4.22.2004

Timely Genre News

Stephen Baxter talks about writing SF.

A.S. Byatt is chatting online today at noon, CST, with the Washington Post.

Alan DeNiro has completed "Home of the."

Matt Peckham has two new proto sites (history of SF and critical theory) to get excited about and a third he's been working on to support his book of criticism regarding Lucifer.

Two new interviews with Neal Stephenson at Wired and Salon.

Lamentably, Gardner Dozois has retired:

Well, after almost twenty years of reading manuscripts all day, from the time I get up in the morning until the time I go to sleep at night and the manuscript drops from my nerveless fingers and thumps on the floor, it's time to scale back. I want to go out while I'm still on top of my game, before editing the magazine become a chore rather than a pleasure, and before I become burnt-out and cynical. I'd also like to be able to pursue other projects, including perhaps finding the time to get some of my own writing done.

So I'm stepping down and Sheila Williams will become the new editor of ASIMOV'S, the acquisitions editor, and you should address all future submissions to her. Nobody loves the magazine more than Sheila, or has worked harder for it over the years, and I couldn't leave it in better hands.

I'll still be around to keep an eye on things as a Contributing Editor, providing editorial advice and guidance, running our twice-monthly internet chats on the Sci-Fi Channel site, visiting with you folks here on the Forum page of the ASIMOV'S website, and helping to represent the magazine at the Worldcon and at other conventions and professional functions.

Meanwhile, Sheila will be doing the hard work of taking ASIMOV'S into the future. Please give her--and the magazine--the same support you've always given me....

I'll still be editing THE YEAR'S BEST SCIENCE FICTION, and probably various other anthology projects as well, so I'm not entirely out of the game. (g) And you'll still see me hanging around in the Forum here on a regular basis, probably complaining about all the rotting shoggoth bits in the pool...


Here's a pulp radio play, Crash Morgan, that's a bit over-the-top in its schtick but that's what some people like. It would probably work better as a stage play since some of the dialogue is difficult to make out.

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4.19.2004

Genre material on the BBC

If you hurry, you can still catch most of the readings from the Jigs and Reels story collection by Joanne Harris, author of the Whitbread short-listed Chocolat. The stories are really quite fun and evocative. The author appears to be unabashedly a genre fan.

Also up is We by Yevgeni Zamyatin or variantly Yevgeny Ivenovitch Zamyatin [Click on "Listen to Sunday edition"], which is the predecessor to and inspiration for George Orwell's 1984 (and possibly Aldous Huxley's Brave New World). This dramatized version is certainly intriguing, so far--perhaps better than other dramatizations of the famous works it later inspired. We'll have to wait for the next installment next week. (Of course, we'll need the novel itself to observe content/quality for true comparison. Regarding three translations of We, Tannock.net writes that "I preferred the Penguin Classics version the most," which Clarence Brown translated, whereas Easton Press opted for Mirra Ginsburg's).

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4.15.2004

The Debate of High and Low Culture Rages Ever on

Times of India

Elegant Variation

Literary Saloon

Collected Miscellany (part 3)

Reading Experience

***

I'll weigh in with some practical examples from the latest Zoetrope issue via an examination of plot... if I ever get these taxes done. (I need to read it more closely but the Dale Peck snark on Birkerts may have some valid points on this issue as well.)

***

Carol Emshwiller has a sharp-edged story at Scifiction, "On Display Among the Lesser," a tale of a powerfully elegant, if once arrogant in its violence, great bird who learns to cope with the slings and arrows, a great bird who learns it's not nearly as injured as it thought it was. Well worth reading.

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4.14.2004

Blog Notes & More on Plagiarism

The Boston Globe caught up with s1ngularity (cursorily covers the debate in Poetry magazine).

Gabe Chouinard at s1ngularity.net (whose archive isn't working so page down to April 9 and 11) and Matthew Cheney at Mumpsimus have been dueling blogs on genre. Mystery/Children's writer, Mark Haddon, takes a crack at the subject.

Meanwhile, in a nearby parallel universe, Collected Miscellany (and again) and Anne Applebaum peer into the state of high and low culture.

Here's a strange site of amalgamated animals to suit your muse's chimerical story needs.

Here repose some interviews conducted with writers of Michigan (some are genre writers but I didn't recognize all the names, I'm afraid).

