Showing posts from April, 2008

Blown Away: American Women and Guns by Caitlin Kelly

It's rare to find a book about guns in the U.S. that doesn't come across as hysterical -- either the hysteria of someone seemingly determined to live up to every possible stereotype of a "gun nut" or the hysteria of someone seemingly determined to live up to every possible stereotype of an out-of-touch wussy liberal. Caitlin Kelly's Blown Away (excerpts available here ) doesn't quite live up to the claims on its front cover -- "an unbiased exploration of the right to bear arms" -- but it is certainly the most even-handed and rational book about guns and American gun culture that I've encountered. Though Blown Away doesn't seem unbiased to me -- the tilt is definitely in favor of people's right to have access to guns -- I'm not sure what "unbiased" really would look like, or what value it would serve. What I want is for a writer to play fair, to be aware of complexities, to avoid caricaturing differing viewpoints, and Kel

More to Life

Matt Zoller Seitz is one of the few film critics whose reviews I will read regardless of what he is reviewing, because even when my taste is different from his (his love of Brian DePalma perplexes me, for instance), his reviews usually make me think about or notice things I wouldn't otherwise. He's giving up print journalism, though. In a long conversation with Keith Uhlich (who will be taking over command of Seitz's collaborative blog The House Next Door) this passage particularly struck me: There’s more to life than movies, and I don’t think that, ten years ago, I don’t think I would have said that. But I’m saying it now: there is more to life than movies. And I remember a conversation with Sean Burns—I think it might have been in the comments section of the blog—he casually mentioned that Gene Siskel, God rest his soul, was… there was somebody who looked down on Siskel for saying that he skipped some film festival to go to a basketball game. And Burns was completely a


When we were working on the first volume of Best American Fantasy , I said to Jeff and Ann that I wished we could reprint some nonfiction, because some of the most wondrous things I'd encountered were essays. I had New England Review at the forefront of my mind when I said this, because I sit down and read each issue that arrives immediately, and most of what excites me is the eclectic nonfiction they publish (which is not to say the poems and stories they publish are not exciting, too; many are, and I've passed some on to Ann and Jeff. Yes, we're still working on BAF 2, the "patience is a virtue" edition...) The latest issue of NER contains an essay by J.M. Tyree, "Lovecraft at the Automat". It's not an essay that will offer too much that's new to a Lovecraft devotee, I expect, but I'm only a casual Lovecraftian, and generally more interested in his life and circumstances than in his writing. It's fun, though, to see a journal lik

Looking Forward

I've just returned from a week in New Hampshire, which is why things have been quiet around these here parts. Most of my friends know at this point, but I think it's safe to make the news public now: I will be moving back to New Hampshire at the end of June. The reasons are many. Even before my father's death in December, I knew I was not particularly happy teaching at the school where I've been teaching this year -- it's not a bad school by any means, but I lack the classroom management skills to be as effective a teacher there as I would like to be. After my father's death it became clear that settling his estate was going to be a long and involved process, and so I began to toy with the idea of moving back to New Hampshire, though I really would like a few more years of easy access to Manhattan... But the more work I, my family members, my friends, my lawyer and accountant, etc. did trying to put some order to all of what my father left behind, the more I

Talking Animals

The latest issue of BOMB magazine includes a conversation between Jonathan Lethem and Lydia Millet -- it's unfortunately not online, but it's so good that it's really worth the price of the magazine to read it. One of the best interviews I've read in a while. Here's a sample: Jonathan Lethem: I was recently reading an essay by Mary McCarthy, a quite brilliant, free-ranging one that she first gave as a lecture in Europe, called "The Fact in Fiction." At the outset she defines the novel in quite exclusive terms, terms that of course made me very nervous: "...if you find birds and beasts talking in a book you are reading you can be sure it is not a novel." Well, as the author of at least one and arguably two or three novels with talking animals in them, I felt disgruntled. McCarthy is one of those critics whose brilliance dedicates itself often to saying what artists shouldn't do -- like the equally celebrated and brilliant James Wood, wit

Aimé Césaire (1913-2008)

Via Pierre Joris's blog , I just learned that the great writer and politician Aimé Césaire has died . I didn't pay much attention to Césaire until grad school, when one of my favorite teachers (and later one of my thesis readers) was Keith Walker, whose particular specialty is francophone literature and whose particular interest is Césaire. His passion transferred to me, though I can't read French, so I've been stuck with the few English translations of Césaire's many works. Last year, I used Césaire's play A Tempest and excerpts from his Discourse on Colonialism in my AP Lit class (to go along with Shakespeare's Tempest ), and I would do so again in a heartbeat, because it blew the kids' minds (in a good way). Keith Walker told me a story that I only remember vague details of, but I'll tell what I can of it here. He used it to explain to me when he had fallen in love with Césaire's work himself. He was at school in France, and his roommate

This is Not a Poem

I'm glad to see that the desire to come up with stable definitions and labels for difficult-to-define-and-label things exists not only within the science fiction community, where the desire for taxonomy seems sometimes pathologic, but also within the world at large. Exhibit A: The Queen's English Society is demanding that poems be defined as things with rhyme and meter (or, rather, metre) . Those of us who have survived interminable discussions of what, exactly, makes something science fiction or fantasy can probably help our friends at the Queen's English Society. In fact, we can let them know that the desire for definition does not end with one term. Oh no. One of the great laws of the universe is: Taxonomy breeds taxonomy . Once we have one label or category, we need many. And then the many need many of their own. For instance, the Queen's English Society will need to determine whether everything defined as "poetry" is (for instance) immersive poetry


