I am pleased to announce the table of contents for Year's Best Fantasy 10 edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, forthcoming from Tor.com.
Dragon’s Deep · Cecelia Holland
The Green Bird · Kage Baker
Dulce Domum · Ellen Kushner
The Parable of the Shower · Leah Bobet
The Dragaman’s Bride · Andy Duncan
Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela · Saladin Ahmed
Images of Anna · Nancy Kress
Icarus Saved from the Skies · Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown · Holly Black
The Score · Alaya Dawn Johnson
Sleight of Hand · Peter S. Beagle
Bigfoot and the Bodhisattva · James Morrow
A Delicate Architecture · Catherynne M. Valente
Swell · Elizabeth Bear
The Bones of Giants · Yoon Ha Lee
The Minuteman’s Witch · Charles Coleman Finlay
Conquistador del la Noche · Carrie Vaughn
Winterborn · Liz Williams
Three Twilight Tales · Jo Walton
Power and Magic · Marly Youmans
The Avenger of Love · Jack Skillingstead
The Persistence of Souls · Sarah Zettel
An Invocation of Incuriosity · Neil Gaiman
Three Friends · Claude Lalumière
Shadow of the Valley · Fred Chappel
Technicolor · John Langan
Economancer · Carolyn Ives Gilman
Tor.com has put up the 6th installment of our Year's Best Fantasy 9:
Segment number six features the following stories:
Registered users, download it here!
While YBF9 is still available as a print-on demand edition, and you can buy your very own print copy at our store, we’re posting segments of the anthology on Tor.com, for your reading pleasure. Each of these segments feature three or four stories from the anthology, and are available to all registered users of Tor.com. It’s a great way to sample some of the content in the book before deciding to part with your hard-earned cash, or of simply getting a shorter dose of wonder and the fantastical.
Segment number two features the following stories:
Registered users, download it here!
Segment number three features the following stories:
Registered users, download it here!
While YBF9 is still available as a print-on demand edition, and you can buy your very own print copy at the Tor.com Print Book Store, starting today, and once a week for the following eight weeks, we’ll be posting segments of the anthology on Tor.com as a PDF, for your reading pleasure.
Each of these segments will feature three or four stories from the anthology, and will be available to all registered users of Tor.com. It’s a great way to sample some of the content in the book before deciding to part with your hard-earned cash, or of simply getting a shorter dose of wonder and the fantastical.
Our first segment features the following stories:
Also, something I should have mentioned a while back: Nigel Beale has posted the podcast of his interview with David Hartwell and me.
OurYear's Best Fantasy 9 is now in print from Tor.com. We are their first book in a bleeding edge experiment to publish SF in new ways. (The primary edition of the book is intended to be the digital, however I think that edition has not yet emerged from Ingram's system.)
I am told that Year's Best Fantasy 9, eds. David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, will be published by Tor.com in 3 days. Hooray!
This is a really odd combination of books, but if you let books near each other, they establish a dialog, no matter how superficially dissimilar.
The Pinkwater has been in a glass-doored book case in our bedroom probably for a decade, and I picked it out last night to read to Peter. In this household, we regard Pinkwater as a a genius, and he even came to David's birthday party once here, a long time ago. The book is set in the 1950s, roughly contemporaneous with when Pinkwater went to high school. For Pinkwater's sake, I hope it's not too autobiographical, even if it does have that flavor. It is written in the form of a college admission essay in answer to the question "Characterize in essay form, your high-school experience. you may use additional sheets as needed." It starts out along the lines of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and ends up in the literary territory of Lenanora Carrington's surrealist novel The Hearing Trumpet.
Nifkin's immigrant parents are casually unpleasant to him. His father's primary concern seems to be that if he is to smoke, he should smoke cigars, not cigarettes, and his mother is a terrible cook who is desperately concerned that he might be recruited by communists or maybe homosexuals:
"Just remember, those Reds are always looking for a simpleminded kid like you, without any friends. If anyone starts being nice to you, it's safe to assume they're trying to recruit you for the Party."
"Okay, Mom." (p. 69)
Nifkin's teachers at high school are amazing characatures: The gym teacher is a sadist. His homeroom teacher is most concerned with learning whether anyone at the school is distributing communist propaganda or pornography. His English teacher is a rabid anti-semite who is also terribly concerned about communism. The biology teacher talks nonsense to herself or perhaps to someone only she can see. And the history teacher is a bitter man who wants everyone to know he could be making three times as much in industry. Nifkin joins the ROTC to avoid the sadistic gym teacher. Sergeant Gunter, The ROTC teacher, is a communist who reads Karl Marx to the ROTC students and is eventually arrested.
