Function follows Form: New Weird 2 (Download new_weird_2.doc)
TTalkback: Harrison, M John: Function follows Form: New Weird 2
By gabe on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 06:45 pm:
My statement is this: New Weird is the function that serves the form that is the writing. New Weird is not the form itself. Am I wrong? --gabe chouinard http://hypermode.blogspot.com
By iotar on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 07:36 pm:
Please expand with example, Mr Chouinard.
By MJH on Friday, May 16, 2003 - 02:23 pm:
One of the things that came over very forcefully to me during the ICA event was how important simple *confidence* is to this new stuff. I think we've mentioned it here before: but on both nights of discussions (formal and informal), it was a word we heard from all quarters--insiders, outsiders, mainstreamers, readers who have no idea of what sf is, people who believe in a melting pot, people who believe that f/sf has a self-generated inferiority/martyr complex--all of them used the word confidence over and over again. For me, it's a central tenet of the New Weird: the confidence to do exactly what you see fit. You can't demolish the barricades and take your place in the publishing equivalent of a polycultural community without *confidence*. Guys like China and Justina have it in spades. If you haven't got it, catch up. You aren't in the movement yet, *but you can be*. More importantly, perhaps, since pick'n'mix is such an important part of it: you can't *do* that without the confidence to take what you want from the forms & styles on offer across a hundred years of fiction. What I felt at ICA was a sudden sharp increase in that confidence. It wasn't just the organisers who went away grinning from ear to ear & telling one another, "We live and rule, guys. We fucking live and rule." The New Weird, is, in part, taking what you want, because it's out there and on offer. Why can't we help ourselves to do this more ? Why have we got this frankly creepy idea we can--and should--only communicate with each other ?
By Al on Friday, May 16, 2003 - 03:25 pm:
Interesting - something Gwyneth said on Wednesday really intrigued me, relates to all this. She defined science fiction writing as writing in which all the parts are related to a single whole, and in which everything works in service to the core idea or ideas driving whatever's being written. In fact, I think that this is an effective, basic working definition for ANY good piece of writing / art / creative endeavour; it's not exclusive to Weird Fiction by any means. What is interesting about it though is its implications in the light of MJH's comments above - a combination of the discipline / craft to build structures that are thusly coherent with the confidence to take the components of those structures from anywhere. Going back to Justina's Venn Diagrams - existing genres are the individual circles within it - crime, chick lit, new middlebrow quasi-literature, whatever - taken like this, the New Weird deliberately refuses circling and hovers above the whole, the three dimensional presence on the two dimensional field, confident enough to contain anything if that containment drives effective work.
By MJH on Friday, May 16, 2003 - 03:52 pm:
Hi Al. I was interested by that, too. That was Gwyneth's rendition of Bruce Sterling's definition of the Cyberpunk method. It reminded me invincibly of Katherine Mansfield & Middleton Murry's definition of "particularity" in the very early 1920s. Bruce had clearly reinvented the wheel, but what's new. "...confident enough to contain anything if that containment drives effective work." That's the job.
By MJH on Saturday, May 17, 2003 - 10:51 am:
The word I've been looking for & not finding (dull old bastard that I am) throughout this discussion has been "bricolage", in the Levi Strauss sense. Knock this together with the Burroughs idea of writing as a "magical intervention" in the world, and you begin to get some idea of what I actually mean by the pick'n'mix aspect of the New Weird. You need confidence to perform acts like that. An act like that seems to provide both subject matter and form in Mieville's short story "Familiar", for instance; acts like that are the whole basis of "Gifco" or Light; or of anything of Tim Etchells'. I'm not saying that's *all* the New Weird does. Only: here's another element.
By Cheryl Morgan on Saturday, May 17, 2003 - 11:39 am:
Funny you should mention that, Mike. Jon dropped that "bricolage" word into my ear on Thursday night. Something else I need to go research before Wiscon.
By MJH on Saturday, May 17, 2003 - 12:56 pm:
It's been nagging me for weeks. Then I went to the Tiger Lilies' new show, "The Gorey End" at the Lyric last night, and they quoted a bit from an interview with Gorey himself, and there it was. The whole of Levi Strauss flashed before my eyes, nasty experience that. (I might as well say it now, because it will come out in the end anyway: The Tiger Lilies rock like utter weird bastards, and Martin Jacques is probably God. He is up there with Tom Waits and Nick Cave for me.)
By Zali on Saturday, May 17, 2003 - 01:09 pm:
All those 501s, eh? Bricolage is a good word. I think Gwyneth dropped in "sampling" too, which deals with the same phenomenon from the tech end rather than the primitive end. As soon as you discover the keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste life is never quite the same again.
By MJH on Saturday, May 17, 2003 - 01:31 pm:
In L-S's sense it deals expressly with myth-making & the ad hoc construction or "celebration" of cultural stuff: also, a way of interfacing with the facts of your environment. That seems quite pertinent to what China's doing, for instance. Bricolage is a pragmatic, politic & yet magical way of pulling together the most disparate elements of your life at any given instant in time and then making them communicable. For me, so is the New Weird.
By Al on Sunday, May 18, 2003 - 12:15 pm:
'Every man to his junkshop', as Ez puts it. Interesting that what was for him implicitly negative has now become a positive. A move from a belief that a single, totalised view or summary of 'culture' is possible and desirable to an enthused and energised acceptance that you build your own individual version from the junk around you - these days, it's always personal! Prynne picks up on this idea of 'junk' also - Days and weeks spin by in theatres, gardens laid out in rubbish, this is the free hand to refuse everything. (from 'L'Extase de M. Poher') For him, the gardens are secure, unchallenging cultural constructs that reference only themselves... the rubbish is the place to be - Rubbish is pertinent; essential; the most intricate presence in our entire culture; the ultimate sexual point of the whole place turned into a model question Which for me interestingly summarises / interacts with your definition of the New Weird, MJH (not to mention China's story). Btb poems not really laid out like this, message board won't let me do proper lineation.
By MJH on Sunday, May 18, 2003 - 12:51 pm:
Absolutely, Al. The intellectual, political & metaphysical parallels are obvious. We're at home in the Waste Land. We see it as a zone of possibility & optimism: a zone of emergence. Even our post-Seattle politics is decentred. On the one of the ICA panels Paul McAuley suggested the New Weird lacked one of the basics of a movement: it has no centre of focus. But in post Seattle politics the centre is distributed. This kind of brushfire discussion *is* a centre of focus.
By Al on Sunday, May 18, 2003 - 04:28 pm:
The internet model of a literary movement - no centre, just nodes, generating content and allowing for / enabling its free and rapid dissemination... Also, a response to your question elsewhere about the shampoo bottle. What happens to it when it's abandoned? It becomes rubbish - but it's still there, and new uses can be found for it in new contexts, entirely separate from the original niche it occupied. Re-contextualised, therefore remade, that remaking conditioned by the (hopefully) optimistic stance of the remaker, moving it beyond its original, homogeneous, commercial, function, to become something entirely personal and new.
By China on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 01:13 am:
New Weird Thoughts. I've been following the New Weird thread with increasing fascination and interest, as well as frustration. I know I'm a bit late to this party, so probably no one cares any more, and I can't post as often as everyone else seems to, but I can no longer resist saying something. It's stupidly long, sorry, I don't expect anyone to read it. i) On Movements. I'm with Justina and with MJH and against the 'No Labellers'. We have to start with a clear head about what movements are. There are several people on the New Weird thread who say some variant of: 'labels are always inaccurate', even that the whole idea at an artistic level is 'a load of crap'. This seems to me to be banal, disingenuous, and a category error. Of course labels are always tendentious, having to deal with grey areas, etc. But this is because to point at a book and describe it as 'Somethingorotherist' is not the same as pointing to a rock and describing it as 'igneous'. A label applied to an arts movement or to an aesthetic does a *different kind of job*, so to say such labelling can't be right because we're 'moving targets', or to complain about 'inaccuracy' is point-missing. This is what MJH is getting at regarding the power of naming - I agree totally, though I'd put it another way, which is that this kind of labelling, this kind of collation, is a *political and theoretical intervention*. It is not positivist bean-counting, so to point out 'dissimilarities' between grouped books or writers does not in and of itself negate a proposed category's usefulness or perspicacity. Of course, this can't be to say that *any* act of naming is equally persuasive. If I decide to group together John Updike, Richard Scarry and Jeffrey Archer and call them NeoAristotelian Denigrationists I'm going to have a much tougher job making the case than regarding (say) Cyberpunks, Revisionist Westerns or the New Weird. To *some* extent then (and only to some extent) the gut-tug of recognition with which we recognise some categories is a good argument for - not their 'existence' in some positivist sense - but their usefulness. That's a dangerous argument - gets close to 'if I point at it and call it such-and-such, then such-and-such it is'. That's why it can't be just about pointing, but about arguing. To suggest that the useful term should be 'fiction' is I think unrealistic and unhelpful - are we really going to suggest that we can't see any useful affinities between Gibson and Sterling as compared to Gibson and Ngugi wa Thiongo, and that it doesn't help us understand what's going on to group certain writers together - though many will of course be part of various groups depending on the argument (that's Justina's Venn Diagrams, again). This is complicated by the fact that a few movements *actually officially label themselves*. This leads the 'anti-label-ists' into a difficult position. Because all their arguments against labels can equally be applied to, say, the Situationists, the Surrealists, the Dadaists or Oulipo. They too are 'moving targets', their labels are also used as 'marketing gimmicks'. This means that the No Labellers have to say one of two things. a) Either the Surrealists (say) are an entirely spurious grouping (inasmuch as all labels are) - but I'd suggest that you cannot possibly understand Benjamin Peret, Pierre Naville, Max Ernst, Andre Breton, Jacques Rigault, except in terms of each other and their movement (among other things, of course), b) Or they say that a movement can only be a movement if it actually proclaims itself to be one. So our arguments about New Weird might hold, but only if we all actually sign up to something. Surely this makes no sense, and it's much more realistic to think that at a critical mass of affinities, we can persuasively and more importantly *usefully* talk about a movement. When it gets formalised by the participants, so much the easier, but that's not the be-all and end-all of the argument. On which point, though I agree with Henry (Apr 30) that the New Weird is an argument, I don't agree with him that therefore a move to 'self-published manifestoes' is a bad thing, necessarily. I understand the fear people have - it's the fear that these formalisations then become policies, and the art becomes constrained. This, however, seems to me to misunderstand the nature of artistic manifestos. By their very nature they are polemical interventions, which are often breached in the particulars out of some sense of fidelity to an overall aesthetic (Dogme has a formal structure of confession because they recognise that their 'rules' are almost always breached by their own participants). Thus when, for example, people berated the New Puritan anthology because 'so many participants didn't completely obey the rules' it was a scandalously moronic diss (plenty of reasons to criticise the collection, but that wasn't one). I'm certainly not advocating a manifesto, but we have to acknowledge the possibility that it might be fun, it might be useful, and it might advance the argument. The second problem with manifestophobia is that it is predicated on the idea that regulation, systematisation and such is constraining. Why should that be the case? Look at the Oulipo movement (Queneau, Calvino, Duchamp, Mathews et al). 'As an Oulipian term, restriction means a constraining method or system or rule that is capable of precise definition. ... [T]he Oulipo are interested in such restrictions because they see in them not limitation but *potentiality*, an apparent paradox that tends to disappear when such methods are actually put into practice: restriction then becomes the mother of literary invention.' [Oulipo Laboratory, p.x] I stress I'm not particularly advocating a manifesto or a sign-up sheet or anything. But I'm saying that thinking consciously in terms of a specific grouping or movement is potentially at least as enabling as it is constraining. Every time we accept a commission to write for a themed anthology we are acknowledging that constraints can be enabling - a movement or a manifesto is merely an exaggeration of that. In fact, I'd go further - genre itself is a kind of Oulipo - a broad oulipo of theme, of aesthetic, rather than of linguistic specifics. We are all already-constrained, so don't fight it. (and yes, language itself is also a kind of enabling constraint, but not at such a self-conscious level as genre, let alone movement). So to summarise - the commonsense arguments against New Weird (and any grouping) are exactly that, commonsensical and thus highly suspect. Whether or not we agree that New Weird is a useful grouping, the dissing of it on the basis that it is a 'label' is too limited. Of course that still leaves open the question of whether it is useful, but that's another argument - many of those who argue against it in the threads elide the two points, they argue both against 'labels', and then against the putative specifics of the New Weird. As an aside, I'm astonished by the number of claims that this label (or all labels) is no more than 'a marketing gimmick'. Undoubtedly, if this caught on, marketers would attempt to use it - just as they do, ad nauseam, with 'surrealist'. However, this doesn't mean that 'surrealist' isn't a useful term, only that those of us who care about what it fucking means have to have the argument with severity on an ongoing basis. Me, I think New Weird is currently a useful category, a useful argument, so I'll use it. ii) New Weird, the specifics. This is inspired by JeffV's post of May 8th on the New Weird thread. I can't help responding to a few of his points and questions. "2) Is New Weird really a kickback against jaded heroic fantasy (Steph's April 29 post)? Or is it more that, in China's case at least, it fulfills the expectations of the Epic in ways that most "heroic" fantasy hasn't in recent years? (Jeff F's post)" It is, I think, both, and that's it's point. The problem with lots of modern fantasy isn't just that it's repetitive and cliche-recycling, it is that in so being, it is a *betrayal of the fantastic*. The fantastic still exists in it, but only as a self-tortured, attenuated thing. Thus, to kickback against it is also to try to approach its expectations. That's why New Weird is as much a harping backwards - to the fantastic - as a new thing, though it is both. "3) Are Gormenghast and Viriconium really the core influences of the New Weird? Or do the New Weird writers reach back to the Decadents, the Surrealists, etc? Because surely if they rely on Peake or MJH influence, it's diluted from the source. " MJH is pretty persuasive on this, I think, and JeffV largely agreed as I remember. I think that the question of influence is important, but the idea of 'dilution' is not helpful. If anything the analogy should be 'filtration' but even that's not much help. Anyway, a checklist of 'influences' to see if something qualifies is back to a positivist notion of how to tell if something's New Weird or not. Plus which the point of realising that a 'movement' is at least as much in its own description/argument as in the creation of its canonical texts, means that the move (common to most movements) of reclaiming something from the past is simultaneously perfectly legitimate, and also *shaping*. To take an example, both Isidore Ducasse and Arcimboldo predated the Surrealists: however, their claiming by the Surrealists was about the way to read/view their work as much as about what Ducasse and Arcimboldo themselves might have thought they were doing, and it totally changed the way we understand them - we are priviliged to have access to the Surrealist Arcimboldo, and though it was on one level ridiculous to claim him (he was a few centuries early) it was also a perfectly legitimate and clarifying action. Thus I'd say one could claim, let's say, Gene Wolfe or Jane Gaskell as a sort of New Weird avant-la-lettre. Obviously there are specificities to Wolfe and Gaskell that can't be understood in New Weird terms, but claiming them also does a particular job of understanding them, and it might renew the way we read their books. "4) Is the New Weird really secular and politically informed? (Steph's April 29 post) Or does this just describe China's work? " The problem here I think is an elision between author and work. I'm not much of one for postmodernism but one very good thing about 'the death of the author' I think is that we're no longer in an era where 'What The Author Really Meant' is the relevant question on what a work 'means'. In other words, I think Steph is absolutely right that the New Weird is 'secular' and 'politically informed' *whatever* the 'secularity' and politics of its writer. It is secular in the sense that the religiose/transcendent moralism of 'epic' fantasy is something it reacts against (in multifarious ways), and it is politically informed in that whether the writer is consciously a lefty, a righty, a liberal, or uninterested, the aesthetics embedded in the work are those which recognise that *the world and therefore their work of literature in it* are politically constructed. This is fiction in which morality/ism is a Problem, not a solution, a structure or a given, and in which