The New Weird 3: The New Weird (Download new_weird_3.doc)
TTalkback: Harrison, M John: The New Weird 3: The New Weird
By MJH on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 11:55 am:
I go away for three days & find plenty to get my teeth into, both on the thread and by email. The thread is now drawing considerable interest. At the same time, it's getting browser-unfriendly again, as Dan/David mentioned above. So please post here now. I agree with Kikujiro & others that in the end you can't control how you're perceived, defined, marketed, carpetbagged, diluted; and that all that is part of the evolutionary history of any event of this sort: but I think you should have a damned good try (& that's inevitable too). I agree with Cheryl & others that what we're seeing is in some way broader that any given attempt to define it--ie, that we're trying to listen for the zeitgeist, & at times like these--when there's lots going on--that's always very easy & very hard at the same time, & that's why, obviously, the New Weird seems somehow caught up with the new Space Opera, etc. At the same time inclusivity is another medianising mechanism; I'd warn against it, because I'd rather see the trees than the wood (as Map Boy might say). I agree with Paul McAuley & others that our relationship with the corporate marketeers is (a) lethal and (b) the only one we have. But there are other relationships we can have which would give us a little more leverage. My recent interest has been our relationship with the literary editors--a more direct relationship with them would apply practical energy for change, give us some sense of control over factors which, traditionally, have reduced us to the level of toddlers in a world managed by incompetents and baby-farmers who don't neccessarily have our interests at heart. (No wonder we throw tantrums.) But a direct relationship with literary editors--at least in the UK--requires that we be doing something that interests them. You have to give some to get some. This is a point I have made repeatedly on this board, in this thread, and elsewhere. I agree with Gabe when he says that production is vital, that, in a sense, you *write* your way forward. Mike Moorcock always believed this: while I don't entirely agree--because it presumes a kind of sweatshopping, a treadmill which reminds me of the way popular fiction treated its authors when I first began to be published--it didn't do the New Wave any harm. Charlie: I think I probably did get you misreported, and I welcome the chance to have your ideas first-hand. Thanks. Please keep posting if you continue to find us interesting. Paul: the Bowie quote you emailed me seems very relevent to the discussion. I think it should be posted.
By MJP on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 01:07 pm:
Iotar, pop represents the age but it isn't a representational form. It's a mythic form. Choose any artist you like. (Bowie would be a good example. Major Tom, et al.) Advertising is mythic form. It envisages a mythos, a world. Science fiction too. Its impulse is to mythologise. In these terms, all the above are fiction led. Al, the French and British poetic traditions are interestingly different in so far as for the French poets, notably Mallarme, language was the 'thing itself'. The thing itself, beyond critical interpretation, paradoxically unsayable. This created a philosophical tradition, through Benjamin, Blanchot up to Derrida. (Who is, notably, 'unreadable'.) Thus I would argue the same for this too: art as a non-representational form. Art was attempted to be understood as an irreducible act. Tennyson, like other Victorian poets, was lost in the foul air of the backwash of Anglo/American representationalism, and was unable to find this instinct in a poetry that actually expressed the age in which he lived.
By Paul McAuley on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 01:27 pm:
Hi Gabe. Nice to be here. I came by sublight slowboat; I'm in one of those Zones where nothing works above C. ?Submission Guidelines for New Wave Fabulist Fiction? Christ. How quickly the bottomfeeders spot a Trend. Came across this quote by David Bowie, from a late '70's Charles Shaar Murray interview. It is about how punk rock was killed off by too many bands diving into the category instead of striving to be assessed outside it; I think it that sums up the problem of *any* new genre trying to maintain its identity: "...None of them are saying *we are us*. They're saying *yeah, we are punk* and in so doing they're putting a boundary on their writing scope, which is a shame because there could be a real movement of sorts. But you have to let a movement remain as a subculture for a little while and gain some - I'm wary of using the word 'maturity' - gain some recognition of its own relationship with the environment it lives in." There's a warning. Fly under the radar until you are ready to Shock and Awe.
By Al on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 01:34 pm:
So a statement like Rimbaud's 'Je est un autre' can be interpreted as the seed of such a position; from the point of view of language, the 'I' is indeed something else as it is not language. So (presumably) the I's expression of itself through language is not really an expression; it's an interaction with something completely separate and different from itself that allows it to leave a trail of clues about what it is / is up to, but not directly represent itself? On that level, presumably, saying 'I feel happy today' (for example) is not as effective a use of language as saying 'I'm on top of the world today' as it both ignores the fact that language cannot literally represent the self and refuses to use the full capability of language as an expressive *thing* in its own right. Hmm.
By Al on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 01:35 pm:
Last post following on from MJP btb.
By Al Reynolds on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 01:41 pm:
Hi Paul! Those Slowboats will get you there in the end... Dropped out of this discussion a few weeks ago due to not knowing what refractoriness meant. Re: Bowie's quote - very sensible, notwithstanding the fact that he must have been about one year from making his last good album - but can any movement hope to stay under the radar for more than about five minutes these days? I like "Shock and Awe" though. While we're at it can we go for "Full Spectrum Dominance"? Got to love that military jargon... Al R
By MJP on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 01:55 pm:
Al, to be brief: The "I" doesn't represent, stand for, work in place of, a self. It is *not* a referring word. (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, see index.) When I say "I am well" the "I" is an expression of me. But what is that? It is the metaphysical. There is nothing under, above, beneath, or beside the word. (But I don't want to get too far into this issue as it might sidetrack the discussion.)
