Showing posts from March, 2005

Robert Creeley: 1926-2005

Maud Newton and Ron Silliman report that Robert Creeley has died. It was in college that I discovered Creeley -- not in a class, but rather on my own, trying to educate myself about contemporary poetry. I liked him for his lines, his famous short lines, the lines that felt just right to me. I was young enough to think I'd been waiting all my life for his poems, as if the words and lines were set in some special code just for me. I've now read too much to return to that feeling, but the memory is potent. Creeley went to high school at one of the main rivals of the school where I work. Fifteen miles from where I sit right now. I wonder how many people there have even heard of him? I hope many. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the teachers gave each student a big piece of chalk and sent them out to scrawl Creeley poems on the roads and pathways, on the sides of the buildings? I haven't kept up with Creeley's most recent work. Somebody told me his lines got longer

Quote for the Day

When you are in the realm of classical physics (imprecisely called "reality," because the other two kinds of physics are no less real, only far from our everyday experience), it's only normal that you are a rationalist. The alternative is to be irrational which is only an euphemism for being more or less insane. But I joyfully accept becoming irrational as soon as I step into what's the literary equivalent of relativistic and quantum physics. It is not only normal behavior there, but very desirable too. Without being irrational you would never achieve anything in the art of the fantastic. As a matter of fact, the more "insane" you are in that other realm, the better. That "insanity," however, should be as controlled and coherent as possible in order to provide the best narrative results. And that is where the rational part of the mind helps enormously. So, it is only on an intensive cooperation of the two opposite poles, the rational and irrational

Pages from a Lost Mumpsimus

Claude Lalumière noticed that my opinions of books and such are often rather different than his. This caused him to come up with what I thought was an irresistible idea: What would happen if we both edited an edition of his webzine Lost Pages ? Is it possible that we could find three stories that both of us thought deserved publication? What would they look and smell like? If you have some idea, then you might want to pay attention to this call for submissions: Lost Pages teams up with The Mumpsimus! Claude Lalumière and Matthew Cheney are coediting a special issue of Lost Pages , and they are seeking submissions for the fiction segment of the issue in these three categories: Science fiction Fantasy Crossgenre (slipstream, or interstitial, or whatever it's being called these days) Only one story in each category will be selected for publication at Lost Pages . Submissions by email only at: length: 1k - 9k words pay: Can$20-$25 for First World Rights, w

Short Stories, Long Tails

Maud Newton's post on The Atlantic's decision to cut back on short fiction includes a link to this overview of short stories in general American culture. The comments after the article are worth reading for the variety of responses -- people who defend the short story are, for the most part, talking about short stories in SF magazines, mystery magazines, gay magazines, etc. Short stories are disappearing from high-circulation, general interest magazines, but not from places that are often seen as parts of various subcultures. The whole concept of "subcultures" when it comes to fiction is inaccurate, though, because contemporary literary fiction is about as sub- to a culture as it's possible to get without hitting the ocean floor. Start talking about audience sizes, and the supposed subcultures don't seem so small anymore, unless you're comparing them to Hollywood, which is one of the only real general interest entities functioning in the U.S. anymore

Strange Horizons

The Strange Horizons Readers' Awards have been announced -- the readers' favorite stories, poems, articles, reviews, illustrations, and wombats that this Hugo Award-nominated webzine published in 2004. (Well, no wombats, alas. Maybe next year.) SH has also this week published "On Our Street..." , a story by a new writer named Donald Barthelme . Seems to be a young man of great promise, sure to ignite lots of controversy amongst the readers because of his genre-bending proclivities. Note, too, that Strange Horizons is having their spring fund drive . Unlike, for instance, NPR, they don't interrupt programming to beg at you. Reward them for their good manners. The money doesn't go to pay the staff, who are all volunteers, but rather is used to cover costs and to pay writers. And yes, I'm biased because I am now a columnist for them, but please don't punish them for that. All their other judgments have been sound.


