Showing posts from September, 2008

Upcoming interviews

I realized recently that I haven't done any interviews with anybody in a long time. So I'm rectifying that. I'm in the midst of interviewing Diana Spechler about her first novel, Who By Fire , a compulsively readable book about a troubled family, a less than perfect daughter, and a son who flees to Israel to study at an Orthodox yeshiva. I'm also interviewing Brian Slattery , author of one of my favorite books from last year, Spaceman Blues . Brian's upcoming novel Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America is due out a few days before my birthday and is frighteningly prescient -- I accused Brian of manipulating the U.S. economy over the past week to better reflect events in his book. Publicity is one thing, but.... Meanwhile, Sarah Palin refused my request for an interview, alas.

Sound Check

I haven't written much here recently about music, mostly because I find writing about music to be the most difficult sort of writing to do, but I've been having fun with some new discoveries recently, and thought it might be fun to share. For instance, there's a new Okkervil River album, The Stand Ins (a sequel, of sorts, to last year's The Stage Names ). I have shed great amounts of praise on Okkervil here in the past, and really, how could I dislike a band that named themselves after one of my favorite Tatyana Tolstaya stories ? I can't say I've entirely warmed to these two albums the way I did to Okkervil's earlier work , but they're still plenty interesting. On The Stand Ins , the lyrics to "Singer Songwriter" particularly amuse me: Your great-grandfather was a great lawyer And his kid made a mint off the war Your father shot stills and then directed films That your mom did publicity for I saw your older sis on the year's best boo

And I Approved This Message

I suspended this blog before John McCain suspended his campaign to work on the economy, so please vote for me on election day. My running mate is an androgynous simulacrum of Eugene Debs and Emma Goldman who spends most of its time arguing with itself about the role and value of government in effecting meaningful change. I will be de-suspending the blog soon, though, because today I am going out into my backyard to talk with the squirrels about my plan for the economy, a plan that rests its many tentacles on a single bodily proposal: to release all non-violent offenders from prison to make room for various denizens of Wall Street. And to provide free feather boas to everybody who wants one. Oh no! One of my cats just ate the Squirrel Majority Leader! The squirrels are in an uproar! The whole economic plan is now in jeopardy! Bad kitty! BAD! My friends, I'm afraid I'm going to have to suspend the blog for a few more days while this crisis is resolved.

The Singularity Trap

Sue Lange and I struck up a correspondence recently, and at one point she mentioned a slight obsession with the idea of the singularity. "Really?" I said. "Tell me more..." Sue is the author of We, Robots , part of the Aqueduct Press Conversation Pieces Series. When Matthew suggested I blog at the Mumpsimus on the subject of the Singularity or any other weirdity, I opted for weirdity. I needed a change. The Singularity is threatening to swallow me whole these days. Too often I feel trapped in it. I know the Mumpsimus readers are an eclectic bunch. They are not all science fiction fans. For those who have no idea what the Singularity is, I invite you to take a quick primer via an excerpt from my book, We, Robots and meet me back here. Everyone make it back? Great. Moving forward. The problem with not writing about the Singularity is that anything I do these days: orcharding, horse back riding, applescript writing, pie throwing, etc., seems to relate to it someho

Learning to Write

My latest column is up at Strange Horizons : "Learning to Write" . I didn't realize this would be SH's eighth anniversary issue. Eight years of weekly doses of fiction, poetry, essays, articles, etc. An impressive accomplishment, especially given that everyone on staff is a volunteer. They're all a joy to work with, and I think the results are extraordinary in many ways, so congratulations to all of the various Strange Horizon writers and staff over the years. The new column is a strange one, but then, most of them are. It's centered on Jules Renard's journals , recently reissued by Tin House Books , and appearances are also made by Jacques Roubaud's Some Thing Black and Gertrude Stein's How to Write . By the way, if you ever teach an intro composition class or something like that, I recommend sticking Stein's How to Write on a shelf, and when a student asks you for the "secret" of writing (or anything to that effect), tell them


As you've probably heard by now, David Foster Wallace is dead . Ed Champion has heroically put together a huge collection of remembrances from all sorts of people, and it's a moving and funny and beautiful testament to the effect Wallace had on his readers. My own contribution to the collection, I told Ed, is written from the land of shellshock.

