Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Aetheric Ephemera: Read, Write, Outta Sight Edition

1) It's Banned Books Week, y'all. Make sure you read something that some idjit has tried to get removed from the shelves of the local library.

2) Jo Walton introduces us to The Suck Fairy, one of the meanest little fey to come down the pike.

3) Paolo Bacogalupi is "one incredibly determined motherfucker." Best point: a writer must have "the willingness to accept failure and not let it stop you, and to not let that define you."

4) My new Forces of Geek column is up. It's about writing!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Aetheric Ephemera: Festschrift for Molten Intellects Edition

1) An engaging, pointed interview with China Mieville. I found it to not only be a very provocative interview, but a meaty laying-out of how one writer sees their fiction, as both vocation and production. I'm particularly struck by the notion of the irreducibility of one's worldview in writing, and his contention that storytelling is not some wondrous impulse or healing force, but just something that we do, that may not always be a good thing.

I found this useful to ponder as I work on my next Forces of Geek column and my next Apex blog; the former is entitled "Fiction and Friction" and discusses the inherent value and problems of participatory versus directed narratives, inspired in part by some of Paul Jessup's recent posts on his blog. The latter piece doesn't have a title yet but is an attempt to tackle the varieties of realism that seem to be popping up (often horribly mutated or cliched) in recent fantasy.

2) I was quite saddened to hear that MadCon will be Harlan Ellison's last convention, and that he is apparently in very poor health. I would love to be able to go and just thank him for a lifetime of inspiration and instigation. His work has influenced me as a writer and critical thinker (yes, warts and all!) over the years, and few short stories mean so much to me as "Repent, Harlequin, said the Ticktockman."

3) Via Patrick Rothfuss, a website showcasing (and selling, by the look of it) antique maps. Lovely little cultural artifacts, aren't they? I often wonder what kind of mind it took to produce these kinds of geographically-imaginative schema.

4) io9 does the hard work and comes up with a list of "The Chosen Research Areas of Mad Scientists, 1810-2010." A good basis for a submission to the Annals of Improbable Research, perhaps?

5) I have finally gone back to finish Lud-in-the-Mist after leaving it sadly unloved

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Aetheric Ephemera: Gilded Robots of Clockwork Tyranny Edition

1) Jay Lake is cancer-free. Suck it, cancer!

2) Via the aforementioned wordwright: "The Death of the Book has Been Greatly Exaggerated." A reasoned piece that points out how irrational a lot of the exuberance is over the end of books. Certainly this trend will develop, but all of these people who seem eager to watch the book disappear are being pretty premature in their mocking eulogies for the printed word. In this vein, Paul Jessup reminds us of other trends that were supposed to transform/eliminate the book

3) At the same time, the market fluctuations, driven by the specific changes in the trade and larger shifts in national and global economies, have created a glut of books. While this article is from the UK (and the photos are a pretty egregious example of what's going on), there is no doubt that there is a contraction going on, and used bookstores are at the end of the chain. I can testify that this dynamic is alive and well in our local market, where we daily get large loads of books, so many that we can be extremely picky about what we buy, particularly as people now just leave books behind rather than lug them back home. It's strange, and a bit unsettling, even as it means that we have better books to sell and this attracts more patrons to our store.

4) A literary critic reflects on bad reviews and the writer/critic dynamic.

5) Welcome to the family, Kosmoceratops!

6) In other news, I just finished reading Swords & Dark Magic, and I'll post a review on the weekend. In brief: I liked a lot of it, but I am still not sure there was a large amount of "new" in this sword & sorcery. A few standout stories, several enjoyable tales, and a couple of meh entries. I'm working on my Apex blog entry and a couple of these stories will feature in it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Aetheric Ephemera: Coded Conundrum Consonance Edition

1) Jess Nevins finds some fascinating portrayals of robots in the 1920s. I think Robot Madam is the best.

2) Apex Magazine's editor fantastique Catherynne Valente has announced that the November issue will focus on stories and poetry from Muslim and Arab perspectives. "It will show how Islam is as much a part of the human experience as any other faith or story system that writers of the fantastic draw from," she says. The focus is in response to Elizabeth Moon's recent diatribe about 9/11 and the Muslim cultural center being planned in Manhattan.

3) Charlie Stross discusses why he will never, ever write high fantasy. I completely agree with the problems he sees with doctrinaire fantasy, but I think that makes it a ripe target for messing with, for making new stories that push against the monarchical model and still make compelling, exciting tales. And I can't guess why his alt-history proposal might not be interesting in 2002.

5) A Devastator is no substitute for narrative process: Paul Jessup lays out an argument for video games having an effect on our apprehension of narrativity itself. I find the argument compelling, but I don't think it's all about the way narrative works. Why do we engage it in this way, and what factors (cultural, social, political-economic, aesthetic) condition how these participatory narratives are used? This sent me diving into the syllabus for my fandoms class, to look at a few things I had in the archive about fantasy and displacement.

6) A hilarious chapbook for charity, based on one of the strangest pieces of geek art in recent memory. I downloaded it and made a small donation, and so far it's a lot of fun!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Aetheric Ephemera: Words Fall From Electric Skies Edition

1) I have only very recently started listening to podcasts (yeah yeah, me am Philistine blah blah blah), and the latest one from SF Signal is both enjoyable and a bit thought-provoking to hear. I just wish these things came with a transcription. . . .

2) I also really liked the new one from Jonathan Strahan's Notes from Coode Street, a long chat with Gary K. Wolfe that ranges all over the SF landscape.

3) This is one of the best (and chronologically extended) bibiliographies on fantastic criticism I've seen. I love that it starts with Kepler. . . .