The book gets weirder from there: our hero ceases going to school after the arrest of Sergeant Gunter. He avoids being sent to reform school by getting his parents to send him to a strange private school in the ancestral mansion of a robber baron run by a pair of sweet older ladies and their beatnick friends.
David brought me home both Blue-Eyed Devil and Grey Gardens last night when he came back from NYC. I think he brought me the former because someone had characterized me as a "blue-eyed devil" in a recent blog post (for the record, my eyes are hazel, thank you) and the later because of my fascination with the psychological meaning of architecture.
The Guardian quote on the back of Blue-Eyed Devil characterizes Michael Muhammad Knight as "the Hunter S. Thompson of Islamic literature." Knight is a white guy in his 20s who converted to Islam as a teenager. The book is Knight's odyssey in search of the truth about W. D. Fard, founder of the Nation of Islam. From the NYT:
The man who founded the Nation in 1930, W. D. Fard, spread the message that American blacks belonged to a lost Muslim tribe and were superior to the “white, blue-eyed devils” in their midst. Under Mr. Fard’s successor, Elijah Muhammad, the Nation flourished in the 1960s amid the civil rights struggle and the emergence of a black-separatist movement.
Knight, by his own account is the son of an abusive schizophrenic white-supremacist father. The description of his early childhood reads like something out of Joel Steinberg's trial for the murder of his adopted daughter. The author didn't speak until age four, several years after he and mother escaped from his father. Knight is mostly homeless, living in his car as he pursues the phantom of W. D. Fard who disappeared in 1933. He has many strange adventures and talks to many people with even stranger theories about Fard.
As the book ends, Knight interviews Malcolm Shabazz in prison. Shabazz, grandson of Malcolm X, was diagnosed schizophrenic at age 12. While living with his grandmother, he set fire to the house, burning his grandmother so badly that she died after three weeks in critical condition. The final paragraph of Knight's book reads:
Malcolm Shabazz had quoted Ho Chi Minh as saying that when prison gates are opened, the real dragon flies out. And he told me that the race goes not to the swift but to those who can endure until the end. I think he's living his grandfather's life all over again. Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala. Some cry tears, and some cry blood. (p. 214)
I have not read all of the Knight book. I found it hard to take at times. On the one hand, I wanted to know what Knight found out on his search, and yet he so clearly and repeatedly brands himself as an unreliable narrator, that sometimes I found the crazy conversations he got into with narrators much more unreliable than himself hard to take. Also, because he is a white guy seeking encounters with black Muslims, he repeatedly opens himself to black racism. (Though usually, people try to be nice and tend to open conversations by trying to introduce him to the basics of Islam, assuming that he has walked into a mosque out of naive post 9/11 curiosity.) I'll read more later.
Also, reading the parts about his childhood and adolescence, I found Knight's and Nifkin's fathers running together in my head, as though these were somehow accounts of the same person, told from different angles. (Pinkwater's book begins, "My father was a son-of-a-bitch from Eastern Europe.")
And so: Grey Gardens. This book is a lavishly produced coffee-table book published by Free News Projects and priced at $45.00. It comes with an audio CD. It is about archetypal crazy cat-ladies, beautiful socialites turned recluses, retreating into mansion and trust funds. Somewhere in there one of the Edies claims that the most cats she's ever had was 300, and that she took excellent care of them all.
This book, which is connected to the 1974 documentary of the same name and to an HBO movie starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lang concerns two women, mother and daughter: Edie Ewing Bouvier Beale and Edith Ewing Beale, Jr., the aunt and cousin respectively of Jackie Kennedy.
They lived in a sea-side mansion in the Hamptons, purchased in the 20s, which fell into disrepair and got filled up with ancestral possessions and other things. When in the 1970s the health department held raids, Jackie Kennedy, and her sister Lee Radizwill put up the money to save the house from further decay. The documentary about the two women and their house was released in 1976 and is an example of cinema vérité.
The book is interesting, but I suspect it would mean more if I had seen one or more of the movies. While it does contain a lot of information, the imagery of the book corresponds to meanings I find elusive, which probably relate to the original film.
As someone married to a collector personality-type in a house he spent several decades stuffing with possessions before I came along, I cringe at the mention of attics filled with old paintings and valuable antiques given over to a pack of 30 raccoons (fed on Wonderbread and honey).
While I am willing to entertain the idea that these are fascinating women whom have recognized the emptiness of their upper-class heritage, I think that if I'd visited them, I would have found their irresponsibility in taking care of what they had in the house inexcusable. I have seen vast economically untenable mansions in the Adirondacks suffering this sort of fate, and already know how horrified I am at people who can't be bothered to replace a broken window pane in a room with a hand-painted mural on the wall (now scaled by mildew).
Do I want to be drawn into the pathology of their story?
