Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Two! Or Three! Or Maybe More!

I just finished my latest Forces of Geek column, for your enjoyment. It put me in mind of this little bit of fiction I wrote some time ago:

"The Wonders"

She lay there on the ground, breathing deeply, sifting the alien sand through her fingers.

Why doesn't this atmosphere hurry up and kill me, she thought, taking another deep, rattling breath.

The shuttle lay nose-buried in a dune with colorful featherlettes protruding from its dome. No dust had settled; rather, little fey motes had streaked away from it in terror until it stopped groaning, and now clustered on the crumpled landing gear.

Well, her lungs were about to seize up. About time, she thought.

She was tired of it; tired of all the wonders. Her eightieth exploratory landing, her twelfth planet discovered. And still her bones were tired, and she couldn't get a date, and her dog had died a hundred years ago.

Racing light is for suckers, she thought. Fuck the wonders! C'mon already, oblivion!

"What is this. . . oblivion?" something said in her ear.

"Buddha wept in a cantina!" she shouted. She leapt to her feet, coughed, and her knees buckled. Man, she thought, if there were more chlorine in the air, this would all be over. . . .

There was nothing there but a voice, perhaps a twinkle in the air. Hallucinogens in the atmo; great! Now she could sink into delusion before she died; that should make it easier. . . .

"You will not transition," the voice said carefully, as if language was something new and delicate to manipulate. "You cannot achieve your goal of discorporation here."

Hell I can't, she thought. Her lungs were blazing and her pulse fluttering. It sure felt like dying. . . .

"No, our world will adapt to you momentarily. Your form will not lose your essence." A pause, and then, like an invocation. "It is so."

With one last rattle, her breathing cleared. She felt something surge through her bloodstream. The sky went from off-pink to a faint, faint blue. The featherlettes danced in a sudden light breeze, and the fey motes shifted in their swarming and their lights dimmed.

Crap, she thought. Please, I would just like to die.

She felt a presence shake its head. "I am apologetic, but no. You must earn your end here."

She felt the presence fade. The sun shone brightly, and off to her left, the featherlettes wilted, and something like an apple tree began to spring up.

Fuck the wonders, she thought. Maybe I can hang myself from it in a couple of days.

My Apex blog contribution is also up, on time! An exciting two-parter! I was trying to find out what had been said about this idea before, and could not find very much. I found a lot of material on time-travel, but that's not what I want to talk about. My goal is to explore the idea of time (and of being-in-time) and how that differs between science fiction and fantasy. If anyone has seen any writing on this, please let me know.

In other news, my entry into the Great Cephalopod Contest was a sad failure. Well, I still like it! I guess it was too Cthulhuan for Mr.VanderMeer's taste.

Onward! Next up: a revision, an expansion, and a new story for an anthology.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Aetheric Ephemera: Language's Beautiful Limits Edition

1) Go right now and read Lucius Shepard's "The Taborin Scale." Right now! Holy carp it's good. I saw the Subterranean hardback at Readercon, but only well after I had (over)spent my book allocation. I was thrilled to see this up on their site for free, and it is fantastic. The Dragon Griaule stuff is rich and enticing, some of his best work. And Subterranean produces lovely books (although the shipping is a bit hefty for their titles). Go browse and drool. . . .

2) I posted an entry to SF Signal's contest to win copies of Kraken and The Third Bear. Here is what I posted:

"SUCCINCTLY: THE QUIDAMIOUS LACHRYMALIA (published 1557, [Gregorian 1938]):

The MEROVINGIAN AMMONITE: This venerable dux ducis is cowled in a luminous, aureate planisphere shell whose hue manifests its disposition and counsel. It's scintillating scarlet tendrils are reminiscent of the hair of King Dagobert II, who fashioned it an aquarium of pellucid vitaenium. The imbibement of its tenebrous, delphian tears allowed him to foresee assassination and preserve his bloodline to this day. Similar in size to but more ostentatious than Regent Churchill's cuttle-king, with it's murky, unadorned shell-pate, its limpid cirri guide the fate of one-fifth of humanity."

