Showing posts from October, 2008

Murder Madness Mayhem

I'm teaching a section of a course next semester called "Murder, Madness, and Mayhem" at Plymouth State , and since a passionate minority of the readership here seems interested in my syllabi and the (so-called) thinking behind them, here are the texts I've settled on using: The Dark Descent edited by David G. Hartwell Blasted by Sarah Kane Dying City by Christopher Shinn Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut S. by Slavenka Drakulic Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America by Brian Francis Slattery I don't entirely know what I'm doing with all these texts yet (the order was due at the bookstore last week, but the class won't begin till the end of January), but I chose them because I think they will illuminate different things about each other. The only text that I've been settled on using since the moment I learned I'd be teaching a section of the class

Morality, Irony, and Fiction

I shouldn't use such a vast and portentous title for a post that is essentially just saying, "Go read this," but I will anyway, because I think Wyatt Mason's latest post at Harper's hints toward some ideas that are worth considering: The animating idea of such a book, whether for children or adults, is morally objectionable. To account with the death of 6,000,000 innocents, the author invents a fictional “innocent” whose ironic fate is meant to offer a poignant window onto actual mass murder. Why morally objectionable? It is not that I object to fictionalization of the factual. Rather, I object to the notion that the fake death of a fake German child–through a series of contrivances that guarantee his irony-drenched death–is put forward as a representative means for readers to empathize anew with real children and real adults who really died. How else, such a narrative strategy suggests, could one empathize with the gruesome abstraction 6,000,000 innocents but b

One Story: Respect for Tradition

One Story is a marvelous magazine (and not just because they published me -- that should, perhaps, be held against them...) and I can testify that it makes a great gift for people who like to read but generally feel too busy to do so, because receiving a nicely-produced story every three weeks or so in the mail is great fun. One Story now and then asks for donations, because the magazine is a non-profit and doesn't run ads. Clifford Garstang pointed out that a recent solicitation included this description of the "Editor" donation level: Editor: $100 – I’ll pay one author for their story Mr. Garstang notes that there is, according to certain interpretations of English usage, a problem with agreement between the one author and the plural pronoun their . What he doesn't say, though, is that One Story is simply showing their respect for the history of English literature and the language itself. According to the indispensible Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English U

Free Spaceman!

One of my favorite novels of recent years, Brian Francis Slattery's Spaceman Blues , is available as a free download this month from . Go now!

Cat Dominates Predator and Alien!

That VanderMeer's Predator novel is nothing to me! Bwaaahaaaaaaa! And Evenson 's aliens shall die beneath my claws!

Bookstore Economics

Andrew Wheeler is my favorite writer when it comes to the practical minutiae of everyday publishing and bookselling. He explains things clearly, thoroughly, and often with a good sense of humor. His perspective is that of someone who does marketing for a living (he's a science fiction fan who markets business books these days), and he is more practical in his approach than many of us who just wish every corner had an independent bookstore stocked with all the sorts of books we like. His recent post on why some books get stocked by chain stores and some don't is one of his best yet, and it moves through all sorts of different subjects having to do with publishing. Idealists will be annoyed, but before changing the world, it's important to know what the state of the actual world is. I considered excerpting a paragraph and posting it, but that might prevent people from reading the whole thing .

The New New World

The many people who thought the 135-minute theatrical cut of The New World was already too long are probably not lining up to get the new extended cut DVD , but for the passionate minority of us who think The New World is not just a good film, but one of the greatest American films -- for us, the new DVD provides overwhelming bliss. The movies I care about most are the movies that so capture my imagination that I rarely think about anything else while watching them -- they expand beyond entertainment into a kind of meditation. It's an entirely individual thing, and though I expect most compulsive filmgoers have a list of such films, I doubt any of our lists are too similar.* When I first wrote about The New World , I began by saying, "I, too, thought The New World suffered because of its length, but unlike the various reviewers who thought it was too long, I felt like most of the problems came from it being far too short for all that director-writer Terrence Malick tried t

Filter House Review

My review of Nisi Shawl's collection of stories, Filter House , has been posted at Strange Horizons. It's the sort of review I mostly refrain from writing -- a negative review of a well-intentioned book from a small press. It took me ages to write, partly because usually I don't continue reading books that fail to hold my interest after a while, but mostly because my brain rebelled against the idea of writing such a review. I have an easier time writing negative things about nonfiction, because ideas are put out there to be challenged and analyzed, but a short story collection from a small press is more an offering than an argument. So why? Selfish reasons, mostly. I had wanted to begin to clarify some ideas of what differentiates (for me, at least) competent/mediocre fiction from fiction that is either obviously bad or that has elements of greatness (or maybe not greatness, but something more than competence). Filter House was the book at hand, and I was struggling w

Scattered Thoughts on Michael K. and Others

Early this week, I thought I'd write a little post about J.M. Coetzee's Life and Times of Michael K , since I just got finished teaching it in my Outsider course and wanted to preserve a few of the things I'd thought about -- each reading experience of the novel has been, for me, quite different. But then I got to thinking about futurist fiction in South Africa before the end of apartheid, since I had started doing some research on the subject recently (mostly spurred on by a footnote in David Attwell's J.M. Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing ), digging up out-of-the-way articles and out-of-print books, and I thought, Well, I can put some of that into the post, since it's interesting, but I wanted to do more research before saying anything in public, but I didn't have time, and, well ... here we are. No post all week. But lemme tell ya, the one in my head, WOW! It's a doozy, you betcha! I do plan on writing an essay about such futurist So

Poetry and Stupidity

K. Silem Mohammed: One thing you don't see much of in the magic business, I'm guessing, is magicians who fall for their own tricks. That wouldn't just be stupidity; it would be insanity. In poetry, however, it's fairly common. Draw your own conclusions. ( via Ron Silliman )