Politics is inescapable, rather than something to be Consoled for. That is why I think MJH is so right to locate this as post-Seattle (using Seattle as a shorthand). It does *not* mean that you have to be a 'seattleist' to write it, but that your fiction is fiction that knows things are different now - whether you do or not. "8) Is it really important that Atwood 'diss'-associated herself from SF? (Justina's April 30th post re Venn diagrams and circles) Isn't that a kind of guerilla tactic too? Doesn't that mean that more people are going to read her SF book than if the SF label had been applied? If not being associated with New Weird would mean I had more readers, not less, then guess which I'd pick, as long as I didn't have to change my work. Isn't it true that regardless of whether Atwood calls it SF or not, readers will recognise it as SF?" Though this is an *absurdly* politically aggrandizing analogy (I really am uncomfortable with these political analogies, and I want to stress that they are only parallels in terms of relations between the power and the denigrated, obviously not in any way parallels in terms of seriousness or structural importance) , I can't help this reminding me of Malcolm X's distinction between the 'house Negro' and the 'field Negro'. The 'house Negro' gets to stay in the Master's house by forelock tugging, and crucially *identifies* with the master, losing his/her political/social/identity. If we get in the house by claiming there's nothing particular or unique about us, then what have we actually won? We want to come in from the fields, but on our terms not theirs. This ain't Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?. The key question here, I think, is do we recognise any specificity of aesthetic to genre in general (forget New Weird for a moment). I do, and I think the arguments about movements above partly explain why. If you *don't*, if you really think that the only important description is 'fiction', why then of *course* it doesn't matter how it's described... but then in that case it's not a question of a 'guerilla tactic' at all, because you're not trying to smuggle anything in - there's nothing to smuggle, after all. However, if you *do* grant a specificity to SF (and to other genres/fields/moments/whatever you want to call it), then this might be the right strategy... but I don't think it does. In fact, I think the opposite to what JeffV suggests happens. The SF people read Atwood's SF and recognise SF (often not very good, or at least very-clunky-because-self-conscious SF), and the 'mainstream' people do *not* recognise SF and therefore have none of the prejudices challenged - they're no likelier at all to go read Justina afterward than before. In fact maybe further, given how far Atwood's gone to distance herself from the field. This is where the political, polemical nature of naming comes in. I will *not* distance myself from genre to sell more books. 'Science Fiction' is a very unsatisfactory label, and if I'm talking to someone who knows the field, I usually won't describe what I do in precisely that phrase: however, if I'm talking to an Outlander, I tend to say that I write SF *exactly because* I don't want to give ground on the legitimacy of genre. Of course I acknowledge that if you're lucky with your audience, you can turn that illegitimacy on its head for Radical Chic, but we're all aware of the snobbery that greets genre, and as long as that snobbery continues, I'd rather (again, forgive the aggrandizement) follow the Malcolm X strategy of giving not one inch. You can make similar (and similarly inflated) analogies with the gay movement. We can be the Log Cabin movement of genre - I'm a writer just like you, and if I happen to write about the odd monster or two, well, it's all behind closed doors, we're all fiction under the skin aren't we, what does it matter, why can't we all just get along... or we can be Outrage!. We're Here! We're Weird! Get Used To It! I know which I'd rather be. "13) Is there room for humor in the New Weird? Isn't the lack of humor in much of the New Weird (whatever the New Weird is) a kind of failure of the imagination?" I'd be happy to see this argued at greater length, but I think that there is plenty of room for humour. I've read Steph Swainston's stonking book, and know how funny the weird can be. But I suspect this might point to a deeper disagreement, related to questions of metafiction and so on. There is humour, and then there is whimsy. I have massive respect for JeffV's Ministry of Whimsy press, and hugely admire much of its output... however, I've always had a problem with the name, as I am interested in the fantastic, the weird, and I think that Whimsy is actually *fundamentally opposed* to the weird. That's because the fantastic, and most specifically the weird fantastic, is about a complete surrender to an aesthetic of radical estrangement, which is why the project of World Creation, so often a bad joke, is at least potentially a truly estranging and Weird moment, as it is about pitching a reader into a self-contained, paranoid totality. That to me is the weird. Urth does it, Viriconium does it, The Land does it, and by jiminy in certain (not to my taste) ways, Middle Earth does it. The problem with whimsy - not with humour - is that whimsy is intrinsically distancing of the weird. Whimsy achieves its affect by winking at the reader *over the top of the text*. This is the problem I have with self-conscious metafiction. (I should add that I loved JeffV's Ambergris works, but prefer the less metafictional aspects, on the whole) It pretends to be radically estranging, but it is so easy to slip into mannerism by which the moment of literary self-reflection is in fact *comforting*, because it corrals the weird, by relying for its moment of estrangement on a raised eyebrow, a wink, a nudge-nudge. The joke is an inside/outside one - 'I know we are all really outside the text, and we can share in the pleasure of enjoying the text while looking in on it'. OK, but the problem is, we're looking in on it *from where*? This is a question-begging moment. Here's where politics comes in - in much (not all, of course) metafiction the reality from which we are 'looking in' is implied but neither stated nor questioned - in other words, metafiction and whimsy (closely related moments) are literary techniques often *predicated on an unstated assumption of an existing status-quo reality* - a stable 'outside' is needed so that from either side of the text, the writer and reader can nod at each other. (Satire is different - because satire is like metafiction in that it knows and relies on the fact that its writer and reader know it is fiction - it is not totalising, it knows it has an outside - but unlike much metafiction and whimsy, satire is invariably literature *against* or *for* something, in other words it has enemies and allies, so it knows that there is no stable 'outside' on which to stand - it takes sides. It is fiction which knows that reality is partial and conflictual). The corollary of this is that the seemingly simple pulp moment of New Weird's 'unsophisticated' Weirdness - even down to the most banal post-Tolkienism of secondary world creation - is actually a *post-consolation* surrender to the weird. This is different. Where much traditional sf/f thinks of itself as 'escaping' something (reality), New Weird knows there is no escape, *and gets on with the weird anyway*. So it *knows* that its paranoid fantastic will riff and reverberate inevitably and tellingly with the real - and it trusts itself and its readers to get on with the political job of mapping the cross-hatching. This is also why New Weird is radically opposed to narrow 'utopian' or 'dystopian' or (god help us) 'metaphoric' fiction, in which supposed weirdnesses are marshalled to make metaphorical political points. Because to do that is - as with metafiction - to subordinate the strange to another job (in this case finger-wagging). The New Weird is engaged but not didactic. To the New Weird, *the weird is its own end*... and, paradoxically, is all the more politically savvy and theoretically sharp for that. This is a Post-Seattle Sense of Wonder. (Which also goes some way into the question of confidence, about which I think Justina is 100 percent right) (I should add that I think there's a risk to Steph's claim that 'The text isn't experimental' - we don't have to pretend Modernism never happened, but neither should we think that there's only one way of doing Modernism. Modernism these days becomes mannerism with the slightest slip in rigour, so we have to be careful. There are plenty of (post)Modernist strategies, of which metafiction is one. Moorcock was doing others back in the day (The Black Corridor, anyone?). I don't think we should desire to emulate the rumpty-tumpty-tumpty homily style bucolic prose of JRR.) "I would also argue that China's success has been aided more by his ability to gain access to mainstream media outlets (like NPR here in the US) than by his ability to gently guide the reader into his novels. For one thing - he's still guiding them into a bizarre fantasy world. " The question isn't whether I've had media support - I have - the questions is *why* have I had the media support in the first place? Why me, and why now? Of course a lot of it's luck, of course a lot of it is contingent, blah blah blah, but it's also because something's going on and the media in its inchoate moronic way is represent it. iii) The importance of fantasy, the importance of the New Weird. Mike says that 'Life in the West is now a crossply of fantasies'. This seems to me *exactly right*, and makes sense of a lot of paradoxical things. Why Adorno thought that Kafka was the writer uniquely suited to representing modernity, for example. And behind it, to quote Marx's theory of commodity fetishism, is that in modern capitalism 'the definite social relation between men [sic] ... assumes here ... the fantastic form of a relation between things ... where the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. ... As soon as a table emerges as a commodity, it changes into a thing which transcends sensuousness. It ... stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas.' And we and our life are those ideas. We are like Alice with the Red King - we are the inventions of forces beyond our control, our *lives are fantasies*... and they are fantasies which are true. This isomorphism explains why the notion that fantasies are 'escapist' is particularly wrong-headed now - we escape nothing, we are all always-already-fantasies, and fantasising. New Weird is fantasy and sf, and horror, and whatever else the fuck you want, that knows that, and gets on with the weird anyway.
By Henry on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 06:21 am:
China - that's a formidable post there. I'm fine and grand with the idea of a manifesto as a polemic intervention rather than straitjacket, but want to challenge you to say more exactly what you mean when you invoke Marx on modern capitalism. I'm all for locating ideas in their material circumstances - but I wouldn't want to reduce fantasy to commodity fetishism in its entirety. And I suspect that you don't either - but I'd like you to spell out the relationship between fantasy-as-product-of-mystification, and fantasy-as-exercise-of-imagination more clearly. Surely there's a difference between escapist fantasies (whether blockbuster trilogies or ad campaigns) and fantasies that are -aware-, that are -political- in the sense that you want the New Weird to be? And doesn't the difference have something to do with the latter not being entirely determined by their external circumstances, so that they offer some sort of vantage point for self awareness and better understanding? Or is the New Weird just whistling past the graveyard?
By Al on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 02:31 pm:
Whoah! Formidable indeed. Anyway, some thoughts – >> As an aside, I'm astonished by the number of claims that this label (or all labels) is no more than 'a marketing gimmick'. Intriguing that you’re astonished by it – I think it’s an expression of a widely held, and valid, fear. Marketing is increasingly concerning itself with the commoditisation of personal definition; products, particularly cultural products, are sold as insignia; by ownership of them, you communicate a certain defined, attractive message about yourself. You don’t just buy the product; you buy and display the implied self that goes with the product. The problem is, the product’s always sanitised, the self that it infers is always sanitised. By seeking status through branded display, consumers implicitly support the assumptions that underlie the workings of each brand – usually conservative, usually commercially driven, underpinning rather than challenging or questioning the status quo. I think the worry that’s being expressed is related to this; that the New Weird will go from being a questioning and resourceful literary movement to just one more lifestyle choice (the Public Enemy to Rage Against the Machine to Limp Bizkit trajectory); people will buy into the New Weird because they want to be seen to be ‘New Weird’, not because they are intrigued by or share its essential concerns. Essentially, it will become a brand, not a movement. I think your solution – ‘have the argument with severity on an ongoing basis’ – is absolutely right – but the problem’s there (and perhaps an inevitable one for any form of modern creative endeavour) and shouldn’t be downplayed. >> We want to come in from the fields, but on our terms not theirs. This ain't Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?. The key question here, I think, is do we recognise any specificity of aesthetic to genre in general (forget New Weird for a moment). Surely stay in the fields, and get them to come out? If you assume specificity of aesthetic to genre, then there are certain things that only each specific genre can do, that are marvellous in themselves and cannot be achieved or replicated elsewhere - so the important thing is to recognise and be confident about the fact the fields are in themselves a marvellous place to be… >> The New Weird is engaged but not didactic. To the New Weird, *the weird is its own end*... I love this idea of the Weird as an end in itself – describing / defending Weird Fiction in other terms (well, it might look like sci fi / fantasy, but in fact it’s not really that, it’s a Marxist tract / Gnostically driven engagement with loss / recasting of Richard Dawkins in fiction / whatever, so it must be good) invalidates the Weird itself – it turns subtext into an apology for and justification of genre, rather than an interesting, but secondary, offshoot of it. If you write (say) a sonnet, you don’t introduce it as ‘well, it might seem like a sonnet, but it’s really bla bla bla…’ – why do the same for the Weird?
By Kathryn Cramer on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 03:14 pm:
I just happened across this discussion this morning. This is really interesting Later on today, I'll see if I can compose a list of stories I noticed in this range reading for our Year's Best Fantasy.
By Neil Ayres on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 03:38 pm:
I don't think that New Weird (or any genre for that matter, even chick-lit-rom-coms) are in any danger of becoming brands as you describe them Al. I think that, thankfully, fiction is a little apart from that: even mass-produced and marketed plot-recyclers. Perhaps these are incorrect perceptions, but the nearest readers get to this kind of self-branding is having a shelf-full of Shakespeare and Tolstoy that they never intend to touch. And in general I don't think many observers pay such posturing much attention. On the other hand, maybe there is a truth in your comments amongst academics, but I've never been to university. Certainly students I've shared houses with though made no big shakes about their reading collections. I think that your hypothesis is fundamentally flawed. Even if it were not, the twelve year olds rocking to Limp BIzkit will soon grow up and get their doctorates in South American Magical Realism and send their black hoodies along to the local Oxfam. At least it's a step in the right direction away from Gap-clad Hooplah-sized gold-earring-touting chain-smoking balcony-loitering boy-racing baseball-capped, etc. ;)
By iotar on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 03:52 pm:
What occurs to me after all this is: what are we going to use the New Weird *for*? * As a stick to beat genre with? * As a crowbar to pry open the mainstream? * As a set of daily negations to avoid formula? (Thou shalt not ape Tolkien, thou shall have no barbarian warrior kings in thine epic, thou shalt not write trilogies...) * As a critical imperative? (Can you have *bad* New Weird? Does New Weirdness imply excellence?) * As a badge of political engagement? Or none of these things?
By MJH on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 03:53 pm:
I'm all for not apologising, and for doing what you do (although I think the majority of what's done in genre could be done much better), and taking your chances out there with everyone else. At that point, however, it comes down to the talent and energy of your publicist. F/sf is not well served in that department. In-house f/sf publicists tend to complain how "easy" it is to publicise mainstream fiction and how "hard" their job is. But you do not catch them in the office much after five, and most of them simply don't work hard enough to keep a job in mainstream publicity. Neither are they much good at dealing with the lit eds of broadsheet newspapers; they can't speak the language. In short, they are as crippled by their own assumptions as we are. We simply do not understand this arena, or work well in it; and instead of trying to learn, resort to a whingey, self-forgiving evangelism. This problem is mirrored at every other level, from that of authorship, to that of editorship. A proper engagement with what's going on requires a proper understanding of the arena it's going on in. We haven't really got a clue what drives the "mainstream", or what structures it is driven through. Our construction of it is naive and about 3% applicable. Don't ask *why* they won't give us our proper status in some moral scheme of things. Ask *how*, ie by what actual mechanisms, does Margaret Atwood get double pages in review supplements. One of the things we can learn from China's success is how to get the experience of "out there" we so sadly lack. Otherwise it's back to the generic hamster-wheel, which is all you've got left if you retreat into the idea that you are exceptionalised by what you write & are somehow being given a completely undeserved raw deal as a result. This is what Toby Litt and John O'Connell were warning us against at ICA. Refuse to make excuses for what you are, sure: see it as a matter of compromise and then refuse to make the compromise, sure. I love it. But that means rolling up your sleeves and learning stuff, and then going out and *competing* with everyone else, from every other genre (including "mainstream" and "literary" fictions). Either that, I guess, or you get on the Mayflower and sail away in high moral dudgeon to make your own world. If anyone can show me how we do that in any worthwhile way, I'd be grateful as well as amused. And I still wouldn't go.
