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Showing posts from November, 2005

Caffeinated Quote for the Day

Via the Small Beer Press email newsletter, I discovered the blog Zygote Games and these excellent paragraphs:It's possible to make a case that modern civilization as we know it was built by coffee. In the Middle Ages, people drank wine and beer, pretty much exclusively. Much of the history of medieval Europe makes a lot more sense when you realize it was populated largely by drunk teenagers.

Then Europe discovered caffeine. Boom! The Scientific Revolution. The Enlightenment. The Industrial Revolution. Heavily-caffeinated Europeans built global empires to ensure reliable supplies of tea, coffee, sugar, and chocolate. Without coffee, we'd still be fatalistic drunken peasants.

Joe Hill Tells All

I'd heard some praise of Joe Hill before I went to the World Fantasy Convention this year, but at World Fantasy it became apparent that he was the new writer causing the most excitement amongst the sort of people whose excitement I pay attention to. Sean Wallace actually took me over to the table where a British dealer had copies of PS Publishing's collection of Hill's stories, 20th Century Ghosts, and all but forced me to buy it. Now, I am not the sort of person who wants to spend $25 on a paperback book, but I didn't know of any other way to get it, and the hardcover was twice that cost, because the exchange rate from pounds to dollars is not particularly favorable right now to those of us using dollars. But then Nick Mamatas said it was a book he'd been wanting to read. And Ellen Datlow told me she'd just taken one of the stories for her Year's Best and would have taken a few others if she'd had the space. So I bought the book. And read one sto…

A Toast to Ellen Datlow, Samuel Delany, and SciFiction

My contribution to the ED SF Project, an appreciation of Samuel Delany's "High Weir", has just been posted. If you haven't checked in with the project since it was announced shortly after the announcement of SciFiction's impending end, you should do so, because numerous appreciations have been published, and they're passionate, thoughtful, and fascinating. Many more are still to come, and there are also still plenty of stories waiting to be claimed.

Weekend Linkdump

We here at Mumpsimus Central do not indulge in wanton eating of dead turkeys, but many of our acquaintances (who do not indulge in first-person-plural reference to themselves) eat entire birds on Thanksgiving, and some of them even wonder at the pleasant sleepiness that follows their indulging. We've all heard of tryptophan, but what about two other words: intestinal melatonin?

Spurious on writing and failure:When your life fails, you can write, my life has failed; failure becomes success -- something has been achieved and this something bears what you have written. But if you were really a failure, would you have been able to write? Bad faith of writing: to have marshalled the strength to write, I am a failure is already to have left failure behind; you are a liar.The House of the Vampire by George Sylvester Viereck

Classic Film Preview

ON SPEC: The Blog

Bud Parr quotes William Gass's essay "The Sentence Seeks Its Form" from the new issue of BookForum. The essay is no…

Kelly Burns the Front Porch

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James Patrick Kelly has a new book out, Burn, published by Tachyon. It's a science fiction novel that explores some of the ideas of the Transcendentalists, particularly Henry David Thoreau. He's even podcasting the book a chapter at a time (feed link).

Jim talked aboutBurn recently on New Hampshire Public Radio's program "The Front Porch". I don't know how long they'll keep the audio download available, but it's an interview worth listening to, as Jim talks about the inspiration for the book, his view of Thoreau, what the future may hold, etc. He even has time to mention the singularity.

Kafka's Ford

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Drop everything. Jeffrey Ford has now posted his magnificent story "Bright Morning" online (it was originally published in The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories). Jeff sometimes puts stories up for only a few days or weeks, so read it now if you haven't. It's about a lost tale by Kafka. It's the story that made me forever and ever a Ford fan, because (among other things) it so perfectly captures the feelings of bibliophilic obsession.

Some of the fun of the story is that it seems like it might be a personal essay. Here's a little excerpt from an interview I did with Jeff for the first issue of Fantasy Magazine:MATTHEW CHENEY: Many of your stories have autobiographical elements, or at least have narrators who seem to want the audience to believe there are autobiographical elements, moments and characters stolen from the life of Jeffrey Ford. What led you to this technique?

