the link and some background. WireTap makes me very happy on those times when there's a bit of streaming audio I want to listen to offline). Thompson deconstructs a song with the same sort of imagination and skill Tori Amos demonstrated, first with Nirvana's"Smells Like Teen Spirit" and, later, with everyone from Tom Waits to Eminem.

"Oops! I Did It Again!" is part of Thompson's show 1,000 Years of Popular Music, which I saw Saturday night with some friends, and which was one of the best concerts I've ever been to. There were numerous songs, particularly the older ones, that I found mesmerizing, sometimes deeply moving, sometimes very funny (Richard Thompson doing Gilbert & Sullivan!). Of "Oops! I Did It Again!", which was, of course, a hit for Britney Spears, Thompson sa…

World Fantasy Awards

The 2004 World Fantasy Awards have been awarded. In the three fiction categories, Jo Walton won for Tooth and Claw, Greer Gilman for "A Crowd of Bone", and Bruce Holland Rogers for "Don Ysidro".

It's an especially interesting group of winners for many reasons, particularly in that the two short story winners were from small press anthologies: "A Crowd of Bone" in Trampoline and "Don Ysidro" in Polyphony 3. I haven't read Polyphony 3 yet, since I didn't buy a copy until WorldCon in September, but Trampoline is a phenomenal book, without any real clunkers for stories and quite a few that are breathtaking, particularly "Crowd of Bone". It's nice to see Greer Gilman's hyper-lyrical tale getting the attention it deserves. I can't think of anyone else who so vividly and vehemently uses all the tools of fantastic literature to reconceive not only storytelling, but language.

As for Tooth and Claw, it's been on m…

Halloween Tales

If you're looking for something at least marginally appropriate for today's holiday, here are thirteen links to online texts (a nearly-random sampling, in no particular order or disorder):A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner
The Ghost Stories of M.R. James
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Horla by Guy de Maupassant
J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Edgar Allan Poe
The Cedar Closet by Lafcadio Hearn
The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde
The Jolly Corner by Henry James
Among the Dead by Edward Bryant
I'll Play the Blues for You by Gary A. Braunbeck
The Secrets of the Living by Sarah Langan
Front Row Seats by Scott William Carter
and, for a bit of humor, a fourteenth:The Golem by Avram DavidsonIf those aren't enough for you, there are good collections of online texts at East of the Web and Gaslight.

Sarah Kane and the Theatre of Evisceration

I don't go to plays much anymore, and I don't keep up with the theatre world as I once did, but if I had the time to get to New York this week, I would do anything I could do to get a ticket to see Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis at St. Ann's Warehouse. Ben Brantley's excellent review for the Times explains what the play is quite well:Written as a refutation of reasons to live by Ms. Kane not long before she hanged herself at 28 in a London hospital five years ago, "4:48 Psychosis" is charged with the raging verbal energy of someone trying to make sense of a situation long beyond the reach of rational thought.

To say anything in "4:48 Psychosis" becomes a Sisyphean venture - defiant and pathetic - in the eclipsing shadow of this writer's anguish. In part by virtue of its very futility, Ms. Kane's language creates the most persuasive and authentic portrait of what it means to be terminally depressed that I have ever encountered in a theater…

New IROSF, etc.

The new Internet Review of Science Fiction is available now, and includes an interview I did with M. Rickert. (Registration is still free, folks, so if you haven't done so yet, you should, because they're threatening to charge a small subscription fee soon.)

In other news from people I've interviewed, Jeff VanderMeer has sold or resold a bunch of books, including Veniss Underground (one of the first books I ever wrote about here) and City of Saints and Madmen to Big Time Publishers in the U.S. and a collection of the secret lives he wrote for people to Prime. To celebrate, send him squid and mushrooms c/o Voss Bender Memorial Mental Institute, 1314 Albumuth Blvd., Ambergris Il3-24.

Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf by Paul Fattaruso

Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf, a recent book from Soft Skull Press, is the first novel of Paul Fattaruso, who has an MFA in poetry. It's the kind of book that makes me yearn for a better adjective than "surreal" to describe it, because during the course of the novel we encounter Iple, a young man who is deafened when a truck full of chickens crashes into a gas pump; we encounter the driver of the truck, a man named Zebedee, who always wins when he gambles; we watch Iple go to Antarctica with a bunch of scientists, one of whom kills him, and then we continue to watch Iple when he's in the afterlife, a place of strict social rules and fish that offer a lens back to Earth; we meet Penelope the microbiologist who studies Isabella, a brontosaurus found in the ice in Antarctica and thawed by the scientists and an ex-president who sometimes insists on being called Harry; we hear Isabella's story of ancient humans who were slightly shorter than the current versions bu…

Good News for Writers and Readers

Just got some good news about two writers. Sonya Taaffe has sold a collection of short stories to Prime and a collection of poems to Aegis, both for 2005 release.