By Al on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 04:15 pm:
Hi Neil - nice to meet you - *doffs cap*. Hmm, maybe I have overstated it a bit - and on one level, I think you're right. A book is a much more complex thing than a brand; it demands far greater engagement. You wear a T-Shirt; you read a book. Two very different encounters. Nonetheless, there's a definite sub-genre of books it's good to be seen to be reading - 'Birdsong' etc, the book of the moment that everyone picks up on. I think to some extent they do function as brands, as described above - ie, you buy them, in part because you enjoy reading them, in part because by buying into them you can feel that you're being literary (and to a greater or lesser extent display that literariness) without making a true literary effort (I'm aware that I'm being very snoorty about them!). They're approved by the colour supplements; made into films; you feel like you're buying into culture, and reassuring yourself that you're a cultured person. However, I don't think these are challenging literary works. My sense of these are that they're quite consoling fictions; not particularly challenging. They don't shake your world view; they let you display and asssure yourself of your literacy, but they don't force you to use it to shake yourself up - as entering China's 'paranoid totality' does. So, on one level, you're right - they don't function as classic brands do - but on the other hand, they do perform a comparable function - they allow you to buy reassurance that you are a certain sort of person, cultured and engaged with the arts, without neccesarily forcing you to do the work that true engagement with such things really requires. Incidentally, I wouldn't claim this kind of shaking up as the exclusive property of the weird, but, because of its formal qualities (ie weird shit!) I think the weird does it very well! So the risk for the weird is that falls into the above trap, seems subversive, makes you feel subversive, in fact reassures you as reader, doesn't subvert you / your perceptions of the world.
By Neil A on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 04:38 pm:
Hello to you too Al. >>So the risk for the weird is that it falls into the above trap, seems subversive, makes you feel subversive, in fact reassures you as reader, doesn't subvert you / your perceptions of the world...<< ...and thus is in itself anti-'Weird Fiction', which leads us back to Mike's original question of definition.
By MJH on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 04:48 pm:
One of the reasons you give yourself a name is to prevent anyone else from doing it. It's part of the drive to individuate. An irony is involved--the essential paradox of identity politics. Every time this discussion hots up, we get a visit from someone whose job it is to steal that identity: spot the new: pivot between what's hot and the genre publishers who think they might have a little punt at it. The more we try to differentiate, the more likely we are to end up diluted and absorbed--intellectually carpetbagged by knackered old academics and upscale f/sf trendspotters. So stay slippery, guys. I'd like to talk, for instance, about how *ducks* are so important to the New Weird. To be honest, if it doesn't have a duck in it, it isn't New Weird at all. Me & China were discussing this only yesterday, in between bouts of personally abusing & dissing a few mainstream literary people we had got penned up in an alley near Rathbone Street. Ducks. That's the thing. Mallards and their broods.
By Justina on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 04:53 pm:
If I might throw a small cat into the mixture of cats and pigeons here. I think that the New Weird which is best received sits exactly on the margin Al identifies: it has the seeming of subversion, but it doesn't really blow up the foundations. I (cower) would actually say that The Scar has a certain consolatory cosiness (don't kill me) for Fantasy readers because it takes you somewhere you were already ready to go and happy to go, but couldn't find a ticket to. It doesn't blast every expectation to hell with naval gunfire. It looks and feels New and Weird. Like the new best ride at Alton Towers. It's as Oblivion to an old wooden roller coaster. It's achieved a near perfect balance of old and new. Readers get to flash new creds without having to get entirely new heads (yuck, sorry for that). Re: ICA warnings about disingenuous special-pleading. A question: how honestly has our (or any) genre ever attempted to go out and promote itself intelligently within the terms of the accepted mainstream? Just wondering. Sorry to yap on about the same books but I'm limited by what I've read so far.
By iotar on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 04:53 pm:
I thought it was all about geese, or at least, goosing genre and the mainstream.
By Al on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 04:53 pm:
The Duck in the Head?
By MJH on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 05:19 pm:
>>A question: how honestly has our (or any) genre ever attempted to go out and promote itself intelligently within the terms of the accepted mainstream? Just wondering. Exactly my point, Justina, with emphasis on the "honestly" (ie committedly and in good faith with itself). The last time I remember anyone trying to take advantage of a shift in mainstream perception to do just that, was in the mid-to-late 60s, when Aldiss, Ballard and Moorcock made real efforts and brought back real rewards in changed perception of the genre by the aliens they met & traded with out there. As a result, they got pilloried by insiders and are now dismissed--at least by Charlie Stross--as "what was wrong with British sf for thirty years". That was a no-win situation, because it wasn't accompanied by change inside as well as outside. But in the interrim we have all grown up, haven't we ?
By Neil A on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 05:22 pm:
So now is the time for me to submit my duck story to The Third Alternative? That could be Andy's new strapline right there: If you haven't got a duck, you're not coming it.
By MJH on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 05:25 pm:
Absolutely, Neil. Ducks; or, as iotar points out, in his so-mischievous way, geese. There *is* a goose faction. We're a bit worried that they've over-intellectualised the whole thing. But I mean, worth a bet.
By Al on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 05:31 pm:
Hmm - fascinating - In some ways, The Scar's quite a traditional book - beautifully worked three act structure, turning the end of the first act on the capture by pirate ship / introduction to Armada, the end of the second act (if I remember correctly) on the discovery of WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON / arrival at the strange ocean, a broadly redemptive ending (Bellis a new and better woman / Armada saved by a people's revolt), set pieces of building tension that in part take their tension from their location with an extremely well built structure, lovely movement between two main protagonists, sophisticated use of consistent image structures built around scars / scarring etc. Having said that, it also consistently undercuts itself. Bellis is a less than sympathetic heroine; Tanner is deluded, and ends in misery; the people are quite possibly manipulated into revolt; etc. Also, more generally, I think it plays with classic fantasy tropes in fascinating ways; the evil monsters are out not for revenge but for geo-political advantage / survival; the Great Quest is written off as being too dangerous / deluded and not fulfilled; the great warrior Uther Doul is quite possibly completely screwed up; the vampire's one of the few people on the side of (broadly speaking) social good; you use oil rigs to dig up magic fuel; etc. So yes, what you do have is enough of the traditional to make you feel secure, but enough playing against it to challenge and excite you. So what does that say in this context? On the one hand, build well - but on the other hand, never accept what you're building at face value, perhaps. Be in the house and the fields at the same time; take the best of both, but also question each. Hmm. Would still claim this as subversive fiction; it makes you think afresh about the structures it's built round by playing against expectations as often as it plays with them. *goes off to read some J G Mallard*
By China on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 06:12 pm:
Yeah. What everyone else said... Hi Henry. The point about commodity fetishism is really more of a polemical aside from the main argument. I've made that argument at length elsewhere. But in brief, I actually do think that even mystificatory fantasy has a kernel of the same shared *stuff* as the best New Weird - plus of course those are too starkly opposed, most stuff is going to be an uneasy mix of 'mystification', 'imagination', 'elucidation', 'obfuscation', etc. Hi Iotar - sorry I didn't get much of a chance to chat at the ICA, hope you're good. >What occurs to me after all this is: what are we >going to use the New Weird *for*? > >* As a stick to beat genre with? >* As a crowbar to pry open the mainstream? >* As a set of daily negations to avoid formula? >(Thou shalt not ape Tolkien, thou shall have no >barbarian warrior kings in thine epic, thou >shalt not write trilogies...) >* As a critical imperative? (Can you have *bad* >New Weird? Does New Weirdness imply excellence?) >* As a badge of political engagement?" Yes. Oh, shit, were they either/ors...? MJH: I couldn't agree more - refusing to apologise absolutely doesn't mean not learning. It should be because we know how good we can be that we should strive to be that good, and therefore should also be our own harshest critics, and should look elsewhere to learn. (Though there's politics here - I'll be harsh as shit about genre to a genre crowd, but will defend it to the outside (though not uncritically, of course)) Oh and Mike, I didn't know we were going public with the Duck thing yet? (Howard the Duck and Man-Thing are obviously excellent contenders for proto-New Weird). Justina: I think I know what you mean about the consolation of The Scar - what I think you're talking about (and I may well be wrong) is 'Story'. And Al is quite right about the traditional shape of the book - and of so many other Weird books. However, there's nothing that gets me gritting my teeth worse than people talking about The Power Of Story - so let me say it's story as filtered through pulp. New Weird is the pulp wing of Surrealism. People like Burroughs, Joyce, the Surrealists, the High Modernist experimentalists, are crucial reference points, but filtered through the pulp insistence on Telling A Story (preferably with bangs and flashes) - though of course that doesn't mean surrendering to the banality of narrative. Narrative/story is intrinsically comforting, because it is the imposition of structure (and thus implied meaning) on a contingent mass of stuff - narrative arc does violence to the chaos of the Real. This is an impossible circle to square - but we just try to have it both ways, striving constantly to tell the/a story *and* to undercut its honeyed tones because we - or at least our fiction - are aware of its mollycoddling. Can I thank everyone for this unbelievably stimulating discussion? Cheers, China
By Zali on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 06:27 pm:
>>Yes. Oh, shit, were they either/ors...? Sorry China, left off the instructions! Umm, just pick any three - I think more than that would be greedy. "As a set of daily negations to avoid formula?" raises the question of whether New Weird is best negotiated in terms of what it *isn't* - so it's less a question of whether weird shit is built on Viriconian or Gormenghastian lines than trumpeting to the world that there are a bunch of writers *not* writing Tolkienisms, *not* playing the generic games to their lowest common denominator. Only trouble here is the risk of working in reaction to something rather than working with the positive injunction to Make It New.
By MJP on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 10:10 pm:
Wow, one day's discussion! I would like to plod on a bit with some elementary distinctions. Are we reaching critical mass? Where the metaphysics that we ‘know’ is being so sharply contradicted by the choices open to us that its uncertainties stand revealed. Genetic engineering; virtual reality; &c, place us in an unreal world: that is, in a world in which the givens of identity seem fatally undermined. Increasingly, we find ourselves in a ‘fictional’ world in our sense of what we are … a world in which the given – or the ‘nature’ – of what it is to be human seems to have no foundation in anything other than our imaginations. We appear to be entering a ‘post-human’ world. In our sense of what we are, fiction and fact are so confused as (in places) to seem indistinguishable. A mould is being broken: human identity (nature) as a given. Perhaps it is this that constitutes sf’s real interest. Science fiction explores the idea of what we are in such a way as to ‘de-contextualise’ the givens of identity, the ‘what we are’ of the familiar world. Or it does this in such a way as to break the limits of our idea of ourselves. It is about discovery in these terms, the discovery of identity in a world in which ‘identity’ cannot be: in which identity has to be invented. The discovery thus necessarily stands outside of and in distinction from our ordinary metaphysical picture of the world. In other words, fiction contradicts fact not just in the commonsensical idea of these terms, but metaphysically. Sf’s form as a fiction is to be identified by its paradox as real discovery. Sf has, at its core, a recurrent identity crisis: and it is this crisis that forms its essence. … The centre point of this crisis is to be understood by the ambivalent attitude that inevitably accompanies the perception granted that we are 'identity-less': that we have no place in the scheme of things; that there is no scheme of things. There is something painful about science fiction’s discovery that we do not seem to exist as given. That we are in some sense arbitrary. The fiction puts us where we cannot be: either deliberately or inadvertently in unreality. But, perhaps, after all - and here I am thinking of the counter-argument - we can overcome this, and explain ourselves and what we are even so: because aren’t we at least real as explanation? If I can explain that DNA exists, and so on, that there are descriptors that build us, then perhaps the fiction isn’t the primary thing, perhaps the primary thing is fact after all …? This ambivalence runs right through sf. Instead of trying to reconcile itself to the image of a scientific given, or instead of trying to reconcile itself to something beyond fiction, because it is fact, the new weird ought to have, and perhaps it does have, sufficient confidence in the power of fictional invention to subvert the metaphysical idea of the world to which it seems beholden.
By Cheryl Morgan on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 01:24 am:
OK, as I didn't manage to get my defence of Margaret Atwood in at the ICA session here it is now. What we tend to forget, because we are all inside the box, is that what we mean by "science fiction" is not the same as what other people mean by the term. There is a sizeable segment of the population for whom (to return to Justina's Venn diagrams) the group of people who read SF is absolutely identical with the group of people who believe that the X-Files was a documentary series. It is entirely possible that Atwood is talking to people with that world view and not to us. Perhaps Muriel can find out for us. China: I certainly don't want New Weird to be just a marketing gimmick, but it is clearly fast becoming one. Interestingly, while Tad Williams' "War of the Flowers" is clearly New Weird because it shares many of the same political sensibilities as PSS (as well as adding its own riff on the Gulf War), it is not being marketed as New Weird. On the other hand, Ian R. MacLeod's "The Light Ages" is being marketed precisely at the PSS readership, even down to the cover painting (Edward Miller - is it the same guy who did PSS, I only have the US edition?) and the "Stands beside .. China Mieville" cover blurb from Jeff Vandermeer. (You were supposed to write "comparable to Mieville at his best" - you know this don't you, Jeff). Anyone read the book yet? I'm unlikely to get to it until after Wiscon. Kathryn: delighted to have you on board. Would very much appreciate that list.
By Al on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 10:28 am:
Btb, a little off topic, but what the hell - Is it just me, or does anyone see parallels between the New Weird's relationship with earlier pulpmeisters and the Romantic movement's embracing of the Gothic in the 19th century? ie - later more literary types excited by the imaginative freedom and imagistic potential of earlier, pulpy tropes, building on them to literary as well as imaginative effect? From Horace Walpole to Mary Shelley in a generation or so... Coleridge's poetic tales of cosmic horror ('The Ancient Mariner' surely linking back to William Hope Hodgson, btb) discussing the numinous in pure pulp terms... Lesbian vampires fuelling high literary endeavour... Wordsworth's haunted landscapes ghost stories plus biography... later on, Baudelaire & co... etc Does this have any useful implications for the current debate? What can be learned from it?
By MJH on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 10:44 am:
The quoting game is easily defused by not taking part. I've had several texts offered me as being "like China Mieville" over the last 18 months. Only one of them was worth the trip. For the rest I shrugged and made my excuses. (Quotes are given too easily anyway: writers should hold a moratorium until the system has revalued itself.) Being pressured to give quotes is like being socially and professionally pressured to accept intellectual or aesthetic input you don't trust or agree with. Sf has always been full of that. It's another way of allowing yourself to be named.