I like the idea behind this. There's gotta be a story in there somewhere. . . . I spent too much time on this, doing a bit of research, condensing phases, and choosing evocative words. It may have too much flash and set-up to win, but it was fun to ponder. I wonder if the squiddies are aliens, Cthulhuan beasts, or mere curiosities used as political window-dressing?

Winner has not been posted yet. Sad Ogre is sad. . . .

3) A nice reflection on Style in fantasy fiction. I think I need to write about temporality and "timelessness" for my Apex blog this month. It would be interesting to tease out the disjunctures between science fiction (often very "timely" and temporally-bounded) and fantasy (with this idea of timelessness combined with being out of "real time").

4) Did you ever think you would see the word "new" to describe Stonehenge?

5) Boardgames are awesome. Even the Financial Times thinks so! An homage to game-playing, with a dash of ethnography.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Aetheric Ephemera: Life is a Rubber Rope Edition

1) Jay Lake got some unwelcome news. His cancer decided to be a total dick and latch onto his liver, despite some aggressive chemo. Please send him your support and keep him in your thoughts. It's always a tough fight, and his just got tougher. But he and his family are made of stern, loving stuff, and a lot of us are sending him any good vibes we can muster.

Fuck cancer.

2) Visions of the fantastical year 2000, from the year 1910. (via Jay Lake). Where's MY phono-projector?

3) In other news, roasted drone is the latest taste treat.

4) An interview with Paul Di Filippo about several subjects near to my heart: Readercon, Samuel Delany, and music.

5) Mr. Di Filippo is a big fan of Jules Verne. Here are some good online resources to find out more about this underappreciated grand-père of SF.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Apex anew!

So, my blog post for Apex last month was just posted. Comments are encouraged.

Having just re-read it, I find myself wanting to explore this idea in more depth after some of the panels and conversations I engaged in at Readercon this past weekend. I will be writing more about that over the next week or so.

Aetheric Ephemera: Sturdier Than a Kalamazoo Mudwhomper Edition

1) At last, the greatest scientific question of modern times is solved! Although, who the hell made the chicken?!?!? Or did it just pop up as some form of avian spontaneous evolution?

2) So, can I build an ansible? Please? I promise not to use it to summon an alien invasion force, or V'Ger.

3) Paul di Fillipo reviews a lost Verne novel, The Castle in Transylvania. This is a great column for those who think that Verne just wrote " ham-handed adventure novels for juveniles." I wish my French was better so that I could read his original words. (via SFSignal)

4) A striking discovery of early Christian illuminated manuscripts in Ethiopia, which pushes not just Christian history, but the history of bookmaking back much further in time. Beautiful pieces of art and some fascinating history.

5) Sticky rice makes bulldozers sad. No, really. I have to look around and see if anyone has done significant work on the history of food-based building materials. Some great ideas for detail in stories. . . .

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Aetheric Ephemera: The Dizzying Contours of Life Edition

1) Cornell University's New Student Reading Project is presenting Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? this year. It'll be interesting to follow the conversation and how they frame it; lines such as "Technology giveth, and Technology taketh away" don't seem to really encompass what Dick was doing in the novel.

2) Harvey Pekar died. Not unexpected, but I found myself pausing and considering his art, in all of its rancor, truth, and unruliness. I learned from him that art can, and sometimes should, be plain, ugly, and rough, and that doing it to mirror the texture of life creates a peculiar power in one's work that can bring the viewer to a deeper understanding of how life works. I did not start reading Pekar until the early-90s, and he helped lead me away from mainstream comics into darker, but often more profound terrain. Onion A.V. Club has a nice reflection on his work here.

3) Listen to some Tinariwen, willya? Don't let the slow start fool you. This is very rich music that sometimes sneaks up on you.

4) SF Signal is having a fun contest. I've already started doing research for my submission. Yeah, you read that right. . . .

5) Some thoughts on a new economic direction from Bill McKibben. He tosses around the term "community" pretty lightly, but his thoughts on local meeting places are useful for thinking more concretely about ways to rework the system.