Here's infamous Dale Peck's supposedly last snark-stand.

Here lie many deservedly banned words (bling-bling?).

Rake's Progress and Daniel Green question questions of plagiarism and originality (in part, regarding earlier posts about Nabokov).

I wonder if Shakespeare, that most infamous plagiarist, stole the idea for MacBeth from the story of King Saul (I Samuel). Although I like MacBeth, I find it a one-shot enjoyment. I'm not fascinated by his villainy as I am with Iago's in Othello. The story of Saul's foretold doom (which also includes a witch and a ghost), however, is actually moving. True, he's been a bastard, but a more understandable bastard so that you care about his demise. (Alfred Harbage in The Complete Pelican Shakespeare lists Holinshed's Chronicle as the source material, but that, of course, does not preclude other source material or perhaps Holinshed's borrowing, etc.)

This, along with the aforementioned links against such calls of plagiarism, is why I dismiss those arguments attempting to dismiss stories based on old plots. Old is made new. If it isn't made new, that's an aardvark of a different tail.

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4.12.2004

Einstein Gets Frisked

4.11.2004

The Book of Ten Nights and a Night : Eleven Stories

New John Barth. Some of his older stuff I've read elsewhere, but much new, worked together.

The Book of Ten Nights and a Night : Eleven Stories

From Publishers Weekly
In Barth's latest collection, one of his stand-ins, C.P. Mason, a writer/teacher who is trying to fit a whole short story around a sentence he remembers from a dream, remarks: "Has any storyteller, from Homer to Hemingway, Poe to Pasternak, attempted to fabricate a narrative something out of so nearly nothing?" Such minimalist flourishes are not what one would expect from the former creator of gargantuan metafictions. Barth calls this collection a Hendecameron, and refers to both The Arabian Nights (which he pillaged to better effect in Chimera) and the Decameron. Instead of the plague from which Boccaccio's narrators have fled, Barth's stories are told over 11 days that include and succeed 9/11. The intervals between stories are filled with a lot of cutesy converse- and asterisk-laden copulation between a Barth stand-in "Graybard" and his muse, Wysiwyg (Barth, one of nature's true acronym maniacs, got the name Wysiwyg from computer slang "it stands for "What you see is what you get"). The stories themselves proliferate with other Barth stand-ins "retired professors who are writers or retired writers who are professors "and smart, sexy, Wysiwygish women. The few bright spots in an otherwise dismal bunch include the first night, a strongly written fragmentary description of the retirement of a Chesapeake Bay boatman, Capt. Claude Morgan, the oldest story here; the 11th night, which is Wysiwyg's story; and an interesting theme story on the universe as a shrinking mass, paralleling the human aging process, "The Big Shrink." The rest are filled with the gaseous, colorless chitchat characteristic of Barth's late style. Distressingly, Barth's inversion of the old writer's adage, "show, don't tell," has led him to a garrulous abyss: he tells and tells, but has nothing to show, leaving the reader with no reason to read him.

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Sequential Art @ SF Site

Ongoing reviews of smaller pub stuff, like comics that come in cigarette boxes, sequential images without words, and story panels that can be re-arranged in narrative "cubes." Occasional pandering to somewhat more popular stuff. Ellis's latest issue Planetary reviewed.

Something you want to see get a look? Drop me a line.

http://www.sfsite.com/sequentialart01.htm

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2004 Eisner Award Nominees Announced

You can read the breakdown here.

Some surprises, several not. Busiek's win on Conan seems more a popularity contest than a nod to good storytelling. Maybe it's Cary Nord's art, lush colors over pencils, no inks. Maybe I'm just not impressed with nostalgic reboots of pulp writers. Glad to see Powell get some recognition (four nomination, in fact) on a title that came out of nowhere and seemed to head nowhere in terms of sales initially (resurrected through the miracle of the collection). The trade paperback of the first four issues is hilarious.