My latest Strange Horizons column has been posted: "The Hero, Pulped" . It's all about my latest obsession, The Spider . The article that sparked this obsession, "The Spider: America's Prophetic Epic of Terrorism" by Stuart Hopen, appears in the latest ( Spring 2008 ) issue of Rain Taxi , but unfortunately it's not available online. (You could use this as your excuse to subscribe to RT and get a year's worth of great interviews, articles, and reviews of books you aren't likely to hear about elsewhere...) The column has some links to various sites of information about The Spider , but if you're curious about where to procure some of the stories, the best source I know is The Vintage Library , which sells books (including all 8 Carrol & Graf editions for $20 ), pulp replicas, and electronic editions. A year ago, Baen Books published The Spider: Robot Titans of Gotham , which reprints a few Spider stories, parts of which can be read on

Two Distinctions

Richard Lupoff , from a review of Science Fiction of the Thirties (ed. Damon Knight) and The Fantastic Pulps (ed. Peter Haining) in Algol , Summer 1976: Anybody who has followed this column for a number of years must be aware that I have a great fondness for the old pulp (and even pre-pulp) stuff. Yet I despise most of the contemporary would-be heirs and imitators of the pulp writers, and among moderns strongly prefer the serious and even experimental authors. ... Those old pulp writers, Doc Smith, David Keller, Edmond Hamilton, Murray Leinster, Seabury Quinn, Lovecraft, Otto Binder, Jack Williamson, and all the rest of that crowd -- were writing the best they knew how! Their ideas might seem elementary, their technique primitive, to us . But to themselves and their contemporaries, the ideas were fresh and startling, the technique the most advanced they were capable of (and very likely the most sophisticated their readers were capable of assimilating). And that's exactly the

Even the Old Ones Say "Alright!"

I kill hamsters!* I want to see them die!!! I'm even bringing my (extended) family into this! Say it one more time: ALRIGHT!!! *Yes, John says God only pokes hamsters in the rear end when we use "alright", but here he is not being entirely forthright with us. "A poke from God" is a well-known phrase used by certain secret societies and cabals to indicate a particularly painful form of torture that leads to death. Just ask somebody at the Creation Museum . They know about pokes from God.

Call for Stories: Interfictions 2

Chris Barzak has just posted the announcement that he will be joining Delia Sherman in editing Interfictions 2 , which picks up where Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing left off. My story "A Map of the Everywhere" appeared in that first book, but I hope you won't hold that against the editors. I wrote the story partly to see if I could figure out any way of thinking about the idea of "interstitial fiction" , and my approach was simply to try to cross and recross as many different sorts of boundaries as I could think of for the story. I used the label in the way I think labels should be used: as a temporary provocation allowing me to create something. That provocation has now returned in the form of a new anthology, and I hope lots of different writers will let the nebulous, amorphous idea of interstitiality push them to create something strange and wondrous, and that they will then submit that strange wondrousness to Chris and Delia for con

Alright Already!

Loath as I am to disagree with John Scalzi, I must note a difference of opinion with regard to the word "alright", which John proclaims is not even a word. And he thinks it's ugly. Whether it is ugly is a matter of taste, and I shan't argue that. Whether it is a word , though ... well, it's definitely a word, since it has boundaries and is used to convey meaning, though I will grant that most American dictionaries of English do not accept it as part of formal, standard English yet. I will also say here that I use the word "alright" much more often than I use the words "all right", and when an occasional copyeditor changes my alrights to all rights , I change 'em right back whenever possible. (Usually my sometimes-British/ sometimes-American punctuation distracts copyeditors from my other idiosyncracies, but not always.) In terms of grammar, usage, style, orthography, etc., I am a radical liberal. I teach my students standard English,

Libraries of the Dead!

I haven't used LibraryThing because I know if I started I would become obsessive and not stop, which means I'd spend all my waking hours cataloguing my books. So I never knew about some of the fun to be had with LibraryThing until I saw this great linkdump from Free Range Librarian with a link to ... are you ready...... I SEE DEAD PEOPLE['S BOOKS] which is a group pulling together information on the personal libraries (some in progress, some complete) of various famous dead people. For instance: James Joyce , Karen Blixen , Danilo Kis , Sylvia Plath , Walker Percy , Ezra Pound , Robert E. Howard , and Tupac Shakur . Alas, no Borges. Yet.

And the Next Guest Editor of BAF Is...

I'm pleased to announce that the guest editor for Best American Fantasy 3 will be Kevin Brockmeier . The book will be filled with stories from this year (2008) and will be published in September 2009. For the full, official press release (with a rare quote from series editor Matthew Cheney himself!), check out the BAF blog . For information on guidelines and publicity, see the BAF website . I'm really thrilled Kevin agreed to join our endeavor -- I can't imagine a person who would be more perfect to take over. I'm also thrilled that I was able to convince Ann and Jeff to stay on and help with some publicity and packaging, because there's a lot I still don't know about putting books together, and their experience and knowledge and patience have been essential to the series. If you don't know Kevin Brockmeier's work ... well, didn't you read his marvelous "Fable with Slips of White Paper Spilling from the Pockets" in the first BAF? (If n

How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet

I've tried to write about Lydia Millet's new novel, How the Dead Dream , a few times now, but I've never been able to get too far. It is one of those books that, for me at least, is so entirely what it is that writing about it feels inadequate, because I can provide little more than summary or illustration, and if that is all there is, then I might as well keep this short and say no more than I liked this book . But I'm going to risk saying a bit more than that. As anyone on whom I foisted it knows, Millet's previous novel, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart , was one of my favorites of recent years. I had no trouble saying lots about that book; if anything, I had trouble shutting up. How the Dead Dream is an entirely different sort of book, though. It is less vast, less epic: the novelistic equivalent of a lyric poem or a cello suite. What amazes me about How the Dead Dream is that it is a determinedly political book and yet not a particularly didactic one. (I say