M. Rickert has sold a collection of stories to Golden Gryphon, to be titled A Very Little Madness. I'm assuming this will also be a 2005 release. (Update 10/21: Alas, it's coming out in 2006.)

2004 has been a pretty good year for collections, and now 2005 looks like it will continue that trend (Jeff Ford's got a new collection coming out eventually, too, but that may be 2006).

I'm particularly interested, because I have an interview with M. Rickert coming out in IROSF sometime before the end of the year, and am currently transcribing an interview I did with Sonya this weekend, and which I will post here (sometime before the end of the year -- I'm a slow transcriber). So, apparently, if I interview you, you will eventually have a collection of stories accepted for publication. I think Jeff VanderMeer m…

Joyce Carol Oates: Some Contradictions

I have avoided writing about Joyce Carol Oates for a long time, and for a variety of reasons. Mostly, because I'm conflicted -- I find a small amount of her writings to be compelling and brilliant, the majority of them to be frustrating; the phenomenon of her career fascinating, but also exhausting.

Two recent responses to her work have caught my attention, though. First, there's Lionel Shriver in the Globe and Mail opening a review with this sentence: "Joyce Carol Oates is an atrocious writer."

The second piece to catch my eye was Miriam Burstein's post at The Little Professor about Oates's novel The Tattooed Girl. Burstein's general feelings about Oates are somewhat similar to mine: "As an undergraduate, I devoured Joyce Carol Oates' novels every chance I could get. A decade on, I find that my enthusiasm has waned to a near-vanishing point..." I, too, began reading Oates while at college, and her writing was an addiction for a couple of…

Want to Write a Review?

I have advanced proofs of two forthcoming books, Harry Turtledove's Homeward Bound and Stephen Baxter's Exultant that are parts of series I have not read and don't expect to read any time soon, so I'm not going to review the books.

However, I expect somebody out there might have read either Baxter's Coalescent, to which Exultant is a sequel, or the various books in Turtledove's Worldwar or Colonization series. If you have, and want me to send you the proofs I've got, then here's a deal:

1. Send me an original review of 500-1,000 words of either Coalescent or the other Turtledove books.

2. If I like it enough to post it here at The Mumpsimus, I'll send you the corresponding proof. (So include your postal address in your email.)

3. You will then read the proof and send me another review of 500-1,000 words to post.

Since I've only got one proof for each book, whoever responds with the first publishable review will get the prize. (I can't s…

Familiar is Good, Good is Familiar

MoorishGirl links to an article in The New York Times about this year's finalists in the fiction category of the National Book Awards, an article that spends most of its words bemoaning the fact that none of the finalists are famous, because, apparently, only famous writers deserve awards.

It's a stupid article for a number of reasons, but I'm only going to focus on one, because it's an attitude I can't stand, an attitude that makes me so angry I am barely capable of arguing against it -- the attitude that promotes the familiar over the unfamiliar, that prefers the known to the unknown.

We saw plenty of this with the announcement of Elfriede Jelinek this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. "She can't be any good!" people screamed. "I've never heard of her!"

Now, it may be true that Jelinek's work is terrible, or that the books nominated for the National Book Award are not nearly as good as books by Well-Known Writer…

Return of the Bloggers

Two writers who stopped blogging shortly after I started reading their blogs (correllation is not causation) have returned: William Gibson and Richard Calder (who isn't blogging very frequently, but a little bit now and then is certainly better than nothing).

Gibson's reasons for launching himself back into the blogosphere give a sense of the direction he expects his blog to take:Because the United States currently has, as Jack Womack so succintly puts it, a president who makes Richard Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln.

And because, as the Spanish philospher Unamuno said, "At times, to be silent is to lie."via Boing Boing

Poetry and Speculation

Daniel E. Blackston at SF Reader has reviewed the latest Rhysling Award Anthology from the Science Fiction Poetry Association. It's nice to see the anthology getting some attention, because it's a nice collection, and is, for authors and editors and nominators and everyone involved, a labor of love. As a member of the SFPA, I know I found it a valuable tool when voting. In fact, it even caused me to vote for one poem I didn't nominate, because I thought it was better than the one I had, but I hadn't previously encountered it.

