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Showing posts from June, 2010

Difficult Dhalgren

The Millions has a fun series going -- short posts about "difficult books".  "Difficult" is, of course, a relative term, and I could spend the entire afternoon analyzing it, but I won't, because I'd rather celebrate Garth Risk Hallberg writing about Samuel Delany's Dhalgren.

The post is one of advocacy more than analysis; it's Hallberg making the case to read the book, to give it a shot.  He's one of the better literary critics I know of, so I hope he'll return to Dhalgren at more length.

I have no problem with Dhalgren being labeled "difficult" -- I've talked to lots of people about it over the years, and most of us who came to love the book got to that point from a moment of difficulty, both difficulty with the book and, to broaden the implications of the word, difficulty with things outside the book.  Indeed, it's one of those novels that seems to benefit from being read at certain times: difficult times.  I know multipl…

Rambo: Pope of the Church of the Holy Gun

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When one of my favorites blogs, The House Next Door, began the Summer of '85 series of posts and asked for submissions, I decided to give it a try.  I looked up a list of movies that had come out that summer to see if any were ones I could write about, and lo and behold, many were major films of my childhood.  (One, Pumping Iron 2, was directed by George Butler, who lives a couple towns over from me and once took my father hunting with Arnold Schwartzenegger, or so my father claimed.)

Though I could have chosen many of the summer of '85's films to write about, one was so obvious I couldn't ignore it -- Rambo: First Blood Part II. I emailed House editor Keith Uhlich, and he said go for it.

I thought I might write 800 words or so. It got a bit longer than that. Despite the current length, the essay feels bare bones to me -- there's a lot more to say about Reagan and Rambo, about gender and masculinity, and about all four Rambo films together, because they're e…

Friday Fun Fact

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The original novel of First Blood by David Morrell -- the book that gave us the character of John Rambo -- is dedicated to Philip Klass and William Tenn, author of, among other things, "The Liberation of Earth".

Lone Wolf Schaller

Eric Schaller continues his guest blogging duties at the Clarion Blog, now contributing a fascinating essay on the myth of the lone scientist.  Adding to the fun, he includes a wonderful cover from a vintage paperback.

20 Under 40 and the Fantastic

With one post, Larry Nolen simultaneously offers a thoughtful and well-informed response to folks who got all "wwaaaahhrrr!  waaaahhhhrrr!  genre good!  waaahhhhrrrr!" about the New Yorker's"20 Under 40" promotional list (whereas I just offered snark) and he proves what we already knew -- that he was the perfect successor as Best American Fantasy series editor, because his perspective is exactly the one we wanted for the book when we created the series (and he's a much faster reader than I am, which will make the work perhaps a bit less arduous for him than it was for me).  It's a post well worth reading -- one of the things being inundated with piles of lit mags does is show you the extraordinary variety of writing out there, both in terms of content and form.

Now if I can just get him to stop calling it "mimetic fiction", I'll have achieved all of my goals for world domination, bwahahahahahahahaaaa!

Update: The link for "20 Under 40&…

Novels and Alternatives

Yesterday, I read a review by Scott Byran Wilson of Steven Moore's The Novel: An Alternative History in the new print issue of Rain Taxi, the first time I'd heard of the book, and then today via Scott Esposito discovered this thorough review-essay of the book by Steve Donoghue. Wilson's review was all praise, Donoghue's mostly the opposite. I suspect I'd fall somewhere between them, since I am sympathetic to keeping the definition of "novel" broad and encouraging complexity, but Moore's tone in many of the excerpts both in the Wilson review and the Donoghue is, if it's representative, one I know I'd find tiresome.

Donoghue's essay is well worth reading because it is a thorough attack on certain rhetorical stances common to critics who want to praise "difficult" or "experimental" writing (the terms are often mushy), stances that buy into a terrible polarity and so end up as smug and blinkered as what they set themselve…

Reality Narrative Death Point

My latest Strange Horizons column has just been posted, and it's a sort of meditation on four books: Reality Hunger by David Shields, Narrative Power edited by L. Timmel Duchamp, Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, and Vanishing Point by Ander Monson.

