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Showing posts from February, 2005

More Holly Phillips

Hot on the heels of my Infinity Plus interview with Holly Phillips, Jeff VanderMeer has Holly answer his five evil questions. And Sean Wallace offers an overview of links and quotes from reviews about Holly's marvelous first collection of stories, In the Palace of Repose. (I particularly recommend "The Other Grace", a story about amnesia that is as close to being a perfect story as I've read in a while.)

Brains! Brains!

Jeremy Tolbert pointed out a news report at New Scientist that had me coming up with all sorts of silly scenarios. For instance, consider the following paragraph:"Gay men adopt male and female strategies. Therefore their brains are a sexual mosaic," explains Qazi Rahman, a psychobiologist who led the study at the University of East London, UK. "It's not simply that lesbians have men's brains and gay men have women's brains."Jeremy rightly pointed out that the first quote is great, but my own brain really got working with the last, because I immediately imagined the story of a lesbian with a collection of men's brains in her basement.

Then there are the two paragraphs that begin the article:Gay men employ the same strategies for navigating as women -- using landmarks to find their way around -- a new study suggests.

But they also use the strategies typically used by straight men, such as using compass directions and distances.Suddenly I imagined a test…

Dept. of Yet More Self-Promotion

Two quick links that are all about me, me, me:

First, a story I wrote something like seven years ago has found a home at Pindeldyboz. A warning: The story dates from a time when I thought I was going to be a writer of deeply sensitive literary stories. I'm pretty much incapable of writing that way anymore, and loathe most of my old efforts at doing so, but this particular story is short enough that I've maintained a certain fondness for it, and I'm glad it has the chance to see the light of day for at least a couple weeks.

Second, at the suggestion of Jeff Ford, I've decided to create a new blog, this one about my experiences in the role of Caliban in an upcoming production of The Tempest. The site doesn't have much content yet, but the first rehearsal is later today, so I expect to have something to post soon. I'm just hoping I don't drown in oodles of narcissism. ("Too late!" you scream.)

James Sallis at The Boston Globe

I seldom see references to one of the most pleasurable newspaper columns I know: Jim Sallis's "A Reading Life" at The Boston Globe. Sallis is a writer who deserves a lot more notice than he tends to get, a writer who has been published in the littlest of literary magazines at the same time as major science fiction and mystery magazines (and was even, for a little while, an editor of New Worlds). He's published poetry, short stories, novels, essays, and biographies. The joy of his Globe column is how ecumenical it is -- he's written about such writers as Jim Harrison, Blaise Cendrars, Leigh Brackett, and John Sladek.

On Lovecraft:Like Hammett and Chandler, so much has he become an element of the very air we breathe and the ground upon which we tread that we take his innovations for granted, failing to recognize and to honor them.On Larry Gonick:Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it, Santayana said. Those who do know it, those like Larry Gonick…

Clubbiness, Hypocritical and Otherwise

Gwenda Bond rants well about accusations of "hypocritical clubbiness" amongst bookbloggers. I was ignoring the entire scuffle, but then with Gwenda's post I began to think I should perhaps state a couple things openly and clearly here. I think Gwenda and others have covered the charges against blogs in particular just fine, but I did want to say a few words about book reviewing within small communities.

When I began this weblog, I intended to write entirely about science fiction and fantasy. At the time, I had met two SF writers in my entire life, and was in semi-regular contact with only one of them. All of that has changed in the past eighteen months -- while I no longer write only about SF, I do it often enough that I now know a lot more SF writers on a first-name basis than before. This could lead to clubbiness. I could write glowing things about mediocre writing by people I know. I have not consciously done this -- I have praised work that I honestly thought a…

Linkdump

Here are some things that are not here:

New fiction at The New Yorker: "The Conductor" by Aleksandar Hemon. (By the way, The NYer site isn't very good about maintaining an archive of past fiction. This is when Google can be a revelation.)

Speaking of online fiction ... I haven't read much of it yet this year. I did read Jeff Ford's "Man of Light", which was quite fun and, of course (this being a Jeff Ford story) marvelously written. Jeff described it to me as a "Manichean fairy tale". Indeed. (There are lots of good writers with stories at SciFiction so far this year, which makes me feel really quite guilty for not having had time to read any of their work yet.)

Elves killed by punk rock.

