Don Ysidro

Originally published in Polyphony, this work by Bruce Holland Rogers won a World Fantasy Award in 2004. Evo Terra of the Dragon Page reads the hispanic voice pretty well.

But this isn't a story. Like his Stoker-winning "The Dead Boy at Your Window," originally published in the North American Review, there is no arc--a vignette about a dead person. Dead Boy's prose is closer to a prose poem than this present offering, but it's spare style is nice and seems to fit the vignette well. Don Ysidro has died, and his belongings and parts are given away and used to make new pots. The end. Still, it's a nice metaphor for the process of teaching writing.


News & Notes (x-posted to Mundane SF blog, which has another post on fear)

Online SF Workshop with James Gunn!

If you want to write SF, this is an important first step for at least two reasons: 1) You'll go through winnowing an idea to something workable. 2) You'll learn what makes a scene. This workshop flops for a number of writers because they either don't write or don't follow the exercises. Some writers start with the story first and worry about the science later. That's cool, but just try at this method and you may find it expands your horizons.

Gunn is of a newer old school cut, but that doesn't mean he doesn't mean he's incapable of reading your work. After all, he's studied under Caroline Gordon [and Allen Tate, I think] if that name doesn't ring any bells, consider that Gordon critiqued most of Flannery O'Connor's work.


Escape Pod

Since I do a lot of jogging, Escape Pod is perfect to catch up on a few of the less well-known writers I should have read by now--bless the editor's heart for taking on the project. I'll be reviewing the podcast stories available over there soon. I had to grit my teeth when the editor said that some wanted SF to be [M]undane and unambitious. Through reviewing the stories, I'll be able to demostrate how the editor is mistaken and misinformed.

The most effective story so far for their format has been Ben Rosenbaum's "The Death Trap of Dr. Nefario," but Tim Pratt had the most solid speculative work available in "Lachrymose and the Golden Egg."


Who can opine? Who can critique/review?

A professional author said she thought only published professional writers should review. I picked her argument apart*, but it didn't change her mind (of course, I'd rather hear my literary heroes said, but sometimes their judgement isn't any better than Joe Blow's). Aparently, this phenomenon of presumed authority is circulating the web in multiple discussions. Here are two of the best:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden:
"The fact is that one of fandom’s defining characteristics (and World Fantasy Con is very much part of fandom) is that everyone gets to weigh in, without regard for formal credentials, professional standing, or membership in any particular class or caste. Indeed, the specific project around which fandom formed, in the early 1930s, was sorting out which stories in badly-produced pulp magazines were the good ones and which ones were crap. That’s the heart of the enterprise: not writers being supportive to one another regardless of the quality of their work, but readers separating the wheat from the chaff and sharing their findings with one another. This isn’t something you can do without ever being rude; at its heart it’s a process of discrimination and discernment that can’t be made unfailingly polite."

Dan Green (emphasis mine):
"It is true that not everyone's opinion is equally valid--but this means only that not everyone bothers to support his/her opinion with equal weight. Simply writing for a newspaper does not in itself convey a "true" authority to the critic, if the views expressed do not go beyond plot summaries and vapid opinionizing. Speaking for myself, I don't find much critical weight in the opinions--about either film or books--expressed in most of the "major dailies" The amount of space given over to reviews is much too sparse to allow for much real criticism of any kind."

*My refutation:
"Most professional writers should but don't want to review because they don't want to step on toes. They've established a career. Note that Jay [Lake] doesn't review anymore (to my knowledge at least). How does [one get] start[ed] on the road to being 'someone universally acknowledged as a grand pooh-bah of reviewing?'"


Emotional, Impressionistic or Dream Imagery

Without doubt, the best image is the vivid one, the visceral one, the evocative one, the right one. It captures a moment. But I've debated writers on the ability to attempt other kinds. Here's proof.

If you've read Kelly Link, you may already intuit what I'm getting at, but here are some examples from Christine Schutt's Florida.

The vivid/visceral/evocative/right image (for contrast):

The coiled trail of the car lighter in the dark...
...the weak heat hushing from the baseboards against my ankles.
The old sashes rattled in the window--hundreds, all sides--so that a cold air rimmed the rooms...

On the other hand, some images are not sharp. They are meant to give an emotion, a stylistic impression, or simply create dream-like scenes. I list these in order of importance or ambition. The emotion adds character dimension, flavoring a narrator's feel of events in the story. Stylistic impressionism gives interesting taste. It is atmosphere through which events are revealed.

Schutt goes for emotion:

He was driving past shapes crouched in sleeping fields, past unplowed snow and smokeless chimneys. Grimaced light and hard snow, loose doors, abandonment.

"Shapes" is certainly vague. "Abandonment" is abstract. What is "grimaced light?" "Hard snow" is maybe the crunchy kind of snow where the top layer melts and freezes again, but how could one see that from car, though? A "loose door?" Maybe that's a door opened a crack?