Nobel Thoughts

I love it when the Nobel Prize for Literature goes, as this year, to a writer whose name is unfamiliar to me. I'm woefully ignorant of French literature in general, and contemporary French literature in particular, and so Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio is not a byline I'd noticed before. Given how few of his books are currently available in English translation, though, I expect I'm not alone in my ignorance. This is one of the great values of the Nobel for American readers, and perhaps one of the only things that makes it, unlike most other awards, culturally valuable. Its profile is high enough that, in the right circumstances, it can propel writers into view who would otherwise remain at best only barely visible. Of course, this is not mainly what it does. As often as not, the Nobel goes to writers who are already prominent. This is much less interesting, although I will admit to celebrating when it goes to writers who are or have been particularly meaningful in my r

Issue 1, Take 2

When I wrote about Issue 1 yesterday , I noted it with amusement, but didn't give it much thought, because even as a piece of conceptual art it didn't really seem to me to be doing much that was particularly new in an interesting way. Steve Shaviro thinks that may be one way to find meaning in it : ...given all the questions about the status of the author that have been raised in the last half-century or so, it only makes sense that I should be credited with the authorship of something that I had nothing to do with writing. Remember, Roland Barthes proclaimed “the death of the author” more than forty years ago, in 1967. And even well before that, in 1940, Borges proposed a literary criticism that would “take two dissimilar works — the Tao Te Ching and the 1001 Nights , for instance — attribute them to a single author, and then in all good conscience determine the psychology of that most interesting homme de lettres …” (from “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”). Issue 1 is a logica

A Conversation with Brian Francis Slattery

Brian Francis Slattery is the author of Spaceman Blues and the upcoming Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America , two books that every intelligent and discerning reader should own. (And if you, like me, thought Spaceman Blues was fun and moving and beautiful and strange, just wait till you plunge into Liberation !) I figured now would be a good time to talk with Brian, because the U.S. is going through some economic turmoil, and such turmoil murmurs in the background of Liberation . Perhaps he could give us some pointers of how to avoid total collapse. He is not, after all, a stranger to the field of economics... Just for the sake of clarity, what is your relationship to the dismal science ? "Engaged", "Married", "It's Complicated"? It's complicated. I have a masters degree in international affairs, specializing in economic development, and for my day job, I edit public-policy and

In Which I Become More Prolific Than I Ever Imagined

So, as I do every few days, I was reading Ron Silliman's blog , and his latest post was about an intriguing online book of nearly 4,000 pages of poetry by nearly 4,000 poets. Wow, I thought, what a huge undertaking -- what a massive organizational nightmare! It must have been put together by somebody with a lot of connections! And then in the list of names, I noticed various people I knew. But I hadn't heard anything about this project. Why do my friends hide things from me? I thought. Are they ashamed that they have started writing and publishing poetry? And then I got to the bottom of Ron Silliman's post: No, the quirkiest thing about Issue 1 is going to be that, if it includes your name – and, hey, it probably does – you have no memory of having written that text, nor of submitting it to Issue 1. Or, as Ed Baker put it so elegantly in the comments stream to For Godot, I DIDN’T FUCKING WRITE THIS GARBAGE! And then I took another look. And lo, there was my name.

The Problem of "African" Symbolism

I have sometimes criticized stories for how they use a thing the author calls "Africa" or "African", and I have as often held my tongue about other stories or movies or such, because sometimes I think I'm just a bit too sensitive about this particular topic. For me, anyone who hasn't spent a significant amount of time on the continent is immediately suspect when they use "African" settings and topics, and though some writers are able to overcome my immediate suspicion, most aren't, and I'm probably sometimes less than fair in my judgment. I've struggled at times to be able to articulate why such representations and appropriations fill me with blind rage, but I don't think I've ever done so in a way that's very helpful to anybody who wonders, "Huh? What's the big deal?" I was pleased, then, to discover this post at Feministing about American Apparel's "Afrika" line of clothes , because the comm

Redefining Marriage

Last night's debate between the nominees for vice president was disappointing in that it didn't quite rise to being the best comedy on TV the way that Katie Couric's interview with Sarah Palin did, making it kind of like watching a NASCAR race without any crashes -- interesting for the cognoscenti, dull for the rest. I was most interested in the two candidates' responses to the question of gay marriage, which The Advocate has now nicely analyzed . Both candidates were stuck by the question, because they were trying to play to multiple audiences, though Palin had it the hardest because her main purpose in the campaign is to shore up McCain's support among the fire & brimstone social conservatives, yet she knows that coming out and saying, "Well, I don't support gay marriage because I think gay people should burn in hell for eternity," would win her points with the crazies and lose her just about everybody else. She knows that the topic has becom

A Conversation with Diana Spechler

Diana Spechler 's first novel, Who By Fire , has just been released to strong reviews from all over. It's a compelling story of three members of a family: a sister (Bits) whose life is a mess in all sorts of different ways, a brother (Ash) who has fled to Israel to study at an Orthodox yeshiva, and a mother (Ellie) who thinks Orthodox Judaism may be a cult from which her son must be saved at any cost. But that's just the beginning -- as the present-time events of the novel unfold, a complex past, full of guilt and blame and miscommunication, reveals itself. Diana Spechler’s fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train Stories , Moment , Lilith , and elsewhere. She received her MFA degree from the University of Montana and was a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University . She lives in New York City, where she is at work on her second novel. Diana's about to begin a busy book tour , and I was pleased to grab some moments of her time for a few questions about the book and

Mind Meld: Subgenres

SF Signal has posted another of their always-fun Mind Meld features, and I got to participate in this one. The question: What's your favorite sub-genre of science fiction and/or fantasy? Of course, I had to mention tractor pulls.