JEFFREY FORD: To some extent all of the stories are autobiographical…

I Am Elsewhere, Hear Me Roar

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I'm not really here, but I am at SF Site with a review of Cory Doctorow's novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town and at Strange Horizons with a new column talking about all the stuff I always talk about, like the borders between "popular fiction" and "literary fiction".

Now that you know what to avoid, go read the other stuff on the sites. SF Site has a particularly rich set of reviews this time, and Strange Horizons has not only the second half of a story begun last week, but a new zodiac short-short by Jenn Reese, new poetry, and an article I'm looking forward to reading very much: "Arctic Fabulous: Speculative Fiction and the Imaginary Arctic" by Siobhan Carroll. (By the way, has anybody out there seen Peter Delpeut's Lyrical Nitrate and Forbidden Quest? They're made from scraps of old films, and Forbidden Quest is a haunting -- I almost said chilling -- arctic story.)

Primer and the Future of Cinema

The new issue (201) of Interzone is worth reading for a number of reasons (not least the design -- it's the best-looking issue of a magazine I've seen from TTA Press -- the balance between design and readability is nearly perfect this time). Something that might not get noticed amidst all of the stories and artwork are some astute insights by Nick Lowe in a review of the movie Primer:Primer's boldest achievement is that it's essentially a piece of post-cinematic cinema: a film that nobody stands a chance of fathoming on cinema viewings alone, and which can only really begin to make sense on DVD. In the US, a commented disc has been out since the spring, and the curious now have an abundance of plot-untanglingfan pages online (some with gloriously baroque diagrams) to help make sense of the final half-hour, where huge chunks of essential story have been casually teleported into other times and erased. Recognising that ways of consuming and understanding film have irr…

Elsewhere

And now a little purging of the bookmarks:"The Romantic Underground": In which Jeff VanderMeer tells sappy stories about public transport.

Dan Green on the failures of Christopher Hitchens's literary criticism. And on Richard Powers. I'm particularly fond of this paragraph from the latter:To say that Powers "has always fallen short in the presentation of viscerally compelling characters" is to say only that he has attempted to exploit the possibilities of fiction in a way that doesn't rely on "viscerally compelling characters" to engage the reader's interest. He wants the reader to involve him/herself in the "intricacy" of design, to find in the tracing out of the incremental, spiralling pattern a source of interest at least as compelling as character identification, if not more so, since Powers's novels make it clear that the writer's job is not merely to tell stories and evoke characters, but to use such things as stor…

Remedios Varo

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I am not an art historian by any means, but I've spent enough time in museums that I tend to recognize the names of artists associated with major movements such as surrealism. I was surprised, then, when Chris Barzak told me a certain surrealist had had an influence on his writing, because the name was new to me: Remedios Varo.

Chris recommended Janet Kaplan's biography Unexpected Journeys: The Art and Life of Remedios Varo, but I haven't yet been able to get hold of a copy, so I have relied on a few Internet resources to educate myself, including a collection of images, a detailed chronology of her life, an article about an exhibition, and this essay about Varo's scientific influences.

Varo grew up in Spain, lived in Paris, and eventually settled in Mexico after spending time in a Nazi internment camp after the occupation of France. She associated with various members of the artistic and literary avant-gardes wherever she lived, and specifically identified herself wit…

Appreciating SciFiction

David Schwartz came up with a marvelous way to honor the stories that have been published by SciFiction and remain in the archives -- The ED SF Project:By my count there are 320+ stories archived at the site. I'm willing to bet that there are that many SF writers/critics/fans/what have you who have some sort of presence on the web. So I'm thinking, let's all of us write an appreciation of one of the stories.All the instructions for how to sign up are at the site.

Final World Fantasy Post

It's a week now since the day of the World Fantasy Awards, so is as appropriate a time as any to provide some final links to convention reports, gossip, etc.Some of the best reports I've read are by Mark Kelly, who has detailed accounts of each day: Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

Ellen Datlow has posted her photos from the convention.

The convention caused at least one person to decide to start a blog. Behold the blog of Gigi: BlurredEdge.