Update of the Updates (3/28/05): Everything below is now obsolete. I found a backdoor in to the Enetation comments, so replacement has begun and I don't need the links here on each post. Go about your normal business. Nothing to see here... ----obsolete information below---- Something's going on with the Enetation servers, so comments don't seem to be appearing on posts at the moment. I'm going to turn on Blogger's commenting system, because I've been thinking of moving to it anyway, as it will email all comments to me so I have them backed up. Once Enetation returns, I'll try to import as many comments as I can, at least on controversial posts. Update: I've got the Enetation comments back, so you're not insane if you see two comments links below each post. The first one is the Blogger system, the second one the Enetation. There's no other way I can get access to the old comments, so while I'm moving old ones into the Blogger system

Hammered by Elizabeth Bear

I bought Elizabeth Bear's first novel, Hammered , without intending to write about it. I've been in the mood for adventure stories recently, and this seemed to fit the profile. An easy read, nothing too challenging, some interesting spins on familiar tropes. It is all that, yes, but there's a little bit more than your average sci-fi technothriller here, and I found myself not reading simply for the plot, not skipping from one hit of suspense to another like a desperate endorphin addict, but rather reading with care. And when the ending arrived with just about nothing being resolved, I was furious, which I wouldn't have been had the novel failed to capture my imagination so fully. Hammered is, in some ways, set up to please no one. It recycles a lot of familiar SF territory and is written in the idiom of hardboiled post-cyberpunk neuronoir ("My implant hurts." "Maybe it means there's a murder six blocks over being committed by soldiers of multi

Fantastic Lives of the Secret VanderMetropolis

Jeff VanderMeer is going west for a while, but in his wake has left a bunch of stuff over at Fantastic Metropolis : three secret lives from his upcoming collection of such things (the three on display here are "The Secret Lives of Medical Billing Personnel", "The Secret Lives of Episcopal Priests" [stop chuckling, they're not Catholic], and "The Secret Lives of Ad Executives"); a work of reputed nonfiction, "The Secret Lives of Important People" , and, most wonderfully, one of my favorite of Jeff's stories, "Secret Life" , a story that reads kind of like Dilbert on absinthe . Here's a little excerpt from it: At meetings, the mimic would imitate the chatter around him, but afterward no one could remember exactly what he might have said, if anything. They just remembered it had sounded good at the time. The woman who shared the cubicle to his left often defended him. "He's quiet," she would say. "His

The Greatest Cat Story of All Time

I knew Ellen Datlow had been working for a while to get permission to reprint a Fritz Leiber story at SciFiction , and that the owners of the rights had been extremely reluctant, but her efforts paid off, and now "Space-Time for Springers" is available for all to read. It is a delightful and heartwrenching story, and probably the greatest cat story of all time (I say probably because I can't claim to have read every cat story ever published by anyone). Leiber succeeds, I think, in convincing us that this is really how cats think (and yes, for all you evil cat-haters out there, cats certainly do think. What mine was thinking when he scampered 25 feet into a tree the other day, I don't know, however...) This is a story that deserves great blurbs, so here are a couple: Neil Gaiman calls "Space-Time for Springers" a "marvellous short story ... a story that everyone who's ever tried to understand kittens should read. Harlan Ellison sent Fritz a cop

We Ain't Seen No Ozicks in These Here Parts

According to The Complete Review , a British reviewer thinks Cynthia Ozick, author of the acclaimed new novel Heir to the Glimmering World and the Pulitzer-winning Puttermesser Papers , is a "much-admired New Hampshire novelist". I wish, for the sake of my home state, that this were true. But though I have spent most of my life here, and though I own most of Cynthia Ozick's books, I must, alas, admit that to the best of my knowledge she is not now nor has she ever been a New Hampshire novelist. Or a New Hampshire short story writer. Or a New Hampshire essayist. If, however, Ms. Ozick would like to relocate to New Hampshire, I'm sure we would welcome here. There's much to like about the state -- we've got very few taxes, some of the drinking water is still actually drinkable, there are good mountains to climb up or ski down, every summer we host motorcycle week , and there's always the International Speedway , not to mention the fun of having every U.S

Norman Spinrad, Messiah

Before I argue with some of the ideas in Norman Spinrad's latest "On Books" column for Asimov's , I need to dispense with some particularities: First, I have been reading Spinrad's columns since the late eighties, and whenever they appear in Asimov's , I read them before reading anything else. He shaped much of my perception of what science fiction and fantasy are and are capable of being. I disagree with just about every third sentence he writes, but that's half the fun of reading him -- he does what any good critic should, and provides lots of fodder for argument. Personality and passion explode from his words, making him one of the few truly essential SF book reviewers. Second: The book Spinrad spends the most time on in this column is Iron Council by China Mieville, a book I've written quite a bit about, both here and at the Crooked Timber seminar on the book , so I won't say too much more about it right now, as there are other ideas I w