All four books are well worth reading, thinking about, arguing with. I especially hope that in the wake of Paul Di Filippo's review of Who Fears Death in the B&N Review that the column will offer an alternative way of evaluating the novel. For the way Di Filippo read the book, I think his assessment is valid, but he read it in the most narrow and silly way possible, the way someone who's only ever read science fiction would read. And I know he hasn't only read science fiction, so I'm perplexed at the assumptions he applies. I agree with his desire for fewer savior of the world/universe/everything characters, and in fact once wrote another SH column about it, but I think there's abundant evidence in the text…

Saramago

I had just finished reading this note about the New Yorker's 20 Under 40 List with its prejudice toward youthful fictioneers when I headed to the NY Times website to read the day's headlines and discovered Jose Saramago has died at age 87. I nearly screamed out, "Too young! Too young!"

It's been a few years since I last read Saramago, simply because other things kept grabbing my reading time, but I will forever be grateful to the Nobel Prize committee for bringing him to the world's attention, because I doubt I would have encountered his work otherwise. I read Blindness soon after it was released in the U.S. to see if the latest Nobel Prize winner was my sort of writer, and it was a shattering experience. Because I came to it with only basic expectations and knew little about it, I was in just the right frame of mind to be shocked and awakened by its visceral power. No other book had ever so powerfully made the fragility of human civilization so clear.

I…

Essential SF Collections

I love SF Signal's Mind Meld features, and they've just posted one that's particularly wonderful: "What Single-Author Short Fiction Collections Should Be in Every Fan's Library? (Part 1)". They limited everyone to only ten choices each, which of course is impossible, but it forces the minds melded to focus their perspective, and in the best cases to make lists that are something more than just a collection of books they happen to like. Note Jeff VanderMeer's list, for instance, which for me, though I actually find them all pretty agreeable, is the most interesting one there.

Speaking of Mr. VanderMeer and single-author collections, I just received an advance copy of his own new collection, The Third Bear. It's a really fascinating collection of stories about big hairy men. Oh wait, no, that's something else... Actually, it's a collection of linked stories that are basically a Goldilocks/Rambo mashup. Or no, that was another thing I was r…

California Dreamin'

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Because director Cristian Nemescu was killed when a speeding Porsche smashed into a taxi he and sound designer Andrei Toncu were riding in, California Dreamin' is not quite a finished film, but it is so rich with incident and detail that you would never know this were the case if credits at the beginning didn't state it.  It's possible Nemescu would have shortened the film a bit, but who knows.  As it stands, while there are occasional moments that feel like they could be more efficiently paced or connected more closely to the whole, none of these moments detract from the powerful experience of living in the world of these characters.

Some reviewers have referred to the film as a satire, and that may be true, but it didn't have the sizzle and bite of a satire to me.  The characters are sometimes comic, but it's a lived-in comedy, complex rather than sharply focused, like the perpetually-rumpled mayor in the film, hapless with good intentions, unable to get his tie…

A New Clare Dudman Novel is Now in the Wild!

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Clare Dudman's new novel, A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees, has just been released in the UK.  (It's currently selling for just under US$10 with free shipping via the Book Depository, so even those of us who are stuck out here in the colonies can get it.)

I wrote about Clare's 98 Reasons for Being back in 2005, and our fiction has shared space in a couple of anthologies since then.  Both of her previous novels have stayed with me long after reading them, and my assessment of them has only grown more positive with time, since I remember details and images from them far more vividly than from many other books I have read since.  

I am terribly excited for the new novel, which not only promises the wonderful Dudman prose, but happens to be one sort of story I am particularly attracted to: travelers adjusting to all the unexpected hardships of a world new and alien to them.  There's a 3-minute YouTube video introducing the book, and it had me thinking of all sorts of thi…

Crackpot Saturday: Common Sense, Reality, and Terminal Fools

CNN has a report on a study of 78 families where lesbian parents raised children over more than 24 years, with the results being that those children's scores on a standard test of behavior and psychological health are better than the average for children in "nonlesbian families".