Reports and reflections from: Mary Rosenblum, Karina Sumner-Smith, Barth Anderson, Mark Teppo, Matt Forbeck, Elizabeth Genco.

Update 11/15/05: Jeff VanderMeer has now posted a report on the convention. He promises pictures of people and smoking bunnies soon.

R.I.P. SciFiction

I am too shocked and saddened by the news that SciFiction will be ending to be able to say anything coherent and without profanity. Ellen Datlow has done a phenomenal job with the site for years, and I have long appreciated her willingness to publish traditional adventure stories alongside the gonzo weird stuff I'm particularly fond of. The classic reprints made obscure work available to a large audience. I could go on, and I'm sure I will once the shock wears off.

For now, let me just point you to some stories to read. SciFiction published two of my favorite stories this year: "There's a Hole in the City" by Richard Bowes and "Heads Down, Thumbs Up" by Gavin Grant. (See the sidebar for links to what I had to say about each.)

I was going to give a little list of a few stories that are particular favorites of mine, but once I started looking at the archive, choosing seemed foolish. Just go read. We can mourn that a favorite publication is stopping…

The Light Years Beneath My Feet and Running from the Deity by Alan Dean Foster

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a guest review by Finn Dempster


If the volume of Alan Dean Foster's output is anything to go by, I'm probably the only one here who's not heard of him until now. These engaging little tales were a nice way to meet him.

Marcus Walker was a commodities stockbroker until alien slave-traders the Vilenjji plucked him from the familiar streets of Chicago and dragged him an unknown distance across the galaxy (for further details, see the first novel in the trilogy, Lost and Found). By the time The Light-Years Beneath My Feet begins he's been rescued, as have three fellow prisoners (a dog, likewise from Chicago, a haughty, squid-like creature named Sque, and the imposing but gentle Braouk) by the advanced Sessrimathe race. Comfortable but homesick on the Sessrimathe's world, the story tells of the group's quest to return to their respective home-planets -- an undertaking aided by Walker having transformed himself into a much sought-after novelty act by mastering the aest…

Getting the Links Out

Here are things that are not here:Ben Peek on Australian fantasy and science fiction
World Fantasy Convention report from Tobias Buckell, who absolutely glowed as he wandered around with a box full of galleys of his first novel, Crystal Rain.
Lou Anders also has a convention report now, and it includes a picture of Hal Duncan beside a baby. Also includes a brief addition to the annals (anals?) of "What makes something science fiction?" discussions.
And how would he expect me to answer? With an equation? I am 35% black and the rest is human?(via Tobias)
A detailed, thoughtful comparison of strengths and weaknesses in novels by Justina Robson and Hal Duncan by Niall Harrison.
Did Babylon 5 really suck? I remember thinking it was marvelous when I first watched it (or, rather, thinking the third and fourth seasons were marvelous), despite all the bad acting and silly writing. But that was in comparison to the rest of the SF shows of the time.
Christopher Rowe has posted some news a…

Two Front Teeth in the Small Press

It's probably time to start thinking about the holidays that all seem to jumble together at the end of the year, that fine time for gift-giving and celebration and debt. My needs are few, so I'm just asking for my two front teeth, but for those of you seeking something more literary, here are a few things I've noticed recently from small presses. Get your consumerist joys hereabouts:Nightshade Books has published some beautiful new volumes, including The Algebraist by Ian Banks, which I hear is selling quite well, so if you're looking for a first (U.S.) edition, you'd better snap it up. At World Fantasy I also laid my eyes for the first time on new books such as Snake Agent by Liz Williams and Trujillo by Lucius Shepard, both of which have beautiful dust jackets, making them perfect for gifts. (The dust jackets, that is. Keep the books for yourself.)

Speaking of limited copies, I just heard from V. Vale at RE/Search that copies of J.G. Ballard: Quotes are selli…

World Fantasy: Namedropping, Narcissism, and Superheroes

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As I've been thinking about what more to say about this year's World Fantasy Convention, I've realized that a general report of all I saw and did would be immensely dull, because most of my time was spent sitting around talking with people. I'm going to do it anyway. I'll try to keep the namedropping compact. (And if I forget anyone, I'm entirely sorry and will be immensely nice and generous to you in the future.)