6) io9 talks about Samuel R. Delany's new novel, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, and links to the Boston review's excerpt of the novel. This is going to be quite a work of art. His reading at Readercon was disquieting and compelling at the same time. I think it will be a rewarding, if sometimes painfully honest and open, read.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

New FOG column!

My peculiar take on Readercon. Read, enjoy, pass it on.

I wrote it in two hours, while my daughter has been napping. Thankfully a morning of play tuckered her out. As I hit "publish," I half-expected her to suddenly wake up. But Morpheus has been kind enough to sit with her for me.

I like this one a lot.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Aetheric Ephemera: The Quest Fulfilled Edition

1) Matthew Cheney on one of the most important and fun aspects of attending Readercon: The Book Haul. I will detail my own haul soon. It was quite a bargain-land this time around, so much so that I wonder how the full-price dealers made out.

I heard that there was near-record attendance this year, around 840 people or so. I could not stay for the talkback session but I hope there was a lot of praise given to the committee, because I thought they put on a great con this year.

2) A great piece from Publisher's Weekly on the longevity and influence of Lovecraft. I was pleased to discover that there is a B&N collection of all of his fiction, among other alluring titles, and my Goodreads queue will be tinged with antediluvian corruption shortly.

3) A long reflection on Mel Brooks from one of my fellow contributors at Forces of Geek. It echoes a number of my own thoughts on the genius and absurdity of his calculated comic chicanery.

4) A brief historical discourse on full-time SF novelists from Robert Silverberg (responding to Robert Sawyer). Has there ever been a time when we have had a cadre of writers who just wrote in the genre and were financially successful? I think the possibility arises occassionally, but most writers will never be able to achieve that ideal. (via SFSignal)

6) This year's Shirley Jackson Award Winners were announced at Readercon yesterday. Congratulations to all of the winners, especially Robert Shearman, whom I met this past weekend at the Con and who gave a fantastic reading of one of his stories from the nominated collection.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Few Brief Meta-thoughts on Readercon

We've taken a break for a couple of hours and after a dinner of Guinness and carefully-selected bar food (including an astonishingly fresh salad of genuine mixed greens), we went back to our room to assess book finds, tomorrow's schedule, and our aching feet.

I am going to post more about the con specifically tonight, but something struck me this afternoon that I want to get down: a lot of the panels this year have spent more time questioning the topic, specifically the definition of the central term, than actually discussing the topic. That struck me strongly when Barry Malzberg, on a panel about unpleasantness in fiction, wanted to know if they were making it into a genre or something. He seemed quite displeased with a discussion of unpleasantness as a concept. And much of the conversation about the topic got bounced back to Peter Straub (who had some great comments on the idea of writing in an unhappy vein) and related to questions of genre. And I thought "so, when will they actually talk about the presence and tropes of unpleasantness in fiction?"

This happened even more forcefully in a panel on anarchy in speculative fiction earlier in the day. Two of the participants were so completely stuck on an idealized, overdetermined idea of anarchism that they spent the panel denigrating it and fighting almost any attempt to discuss it. I give a lot of credit to the panel leader for trying to keep people on-topic, and to Graham Sleight for consistently returning to the topic, the presence of the idea in speculative fiction, with actual books recommendations. And while at times the other participants came back to the general purpose of the panel, they would quickly go off on a tangent and go back to beating the dead horse of their very myopic definition of the term.

I saw this to some extent yesterday as well, although in the first panel I thought that John Clute and Michael Dirda did a fantastic job of critiquing and exploring the idea of interstitial fiction. But they were not just questioning or deriding the idea; they engaged it, and they contextualized it both as a term and as a literary strategy. They were neither dismissive or eliding; they took the notion seriously and tackled it head-on. I think that first panel has been the best I have attended thus far, because you learned something about the idea and its usage in literary production and you came away with a lot of thoughts to ponder.

I think this is a good topic for my next Apex post.

I also wanted to say that the readings I have attended thus far have been stellar. Liz Hand read the beginning to her new Cass Neary novel Available Dark last night, and it was creepy and compelling. Around lunchtime today Robert Shearman (Shirley Jackson Award nominee) gave a delightful and funny reading of a new story. I went to this reading based solely on his hilarious performance on the Bookaholics panel last night,and was not disappointed. I have not read any of his work, but this reading made me want to find his books immediately. Sadly, none were to be found in the Bookshop.