The Participatory Panopticon. You are being watched. And you will like it.

Ron Silliman on Bruce Sterling: "If William Gibson is the Wordsworth of cyberpunk fiction, Bruce Sterling is the Coleridge."

Arsenic. Old lace.

"Tech Writers, Grammar,…

Vitrified Catastrophes and Ontological Whigmaleery

Mac Wellman's plays inevitably get labeled "difficult" because they are full of oddities of language, and in some of them (such as Terminal Hip) the words are so divorced from their referents that the play can seem to be more tone poem than dramatic action.

Despite his reputation, though, Wellman is a diverse writer. He has written more-or-less straightforward plays such as his adaptation of Dracula, down-and-dirty political satire such as 7 Blowjobs and Sincerity Forever, weird musical entertainments like FNU LNU, and more.

"The Sandalwood Box" is a one-act by Wellman that moves from an almost-coherent storyline to fugue-dream fantasies made of vomitted words. It's haunting and funny, perplexing and beautiful; at the moment I think it's one of the best short plays written by an American (no, there isn't stiff competition -- most American one-acts are atrociously awful crimes against art).

I've been thinking about the play recently because I had …

Notes from a Writer: Adam Fawer

One day I got an email from Adam Fawer, introducing himself as the author of the new novel Improbable. I'd never heard of the book, but Adam contacted me right at the time when I was thinking of locating an author who was trying to use the internet as a publicity tool (I'm curious what sort of techniques are proving effective). Perfect timing.

"Want to do an interview with me?" Adam said. "No," I said. "I mean, I'm sure you're a lovely person, but I just don't have time right now, and I haven't read your book. BUT -- I'd love to have you write about how you're working with your publisher on publicity, and how you're trying to reach an audience." (Well, no, actually, I just made all that dialogue up. Adam asked if I'd want to do an interview or have him write a guest post. I said a guest post would be useful right now, and that something about publicity might be interesting. But the dialogue's better tha…

Lost and Found: Rob McCleary

Sometimes writers seem to disappear.

Doug Lain loved the story "Nixon in Space" by Rob McCleary, originally published in the mid-1990s in Crank! and reprinted in The Best of Crank! (you can still get copies of Crank! via Small Beer Press, by the way). Doug loved the story so much that he wrote about it at his LiveJournal site, where, after discussing the story, he wrote,Looking on google I can't find any link to other Rob McCleary stories or books. But they surely must be out there somewhere. It can't be that McCleary published this and then never wrote, or got published, again. After all, "Nixon in Space" appeared in "The Best of Crank" and inspired me to make a collage tape of Nixon's resignation, his conversation with Kruschev, and Kennedy's speech about the moon. These voices combined with Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite played on my realistic tape machine throughout the late 90s.

If anybody knows the titles to McCleary's n…

Sontag on Science Fiction

Just before her death, Susan Sontag wrote an introduction to a new translation of Halldor Laxness's novel Under the Glacier. The NY Times just published the introduction, and it's fascinating, partly because it's about a writer I'd never heard of (despite his 1955 Nobel Prize), partly because Sontag makes some weird generalizations about science fiction.

I'm a fan of weird generalizations, not because they're correct (what generalization ever is?), but because they're more interesting than banal generalizations, so if you're inclined to generalize, it's nice if you can at least be weird about it. Also, I think Sontag has in mind SF from the 19th century and earlier, since the most of the books and writers she mentions specifically are pre-20th century. Some examples:Science fiction proposes two essential challenges to conventional ideas of time and place. One is that time may be abridged, or become ''unreal.'' The other is that t…

New Worlds and Old

After reading my review of New Worlds: An Anthology, Michael Moorcock, the editor, sent a note to SF Site in which he expressed his frustration with the review and with my apparent conservatism. Rodger Turner forwarded the note to me, and I asked him if there was a way to publish it either at the site's forums or at the end of the review, along with a short reply by me. Michael Moorcock was open to that, and so you can now read the entire exchange at the SF Site forum.

