Showing posts from 2007


For various reasons, I'm going to need to take a hiatus from blogging for a bit. I do promise to return. WIRK NICHT VORAUS, sende nicht aus, steh herein: durchgründet vom Nichts, ledig allen Gebets, feinfügig, nach der Vor-Schrift, unüberholbar, nehm ich dich auf, statt aller Ruhe. DO NOT WORK AHEAD, do not send out, stand inward: transgrounded by the void, free of all prayer, fine-fugued, according to the pre-script, unpassable, I take you in, instead of stillness. --Paul Celan trans. Pierre Joris from Lichtzwang / Lightduress

Sweeney Todd

I know Terry Teachout reveres the stage version of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at least as much as I do, but I can't entirely agree with him that Tim Burton's film version "is -- without exception, and by a considerable margin -- the best film ever to have been made from a Broadway musical." However, this is only because I think Bob Fosse's Cabaret is a more profound and innovative film. Fosse turned an awkward and mediocre musical into something newly rich and strange, and the camera work and editing in Cabaret remain breathtaking even after thirty-five years and oodles of CGI movies. Tim Burton simply had the task of not obscuring the brilliance of his source material. That he did more than that is something to be celebrated. Burton has created what is certainly his best film in many years, and perhaps his best film yet, although opinions on that will depend on how much you prefer Burton's darker side to his goofier side. This S


Thanks to this post , this site has become the top hit on Google for such phrases as "I will have vengeance!" and "I will have vengeance, I will have salvation!" And lots of hits a day are coming through because of it. I don't know if people are looking for ways to get vengeance and salvation, or if they're looking for the song the phrase came from in Sweeney Todd . If it's the latter, that's easy: The song is "Epiphany" and the lyrics, wiht a fwe typoz, are available here . You can see it on YouTube in various productions: Len Cariou (the original Sweeney) and Angela Lansbury ( the original soundtrack album is a masterpiece, like a bloody and brilliant radio show); George Hearn and Angela Lansbury ; George Hearn and Patti LuPone ; a little bit of Johnny Depp . For actual vengeance and salvation, let me introduce you to my friend Nick Mamatas , who will be happy to help, I'm sure...

A Question for the Audience

I had parent-teacher conferences the other day, and the most common statement-then-question from parents was, "My child doesn't really like to read, and I don't know how to turn him/her/it onto the pleasures of reading. What can I do?" My stock response was, "If I had an easy answer to that, I'd be a millionaire." I didn't want to say that I think most of the time we English teachers are an impediment to students' enjoyment of books (though I do think I slipped and said that to one parent), and that suggesting to an adolescent that anything is good for them is the surest way to make them avoid it at all costs. I didn't want to tell them, either, how little I feel like I understand adolescents anymore, how far I am from their frames of mind, how much they seem to have changed (or I have changed, or not changed enough) since I began teaching ten years ago. Many of the parents who said, despairingly, that their child doesn't like to read

Delany Week at Strange Horizons

Over at Strange Horizons, the reviews department is devoted to the work of Samuel R. Delany this week, and it begins with my essay "Night and Day: The Place of Equinox in Samuel R. Delany's Oeuvre" , which is a piece I cobbled together from various fragments of academic writing. It originally had footnotes, much more jargon, etc., and then Niall Harrison did a heroic job of editing it, and I went back and rewrote various parts, to turn it into what it is now. (Some clunkiness still remains, because I decided that preserving a couple of ideas was more important than giving readers smooth transitions, so I hope you'll forgive me.) The whole process produced my favorite editorial suggestion of all time, at least among editorial suggestions I've received: "Maybe better to omit the next two paragraphs and skip straight to the sex?" Keep your eyes on Strange Horizons this week, as Graham Sleight will be writing about Delany's short fiction, L. Timm