By Al Robertson on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 02:05 pm:
Hmm. I think I will need to ponder that for a while... Point taken about sidetracking, tho' am not sure this is a sidetrack to the extent that it's a conversation about literal / non-literal representations of the self / its relationship with the world - which debate would seem to be at the heart of the realist / non-realist fiction debate which weirdness joins in with. Though come to think of it, discussing it in terms of 19th Century French poetry pretty far from the point! So, yup, will now shut up about it. *salutin' your falutin'* Other Al R
By Charlie Stross on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 03:50 pm:
I'm happy to stay around and free-associate frantically for as long as you'll put up with me ... (The alternative being to beat my head on a novel -- isn't the net wonderful?) One side-effect of having moved to Scotland is that I'm getting to as many (more) US cons than UK events; things in London seem curiously distant. So this all leaves me feeling somewhat bemused, as if I've wandered into the living room to turn the TV on, only to discover there's a dinner party in full flow and everyone's already into the fourth glass of wine. The view from outside the party is curiously -- but interestingly -- fractured. In the States, there seems to be a longing for a new wave to fill the gap left by cyberpunk -- a need to have something to point the finger at and chatter about, and to stimulate the imagination, as much as anything else. I don't think, however, that anyone's thinking in such ambitious terms as I'm seeing here. It's an itching of restless feet within the ghetto, not an attempt to kick down the walls. (One thing everyone seems to agree on is that Cory Doctorow's idea of calling the zeitgeist "nerdcore" is not a Good Idea. Apart from Cory, that is. I think we had a close shave there ...) Meanwhile, I'm seeing odd things in odd corners. The comics and graphic novel field is throwing up hopeful monsters and happy mutants and also something else -- a level of subtlety unprecedented in the medium. Does anyone want to try and convince me that Warren Ellis, for example, as a comics writer, is of no account when assessing the state of British SF today? Or Grant Morrison? Those guys are doing stuff that the extruded media industry wouldn't touch with a bargepole -- but it's selling well, and it's getting attention, and more importantly, it's breaking the medium they work in wide open. "Pervert suits" (as Ellis calls the trad superhero fare) it ain't. Then there's machinima. Which is under the radar right now -- far as I know, the field is so embryonic that the first ever machinima TV series is still in the early production stages, and nobody's even considered a full-length feature movie -- but it promises to take CGI cinema and make it cheap, fast, and out of control. All the criticisms of The Matrix upthread in this discussion seem to me to arise ultimately from the fact that it's a big budget studio production, and as long as it costs $70M to make a movie, creative issues take a back seat to financial risk management. If you can cut the cost of a feature movie by two orders of magnitude to $0.7M, then suddenly it's possible to make movies using private capital and to take risks, to actually do something creative without being held to ransom by the studio marketing committees and focus groups that have turned the mass media into such a field of shit. (Need I add that the world's oldest machinima production house is based about a hundred yards from where I live? Not in Hollywood, where if anyone has even heard of the field they're probably in denial ...) And finally there's the tone thing. The way the tone of British SF has changed in the past decade or so. It's unprecedented. It's not that everything is suddenly happy-clappy cheerful, but it's no longer seen as weird and unusual if a British SF novel doesn't anatomize the end of civilization, the decay of relationships, and the retreat from empire. "Downbeat British SF" was a walking cliche; but something seems to have changed during the 1990's, and I think this is important. (I'd be the last person to argue that all stories require a happy ending, or that genre plot conventions should be compulsory, or that the only function of SF is escapism -- but it's foolish to deny that many fiction readers expect entertainment, and I suspect a chunk of the story of British SF is the way we and our antecedents persistently applied operant conditioning to train our audiences to expect a negative emotional payload at the end of the book -- until they give up. And the big news is that somehow we seem to have kicked the habit.) So. Back to the dinner party. The "New Weird" is, obviously, important. It's a big thing and there are names and faces identified with it and if we don't take ownership of it the marketing dweebs will do it for us. But it's only part of the picture, which is of a restlessness of many feet, shuffling in a variety of directions, but all away from the status quo. Big Media is the one factor in common -- the Marvel and DC Comics Pervert Suit factories, the big-budget Hollywood movies with gorgeous special effects and nothing to trouble a single brain cell, the sub-Robert Jordan extruded fantasy production machine that fills our bookshops with a torrent of derivative nonsense. And Big Media is a negative motivating factor, because we're all trying to strike out away from it, to do something original and creative and to thumb our noses at the focus groups and marketing executives who think they can automate the imagination and break it to harness. I don't know if I qualify as New Weird, New Space Opera, or New Anything. (I think I'll settle for New Charlie, Brighter! and Sparkier! than Old Charlie.) But I do have a sense that the creative impulse, and the reaction to the growing standardization and attempts to regiment the entertainment industries, is driving people to seek new outlets and to break out of the snare. And I think we should be looking outside the dinner party, beyond the cosy dining circle, to look for allies and strange new media to cross-fertilise with. Mutate and survive. (Now I'm going to go and cower under my laptop in anticipation of the gathering storm of indignation . I'd just like to add that these are my opinions right now -- in another quarter of an hour I'll have a brand new set. Okay?)
By Paul McAuley on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 07:40 pm:
Hi Al, Bowie had just made "Heroes"; he was still plugged in to the zeitgeist. Punk Rock was at least as self-conscious as anything in 'literature', so I think its rise and fall is a telling lesson to us all.
By MJP on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 08:57 am:
Paul McAuley: "Punk Rock was at least as self-conscious as anything in 'literature', so I think its rise and fall is a telling lesson to us all." Good analogy. However if that is a criticism, it should be remembered that punk rock was a powerful liberating force. It couldn't last but it did create a lot of new directions, and by comprehensively trashing prog-rock (Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, all the dinosaurs of rock), made a virtue out of simplicity. Many of its values are still with us. (You could compare the Robert Jordan style of endless book cycles with prog-rock. Very Yes indeed.)
By MJH on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 10:35 am:
Hi Charlie. >>I do have a sense that the creative impulse, and the reaction to the growing standardization and attempts to regiment the entertainment industries, is driving people to seek new outlets and to break out of the snare. And I think we should be looking outside the dinner party, beyond the cosy dining circle, to look for allies and strange new media to cross-fertilise with. Mutate and survive. I can go a long way with that. If I wasn't so keen on writing actual books, I could probably go all the way with it. Part of my problem with the present situation is that--as someone said a couple of weeks ago (a million years in thread time)--the corporates don't buy books any more, they buy content to option. For those of us who write to be read, ie off the page, providing the concept and a tiny bit of the content of the next shoot 'em up game film isn't all that interesting a career. That stuff doesn't give any more scope for writing character than film scripting does; & it's one of the reasons f/sf is viewed as a juvey-nerdy thing by lit eds. They won't support written f/sf because they see it as already covered by their blockbuster film critics. Much of the time they're right. On the other hand, I'm all in favour of looking for allies outside the circle of orthodoxy. The Sudden Cheerfulness of Brit SF: What got me going again in the 90s was Seattle. I never bought the optimism of the great bull market, and I don't feel Blair's Britain is any less grim & fucked-up than Thatcher's: but there are genuinely value-driven politics available again and that cheered me up enough to want Light to have an ending that threw the narrative forward beyond the last page.
