Showing posts from November, 2004

Multiple Reviews of Leviathan 4

Nick Mamatas , in his capacity as occasional publicist/pusher for Night Shade Books , gave out copies of Leviathan 4 to various bloggers to review. The results are beginning to trickle in, with reviews from Affinity8 (Sandra McDonald) and Mastadge . The more I read and review, the more I think nearly every book needs at least a couple of different reviewers, and this is especially true for anthologies, and especially especially true for anthologies of unconventional fiction, which Leviathan 4 is. My own review of the book will be published by SF Site in late December or January (although if you read one of the above reviews carefully you'll find a link to the draft. I don't mind, but the review hasn't yet been officially posted, so don't tell the boss!) Update 12/1: Kevin Donihe adds his thoughts on the book.

A Conversation with Sonya Taaffe

Sonya Taaffe is a young woman with an immensely bright future. Though she has only been publishing for a few years, her first collection of stories was recently accepted by Prime and is scheduled to be released in April. Earlier, she won a Rhysling Award for poetry, and this month the third issue of Flytrap came out, with Sonya as the first featured poet to be chosen by the magazine. Sonya and I first met at WorldCon, when we happened to be part of a conversation and she read my nametag and said, "You wrote nice things about me!" We didn't get much time to talk then, but later we discovered we would both be at a reading in Cambridge, and I asked Sonya if she would be willing to be interviewed. She was, and so after the reading we got tea and sat out in Harvard Square and talked. During our conversation, a bunch of frat boys in Halloween costumes ran around where we were sitting and screamed and yelled at people, fire engines roared by with their sirens on, and

Short Cuts

For a long time, one of Robert Altman's best movies, Short Cuts , seemed to have been lost in the valley between Altman's big popular successes, The Player and Gosford Park -- good films both, particularly the latter, but Short Cuts is one of the greatest achievements in American film. Finally, The Criterion Collection has brought Short Cuts to DVD, and it gives us a chance to look again at a movie that does exactly what an adaptation of literature from one medium to another should do: create something original and profound. Short Cuts is based on a handful of stories and one poem by Raymond Carver . Carver's widow, Tess Gallagher, supported Robert Altman's idea of melding the original material, moving characters around, relocating the stories from their various settings to Los Angeles, and letting them all happen concurrently over the course of a few days. Altman collaborated on the script with Frank Barhydt, and together they not only cut up the stories, b

For Your Shopping Pleasure

Today is, according to popular wisdom (or perhaps delusion), the busiest day of the year for shopping. Well, let me get all promotional for a moment and tell you that you -- yes, you friend! -- can avoid the madness of crowds thanks to the interventions of the good people at Night Shade Books , who have announced another in their generous series of sales. Go to Night Shade Books at their online storefront (no three-card monte players to dodge outside!) and order three or more books and you'll get 50% off your order. The best thing about it is that it includes forthcoming books as well as the stuff gathering dust on warehouse shelves! May I suggest M. John Harrison's The Course of the Heart ? That may be a bit strong for you at this time of year, however, so there's always the various Collected Jorkens volumes from Lord Dunsany -- you can get the three-volume set for a little over $50 in this sale. Or you could get something from Liz Williams or Lucius Shepard

Movie Note

I've never seen an Oliver Stone movie I particularly liked (though for some reason I have seen most of them), so I'm not planning on running out to see Alexander , but the pan it gets from Manohla Dargis in the NY Times is great fun to read. The wonderful thing about the review is that it carries all the way through to the end, including the description of the rating: "Alexander" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). The film features a lot of graphic warfare with impaled flesh, severed limbs and disturbing images of animal cruelty. Ms. Dawson also takes her top off, which may disturb some viewers in a rather different fashion. And from the Department of Just When You Thought Hollywood Couldn't Get Any More Stupid comes news that the great British playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard ( Shakespeare in Love , Brazil , Empire of the Sun , etc.) has apparently been removed from the film adaptation of the first book in Philip

Poetry Potpourri

I've been thinking a lot recently about poetry, about how and why I read it, what I want from the experience of reading it, etc. I've also been trying to think of ways to bring more attention to poetry in general and poetry for a science fiction/fantasy audience in particular. Consequently, I've got some links to share: 1. Cahiers de Corey is a weblog I just discovered (thanks to Dan Green ) where Josh Corey has been discussing "difficulty" in poetry: "Difficult" poetry is difficult because it can't be absorbed passively: it demands a response, an effort at completion or better, extension. It asks the reader to give up his or her secure ground and swim a little—which is exactly what a writer has to do. If I want to be reassured, or comforted, or to smile a little bit, I'd rather watch TV than read poems that only aspire to the level of TV (even really good TV). O'Hara still said it best: "If people don't need poetry bully for t