The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck

The Farther Shore is the current LitBlog Co-op pick, and reading it caused me to think about a few different things, given that the novel portrays American soldiers in East Africa. It was, in fact, exactly a year ago that I was a tourist in Kenya , only a few hundred miles away from Somalia, where Matthew Eck had fought for the U.S. Army in the 1990s. A few hundred miles, a decade of years, entirely different worlds. (The U.S. has had a long history in Somalia , with U.S. military operations continuing , though this time as part of operations against al-Qaeda, while the situation remains complex and difficult .) Before reading The Farther Shore , I wondered about why it needed to be a novel -- why, in these memoir-sodden days of ours, would a writer choose fiction when he could probably have gotten more money and notice by writing about his own experiences? I became a bit skeptical of the fiction, because there were many possible pits it could fall into: politics and polemics ove

"The detritus of the white man's world"

I've spoken of my admiration for much of Doris Lessing's work , but I have remained silent on her writings about Africa and her thoughts on that, the continent of her birth. Mostly because I've felt that her perspective on Africa was an important one for a while, but that she is also very much a product of her time and situation, as are we all. I liked parts of her Nobel lecture very much, and the overall thrust of it -- which I perceived as a call to recognize the systems and luxuries that allow literature to be written -- is one I think deserves to be raised more often, and I was glad Lessing did. I didn't even mind her disparaging comments about the internet, because I never expected her to be very familiar or approving of it, anyway. But some of what she writes about Africa bothered me quite a lot, in that she seems to be nostalgic for colonialism. Ramblings of an African Geek now has a post addressing this : Never mind the damage colonization has done and still

Post-Pboz-Party Post

Pindeldyboz is migrating from being a print-and-online magazine to being only an online magazine, and so they held a party Monday night, and I went. So did other people. Including Richard Larson , Dustin Kurtz , Ed Champion , and Sarah Weinman . The last print issue of Pboz is actually only appearing as a free PDF download . It's 16 megabytes of worthwhile reading. Of last night's readings from the last issue, I was particularly taken by two. Here are excerpts: As internships go—is that still what this is? -- you could do a lot better than zig-zagging through no man’s land carving up no man’s cows all summer. It’s not for credit, what the hell kind of major would give you credit for that? It’s more like an apprenticeship, but with no hope or desire to take over the business. Every Wednesday $250 is direct-deposited into my account back east. This job makes a lot more sense on Wednesdays. --from "Every Creeping Thing of the Earth" by Patrick Rappa I agreed with

Failbetter 25

One of the more venerable online literary magazines, , has now reached a milestone: its twenty-fifth issue. Published quarterly since the fall of 2000 (when, coincidentally, one of the other venerable online magazines, Strange Horizons , also began), Failbetter has been a model of what can be accomplished on the web. They've consistently offered interesting fiction, poetry, art, and interviews -- indeed, their very first interview was with pre-Pulitzer Michael Chabon , and they would go on to interview a number of other authors only a few months or even weeks before they, too, would be bestowed with prizes. Of course, the web has changed a lot since 2000, and Failbetter has changed too. Now they've got an RSS feed and are releasing content every week rather than just four times a year. The quality is still high, though, and the diversity of content exciting. I can't claim impartiality -- one of my first publications of fiction as an adult came with &quo


John Klima is having everyone who contributed to his anthology Logorrhea write up a little something about why they chose the Spelling Bee word they did, and then post the section of Jeff VanderMeer's all-encompassing "Appogiatura" story that corresponds with the word. Also, there is a podcast of each section of "Appogiatura" . And John is going to chronicle it all via this blog post . First, about my own word and story... Elegiacal Origins of "The Last Elegy" It was the only possible word for me. What stories have I written that couldn't, in some way or another, be described as elegiacal ? Sorrow for the past -- that is, it seems, one of the few things my imagination is willing to fixate on for fictional ideas. Often, too, the novels and stories that most appeal to me as a reader are ones with at least a hint of the elegiacal in them, partly because memory and time fascinate me with their twinned ability to haunt us with the ghosts of all w


Things are going to continue to be light around here for at least a month, as I have various duties to attend to, deadlines that are quickly threatening to pass, etc. And last night I decided that I needed to start the Big Project over yet again, despite progress, because it's obviously in the wrong POV and starting far too far from the stuff that matters. And I owe 13,593 people 642,482 emails. And only a few of them are princes in Nigeria who want me to take care of their money for a few days. And I've been sick, which is never fun, though I have reached the post-sickness point of being just utterly weary. (I perplex my students repeatedly because they have all been indoctrinated into believing that sentences cannot begin with such words as "and" or "but", that paragraphs cannot have more than five sentences in them, that sentences with more than a certain number of words in them are run-ons, etc. I tell them this is not true. I tell them what matter

Glowing Reviews

Ed Champion linked to this, and I'm passing it on, because the customer reviews on this product are the funniest things I've read all week.