By Charlie Stross on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 11:36 am:
On the shift from buying books to buying content: yes. I'll go further and add that I think there's a deep rot at the heart of the construct "intellectual property" these days, that it's inimical to the creative urge, that copyright has changed from being a carrot-on-stick incentive for artists and writers into something that's being rammed down our throats by corporate interests who see it as a tool for extracting money from wallets ... but I think that's Cory Doctorow's rant, so I'll leave off for now.
By MJP on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 01:05 pm:
MJH, could you clarify what you mean by "a direct relationship with literary editors"? Do you mean that ordinarily they have too little interest in what you are doing and just accept whatever you submit, without comment, if it fits into a commercially viable bracket?
By MJH on Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 10:58 am:
Hi MJP. I missed this yesterday, sorry. The literary editors are those people in charge of the book reviews at a newspaper. They decide what books get reviewed, and by whom. In the current state of the market they are completely overwhelmed by the number of books published, and have a frighteningly difficult task trying to decide what to review. They are caught between their demographic, the limited space available, and the publishers' publicity departments who are constantly on their case to review this or that "important" book (ie, important to the puiblisher's sales figures). To get reviewed as a "solus", ie to get a quarter or half or full page notice to itself, your book has to be considered important. Lit eds find it almost impossible to know what's important and what isn't in f/sf because (a) there is more of it than anything else, and (b) they don't read it themselves. They therefore evade the issue as often as they can. It's easier for them to tar all sf with the same brush than it is to wade through all that stuff. F/sf authors who can talk to them in their own language--both literally and in terms of the content of their books--have a slim chance of drawing their attention to *further* interesting books. But you have to give some to get some. You can't demand that the lit eds read novels without any of the qualities they associate with novels. They aren't going to put up with crap writing, near-autistic levels of emotional intelligence, no sense of humour and no human interest, just to get at the one nugget of so-called "speculation" in Bulging Metal Muscles (Number 5 in the Today's Druggie Starship Troopers series), which is in any case not very relevent to the way the paper's demographic lives its life, and is generally a throwaway notion based on a throwaway notion based on a throwaway notion anyway. If they read it, they'd laugh at you. I don't know what the solution is, but getting to grips with the problem has been interesting.
By MJP on Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 01:38 pm:
It may be stating the obvious but what is needed is a mission statement, an arc under which people are prepared be identified. Such as you had with the art group die Brucke founded in 1905, which began German Expressionism. E. g. the barriers between the natural and the man made would be addressed, as in die Brucke. That way, if this statement was sent round to literary editors, with a list of present and future books to be identified with the movement, they would have their task of choosing done for them. As I see it it would need to be an artistic tract rather than a political one. It would need to be about the merit of these books as a form of literature. Someone mentioned publishing this thread. That could accompany it as a booklet. Dumb idea or maybe useful?
By gabe on Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 06:17 pm:
MJP said: "That way, if this statement was sent round to literary editors, with a list of present and future books to be identified with the movement, they would have their task of choosing done for them. As I see it it would need to be an artistic tract rather than a political one. It would need to be about the merit of these books as a form of literature. Someone mentioned publishing this thread. That could accompany it as a booklet." Impractical and ultimately improbable. It all boils down to word-of-mouth, I think. There has to be buzz, because people in the 'mainstream' (an idiotic word; how about 'average' instead?) latch onto buzz. It's a meme, baby. And sending out a manifesto isn't going to provide that buzz. --gabe chouinard
By Charlie Stross on Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 07:03 pm:
Worse: manifestoes are divisive and spawn their own backlashes. It sort of happened in the 80's with the whole cyberpunk thing and "Vincent Omniaveritas"; by saying the elephant was smooth and leathery and firm, the first bunch of blind guys alienated the hell out of the second bunch of blind guys who knew damn well that elephants were round squidgy tubes that felt kind of elastic. So they labelled themselves "humanists" and had a blazing row with the "cyberpunks" that didn't really amount to anything of lasting importance -- both of them were right in different places, and wrong in others, but the effect of the argument was to alienate everyone who wasn't involved and to piss off most of those who were. About the one successful manifesto I can think of in the SF field was Simon Ounsley's masterfully vague call for "radical, hard SF", enunciated in the editorial column of Interzone, and which (when you read it) turned out to simply be a challenge to produce something new and interesting. It slipped in under the radar of controversy because it wasn't phrased as a list of virtues so much as a request for innovation. But if you try to push something like that out at the general public they'll ignore you, because it doesn't tell them anything useful about what's going on in your own little corner. Humph. Just thinking about this is giving me a headache -- guess I'd better go and take a weekend off.
By Cheryl Morgan on Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 07:31 pm:
OK, so Gabe is talking good sense about Getting Things Done, and Charlie is equally right about not wanting to be part of a movement. It all really comes down to what we want New Weird to be. If what we want is a campaigning organisation that will go out and raise funds and lobby on our behalf, well the Interstitial Arts folks are doing just that and they seem to include what we do within their remit. OK, so the facts that they are a) Americans, b) mainly women, c) inclusive of academics, d) rather less aggressively weird than us, and e) no better at explaining what they are about than we are, are bound to push buttons somewhere. But if they want to go out and bat for us then we should be grateful. Certainly there doesn't seem to be any point in setting up in opposition. On the other hand, if what we want is a more Ounsley-like movement within the authorial community to encourage people to write weirder stuff, then we need to stop thinking about grand plans and get back to writing.