By MJP on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 11:03 am:
Cheryl, my view: Atwood's critical reception is a useful example of the problems faced because it holds up a mirror to mainstream attitudes, even if not intentionally. The merits of the book itself are another thing, and independent of her own interpretations of its sense or status. The following ideas are a bit reductive, but I would like to see how far they can be taken. China’s example of the surrealist label as a comparison: the original label surrealist implied a criticism of (the inadequacy of) the general concept of art as a representational form. Images were created that couldn’t ‘represent’ anything. Might be mileage here. Whole counter-idea of ‘genre as mainstream’ has to say what’s missing in mainstream: it has to say what it does that mainstream doesn’t do: or at least isn’t perceived to do. Lot of easy targets in so far as the ‘realism’ of the tradition of contemporary mainstream misses out so much (Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, et al), But its critique needs more precision. Atwood’s write up in the TLS (she makes the front cover), continues to emphasise the representational nature of fiction. So there is the “use of imaginary worlds to comment upon the real one”. And there are “two twentieth-century genres: mass-market science fiction, which tends to be old history replayed with new toys; and profound social satire set in nightmare futures of our making,.” Again we come back to the simplistic or literal minded notion of there being reality on the one hand and fiction on the other. The one represents the other; the former comes before the latter; reality is primary; fiction is secondary. These basic divisions are used to enforce the respectability of what the writer is looking at, but they also oblige him to shove everything else into a corner. Science fiction ‘as such’ is about “new toys.” It represents a lame rehash of history. Etc, etc. “profound social satire” is the bit that’s real in literary terms …It shows just another dimension to 'realism' (only set in the future). (Atwood’s “fact in fiction”.) There is a divide critically, and it centres around this issue. This is where the battle has to be fought. Accept that fiction is secondary, and the argument is lost. It renders everything according to the ‘realist tradition’, of which social satire is an aspect. The metaphysical idea of reality that underlies this tradition – the idea of the ordinary – is the key, because the argument keeps being reduced to the ‘mainstream’ concerns that are believed to be (I am not saying that they are) legitimised by this bifurcation. An argument has to be conducted with mainstream. The real is fact (it says, it supposes): so again fiction can be understood to work only representationally. This isn’t to say it is how mainstream is. It is to say how it is perceived, understood. A hangover, partly, of Levis’s The Great Tradition: Tolstoy; Dickens; Lawrence, et al. The ‘realists’. To reiterate my point therefore: what about the primacy of fiction? This idea suggests the grounds on which a case can be argued that wont automatically lose out to the Western metaphysical hegemony. In other words the validity of the pursuit of un-realist fiction as a metaphysics can be argued for. (Definition of metaphysics: that which can’t be reduced to fact (explanation).) If NW is seen as beholden to ‘realism’ (meaning therefore that it can only be a dilution of it) then it will always be ghettoised, shoved in a corner, marked ‘rise above and ignore’, or ‘bad habits’. Read and burn. PULP. (As an end note I think pop can be regarded as a part of this discussion. It too is anti-realist in its use of ready-mades (cliches), its instinct to mythology.)
By Al on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 12:53 pm:
Interesting shifting of the terms of the argument - from a defensive posture - just because it's got spaceships / magic / monsters / whatever in it doesn't mean it's bad - to a more affirmative and positive one - non-realism offers a broader, subtler, and more effective set of tools for exploring and understanding the world. If it's fiction, it's not (immediately) real or representational, so why not play with that? Tho' I wonder about this better / worse rhetoric, having just written some of it! Maybe the ideal attitude is acceptance of difference; respect for the different strengths and capabilities of each area of endeavour. I'm down on Birdsong because I think it's a lazily written book that flatters its readers without challenging them - not because it's overtly realist / mainstream / whatever. Also not forgetting the points made above about special pleading. Theory's all very well; but the primary thing is the work, and it has to be excellent to support and justify the theory.
By MJH on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 01:16 pm:
>>I'm down on Birdsong because I think it's a lazily written book that flatters its readers without challenging them - not because it's overtly realist / mainstream / whatever. I agree. Atwood's stuff does the same. They're essentially middlebrow books written for a specific, self-congratulatory, post-"uni" audience, whose need for sentimentality has to be disguised as "literature". Atwood's engagement with the facts of the contemporary world is as unchallenging as Theroux's in Ozone, or Updike's in Toward the End of Time. That's what the middle class forty year olds want, when it's a question of science & ideas--or even of real world, realtime consequences. They're easy to frighten off. I want to limit that option for them, because I want them forced to face some things. So how do *we* learn to talk to them ? Because we can't start changing their minds until they start to listen... They're reading Light. Why ? Why, on the other hand, will they prefer MA's take on genetics to the take of a book like Signs of Life ? (Moral/ethical simplicity is one answer; the pretence that it can all be handled out of context and in some kind of literary space, is another. But there are more.) These are the kinds of questions we need to pose, and to get answers to.
By Al on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 04:39 pm:
Well, with my marketing hat on: The basic problem is to get more Weird Fiction, and its ilk, read. The first thing to do – define who reads NW type fiction. Relatively simple. NW, in its purest form, has been defined above with reasonable clarity. It’s genre or genre based non-consolatory fiction. Its readers will be relatively sophisticated people; people who are comfortable both with challenging, rather than comforting, fiction (and I would suspect that in the UK most fiction is read for escapist reasons, which limits the natural marketplace for this type of writing regardless of the marketplace it falls into) and who are either confident enough not to be phased by the implicit literary condemnation that surrounds genre fiction, or adventurous / independent minded enough not to care. So, the NW core consumer is a sophisticated / demanding / confident / adventurous reader. In itself, this limits the potential reach of NW work; I would imagine such people form a relatively small part of the UK reading public. The simplest way of measuring reading is measuring sales. In classic marketing terms, there are two ways of increasing sales: Increase penetration That is, sell more books by selling to more people. The problem here is to find potential consumers to convert into NW consumers – ie people who would enjoy NW, but aren’t reading it. This subset of readers can, I would suspect, be broken down into two different areas: 1) Genre readers Existing readers of genre fiction (classed here as fantasy / sci fi / horror). They won’t be buying NW because: a) They don’t know about it b) They’re put off by its literary seriousness / non-consoling structures / non-middlebrow status Ways to get round these problems include: a) Make as much noise as possible in relevant areas – the relevant genre info areas (Interzone, TTA, F&SF, Asimovs, Ottakars instore guides, Amazon specialist areas, etc). The message has to be clear, consistent, and loud; these people exist, they’re writing great genre fiction; genre readers should check it out. Publicity activity should be such that every UK reader of genre fiction should know the name New Weird (or its equivalent – will comment on the name below) and should have a basic awareness of the key practitioners within it. China, I’ve noticed whenever you do an interview you recommend certain writers – it’s lead me to new people, people I hadn’t heard of, and I’m into all this shit – everyone should be doing this. b) Explain the work, the goals, the thoughts – stress that genre fans already have the basic critical apparatus necessary to approach and enjoy New Weird fiction, because they’re open to stories with spaceships / magic / whatever in. It shouldn’t be a big leap for them to get stuck into it. Let them feel the excitement that’s surrounding the NW; emphasise its dynamic, forward looking aspects, not its forbidding, challenging aspects. The books might be challenging; but they’re enjoyable and exciting too, and they’re written out of a deep love and respect for genre fiction as a whole – make sure that people know that. China’s ‘I fucking love this stuff!’ is a watchword here. NW is not snooty literary pillagers; it’s people working from within genre, massively excited by its potentials, moving it on in wonderful ways. Get endorsements from established sf / fantasy writers – the Iain M Banks, Michael Moorcocks, whoever else – whoever’s respected in the community. 2) Sophisticated readers Existing readers of ‘challenging’ fiction (ie other people who threw Birdsong to one side, and much preferred the Pat Barker trilogy). They won’t be reading it for one of two reasons: a) They don’t know about it b) They’re put off by genre Again, two solutions: a) Make as much noise as possible in relevant areas. Get Justina’s argument with Margaret Atwood in the TLS (her literary-ness is a stepping stone as much as a millstone, take arms against her and you’ll end up on the literary pages because that’s where she’s got herself). I’d love to see an email correspondence between them about genre fiction in that regular Guardian slot. Get the reviews and articles in the nationals, in Time Out (MJH in the Guardian, TO bloke seems to be open, other people beginning to pop up elsewhere). Build awareness of NW people as entirely serious writers doing entirely serious work. Everyone in the UK who’s interested in serious literature should know the term New Weird, and should be aware of its core practitioners. b) Genre’s seen as a weakness; make it a strength. Here, we’re building more or less coherent arguments about why genre fiction is a highly effective response to modernity – get them out and about, get them published, force highbrow people to read them. Unleash Battleship Mieville; Adorno, Kafka and the New Fantastic in the LRB, build on the Historical Materialism fantasy issue, etc, as I’m sure is happening. Anti Granta new writers article – who else was excluded? Get them all together, get it into Time Out next week. Give people a way in. Generally, genre fans will be most comfortable with the genre aspects of NW, so make that the primary message to them; literary folk will be most comfortable with the literary aspects of NW, make that the primary message to them. Can genre or genre inspired writers who’ve achieved ‘respectability’ be enlisted? The JG Ballards, Will Selfs, Iain Sinclairs, Peter Ackroyds of this world? Who will work best? Endorsement will be key here. Increase frequency of purchase That is, sell more books by increasing the number of books individuals buy, rather than the number of people buying books. I think type of consumer isn’t such an issue here; my feeling is that the problem is to make people aware of the shared purposes / strategies / achievements of NW writers. So, when you read one book (and enjoy it) you’ll think – I like this stuff, I’ll buy another book like this – and you know what another book like this is. So, built awareness of the NW as a self conscious genre – and make sure that its practitioners are mentioned en masse as much as possible. Lay a trail for people to track down. Also, get people excited – the more thrilled they are by the NW as a genre, the more they’ll want to read all the books within it – get them buying two or three of you at a time. This is very much from a commercial marketing perspective – so if it’s naïve about the way the book world works, I apologise, I don’t have too much experience therein. What I’ve tried to do is sketch out a provisional marketing strategy for the New Weird that respects and remains true to the work (as I understand it) but that also communicates relevant strengths to relevant marketplaces to ensure that the most possible potential consumers know the things about the NW that are most likely to persuade them to buy, read and engage with the books. Thoughts welcome.
By Cheryl Morgan on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 05:35 pm:
Mike: You are quite right about quotes. People really should resist the temptation. The UK version of "The Light Ages" is covered in them: Fowler, Dozois, Aldiss, Wolfe, Vandemeer, Blaylock. Strangely enough the US edition doesn't use them. The one that was worth the trip, then, was "Finding Helen", by Colin Greenland. I figured this out by the cunning expedient of getting to the end and finding your name there. Quite right too. Lovely book. Al: There is another angle to the marketing. I have this recurrent nightmare of shelves full of "Victorian fantasy". It has cactus-men and bird-men instead of elves and dwarves. It has steam engines in place of mighty steeds. The hero is a scientist, or works for a radical newspaper or something like that. The heroine is an artist. At the end of the book the evil government is defeated and the hero and heroine live happily ever after. The back covers all have quotes from famous authors saying "comparable to Mieville at his best". Radical young writers go on and on about how they hate Mieville's work and how he has ruined the fantasy genre and how they are going to get back to their roots and write like Tolkien. If New Weird is about anything it has to be about stopping this from happening.
By Al on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 06:09 pm:
I completely agree - in fact, have ranted about it above. On one level, I think it's difficult to do anything about imitators - people see something successful, they copy it. Also worth remembering that the positive side of imitation is influence! I think (again with my marketing hat on) the way to minimise the problem is to approach any New Weird related public activity as an opportunity to let the right people know that books they'll enjoy are out there; not to turn it into a financially driven feeding frenzy (which I don't think would happen anyway, but I would hate to be misread as endorsing). I think also a constant emphasis on quality is vital. Weirdness isn't just weirdness; it's good writing. If it's not good writing, it's not New Weird... Also, maintaining a strong sense of individuality - make it an attitude, not a formula - avoid at all costs any attempt to establish any sort of literary hegemony. Once again, any forms of publicity should be saying 'Here is some good writing', not 'This is the only good writing.' Also, a generational thing - to some extent I think its inevitable that, whatever happens, in twenty years or so a generation will spring up that will be reacting against all this as much as deriving nourishment from it - perhaps inevitable in any kind of self conscious movement? But yes, definitely share your nightmare!
By richard on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 06:34 pm:
Cheryl - I think the most nightmarish aspect of your nightmare there is that it's inevitable. You can't beat this process - whatever you do, original, startling work is always going to get co-opted into a mass of consumer product. There's a brilliant sf short I read once in Omni, can't recall the name, in which a bunch of aliens/angels are hanging out on the dark side of the moon, desperately trying to (re)kindle a sense of wonder in the human race, but every time they achieve something, it just gets solidified into orthodox patterns of belief. The angel telling the story describes it as a series of descending spheres, each one a little more hardened than the previous, until you're back where you started. Sigh. On the other hand, I'm not going to get too bent out of shape about this. I'm with Al here - getting any kind of writing noticed necessitates propogating it, and that means large-scale production. Think of the way writers like Salman Rushdie paved the way for the huge swathe of what I suppose you could call the British post-colonial culture novel. These days the blurb of every third book you pick up in Waterstones begins "Rashid lives with his eccentric old aunt in a run down suburb of Bombay/Kingston/Nairobi and dreams of...." Some of this stuff is good, some of it's awful, but the main thing is it's taken seriously. The same could also be said for the "Dreadful life experience during convulsive social upheaval in China" novel. I guess there's no good reason for the New Weird not to go the same way. The giants of the genre can go on surfing their wave for as long as it lasts, and the secondary practitioners then nip in behind on lesser swells. Different surfers drop out when the size of the wave ceases to suit their particular temperament/stomach for the stuff. None of that's *bad* as such. In the end, writers want to make a living (I know I do), and that's far easier to do within the context of a swelling, powerful genre, rather than chipping away in a desert, unappreciated. On the subject of names, Hmmmm, I've just committed this sin myself in a comment on Steph Swainston's The Year Of Our War, but I'm unrepentant - they were big names, and the comparisons were deserved. I think comparative naming serves as a kind of shorthand. As Al notes, it's handy to get signposted on to new authors, but more than that, we live in an increasingly, massively complex world and comparative reference is like one of those little electric golf buggies - very handy for getting around in.
By Cheryl Morgan on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 06:38 pm:
"make it an attitude, not a formula" - yes indeed. The whole thing has to be about an approach to writing, not about the tropes it happens to use. If I might quote China, "... so much 'fantasy' is not fantastic at all - instead, it's about the repetition of a set of cliches" (from SFRA Review #262). And yet we still have people who should know better whingeing about the stories in Conjunctions #39 being "not fantasy" because they don't contain any of the cliches. (Yeah, OK, I've been catching up on the various journals that have been waiting for me here in CA.)
By MJH on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 11:52 pm:
Hi Richard. That's a view which plays well with editors and agents. But it seems like a complete capitulation for a writer. I watched the New Wave carpetbagged in the same way, and I'm still disgusted. I *don't* forgive all those nice, flaccid, mediocre people who diluted and rediluted something strong & worthwhile, just because, well, they had to make a living. They could have stayed with their day job as far as I'm concerned, because they *didn't contribute*. The idea that this process "can't" be changed also plays well with editors, especially corporate editors, because it ensures no one will ever try. All this sounds like received wisdom to me. That will be one of the mechanisms of limitation those rather wimpy change-angels of yours failed to root out. Maybe someone will write a tougher story than that one day.
By Kikujiro on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 12:37 am:
It's OutRage! with a capital R. And I'm emailing all your publishers with this URL for when deadlines are missed.
By Its Big, Its Yellow and I Like It on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 12:41 am:
ps. China's first post? 3,800 words.
By MJH on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 11:18 am:
Cheryl: couldn't agree more with you & China. Before the word "fantasy" came to describe a monoculture, it was an umbrella term for work actually fantastic in nature. Nobody "wrote fantasy". They wrote personal, strongly-flavoured, individual stuff, and the *term* was applied at a later stage in the proceedings. Unpredictability, inventiveness, oddness, estrangement, wit, could all be found there, along with machinery for defamliarising the world and making it seem new. What we have now--or what we had at least until very recently--is long, evenly-planted fields of potatoes, harvested by machines in such a way as to make them acceptable to the corporate buyers from Sainsbury's, McDonalds, & HarperCollins.