In the Pinkwater novel, women like this who run an eccentric school save Robert Nifkin from the harsh realities of high school. Are benevolent eccentric old women with mansions and trust funds a fantasy of liberation? Or are they prisoners of what was given them for being beautiful in the right place at the right time? And who is more psychologically healthy? The Edies? Or Michael Knight? Or do damaged narrators like Knight deserve the Robert Nifkin solution: to be taken in by beautiful reclusive ex-socialites who take in strays and have plenty of rooms to spare? I suspect that Knight is not looking for that kind of salvation.
Epilogue: Grey Gardens was bought in 1979 by journalist Sally Quinn and former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.
David and I have been pawing through our basement today looking for things to pack to take upstate. Cozied up to a Phil Dick manuscript, or some such, David found Gahan Wilson's bust of H. P. Lovecraft which was the original sculpture for the World Fantasy Award. (David bought it back at the beginning of time.) It's now packed up for its journey upstate.
I was looking through a box that was from the same general area, and saw that below the recent stuff was a layer of fanzines. In it I found Rich Coad's 1981 special Lovecraft issue of the fanzine Space Junk, containing Bill Gibson's "Lovecraft & Me." Here's a taste:
He feared ice-cream and loved fish, or was it the other way around. I forget. It's been years. Nurses in black rubber invaded his dreams, as I recall, tickling and tweaking him . . . Or maybe that was Colin Wilson. Anyway, this guy's world abounds with "feminine landscapes," hillocks and mounts with holes in them, and, if you're unlucky enough to find your way down one of these things, you'll find, too late, that it's full of rats, it's all damp and icky there, the very fabric of reality breaks own, down there, and it's just a burbling, bubbling chaos, where things with big feet dance to the music of madness, all burning-churning fish-nasty . . .
I think I was about fourteen when I discovered Lovecraft.
(Ellipses in the original.)
Now, back to the basement.
At the bottom of the stack of fanzines was something called Tumbrils (No. 13), "Published for the Vanguard Amateur Press Association by James Blish." Blish writes about a kerfuffle the name of which I don't even recognize, called the "WRL Controversy." His write-up contains this marvelous line:
If there is anything valuable to be learned from Charles Fort, it is that size and numbers count for very little in human relationships.
The fanzine appears to have been published not long after Hiroshima, which is mentioned elsewhere in the issue.
A couple of weeks ago, Niall Harrison published something of a lament about review venues that are more inclined to publishing favorable reviews than unfavorable ones. He says:
We’ve been here before with regard to the insidiousness of “mostly positive” reviews, but this seemed worth pulling out as an example where the harm caused by the policy is more obvious than usual. It does a disservice both to readers who might have seen the review and now will not, and to the field of sf reviewing and criticism as a whole, for which full and honest discussion must be a priority; I hope, though I accept it is likely in vain, that Prominent SF Magazine Editor feels a mite embarrassed by their reviews policy today. That the writer in question has subsequently decided not to review at all, at this stage in their career, also makes me sad — it impoverishes the dialogue, in more ways than one — but it is understandable.
For the past 21 years, we have run The New York Review of Science Fiction on the principle that what people like about a book is more interesting than what they dislike, and we aim to publish reviews on the strengths and weaknesses of good books. This means that we publish reviews that are for the most part positive; occasionally publishing a truly negative review if the review itself offers significant illumination.
There are all kinds of reasons one might react negatively to a book, many of them personal. One can be deaf to the virtues of a writer for several years before finally getting it. I would be quite embarrassed if I had been publishing my notes on stories I truly disliked over the years I've been doing Years' Best volumes. There are several really fine writers I really didn't get until the right story came along and things suddenly clicked into place for me.
We publish to promote the aesthetic advancement of the field and are not a buyers' guide. Some review venues that may think of themselves as buyers' guides may do things differently, which is fine.
Vast numbers of books are published each year. Many of them do not merit much discussion or review attention, in our opinion.
Ideally, book reviews are about books, not about reviewers and their feelings. A review should accurately characterize the project of the book and how it fits into the genre. Whether the reviewer is in sympathy with the project of the book is secondary to its accurate depiction.
The literary essay is a form more suited for exploration of rifts between critics feelings and the books they encounter.
UPDATE: David points out to me that he wrote a NYRSF editorial on this general topic in 2004, entitled "Blooming" which is about negative reviewing as performance.
FURTHER UPDATE: James Nicoll thinks I missed the Fail Fandom subtext of Niall's post. I didn't: I did understand what Niall was trying to say, and I disagree. An essay is a more appropriate form for a critic who disagrees with the basic project of a book than a book review.
From The Parable of the Shower by Leah Bobet from Lone Star Stories:
The angel of the LORD cometh upon you in the shower at the worst possible moment: one hand placed upon thy right buttock and the other bearing soap, radio blaring, humming a heathen song of sin.
