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Showing posts from May, 2005

"Heads Down, Thumbs Up" by Gavin J. Grant

I've been catching up on 2005's short stories recently, because until the last week or two I hadn't read any stories published this year. I haven't yet found very much that excites me -- most of the stories I've read so far are skillful, but few rise above the tyranny of their plotting to offer more than a series of connected events, and only one so far offers the thrill of being unique: "Heads Down, Thumbs Up" by Gavin Grant.

Of course, nobody expects fiction from the co-editor of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet to be ordinary, but I've read a few of Gavin's other stories, and while they were good, none prepared me for just how good "Heads Down, Thumbs Up" is. Saying why and how it is good, though, is a bit of challenge.

I won't pretend to understand "Heads Down, Thumbs Up" in the way that I could say I understand a more straightforward story, a story that seeks to be transparent. This story is befuddling, and it fr…

Case Histories Editor Speaks

Over at the LitBlog Co-Op, Reagan Arthur, the American editor for Kate Atkinson's novel Case Histories has offered some background on how the book came to be published in the U.S. and what her role was as editor. She's been responding diligently to comments, and so it's a good chance to ask questions about the book and publishing.

Not having been one of the original members of the Co-Op, I hadn't read Case Histories when it was announced as this quarter's selection, and I knew very little about it (this will be different next time, when I'll be a full voting member). I did order a copy of the book once I knew it was selected, and read it last week, so will probably offer a few thoughts as we go along. I liked parts of it, but didn't love it on the whole, and am now trying to think about why. It's worth reading, especially because I think it raises some interesting issues of how plot balances with other elements, and Atkinson is certainly a writer of …

The Year of the Bests

As further proof that this was not a joke, two news items:1.
Jonathan Strahan: I'm very happy to announce that Gary Wolfe and I will be co-editing an anthology of the year's best non-fiction writing about science fiction, fantasy and horror for Chris Roberson at Monkeybrain Books. Tentatively titled Best New SF Writings: 2005, it's a book I'm really excited to be doing. I love the idea, and I really like the books Chris has been publishing. If you have anything you've read that you'd like to recommend, we'd love to hear from you

2.
via Sean Wallace: John Gregory Betancourt, editor / publisher of Wildside Press and co-publisher of Weird Tales, has announced that he will edit a Year's Best Horror 2006, covering the year of 2005. Stories originally published in 2005 are eligible for consideration for the first volume. If your work was published in an anthology, magazine, or story collection in 2005, please have your publisher send a review copy to the follow…

Code 46

Code 46 is not a perfect film, but it is an intelligent one, and the hostility many reviewers expressed toward it is frustrating, because there's too much that's good about the movie for it to be dismissed as a boring Blade Runner imitation. (A better comparison, actually, would be to Wim Wenders's Until the End of the World.) Even a critic as astute as Lucius Shepard -- easily one of the best film critics in the U.S. -- has been so conditioned to see science fiction movies as excuses for gunfights that he doesn't enjoy much of Code 46 ("I found myself yearning for a stray gunshot," he says, "a fistfight in the background, two people bumping into each other, anything to break the monotony, the slow, step-by-step expository grind of the picture").

It's understandable that many viewers would find the pacing of Code 46 slow or Tim Robbins's performance understated. They are. But it seems to me that there are reasons for both, and they grow f…

New Blogs & Blew Nogs

Two very fine writers have started weblogs: Ian MacDonald and Justine Larbalestier. Please go encourage them. Next week I'll try to update the sidebar here with all the various new blogs that have been popping up, as well as other things I've promised or thought about...

WisCon Whispers

For some reason, various people think I'm going to be at WisCon, but, alas, I'm not, because it's graduation weekend at the school where I work. I don't know where the rumor started, but I've gotten a bunch of emails over the past month saying, "Hey, so I hear you're going to be at WisCon!" I would love to be at WisCon, because I hear it's one of the most interesting conventions in existence, and lots of people I very much want to meet in person will be there, but it is not to be.

Before today, I was particularly upset not to be at WisCon this year, because the new Rat Bastards chapbook was going to be released, and I've got a story in it. But now I hear it's been delayed at the printer, so while there will be an infestation of Rat Bastards, there will not (last I heard) be any of the new chapbooks. So I'm not quite as upset as I was before. (But I still wish I could go.)