Wanting to offer a skeptic's view as well as that of researchers, CNN get a few quotes from Wendy Wright, whom they identify as "president of the Concerned Women for America, a group that supports biblical values" (presumably they don't pick and choose the "biblical values" they support, since that would be nothing more than using your favorite Bible quotes to support what you'd believe anyway, with or without the Bible, so they're probably similar to A.J. Jacobs, except they actually believe it all).

It's good journalism to have scientific studies commented on by crackpots.  Very fair and balanced, that.

CNN notes that "Funding for the research cam…

David Markson (1927-2010)

DavidMarksonhasdied.

When I was in my senior year at the University of New Hampshire, having just transferred there from New York University, the library was under a massive renovation that caused most of the books to be locked in storage and only a tiny percentage to be on temporary shelves in a little building at the far end of campus.  At the time, this seemed to me a perfect metaphor for my life and aspirations.  (I was fond, then, of quoting a line from Harry Kondoleon's play Zero Positive: "I used to have desires, dreams, the usual things, they got so banged up and hard to look at I took them out one afternoon and shot them.")  One day, I was looking at the few shelves of contemporary U.S. writers, and there was book called Reader's Block.  I liked the title.  I flipped through the pages.  "What is this?" I thought.
Protagonist living near a disused cemetery, perhaps?

A sense somehow of total retreat?  Abandonment?

Albert Camus' father was killed i…

Periodic Table of Women in SF Meme

It's Friday -- time for a fun internet game!

By now you might have heard of the marvelous Periodic Table of Women in SF [that's science fiction/fantasy, not San Francisco, and you really should watch the video at the bottom of the post that that link brings you to].  A new meme has broken out about it, one I learned about from Cheryl Morgan:
Bold the women by whom you own books (I’m assuming this includes books or magazines edited by people who are not fiction writers).Italicize those by whom you’ve read something (short stories count)*Star those you don’t recognize [note: I've encountered so many names in my life, I always feel like I recognize most.  The ones I've starred are ones that, if somebody mentioned them in conversation, would cause a profoundly vague expression to come over my face.  And I'm doing this quickly, so I hope I don't star anybody who I not only recognize, but have spent actual time with...]
And below the jump, you'll find my answers..…

Eric Schaller on Science's Bleeding Edges

The Clarion Blog has an ongoing feature, Spec Tech, where real, live scientist people write about science in a way that might inspire aspiring science fiction writers. 

This week, Eric Schaller, who has written here at The Mumpsimus about Stanislaw Lem, contributes a post about zombiesthe "bleeding edge" of science.  Bloody good stuff!

Feel the Envy!

20 Young Writers Earn the Envy of Many OthersYes, New York Times Headline Writer, my envy is vast!  It contains multitudes!  Well, not quite multitudes.  More like twenty little sharp needles of bitter, concentrated envy.   Why why why New Yorker elitists didn't you pick ME?!?  I coulda been a contender!   You know I'm out here, because I write to you every week to tell you how wrong you were to never publish a story by David Eddings!

Clearly, the only thing your editors appreciate are boring realistic stories about middle-aged professors who have affairs.  Like the stories by Daniel Alarcón and Chris Adrian in Best American Fantasy.  And Sarah Shun-lien Bynum's Madeleine Is Sleeping.  And the title story of Wells Towers's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.  And all of Karen Russell's stories, certainly.  Dirty realists!  Nasty rotten winning smug literary brats!  Baaaaaaah!  (Russell has even been photographed at that Communistic dirty realist gathering, the …

In Which I Exhort You to Read Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

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I just finished writing a long review for Rain Taxi of Nnedi Okorafor'sWho Fears Death, and it's one of those rare books that I just want to recommend to everybody.  It's going to the top of my list of really good science fiction/fantasy novels that can be safely given to people who think they don't like SF, but it's also a book that can be appreciated both by people who merely want to read an engaging story and people who want more than just a good story. 

I had so much fun writing a review of Who Fears Death because it is, among other things, very much a book about textuality and storytelling -- about how the stories we tell, the words we use, the structures and vantage points we select, affect our perception of the world.  I kept thinking of some of M. John Harrison's books and the way they throw our readerly expectations and habits back in our face.  Some of the pleasure, though, in reading Harrison is masochistic ("Yes, master, flog me again for my d…