My response turned out to be longer than the original review, but, as Blaise Pascal once said, I didn't have time to write something short.* I welcomed the chance to clarify some of my thoughts on the book and on New Worlds magazine's legacy, because when I wrote the original review I ended up spending so much time on it that I muddled a lot of my thoughts and wasn't nearly as specific or analytical as I should have been, so I think Moorcock was right to complain. I still think it's a turgid, mono…

Quote for the Day

Songs, I think, have to be anatomically correct ... I always believe you gotta put a change of clothes in there ... and ... you know that type of thing ... you have to put ahh ... you know, the names of towns and ... it's good to put something to eat in there as well ... and some weather ... you just never know, 'cause folks, you know, you send them out there and the people take those songs, and they do things with them, and they need ... you know it's like a swiss army knife ... I don't know, that's the way I see it ... that's the way they are to me...

--Tom Waits

Best American Short Stories

I've known for a while that the upcoming Best American Short Stories volume, edited by Michael Chabon, would be a little bit different from past editions, but I didn't dare hope things would turn out quite as well as they have.

I think Gwenda Bond was the first to break the news publicly, and it's big: Kelly Link's story "Stone Animals" (from Conjunctions 43) and Tim Pratt's "Hart & Boot" (from Polyphony 4) will be included in the book.

At the end of last year, in some thoughts on "Stone Animals", I said, "If Kelly Link isn't the best short story writer in the U.S., then she's the equal of whoever is." Earlier in the year, I'd described "Hart & Boot" as "the kind of story you might get if a schizophrenic fabulist decided to recount the plot of a spaghetti western." (That was in a joint review of Polyphony 4 with Dan Green, who had good things to say about the story in passing.)

It's …

"This is the best blog post you will read in the next ten seconds!"

Adam Langer has a fun column at The Book Standard about blurbs, blurbing, and being a blurber:Still, at this moment, I'm struggling with the blurb format, which often seems to be a particularly literate form of Mad Libs:

"This (adjective) and (adjective/noun) cuts to the bone of (evocative phrase). Reminiscent of the works of (mainstream author) and (groovy, less well-known author), this (adjective) work marks (insert writer's name) as a (choose one: [a] writer at the top of his/her game; [b] a bold new voice of his/her generation)."

The cynic in me has always read blurbs with a sensibility borrowed from Mad Magazine: "When they say 'ambitious,' they really mean 'I didn't finish the damn thing.'" My favorite unpublished blurb is one that was written by a very famous Hollywood personality, who I unfortunately can't identify here: "What do you want me to say?" the blurber wrote. "I'll write anything!"I read this …

Leena Krohn

I'm putting the finishing touches on an interview I just did with Finnish writer Leena Krohn for SF Site, where there will also be a review I wrote of Krohn's recently-translated novel Tainaron: Mail from Another City, a novel that Jeff VanderMeer put on his Best of 2004 list -- one of six titles along with such well-known books as China Mieville's Iron Council and Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. (Jeff also wrote about it at his blog.)

At first, it was Tainaron's length that sold me on it: 124 pages. I've been quite busy over the past two months, and haven't had nearly as much time to read anything as I like to have, but 124 pages (including illustrations and blank pages) is something I can do in a few days, even when life is at its most hectic. So I did.

And then, immediately, I read the book again. It's that good -- better, in fact, on a second reading than a first. (I'm afraid you'll have to wait till my SF Site review to find ou…

Mid-February SF Site

The latest SF Site has been posted. It includes a best books of 2004 list compiled from a poll of SF Site contributors, a Best of 2004 list by Greg L. Johnson, Part 2 of Steven H. Silver's conversation with Susanna Clarke, and lots of reviews, including mine of New Worlds: An Anthology, which was one of the most difficult reviews I've ever written, though I hope it doesn't show too much.

I do wish I'd mentioned Pamela Zoline's story "The Heat Death of the Universe" in the review, because on its own I like a lot of it. It got a bit lost for me within the context of the book, though, because in some ways it's one of those stories that, for me at least, benefits from being surrounded by more traditional, linear stories so that its innovations can stand out as a contrast to the style of writing around them.

Also, I didn't contribute to the best of the year list because I didn't feel that I'd read enough 2004 books to contribute meaningfully. …

Greg Beatty Saves the World!

Well, not quite the world. Just a historical collection of 250,000 science fiction fanzines. And not Greg alone, but it wouldn't have happened without him.

Let's work backward. In December, I noted that Boing Boing had pointed to an Ebay auction of Mike Horvat's phenomenal collection of fanzines. I said then, somewhat wistfully, "Somebody should get a library or institution of some sort to bid on these -- this sounds like a unique and valuable collection."