Not only is this a terrific narrative hook, but note also that it is written in the second person, and the present tense, and in faux-Biblical prose. Thus she announces that not only will something wild and interesting happen in this story, but that this is an ambitious literary high wire act.
And the story lives up to it's opening line. Go, Leah!
David Nickle, Leah Bobet, & Peter Watts at Ad Astra
Year's Best Fantasy 9, David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, eds. table of contents. (Forthcoming from Tor.com in 2009.)
Shoggoths in Bloom • Elizabeth Bear
The Rabbi’s Hobby • Peter Beagle
Running the Snake • Kage Baker
The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm • Daryl Gregory
Reader’s Guide • Lisa Goldstein
The Salting and Canning of Benevolence D. • Al Michaud
Araminta, or, the Wreck of the Amphidrake • Naomi Novik
A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica • Catherynne M. Valente
From the Clay of His Heart • John Brown
If Angels Fight • Richard Bowes
26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss • Kij Johnson
Philologos; or, A Murder in Bistrita • Debra Doyle & James MacDonald
Film-Makers of Mars • Geoff Ryman
Childrun • Marc Laidlaw
Queen of the Sunlit Shore • Liz Williams
Lady Witherspoon’s Solution • James Morrow
Dearest Cecily • Kristine Dikeman
Ringing the Changes in Okotoks, Alberta • Randy McCharles
Caverns of Mystery • Kage Baker
Skin Deep • Richard Parks
King Pelles the Sure • Peter Beagle
A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead • Richard Harland
Avast, Abaft! • Howard Waldrop
Gift from a Spring • Delia Sherman
The First Editions • James Stoddard
The Olverung • Stephen Woodworth
Daltharee • Jeffrey Ford
The Forest • Kim Wilkins
Thinking about the short fiction in 2008, one of the writers whose work really stands out is Elizabeth Bear. In 2005, she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. And in 2008, her story "Tideline" won a Hugo. Her novel forthcoming in 2009 will be the Norse fantasy By the Mountain Bound.
She published several really superb stories in 2008.
• "Shuggoths in Bloom," which just made this year's Hugo ballot, was published in Asimov’s. It is an extraordinary contemporary Lovecraftian story set in about 1939 off the coast of Maine, and constitutes an original reinterpretation of some elements of the Chthulhu mythos. The atmosphere of cosmic dread is particularly well established, and the New England setting spot on. (It will appear in our Year's Best Fantasy 9, forthcoming from Tor.com.)
• Her collaboration with Sarah Monette, "Boojum" was published in the excellent original anthology of fantasy and SF pirate stories, Fast Ships, Black Sails, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. It turns the premise of the anthology on its head. A tale of living spaceships and brain-thieves, this story, in the tradition of Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Sang, is one of this year's most entertaining. That one will appear in our Year's Best SF 14, forthcoming from HarperCollins.
Her stories were among 2008's high points for me.
Guy Gavriel Kay, Farah Mendlesohn, & Gary Wolf
I've made a Flickr photoset for David's pictures from the ICFA currently taking place in Orlando, FL. More will be added to the set as the event proceeds.
Also, HERE are Ellen Datlow's.
Publisher's Weekly has run a featured favorable review of our Year's Best Fantasy 8, published along with a review of the new Dozois Year's Best under the headline Two“Year's Best”anthologies approach the superlative.
There is, however, an error in the review that I think I ought to say something about. The PW reviewer didn't like the Michael Moorcock and Elizabeth Hand stories. Fair enough. Reviewers are of course entitled to their opinions. But expressed in this way, one has the impression of what may be a cut-and-paste slip-up:
The standout selections, such as Darryl Gregory's “Unpossible,” a lost boy's poignant return to a fantasy world, and Laird Barron's “The Forest,” an exquisitely sinister exploration of a Lovecraftian landscape, are far better than those by bigger names, such as Michael Moorcock's bitter, solipsistic “A Portrait in Ivory” or Elizabeth Hand's paint-by-numbers sword and sorcery story “Winter's Wife.”Um. How is the Liz Hand story "sword and sorcery" except inasmuch as it is fantasy? While I think it is hands-down the best story in the Dozois/Dann anthology Wizards, and while other stories from Wizards have swords and sorcerers and are set in bronze-age or medieval settings and have magical battles and supernatural foes and such, these would not be the Hand story in which the magical aspects are quite understated and the setting is present-day Maine.
Perhaps the reviewer tangled up the critical remarks about the Moorcock, since that at least is an Elric story set in the S&S milieu? Or perhaps another was intended to be the reviewer's target? Looks like a mistake to me.
Though PW reviews are anonymous, I think this particular reviewer owes Liz Hand an apology.