Soon I'm sure you'll be able to order copies of the c…

Quote for the Day

It struck me yesterday that actually the best form of fundraising for Bob Sheckley would be for someone to bring his best novels and short stories back into print in the US in mass-market form. Given that Douglas Adams was happy to acknowledge in interviews how much what Bob did in the 1950s and 60s resembled what Douglas did many years later (and actually Bob was Douglas's first choice to write the Starship Titanic novelisation)it seems like this is a perfect time to make his work available for a new generation.

--Neil Gaiman(I mentioned Sheckley's hospitalization in Moscow before, and have now updated to the new PayPal link that goes directly to his family.)

Because If Everybody Else Jumped Off a Bridge, I Would, Too

I don't usually do the internet quiz/meme/silliness thing, but this has caused me at times to be called humorless, and, hey, it's spring. So here we go with two common ones, perhaps the first and last ones I ever post:

Musicality
1. The person (or persons) who passed the baton to you.

Tim opened it up to anybody who was willing to steal it.

2. Total volume of music files on your computer.

2127 songs, 9.44GB

3. The title and artist of the last CD you bought.

Blinking Lights; Eels

4. Song playing at the moment of writing.

"Trouble with Dreams"; Eels [because of the above]

5. Five songs you have been listening to of late (or all-time favorites, or particularly personally meaningful songs).

Of late:
"I've Got to Know" Utah Phillips
"The Chimbley Sweep" The Decemberists
"Even Tho" Joseph Arthur
"Marrow" Ani DiFranco
"Clay Pigeons" John Prine

Most played in iTunes:
"Angel from Montgomery (Live)" John Prine & Bonnie Raitt
&q…

This Post is Not for Everyone

An essay by Anne Burke in the latest Context (published by the Center for Book Culture, which also houses the marvelous Dalkey Archive Press) takes reviewers to task for saying that any book is "not for everyone", because it's a lazy phrase -- after all, what book is for everyone?

M.A. Orthofer and Scott Esposito have both replied, essentially agreeing that the phrase is, indeed, a bit silly.

There's a way that "not for everyone" can make some sense, though -- if the reviewer is thinking of "everyone" not as everyone on Earth, but rather as everyone who reads that sort of review. It's still hardly the best choice of description for a book, but there are bigger crimes in book reviewing. If the reviewer goes on to explain why she or he feels the book is not for whoever it's not for, I don't tend to mind the phrase too much. It's the explanation that is key -- any review where there are claims made about a book that are not supported…

Robert Sheckley

If you're a science fiction fan, you've probably already heard that Robert Sheckley fell ill at a convention in Moscow and has been in a hospital there for a little while. He is having trouble paying hospital bills and, as I understand it, won't be able to return to the U.S. until he is able to pay them. If you want to send money to help him, you can do so via a PayPal linkthat Michael Moorcock helped set up [5/24/05: new link set up by Sheckley's family] -- updates continue via Moorcock's bulletin board here. Boing Boing and Neil Gaiman also provide links and pleas.

If you want to read some stories by Sheckley, here's a good place to find some online.

Gluttony

It may seem from the relative silence hereabouts that I have wandered off somewhere to be productive, or that I have stopped reading anything other than the occasional website, or that the universe is boring. None of that is true. I think what's happened is a kind of sickness caused by a particular form of gluttony.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've read about ten short stories and four or five novels (most of them short). This is a little bit more than I get through in the average fortnight, but I had been doing quite a bit of writing before that, and I usually alternate bouts of reading and writing. During the past year, the amount of reading I've done has increased -- there was a time when I averaged only a couple novels a month -- and I'm happy for it. The reasons for the rise in the amount of things I'm reading are many, but the primary one is that I'm writing a couple of book reviews a month now, and I usually read three to six books for every one I…

Anywhere But Here, Episode II

This year's winner of the Fountain Award, "The Annals of Eelin-Ok" by Jeffrey Ford, is now available online. I read some stories last year that were as good, but none that I thought were better.

Also available now is an essay by John Kessel, "Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender's Game, Intention, and Morality". It's a valuable essay for putting one of the most popular science fiction novels into some perspective, and it makes a good companion to Cory Doctorow's recent story "Anda's Game". (via David Schwartz)

Anywhere But Here

Nothing to see here. Therefore:

*The mid-May SF Site is alive and kicking. It includes, among other things, a review I wrote of four recent titles from the Wesleyan Early Classics of SF series, all of which were impressive in some way or another, although I must say the one book that most enchanted and amazed me was The Twentieth Century (first published in 1882) by Albert Robida, here receiving its first English translation in a beautiful edition filled with weird, whimsical illustrations.

