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Showing posts from May, 2011

Blogging the Caine Prize: An Introduction

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Crabgrass and Manure

From the Letters of Note blog, a fascinating letter from Ken Kesey to the New York Times about the theatrical adaptation of his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (which starred Kirk Douglas):
The answering of one's critics has always struck me as doing about as much good as fighting crabgrass with manure. Critics generally thrive on the knowledge that their barbs are being felt; best to keep silent and starve them of such attention, let them shrivel and dry, spines turned in. So I have tried to keep this silence during the attacks on the Wasserman play of my novel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest...figuring that the people who saw the play as being about a mental hospital, because it is set in a mental ward, are the sort that would fault Moby Dick for being an "exaggerated" story about a boat, also figuring that such simplemindedness is relatively harmless. And even keeping silent when the play was condemned because the subject of mental health as a whole was …

Review of Evaporating Genres

Strange Horizons yesterday posted my review of Gary K. Wolfe's Evaporating Genres: Essays on Fantastic Literature.

That review begins by making a specific distinction between book reviews and a certain type of literary criticism, a distinction that Abigail Nussbaum considers in a blog post about the sorts of things she's looking for as Strange Horizons's reviews editor. I don't particularly disagree with the qualifications and complexities Abigail adds to what I wrote; the distinction I settled on was useful for that review, and seemed worth mentioning because it was absent from Wolfe's own taxonomy of reviews vs. criticism. As with so many things, in reality the distinctions are not hard and fast.

The Grim Miéville

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From an interview with China Miéville in The Socialist Worker:
To this day, I often hear people on the left talk about "utopian, hopeful, progressive science fiction"--as if these are the same terms. Sometimes, "hopeful" fiction can be among the most reactionary. Sometimes, the "grimmest" and most depressive fiction might be really, really radical--or it might not, but it might be fantastic fiction.

Obviously, there's a question of taste. If you don't like "grim books," you probably won't like some of my books. That's fine--that's taste.

And you might well construct a political critique where you say, "The bleakness of these books is reactionary for the following reasons." That's fine. That's an analysis, and I might argue back. But to simply put out there that the books are in some way either lacking and/or politically reprehensible because they're downbeat is crazy.

My favorite example about this, withi…

Use and Abuse

Rohan Maltzen writes a memo to Marjorie Gerber about Gerber's new book The Use and Abuse of Literature:
You are caught, I think, in the tension many of us feel between our theoretical commitment to an inclusive approach to literature (some aspects of which you discuss in your chapter on the literary "canon") and our deep appreciation for the aesthetic and intellectual richness of certain texts. As professionals, we have learned that this appreciation is itself conditioned by ideas about what "literature" is and how to measure its greatness. You celebrate close reading and lament a tendency (of which you give no specific examples, which is a problem) for "the historical fact [to take] precedence over the literary work." However, close reading works best—as you glancingly acknowledge when you tie it to Archibald MacLeish's lines "A poem should not mean / But be"—on texts that are verbally complex, ambiguous, and densely metaphorical, rather…

Readercon is Just Around the Corner, And...

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I was honored to be asked to join the programming committee for Readercon this year. Over the past 6 months or so, the committee, led brilliantly by Rose Fox, has come up with what will be, I think, a really interesting and diverse set of panels, discussions, talks, and readings. I just took a look at the items that will be heading out soon to participants for sign-up, and it's really satisfying to see where all of our discussions, brainstorming, and crazy ideas have led. Since Readercon is the only convention I attend regularly, it's fun to have the opportunity to help shape it a little bit. I just threw some ideas out there and wrote some descriptions of panels; the real work is being done by others, who are astoundingly dedicated and smart.

I'm noting Readercon here first to remind you (yes, you!) that it would be nice to see you there (July 14-17, Burlington, Massachusetts), and also to note that Readercon now supports Con or Bust, a project of the Carl Brandon Societ…

The Unabomber's Books

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By court order, the U.S. government has to sell off Theodore "Unabomber" Kaczynski's stuff. Intrepid and well-funded buyers can bid on such things as the sunglasses and sweatshirt made famous in the forensic sketch, various tools and personal items, numerous manuscripts, and a few typewriters, including the one he used to write his manifesto. All good fun for the memento-seeker, and the proceeds go toward restitution to his victims' families.

I was curious to see what books he had. Lot 12 consists of 5 paperbacks the FBI thought were particularly important: Chinese Political Thought in the Twentieth Century by Chester C. Tan, The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul, The True Believer by Eric Hoffer, Violence in America, and The Ancient Engineers by L. Sprague De Camp.

Other lots include a well-worn Bible, a manual for wilderness survival, and various battered paperbacks mostly concerned with history and science, though there's also a collection of O. Henry st…

An Outtake

My latest Strange Horizons column was posted at the beginning of the week; the subject this time is Joanna Russ.