Wo(o)lf(e)s in the World

Virginia Woolf and Gene Wolfe are topics of a few conversation out on the internets these days: Some of Virginia Woolf's first editions are a bargain on the collector's market . Woolf and other artists are being used to promote arts education . Woolf [and others] and neuroscience . Or not. (The author of the book in question responds here .) "Virginia Woolf and Boring Habits" Larry at OF Blog of the Fallen is reading a lot of Gene Wolfe and writing up his responses . Waggish reads The Book of the New Sun . Spurious offers further thoughts on Book of the New Sun . Richard Crary's thoughts on Mr. Waggish's thoughts . Hoof and Hide is a Gene Wolfe blog. Which is not to say a blog by Gene Wolfe. Which is an interesting thought. In fact, I'd like to see Gene Wolfe and Virginia Woolf collaborate on a blog. Yet another of my impossible desires...

"I will have vengeance! I will have salvation!"

The website for Sweeney Todd has just been updated, and it contains a number of audio selections. I'm hardly alone in being simultaneously excited by Tim Burton directing my favorite musical and skeptical of a cast made up largely of people who are not known for their singing. The clips on the site, though, are heartening. Most are of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Neither will ever be mistaken for powerful singers, but they're not atrocious. (Alas, no Sacha Baron Cohen yet.) These versions of the songs are a bit thin on their own, and sometimes the actors get overwhelmed by the lush orchestrations, but I can imagine the songs working pretty well on film, which, thanks to the way the camera modulates the audience's proximity to the actors, can be much more effective as an intimate aural environment than live theatre (or maybe it's just me -- I hate plays where the actors are heavily miked, and I have more than once walked out of shows because of the sound d

Magpie Semiotics

Thanksgiving is a hit-or-miss holiday for me -- I've had some wonderful ones with friends and family, but some of my favorite Thanksgivings have been ones where I've hung out on my own and taken a break from everything. This year was one of those, and a memorable one, because I decided to see two movies I was sure would be interesting to see together: I'm Not There and Across the Universe . Both films are based on the work of some of the most recognizable, revered, and influential musicians of the last fifty years: Bob Dylan for I'm Not There and The Beatles for Across the Universe -- musicians who came of age and influence at roughly the same time. Both films are helmed by idiosyncratic directors: Todd Haynes and Julie Taymor . Both films have gotten wildly divergent responses from viewers . I am far more of a Bob Dylan fan than a Beatles fan (though I did go through a bit of Beatlemania as a kid, and so most of the words to their best-known songs come immedi

Join the KGB!

Tomorrow, I'll be reading with Lucius Shepard at the KGB Bar in Manhattan. (Rumors that either of us will be performing hip-hop are untrue, at least for me.) I plan to read my story "The Lake", from the brand-new Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet , which is now available in all sorts of different formats . La Gringa has promised to throw pickles and other assorted fruits and vegetables at me.

No Country for Old Men

(Some preliminaries. First, I should note that to say anything about my reaction to this movie, I have to discuss the last third in some detail. If you're the type of person who doesn't like to know anything about the last third of movies, don't read on. I don't think knowing such details would harm the experience of first seeing this movie, but that's just me. Second, I should say that I did not read Cormac McCarthy's novel , from which the Coen brothers have wrought this film, though a friend who attended with us had read it, and said he thought the movie was quite faithful, or at least as faithful as is possible, given the differences in media. Finally, I should mention that Richard Larson attended with us, so keep an eye on his blog in case he writes up his response, too.) No Country for Old Men is as clear an example of subverted genre expectations as any movie I can think of. It gains power from the iconography of certain types of westerns and no