We just got advanced reading copies of the Year's Best Fantasy in the mail which reminded me that I hadn't put our new covers up yet. Here they are:
Cover for the new Year's Best Fantasy 8:
Cover for the new Year's Best SF 13:
Pre-order yours today!
I've posted our photos from ICFA (The International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts) on Flickr.
I dare you. Send your Mathematica egg notebooks to me. This activity, begun last night and avidly pursued this morning, has proved wildly popular with my children who are threatening to run me out of toner in my color printer.
Now show me yours!
UPDATE: Michael Croucher at Walking Randomly has risen to the challenge and put me in an egg. There will be a number of other Mathematica-generated eggs available via the Wolfram Demonstrations Project next week (URLs TBA) including three fancy ones by my dad, John Cramer. There have also been forays by users of Maple and Sage. Also, see some real math on real eggs.
URL UPDATE, 3/17/08: Michael Trott, whose book inspired my son to ask for Mathematica-generated patterns on eggs, has made an egg notebook of his own and added it to his Mathematica Guidebook website. He's made a very elaborate notebook which will be expanded and included in the Version 6 edition of the Mathematica Guidebook for Graphics volume.
(Those without Mathematica can view and play with these egg notebooks using the freely downloadable Mathematica Player.)
Also, there are now a number of egg notebooks on the Wolfram Demonstrations site, with more on the way in the next couple of days.
- Eggs Colored by Gradients (a more advanced version of my initial one) by Kathryn Cramer & Michael Schreiber
- Eggs Colored by Sinusoids by John G. Cramer, Jr.
- Eggs Colored Using Polynomials by John G. Cramer, Jr.
- Eggs Colored Using the Reimann Zeta Function by John G.Cramer, Jr.
- Elementary Cellular Automaton Egg by Michael Schreiber
- Eggnimatica by Fred Klingener
Watch this space: there are more that aren't up yet.
Here is the table of contents of the forthcoming Year's Best Fantasy 8 edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer:
Paper Cuts Scissors • Holly Black
A Portrait in Ivory • Michael Moorcock
The Witch’s Headstone • Neil Gaiman
The Ruby Incomparable • Kage Baker
And Such Small Deer • Chris Roberson
Unpossible • Daryl Gregory
Winter’s Wife • Elizabeth Hand
The King of the Djinn • David Ackert & Benjamin Rosenbaum
Stilled Life • Pat Cadigan
Poison • Bruce McAllister
Who Slays the Gyant, Wounds the Beast • Mark Chadbourn
Under the Bottom of the Lake • Jeffrey Ford
A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or the Devil’s Ninth Question • Andy Duncan
Don’t Ask • M. Rickert
The Stranger’s Hands • Tad Williams
Soul Case • Nalo Hopkinson
Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again • Garth Nix
Debatable Lands • Liz Williams
The Forest • Laird Barron
The Great White Bed • Don Webb
Dance of Shadows • Fred Chappell
Grander than the Sea • T.A. Pratt
Princess Lucinda and the Hound of the Moon • Threodora Goss
Left to his own devices, my husband David Hartwell tends to create workspaces resembling those of the Wizard Merlin: towering, teetering piles of interesting things with narrow paths to walk through. His piles are legendary, though the really epic ones precede me: in the olden days when helping David clean up, at the bottom of one of his piles one might find a Medieval codex, or a first edition of Henry James's The Golden Bowl, or an uncashed $7,000 check. (I mostly run a tighter ship than that.)
I long since gave up on the idea of sharing an office space with him. My own Mission-Control/multiplex home office is in the dining room.
A few years back, David's mother was considering moving into an assisted living facility and we tried to convince her to come stay with us for an extended period of time. We put a bed in David's office, which is across the hall from the bathroom, and cleaned it almost all the way up. She died of a stroke that fall, but the bed remained in David's office, mostly unused, though I think someone slept there for one night thereafter.
Predictably, over time David gave that bed the Merlin treatment and so eventually it became hard to see that there was a bed there at all. I let him have his own space and he kept the cats out, and in the mean time we have edited another six or seven anthologies, and the materials involved in their production are still in his office.
So this afternoon, I was prowling through his office in search of something-or-other when I noticed little piles of cat food peeking out from beneath the books and papers. Mice. I investigated further and discovered the bed in the cat-free space of his office had become the scene of a Mouse Festival.
I peeled away the layers of books, papers, magazines, and discovered in the midst of the major mouse nest -- as though laid out for mousy bedtime reading -- a copy of our friend Susan Palwick's book The Fate of Mice; it has a cat on the cover. Apparently, the fate of certain mice in our household was to have their own utopia, well-stocked with catfood and breadcrusts, in their own bed in their own room, in David's offices where the cats are not allowed.