The Fall

Will Lasky at The House Next Door suggests that The Fall is destined to be a cult classic, and that seems right to me. It's a movie that causes viewers to split quite strongly, some feeling the film is visionary and powerful, others finding it pretentious and boring. Inevitably, as we try to tell people what we thought of the movie and what the experience of watching it is like, we compare it to other films -- The Princess Bride comes up a lot, but I think that's a bit misleading, and likely to cause dissatisfaction in a viewer who watches The Fall expecting the other film's whimsy. A closer approximation would be Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen , a movie that is as full of stories-within-stories as Princess Bride and The Fall , and also shares The Fall's darker view of human motivations, attention to imagery, and sometimes messy (some might even say flabby ) narrative structure. The other particularly valid comparison, I think, is to th

Special Offer

Occasional Mumpsimus guest blogger Craig Gidney has a collection of stories coming out in November, and his publisher, Steve Berman, is making a truly generous special offer . Craig's struggling to get some necessary, expensive prescriptions at a time when he doesn't have health insurance, and to help him out, Steve is willing to send all the money from pre-publication orders for the book to Craig. See Steve's post for more information. Craig's situation isn't the least bit unique. The American health insurance system is an atrocity. My father died with a great load of debt to hospitals, and his struggles over the past decade with insurance companies and medical providers were extensive. Myself, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I don't get sick in the next few weeks, because I won't have insurance again until October. But I'm lucky -- healthy, single, no need for maternity care, without much of a history of health problems, and able (for n

Reginald Shepherd (1963-2008)

Via various sources, I learned that Reginald Shepherd died last night. I didn't know him, but have friends who did at one time or another. He was a writer I discovered first through his blog , then his poems and essays, and I reviewed his book Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry for the print edition of Rain Taxi . Shepherd, I said, called for poetic ecumenicalism, a search for a path between the various warring villages dotting the landscape of the last half-century of poetic schools, churches, and licensing bureaus. He disdains the insularity of poetry's mainstreams and avant-gardes, its false dichotomies and self-important taxonomies. The contemporary poetry he advocates for is a poetry open to possibility, a poetry written by poets who do not shun a technique simply because of which side of the garden it grew in: "While availing themselves of all the resources of the lyric tradition, such poets remain alert to the seductio

Lake of Fire

I put off watching Tony Kaye's documentary Lake of Fire for months, because it's seldom that I'm really in the mood to watch both raving Christian fundamentalists and explicit medical procedures within a single two-and-a-half-hour period. And Lake of Fire is full of both. Its primary concern is to depict both sides of the wars over abortion clinics in the 1990s, a time when quite a few people were killed by anti-abortion extremists. We see the picket lines and protests, the people protecting women going into clinics and the people trying to convert them. We hear a lot from various preachers and activists and philosophers and sociologists. We watch abortion procedures and see what gets dumped into the tray in the sink. We see crime scene photographs of doctors who were murdered and women who bled to death after trying to prevent their own pregnancy. At the end, we follow a woman into a clinic and watch as she goes through counseling and the procedure, and then sits,

Delany's Jewel-Hinged Jaw: June 2009

You can now pre-order Wesleyan University Press's reissue of Samuel Delany's first collection of essays, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction , from Amazon. My contacts at Wesleyan have confirmed that the book is, indeed, due to be released in June. Aside from my excitement at having these essays back in print (including "To Read The Dispossessed ", which alone is more than worth the price of the book), I'm particularly excited for this edition because I got the opportunity to write the introduction. I owe Justine Larbalestier more than I could ever offer her, because she put Chip in touch with me, and one day I returned home from work to a message on my answering machine: "Hello, Matthew Cheney, this is Samuel Delany..." I almost fell over. Then he asked if I'd do him the tremendous favor of writing the introduction to a book of his. And I think I did fall over. Since then, I not only wrote the intro to Jewel-Hinged

The First Day of School

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the first day of classes at Plymouth State University , where I'm teaching now. This is my eleventh year of teaching. Nonetheless, as ever, the first day looms as something both terrifying and exciting. This year is terrifying for new reasons, most having to do with teaching college for the first time, but last year was a very different environment, too, and I adjusted to that well enough. After the first class or two, the terror will go away, and probably some of the excitement, too, as we settle into a routine, but the unknown is always nerve-wracking. I've spent much of this week preparing for classes. If you're curious about the sorts of things I'm doing, I've put some information up here . Those pages will grow and change over time, of course, and at least one of them is mostly a placeholder right now, waiting for me to get more time to add to it. Meanwhile, if you're looking for something to watch, Reprise came out on DVD toda

The Art of Frédéric Chabot

I discovered Frédéric Chabot's work when we were looking for cover artists for Best American Fantasy 2008 . We looked at art from a bunch of different people, but I kept coming back to Frédéric's images. For a while, in fact, he was going to be our artist. Alas, the publishing world is mercurial, and in the end some marketing forces pushed us in other directions. It happens all the time, and I certainly understand. But this is such marvelous art, I couldn't help but share my enthusiasm with the world... More of Frédéric's images are available here and here .