The Affirmation by Christopher Priest

It is useful to imagine the book as two funhouse mirrors facing one another. --Waggish We often pretend to be objective about books when writing about them, but such objectivity is obviously a lie, and I would be foolish to continue that lie when writing about a book that has affected me in such a particular way as The Affirmation has. I am not so much going to describe what I think the book will do to you as what it did to me. What it does to you ... well, for that you're on your own. A saying of Leonard's comes into my head in this season of complete inanity and boredom. "Things have gone wrong somehow." It was the night C. killed herself. We were walking along that silent blue street with the scaffolding. I saw all the violence and unreason crossing in the air: ourselves small; a tumult outside: something terrifying: unreason -- shall I make a book out of it? It would be a way of bringing order and speed again into my world. --Virginia Woolf diary , 25 May 1


For two days I have had these lines stuck in my head: Don't worry about me I'm about to die of pleurisy The lines were written by Jack Kerouac in a song (which you can hear him sing here ) that Tom Waits later adapted. There are two very different recordings of the Waits song that I know of: a sad, weary version included on Orphans ( listen here ) and a lively collaboration with Primus (from the album Jack Kerouac Reads on the Road ; mp3 here ). Before I ever looked at a transcription of the lyrics , I heard the line "Well the worms eat away but don't worry watch the wind" as "Oh the worms eat away, but the worry warts will win". I still like my version. In any case, I don't think I'm about to die of pleurisy. I like the word, though, especially since it reminds me of Laura in The Glass Menagerie , who was nicknamed Blue Roses because someone misheard her when she said she had pleurosis.

So Fey Reading This Weekend

The lack of substantive posts continues at a furious pace around these here parts, but I do want to take a moment to note the reading and book signing this Sunday (11/11) by contributors to So Fey: Queer Fairy Fiction at Housing Works Used Book Cafe . Copies of the anthology have been donated by the publisher, Haworth Press , and proceeds from sales will go to local homeless people living with HIV. The reading starts at 5pm. Steve Berman edited So Fey and scheduled readers include Mumpsimus contributor Craig Gidney , Rick Bowes, Eric Andrews-Katz, Tom Cardamone, Cassandra Clare, Ruby deBrazier, Joshua Lewis, and Sean Meriwether.

Mandarins Discussion

I recently discovered Ryunosuke Akutagawa's short stories, and was particularly taken with the beautiful collection of them that Archipelago Books published, Mandarins . I'm thrilled to see, then, that Michael Orthoffer (of the excellent Complete Review and Literary Saloon ) is leading a discussion of Mandarins at the Words Without Borders blog this month.

Strange Horizons, WFC, Etc.

The latest issue of Strange Horizons has been posted and includes a column in which I blather on a bit and then recommend some literary journals that adventurous readers might enjoy. While I'm here, I'd like to offer congratulations to the World Fantasy Award winners for this year -- especially to such friends, supporters, and critics of The Mumpsimus as Mary Rickert, Jeff Ford, and Ellen Datlow. I was not at the World Fantasy Convention, for various reasons, but I had a little mini-convention all of my own. Friday's highlight was a panel on laundry. On Saturday, I participated in a kaffeeklatch with a writer I admire, Richard Larson , then continued on with him to see the associational (because its title invokes a fantastic creature) movie Before the Devil Knows You're Dead , which he liked overall a bit more than I did, but which I nonetheless thought was certainly worth seeing. And then on Sunday, to finish it all up, I moderated a special session of the SATs

How to Save the SF Magazines

Paolo Bacigalupi, who used to work for High Country News , takes some lessons learned from his previous employment and speculates about the ways science fiction and fantasy magazines could save themselves from their ever-declining circulations. Paolo's thoughts appear in three blog posts: Part 1 (overview), Part 2 ("Marketing in Meatspace"), and Part 3 ("Online Marketing"). I don't have any great knowledge of marketing, so I will defer to Paolo and others on that, but I do hope the magazines are able to survive, partly because I respect the history they represent and partly because I like the idea of monthly magazines full of fiction being able to survive in our world. But honestly, I only pay money to subscribe to one of them. I receive subscriptions to some others because once upon a time I reviewed them more frequently than I do now (I certainly still read them for Best American Fantasy ), but for the others, when it comes time to make selections for