I want to read some of his plays also, because I think I could glean a lot from his sense of pacing and timing.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Readercon XXI: Friday, Part the First

Exhausted, mostly because I am full of ideas and other people's words. I had a good first day atReadercon. We got there without getting lost for the first year ever (their address foiled GPS in the past) and got set up in our room and registered quite smoothly.

The panels were not all fantastic, but mostly solid. The first panel was "Interstitial Then, Genre Now" which had some heavyweight critics in the panel. John Clute and Michael Dirda seriously interrogated the idea of interstitial fiction, while Peter Dubé, attending his first SF convention, provided some fresh thoughts to how to strategize and envision the idea of writing between genres. Theodora Goss, a participant in the Interstitial Arts Foundation and co-editor of the firstInterfictions anthology, guided the discussion but had to think fast to deal with the depth of the panel's critique of the idea. I am going to do a much fuller, reflective write-up of this panel later.

The next panel, "History & Memory in Historical & Spec. Fic," ended up being a much more personal discussion by the panelists than I had anticipated. Howard Waldrop told a great story about an ancestor who fought in the Confederate War, N. K. Jemisin talked at length about her preacher grandfather and his influence on her work, and David Anthony Durham discussed how he projected feelings about the father-son relationship into his portrayal of Hannibal in Pride of Carthage. The anecdotes were compelling, but were much more linked to individual history than ideas of history in fiction. I had hoped to hear about both during the hour, about how personal memory/history and larger ideas of the historical are channeled into an author's work.

I was pretty excited about the next panel: "New England: At Home to the Unheimlich?" Another stellar group of panelists were on hand to discuss the peculiar resonance of the region to horror and the uncanny. Everyone on the panel contributed to the discussion, but I wanted to hear about more than how Stephen King influenced everyone and how the change of seasons is significant to fiction set in the region. I appreciated how people kept coming back to the deep, peculiar history of New England, and I loved the idea of Cotton Mather as the first regional horror writer, and there were a number of moments where you could see how region and genre interacted, how this setting influences a number of tropes and can be both rote and surprising.

The last panel I attended before taking a break was "Non-Western Cultures in Fantasy." Theodora Goss once again led a spirited discussion about respect, cultural appropriation, and getting a feel f0r walking around in other people's skins. There was some tension in the discussion of owning people's stories and a rather unreflective take on the idea of universalism, but Cat Valente did a smashing job of reformulating the idea of borrowing with the metaphor of renting/leasing stories. Nalo Hopkinson provided some strong advice on writing about other cultures, including the need for writers to realize that regardless of who the subject is, you cannot write about "the other" without creating some friction, and it is important to have not just respect, but a moral compass when deciding how to write about things outside of your personal experience.

It was a thought-provoking morning. I had a lot to digest as I headed to the Bookshop.

More tomorrow!

At Readercon!

I am taking a break, wrestling with hotel internet and trying to find places to plug in my computer in rooms with literally two sockets and a pile of other folks with electronics (who do not seem inclined to share). But it's good so far: four panels so far and three of them were quite excellent. I'll post a write-up tonight. I've seen several luminaries and look forward to kaffeeklatsching with Samuel Delany later (and posing for a new picture, perhaps!).

Issues of authority and genre seem dominant so far, at least in the programming track I'm following. The discussions are compelling because many of the panelists are pushing against the idea of the panel and going into deep territory about what constitutes the literature of SF and how to write about it powerfully and with respect for the sources, while still taking chances with it. John Clute is as always erudite and fun to listen to, and I found a lot to chew on in the panel on New England.

I have seen a few familiar faces, including that of another Ithacan, Stephen Frug. I enjoy people watching at Readercon not just for the famous faces, but for the generally high level of camaraderie that everyone demonstrates. Knots of excited conversation, hugs in the hallways, and engaged audiences in the panels make this a very tight social engagement. I have been pretty shy the past two years but I hope to attend more of the social stuff this year. We'll see how my resolve holds up. . . .