4) Ancient astronomy. REALLY ancient.

5) We're threatening the sky! Great, what's next? Trashing up Mars?

6) An NYT article on the transformation of bookselling. Sobering, but whether it means The Death of the Book, or just the next stage in its life, is hard to say.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Aetheric Ephemera: Maudlin Graces and Crazy Pixel Demons Edition

1) At least he admits that he missed "I hunger, coward!"

2) I'm thinking about realism at the moment, partly as a reaction to having just written about postmodernism, but also because I am finishing up Swords and Dark Magic (which I will post a review of when I finish it) and pondering how fantasy writers deploy certain sorts of realism, or specters of realism, to create effects of suspension of disbelief and emotional resonance in their work. This essay by Clark Ashton Smith gave me some food for thought.

3) Margaret Atwood admits that she writes "speculative fiction." MWAHAHAHA!!!! I am amused by the admission, and by how she contextualizes it. I was pointed to this via the September 2010 edition of Ansible, which just won a British Fantasy Award. Tip o' the hat to Mr. DeNardo at SFSignal for highlighting Ansible.

4) Jaym Gates has a brief, provocative call-to-apocalyptic-arms up at the Apex blog. I responded, and the more I think about it, the more I believe that the apparent paucity of such writing is because we are so close to danger, and would rather have stories of unlikely or displaced apocalypse than ones that directly echo what is happening now. I think there is rich material for stories here, but will people want to write it?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Did A Thing. . .

. . . over at Apex today. They were looking for an extra post, and boy howdy did I give it to them. 1600 words later, I overexplained the idea of postmodernism and its relationship to fantastic literature. I am sure that it will not be hard for people to take my definition (and contentions) to task, but then again, that's pretty postmodern. . . .

Given the flexibility of postmodernism, and the difficulty of defining it, I think I did a good job. We'll see if the two authors whose ideas I discussed feel the same (or if they even give a crap). While I agreed with VanderMeer that Sanderson's essay was problematic, I thought that the misconception that suffused Sanderson's use of the terms was partly a result of trying to simplify ideas that are all about resisting simplification. But I found Sanderson's contention that the new generation of fantasy authors are trying to retask essential tropes and conventions to make more interesting stories to be a valuable idea worth more consideration, and thus I could not dismiss his essay out of hand, which some commenters (including VanderMeer himself) seemed to do.

What bothered me about both initially was how they naturalized and immediately decoupled postmodernism as a literary mode from the larger history and insights of postmodernism (as the discrete movement to historicize the problems of modernism). It looks like "postmodern literature" itself has done this by being codified into a combination of meta-genre and subdiscipline of critical writing. Both defined it implicitly as integrated into the wider literary landscape, which is the case to some extent, but which still misses the point. Just because a term has been appropriated or modulated in literary discourse does not mean it has lost all connection to its past, or its more incisive potential to influence the present.

Having said all this, I have to say that I am a tentative postmodernist myself; it's the anarchist in me I'm sure. It and deconstruction are so open to abuse and misinterpretation that I embrace some of its ideas while not using all of its methods. Regardless, more precise use of these terms, and more reflective understandings of what they signify and question, are necessary to having better conversations on how literature works, and how writers and readers can improve their interaction with the texts that compel our attention and invigorate our imagination.

Edit, 9/15/10, 9:55PM: I just posted a longish response to Jeff's concerns over in the comments section of the essay, but I wanted to reproduce it here to cover Jeff's comment here as well:

Jeff: It was absolutely not my intention to take your words out of context, or to give offense with this essay. The point was to discuss what I believe is left out of conversations on postmodernism in fantastic literature, in a very germinal formulation. My response to your piece, in retrospect, was less well-developed than to Sanderson’s, and also hyperbolic in its characterization. I was not trying to misrepresent what you said, because there was resonance there with what I was heading towards in my piece, but I was making the point, perhaps in too limited and unreflective a fashion, that the focus on technique missed some aspects of a postmodern standpoint that I think need more consideration.

My objective was not to denigrate what you were saying, but to proceed farther with it. I did miss the important distinction you highlight regarding your comment on elitism, which I am happy to correct in the piece. I think some rather excessive language and not enough attention to your post as a whole weakened what I was trying to in that section of the piece. So yes, I think we are pretty much on the same page, I just needed to make that clearer and use more positivist discourse than deconstruction. :-)

As for the observation that I did not take comments into account, that is quite true. I did not get into comments from either post because I wanted to focus on the two essays themselves, and talk about the interplay between them. It is obvious from the erudite avalanche of comments on your site that a very rich conversation is taking place, which is precisely what I was talking about at the start of my piece. The engagement that you started, and that I was working to extend, has flourished into a muscular exchange of ideas. Thanks for getting that going, and for inspiring this essay.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Yeah Yeah. . . .

Here is the latest FoG column. It was a bit frustrating to write, just because I was striving to be succinct, but hopefully people find it informative or ponder-worthy.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Very Cool!

Check out the latest Mind Meld over at SFSignal; it features a question that I suggested . . . and that John DeNardo made me answer as well! There are some great responses, which I plan to comment on in more depth later today. I am pleased by the breadth and wit of people's submissions, from Sue Lange's Book Singularity to Gary K. Wolfe's delightful outlining of the New Cacophony. The answers are great fun to read and thought-provoking to boot!

I really enjoyed writing my own response, which turned into a bit of mission statement for my own work. I am finding that writing my columns is paying off in terms of reflecting on my fiction and on what I want to do in the next phase of my life. In the personal realm a lot of changes are happening and I find myself questioning decisions and paths not taken, and working out where I want to go next. I am in a very contemplative place right now, one that will hopefully feed my fiction as I get back into writing it.