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Showing posts from November, 2006

Fragmentary Utterances

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I'm too busy at the moment to write at any length about a bunch of things I'd like to write at length about, so instead I will make fragmentary utterances and hope that they suffice for the moment...

Fragmentary Utterance #1: I've been reading through some of the stories in Elizabeth Hand's new collection, Saffron and Brimstone, and they are the sorts of stories that make me feel like all my adjectives are inadequate: evocative, lovely, beguiling, masterful -- yes, they are all that, but more, and differently, and not exactly, and... The collection is subtitled "strange stories" and I think it's both perfect and wrong, because it's not that they're just strange, or that strange encapsulates all that they are. Instead, it's more a kind of placeholder, a way of saying "this, at least, is something", and it's true, because they are strange, but marvelous, too, and...

Fragmentary Utterance #2: The new 3-CD album from Tom Waits, Orpha…

PKD LOA

Sez Jonathan Lethem to Mark Sarvas:...I'm helping preside over the utter and irreversible canonization of one of my (formerly outsider) heroes, Philip K. Dick: I'm writing endnotes for The Library of America, which is doing a volume of four of his novels from the sixties, which I also helped select.Here's a USA Today (actually, Associated Press) article about the upcoming book.

"Quitting Dreams" by Matthew Cheney and Jeffrey Ford

I just received Electric Velocipede #11, and though I'm sure it contains many excellent stories, the only one I have read (well, skimmed) so far is the collaboration between Matthew Cheney and Jeffrey Ford, "Quitting Dreams".

What the reader will notice first is that the story's title and byline are printed on a label attached to the paper. While Mr. Ford's lawyers have requested that I not spread what they call "vile, malicious lies, untruths, and stuff", I would like to note that many a message-board is abuzz with the rumor that Mr. Ford has initiated a suit against the corporate fatcats at EV in what has so far proved to be a fruitless attempt to have his name removed from the story. Apparently, the lawyers for all sides came to a compromise solution, and now readers can tear the title and both names off the story for themselves.

Nonetheless, "Quitting Dreams" is a truly extraordinary piece of fiction, and not merely because it contains som…

From Oregon

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Here's a photo from Thanksgiving day in Yoncalla, Oregon. It has been suggested to me that this would make a fine publicity photo. I'm not sure for what sort of publicity. It certainly does seem appropriate, though, to the author of "Blood"...

(The item in my hand, by the way, is a leg crook used on sheep.)

Robert Altman (1925-2006)

I was shocked by the news of Robert Altman's death. Despite the fact that he lived a wonderfully long and productive life, he was one of those icons I always thought would be around, because how could we live in a world without Robert Altman?

I could praise his genius, his willingness to experiment, his determination, his ... well, you name it. But as I've been absorbing the news of his death, what I've been thinking about is that he is the one director who has produced movies I have loved for all of my life.

When I was a little kid, Popeye was my favorite movie. I thought it was the funniest, most delightful, most emotionally satisfying film that could ever be created. (Yes, you could probably say that only an 8-year-old would feel that way about Popeye, but still...)

In high school, Vincent & Theo was my favorite suffering artist movie. I had a grainy VHS tape of it, a tape I must have watched 20 or 30 times before finally getting the DVD when it finally came out r…

Julie Phillips Interview

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It's Thanksgiving week here in the U.S., and I'm in an undisclosed location in the wilds of rural Oregon visiting friends, so it's unlikely there will be many updates this week.

I did want to direct your attention, though, to Strange Horizons this week, where there are many things worth looking at, and where I have an interview with Julie Phillips, author of James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon.

Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila

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Waiting for An Angel is HelonHabila's first novel, although it is also a collection of interlinked short stories, one of which won the 2001 Caine Prize for African Writing. (Though each story can be read separately, it is their resonances with each other, particularly in the order Habila has presented them in the book, that provides the most emotional power, and so I will refer to the book as a novel.)

The events of Waiting for an Angel are not presented in chronological order, and this choice strengthens the book's effect. It is seldom confusing, and is, in fact, in many ways clarifying -- by the second half of the book, whenever we encounter a character, place, or situation, we often know something of its past and future, and so casual actions or phrases that might have otherwise meant little instead take on significance.

The first chapter of the book, in fact, is the last chronologically. It begins:In the middle of his second year in prison, Lomba got access to a pencil an…

Holiday Books

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The busiest shopping days of the year are coming up soon, which means a couple of people out there might be looking for good books to give as gifts. Here are some that have delighted me over the past year and thus are on my list to give as gifts for readers looking for intelligent and entertaining reads:The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson. This is simply an extraordinary novel, regardless of the fact that it's being marketed as a book for "young adults". It's one of those books I'll probably always try to have extra copies of, just to give away whenever I encounter someone who hasn't read it.