By MJH on Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 08:44 pm:
We seem to have got, at least temporarily, to the "subject exhausted" stage. The idea of the first post in the original thread was to flush out ideas, theories, attitudes, controversy, etc. That was amazingly successful, and as a result we've taken a tour of the themes, rather than come to conclusions or formulate plans for action. I think that's fine. This is a message board, not a committee. I don't see a need to choose either Charlie's or Gabe's position; or to put myself, as Cheryl suggests, under someone else's umbrella. Most of my practical concerns reside this side of the Atlantic, so I'll be following those up on the basis of the ICA intervention, and on the basis of "our" (the "our" being more or less definable as a result of this discussion & others) success in the market place & critical arenas I know. One of the good things about all this *is* that no movement has defined itself, so we can keep Paul McAuley's warning in mind, and follow Simon Ounsley's prescription, knowing that any time we put the dog into the undergrowth again, there's plenty of game left on the shoot. I don't feel I've heard enough yet from China, or from energetic New Weirders like Steph. Just on principle I'll continue to resist being defined--individually or as part of something--by carpetbaggers.
By gabe on Friday, May 30, 2003 - 04:33 am:
"OK, so Gabe is talking good sense" Oi. It had to happen sooner or later, I guess... --gabe sexy new hyper machine interfaces
By jeff ford on Friday, May 30, 2003 - 05:13 am:
Carpetbaggers -- now that's a name for a movement I could be part of. Excellent! Just think of it in terms of "genre." Thanks for the idea. Best, Jeff
By MJH on Friday, May 30, 2003 - 10:17 am:
Glad to be able to help, Jeff. Can you suggest some core Carpetbagger texts, so that we can get our submission guidelines up on the web ? Later we'll sell the themed anthology Bag It! to a corporate, rejecting submissions by pivotal early Carpetbaggers in favour of authors already on the corporate account. Meanwhile, expect an article in a New York academic journal, suggesting Jeff Ford was never really a Carpetbagger at all, only a maverick radical who had one good idea. You'll write a reply entitled, "The Real Carpetbaggers," but no one will notice it in the celebrations surrounding the optioning of a third-generation sub-Carpetbagger clone to the production company which made The Sixth Sense. It won't get as far as a script, but by then we'll be into PostCarpetbagging anyway.
By Paul McAuley on Friday, May 30, 2003 - 12:16 pm:
Not a formulated plan of action, but . . . If you have the attitude, why do you need a steenking manifesto? That kind of taxonomic codification taxonomy should always come from the outside; not from the writers but from editors or critics. David Pringle and Colin Greenland defined radical, hard sf in their Interzone editorial; Gardner Dozois christened cyberpunk. Any group of writers getting together and knocking out a ten-point manifesto always seems to me to be a pretty lame thing to do, especially it's certain that none of them will stick to any of their self-imposed aesthetic rules. What to do? Talk this stuff up. Organise where it counts; Mike's absolutely right about getting the literary editors on-side. That's a platform far more useful than a small local stir. Do readings together. Organise a New Weird panel or stream at every convention (WorldCon in Glasgow 2005 is a big fat target) and talk up the stuff you've been talking up here. While wearing 'I hate Tolkien' T-shirts, of course, in the same spirit that Johnny Rotten wore an 'I hate Yes' T-shirt in '77. But I'm preaching to the choir, so I should probably get my coat.
By Al on Friday, May 30, 2003 - 01:11 pm:
Why stop at readings? People on here or friends of people on here are poets, musicians, etc - seems to me a whole New Weird Cabaret is the way to go. Also, a wonderful demonstration of the *openness* of the whole New Weird thing! If a perceived weakness of NW activity is that it's not a 'literary' genre, then make that a strength... and step outside the closed box of purely literary activities! When it comes down to it, where would you rather spend an evening - the Hay on Wye book festival or The Exploding Plastic Inevitable?
By jeff ford on Friday, May 30, 2003 - 01:27 pm:
MJH: Truly well put and you cracked me up to boot, especially BAG IT! Best, Jeff
By MJP on Friday, May 30, 2003 - 01:38 pm:
I suppose I want too much out of this. What I am thinking towards is a paradigm shift. That is a philosophical, and literary, object that unfortunately is still some way down the line. It is frustrating, as a reader, to *see* things in reading that have no part of the general idea of what is real, and of what books can show, and so to have those things lost, or fail to register, to not signify, even though it may be (and this is how it is for me), they seem to be among the most important things. I want to see a paradigm shift philosophically. It is my total conviction that this is needed.
By MJH on Friday, May 30, 2003 - 02:02 pm:
MJP: I think all this is evidence of what you're looking for. Paradigm shifts are going on all over the real world, especially in science and culture & the relationship between the two. One thing that was obvious about the New Wave & Cyberpunk was that they were both *responses* to big paradigmatic shifts in the cultural environment. Some of it's a generation thing, easy as that. But some of it's genuinely to do with the world won't be the same again. That's one of the many things that's so exciting about it all. I really do go with Jonathan Strahan here. The writers we're looking at--& for--are emergent from the condition of things now. Part of that condition is a sense of massive paradigm shift. You feel it too, as this impatience.
By Faren Miller on Sunday, June 01, 2003 - 04:58 am:
Have a broken computer for 12 days and see what happens... Geez! But it can be interesting to view a great lot of material all at once instead of bit-by-bit. Although I may still be a bit jet-lagged from scanning all those posts, I can't resist adding one of my own, from a reviewer's POV. I enjoy the concept of New Weird, since it takes us beyond the old limits of SF/F, but I can also see why Jeff Ford would object to being pinned down as a card-carrying NW member. Though references have ranged from Lovecraft to Rimbaud, much of the discussion has used JeffV and (above all) China as examples of NW -- obviously, there's more to it than that. A few other current names have been bandied about, and I'd like to both comment and add further examples of the Wider New Weird (take that "label" with a grain of salt). For those who wondered, K.J. Bishop's The Etched City is a delight; Jeff Ford blurbed it well, and I'd include both his novel The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque and (even more) collection The Fantasy Writer's Assistant as examples of the larger literary/oddball/post-pulp form where one needn't attend mass ralleys to belong. (Incidentally, don't condemn blurbers too much -- we need those tips!) Ian McLeod's The Light Ages did get a brief mention already -- I'd rank it high. So far, female writers have gotten fairly short shrift (though KJ Bishop *is* female), so I'd add a couple of not-so-New gals who could be pertinent to this thread: Carol Emshwiller, and (as I just discovered) Angelica Gorodischer -- Kalpa Imperial is extraordinary, in Le Guin's new translation. Finally, three more examples of Weird Stuff I Like, from my past few months' reading: Tom Piccirilli's A Choir of Ill Children; Evening's Empire by David Herter; and The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill. To my mind, all these books have much in common despite their unique qualities, and they belong with the matter under discussion -- yes, even when they come from vets or loners who don't fit neatly into the realms of manifestos or abstract philosophical debate (or friendly dissing). Anyone else want to get into this "further example" business, or am I just crawling out on the wrong limb?