Blackston's review is thoughtful and shows careful reading of the anthology. It would be wonderful if more poetry got this sort of attention*. I'm also glad that he's willing to take issue with some of the collection, essentially creating a manifesto, a call to arms:My overall verdict on The Rhysling Anthology is that the poems included probably do represent the most technically accomplished SF poems of the year. That means, you a…

Two from Maud

Maud Newton notes that the National Book Award finalists have been announced, and include Madeleine is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, a book that is sitting on my desk at this very moment, waiting to be read. (It was recommended to me both by a friend of the author, who said, "It's weird, you'll like it," and by Gwenda Bond, who once even mentioned me in the same post as the book -- a fact that may be an omen dooming the book to inevitable obscurity and failure.)

Maud also links to an interview with Jonathan Lethem, in which Lethem discusses contemporary fiction and its influences. For a guy who got his start writing for Asimov's and the now dearly-departed Aboriginal SF, Lethem has done well for himself, and identifies Don DeLillo as the writer who has merged the worlds of literary innovation and tradition. The most amusing part of the short, rather shallow interview is that whoever transcribed it conflated John Barth and Donald Barthelme into John Barthe…

Goss, Singh, Gilman Reading in Cambridge, MA

I think I will be going to the following:16 Oct. 3-5 PM -- Theodora Goss will launch her debut chapbook, The Rose in Twelve Petals, with two other readers, Vandana Singh & World Fantasy nominated ("A Crowd of Bone") Greer Gilman, Pandemonium Books & Games, The Garage @ Harvard SQ, 36 JFK St. Cambridge, MAI'm not 100% sure I'll be there, because I have to work until 11.30 or so, but there are a couple of reasons I'm going to do my best -- the readers are each phenomenal writers, my first Locus review is of Goss's chapbook (the review should be out next month), and it's a day before my birthday (aw, shucks).

Here are fine samples of writing by the writers who will be reading:

"The Rapid Advance of Sorrow" by Theodora Goss

"Three Tales from Sky River" by Vandana Singh

a short excerpt from "Jack Daw's Pack" by Greer Gilman

Real Gone by Tom Waits

Definitely part of the original idea was to do something somewhere between surreal and rural. We call it surrural. That's what these songs are -- surrural. There's an element of something old about them, and yet it's kind of disorienting, because it's not an old record by an old guy.

--Tom Waits, 1999Since Jonathan Strahan has been writing about R.E.M.'s rather bland new album, I thought I would say a few words here about Real Gone, the new album from Tom Waits.

If you have heard Waits previously and found his voice -- which sounds like Bob Dylan chewing on a carburetor -- off-putting, then you will not like this album, because most of the songs here are noisy and raw. Waits growls and screams and grunts and moans relentlessly through the first five tracks, letting up only for a moment with How's It Gonna End. This is industrial Waits -- surruralist prayers hung on the wall of a munitions factory, their rhythms collated in a dadabase of grunge.

To someone who…

If the Presidential Debates were Moderated by Science Fiction Fans...

MODERATOR: Welcome to the first World Science Fiction Presidential Debate, sponsored by Tor Books and Baen Books. Let's start right off. What do you think about the threat of clones and/or cyborgs replacing middle-class workers? Mr. President?

BUSH: I'm against it. In my administration, no cloning will go for money. I was talking with Tommy Franks just the other day about cloning. The President has to be strong on cloning. You have to make decisions. My opponent has been in the Senate since the end of eternity, and he has never once made any. Decisions. And that's bad. The American people expect cloning to be against God's will. It's like abortion with stem cells, which I supported very much, it's important, it's the beginning of the start of something, but there's morality. The President has to be moral.

MODERATOR: Senator Kerry, a rebuttal?

KERRY: I'm glad you asked that question. Considering that cloning is, at the moment, a theoret…

Stable Strategies 3

[Part 1, Part 2]

Today I read the next four stories in Stable Strategies and Others, "Computer Friendly", "The Sock Story", "Coming to Terms", and "Lichen and Rock".

"Computer Friendly" was written in the late 1980s, and it garnered a Hugo Award nomination, probably because its plot revolves around a girl in a super-cyber future where everyone is part of a network and children are euthanized if their personalities are out of line -- an idea still capable of being fresh then (although Isaac Asimov did a better job with elements of the story in 1951's "The Fun They Had"). It's the sort of thing that gets labeled a "cautionary tale", but it's also an example of the danger of writing SF solely about ideas: if the ideas become quaint, the story needs to be able to survive on something else. Unfortunately, time has not dealt kindly with "Computer Friendly", and now it simply seems to take too many …

15 Great Science Fiction Novels

Mark Sarvas discovered an interesting list of 15 recommended science fiction novels at, of all places, Business Week's website.