Some Good Stories from 2004

I've recently gotten a few requests from people who wondered, for one reason or another, what I thought some good SF/fantasy stories from 2004 have been. It's a difficult request to honor, because I feel like I have missed more stories than I have read this year -- I've read maybe 20% of SciFiction's offerings, maybe 40% of Strange Horizons , less of Fortean Bureau and Lenox Avenue . Two issues of Third Alternative , none of Interzone , and I'm behind on various 'zines, including Lady Churchill's , Flytrap , Say...Why Aren't We Crying? , and the latest Electric Velocipede . (I'll be getting to all of those by the end of the year, but need to get a couple of other things out of the way.) And I haven't even seen a copy of what some people have told me is the best anthology of the year, The Faery Reel . So I'm hardly an authority on short fiction in 2004! But what the heck -- for those of you curious for what stories I have found most


A potsherd is a shard of pottery with archaelogical value, and so I've settled on that word to title what will be, I hope, an occasional series of posts digging worthwhile bits and pieces out of the archives of weblogs that I read. The present-tense nature of blogs makes us tend to pay attention to what is most recent and most immediate, which may mean we miss gems from the past. I know that there are blogs I cherish but have not read the archives of, and so this is a chance to do so, or to draw attention to old posts that I still remember fondly. So here are the first potsherds dug out of dusty yesterdays: Jeff VanderMeer on being a census worker: "Oh, thought I, well maybe if I follow the chain, I'll find someone. So, like some kind of sun-drugged zombie, I followed the chain into the backyard...where it ended, predictably enough, attached to the collar of a Rottweiler." Daniel Green on the stories of Gary Lutz and one reviewer of them: "If anything,

Why It's Good for Books to Stay in Print for More than 3 Weeks

Alan Lattimore points to a study of sales ranks carried out by a group of scientists that proves why it might, at least occasionally, be good for publishers to keep books in print for a while, even when they're not immediate bestsellers: For example, "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," reached the bestseller lists two years after it came out (and without a major marketing campaign) by making the rounds of book-discussion clubs and inspiring women to form "Ya-Ya Sisterhood" groups of their own. In contrast, an exogenous shock (rave review) appears suddenly and propels a book to bestseller status; however, these sales typically decline rapidly, much more quickly than those that made the charts via word-of-mouth. In either case, single triggering events (e.g., a mention on "Oprah") appear to have much less effect on the sales history of a book than the actions of interconnected groups of people, who may pick up the book after mu

Artsy, Shallow Lesbian Erotica that's Not from the '50s!

The new story at Strange Horizons , "Time's Swell" by Victoria Somogyi and Kathleen Chamberlain has gotten some interesting reactions at the Strange Horizons message board, with a number of anonymous readers saying the story is too "artsy", is "shallow", and "read like lesbian erotic fiction". SH would increase their readership tremendously if they'd just start publishing more hard-core erotica science fiction, the stuff with phallic rocket ships to teach those lesbians how to behave themselves! Elsewhere, it has been suggested that there is a subculture of science fiction fandom that thinks all SF should read like it was written in the 1950s, back in the good old days before lesbians or art existed. Science fiction, the literature of yesterday's future! Okay, I'm being a little unfair. Maybe a lot. But I'm amazed that after Strange Horizons has published so many stories of so many different types, there are stil

"Anda's Game" by Cory Doctorow has published a new Cory Doctorow story, "Anda's Game" , that is fun to read and also offers a couple of interesting nuggets for thought, as Doctorow stories are wont to do. He's a remarkable writer for a number of reasons, but what most sticks out in my mind is his ability to write fiction that is real science fiction by anybody's definition, but that is also able to appeal to a broad audience, one not practiced at decoding the semantic clues emanating from the average SF story. SF has been said to be the most recursive sort of popular literature -- it builds off its own past, with writers riffing on each other's ideas, terminology, situations, and even, at times, characters -- and this is sometimes a problem for readers who are not steeped in all the tropes and technobabble, and for whom many SF stories seem either thin or incomprehensible. Doctorow is up to something slightly different, although certainly not something alien to science ficti

Dueling Reviews of Polyphony 4

Daniel Green of The Reading Experience weblog teamed up with me to review the recent SF/Fantasy/whatever anthology Polyphony 4 . We expected that, with such a large and varied collection, we would have considerably different opinions, and while certainly we disagreed about a few stories, I was amazed at how much we agreed on, and there's no point where I read Dan's review and said, "Huh?! What're you thinking !?" I thought it was particularly interesting to see how someone who is not a regular reader of SF perceives a book that is trying to explore some of the boundaries between SF and other literatures.