By Farah on Sunday, June 01, 2003 - 06:32 am:
I have only just caught up with the presence of this thread, but to add to the list of suggestions: Steve Cockayne's Wanderers and Islanders, and the sequel The Iron Chain. These are particularly interesting because it is the structure that is weird. The contents--with the exception of the empathy engine--are barely recogniseable as fantastic. Farah
By MJH on Sunday, June 01, 2003 - 10:43 am:
Hi Faren. Obviously, I'm fairly anxious that vets & loners be included... Partly because I still see the whole thing as being made up of loners anyway--at least at the business end, at the point of composition. Part of our original remit here was to question whether anything was going on at all in terms of a "movement". Clearly, if you interpret that in the classical sense, nothing is--nobody's in anyone else's pocket yet, & a good thing too. Farah: I'm particularly interested in this separation of structure & content--the notion that you can perhaps write fantasy without any (or at least without much) fantasy in it. An idea close to my heart. Would you unpack some of that for us ?
By Farah on Sunday, June 01, 2003 - 05:57 pm:
Mike: this will have to be the short version as the long one is heading past ten thousand words. But to begin with I think we need to get away from China’s work as an exemplar of the weird. I’ll come back to why it is in a minute (or more). I don’t think content and structure are separate by the way, but I’m beginning to wonder if content is shaped by structure. The core texts of the weird that people have mentioned are your own Virconium and Peake’s Gormenghast. Both of them are happily discussed as fantasy, although the magic is latent, something we hope for, but which is often denied to us. This is done even more blatantly in Barbara Hambly’s Stranger at the Gate, K. J. Parker’s The Colours in the Steel, and Caroline Stervermer’s When the King Come’s Home. These last three are not texts that would usually be classed as weird fiction, they don’t have weird images outside of genre fantasy, they aren’t subversive in any obvious sense, although The Colours in the Steel , like The Scar, forces us to question whose side we are on. But then Gormenghast doesn’t have specifically weird images. What makes it seem weird is the way in which they are told. What all of these texts have in common is that they write the ordinary as if it is fantastical, and allow the fantastical (rather than the fantasy, which is slightly different) to remain latent. This writing the ordinary as if it is fantastical is very noticeable in Cockayne’s first book, Wanderers and Islanders. The only clearly magical element is the Empathy Engine, a machine to be used for the making of decisions. Except that it also looks a lot like a role playing game. It is never too clear whether there is magic going on or if empathy is a pretense. The rest of the book is about a man losing his job and putting his mind in order, and a house in the countryside being renovated. Except that we may be getting to live in his mind. Or maybe the house that we see is his mind. But it may not be because a young boy who seems real visits it, even though he doesn’t know the man. Who knows? By never explaining, the air of the fantastic is created through convincement rather than through detail. Latency, that moment of hesitation, is also present in the book. As the main character is a magician we keep expecting magic, yet it never happens. When it does happen—the transferral of a gift—it’s not for another third of the book before it is made clear what has happened, and by the second book we are not sure even of that. An even better point for considering the role of latency in this kind of fiction is the stories in Conjunctions 39. Far from being a bottom feeder, this book was Peter Straub’s idea, and a response to regularly producing fiction that could be read as either fantastical or not fantastical. About eight of the thirteen stories fulfil this criteria. One of the most interesting is John Crowley’s “The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines” , and it’s interesting because it isn’t the content that makes it weird, but the way that content is used to tempt us in, to have us forever think we are about to plunge through the portal. A crucial question to ask of this text, obviously, is "where is the fantasy"? Is there an alternative world lurking here? It is liminal in the sense that it pauses on many borders. Several perhaps: in the desire that Shakespeare not be the bard? In the possibility of a summer without polio? We begin with self referentialism, the acknowledgement that this tale takes place in a liminal place, a Brigadoon, a locus of the momentary possible. The stating of this both acknowledges and denies its meaning. It cannot be a real Brigadoon because it is real but the dreamlike qualities, the portal which is polio (which provides the before and after) casts doubt on which is the frame, which the other world. This isolation of the place from the wider world, is, I think, one characteristic of much weird fiction. Cockayne calls his country The Land. Harrison in The Pastel City isolates his place in time. Iain Banks’s The Bridge goes from nowhere to nowhere. Both Harriet and the narrator have already passaged through one portal of the mundane, from ill-health or isolation into the Real of communal "ordinary" life. It strikes me that the period of time spent in the summer camp must be the fantasy, because to each side of it is bitter or mundane reality. Harriet's plunge down the stage trap is perhaps almost too obviously representational: on the other side is the mad world of theatre. There are hints that this might be a parallel universe. In this one we know who designed the round barns "circular because of the founder's scientific dairying theories, and circular because of his belief in the circle’s perfection." (10) and we know also which "little Quaker College" is in Richmond. Why deny us the information if not to create that sense of pause, of caution? Perhaps this is our world, perhaps it is not. The narrator himself is aware of the dissonance: the theatre he dreamed of, was not that he was able to see. The protagonist himself never explains this as fantastical yet seems to recognize the moments of equipoise, we are left wondering in which direction we should be looking. "Somehow without my even asking it had been passed through the membrane of common reality into another space, where things were not as they were where I came from, , where Shakespeare was important and everything else less so..."