By Al on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 01:32 pm:
Afternoon all! *hungover* Hmm - I think this dialogue between the crest of the wave and the troughs that follow behind it is very interesting. I do agree with Richard on the inevitability of imitation; pioneers will always have the settlers following behind them, moving easily down the hard won paths, taking advantage of efforts that they themselves don't have to make. That's life; I'm not sure that there's much you can do about it. And settler fiction - that is, fiction that enters the newly opened up wilderness and tames and domesticates it - has a clearly defined function; it's consolatory, it's reassuring, it's escapist. Like it or not, people sometimes need that; escapism can be very desirable when your life is shit. I've got my own cosy books I escape into when I need a bit of a reassurance, I'm sure everyone does. I think that problems come when all you're doing is escaping - and when that escape is presented as tough minded dealing with the world, rather than a partial and softened depiction of it. How does this relate to New Weirdness? Hmm. I think the important thing is to build 'pioneering' into the DNA of the New Weird; by definition, it can't be where the settlers are. Not sure how you do that, though!
By MJP on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 01:39 pm:
Iotar has given me to think that some of my posts are a bit too high-falutin. So to resuggest a few of the things I have already said in more concrete form. The concept of the primacy of fiction (a common one in European philosophy) supposes that the act of fabulating a world can reorder the categories or heirarchies by which we ordinarily understand what is real. It is therefore metaphysical. By 'metaphysical' is meant that something is encountered within it that can't be reduced to fact. It's real but it isn't fact. These apparent opposites or polarities are fused. New weird seems to follow the curve or the trajectory of this reality in various different ways. It does so because it is an instinct, an impulse, because it represents the most intensively lived part of one's upbringing, or whatever. An example would be the moment when the protagonist in 'We can remember it for you wholesale' (by PKD), realises that he both has and hasn't been to Mars, that he both is an isn't a secret government agent, that he both is and isn't an ordinary clerk in an office. He realises this and the reader does too, and is as equally baffled. What's real defeats our concept of fact. So what New Weird does in these terms, and what makes it something happening now, is that it approaches this sort of possibility both from within and without the sf and fantasy genres. It isn't genre limited even though it is genre based. What about this position? Re Al's ideas about marketing. Is that to break into the mass market, or into some sort of critical respectability?
By Zali on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 01:52 pm:
Ah, I just want to bring everyone down to my level!
By MJH on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 02:04 pm:
>>How does this relate to New Weirdness? Hmm. I think the important thing is to build 'pioneering' into the DNA of the New Weird; by definition, it can't be where the settlers are. Not sure how you do that, though! The writers do that by being who they are. I just think there's something wrong with the model. It's linear & pretends to find inevitability in behaviour that's actually a matter of choice. The process you're accepting is one of the narratives of contemporary capital; those narratives always try to present themselves as seamless, natural and unchanging. I doubt the neccessity for settlement. Let's just have the adventure. Part of the point of Light was to question the use of the pioneering model, and suggest perpetual adventure instead. Pioneers perform the rather dismal service of waymarking. Adventurers... well, they just have adventures. Writing isn't about finding things to sell (ie, taming the things you find): it's about the moment of being, and being in it.
By Al on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 02:20 pm:
*impressed* >> Al's ideas about marketing. Is that to break into the mass market, or into some sort of critical respectability? Absolutely not mass market; it's based on the sense that: a) There are certain types of people who will enjoy New Weird fiction, but don't know about it / aren't fully exploring it. A pre-existing but underexplored marketplace. b) There are certain clearly definable reasons why they don't know about it / aren't fully exploring it. c) Once these reasons are understood, they can be addressed in a coherent and consistent way. Critical respectability obviously plays a part in this, but only a part; for some readers it will be a direct way into the genre, for others it really won't matter at all. Equally, mass market acceptance would be *nice* but, given that the mass market seems to thrive on less challenging fictions, I'm not sure how possible mass market take off is without compromising the work itself. The basic question I've tried to sketch out an answer to is: How can you ensure that the most possible people who are pre-disposed to read and enjoy New Weird fiction get the chance to overcome any obstacles and read and enjoy it? Of course, I'm very naive about the internal workings of the various relevant communities, so I suspect that I've probably trodden on about ten thousand toes in doing so! Oh well, many apologies.
By Al on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 02:25 pm:
Oh, MJP, *impressed* by the depth of your post - wish I could falute like that!
By Al on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 03:51 pm:
>> The process you're accepting is one of the narratives of contemporary capital Presumably, if there's resource, it must be exploited / if there's potential profit, it must be made real? Hmm. Having said that, it does seem to be inevitable within the world we're currently living in that, even if someone doesn't achieve settlement in your particular wilderness,they'll certainly try to. >> I doubt the neccessity for settlement. I don't know, I'm just feeling hungover today, and so much more than usually sympathetic to the idea of settlement, peace, and doing undemanding things...
By Cheryl Morgan on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 04:42 pm:
Hi Al. Methinks you have the wrong opposite for escape. What is wrong about the mass-market fantasy industry is that it allows people to pretend that the real world and all of its attendant problems do not exist (or, as Mike would have it, allows people to pretend that they are not alive). What is right about what New Weird (and much other SF&F) does is that it allows you to step outside the real world and look at it in new and useful ways. You can "escape" the world by hiding in a hole in the ground, or you can "escape" by leaving the gravity well. I know which I'd prefer to do.
By richard on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 04:56 pm:
MJH - >I *don't* forgive all those nice, flaccid, mediocre people who diluted and rediluted something strong & worthwhile, just because, well, they had to make a living.< I think this is a little harsh, mainly because it assumes purposeful action on the part of people who maybe just weren't as *good* as the original giants they followed on from. I'd have to say that all the writers I've met (including those who are still struggling to get published) honestly believe they are doing good work. I think the blatant Write a Bestseller in the Style of... types are few and far between. The rest are just working with what they have to hand. That's not to say they can't be criticised because, yes, there are some truly dreadful practitioners out there, but I'm not convinced they can be *blamed* for turning in work that doesn't meet the standards of cutting edge genius. Not everybody has it in them. Maybe it's just false humility on my part (but I doubt it, I'm not known for my humility) but I'm very wary of looking down from the crest of the wave. For one thing, it reminds me too much of the surf-Nazis beating on Keanu Reeves in Point Break, but for another there are sound reasons for embracing less-than-perfect diluted *settler* fiction. 1) Most of us don't come fully fledged to the craft. Look at the crap Shakespeare was churning out in the early years. And how much more beautiful work might someone like Bulgakov have produced if he'd been at the heart of a successful genre, instead of stuck in a literary desert. 2) As Al says, none of us are immune to settler fiction. We all do a line or two sometimes. Hands up who *isn't* going to see Matrix Reloaded. Quite. 3) If only the geniuses amongst us were writing, we'd run out of stuff to read in very short order. 4) There is always the danger of creating, whether wittingly or not, the kind of literary snobisme we've all been berating Margaret Atwood for. And we wouldn't want any more of that around than there already is....
By MJH on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 05:15 pm:
Richard, I've never seen such a useless prick as Keanu Reeves in Point Break--itself a film dedicated to undercutting the power of its precursor, Big Wednesday, by the use of stupid unrealistic fantasy about ...bank robbers ? I mean, fuck. I totally rest my case. Except to say that I turned down a preview ticket to Matrix Reloaded because I'd never seen such a load of toss as Matrix. Both Matrix and Point Break are style without content and "adventure" without consequence. (As for the *utter* difference in honesty and humanity between the last scene of Big Wednesday and the last scene of Point Break: do me a favour.) Like China, I try to avoid glorificatory metaphors for writing, but you picked adventure sport here, not me. No settlement. No consolation. No escape. No R&R reading crummy books. Live a bit instead.
By richard on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 05:55 pm:
MJH - Ok, who *else* isn't going to see Matrix Reloaded? Haven't seen (or heard of) Big Wednesday, so I can't comment, but that wasn't really the point. I just don't enjoy seeing people battered for being second rate - it smacks too much of the American winner/loser culture and completely sidesteps the issue of personal taste. Stupid unrealistic fantasy - well, you got Point Break bang to rights there, but you know what - I still enjoyed it in the mindless grinning way I enjoy riding a sledge downhill (I'm downgrading my metaphors here, hope you approve). No settlement, no consolation, no escape - well, that's very seductive, but every time I tip towards it I'm hauled back by the sound of Ani diFranco cackling - check out the words to Pixie on Little Plastic Castle. I think living a bit can be little more fun than that. There's time (there will be time!) to sample and enjoy T.S. Eliot-style despair in all its Baudelairian narcotic savour, but there's also time for the Matrix and a curry after.
By Cheryl Morgan on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 07:45 pm:
Hi Richard, Mike is probably on the extreme edge of refusing to accept poor workmanship, but then he's one of the few people who has a right to be there. As a reviewer I tend to be more lenient, particularly in the case of people who have bags of good ideas but are short on technique. But when you have been to a few big American conventions and met loads of authors who expect to be treated like gods because they have lots of fans who love their formulaic, consolatory crap, or even worse the people who just self-publish ebooks and still claim that they are famous, you'll be a little less sympathetic.
By Justina on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 07:57 pm:
I will go and see Matrix Reloaded, but only so I can really get angry about it. Anger is good fuel for me. I might get a couple of weeks of energy out of it. The whole Matrix 'we are the living state of SF art' thing is, as MJH says and notwithstanding that pseudo-philosophical garbage about 'your life choice is the blue pill or the red pill, ooaah, we're so deep, hmm chuck in some inappropriate Nietzche', fuckwitted. It doesn't stand up for two seconds as SF and its moral crusade-core is so anachronistic as to be meaningless. But it's hugely popular and the domination of this trope and its pals (never mind the quality watch this stunt) are the central reasons that nobody takes SF seriously ever ever ever. Because you get a film that is all style (if you liked the early 90s backlash against New Romanticism) and absolutely no worthwhile content whatsoever. Not that it won't while away a few dull minutes and push all the archetypal buttons and all. Not that SF ought to be taken seriously every minute of its existence etc. Not that style isn't good to have and kung fu isn't fun to watch and all that stuff. What I love (to hate) most about the Matrix is the way they're doing all these animated inserts (Channel Five tonight) to explain what goes on between films one and two. That in itself is such unforgivable self-important, craft-less, cynical marketing toss. The TOTAL emptiness at the heart of it, however, could be seen as symbolic of the major defect with much of SciFI as a whole or a token of what capitalism drives you to, although I doubt that this is deliberate irony on the part of the makers. And of course we're all pissed off they didn't make our books as flashy mass market films/hire us to write anything interesting. That goes without saying. Richard: you're right to defend the honest efforts of genuine writers against critical vultures (like us bunch of bastards). It's noble and generous spirited and will keep the fires of creativity alight. On the other hand, we have to keep an eye on the prize. Most of us are not geniuses and will not pen the masterpiece of the western world. Suppose someone aspires to greatness and hasn't the talent. Suppose they write their guts out and it's still only mediocre...is that really a feasible scenario? I don't think so. If you're that committed then you can learn to be good at the craft and the craft will let you say what it is you have to say, eventually. Unless you don't understand what the greatness thing is. It's being yourself and learning 100 per cent how to write. You can't be great and still be copying someone else's greatest hits. Yes, everyone relies on what's gone before. It's the degree that matters, it's what you do with it that matters. So I don't think there are medium talents in despair out there, only talents who are scared, lazy, self-deluding, cynical or unrecognised. You also have to be time-lucky, so that people who are smart are reading you at the right time. This factor, maybe more than any other, is the one you can do nothing about. Look at how many artists and writers are dead before anybody notices.
By Cheryl Morgan on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 08:47 pm:
So Justina, I take it that you disagree with Greg Benford's little paen of praise for the philsophical/theological excellence of The Matrix in Locus Online? http://www.locusmag.com/2003/Reviews/Benford05_Matrix.html
By richard on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 09:13 pm:
Hi Cheryl - OK,I bow to your superior experience in these matters. I'm quite sure the rabble you describe are out there, but I suspect MJH is casting his net a little wider than that when he describes the people who *diluted the New Wave*. In fact, I'm not actually *against* a critique of consolatory, formulaic fiction - but I am against it being used to batter anything that doesn't leave you feeling as if your insides have been ripped out. That *is* one effective technique for getting people to pay attention, one I'm a big fan of myself, and yes,you can develop a real taste for it. On the other hand, there's nothing actually *wrong* with something that leaves you feeling that life is good. Take Tendeleo's Story by Ian McDonald - is this consolatory fiction, just because it has a happy, nay, Disney-like ending? I'd say not - it's gritty throughout, and it addresses some serious geo-political points. It just happens to end on a consolatory note. Personally, I think it's brilliant. Equally, the fact that something is formulaic (ie corresponds to something you've read before) doesn't invalidate it as a piece of writing. Practically every crime novel written in the last ten years would have to answer this charge to some extent or other, but that doesn't make them all shit. The reason I've waded into this thread is that I see a very real danger of a portion of SF/F - what we might call the literary end - becoming so enamoured of its own purity that it fractions itself off and treats the remainder with exactly the same contempt that the mainstream literati now treat all SF. In other words, in our anxiety to be taken seriously, we'll go right ahead and create our own Received Wisdom about what constitutes good SF/F, which it will thenceforth be heresy to challenge. I don't like Received Wisdom in any shape or form - I'm the guy who fell asleep trying to watch the original Solaris because it was so fucking dull and long-winded. Then Steve Soderbergh comes along and makes a very watchable, very well crafted (very short!) adaptation, and gets vilified because he chose to make the audience go home happy. I'm sorry, the remake was the better movie - it wasn't perfect, but at least I stayed awake. The Received Wisdom dynamic will not countenance this kind of stance, I suspect because in its horror of populism, it cannot ascribe value to work that is easily disgested. This is the old Gatekeeper scam - We know what's good, and if You disagree it's because You don't have the levels of sophistication (which We of course do)to engage correctly with the material. In short, We are better than You. Yeah, *right*. Look, all I'm doing is looking for a bit of general tolerance here - taste is a very variable thing, and you've got to be very careful indeed before you start saying things like *my taste is superior to yours* - because that way Margaret Atwood lies.
By Zali on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 09:22 pm:
I'd rather read Valis or the Upanishads for my "reality is an illusion" fix. Partly so I don't have to watch that tosser Keanu Reeves.
By richard on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 09:24 pm:
Hi Justina - noble and generous spirited. Thank you *very* much, that's the nicest thing anybody's said about me since.....ever, I think. I'm not sure about the unfeasibility thing though - to be blunt, I have read a couple of contemporary SF/F writers recently who clearly believe a hundred percent in what they're doing - and just aren't very good (and of course it's not genre limited - I could say the same about crime or any other literary field I read in). You're right of course, they can and probably will get better with time - but in the meantime someone needs to publish and read them to give them that chance. Still can't get over that compliment - cheers
By Cheryl Morgan on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 09:31 pm:
I am reminded of a panel on SF criticism at a con in Australia where someone in the audience stuck her hand up and said that no one had the right to tell her what was good or bad. Her definition of good SF was just as valid as anyone else's. OK, its an opinion, but it isn't a terribly useful one. Somewhere along the line we need to say that some things are better than others, because otherwise we are all wasting our time.
By Al on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 11:41 pm:
Well, having just watched the end of the Matrix - what pisses me off about it is: - The portentousness and self importance; this isn't a grand and enduring metaphor for life, it's Keanu Reeves beating people up. I suspect the whole 'dual world' thing was originally conceived as a cunning way of justifying stylised martial arts violence in a modern context - it's ok that its wildly over the top because Hey! It's not a real world, it's the Matrix. - The lazy and morally poisonous use of violence as a positive plot point. Achieved enlightenment - what do you do? Shoot people! Blow them up! Got a problem to deal with - what's an unambiguously good and effective way of dealing with it - shoot people! Blow them up! If there's one thing that gets me about modern populist film, it's that violence is pretty much always presented as an unambiguous, uncomplicated good... Bastards... Tho' have to say will no doubt see Matrix II, and am about to settle down and watch the cartoon bit of it.