Apparently, Greg Beatty thought the same thing, because, according to a press release from the University of Iowa,It would never have happened ... if a former student of [Rob] Latham's, Greg Beatty, a UI alumnus who graduated in 2000, had not stumbled across a listing showing the collection for sale while looking at online auction houses one night. Knowing how valuable the collection would be, he immediately emailed Latham.

"Mr. Horvat put his collection up for sale on eBay because the rented building …

Holly Phillips at Infinity Plus

An interview I did with Holly Phillips has been posted at Infinity Plus, along with Holly's story "A Woman's Bones".

Last month, Prime Books published Holly's first collection, In the Palace of Repose, which is one of the stronger and more coherent single-author collections I've read in a while.

Here's a taste of the interview:I've always read widely, not just in fantasy, but there is something about the joy fantasists take in purely imaginative work, and something about the way that imagery and metaphor are made literal, concrete, in fantasy and all the speculative genres, that has always fired my own imagination. I think Sean [Stewart] once called it "opening a window on the numinous," which I think is a beautiful phrase.

MC: What about the literalization of metaphor appeals to you? Is it just that that's what seems to most easily ignite your imagination, or is there more to it?

HP: Definitely more to it. What I see happening in…

Arthur Miller (1915-2005)

Two days ago I told some students, "There are, for better or worse, three plays we generally count on educated Americans being familiar with: The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Death of a Salesman. All were first produced within five years of each other, and the author of Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller, is still alive."

Alas, Arthur Miller died last night of congestive heart failure.

Miller and I shared a birthday, and once we even shared an elevator. I was a freshman at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in the Dramatic Writing Program, where Miller had taught during the previous semester, and I suppose he was coming to pick up mail or something. I was too awed to be in the same elevator with him (and a bunch of other people) to say anything, and I never caught sight of him again.

To be honest, Miller's writing never did much for me, but I certainly respected a lot that he stood for, and I will always respect what he was able to accomplish in the the…

Ecstasy, Catalepsy, and Metafiction

Doug Lain's new story ("A Coffee Cup/ Alien Invasion Story") has gotten some criticism at the Strange Horizons forums for being odd and untraditional. Doug has patiently and thoughtfully responded to some of the criticisms at his own site, saying, among other things:First of all I don't consider this story to be "experimental". By that I mean I don't think it's doing anything new or innovative. I would say instead that the story is metafictional, but people have been writing metafiction for a long time. Maybe thirty or forty years ago a few people could pretend that metafiction was new and innovative, but I don't figure it's particularly daring now.I recently read Michael Moorcock's retrospective New Worlds anthology, and though only a few of the pieces within it seemed to have survived well the passage of time, I think the book itself is vital and valuable because it shows that not only are certain types of "experiments" …

"A Keeper" Online

Alan DeNiro's excellent story "A Keeper" is now online. I wrote about it last year in a review of Electric Velocipede #6, and it recently appeared on the Locus 2004 Recommended Reading list. Here's the beginning: Tonight the woman who always calls, calls. This time she asks me how to divide a beggar and an arctangent. What could I have possibly said to her? I think she is a keeper. "Stop trying to mix the humanities and the sciences. And go to bed." I nod to the phone and the phone clicks off. Outside, a noise sounds like thunder, though it could be a stray dog rolling a garbage can for shelter. I turn off my flickering bedside light (brown-outs, again, all over central Brazil) and tell the clock, "wake me at six am," attempting to sleep. I sleep.

An hour later she calls back. "But I can't sleep. I can't stand the fact that all across the Americas windows are opening and closing, opening, and I'm not l…

Linkdump

Time to clean out some bookmarks...

LitHaven is on fire these days, and recently published a new short story by Aimee Bender, "Night". Be sure also to see their interviews.

Neil Gaiman has put his story "I, Cthulhu" up on his site.

Jeff VanderMeer offers some thoughts as he reads the new Haruki Murakami novel, Kafka on the Shore: Are there books we under-appreciate through no fault of the author's, but because our own imaginations as readers are not up to the task? And are there books we admire in part because we are not imaginative enough to see them for what they are?