(16) the liminality is doubled and redoubled as the portal passes us from many Frames to many Fantasies. The most liminal of metaphors is Harriet's photography, images made on panchromatic printing paper, "The resulting image is exact and exquisitely detailed but softened an abstracted--both warmed and cooled-by the light's passing through a textured paper negative rather than a transparent plastic one. The very first photographic negatives were made on paper." The old method photograph mutates reality as does sickness and time. Unlike modern photographs which we come to see as a substitute for memory. But there is a moment of recognition, not of the fantastical, but of the possibility of the fantastical, when the protagonist "caught her looking at me in the rearview mirror of the bus....But I looked frankly back at her in that mirror, and not away, and maybe that was enough. (17) But enough for what? On one level it is the enough of desire. On another it is the shared experience of the looking glass world. What each will have seen is not the other, but the other's reflection (and I think we can link this image to China's story The Tain). As the man, the stranger, tells them of Bacon, and the Baconian heresy, the protagonist recognizes that there is another possible fantasy narration here, the one in which "a trick or trap were being constructed" into which the protagonist, divorced from his frame world, his frame of reference, would be trapped. But this is not the closed world of the quest fantasy, it rests entirely on the willingness of the protagonist and the reader to question, not to accept, so the trap cannot close, the old man does not become the omniscient guide, and meaning is left unfixed. The liminal fantasy is not a club story. (see Clute in Conjunctions 39). And this structure is acknowledged: 'the man's s self effacement and reasonableness and sweetness were part of it." (20) All of which makes me realize that "The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines functions to punish the club story narrative of the fantastic by laying everything open to doubt, to pause. When Harriet and the protagonist visit a library thy find the scholarship, the scholasticism, to make true the guide's narrative, and still they do not believe. Even his own line, "that nothing needs to be the way you've always thought it has to be" serves to move them further into their non-acceptance, , not into the trap of closure and trust he seeks to create. (20 and 22) The theme of the tale is multiplicity. The multiplicity of meanings buried in the text of "Shakespeare's" Henry V. The layered possibilities of Bacon. The layers of meaning of the summer and of love all build to create an extended moment of waiting. Now in contrast we have China’s work, which we know is weird, and know also to be thoroughly fantastical, except that the Slake moths are part of the physical science of this world, and in the end, we don’t see Isaac perform the magic/science that will give the Garuda flight. I’ve been wondering for a while if it was possible to do what I have been calling “liminal fantasy” (that fantasy that sits on the edge) in the fully immersive fantasy (fantasy so thorough it is indistinguishable from magic) and thanks to a comment Cheryl made in Emerald City this month I have some possible ways to think about it. Much of what I described in Crowley is equipoise, and I think this can be traced in Liz Hand’s work, Jeff V’s work, and that of many of those who produce work that we look at questioningly, but the other side to my ideas about liminal fantasy are irony. In these fantasies we see something as fantastical and so do the characters, but they don’t see it as fantastical in the same way. The best example is Joan Aiken’s short story “But it’s Tuesday” in which the Armitage family find a unicorn on the lawn, and while we are exclaiming over the unicorn they complain that these things only happen on Mondays. What if what is going on is that we are in another world? Then what is happening is that our sensibility as to what is mimetically real is being screwed with, something I’m tentatively describing as ironic mimesis. We can see this in Diana Wynne Jones’s Archer’s Goon in which if the world is our world, then people are being very insouciant about what happens around them. This helps to explain some of the structures of Perdido Street Station. One of the ways the book works is to allow characters to continually look past what we want to stare at. We marvel at the wonders of the slake moths, they marvel at the stupidity of the people who thought they could harness them. Although this is in a way about content. It is also about attitude and language. What China does is to reverse my first statement. Instead of writing the ordinary as if it is fantastical, he writes the fantastical as if it is ordinary. Both approaches use a rather laconic tone that I think is one of the distinguishing features of this kind of fiction, although China also manipulates the baroque to heighten the sense that the ordinary has been fantasticated. But I think it isn’t surprising that many of the texts we consider weird (although not all) are open ended. It isn’t that they have sad endings as such, but most of them have a very strong sense that the tale isn’t over, that there is material that happened before the start, and material that will continue after we leave, because we are not an intrinsic part of the telling of the tale (as we are in most portal or quest fantasies) . That dissonance between what we think is fantastical and what the characters do seems pretty crucial to me. Weird is an attitude to the reader as well as to the content, which is also why I think China’s comment about the wink and nudge of whimsy is apposite. In order to pull this off, one has to be able to write in that dissonant moment. Try to collude with the audience, and it collapses the tension.
By MJH on Sunday, June 01, 2003 - 11:54 pm:
Farah: equipoise, and the "moment of recognition, not of the fantastical, but of the possibility of the fantastical"-- The best work in Conjunctions seems to me to have something quite new in f/sf. Sophisticated technique, liquid boundaries and high levels of humanity enable statements that are at once pure fantasy and outright metaphor. Even in the New Weird those two modes are supposed to be mutually exclusive. Some of those stories are so precariously balanced that precariousness becomes a strength in itself. You don't know which way they're going to fall--mainstream or fantasy. Then, when you push them, you find you can't *make* them fall. They're held rigid (& you with them) in this exquisite paradox, fantasy/not-fantasy. MJP said something like this, in a post some way back, when he talked about a Philip K Dick story, the hero of which is brought to know that he is simultaneously x and not-x. Both statements are true. They don't alternate rapidly--They aren't exchangeable as a function of viewpoint or frame--The wavefront doesn't collapse. They are simply both true at the same time. An understanding of that kind is fleeting and precarious--or it's supposed to be. We have a growing opportunity to write work that turns that precariousness to strength. I've been trying to do it since "The New Rays". (It's also, simply, the finest way I know to do the reader's head in.)
By MJP on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 09:17 am:
Farah, a very canny analysis. An implication that your post also contains I think is that the fantasy / sf divide isn't an important identifier. But I especially like the theme of not explaining, and the continual creation of and subversion of fantastical expectation as the register. (Isn't that the essence of plotting, to subvert expectation?) There is obviously a lot of new weird to read!