By Rick on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 12:17 am:
As a matter of policy, I make sure all my heroes are dead. That said, I am in awe of Mike, China and Justina (and others here) in so far as one can form an opinion based on the quality and value of the books of theirs one has read. Respec'. But I disagree more than I can say about labels. Despite Mike's and China's formidable defences, I regard labelling as an aspect of meta-writing and thus parasitic and irrelevant. You does what you does. For me it's that simple. Anything else is diversion, dilution. The triumph of intellect over soul. I'll never be a clever or sophisticated writer - my 'artistic' politics preclude it. I can live with that. I'll settle for writing what comes then moving on. Bugger - I promised myself I'd stay out of a thread that doesn't need me. I almost believed myself too... Good wine. Cheap, but good.
By MJH on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 11:29 am:
Hi Richard Sorry to have taken so long to respond to the points you made yesterday. I spent the evening having dinner & an argument with John Clute. My problem with many of your points is that I've heard them repeated without modification by four generations of sf writers and readers. For instance-- (a) The argument "everyone needs R&R occasionally," which actually dissembles an argument for reading the same soft and self-indulgent toss over and over again. Ask most sf readers and writers what difficult and interesting fiction they are taking a rest from, and they can't tell you. Look at their shelves and you find only crap. This is an argument to hidden literacy, the implication of which is that we've somehow "grown out" of reading good books. The best example I've seen of this recently occurred on a panel, at which there had been much loose talk about literature & the mainstream. A member of the audience asked the panellists--all writers and sf critics--what literary and mainstream books they could recommend. There was a very long silence. Then one of them said, "Well I read a lot of crime." (b) The argument to black and white, ie, if a book is not soft, reader-indulgent and escapist it must, by defintion be "grim". This argument denies the utterly vast spectrum of feeling it is possible to communicate, the infinite number of stories it is possible to tell, and the infinite number of human conclusions that can be drawn from them, and in so doing poses the reductive question, Which would you rather have, nasty depressing brutish stuff ? Or optimistic fun stuff ? Good books (even sf books) about human beings run the entire gamut of humanity. I would oppose *that* capacity--the capacity to feel genuinely and pass on those feelings--to the limited-affect reading you recommend. The argument to escapism--people deserve "rest", they deserve nice things--is thus seen to be doubly false, in its offered "solution", but more importantly in its original statement of the case. What the fuck (I ask) are they "resting" from ? Like Ed the twink in Light, their whole life is a "rest". (c) The argument to faux-populism, essentially an excuse for mediocrity. It isn't new, although I admit we live very much in the age of faux-populism, and that it has radicalised itself since sf editors used it--in defensive desperation--in the mid 60s. A genuinely populist approach to writing admits of and seeks out the lively, vibrant and energetic qualities of popular fiction, and tries to site its product there; it does not, however, sacrifice quality, technique or humanity in pursuit of popularity; or claim that mediocrity is in itself a valuable quality. Business deliberately mixes up the ideas "populism" and "popularity" so that it can move units. This is unpleasant. But the least pleasant aspect of the contemporary faux-populist argument is that it is seamless, ie it cannot be countered except by peforming an act which will immediately tar one as "elitist". Seamless arguments develop from and exploit the vertigo which comes from defining x as the absolute other to y. This used to be thought a very sophisticated rhetorical trap. Generally, these days, people just tend to say "Oh, that. Fuck off," and walk round it. If you look at my "Books & Reviews" thread on this board, you will see that my reading across the last month has been broad. Katherine Mansfield and Justina Robson rub shoulders, both feisty and delightful; Propellorhead, a bestselling light-hearted autobiography rubs shoulders with Raymond Carver, a bit of a grim old bastard. One of my great disocoveries since SeaCon has been Steph Swainston's extraordinary The Year of Our War, a book which may well sell as many copies as PSS. Less than a week ago I helped China Mieville and Jon Courtenay Grimwood launch an assault entitled "Is Genre the New Mainstream ?" In short, I don't need to demonstrate my populist credentials to you. Indeed I feel I'm rather pandering to you by even answering your accusation. But just one more example-- My favourite popular author goes straight to the top of the bestseller list the moment a book of hers appears. She sells as many books (perhaps more, in Britain) as David Gemmel. The difference between them is that she can write a character you know you've already had dinner with in real life; she can put that character into a human situation you recognise with glee or shock or delight or sadness; and she can write a sentence it's possible to read. Her name is Joanna Trollope. She moves units by the shedload. Are you populist enough to have read her, Richard ? Or would that be an area where *your* snobberies begin to operate ? Two more points. (a) I feel that the arguments you put forward are a limit, on me, personally. I feel that they are designed to stop me from thinking what I think, and writing what I write: not just in books, or in newspapers and magazines, but here on my own message board. I feel your presence here as a brake. I feel it as the old fashioned Science Fiction Superego, whose job is to bring me down and bring me to earth. Not just me, perhaps, but all writers who want to... well, just do what they want. I don't *want* that, Richard. I don't *want* what you want. I resent it. I've had it stuffed down my throat for nearly forty years. It's the boring old received wisdom of the genre, and I don't really see why I should have to put up with it again, especially here, and in the middle of a discussion that *did* interest me. (b) By defining a type of writing, you have defined an audience. You are content to keep writing into that audience. Your publisher is *very* content for you to keep writing into that audience. Some of us would like to make inroads into a new audience. In this thread we were discussing how we might do that, how we might go forward into the new century and entertain new people and learn new things, and generally have some thrills and spills on a real learning curve. You seem to have come here as a censor, to herd us back into a field whose existence as a pure entity we question--though we respect much of the fiction it has produced in the past. The world is a big old place Richard. Tell you what. You stay home, that's fine. But it's just a bit village-elder of you to try keep everyone else there too. How old are you ? Do you mind me asking ? It's just that you sound as if you're in your forties or fifties and have worked on the marketing side of trade publishing all your career. Anyway, as I say, I have had all these arguments before. I am terminally bored by the kind of conservative-sf rhetorical space you have tried to make for yourself in this thread, and so I probably won't engage you again. I like the New Weird because it has moved on from all that, and is being written from a broader view of the world than you seem to have, by people who seem to be rather younger and livelier than you. So you'll excuse me, I'm sure... If anyone else wants to continue to engage you, I wonder if you could carry on in the public discussion areas of the board ? Or at least start some other thread. I'd like to keep this one open to the discussion we were having before before you brought all these familiar, unexciting ideas along.
By richard on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 12:16 pm:
MJH - oops, seem to have touched a nerve here. Like you say, your site - enjoy. I'm off.
By MJH on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 12:30 pm:
You certainly touched something, Richard. Bye.
By MJP on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 01:45 pm:
The Matrix is half a good idea (inspired one way or another by PKD?). The irony is that its rendering is too flat. It feeds off the conceit of its audience: playing off the idea of their 'knowledge' that reality is an illusion. What the audience fails to see is that actually their 'real' condition as proposed by the film is intensified rather than alleviated or solved by watching it. (Pods in a gigantic illusion machine.) It inducts them into its illusory world, for the purposes of making gigantic amounts of money out of nothing - just as the people in the pods exist purely for the purposes of generating energy for the machine. It is a machine in which humanity is denatured; but not replaced by anything. An action film in which there is characterisation and a meaningful story is Crouching Tiger. I felt that there was a genuine sober sadness in it.
By Justina on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 02:21 pm:
I agree about Crouching Tiger, MJP. Re Matrix and Greg Benford. I think he's spot on, Cheryl, about it being a gung-ho reprise of the New Testament, but equating Neo with Jesus is pitiful and disgusting and bankrupt, though the responsibility is the W. brothers' and not Benford's. A few pietas and nods to some theological names doesn't make Neo a human saviour. The entire film is a hard-bloke fantasy and the hard-bloke is the enemy of compassion. OK, you have warrior folk in theology like Arjuna hanging back until Krishna points out that the battlefield is that of the self and the kinsmen he's killing are his own inner demons but this isn't the story of the Matrix. Here it's a bunch of machines vs humans, there's no hint of inner conflict or awareness of the real problem, as MJP points to it, of the inner/outer world. Also, the enlightenment never happens, whatever they say. If it did Neo would realise that it doesn't matter whether you live inside or outside of the Matrix.
By Justina on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 02:32 pm:
Martin - thanks for sharing. You may be right on the sound and the pretention and the geekdom, but why so cross? It's only a conversation. Richard - you can post me on my board if you like, although I'm probably not going to be much more fun than Mike.
By Ivy Dial on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 05:11 pm:
Why is Martin so cross? I have an idea. If it's just a conversation, what's MJH getting his knickers in a twist over?
By MJH on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 05:26 pm:
MJH is just a bit bored, dear. He really has heard all that before. Worse, he's seen thirty years of the results, which he profoundly wishes he hadn't. You should talk on Justina's board, which she has very decently offered you a go of.
By muriel on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 05:45 pm:
Oi! Harrison! Stop growling and get back to work. We said we'd try and fight this habit, remember? I haven't written a bloody word all day and I'll bet you haven't either.
By Cheryl Morgan on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 05:55 pm:
But he's so cute when he growls... More to the point, he has the guts to get mad with people under his own name, which is more than I can say for some people (one person?) in this conversation. It would be nice if the board administrators stopped allowing people to hide behind pseudonyms until they were sure that they were out of nappies.
By MJH on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 06:12 pm:
You're right, Muriel. I'll honestly do better. I did write about fifty words this afternoon, but I hated them so I put them in the bin. I didn't mean to shout at Richard, or his friend with the funny name, but Justina will be much nicer to them on her board. Hi Cheryl. I think I'm the board administrator here; but I gave the keys to Zali because he's so much brighter than me, also more responsible. If people abuse their priviledges, Zali won't shout at them, he'll just switch them off or something. You can do that. It's very nice of you to say I'm cute, but, depressingly, Muriel is right. I too much like a fight, when I ought to be writing this gorgeous short story I've been working on for three years.
By Justina on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 07:42 pm:
Of course it isn't just a conversation. Dear me. And if I am nice it will only be because I need someone to be nice to me since I spend all my braintime on this board instead of doing any work. And now I've been in this discussion all these weeks it's getting very hard to work at all because my inner critic has got very very overzealous. I'm sure that nobody else here ever suffers such a thing. Anyway, if I go quiet it's because I'm trying to reduce my displacement hours to a reasonable quota and not because I don't care. MJH: You keep on tellin' 'em.
By richard on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 11:07 pm:
Whoh - sorry to intrude, but I was told this had happened and I'm sort of anal about Truth. I don't know who Messers Dial and McEwan are, but they're nothing to do with me. I'm not interested in random insult, when I post, I post under my own name, and when I said I was off the site, I meant it. Regards
By Zali on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 12:06 am:
I'll look up the IP addresses of Dial and McEwan and find out what was going on here. I'm afraid I've been away on family business but if there is suspicious shit going on here it will be revealed in lurid detail.
By Jonathan Strahan on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 12:49 am:
You go away for a week and look what happens - 20,000 words of stimulating, interesting, irritating, and occasionally fascinating posts. I'm not sure where this thread is headed by I did want to agree with something that Mike said in his long response to Richard. At one point he wrote: " ... go forward into the new century and entertain new people and learn new things, and generally have some thrills and spills on a real learning curve." It seems to me that if ever there was a manifesto for the New Weird, or indeed the genre as a whole, that should be it. The most encouraging thing, the thing that almost makes me giddily happy to be involved in the genre at the moment, is that writers like Mike and China and Justina and [insert names here] are doing just that. Producing fiction that tries to look forward while respecting the past, that tries to thrill and move while still thinking. There’s a lot of other stuff going on in the genre (a lot of it endlessly recursive and dull and uninspiring), but as long as there is work being done at the bleeding edge (for want of a better term) then it remains worthwhile paying attention and being involved. So…how long do we have to wait for Steph’s book? Jonathan
By Cheryl Morgan on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 12:54 am:
While you are about it, Zali, check out "Kikujiro" and "It's big, its yellow and I like it", both from Wednesday. Is an IP address all you get? Doesn't the system record the account used to make the posting? Richard, I never considered it might be you. You look like you are using a real name, you use the same one each time, and you make constructive arguments (albeit ones we may not agree with). Nothing wrong with that.
By Brian Eha on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 04:56 am:
I'm going to wait until more develops in the overarching theme(s) of this thread to make a long post, so just a quick question: What's your opinion of K. J. Bishop and her recently-published novel The Etched City? I don't have a copy yet, but I read the lengthy excerpt on Amazon, as well as the reviews, and it (she?) seems like a prime candidate for membership in the New Weird pantheon. As of yet, though, I haven't seen her name tossed around in this thread. Again, I haven't been able to get my hands on her book yet, but I couldn't help but notice that she's being mentioned in the same breath with Jeffrey Ford, VanderMeer, and Mieville; and that "Customers who bought [The Etched City] also bought City of Saints and Madmen, I-O, Perdido Street Station," etc. Maybe this is an example of reviewers casually linking writers together when they shouldn't (analogous to authors blurbing when they shouldn't), but I can't help wondering. Anyone here able to shed some more light on whether or not Ms. Bishop actually belongs in the fold of the New Weird?
By gabe on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 05:59 am:
Oi. Here I go off, find out I'm getting another baby, and return to this mega-humungo thread. Will wonders never cease? Anyhow, I've formulated some thoughts while writing on me blog, the ever-popular hyper machine interfaces. If you're interested, please read. If not, I'll bugger off. --gabe chouinard still reeling from the fact that he has 2.2 children...
By gabe on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 06:02 am:
Bugger. Fucked up the linkie. Here, try this one instead. --gabe
By MJH on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 11:21 am:
Zali: "I'll look up the IP addresses of Dial and McEwan and find out what was going on here." It would be good if you could do that; also take any action that proves neccessary. Despite my own temper tantrum yesterday, I'd like this to remain a reasonably serious and productive discussion. It's receiving attention from all over, guys. Cheryl: in fact Kikujiro is OK. He just has a bizarre way of expressing himself. He is the only person who spotted my Pret Latte Research Lapse on p24 of Light. Jonathan Strahan: Thank you. Jonathan. Really. We don't want to put ourselves in a box. But we do want to celebrate that we're having an adventure, and that it's the right time of the world to have an adventure; and we want everyone else to have an adventure too. I'm concerned now that in these posts we've gone a little too far down the road to defining ourselves as a "movement", in the sense that we agree with one another, or that we all write the same sort of thing. Anyone who looks at the very first post of the original thread, not to say subsequent ones, will see that some sense of mischief was involved, and that some distance is being maintained. The easiest (and the most tempting) thing to do is isolate the similarities between authors; the most important is to highlight & celebrate their differences. For me, the words "New Weird" comprise a venue, a site for discussion & argument (see Henry's excellent posts), not a fixed label. We don't want to describe the umbrella when the really interesting thing to do is describe the bunch of lunatics standing under it... Steph Swainston's The Year of Our War is published next March.
By Zali on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 11:48 am:
I've removed the Martin McEwan post - it's pointlessly inflammatory and adds nothing to the discussion. I've left Ivy Dial - he/she/it is based at Orion Books, which is interesting. Wonder what it could all mean? Richard doesn't seem to be connected to either of these characters.