Surprised to see El Cazador on the list after reading El Cazador: Blackjack Tom and not responding to *anything* about it, otherwise thumbs up for Chester Brown's Louis Riel, Ware's Quimby the Mouse, The Comics Journal (outside of SFS, I've yet to find a serious genre journal that can match it for quality after scouring hundreds), Paul Hornschemeier for Forlorn Funnies #3-5 (collected in Mother, Come Home), John Cassaday (hooray, man, his Planetary stuff is godly), Kyle Baker, Tony Millionaire, Craig Thompson for the amazing Blankets, Alan Moore and Warren Ellis for best writer, Osamu Tezuka for the Buddha repubs, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (looks like a sequel on the way), and Joe Sacco for The Fixer.

Dave Sim really freaks me out. I mean, that whole prayer thing in Cerebus #300? What's that all about? Any Dave Sim fans out there?

Why the hell am I posting something after several weeks away? Because I screwed up and left two huge piles of research in Omaha for the weekend. So I've actually got time to dawdle here for a change.

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4.09.2004

Implicit Contract: The Editor - Writer Relationship

As I mentioned earlier, various criticisms have been leveled at the literary establishment. Some of it I can justify, some not. But sometimes it takes a view from both sides to get the whole picture (hence, the links).

The literary "industry" is possible only through readers. The readers these days are mostly those who appreciate literary writing, most of which are writers. It stands to reason that if you want to work in and keep a certain industry alive, you'll help support it as best you can. Most literary magazines realize this and hope you are supporting some of the magazines that you can through subscriptions. Most magazines don't necessarily expect you to subscribe to their magazine in particular. (Some writers, who scoff at the industry, don't realize how tenuous all short fiction markets are. An article on how to improve your sex life will always outsell a short story. Preserving the short fiction market is preserving its place in our culture, and if we who supposedly care don't try, who will?)

Another aspect of this relationship is that some short fiction markets are particular in what they seek. If you don't at least sample an issue, you're wasting your time and money and the editor's. I used to co-edit a magazine devoted to myth as it played out in various genres (literary and otherwise), but many submissions didn't even take into account the title of the magazine. Then again, on the other side, I've purchased sample copies, read the issues, submitted what I thought relevant to their needs, and received a rejection saying to purchase a sample copy.

One way of getting writers, who may not otherwise choose to support an industry they submit to, to support is to have a contest fee with a sample copy or subscription in exchange for the fee. These awards are actually useful as it does get larger magazines and book publishers to take notice. Moreover, contest fees also allow for upstart publishers to emerge, ensuring (in theory) vitality to the writing community and ensuring that it is not just the upper class who gets to decide what is worth publishing.

The Zoo Press cancellation of contest without returning fees is legal, but I understand the frustration. It's not without precedent. W.S. Merwin didn't award the Yale Younger Poets award one year for lack of candidates. Since it's generally considered the most prestigious first book award in poetry, I understand Merwin's decision to attempt to uphold a certain standard. Perhaps Zoo Press wanted a certain standard as well, but it's difficult to know what that might be without actually having any fiction books in print. But then, out of 350 collections, you'd think that you'd have a golden opportunity to discover that rare voice to expose to the world. Maybe not. I'd love to go through those manuscript entries myself just to see what I thought. Ron Silliman thinks there are entirely too many contests out there so that an award has lost its meaning although a reader wrote in to say that, yes, there are valid contests still going quietly along their merry way, not to mention that awards do give a manuscript more editorial attention down the road.

I actually know the guy at Zoo Press, Neil Azevedo (Patrick feels I should disclose all of whom I've had a relationship with), who is a local fellow and seems a good enough guy. He attends local readings and such. I attended a workshop of his, wrote him a couple emails about the workshop which he apparently cancelled although I never heard back to be certain. He was no doubt as busy as I was at the time. He's had poems of his own in Paris Review, where he worked for a time. I liked his poem, "Myles," which I found moving, but he wasn't as fond of it--too popular at poetry readings, I guess.

The one-shot workshop did unveil an interesting anecdote, which has been useful to me since. Apparently, some magazines, despite open submission policies or invitations for you to study their publication, are not open. This, I feel, is more of a violation than contest fees, which simply try to get writers to participate in the implicit contract that maintains a cultural aspect which presumably both parties want to perpetuate. Writers waste their time reading publications that won't accept them anyway, waste their postage stamps and manila envelopes and pristine black and white pages, filling up garbage dumps to no purpose.