*Alan DeNiro has changed both the address and title of his weblog. What once was Ptarmigan is now Goblin Mercantile Exchange. He has also entered the fray of discussing the SFWA's push poll on Amazon's "Look Inside the Book" feature by translating part of the SFWA FAQ about "ePiracy" into PirateSpeak, with good results: "Information may want t’ be free, but ye get what ye pay fer." (For more background on -- or, rather, against -- the poll, check out what Jo…

A Big Day

Two major announcements today:

The winner of the second annual Fountain Award, sponsored by the Speculative Literature Foundation, and for which I was a juror, is "The Annals of Eelin-Ok" by Jeffrey Ford, originally published in The Faery Reel, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.

It was wonderful to be on the Fountain jury, not just because the other jurors were thoughtful, passionate, friendly, and intelligent, but because the award specifically looks for stories both within and outside the SF field, so you'll see from our list of honorable mentions that stories came from such places as Fence, One Story, and StoryQuarterly as well as Fantasy & Science Fiction. The honorable mentions are very honorable, indeed, because about 150 stories were nominated by editors from around the country world, and many stories had strong responses from all of us, but we limited ourselves to ten honorable mentions, which meant that plenty of good stories were eliminated. The lon…

Being Jeff Lint

I've got a copy of Steve Aylett's soon-to-be-released biography Lint on order, because Jeff VanderMeer has recommended it highly, and Jeff Lint is clearly one of the more interesting members of the science fiction community, a man who has long deserved a biography. That as esteemed a writer of nonfiction as Aylett would tackle the project is a real tribute to Lint's growing influence.

Today I discovered, via The Complete Review, the perfect thing to bide the time while waiting for Lint to arrive: A Jeff Lint website, complete with bibliographies, book and magazine covers, interviews, comics, news, and even litcrit.

Surprise of the Week: Dale Peck Doesn't Like Something

DalePeck, previously notorious for his reviews of contemporary writers and for being slapped, proclaimed some time back that he would no longer write nasty reviews of books. Instead, apparently, he will write nasty reviews of extremely popular movies. Witness what he has to say about Star Wars.

I actually happen to pretty much agree with his negative assessment of the whole Star Wars franchise, having been immune to the cult from the early days, but ... why bother? Is Peck so desperate for attention that all he can do is try to anger some hapless Star Wars fan? Giving any more notice to a mass phenomenon like Star Wars if you're not a fan of it seems pointless to me. (At least when David Brindidit he had a variety of insights to offer.)

I'm not a Peck hater, but I've certainly lost the patience I once had for his writing. When I was 17 or so, his first novel, Martin & John, was a revelation to me, and I thought it was one of the best novels ever written. I carried…

Compare & Contrast

I read Kazuo Ishiguro's first three novels a few years ago -- I adored his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, then read the next two, An Artist of the Floating World and The Remains of the Day, a bit too quickly to fully appreciate them -- then never got back to his work, despite having been intrigued by the reviews I'd read of The Unconsoled and When We Were Orphans. Now I'm very interested in reading Never Let Me Go, but don't quite have time for it yet, and so I've been amusing myself by paying attention to certain tendencies in the reviews...

Miriam Burstein:Never Let Me Go is, in fact, a work of dystopian science fiction (which, of course, won't be shelved with all the other SF--it's Ishiguro, after all...), set in an alternative England during the late 1990s.James Wood:Works of fantasy or science fiction that also succeed in literary terms are hard to find, and are rightly to be treasured--Hawthorne's story "The Birthmark" comes to mind,…

How to Disappear Completely

For some reason, when I tried to post here yesterday and today, I couldn't get Blogger to recognize me. I've been very lucky in terms of Blogger outages -- when many other people have complained of not being able to post things, I've had not trouble, so I guess it was just my turn.

It was very weird having everything ready and being unable to update the site. Alienating. Made me think of one of my favorite Radiohead songs.

I did manage to post something semi-coherent and odd at The LitBlog Co-op, although experienced very different posting problems there -- not with the technology, but with my own brain and words, as explained in the, I see now, pretty much unnecessary first paragraph of that post.

Meanwhile, I'm disappearing beneath a pile of books sent from all corners of the universe. I've actually gotten so many review copies of things recently that I'm going to farm out a couple of reviews to people who seem like interesting matches for the books. (If yo…

New Strange Horizons, etc.

The latest issue of Strange Horizons has been posted, and it includes the second half of the symposium on speculative poetry that I conducted with Mike Allen, Alan DeNiro, and Theodora Goss.

Also in this issue is an informative and provocative column by Debbie Notkin, "The Publishing Industry -- From the Reader's Perspective", which will, I'm sure, spark lots of debate and comment.