By MJH on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 12:54 pm:
Well, I suspect there is a connection. But I don't think Richard was aware of the post. It is wise of posters to remember that we have access to these kinds of stats. Nothing happens in a vacuum these days, and one of the points of the web is that everything is connected to everything else. As far as I'm concerned, this incident can and should be swept under the carpet.
By muriel on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 01:18 pm:
Och. I quite liked it when these boards were full of people being terribly rude and unpleasant. As long as they did it under their own name. Science fiction writers all have big hairy bottoms! There! I dare you to take me off Zali. If anyone would like to gratuitously insult me then there's always room for you on my board. (This is a truly great thread by the way. It should be published.)
By Justina on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 01:33 pm:
I agree with Muriel on publication. MJH, as it's your board, are you up for the responsibility? Also, when does this board get archived - are there any backups in case of civilisation failure? Wouldn't want to have to try and remember it all.
By MJH on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 01:40 pm:
>>Science fiction writers all have big hairy bottoms! Muriel, this is becoming so true of me I don't know where to look. Or how you found out... Anyway, the "big" component of that outrageous insult will soon be obvious to everyone. Paul Smith's excellent tailoring is hiding it now; but I fear that soon even his genius will be in vain. Hey, didn't you ought to be writing ? *I've* done two hundred words already today!
By Jonathan Oliver on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 01:48 pm:
I'd go with Muriel on this one: I have written one science-fiction story and have an MA in Science Fiction and my arse is profoundly hairy. I'm sure you'll all sleep better having known that. Jon
By muriel on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 01:50 pm:
Thought for a horrible minute that Justina was agreeing with me about the bottoms thing. You're right Mike. I 'm going back to finish my column right now and stop spoliling this excellent and intelligent conversation with childish references to anal hirsuitism.
By MJH on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 02:14 pm:
>>MJH, as it's your board, are you up for the responsibility? No, Justina, I am not. I don't even have a printer that works. (By the way, thanx for yr support yesterday.) Gabe: I don't think I can disagree with your hypermachine rant, especially its penultimate three paragraphs. See also my response to Jonathan a couple of posts up from here. No one here is prePostmodern enough not to be aware of what's going on. A discussion about being a Movement can't be held without an ironic awareness of everything everyone already knows about the fatuity of Movement-making. (Plus, awareness of itself: we're nothing if not infinitely recursive here in the New Weird. Catch the echo ? There! Eird Eird Eird. Or was that Here, Here ?) Even if we fell into a naive state, we would always have guys like you & Henry to remind us. One of the "real" functions of this thread is to help build the awareness you talk about. Also have rows & say unforgiveable things to one another. By the way, Mike M might have been writing stuff for forty years, but I was born yesterday, out of my own forehead.
By Zali on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 03:23 pm:
Mu: I think having a big hairy bottom is as important a requirement for New Weirdness as poking the genre with a shitty stick or pulling open the mainstream with a monkey wrench, so it's neither irrelevant nor inflammatory. BTW: If we *really* want to archive these discussions the best thing to do might be to copy the the threads and paste them into a word processor file for later use.
By MJP on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 03:59 pm:
Just to poke this idea one more time. The paradox of PKDs fiction (as in the example I used, ‘We can remember it for you Wholesale'), ostensibly isn’t present in much of sf and fantasy writing. This might be understood as an objection to the point. That is, the idea of ‘it can’t be reduced to fact’ of the PKD example might not seem to apply to most of sf and fantasy; the idea that this kind of reading experience presents us with a metaphysical discovery (the primacy of fiction): it seems not to apply to most cases of it. However it does do this, in so far as eg in Justina’s novel, Natural History, we read about concepts that are so displaced, or strange, or decontextualised, that they work back into the ‘ordinary’; into our ideas of ‘what is’ to start with. When this is done in an emotionally convincing way (and Justina’s portraits of ‘angels’ – spaceships that are living beings – does exactly this) – then one accepts this strangeness as real; this is the point. This has much the same effect as ‘I have / haven’t been to Mars’; an unresolvable uncertainty overwhelms us. The sour apple here is the idea that this concept of fiction can be reduced to the ‘metafiction’ explanation of self-conscious literary texts: fiction that is conscious of its own fictionality. As such this does not describe the experience of this kind of reading. It is a theorised idea of reading that reduces the reading’s content to emptiness. That is, because it reduces the fiction just to fiction; to an idea that is essentially (emotionally) boring. It is at the point at which fiction is ‘real’ – experienced as real – that it strikes home. When you become so caught up in its fabulations that you accept it as real anyway. This as I believe is an experience of impossibility, and so is the real thing of moment: the fiction that is not (experientially) a fiction. It is sought in the genre of sf or fantasy. As China says, the ideas are not approached as substitutions for reality (consolatory replacements for it). Since the everyday is becoming ever more science fictional, these sf forms acquire an authenticity and force of their own, the concepts of reality and fiction interpenetrating and at times being indistinguishable even in mundane terms. To this degree it doesn’t matter if this object is realised instinctually (viscerally) or in a more self-conscious way. The result, the effect, is the same. The abstractedness of the New Weird – its freedom in its use of the traditional forms of sf, brings this kind of experience to a new level. I am very interested in China’s invocation of the Surrealist movement in this context. There is a self-consciousness in this use of the strange in such a situation, in spite of what I have said, unavoidably, even if it isn’t theorised in the way that I have just described, because of the need to avoid sentimentality, consolation as replacement.
By Al on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 04:08 pm:
*Checks* Yup, hairy, tho' worried about possibilities of hairiness as formal restriction and therefore ready to get right behind non-hairy new weird backsides also at drop of hat. Erm...
By Al on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 04:39 pm:
>> When this is done in an emotionally convincing way (and Justina’s portraits of ‘angels’ – spaceships that are living beings – does exactly this) – then one accepts this strangeness as real; this is the point. Hmm - fiction at its most extreme / potent; the most absolutely unreal at its most effectively, movingly real. Agree also with your rejection of metafiction. I think in this context it's a dodge / a cheat. Stops the reader (and writer) from fully committing to the narrative and thus being fully moved / effected by it. Don't see the point of metafiction myself, find books that do it pretty much unreadable.
By MJH on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 05:22 pm:
“Crouched obediently at the gate, like a giant cross between a crab and a dog... vast forelimbs with pincers and hooks, engines cased in violet metal, connectors studded like warts over its rhino-like surface. Blast damage and the streaks of old burn marks scored it. The Heavy Angel Sisyphus Bright Angel was brutal and hideous to see.” (Justina Robson, Natural History.) The full version of that description raised the hairs on my neck as I read it. I'm off to listen to my landlady play baroque music at the Wigmore Hall; then Bristol, where I hope to fall off my bike all weekend.
By Luke Hannafin on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 05:36 pm:
I feel silly even asking this, but is the name really valid? I know that some forms of fantasy have stagnated. There are shelves of Dragonlance books that sell repackaged Tolkien to the masses. (Although I suspect those masses are, for the most part, very young.) I admire those who deliver the message that there is more to the world of the odd than Tolkien. But there has almost always been some pretty weird stuff out there. I think if Lovecraft’s books were published today, he would fall into the "New" Weird. Poe too. Shelly, Stoker, Marlowe, you get the idea. I suppose, if I were picking terms, I might say contemporary speculative fiction, which suggests acknowledgement of the tradition behind the weird fiction movement. Then again, "The New Weird," "The Next Wave," and even "The New Wave Fabulists" all sound a lot cooler and look better on the cover of a book. “Contemporary speculative fiction” sounds like the title of a boring class.
By Cheryl Morgan on Saturday, May 24, 2003 - 12:09 am:
Thanks Zali! Hairy bottoms? Hmm, I knew that there was some reason I couldn't write fiction.
By gabe on Saturday, May 24, 2003 - 06:18 am:
"There are shelves of Dragonlance books that sell repackaged Tolkien to the masses." There are also shelves of repackaged Dragonlance books, if that makes you feel any better. I shit you not. Old shitty books with new covers. --gabe chouinard
By Paul McAuley on Saturday, May 24, 2003 - 11:40 am:
"There are also shelves of repackaged Dragonlance books, if that makes you feel any better. I shit you not. Old shitty books with new covers." Certain publishers do appear to favour form over content. HarperCollins have announced that they want to reposition fat fantasy novels by giving them 'tasteful' covers, part of an effort to convince booksellers to move their product out of the back-of-shop sf ghetto. Cheap cynicism or inspired marketing?
By Adam Roberts on Saturday, May 24, 2003 - 12:01 pm:
Well, I was enjoying this, and even thinking of chipping in my two penn'orth: but after the blasting Richard Morgan got, complete with ad hominem attack, innuendo and insult, for saying something with which Mike H. did not agree, I'll hold back. It's *almost* as if this board is only prepared to host your contribution to the conversation if you say stuff that reinforces the consensus. Which seems to me ironic, given the point of the overall argument. Ah well. One half-, or quarter-opinion, re: Joanna Trollope. Several of her earlier books are not bad, but I read her latest, *Girl from the South*, last month and thought it meretricious, sloppily-constructed, neoConservative bilge. Having said which I'll be off also, and join Richard in the outer darkness.
By gabe on Saturday, May 24, 2003 - 04:30 pm:
Certainly I wonder where the "practical" New Weird thread is. You know -- the one that actually *utilizes* the labelling for diabolical purposes of throwing down the status quo. --gabe chouinard
By MJH on Saturday, May 24, 2003 - 05:45 pm:
Hi Adam, delighted you should visit to say that you're not visiting. Neat rhetorical position, that. Very flouncy. Sort of passive-aggressive. I'm bored with the sf orthodoxy. My idea of anything new is that it should move away from that. Richard's views seem to me to present the orthodoxy in full bloom. They also seem to claim a merit for mediocrity. I don't understand that. I never have. I certainly didn't want the discussion wrenched away from its original purpose to discuss Richard's (or your) agenda. That would seem like giving in to carpetbagging. There must be, among all the other venues on the web, many that are dedicated to examining the value of mediocre writing. Or you & Richard could start one. I agree with you about the new Joanna Trollope. Joanna herself wasn't the point. The point was that one person's populist fiction is the venue for another's snobbery; which you've amply demonstrated. But sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; if populist is good, well, Joanna is populist. If there's more to the argument than that, Richard & his pseudonymous help from Orion should make it. Hi Gabe: this thread was for discussion. Some of us are working, directly & in the outside world, to try & change the outside world's view of f/sf. Some others of us--clearly--would prefer that work not to succeed. It's possible, perhaps, that they feel threatened by a melting pot. Perhaps they feel they couldn't punch their weight. Paul: it's kind of an inevitable trajectory, isn't it ? B-formatting in the 80s signified quality. Now it's just another marketing method.
By Paul McAuley on Saturday, May 24, 2003 - 11:40 pm:
Mike: taking my tongue out of my cheek, marketing is the only way publishers can control the books we write (and maybe that's why there's increasing interference by marketing people over the books we are writing). So let them worry about where the new weird (or where fantasy, or any other genre category) fits in a bookshop, and what kind of covers its books merit. The point is to ensure that the wider literary world takes notice, and treats TNW seriously and on its own terms, not those imposed from outside. The ICA event was a good start towards being taken seriously by those outside the field. Individual writers may well feel empowered by it and blaze forth into the media with the confidence of angels thumbprinted by God. But - and here's my caveat about focus - what form or shape will the next platform be? Is it too early to ask that question? Or am I just being too vertically organised? Will the unmediated emergence of a horizontally organised Seattle-style movement do all the hard work? Tongue back in cheek, I guess.
By jeff ford on Sunday, May 25, 2003 - 05:23 am:
MJH: Have been enjoying the discussion all along, since I fell into the shadows like Paul Muni in I Was A Prisoner On A Chain Gang back when this topic was in another topic. Great stuff all around and it makes me sympathetic with the New Weird more fully described. My only problem is as much as I like the idea, and my writing has never had anything to do with Tolkien or the army of imitators who have followed him, I don't feel the New Weird. I don't think of writing as a community thing when I sit down to write. I find it very solitary. I don't give a shit if I'm part of a movement or not part of a movement. I'm not saying this is either good or bad, but it doesn't interest me. To discover a truly new country, I may have to strike out back through Tolkien to get there. The frontier is the place where there is no one else. Still I have spoken of genre in exactly the way you folks have in the past posts. And thought many of the same things. But when it comes to movements, I get the chills. Can't help it. Can't help continuing to read though either, and enjoy the ideas. For the person asking about the KJ Bishop book. I actually did blurb the book because I thought it was a very accomplished first novel. I don't blurb when I shouldn't. Why don't you read the fucking book before casting aspersions. Best, Jeff
By gabe on Sunday, May 25, 2003 - 05:41 am:
Ach, Mike, we're in the same book... you just happen to be a few chapters ahead of me, if you will. Heh! I think that it's all well and good for everyone to talk, but there has to be definitive action taken at some point. Not that it has to be coherent or rigorous or anything.... just *some* action. Because here's a piece of bullshit that nearly made me choke on my coffee: http://omnidawn.com/fiction_submissions.htm Submission Guidelines for New Wave Fabulist Fiction "New Wave Fabulist fiction only recently has been defined as literary work that would otherwise be classified as science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror. The Fall 2002 issue (39) of the journal Conjunctions (Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York 12504, www.conjunctions.com) is devoted entirely to New Wave Fabulist writers, and contains essays on the new genre.)" How fucking pathetic is *that*? I urge everyone to check the site out.... But meantime, this is a prime example of why I say that we need to be proactive rather than get caught up in talking about things. Hullo Paul! Nifty to see you here. "Mike: taking my tongue out of my cheek, marketing is the only way publishers can control the books we write (and maybe that's why there's increasing interference by marketing people over the books we are writing). So let them worry about where the new weird (or where fantasy, or any other genre category) fits in a bookshop, and what kind of covers its books merit." Ah, but that's the rub, isn't it? What's even more pathetic is that ninety percent of the books that get published AREN'T marketed, while Bob Jordan picks up a cool $200,000 in marketing bucks for his TENTH SERIES NOVEL. Tenth. In an ongoing series. Tell me, who isn't going to know the existence of the TENTH fucking book??? So I still think that authors need to learn about marketing, and to take some of that responsibility into their own hands, as distasteful as it may bee. But then, it's also OUR responsibility, from lowly zine publishers to respected writers in the field, to ensure that people are getting to the books that matter. Because in the end, that's what counts; not the labels, but the quality and the readership. Just a thought. --gabe chouinard
By Cheryl Morgan on Sunday, May 25, 2003 - 05:52 pm:
Hi folks, I have just come out of the Interstitial Arts panel at Wiscon and I think I now have a better handle on what on Earth it is that Ellen and Delia are talking about. Basically they made all the right noises. They don't want it to be a new genre, they do what both readers and writers to experiment, they do want publishers and bookstores to take work that does not fall into neat genre categories, and they do want to encourage the wider literary community to take more note of writers producing this edgy stuff (Terri Windling: we want our people to get interviewed in the New York Times). This is all very similar to what we have been talking about. At the same time, it is a movement, it has a manifesto, it has an organization and a constitution. Maybe it has to do that. I've been struck by how much more aware writers (and readers) over here are about marketing. There was a panel on Slipstream yesterday during which someone in the audience stuck her hand up and advised people never, ever to mix genres because you'll never get published if you do that. But anyway, here Gabe, is your campaigning organization. They appear very open. They like what we do. And their remit is rather more broad than ours. I'm going to continue talking to them. Thoughts, people?