The mouse utopia is currently a pile of bedding out on the screened porch which I shall shake out in the morning. But mouse lives are short, and it appears that a few generations lead a very good life.
No one has centralized copies of the discussions of what "cyberpunk" should be. Bits and pieces exist in sources like Bruce Sterling's Cheap Truth. But the real discussion is mostly lost.
But electronic archives of the discussion of The New Weird do exist despite their disappearance from the Web a few years ago. There is a sad little "404 - Not Found" message at the pages where these discussions used to be, which has been there for a number of years. I've decided to host copies of the New Weird files that have been floating around in the aether.
So. HERE THEY ARE! (Back to haunt the lot of us.) The discussion happened in 5 segments:
- 1 (The New Weird)
- 2 (Function follows Form: New Weird 2)
- 3 (The New Weird 3: The New Weird)
- 4 (The New Weird 4: Own Wired)
- 5 (New Weird 4.5 : the net on both sides)
The discussion is quite long and some of the formatting gets lost in translation, but I've included links at the top of each page to text files with better formatting.
At the time I declared the exercise "The Mad-Hatter's Tea Party of literary discussion" and vowed never to do such a thing again. For more on my thoughts about it at the time, see my New Weird category.
MEANWHILE, Jeff & Anne VanderMeer have an anthology coming out on this subject which is sure to straighten us all out on what all the fuss was about.
(I gather that a computer game of telephone has mangled China Miéville's name throughout. I'll try to fix that this evening.)
(New Weird polemicist M. John Harrison shown above. Photo by Pat Cadigan.)
I woke up from a dream that Peter was attending a writers workshop with a bunch of people I knew. I was very worried that he couldn't actually literally write, but Kathy Goonan assured me that his stories were good so they'd find a way around the writing part. He'd brought to the workshop an enormous beautiful blue beetle, which escaped, but after a long confusing dream sequence in which Peter's rabbit also escaped, the bug was caught and I could go. So I left and walked around town while he was at the workshop, and found myself at the counter of a line of cosmetics designed by M. John Harrison. The saleswoman was very eager to apply samples to me, and I was resisting. When I looked at the clock, it was just before 6, so here I am.
I think I'm done discussing the New Weird for now. I've feel like I've been the Mad Hatter's Tea Party of Literary Discussion.
I as I said yesterday, I was willing to entertain M. John Harrison and China Miéville's whole post-Seattle No Logos stance for the purpose of discussion, but what the whole exercise proved to me was that you can't really discuss literature in those terms unless you are talking only about a single author. I think I've learned my lesson and won't be drawn into a literary discussion on those terms again.
For the uninitiated, post-Seattle refers to the Seattle WTO thing as a pivotal event and No Logos apparently refers to Naomi Klein, who has codified post-Seattle politics or some such. It is the globalization of anti-globalization.
I have other problems with what I understand to be post-Seattle politics, but as a literary impulse, I think post-Seattlism is DOA. It energized the discussion by creating suspense but prevented most of the actual discussion from taking place.
In the interests of rejecting potential commercial globalization of their movement (or its symbolic exploitation or some such), they were very coy about who was in it or what works they were discussing, wanting instead to discuss matters of principle and say what their movement wasn't.
You just plain have to be able to say what you are talking about to have a meaningful discussion of literature. I think the noses out of joint are largely a result of the failure of this experiment.
Now that we've celebrated the unbirthday, I think I'd like my cup of tea, please (or coffee, actually).
I think it's undignified to read for the purposes of escape.
(Via Patrick Nielsen Hayden by e-mail.)
Well, enough lit-crit escapism and screaming literary class anxiety! Let's regain our dignity and see what's been going on in the world while I've had my head buried in people's fantasies about fantasy.
Tecnhonrati's breaking news appears to be broken at the moment, which is unfortunate, since that is my favorite way to read news.
ON HUMAN ORIGINS, there have been a couple if interesting news stories in the past few days.
This morning in the Financial Times, I see
The oldest known fossils of modern humans have been discovered in Ethopia. An international team led by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found the skulls of two adults and a child dating from 160,000 years ago - 40,000 years earlier than the previous oldest remains of Homo sapiens.
The discovery, described on Thursday in the journal Nature, fills a big gap in the human fossil record: the absence of accurately dated hominid remains in Africa between 120,000 and 300,000 years ago.
(I should have read my e-mail from Nature more closely, otherwise I would have known this already!) Here's Nature's summary:
Evidence for the 'Out of Africa' hypothesis for the origin of Homo sapiens has been questioned because of the lack of African hominid fossils from a critical period, between 100,000 and 300,000 years ago. New finds from the Middle Awash region of Ethiopia have filled that gap. A near-complete adult skull and a partial child's skull have been dated to about 160,000 years old, making them the oldest remains that can be firmly assigned to modern Homo sapiens. In addition this shows that morphologically modern humans had emerged long before 'classic' Neanderthals vanished from Eurasia. The series of illustrations on the cover, by J. Matternes, are reconstructions based on the fossilized adult male cranium from the Herto locality.