In any event, I'm enjoying Murakami's latest novel so far. It is rather beautiful and strange and down-to-earth and surreal and realistic and meandering and focused--everything a good novel should be.Want literary links? Go to The Page. Better than Arts & Letters Daily. Utterly magnificent. (via Ron)

The Literary Saloon has some Alasdair Grey links, including to full texts of som…

Open Source Shakespeare

I was just offered the role of Caliban in The Tempest for a production that's going up in March, and, instead of making a firm decision, I decided to spend time researching the role. I thought I knew most of the major Shakespeare sitesontheweb, but there are so many that it's inevitable some get missed, and I had never seen Open Source Shakespeare, which is a great site providing statistics, a concordance, an advanced search, and all the plays, poems, and sonnets.

Of course, plenty of sites offer these things, but I like how easy it is to filter and manipulate information here. For instance, if I did accept the role, it might be useful when learning them to view all of Caliban's lines, and this site offers a range of ways they can be displayed: truncated, complete, or with cue lines. The last is actually really handy for memorization.

Wonderful the stuff you can find out there on the internets!

Nets the Si'ze of Souls
by Michael Szewczyk

I recently mentioned that I'm going to nominate Michael Szewczyk's poem "Nets the Si'ze of Souls" for a Rhysling Award. I contacted Mr. Szewczyk and got his permission to reprint the poem here for everyone to see. See my previous entry for comments on it.

Nets the Si'ze of Souls
by Michael Szewczyk

there is a music in the roosts, from deadly war
teams of the wildlife colony tubes. Shy is the
Wildlife of conflicting del fuegos
and the orthadox Soul Nets of recent mystery.
in a worship Nations existed in dinosaur
cries of hades. Of the book of Lamps,
i march the del fuego in search of dolphins
and Mighty departures. To hours
and ears of the living in the November
well of books whining friendly with the
days of the ghosts of the sea ledges of
the '70s. a message of Azimuth and try
Not to Make Company while swimming.
Giant, how a Monster in May Stops in April
Easter days. Eighty-Eight Monsters 9 bees
and Over and Over Easter of Michael
Gold of the Sands of …

Strange Horizons

This week's issue of Strange Horizons has been posted, and features the debut of a monthly column I'm writing for them. SH is one of my favorite sites on the internet, and there are few other publishers for whom I would commit myself to a constant deadline (well, unless they offered a living wage. So if you're a publisher and want to offer a significant salary, please don't hesitate to contact me).

Everything else this week looks exciting too, though I haven't had a chance to read any of it. There's a new story by Douglas Lain (always cause for joy), a poem by Deborah P. Kolodji, and an interview with Tim Powers by Lyda Morehouse.

Really, what more could you want from life?

Suzette Haden Elgin on SF Poetry

Suzette Haden Elgin is one of the pioneers of the term science fiction poetry and a founder of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. She's got a new book coming out in March, The Science Fiction Poetry Handbook and has been writing a bit at her weblog recently about SF poetry and the SFWA's refusal to allow poems as qualifiers for membership (the posts start here and continue here, here, and here, with more, I expect, to come.)

As will probably surprise no-one, I disagree almost completely with Elgin (except about the SFWA), but she's stirring up some great conversations, and that's important. In some ways, actually, I do think she's right -- if SF poetry is going to truly be a genre (rather than a style, mode, or something else), then it should have hard and fast rules, ultimately putting it one step away from being a poetic form. If there are going to be rules, they might as well be Elgin's. The only excuse I can think of for poetic rules, though, is to…

Best Fantasy Story of All Time

I mentioned the Locus Poll & Survey earlier, but I have remained silent about their little addendum to the poll, the survey for the best fantasy story of all time, because I find it an utterly and completely impossible -- nay, absurd task. I mean, I like lists as much as anybody, but this is ridiculous!

Nonetheless, like all such lists, it will provoke some good discussion. For example, there's the fine discussion going on at Jeff VanderMeer's Nightshade Books discussion board. There are lots of good stories mentioned there, and some discussion seems to be brewing.

Myself, I'm staying out of it. If I had anything to add, it would be that Kafka's story "The Metamorphosis" may be my favorite short story of the 20th century. Or maybe "A Hunger Artist". Or "A Country Doctor". Or "Report to an Academy". Or maybe something by Beckett (one of my favorite titles of anything anywhere: "Imagination Dead Imagine"; One …