I'm not sure if I can find it now, but someone sent me a link to an interview with the New Yorker's fiction editor who admitted that she did not read unsolicited manuscripts without an agent. This policy may have changed since a friend, who is about as unknown as myself, received a nice rejection from them. Perhaps a useful website for writers would be one that listed such publications that appear to have actual open submission policies via such letters and unknown writers pulled from the slush.

Isn't that the exciting part of being an editor? to be one of the first to capture new writers in print and watch them develop? Maybe the magazine I worked for was too small to share the "industry" perspective, but do we want an "industry" perspective when it comes to art?

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4.08.2004

New Interviews and Writer Commentary

Odd Items of Interest

The problem of plagiarists is resolved by new software, which may help resolve this question of Nabokov plagiarizing Lolita. (from Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind)

***

Jerry Seinfeld and Superman team up although it's not quite as good as you'd expect from Seinfeld. (from Rudi D.)

***

Here are the Top 100 April Fools' Jokes. (from Jed H.)

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New Yorker and Zoo Press Get Bad Press

Writer Friendships

4.07.2004

Vandermeer News

Matthew Cheney has written this up faster than I can type the title (his boundless enthusiasm for V.'s new collection, Secret Life, will single-handedly turn it into critical success). However, here are a few other links.

You probably already knew that Veniss Underground was named a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for first novel.

And as Cheney mentioned, here's V.'s new website, albeit still under construction. V. adds this tantalizer for untold adventures, "I should note that hummingbirds can serve as portals to some pretty cool places." And the Ambergris site is home not just to The City of Saints and Madmen but also, V. says, to several new books that will be added to the Ambergris milieu and to "extras like the first online presence of the decryption of the encrypted story from City of Saints."

Vandermeer describes the long road to publication of The City of Saints and Madmen.

Here's a review of "The Exchange" chapbook, which is presently out of print but soon to return.

While you're there--perhaps I should be embarassed to admit this--check out The Agony Column website, which was news to me. Very cool.

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4.06.2004

More on the SF <--> Poetry connection

Mary Rosenblum...

New Lethem Story

Life and Times of a Notorious Reviewer

Readability

A silly-bus: a list of books for further reading recommended by a giant of the craft

Who da thunk?

This quiz says I'm a grammar god. Is I good or what?

Lucky for me, I just learned that a sentence's question mark goes outside a quote if the quote does not have a question (I'd read elsewhere that all punctuation goes inside quotes).

Or maybe it's just a feel-good quiz, and everyone comes out a winner!

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Sven Birkerts Laments...

...what has happened to the good reviews, i.e. the non-snark and non-cheap-shot reviews.

He writes: "[T]he vitality of [polemic and feature-related journalism] depends in a thousand subtle ways on the vitality of [reviewing].

"[I]f we read [a snark review,] it was with the same churning fascination we feel when someone on the city bus starts acting crazy and shouting obscenities. The screamer's 'Fuck you!' about his job or spouse lets us get to our own frustration and rage."

He blames postmodern theory and commercialism. It's a good essay although not exactly sure-footed.

Daniel Green responds. He's not at his top form--a little chatty--but it's interesting in light of the above linked article.

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Thank God

I feel like such freak among speed demon SF readers and writers.

"[Lorrie] Moore says she reads very slowly, and thinks most writers do. (Ethan -- whose questions have so far been responded to by Moore with bewildered 'No's or 'Next question?' -- is very happy to add, I read slowly, too.)"

--from Cup of Chicha

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4.05.2004

The Tension between Popularity and Art/Criticism

I mentioned or meant to mention the commonalities between SF and poetry. One such is the need for acceptance in the larger culture. Christian Wiman, the "new" editor at Poetry (they appear to be having a half price sale), writes:

"National Poetry Month has had some salutary effects, and I'm all for anything that makes poetry more a part of the culture, part of life. But it's hard not to see the designation as a symptom of illness rather than health."

There's little chance you'll be seeing a National Science Fiction Month or even a rural city's Local SF Day, but then SF enjoys a larger slice of popularity than poetry does. Yet even so, both share a similar problem, as Wiman continues:

"That's not to say that poetry itself couldn't do with a bit of a jolt... to shock us out of the bad habits that develop when any art has abandoned hope of an audience, or begun pandering to it."