Also, and more significant in a science-fictional way, is the suggestion that we are all descended from a human population of about 2,000 which lived about 100,000 years ago and that there was a point when our species nearly went extinct. This is based on lack of genetic diversity among humans as compared to our closest relative, chimpanzees.
There's a novel in that. (Paging Rob Sawyer!) I can't find the version of the story I was reading yesterday, but here's the ABCNews version.
ONE FURTHER NEW WEIRD REMARK: I just encountered an interesting Naomi Klein quote about the post-Seattlism: This is a movement that has declared it has "no followers, only leaders." This was exactly what was wrong with the New Weird discussion; an attempt to follow that model when discussing literature stood this inclusive discourse on its head.
THE LIGHTER SIDE OF SPACE OPERA RESEARCH: Found as a reply to what must have been a bit of porn spam inserted into the Yahoo Space Opera Discussion Group:
Look, if we wanted great sex lives, we wouldn't be reading space opera, so go find a more appropriate group to post in!
I'm still wipping the tears out of my eyes.
And check out this reader testimonial in praise of reading for escape:
One of my greatest loves in SF is the Space Opera. You can't beat it for sheer mindless entertainment, and sometimes, you just don't want to have to think about the hero's motivation. Or the alien's. You just want to blast things. Space Opera is perfectly suited for that.
For sheer space operatic fun, I don't personally think that anyone beats Edmond Hamilton. You can't get any more operatic than the works of someone nicknamed "The World Wrecker."
The New Weird conversation is interesting and energetic. But a discussion of genre boundaries needs to encompass more writers, works, and publications than can be accomodated in a discussion of the New Weird. Defined by process of elimination, the New Weird is rapidly shrinking. Remaining New Weird writers are, by my count, M. John Harrison, China Miéville, Justina Robson, maybe Gabe Choinard, and one or two drafted posthumously. Everyone else has been shot down or left.
Alastair Reynolds is irretrievably New Space Opera unless he can be wooed away from accomodating reader expectations. We should pay very close attention to Jeff VanderMeer's departure (taking with him the crowd he publishes, I think), Jeff having concluded that he will not be using the term New Weird. With Jeff's departure, a significant majority of writers negotiating a new relationship with genre are out.
As I stated (in my June 4th post in the New Weird discussion), there is a widespread change in writers' relationships to genre boundaries that is different than Slipstream. I am now convinced that this is not the New Weird, but something else which is perhaps in need of naming.
There is a thriving movement of small press magazines, antholgies, and web sites publishing off-genre fiction, fiction in dialog with genre while outside the parameters of what the major magazines can publish: Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Polyphany, Conjuctions: 39, Leviathan, Fantastic Metropolis, etc. These, too, are not New Weird.
Neither Miéville's nor Harrison's influence can be conflated with the New Weird. The New Weird is narrow but the influence of Perdido Street Station and Miéville's other novels is broad. And while Miéville's work seems to me strongly in the tradition of Dhalgren, Delany is definitely not New Weird because he thinks genre boundaries serve a useful purpose (and I agree with him).
Harrison is widely influential in his lifelong attack on fantasy and science fiction tropes and his violating of readers' expectations. Some credit him with having destroyed the old Space Opera in the early '70s. But again, we cannot count influence as equivalent with the New Weird.
Influence, after all, is a function of reception rather than writer's intent.
The discussion of the New Weird and it's relation to genre keeps spilling over into hard sf and space opera, both topics I'm very interested in, so I'm inviting long digressions beyond the limits of social acceptability over to my place. As soon as I can put Elizabeth down, I'll add extracts.
So, what do we think is happening with regard to genre boundaries in the new hard sf and the new space opera that is too long to say (or really not relevant) in the context of the discussion of the New Weird?
Here are selected quotes about Space Opera and as discussed in context of the New Weird:
Jonathan Strahan (April 30, 2003):
Much like the new space opera (a term invented by a bunch of critics to cover the fact that they got distracted by cyberpunk and didn't notice that no-one had stopped writing the other stuff), the new weird/new wave fabulist/slipstream whatever seems to be a pretty happy and healthy outgrowth of some things that came before which would probably be much better of if left unlabeled and left to grow in the dark where they belong.
M. John Harrison (May 03, 2003):
My increasing sense is that both the New Weird & the New Space Opera, although they have clear and acknowledged roots, are a response to *now*, rather than a kind of inturned, in-genre historical development, or just a development from an alternative but equally historical root. Those writers are writing about the world now. That's why I like what's going on so much, that's why it's all so invigorating: that's also why I want to be careful who defines it.