My favorite novel from last year, The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, is now out in paperback. I loved the hardcover just for its shape and weight and design, but the paperback has preserved most of the interior design, and so now an inexpensive and easily-available copy is ready for a whole new batch of readers.

(Ot…

A Well-Deserved Award

M.T. Anderson has won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for his novel Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation; vol. 1: The Pox Party.

I don't usually note award results around here, but in this case I am thrilled to see such an odd and extraordinary book honored, and it also gives me a chance to note that Jenny Davidson (of Light Reading) recently wrote a fine review of the book for the NYTBR.

Update:Here's a great interview with Anderson about the book.

Rules for Writing

If you use adjectives in your prose, do not use nouns. If you use nouns, you must not use verbs. If you use verbs, try to avoid verbs that specify a particular city.

When specifying particular cities in fiction, do not use cities that have been specified in poems. Poems have so few things left of their own anymore that we should let them have their own cities.

When writing poems, use many different points of view. Poems without multiple points of view are too strident. Prose is allowed to be strident on certain political holidays, but poems that are strident tend to resemble over-ripe fruit, and nobody likes that.

Bad writing is usually caused by over-ripe fruit, but often enough there is too little rain during the season, and that isn't any good, either. More good writing is produced by rain than by drought.

Do not write about the thing that annoyed your brother the last time you wrote about it, because he's bigger than you and he's got a mean streak and there are plen…

Some Notes on Invitation to a Beheading

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I've been subjecting my Advanced Placement students to Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading, and it's been fun to see their responses, because many more of them enjoyed the book than I expected. I introduced it by having them read Azar Nafisi's memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, which most of them found engaging, and it helped give them a grasp of some of what Nabokov was up to before they plunged into the bewildering world of Cincinnatus C. and his prison cell.

Inevitably, there were students who were convinced Nabokov was insane or a drug addict or both. This accusation comes up all the time when we read anyone who is not among the hardest of hardcore realists, because imagination is something that has come to be associated only with the stimulus of drugs or madness. That someone could think up a story like Invitation to a Beheading -- where a man is imprisoned for "gnostic turpitude" in a fortress of porous walls and fake windows and rules against improp…

On Being Ill

I had not planned to completely stop posting things around here, but in the middle of last week I began to get a fever, and that fever steadily progressed into the full-blown flu by the weekend, causing me to be able to do little other than moan and sleep. Today is the first day in the past five when I have been able to function at, if not full capacity, at least something resembling it.

I haven't been this sick in many years, and it was a bizarre, agonizing experience to be completely unable to do anything I wanted or needed to do at a particularly busy time of life. I tend to want to pretend I do not have a body, or at least that it doesn't have much control over the "real" me, but now and then that body does something to remind all the me's, real and imaginary, that it is, indeed, in charge.

In any case, this is not a plea for sympathy -- I'm fine, and millions and millions of people suffer through worse every day -- but merely a note to say that I expect …

Strange Horizons Fall Fund Drive

The Strange Horizons Fall Fund Drive has been extended to Nov. 12, meaning you still have a chance to give some of your ill-gotten gains to them before you're thrown in prison. Please don't blame them for things like my latest column. They also publish good stuff, like a week of Tiptree-related reviews.

(And yes, I know I've been a lousy blogger recently. I've been a lousy everything recently, what with work, thesis, deadlines for various writings I promised to people back when I had a delusion of spare time, etc. I probably owe you an email. I probably forgot to do that thing I said I'd do for you. I probably ruined your childhood. I apologize for the first two. With luck, things will get a bit more lively around here soon.)

The End of ManBug Week

ManBug Week has wound down over at the the LBC with a podcast interview with George Ilsley created by the great and glorious Carolyn Kellogg of Pinky's Paperhaus and the tenebrous, ranting denizens of The Bat Segundo Show.

I haven't been on a fast enough internet connection yet to listen to the interview, but Carolyn told me she enjoyed talking with George and that he said plenty of illuminating and amusing things, so I'm looking forward to listening to that part of the interview. I'm more wary of the beginning, because Carolyn and I talk about the book for a moment before introducing George, and I expect I sound like an idiot. Ignorance is, perhaps, bliss.

Fresh Links

I rely on NetNewsWire for RSS feed reading, but have begun to experiment with Google Reader as an online alternative. As part of that experiment, I'm trying out the sharing capabilities, so you will now see (I hope...) a "Fresh Links" section of the sidebar. This offers some recent links to weblog posts that I've found in some way or another interesting. You can connect from there to my public page, which also has its own feed if you want to receive it all in your own reader*. I'll keep playing with it see how it works out. Ideally, it could be an easy way to keep some fresh content going, and reduce some of the need for big linkdump posts.

Note: If the "Fresh Links" section has disappeared, that means I'm fighting with it or am abandoning it. If it looks funny, that means I haven't gotten the code to integrate well with this site's template. In other words, this is all a test.

*I've only been able to get the feed to work in Google …