And in the Department of I Don't Know Where Else to Put This But Want to Mention It Now So Here It Is (aka DIDKWEPTBWMINSHII, which is a very dirty word in certain former Soviet republics): an article by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling on creating anthologies. (via SF Signal)

Creepy Movies

Michael Berube has a post about "creepy" movies at his blog, offering Carnal Knowledge as "the creepiest movie in the world". In the comments, all sorts of other titles are suggested as either equally or more creepy than Carnal Knowledge, with definitions of "creepy" shifting and metamorphosing throughout. (I offered The Isle as my nominee, at least of recent films.)

One of the interesting things about Berube's post is what he points out about the effect Carnal Knowledge had on the careers of people involved with making it:Look at what happened to the principals: Ann-Margaret was plunged into depression for years because of her role in this film. Art Garfunkel disappeared and was next seen on a milk carton somewhere in Central Park. Jack Nicholson basically became his character, Jonathan Fuerst (and sometimes even plays older or parodic versions of him, as well). And Mike Nichols, after opening with Virginia Woolf, The Graduate, and Catch-22 (not b…

MultiVerse: Speculative Poetry Reviews

Eric Marin wrote to let me know about his new venture, MultiVerse: Speculative Poetry Reviews, and graciously offered to be quizzed about what he's up to:

Q: What's the genesis of the site? Was there one particular moment that made you say, "Hey, I should review SF poems!"?

A: Over the past year, I realized that speculative poetry garners very little critical attention, particularly online. I didn't know where I could request reviews of the poetry I publish in my webzine, Lone Star Stories, and, athough I knew that I couldn't review my webzine's selections, I felt that other speculative poetry publications should have a reviewing venue. So I started MultiVerse. My hope is that the reviews on MultiVerse will attract readers to strong speculative poetry that they might not otherwise read.

Q: How do you determine what to review?

A: I peruse magazines, mostly online but some in print, that publish speculative poetry, looking for strong poems that warrant posit…

Odds & Ends

*Despite having writtenabout two of the books in the Reading the World initiative, I've never mentioned that endeavor before. Bad me. The list of books is quite exciting. Go to an independent bookstore and buy lots of them to make yourself happy.

*Tonight I watched What to Do in Case of Fire (Was tun, wenn's brennt?), a tremendously silly and joyful movie about German anarchists. Well, German anarchists who got old and sold out, but who can't escape the past and who eventually discover that friendship is more important than money. A feel-good movie about homemade bombs, really. It's slick, superficial, predictable, plays up stereotypes of anarchism that make me cringe ... and I loved it from beginning to fairy-tale end.

*David Moles wonders if the term "slipstream" isn't getting too defined, and lots of interesting people offer lots of interesting comments in response.

*A nonfictional blog called Fictional Blogs. Truly. (via Scribblingwoman)

*Finally,…

A Number by Caryl Churchill

I love reading a script that makes me want to direct it, because the act of reading becomes so much more intense than it is when reading a script that is merely interesting because of its ideas, characters, structure, or story. Some of Caryl Churchill's plays, much as I find them intellectually engaging, don't appeal to my inner director, but some of her recent short plays, such as Far Away and A Number, are so spare and enigmatic that reading and (inevitably) rereading them provokes the imaginative concentration required when directing, and does so more than most other scripts I know.

A Number is a science fiction play, just as Far Away and the earlier Skriker are fantasy plays. Except in the theatre world there are only such things as plays, and nobody much bothers worrying about what to call them or their writers. (How odd it would be to hear someone describe Churchill, or anyone else, as "the famous sci-fi playwright"!)

Cloning is the ostensible subject of A Num…

Elsewheres & Otherwises

A few things from places other than here:

First and foremost, Strange Horizons has posted the first half of something I've been working on for months: A Symposium on Speculative Poetry I conducted between Mike Allen, Alan DeNiro, and Theodora Goss. I was thrilled with the thoughtfulness of the conversation between Mike, Alan, and Theodora, three people who are tremendously knowledgeable and have marvelously different perspectives on poetry.

Also this week is another of my monthly columns at SH, this one a rambling meditation on apocalyptic inclinations.

Elsewhere on the web, the new SF Site has been posted, including a review I wrote of recent issues of The Third Alternative and Interzone. This edition of SF Site has the regular set of reviews and news, plus a new feature that will be fun to watch called "Close to the Heart", wherein reviewers write about SF books that were an early inspiration to them. The first column is by Nathan Brazil, about Genesis by W.A. Harbinso…