By Al Reynolds on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 09:19 am:
Farah: "This isolation of the place from the wider world, is, I think, one characteristic of much weird fiction. Cockayne calls his country The Land. Harrison in The Pastel City isolates his place in time. Iain Banks’s The Bridge goes from nowhere to nowhere." I wouldn't disagree with this (there are more examples, of couse) but if it were indeed seen as a defining characteristic of the New Weird, I'd have to define myself as not writing it. MJH was kind enough to mention my name early on in the first New Weird thread, but for me it's *vital* to give that sense of connection back to the real world. In SF terms, it's the implicit backstory that says how we got there from here. It says, given a certain set of contingencies, no matter how unlikely, *this could happen*. Take away that, and I feel like I'm drifting out to sea on a raft. That's one of the reasons why, to me, the line between SF and Fantasy is a bit sharper than people have lately been arguing. It's also one reason why the New Weird and the New Weird Space Opera might have a bit less in common than might otherwise appear to be the case. The bottom line, however, is that as a reader all I care about is having my head done in. Al R
By Al on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 09:40 am:
>> The bottom line, however, is that as a reader all I care about is having my head done in. Sho' nuff! *Salutes*
By MJH on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 12:48 pm:
Hi Al R: Implicit in the sf assumption is that the universe, if not exactly known, is scientifically knowable--that anchors the act of imagination. Implicit in the fantasy assumption is the lived reality of the day-to-day world--that anchors the act of imagination. A similar kind of grounding ? In each case, it's as if the imagination *opposes* itself to the real. This generates the tension and does in the head...
By Justina on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 01:42 pm:
Farah - content influenced by structure. I think that content is determined by structure to some degree. I don't mean subject matter, I mean the way it can be used. Deciding on structure is deciding what you won't be doing with your content. I've found that you get into great difficulties when your structure isn't suitable - the epic fantasy structure, for example, determines that there will be a coherent quest narrative taking place in mostly linear time. Want to deviate? Tough shit. No can do. Don't want to write climactic scenes and major plot pivot at the golden mean distance from the end? Tough again. On the other hand, if you've got almost no content then a deterministic structure will bail your ass out because it suggests what to do and leaves you to fill in the blanks. Fractured structure (from The Bridge to Nat Hist to Light) lets you do more messing about with your contents, partly because it assumes a more literate audience... but it's harder on the reader. The more you break trad narrative, the more challenging and challenged you become. The trick is to find the simplest way to say what you've got to say. However, some structures can lead you to things you'd never have thought of in a different environment. anyone interested in this might find http://www.narratology.net/index1.html interesting for research. The Light Ages, Ian R MacLeod - I think this deserves some notice, although it has a very slow starting burn. But we could say that about a lot of New Weird things. I particularly liked the way that he uses the magical element to throw light on the whole need-for-fantasy and the way it drives us to organise our lives. Now at last to Steph's novel...
By Justina on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 01:48 pm:
A better narrative link http://www.uni-koeln.de/~ame02/pppn.htm for a primer
By Steph on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 01:49 pm:
By Al on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 09:59 am:
>> the lived reality of the day-to-day world Surely this is implicit in both science fiction AND fantasy? That is, without some relevance to or construction from the day-to-day world as we experience it now, the fiction becomes alien and impossible to engage with - somewhere beyond autistic, perhaps. Similary, scientific knowability isn't (for me) the sole condition of science fiction - although there's an implicit assumption that we can go out there, we don't always get there by scientific means. Or am I being confused about terminology? Is science fiction here being used to describe any sort of fiction (even that built on, say, swords and dinosaurs) with a clearly defined basis in functioning science, and fantasy (even if it contains space ships and light sabers) any kind of fiction which privileges the fantastic over currently understood scientific reality?
By MJH on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 10:25 am:
That's the Big Can of Worms, Al. Didn't you read the label (where it says: DO NOT OPEN) ? On the lived reality of the day-to-day, I agree. I was definitely in favour of "beyond autistic" in the 80s, because (a) it seemed to be what you got if you deconstructed ideas of "character" and "motive"; and (b) it seemed to solve nicely the Bob Silverberg problem, How do you convincingly portray alien behaviour ? But--as I think I said somewhere else on this board recently--I came back from there because it seemed too scary. Unproductive, in the end, and (worse) increasingly easy to do.
By Al on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 11:00 am:
Yup, I've been thinking about it a lot over the last few days and I'm not sure you can draw a useful distinction beyond - if it's got swards, magic, etc in it, it's probably fantasy, and if it's got spaceships, technology etc in it, it's probably science fiction - so maybe the best use of these terms is as a straight description of the kind of world you're writing in, rather than anything deeper. Autism thing also v. interesting. People are fascinating and complex things; to some extent, autism can be read as a retreat from that complexity - perhaps this retreat is what leads to the barrenness you've talked about? As for aliens - hmm, unsure to what extent we'd be able to appreciate their alienness even if we did meet them. One of the problems of writing autistic characters is, I suspect, that the reader will always post-rationalise motive and character onto them; this is how we read behaviour. Suspect the same thing will happen with aliens, we'll map them into the human character / motive map and try to understand them that way. Assuming they ever turn up, of course. Also, I wonder if character / motive is in fact essential to the kind of work they'd need to do to be read by us as sentient? Consistency is a key part of our definition of sentience - for us to be able to interact with them on any coherent level, I think they'd probably need to be consistent in terms of reaction / passing on of knowledge etc, thus giving us a foundation from which to read them in human terms.
By iotar on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 11:13 am:
Isn't it just down to justification? How does yr narrative justify all those things that never happen? If it's magic - it's fantasy, if it's science - it's sf. A matter of whether it's left brain or right brain doing the driving. But what if it doesn't justify it at all? Is this where we touch upon the autistic? As for the aliens: they are already amongst us!
By MJH on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 11:49 am:
Yes, *and we know who they are*, don't we, iotar ? Back to your pod, you silky-eyelashed thing. Al: "Suspect the same thing will happen with aliens, we'll map them into the human character/ motive map and try to understand them that way." But of course. & then we'll start killing them because we *won't* be able to understand them that way. Does this remind you of anything that's happened in the world during the last five hundred years or so ? Or even more recently than that ? The fact is, we can't even make a fist at understanding the behaviour of a cat. Our expectations are species-driven. The problem for f/sf writers is how you show that satisfactorily. For me, only Silverberg got anywhere near solving the problem (or representing the utter horrific confusion likely to ensue), in novels like Thorns. Almost all other sf shelves the problem, or produces insanely feeble little Star Trek type punts at it. "This race is very formal & logical, so we might have trouble understanding their goals. They smell a bit. Oh, and they'll speak very slowly, which will make the Captain impatient with them." In all other respects they'll be Americans Gone Bad. Toss. Toss, toss, toss.