Before these strange uncertain images comes a stronger series of negative images--images created out of what is not there. No one expects snow to be plowed, but combined with the sleeping fields (a blanket of snow, maybe?) a combined unstated image of undisturbed snow is brought about.

But why is the snow undisturbed, the chimneys smokeless, doors loose? Schutt explains indirectly: "abandonment." Perhaps the loose images didn't quite convey everything that the abstraction was tossed in. But this isn't all the images do.

Let me supply the story details now:

Uncle Billy was smoking and supervising Arthur as he carried to the backdoor and into the kitchen roped boxes from Mother's house. Suitcases, clocks, chiming clocks, more boxes. Uncle Billy held out the fur hat to me. "Where she is now," he said, "your mother won't need it."

So the narrator isn't describing the outer world but her inner world instead. "Abandonment" describes not just the houses and land but the narrator herself.
Notice the repetition, too, of "boxes" and "clocks." Not exactly stunning imagery, but they also convey a sense of time and moving. But these are not the only vaguenesses. No house is described except the parts that effect the narrator. They're all named by those who own them:
Here at Arlette's, at Nonna's, at Uncle Billy's
Uncle Billy's house was first--brick walk, cold wind, water, water roughing against the shore
...the rooms and rooms and rooms of Uncle Billy's house.
Walked north, away from water and local businesses, Main Street was houses: Sloane's and Doctor Humber's and Miss Pearl's

I bring this up to show a few options that writers can take.


SciFiction has ceased publication.

Datlow has done tremendous work in SF wherever she's gone (Omni, Event Horizon). Let's hope she get a new SF-editor's job soon.


Interesting Posts elsewhere

Nalo Hopkinson writes of Michel Faber's comment in a review of Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days: "...perhaps the fiction Cunningham is attempting here is pitched at a reader who doesn't exist: an adolescent who can leap straight from Star Wars to Henry James, or an adult steeped in Woolf and Whitman who nevertheless retains a childlike capacity to be moved by X-Men 2."

In fact, Cunningham himself is one such a reader.

Niall Harrison goes into what it takes to evoke infinity. Great specifics and commentary. I didn't feel the same immensity that Harrison must have, but it probably helps to have read it within context. Bravo to Niall.

(Cheryl Morgan refers to it briefly in context of criticism versus reviews. This is criticism because it discusses a shared aspect, focuses on a technique, etc. But reviews should also be specific, for how else are we to believe the critic if the statements are simply blanket comments? A reader would have to read the same novels and then decide whether the reviewer has something worth listening to, which defeats the purpose of a review.)



The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

--THESEUS from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, ACT V, SCENE I. Athens. An Apartment in the Palace of THESEUS.

Been thinking--as I am wont to do, off and on--about Goldbarth and Hartwell's speeches at Poetry magazine reading in Chicago a few years back, about the connection between poetry and SF. They didn't really offer any conclusions, as I recall. I had attempted to type them in, but Blogger at the time didn't save your eight-hour sessions if you didn't.

As I critique an SF story, it strikes me that it's quite similar to a poem: Both require a suspension of criticism until you've fully entered their establishments. The average literary story requires the author to provide the place ASAP; and if the place is generalized and familiar, one can sketch the habitation fairly swiftly with the odd bits that stick out (or maybe the habitation doesn't stick out so much as the people who inhabit the habitation and thereby create more of the habitation than its otherwise humdrum contents).

Poetry and SF, on the other hand, expect the reader to already be in this other world. They expect the reader to catch up, to inhabit more fully as they go along. I use the above Shakespeare quote not in the usual way of setting, but in the poetry/SF way of the mind of the place. For poetry, that mind is generally the poet's. For SF, the mind is the world's society(-ties). Readers come expecting the abnormal. They want to think how very different others think.

Poetry has a more direct connect, I believe. We have Emily Dickinson's dashes and capitalizations--the way words and phrases are more important to set off than with conventional punctuation--all set to hymnal rhythms though Dickinson was a devout atheist, an appellation I intend unironically.

SF is more diffuse but also more broad. We inhabit whole societies, perceive their harmonies/disharmonies in ways that fewer literary writers attempt (generally, those attempts come from the more gonzo or experimental, i.e. Milan Kundera, but Updike did try to capture various ages of late 20th-century American society through one character in his Rabbit novels although it is more often than not one slice of that character's class). In SF, even if you don't agree with a society's assumptions (which may be more apparent in SF)--i.e. Heinlein's Starship Troopers where only those who risk their lives, soldiers, can vote--the open-minded can still read, fascinated by how such a society might function.

The difference becomes apparent in critiques. One has to suspend judgement until fully immersed or at one with the mind at work: Am I following this strange society or the mind of the poet? Is the mind/society fully fleshed? Is it constantly revealing itself?

There are probably other similarities I'm forgetting, but I must be off. Continue to extrapolate (or quibble in comments) on your own.