World Fantasy is a different sort of convention from the previous two I've attended -- ReaderCon and the World Science Fiction Convention -- because it is so focused on the publishing industry. I can't imagine what it's like to attend if you're not a writer, editor, publisher, or reviewer, because there really aren't that many panels or other sorts of events. There are certainly enough things to fill the time, but also not so many that I ever felt guilty for spending so much time just hanging out with people.

I had the best time…

World Fantasy: The Short Version

I haven't really slept more than a few hours here or there since last week, because the World Fantasy Convention was so well attended by interesting people who were willing to put up with my presence for at least a little while. I didn't win the award I was nominated for, but while of course this was disappointing, I think the judges did a great job, because the winner in my category, Robert Morgan of Sarob Press, actually does something useful: he publishes books. I like it when small presses get awards.

The award that most excited me was John Picacio's for art, because his work is stunning and it's nice to see him get recognition as a professional illustrator. If more illustration were of such quality, it would be less embarrassing to be associated with SF and fantasy books than it so often is.

I met oodles of people I had hoped to, and many others I hadn't realized I would, and they were all generous and fun and patient and silly and -- well, I barely made it t…

Away Message

I'm heading to the World Fantasy Convention until Monday, and am not going to bring my computer. Thus, no blogging until I return. I expect Cheryl Morgan will have good updates for people looking to find out how the convention is going.

Pinter and Losey

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Soon after Harold Pinter won this year's Nobel Prize in Literature, I thought about writing something about his films, because I've seen quite a few, and read many of his screenplays. But I hadn't done any of that recently, so I wanted to refresh myself before spouting off in public.

I decided to start reviewing Pinter's film work with some of his earliest movies: the three directed by Joseph Losey. I own an old VHS tape of The Servant, and was able to borrow a now-out-of-print DVD of Accident and a VHS of The Go-Between. I watched them in the order they were made, and then read the scripts (in Five Screenplays). Each film is based on a book, but of them I have only read Nicholas Mosley's Accident.

The Servant may be the best introduction to Pinter that exists. Apparently, both Pinter and Losey had separately thought of adapting Robin Maugham's novella to the screen, and through various negotiations, were able to bring their efforts together and get the film…

The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges

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While I have at least one copy of nearly everything by Jorge Luis Borges that has been translated into English, I never managed to get a-hold of The Book of Imaginary Beings -- in fact, though I'd see reference to it, I had never even seen a copy. I certainly enjoyed the online version, but though Borges's work often lends itself well to hypertext, I still prefer to read it on paper, bound in a book. It's somehow more Borgesian to read a physical artifact that can collect dust and smudges.

Thus, I was elated to hear that Viking/Penguin was bringing out a new edition of The Book of Imaginary Beings, translated by Andrew Hurley (who translated the Collected Fictions) and illustrated by Peter Sis.

I was about to write a review of the book when Michael Dirda's review appeared in the Washington Post and said just about everything I would have said, and more. (Dirda's far more knowledgeable about bestiaries than I am. You'd think that I'd know more, since a lon…

Delany at Dartmouth: The Dirt

On Monday, I heard Samuel R. Delany deliver the annual Stonewall Lecture at Dartmouth College. I've been reading Delany's work since I was in grade school, and since college I've been familiar with both his critical writings and his occasional pornography, so I wasn't at all surprised when his lecture, titled either "Queer Thoughts on the Politics of Sex" (official title) or "The Gamble" (Delany's title), veered from the medical and scientific rhetoric of its beginning into an explicit and autobiographical discussion of sex. Not everyone in the audience was familiar with Delany's writings, or his predilections, and so there were a couple of palpable moments of shock. Most people seemed to find the lecture engaging and compelling, but a few people did leave. I don't expect they walked out because they were bored.

The student newspaper has published a fairly accurate report of the event. Being a newspaper that does not seek to scandali…