Alastair Reynolds (May 07, 2003):
One thing I think worth adding is that - judging by remarks in interviews and so on - a lot of the new writers have a very ambiguous relationship with the genre they're most likely to be associated with. China clearly has a bit of a love/hate thing going with fantasy (I loved his remark about consolatory fantasy making him "puke"!!!!). I feel a bit the same about space opera/ hard SF etc. A lot of it I can't stand, but it's still the area that I'm most interested in working in.
Jonathan Strahan (May 08, 2003):
. . . it seems fair to say that the New Weird is secular; politically-informed and culturally-aware; incorporates action and detail; and is intensely visual. It also is aware of its genre antecedents without being bound by them. I'd add that it is pretty clear that the New Weird and the New Space Opera are at least sibs, if not actually the same thing. And it seems to be more UK-based, for some reason (though it certainly is coming to the fore in the US).
Paul J. McAuley (June 04, 2003):
Alternate cultural frameworks is something I've been banging on about for some time, ever since I was outed as a ringer bending space opera to my own fell ends; that is, trying to make space opera do something that didn't reinforce the hegemony of American capitalist democracy. I don't make any extraordinary claims about this; it's an attitude that Brits are likely to assume as a matter of course, since they're outsiders in a genre that's characteristically American. Brian Aldiss was Third Worlding it long before most everyone else in a genre which is supposed to be open to all kinds of ideas and weird points of view, but is too often open only to those which reinforce American triumphalism.
Alastair Reynolds (June 10, 2003):
I think the New Weird/New Space Opera discussion is very interesting because it forces us to take a good hard look at what we're doing, ask why we're doing it and if it's what we want to keep on doing. The problem (*if* it's a problem) with the New Space Opera (or the New Radical Hard SF, or whatever we want to call it) is that, by its nature, it can't ever be as weird as the NW unless it becomes the NW itself. This is because the New Space Opera will always exclude anything it can't rationalise. If I have a ghost walk on in chapter five of my new book, there will be a vast weight of expectation for that ghost to be susceptible to rational explanation within the framework of the story because I have a rap as a hard SF writer. I don't think the New Weird has this problem - the grab-bag is open and it's a given that anything goes. It's like that fantastic bit in (sorry) PSS, where the authorities reluctantly contact Hell to see if it can help them out with the moth problem (which of course sets up the utter awfulness of dealing with the Weaver, my favorite of all China's characters).
(I do suggest reading them in context and encourage further New Weird discussion. I don't want to interrupt Mike's party.)
IN THE COMMENTS: Charles Stross makes a radical suggestion.
FURTHER TO THE TOPIC OF GENRE BOUNDARIES:
A piece on Samuel R. Delany in LA Weekly:
Delany views science fiction as not a literary but a "para-literary" genre. "Many people think of it as a kind of disposable text that doesn't have any stylistic, intellectual or aesthetic merit -- and I think it does," he explains. "I think the fact it's been considered this way for a long time has had a great effect on how the genre writes itself, thinks itself, puts itself together. Obliterating the distinction between para-literature and literature is probably not a good thing, because it obliterates a great deal of the history of the genre."
Why is psychology so all important that it displaces all else in consideration of what constitutes "Literature" with a capital L?
Don't get me wrong--if you don't do the characterization right, everything else starts to crumble. But there is more to art than one lens. And more than one thing on which to focus those lenses.
What Birkerts criticizes Atwood's novel for is a sacrifice of deeper character study for the sake of examining the social and technological concepts she's deploying. So what? This seems to me a question of degree--how much of what do you put in to make the story work and work well? A little less character so the consequences of the human will as worked on the world at large can be examined? The deeper reactions should then take place within the reader's imagination. Rather than prescribing an emotional content, it evokes it. That's how fiction should work anyway.
But lyrical writing, deep description, and serious examination of concept can be every bit as eloquent and evocative as study of character. To the extent that humans are part of the world--and the world both acts upon and responds to humans--where comes this idea that applying the same artful gaze to the landscape as we might to the personality of the characters renders the book less?
Because that's what Birkerts suggests. That, ultimately, in spite of the fact that he likes Atwood's book, it is necessarily less than her non SF work, because she's paying attention to externalities.
Well. Henry James--and obviously Sven Birkerts--was obsessed with psychology. And not everyone's, but a narrowly-defined type, exemplified by upper middle-class to upper class Victorian white people of the 19th Century. Other issues simply didn't attract his attention, not to the same degree. He took his own highly refined sensibilities--and considerable gifts as a writer--and handed down the pronouncement that this was the only worthwhile endeavor of the serious novel.