Perhaps the problem is two-fold and not either/or. It seems to me that any art should both pander and pull away from popularity to create the necessary energy. Sometimes a work is wholly focused on art, sometimes on popularity. The real worry should not be solely one or the other, but whether the body of literature falls too much into one camp.

My biggest concern for any art or genre is lack of pertinent criticism that somehow encompasses this polarity and tension. The present issue of Poetry looks at this very tension in what is bound to be a popular volume of poetry, Good Poems, edited by Garrison Keillor.

Two poets take opposite approaches. Dana Gioia, whom you might suspect as having a prejudice for the anthology since he appeared in it (just as Alan feared, asking if I might have a prejudice for Daniel Braum, which I feel I answered in the comments below though feel free to add to the discussion), I find the more objective of the reviewers. For one thing, Gioia actually examines the anthology. August Kleinzahler, while writing a wittier response, doesn't actually respond so much to the anthology supposedly under review as to the symbol of Keillor in his position of oral purveyor of poetry. Moreover, Kleinzahler doesn't seem to want to attempt to grapple with Keillor's purpose in the anthology as Gioia does. The understanding is more of a surface examination.

When we look at Kleinzahler's argument, he's somewhat inconsistent in his insistence of poetry's place in reality: "Ninety percent of adult Americans can pass through this life tolerably well, if not content, eating, defecating, copulating, shopping, working, catching the latest Disney blockbuster, without having a poem read to them by Garrison Keillor or anyone else.... Fruit and vegetables are good for you. Poetry is not."

So his view of poetry in society is strictly literal, right? But later, to examine the opposite assertion, he asserts a metaphorical position, which is wholly inconsistent with a literal purpose for poetry:

"Poetry not only isn't good for you, bad poetry has been shown to cause lymphomas."

This is certainly funny but ultimately undermines his entire argument. I'm reminded of Clarion critique sessions and those critiquers who were more fond of saying something clever that would find its way on to the workshop's T-shirt, than of saying something relevant to the author's story.

Dana Gioia, on the other hand, announced his immediate prejudice against a book entitled, Good Poems, thinking it'd come off like "Teen Cheerleader Murders or Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster," but later realizes what Keillor meant by the title:

"[It] now strikes me as a perfect title--simultaneously witty, plainspoken, and gently subversive--rather like its editor, Garrison Keillor. On a library shelf groaning from the collective weight of Immortal Poems of the English Language, Great American Poets, and The New Major Poets, there is something both sensible and reassuring about a collection of dependably good poems....

"[O]ne will be thunderstruck by his merciless candor and opinionated individuality. The politesse and meekness of Po-Biz insiders is blissfully absent from his lively assessments of American poets....

"Some people will find Keillor's pointed remarks offensive and uninformed. I found them refreshing and trustworthy.... trustworthy, even when I disagreed with particular opinions (which wasn't often), because I trust an editor who confides in both what he likes and dislikes. No one trusts a critic who dislikes everything, of course, but only an auctioneer, as Oscar Wilde observed, admires all works of art."

But Gioia isn't all praise. He discusses the limitations of the anthology.

Kleinzahler, on the other hand, seems to feel that a popular anthologizer will ruin poetry. Gioia demonstrates that in his own life and his mother's, popular anthologizers increased their appreciation for poetry--back when the public sometimes read poetry.

I might be inclined to agree with Kleinzahler's conclusions if there were a danger of Keillor's critical approach subsuming poetry's criticism. But that possibility seems awfully remote, considering that Keillor's anthology is presently #34 on the Amazon charts while Harold Bloom's is #1, let alone that almost no one writing reviews or editing poetry anthologies will even pick up Keillor's anthology to skim the contents while browsing for other books in the bookstore.

In genre poetry, on the other hand, a popular anthology could only have deleterious effects. The genre has almost zero critical presence. And, quite frankly, it shows.

The case for criticism in the genre proper fairs somewhat better, but where are all the insightful and incisive commentaries in each every journal? I'm generalizing far too much, but for the most part, we either have auctioneers or snarky fellows who dislike everything. Where are the Gioias who can peer both into what the editor or author was attempting to do and can assess it from that standpoint?

We've got to somehow incorporate the two pulls, the two poles together... to somehow create tension. In physics, one derives energy by harnessing opposite conditions, which William Blake pretty much summarized as "Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence."