Market Forces by Richard Morgan

I'm a latecomer to the Richard Morgan party, not having read his first two novels, Altered Carbon and Broken Angels , before jumping into his latest to reach the U.S., Market Forces . People warned me not to judge him by it, because it's not as good as the others, and at least one person said not to bother, but I've never been very good at taking anybody's advice. So I read it. And am happy to report that it's not entirely awful. There is much to dislike in Market Forces . The characters are cartoons, the central concept of Road Warrior -meets- The Apprentice is ridiculous, the book could stand to lose at least a third of its pages, and much of the dialogue is little more than an excuse for awkward exposition or tedious speechifying. Cheryl Morgan did a good job of laying out many of the problems with the book, both logical and ideological. However, Market Forces isn't a complete and utter waste of paper (Adam Roberts even seems to think it's a wor

Mid-March SF Site

The latest SF Site has been posted, with its usual fine mix of reviews and interviews and such. This time it includes two pieces of mine: an interview with Leena Krohn , and a review of her breathtaking novel Tainaron . (Note: Things are going to [continue to] be slow around here until next week, because tomorrow performances of The Tempest begin, with me as Caliban . Not much time for reading and writing around all that.)

"Stitching Time" by Stephanie Burgis

March is one of the snowiest months here in New Hampshire, and the flakes have been falling steadily for more than a day now, which may be why Stephanie Burgis's "Stitching Time" so vividly captured my imagination while I was looking through the latest issue of Fortean Bureau . The first few sentences, after all, could be describing the view out my window: Imagine a farmhouse surrounded by snow. Not a thin layer of soft, flaky whiteness, the kind you might see in more civilized climates--this is Northern Michigan, where the snow falls and falls until it buries the roads, covers the windows, and mounts up before the door. The second half of the first paragraph, though, is what kept me reading: The nearest neighbors are a mile away, impossibly far. Every morning, the men in this scattered community dig their way through to the barn where the livestock are sheltered from the cold. Every winter, some of the wives go mad. The rest of the story proceeds from this premise, as

Quote for the Day

Throughout history, a lot of collective names -- the Beats, the Fauvists, Language Poetry -- have been coined by people who were interested in dismissing precisely the thing named. ...[B]eing "typed" allows some people to think they've read you when they haven't. -- Ron Silliman

SF for Liberals

I'm a sucker for lists, and just discovered Waggish's list of Sci-Fi Novels for Liberals , a rather inaccurate title, in that he includes short stories by Carol Emshwiller, Cordwainer Smith, etc. (Waggish's list is in response to China Mieville's .) Some of the short descriptions are masterful -- for instance, of Cordwainer Smith: Smith was a Kennan-esque Cold Warrior, and in between the more cutesy bits, his work has a Kissingerian sense of realpolitik, depicting a point in the future where government must intervene to alter people's existential senses of themselves. It's an interesting list, too, in that it suggests some pretty obscure work. For instance, I'd never heard of Mark Geston or Lords of the Starship , but a little bit of research revealed it to be his first novel, written while he was a college student. It sounds marvelously bleak. (Geston went on to write three other novels soon after: Out of the Mouth of the Dragon , The Day Star , and Th

And the third story is...

It's now been announced by the author himself , so I don't mind passing along the news that the third story by an SF-associated writer to be chosen by Michael Chabon for the next The Best American Short Stories is "Anda's Game" by Cory Doctorow (which I once wrote about ). Of the three stories I know about from the book, this is the only one that is out-and-out science fiction. Thanks to Tim Pratt, one of the other writers included in the book, for noting the announcement. (But guessing was fun, wasn't it?)

Reviewing, Genre, etc. etc. link link read discuss etc. etc.

Life remains much too busy at the moment for me to write anything of substance here, so let me send you on to two discussions about subjects that are like congenital Lazaruses so addicted to rising again that they do so before they ever truly die. Or we could just call this The Department of Horse Taxidermists & Abusers (of which I certainly belong in the upper administration): The Alien Online published a negative review of a book. This caused the author to reply with a charming note that caused the editor of TAO to meditate on the whys and wherefores and whatnots of reviewing, a meditation that spawned a thoughtful post from Niall Harrison, a post that gathered a lot of interesting comments, most of them from reviewers and reviews editors, few of whom entirely agree with each other. Meanwhile, not far away, Hal Duncan wrote ">a long post/screed about being "in the ghetto". I haven't had time to think very hard about it yet, so won't say anything,