It's a purely personal list, arranged chronologically, but it's wonderfully varied. Far better than most such lists I've seen. Rather than the specific choices, what I most admire is the spirit of the list -- books that are classics of the SF field alongside books better known outside the confines of the SF label.

Magic Realism, Science Fiction, Futuristic Fantasy, and the American Short Story

Rake's Progress points toward an interview with Lydia Davis (writer of odd and often interesting shortshortshort stories) in which Davis and interviewer Mark Budman say the following:Budman: But if you survey American literary magazines, with the notable exception of Zoetrope All Story (i.e. The Cavemen in the Hedges), you will rarely see magic realism published. Could it be that some editors are afraid that magic realism will be mistaken for, gasp, science fiction?

Davis: One name comes to my mind in this discussion, and that is George Saunders. I wonder just how you would categorize his fiction.

Budman: Well, he is an engineer like me. Which means he is a literary, goofy, surreal science fiction writer--it all comes with a little known clause in the engineering diploma (should you decide to accept it). What is your take on him?

Davis: I like his work very much. I was bowled over when I first read it--so horrifying and yet familiar and funny at the same time. It does (mag…

Experiment and Fiction 2

During my recent pause from blogging, I realized what I like most about this medium is not the opportunity to spout out my own questionable opinions, but rather the opportunity to participate in conversations. In the comments to my previous entry, a wide variety of people offer valuable thoughts, arguments, and clarifications.

I like Jeff Ford's first comment so much I want to draw a bit more attention to it by quoting it here: It's my belief that when most of the writers you mentioned wrote their works, they were not "experiments" but instead passionate expressions of each artist's vision. A good reader can smell an "experiment" a mile away. When the vision dictates the form and the form no matter how different must be itself, that's not an experiment, that's writing a story. Much value is placed on "experiment" these days but less is placed on the true expression of a vision. Some of the greatest of these appear completely tradi…

Experiment and Fiction

A question at the end of one of Jeff VanderMeer's recent posts has been nagging at me -- "Do writers of experimental fiction need to prove they can tell a good story before they start experimenting?"

Some people immediately reply, "Yes!" to that question, the same way people shout "Yes!" when asked whether a painter has to be able to paint recognizable objects before being able to paint abstractly. "Know the rules before you break them," is common advice to artists of all kinds.

Does that make sense? Why should an artist's ability in one mode be a determiner or critique of the artist's ability in another mode? Does the fact that somebody can "write a good, old-fashioned story" make you like their experiments any more than you would otherwise? Plenty of people write bad stories with "the rules", so why is it worse when people write bad stories without them?

I can think of a few visual artists who moved from re…

Quote for the Day

Style in writing is neither simply scrupulous transparency nor runaway expressivity. It is the use of language to produce a particular effect for a particular purpose in a particular context. It is the willingness to so use language for what the language has to offer.

--Daniel Green

Stable Strategies 2

And now to the substance of Stable Strategies and Others, the stories themselves. I've decided to read them in the order they are included in the book, rather than, as I was first tempted, chronologically. I'm curious to see Gunn's development, but I'm just as curious to see how the order she (presumably) has laid them out in affects the reading.

I have now read the first two stories, "Stable Strategies for Middle Management" and "Fellow Americans". The former I read in the late 1980s, when it was first published in Asimov's and then reprinted in Gardner Dozois's Best of the Year anthology. I remember thinking it was funny and perplexing. Now I find it odd that I was able to get any meaning out of the story at all, because I was too young then to know anything about what the story was satirizing.

If I were trying to sell a script of this story to Hollywood, I'd pitch it as "Kafka meets 'The Office'", but it's o…

Stable Strategies 1 (Ancillary Material)

Stable Strategies and Others is Eileen Gunn's first collection of stories, though she has been publishing fiction professionally since 1978. She is not a particularly prolific writer.

I once thought she was, however. It was after I read what I have for a long time mistakenly thought was her first-published story, "Stable Strategies for Middle Management", which appeared in Asimov's in 1988. Between 1988 and 1991, Gunn published five stories in Asimov's, the only SF magazine I read regularly at that time, and so I thought she was a new, young writer "bursting onto the scene" as they say (who's they?). Either because I didn't bother to read the biographical notes appended to the stories in the magazine or to their appearances in Gardner Dozois's Best of the Year anthologies, I didn't know Gunn had been writing for quite some time and that the spurt of stories was an anomaly in her career. Thus, I was puzzled when she seemed to disappe…