By Nicklas on Sunday, May 25, 2003 - 06:21 pm:
Cheryl, >>There was a panel on Slipstream yesterday during which someone in the audience stuck her hand up and advised people never, ever to mix genres because you'll never get published if you do that.<< Which is ridiculous. The fringe of genres, where they mix, blend and fornicate shamelessly is where the genres tend to be interesting. Marketing should be a tool used to get readers to find what is written, not a tool to control what is to be written. This difference is very important.
By Kikujiro on Sunday, May 25, 2003 - 06:51 pm:
Sorry about the Big, Yellow thing. I was rather pissed when I posted that and didn't know quite what I was inadvertently wading into. (If you're wondering, it's the title of the novel that a friend of mine who runs a publishers claims he wrote and had published when he was 19; it's nowhere to be found in the BL so I'm beginning to suspect he was bullshitting me.) Anyway: there is the definite sense of a moment happening in this thread which is fascinating even to an outsider to the genre. These kind of discussions have in the past presumably taken place in pubs and homes and studios, so to see the process in public and being simultaneously archived is interesting. There seems to be some over-protestation going on with regard to 'marketing gimmicks', though. Or rather, as Mike, Justina and China have all quite explicitly -- and utterly reasonably -- said above that (one of) their project(s) is to breach the (hardly in any case containing) barriers of mainstream conversation (and the ICA event was devoted to the question of how to do so), the problem is in anxiety over 'gimmick', not the accuracy of 'marketing'. Sickert said something about the kind of door-kicking-in of wider consciousness you want to achieve being only achievable in 'gangs', which is neatly demonstrated by everyone from Dada through the Frieze generation, and that seems an entirely valid thing to be about. In fact it seems *more* valid, or of more potential value, than any actual definition of what the New Weird might be. There are several reasons for this, the first and kind of also the final one being that the discussion going on here is inevitably both performative and discursive, indeed circular. That this is stating the blindingly obvious doesn't mean it's less relevant, given the studiousness with which these qualities are being looked away from in much of the foregoing. Ultimately, the group is both who you say it is regardless of what they write, and whoever other people say it is in subsequent discourse over which you'll have no control; what you write will always already be despite and in surplus to whatever prescriptive or deductive project you have going on here (and the fact that it's both prescriptive *and* deductive is worth noting); and equally and at the same time whatever account of TNW you come up with will be endlessly reanalysed and refined by others and by yourselves in the context of what you write. I know you know all this but you have to have a manifesto/statement anyway -- merely as a (not) working definition to justify the intrinsically useful term that will immediately float free of it -- and what's interesting is seeing here the deliberate and necessary eliding of the fact that you know all this in the process of creating some kind of statement which if properly done will end both stating the obvious and being inadequate. (I know that *I'm* stating the obvious here too, and that to point out that in defining this group in some kind of *opposition* to previous ones you're also quite consciously at the same time *equating* it with them in various fields of meaning and value is to do the same again.) I have a sense, too, that this deliberate unknowingness is something to do with the business of being a writer. Is this an outrageous suggestion? That you have to be simultaneously absolutely conscious of what you're doing and what your aims are when you're writing, and also at the same time to avert your eyes from them a little bit (this being to do with the 'inspiration' or the 'immanent' or whatever), which is why some people, Mike included, have described the process as one of self-discovery. (Prescriptive and deductive again.) And that this same double bind is working here in the process of claiming and supporting each other *as a group*, which likewise needs a level of analytical rigour and a level of over- or not-looking that itself is probably more comfortably overlooked. To put it another way, you are both the only people who can possibly decide what New Weird is and, as critics will be aware, the last people that should be allowed to ... A couple of other random thoughts. Firsly, I'm profoundly unconvinced by the suggestion that this is the historical moment in which we are discovering (as has been variously suggested above) that (a) 'it's a science world now'; and possibly as a result of that (b) our identity is in flux. I imagine that those ideas would have been very familiar to, say, people in the acceleratedly industrialised, newly Freudian, world of what'll soon be a hundred years ago, or more or less any point in modernity since. Secondly, as to the subversiveness of The Scar in particular, it seems to me again as an outsider that a lot of its more destablising pleasures (the frustrated narrative, the constant and problematised storytelling within the story, the omission of expected moments) are very precisely of what many people would recognise as 'proper' 'literary' fiction: not premium middlebrow but the modernist and even postmodern novel. Hell, the protagonist is a *librarian* fer Chrissakes. Borges readers will feel right at home. Apologies for all the above, which I don't think is much help ...
By Dan/David on Sunday, May 25, 2003 - 07:41 pm:
Fascinating and thought provoking thread. So much so, that, while I share Jeff F's aversion to being part of a movement (I'm a generally anti-movement kind of guy), I'm excited with perhaps being a part of one that feels like it's something special. Is this contradiction possible? Mike -any chance you could continue this thread with a "New Weird 3" as it's taking ages to load this one each time...
By Brian Eha on Monday, May 26, 2003 - 03:00 am:
Jeff Ford, you wrote: "For the person asking about the KJ Bishop book. I actually did blurb the book because I thought it was a very accomplished first novel. I don't blurb when I shouldn't. Why don't you read the fucking book before casting aspersions." I didn't cast any aspersions. You misunderstood what I said. I said: "I couldn't help but notice that she's being mentioned in the same breath with Jeffrey Ford, VanderMeer, and Mieville; and that "Customers who bought [The Etched City] also bought City of Saints and Madmen, I-O, Perdido Street Station," etc. Maybe this is an example of reviewers casually linking writers together when they shouldn't (analogous to authors blurbing when they shouldn't), but I can't help wondering. Anyone here able to shed some more light on whether or not Ms. Bishop actually belongs in the fold of the New Weird?" I was wondering if maybe, just maybe, the *reviewers* on Amazon and elsewhere were casually tossing around the names Mieville, VanderMeer, etc. in relation to Ms. Bishop -- a process which, when it happens, is analogous to authors blurbing when they shouldn't. AT NO TIME did I suggest that people *had* blurbed The Etched City without cause. At no time did I "cast aspersions" on you, Mr. Ford. I didn't even know you had blurbed the book. I was asking if someone could shed light on whether or not those reviewers' comparisons were justified. I was also asking if The Etched City was (1) worth a look for people who like books by the New Weird authors; and (2) whether it could itself be considered part of the list of New Weird books. In fact, as I said, I read a lengthy excerpt from The Etched City and I liked what I saw. Stop putting words in my mouth. Thanks.
By jeff ford on Monday, May 26, 2003 - 04:55 am:
Brian: You're right, I did misread what you said. My apologies. But now, with a completely different tone of voice, I say, "Why don't you read the fucking book." Sorry! Best, Jeff
By Brian Eha on Monday, May 26, 2003 - 04:39 pm:
*grin* Apology accepted. And I assure you it's on my "To Be Read" list. Right now I'm trying to work my way through a backlog... Cheers, Brian
By MJP on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 09:10 am:
Science fiction is struggling in critical terms. Pop music is struggling in critical terms. Real fiction is 'realistic' fiction. Real music is 'classical' music. When Tennyson wrote about the mythical figures of yesteryear in the 19th Century, what he was writing came across as fey, twee, to some extent. It didn't represent anything of what was happening at the time. The language was attenuated, there was a loss of energy. It was in the 19th Century novel that the texture of experience was being expressed. It seemed that a more 'realistic' art form was being realised: the representational god's eye view of the novelist: as in Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, etc. We are still in thrall to that critical tradition of realism versus fantasy (Tennyson being one of fantasy's last respectable exponents in such terms, although even he was struggling.) This for me is the point of this discussion. To get clear about the present status of the imaginary. Despite science fiction and pop being non-representational art forms the critical apparatus for understanding them still doesn't exist; and is a long way from existing. It will require a huge change in our idea of what reality is for anything that expresses the 'unreal' - the infinite - to be understood as valid as an aesthetic experience, beyond those limited forms in which it is presently understood. This is my view. We are not terribly real. We don't live in the 'real' world. Al I have included my e-address with this post if you want to email those texts of yours.
By Charlie Stross on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 09:43 am:
(I'm late to this discussion, but found it via Kathryn Cramer's blog. Still catching up, hence the references to deep strata of the thread ...) Mike wrote: 'The last time I remember anyone trying to take advantage of a shift in mainstream perception to do just that, was in the mid-to-late 60s, when Aldiss, Ballard and Moorcock made real efforts and brought back real rewards in changed perception of the genre by the aliens they met & traded with out there. As a result, they got pilloried by insiders and are now dismissed--at least by Charlie Stross--as "what was wrong with British sf for thirty years".' I'd just like it on the record that I'm not dismissing Aldiss, Ballard and Moorcock. They did, and are still doing, very important work, and what they did in the 1960's was critical to the evolution of the genre. The only problem I've got with them is that they triggered the "but this is good -- it can't be science fiction because that stuff is all about rockets and ray guns!" reflex in the mainstream literary community, rather than stimulating a complete reappraisal of the merits of SF/F in general. (But that's not their fault. Personally, I blame George Lucas ...) I suspect Mike received an inaccurate recounting of my thinking-aloud on usenet about the way the outlook and tone of British SF has changed over the past decade (certainly since Thatcher's resignation) and in which I took a stab at dividing it into three periods: the retreat from empire, the chaotic interregnum (1979-1993/4) and the more open, less pessimistic outlook that's been cropping up since then. But that's a whole different argument, so I'll return you to your next thrilling installment of the New Weird ...
By iotar on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 10:21 am:
"Despite science fiction and pop being non-representational art forms" Not sure I follow you here, MJP. Surely SF and pop represent the present, the moment. This is why Phil Spector three minute pop songs describe a moment in the sixties so well, or bleepy 303s recall the second summer of love. Similarly rockets and ray guns or swinging anti-christs pin point a pop cultural moment in another rather disreputable art form. Or are you saying that these forms are non-representational in that they describe things which have no referent? Things in SF don't refer to a thing in the real world? (Actually sounds rather like some descriptions of the Divine in the more mystical forms of Islam and Judaism.) Or am I really not getting this at all? As Tom Jones said: It's not unusual.
By Charlie Stross on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 10:25 am:
Al: "Increase frequency of purchase". Yeah, I know you're approaching it from a marketing point of view. And I have a deep, instinctive sympathy for what you want to do. But I don't believe it'll work. To quote David Hartwell, "for twenty years we have been unwittingly conditioning our readers to expect longer books." (US mass market wholesaler dynamics at work; knock-on effect on books sold into the UK market.) But we haven't taught the readers to read any faster. We're competing with other media and other activities for our readers' attention. What you're talking about boils down to either teaching our readers to read faster, or getting them to spend more time reading (which means less time playing computer games, watching reality TV shows, going to the movies, sitting in on debates on the New Weird at the ICA, etcetera). And time is, after all, the one inelastic resource. (People can earn more money, own more stuff ... but they can't ever buy extra time to add to the 168 hours they get every week. At least, not this side of the Rapture of the Nerds, and I'm not holding my breath waiting for the singularity!) Maybe we should be campaigning for a mandatory 25-hour working week, or to make sleeping illegal ... As a side-issue: a book with decent sales in the UK shifts, what, 20,000 copies? 200,000 puts you in the top bracket. However, a really crap TV show airing in mid-afternoon on a cable channel still probably brings in 250,000 viewers, while a flagship show on a major terrestrial channel at prime time pulls in 20 million plus. We are three orders of magnitude less visible to the public; one can argue that our influence is only really noticeable to the world at large when our works are optioned for TV or film rights, at which point we generally lose creative control. ... but that's the one thing we do have. No TV series or blockbuster movie emerges intact as the pure creative product of one mind. They're all compromises, diluted to the extent mandated by the faulty mutual comprehension of the various parties involved in the production process. We don't have to compromise on the creative processes that give rise to our novels, as long as we can sail it past an editor or sales force under a flag of convenience such as a genre label. We can afford to take risks, knowing that if we fail the worst case scenario is that we have to get a day job, and if we succeed we will unleash something truly new and weird on an unsuspecting world. Which is why we're so far ahead of TV/movie SF on the conceptual front. (I'd better stop right there because I'm basically thinking aloud and/or free-associating in public, and I wouldn't want you to get the idea that on the latter point I've 100% made my mind up. But that's the direction I'm leaning in this morning.)
By Al on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 10:36 am:
MJP - tis done! Intrigued by your citing of Tennyson as one of the last exponents of a failing fantasy tradition. Have always regarded him as little more than a turgid and bafflingly over rated waste of space myself - one good phrase ('nature red in tooth and claw') does not an oeuvre make... I think there were poets operating more effectively in a 'fantasy' mode at the time, tho' the vivid ones seem to be more French; Baudelaire, for example, bumping into the Devil in Paris in his prose poems, reworking Coleridge's albatross, and writing proto outsider horror in poems like 'La Charogne'. Later, Rimbaud, with his drunken boats, alchemical concoctions, adventures in hell, etc. I suspect Swinburne probably fits into this category, but I haven't read much of him so it's difficult to be sure. This kind of *fantastic* writing was picked up by people like Eliot (The Wasteland), Pound (bits of the Cantos) et al - and has remained a strong presence in poetry since then (David Jones, I suppose Ginsberg and the beats when they're in the right mood, etc) - modern examplars Alan Jenkins (his longer narrative poems could definitely be read as being 'New Weird' if you are so inclined), Iain Sinclair (a formidable poet of the fantastic, effectively invents Peter Ackroyd in 'Lud Heat', sadly his poetry not as well known as the rest of his output), Aidan Dunn, Douglas Oliver (sadly much of his best stuff out of print, Picador 'Three Variations on the Theme of Harm' should be bought on sight whenever seen) etc. However, nobody has ever sat on them for being genre writers and thus not worthy of serious consideration! This kind of debate doesn't even seem to exist in poetry - I wonder why? Perhaps - - Poetry regarded as more primal / instinctive, so more acceptance of the fantastic as 'dream narrative' representing / mythologising personal experience - not the same expectation that it should be a real representation of the real. - Poems are shorter than novels - so there are more of them - so easier to display a range of thought / expression that gives context to the fantastic and allows the reader to understand it as one more tool for expressing a particular view of 'reality' rather than a means of escape from that reality. - Readers just have more innate respect for poets than for novelists (or perhaps just assume that oddness is a built in part of the package and has to be engaged with) and thus are more willing to give them critical benefit of the doubt! Certainly for me moving from writing poetry to prose, non-realist fiction seemed to be the logical place to be because of the incredibly broad latitude of imagery / event you have. Reality is so confining!
By Nicholas Liu on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 11:03 am:
Well, there is such a thing as speculative poetry, and it is marginalised; the condition for avoiding that ghetto seems to be that you claim to have nothing to do with it. The one difference seems to be that for prose, you must actively deny such affiliations, while in poetry, people will automatically accord you non-sf status unless you step up and claim it.
By Al on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 11:11 am:
>> Well, there is such a thing as speculative poetry, and it is marginalised Intriguing... will check it out. Who's writing it?
By Charlie Stross on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 11:13 am:
Mike: Having noted with interest your opinion of "The Matrix", I was wondering whether you've seen "Avalon" by Mamoru Oshii yet. (Which struck me as being -- within your terms of reference as I understand them -- exactly what "The Matrix" ought to have been but wasn't.)
By MJH on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 12:29 pm:
Hi Charlie. I haven't seen Avalon yet. If someone is making worthwhile use of all that beautiful new technical stuff, I'd be delighted to watch it. Until then I'm going to stick to watching World Superbike racing when I want vicarious kicks. GENERAL ANNOUNCEMENT: as Dan/David remarked above, this version of the thread is getting a bit slow to load, so I've started The New Weird 3. Please continue posting there.