Jay Lake has posted the table of contents to his upcoming anthology TEL: Stories ( FAQ ), which will be published by Wheatland Press this summer. Most of the anthology is of original material, but there is one reprint story, and its presence is enough for me to give you this early warning that I will be hectoring, pestering, admonishing, badgering, nettling, nagging, browbeating, and generally tormenting everyone I encounter to buy this book, because the story being reprinted is Greer Gilman's "Jack Daw's Pack", originally published in the Winter 2000 issue of Century (the website for which has a tiny excerpt ). The story was nominated for a Nebula, and it is utterly unique and bewildering and remarkable. Michael Swanwick interviewed Gilman exhaustively about the story for SF Site, and she says, among other things, "I've taken a lot of flak for my high language. Either people 'bounce off it like an Ent trying to dig into Orthanc' (as Dorothy He

New Strange Horizons Column

The latest Strange Horizons has been posted, and includes my second column . After Cheryl Morgan said last month that my first column didn't seem to be getting anybody talking on the SH forum , I decided to write something that would almost certainly get people to hurl huge gobs of flame at me. So I declared, as have plenty of fools before me, science fiction to be dead. The column doesn't say anything that will surprise a regular reader of The Mumpsimus by any means -- actually, I've probably completely exhausted the topic at this point. For that matter, I'm hardly the first person to pick up this particular gauntlet. In fact, all I'm doing is recycling familiar (and, I expect, flawed) ideas. I should probably go over to the forum and denounce myself....

Imagination = Terrorism

Jeff VanderMeer has decided to rant about the latest case of a student being arrested for writing a short story that disturbed some of the Powers That Be. (More reports here and here .) I was going to comment at Jeff's site, but some thoughts began to percolate through the back recesses of my so-called brain, thoughts about the current American hatred of (among other things) imagination. Nearly a year ago, I noted a similar case, though last year's involved a college student. I think there have been a few such cases since, and now this. An eighteen-year-old arrested and charged because his grandparents found some things he had written and called the police. Arrested not for doing anything other than writing; jailed not for making a specific threat to anyone, but for writing something that might, perhaps, be possible to be maybe construed (if looked at with the proper lens) as a threat to an unnamed high school. Or maybe it's what the kid says it was: A short story.

Quote for the Day

And that, ultimately--the belief that the very act of "moving the story forward" is the prime requirement for a sense of wonder--is what is so frustrating sometimes in SF. If I'm driving my car at 75 mph, a lot of the time I'm not even thinking about it; the fact that, in the whole history of humankind, the vast vast majority of it could not even fathom going this fast. But occasionally, I do think about it, and it provides a "holy fuck, what am I doing here" kind of tension. (Then I turn off and try to find a parking spot.) I think everyone has those moments. It's this multiplicity teetering of perspectives--not just the bludgeoning home a point about technophilic kicks--that can provide amazing, volatile textures in science fiction. I wish some stories would slow down enough, or get off their own predestined track enough, to let these kinds of moments seep into the authored worlds. -- Alan DeNiro

March SF Site and February Emerald City

The latest issue of SF Site has been posted, and it includes a review I wrote of Mere by Robert Reed, a writer whose work I often like (and I sort of liked Mere . I just wanted it to be more ... well, go see the review). The Reader's Choice poll results have been posted, too, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell easily took the first place spot, as it had done earlier in the poll of SF Site contributors . Cheryl Morgan has also just put Emerald City 114 online, and it deserves a look not just because it includes her usual copious set of reviews, but because she makes some very astute recommendations (although I think she's bloody bonkers with a certain comment about the Fan Writer category). I wanted to most heartily support the following: As usual I am going to plead with you to choose some book editors in the Best Professional Editor category. David Hartwell is top of my list, but Juliet Ulman deserves credit for picking up some wonderful British books (as does Lou An

Editors: Damned If They Do and Don't

A conversation I've sometimes considered starting myself has begun over at the Nightshade message boards: "The Resurgence of the Small Press Zine" . It's an innocuous enough title, but the discussion quickly grew to be an important one: Are the small press magazines publishing high-quality work that should, but does not, get published in larger markets, or are the small press zines publishing work that is interesting only to a very small audience? Some of the participants in this discussion include Sean Wallace (of Prime Books , Ellen Datlow (of SciFiction , Gordon van Gelder of ( Fantasy & Science Fiction ), Tim Pratt (of Flytrap ), Jeff VanderMeer, Theodora Goss, Jeff Ford,Lucius Shepard, Mikal Trimm, and others. I have been very close to writing something about this subject and held off at the last minute, because I didn't feel like I had enough information or perspective. It's easy to point to all the great writers that F&SF or Asimov's has