One thing I thought about including, but couldn't figure out how to fit in, was that Russ's marvelous story "The Clichés from Outer Space" predicted one of the elements of Bryan Vaughn's comic Y: The Last Man (a series that I must admit I only read the first 3 collections of, its virtues utterly lost on me). In the comic, the Daughters of the Amazon are a bunch of evil, man-hating lesbians who cut off one of their breasts to be able to shoot arrows better or something, which is what some folks have  said the actual Amazons did back in the day (the myths are contradictory). It's possible that this noxious stereotype is ironized and deconstructed later in the series; I didn't stick with it long enough to find out.

The relevant passage from Russ's story is one I quoted only a sentence of in the column. It's from the section called "Th…

Teaching with The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction

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I wrote a bit about The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction back when it first came out, and then a few weeks later I was tasked with having to create a syllabus for a "Special Topics" course in our Women's Studies program that I called Gender & Science Fiction. I knew I wanted to start the course with a variety of short stories to give the students some experience in reading SF before we plunged into novels, but I couldn't find an anthology that was eclectic enough for my needs. Then I remembered The Wesleyan Anthology, and took a look at its table of contents to see how well it would fit. Bingo, I had one of my textbooks.

The students will present their final papers on Friday, and I wanted to take a moment here to say that the anthology actually worked even better than I thought it would, and try to explain some of the reasons I think that is so.

And We're Back

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Blogger, the service I use for this here blog, had a 20+ hour outage, and posts from May 12 disappeared for a while, which meant that shortly after I posted it, my interview with Maria Headley went away. (We could, I suppose, blame the outage on Egyptian gods angry with Maria for revealing their secrets...)

It took a while for everything to get back to normal, and I had to republish the post a couple of times to get the labels and date right again (apologies to anybody reading via RSS who felt like the post was stalking them). But all seems well now.

I've been using Blogger since 2003, and this is the biggest glitch I've encountered with it. There are certainly things I would change were I a programming genius who worked for the company, but as free services go, it's pretty great. I've used a few other blogging platforms for other projects, but among the free options, I've never found anything with the same kind of flexibility I'm looking for. And heck, anybody…

A (Second) Conversation with Maria Dahvana Headley

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Today marks the official release date of Maria Dahvana Headley's first novel, Queen of Kings, and to celebrate the occasion, I present to you below a conversation Maria and I had via instant message yesterday. This is a Mumpsimus first: a second interview with someone. Though I've done a bit of interviewing here over the years, I have never, until now, returned to an interview subject. Talking with Maria is always a great joy, and there isn't a person I'd rather do my first second interview with.

The first interview, back in 2005, with Maria is here. But now the first in what perhaps will become a series here: the (Second) Conversation With... series. We shall see...

Queen of Kings is a historical fantasy set in 30 B.C., and it stars Cleopatra. But not exactly Cleopatra as we have understood her in most of the history books -- for though this Cleopatra conforms to the known history, certain elements of that history are explained via supernatural phenomena. It's a b…

In Which I am Melded

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I participated in the latest SF Signal Mind Meld, answering (at length! egads!) the question, "Which challenging SF/F stories are worth the effort to read?"

The other participants are Jeff VanderMeer, Farah Mendlesohn, Mike Brotherton, Alan Beatts, and John C. Wright. We'll be touring as The Melded, tickets soon available via Ticketmaster.

In Which I Interview Carol Emshwiller

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Eric Rosenfield has very kindly posted the video from my interview with Carol Emshwiller on April 18. Thanks to Susan Emshwiller for jumping in as camera operator. The interview was preceded by a magic show, which explains my first, awkward question. I'll embed the video below the jump.

The Carol Emshwiller Project, by the way, is still alive. Now that I've got a copy of The Collected Stories, vol. 1, I hope to post at least a little something about it over there, but I'm not going to have time to do so for a week or two, I expect.


Emma Goldman on the Haymarket Massacre

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It's May Day, so worth spending a moment to remember the Haymarket Massacre, the fight for an 8-hour work day, the struggle for workers' rights, and other events quaint and distant from our present utopian bliss now that we are ruled by a socialist President.

Here's Emma Goldman, from the first chapter of her autobiography, Living My Life:
That night I could not sleep. Again I lived through the events of 1887. Twenty-one months had passed since the Black Friday of November 11, when the Chicago men had suffered their martyrdom, yet every detail stood out clear before my vision and affected me as if it had happened but yesterday. My sister Helena and I had become interested in the fate of the men during the period of their trial. The reports in the Rochester newspapers irritated, confused, and upset us by their evident prejudice. The violence of the press, the bitter denunciation of the accused, the attacks on all foreigners, turned our sympathies to the Haymarket victims.