American Gods in a High School Classroom

At the end of August, I discussed how I was going about putting together a syllabus for the first term of my American literature class and my Advanced Placement literature class. We're are now in the midst of final exams for the trimester, and while Alex Irvine's One King, One Soldier was a useful, easy read for my AP students (I made them do it in one week), and did, indeed, increase their interest in Rimbaud and the legends of the Holy Grail, as I'd hoped, Neil Gaiman's American Gods proved to be exciting, overwhelming, engrossing, mystifying, and all sorts of other participial adjectives. I was not quite prepared for how low many of my students' skills would be, since I haven't taught eleventh graders in a few years and had forgotten what a large transition it is between sophomore and junior year of high school. In the first two weeks, when we were studying The Great Gatsby , I often lamented to colleagues, "They can't read. I'm not a re

Mid-November SF Site

The latest issue of SF Site has been posted, and it includes a review I wrote of recent issues of two small press magazines, Talebones and Full Unit Hookup . I was quite surprised and happy to find my review running at the top of the front page, because most places would bury a review of two magazines most of their readers haven't heard of. Not only that, I had plenty of space to write in depth -- far more space than I would get in most print publications. (And some of you, I know, will read it and say, "And far more space than you should have had!") Careful, thoughtful reviewing of small press publications can be helpful in a number of ways, both by advocating for high standards and by bringing consistent attention to work that often falls below the sense organs of larger review media. The folks at SF Site have been nothing but wonderful to work with, and they're providing a valuable service to the SF field.

Another Gratuitous Note on the National Book Award Nominees

The last thing the world needs is more verbiage about the National Book Award nominees for fiction , but I believe in excess and uselessness, so I can't resist the urge to comment and synthesize a bit more (since I've already added to the plethora of punditry once , why stop now?). Some of the best coverage of the finalists has been done at , where you can read short interviews with each finalist: Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum , Kate Walbert , Joan Silber & Lily Tuck , and Christine Schutt . There are also some short commentaries responding to the barrage of criticism The New York Times has launched at the nominees. Yesterday, Ron wrote something that I'd thought a few times about Philip Roth and The Plot Against America : On the one hand, I'm pleased to see that somebody is coming even closer to calling Roth's book science fiction, but let's not overstate the case: Plot has gotten plenty of bad reviews as well as the good, and it's hard

Teaching Science Fiction in High School

The latest issue of English Journal (full text available only to subscribers, alas) has an article titled "Science Fiction: Serious Reading, Critical Reading" by Diane Zigo and Michael T. Moore. The entire issue explores the theme of "Subversive English", with many of the articles revisiting the popular 1960s book Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner. The authors of the article think SF is a perfect type of literature for the subversive teacher: In Teaching as a Subversive Activity , Postman and Weingartner argue that "schools must serve as the principle medium for developing in youth the attitudes and skills of social, political, and cultural criticism" (2). Their thesis, that "change -- constant, accelerating, ubiquitous -- is the most striking characteristic of the world we live in" (xiii), has become more relevant to us at the beginning of the new millennium. You can guess where the argument is going

Coalescent by Stephen Baxter

Once upon a time I offered to give an advance reading copy of Stephen Baxter's new novel, Exultant or Harry Turtledove's Homeward Bound to anyone who wanted to write a review of the book and its predecessor(s). Nobody took me up on the offer, exactly. However, all is not lost. Stuart Carter let me know that he had written about both Exultant and Coalescent , the predecessor. Then Niall Harrison , who I'd secretly hoped had not gotten his hands on Exultant yet and would like to write about it, sent me a review of Coalescent . He didn't need my copy of the book (alas, since the whole point of the exercise was that I needed to get rid of some books), but I told him that if no-one else responded I'd be thrilled to use what he had written. In the meantime, he wrote about Exultant in a long and fascinating post about five recent space operas. Consequently, there's a lot of material about Exultant out there. Niall thinks I should read the book and w