Browsing writing books, one finds a similar, as-yet-unharnessed dichotomy, motivated by wholly different approaches to literature because of fundamentally different conceptions of what the purpose of literature should be. Noah Lukeman's The Plot Thickens is "character-based," chockful of questions to help you get to know your character, the first chapter dealing with how the character looks (he does warn against its immediate insistence in a story). Certainly, if your creative gears have ground to a halt, this could be a useful approach, but I wonder if it isn't somewhat misleading.

Madison Smartt Bell notes that Peter Taylor's story "A Wife of Nashville" has "very little physical description of any of the characters." Everybody knows from reading these books on fiction what a dire sin that is... which is, no doubt, why Taylor won a Pulitzer. (If you do read on writing, read widely. Pick what works for you. Compare it to what you like to read and want to write.)

On the opposite extreme, we find that "literary" works are so preoccupied with not pandering to its audience, that it's losing relevance both to art and audience.

We should not worry about whether literature is pandering too much or too little. This puts the emphasis on one pole. We should worry whether literature has created an energizing dichotomy, a polarity between popularity and art.

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4.04.2004

Daniel Braum--the next... Baker/Card/Shepard/Zelazny?

Outside of his current publications, Daniel Braum's work calls to mind several authors. My first comparison would be the sheer thrill of Roger Zelazny's imagination with Lucius Shepard's penchant for the exotic.

His first publication at Fortean Bureau, "The Yeti's Hand," calls to mind yet another writer: Kage Baker. The story is part of a much larger schema, linked in part to his original comics series, which he is developing and expanding upon now in prose.

Some familiarity will be helpful as Braum unveils answers to questions, like who or what the mysteriously named J. Sun is and how the Yetis fit into the grand puzzle. We'll have to stay tuned to discover.

A minor flaw is that a few of the internal monologues could be excised, but otherwise it's another fine ride from Daniel Braum, whose stories fans will be scouring the magazines with the same verve as a Kage Baker or Orson Scott Card story.

Keep a sharp lookout for this wild man's creations. You'll be hearing more from him soon. Full Unit Hookup, for one, has a story of his forthcoming.

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4.03.2004

April 2004, F&SF--it's a gas, gas, gas

This has quite a few items of interest.

Paul di Filippo tells us that "On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're Adorable"--another grand wish fulfillment, this time for all us bloggers. (I also liked the wish fulfillment, "The Great Nebula Sweep," where the protagonist won every award category possible for one story by rewriting it, again and again.)

Robert Sheckley has a new story, "The Forest on the Asteroid," that's not exactly Sheckleyesque--a new venture in voice. I like the voice, which still talks intimately with the reader, but it's also grittier and more intellectual. The story's not up to his usual par and minus the wit, but I look forward to where he takes this.

I've always admired Gordon Van Gelder's commitment to new and returning authors. This issue has a cute nature-restores-the-balance type story by Kate Mason. I eagerly await another appearance by Al Michaud whose story "Clem Crowder’s Catch" from July 2003 did not get as much attention as it deserved. It may not have been speculatively the most original, but the voice was incredible and contrasted perfectly against the backdrop of dark materials (although at times, a wee overboard at evoking the voices of Maine characters). The characters, too, were better than the average genre story. What a gem of a find that was. It's not often a first story sticks in a reader's mind of so long. I should have reviewed the story way back when I read it because it certainly deserves more attention.

Bruce McAllister has a brief fable in here as well. I haven't read anything by him since the old Omni days.

Ray Vukcevich is up to his old shenanigans in "Gas"--quirky as hell. It's not near his best work but weird and wooly and well worth the read. The bastard did the amazingly unforgivable: when asked for a grocery list, he gives a recipe for something deeper and sinister like a beautifully horrendous crisis to a climax of another wild story. If I were a writer on that list, I would be jealously angry and seek retribution for the implicit betrayal of the Mystical Writers' Guilds' Blood Oath and Secret Handshake. See his list for details of possible methods of repayment. (Other than Vukcevich's, the FB lists are fun to read for friends' and famous writers' handwriting if you've never seen them. Sometimes the lists offer glimpses into the daily lives of others, but mostly they are what FB implies they are: a fun little gag. They pulled a similar one last February using a few other writer pals. I'll review Daniel Braum's story there soon--another writer to watch.)

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