By Jonathan Oliver on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 12:31 pm:
MJH, that is exactly why I hate Star Trek. When it comes to aliens in the first series they just tend to land on a planet and start shooting, in subsequent, supposedly PC series of ST they usually patronize the alien races and provide them with earth (ie. Western) technology in order that they may advance and become more cultured. I find this very patronising and reminiscent of the borg phrase "You will be assimilated". I'm not sure about much more recent series of the TV show though as I gave up sometime after Next Generation. Babylon 5 has a much healthier take on aliens and at least attemped to express the unknowableness of some strange species. I hope that I just made sense there. All The Best Jon
By iotar on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 12:44 pm:
If you continue yr warlike ways we will reduce yr planet to cosmic rubble. Embrace peace and we will teach you the secrets of interstellar travel, life extension and *really* silky eyelashes. Ask yourself this mankind: are you worth it?
By MJP on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 01:43 pm:
Stanislav Lem's Fiasco deals with an alien encounter. It is, as the title implies, a fiasco. On the definition of sf as opposed to fantasy. It is a can of worms. But. The myth of sf is that life has an explainable basis; a concrete sense. In such terms life is inhabited by concrete myths: a tv is simultaneously a piece of hardware and a 'myth'. That is, simply by existing or being conceivable, it implies a sense to reality. Similarly for other such things, robots, cameras, computers, mobile phones: they are myths as well as technologies. The grounding of myth in fantasy is - well, actually it is the same; concrete (we are in the same era after all), only it is non-technological. A fantasy myth would be the 'magic' of the everyday: eg a car that flies. Isn't the interesting thing the ambiguity discovered by such means, only from different directions?
By MJH on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 01:43 pm:
It's the secrets of hair extension I want. There *is* a New Weird angle here: Mieville shows, in The Tain, and The Scar, that he's well up for what you might call species frame-of- reference problems. I think any solution is bound, by definition, to be Weird. And given that China's generation stand the other side of feminist, postStructuralist & Marxist cultural theories, they arrive with a well-filled toolbox for representing the other in some way that doesn't just involve a moulded forehead and a gratey voice. But those wanting a general discussion of what makes an alien alien (or how consciously Star Trek, Star Wars, StarGate, etc, seek to familiarise acts of cultural replacement) ought to start a thread of their own. Actually, now I wonder: should they ? How central to the New Weird *is* the perception of dissembled colonialism ? If it's a post Seattle fiction, it must have interests in that direction.
By Al on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 05:08 pm:
>> then we'll start killing them because we *won't* be able to understand them that way. Does this remind you of anything that's happened in the world during the last five hundred years or so ? Or even more recently than that ? True enough - look at us running into American Indians, or the various South American civilisations; something genuinely alien to European Culture, and something that was as a result flattened by it. We've already met the alien; we've already destroyed it. I'd certainly argue that attempts to understand the other *on its own terms* and to define a constructive, mutually beneficial relationship with it that respects those terms is a core part of any post Seattle endeavour - not just the writing! Never got Babylon 5, though. MJP - what you seem to be implying is that sci fi deals with *weird shit* that might conceivably happen, tho' sometimes in a v. distant way; fantasy deals with *weird shit* that can't happen; both are energised by the gap between nowness and the weirdness, so to an extent possibility is irrelevant as a measure of potential literary effectiveness. Io - you're forgetting - We are all martians now!
By Steph on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 05:17 pm:
Surely this has to be *the* major issue with any kind of weird fiction. Frame-of-reference problems are the main ones we're interested in. Among other concerns, the New weird can be bold enough to escape that old cliche: "the other is a tool to understand present human problems"? (Which removes the escapism. How dull. We want Brucolac not Buffy.) Theories? What theories? OK, we had some feminist, post-Structuralist and Marxist literature hammered into us, such a glorious education. (I remember sitting in a supervision with a tutor who stared at my leather trousers for one solid hour). My subsequent jobs hammered all academic theories back out of me and threw them in the Leeds-Liverpool canal. I was left with a simple recognition that the real world is so mind-bogglingly weird, so rich with detail, so full of trials that our best toolbox has to be observation and a distilling of our own experiences into fantasy - and a good dash of the science news into SF. MJH mentions this above when he says: "the notion that you can perhaps write fantasy without any (or at least without much) fantasy in it."
By Cheryl Morgan on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 05:43 pm:
The Clarke finalist, Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, is all about autism. It has flaws as a novel, but the autistic characters are based on Moon's experiences bringing up an autistic son and she does a good job of making their thought patterns very different from ours. Al: if you really want to talk about differences between SF and fantasy there are a couple of articles that cover that ground in Emcits #91 and #92.
By MJH on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 06:53 pm:
Hi Steph >>Frame-of-reference problems are the main ones we're interested in. Among other concerns, the New weird can be bold enough to escape that old cliche: "the other is a tool to understand present human problems" I can go with that. But I have to have *something* to do with it--even if it's just another technique stored under "good things for doing the reader's head in". & you can't deny China is frying fish with it in The Tain--or is otherness there an artefact of him doing something else ? More that, I think. What do I know ? The most difficult things to talk about are the most interesting things to do. But OK, let's add that to the New Weird submission guidelines: frame-of-reference problems do yr fucking head in. I don't think I can usefully get into the leather trouser debate.
By Steph on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 07:31 pm:
Agreed: yes it seems to be an aim in 'The Tain'. And it is a useful tool after all. Yeah, want to be eclectic, I shouldn't get annoyed and start throwing out babies with bathwater for the sake of difference. Last thing I want to do is start a debate about leather trousers! :-) *bows* *exits*
By MJP on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 08:59 am:
It makes me wince when people talk about the discovery of alien life or of the possibility of alien intelligence as if this were some sort of significant threshold: so that we can say we are not alone! I agree with MJH. We have yet to understand even the most common creatures around us (never mind plants). There are still these banal debates, "To what extent can x creature feel pain?" Then, "We are the top of the tree". "The human brain is the most complex object in the universe." Also, I really do think that aliens are among us. Count every person sitting on the train. Can you be sure they are all 'people'? The one's that no one talks to. Ever. How could that be find out? You'd need some sort of stalking policy. Not enough research has been put into this deeply ambiguous area of the 'out of sight out of mind' problem.
By Paul McAuley on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 12:10 pm:
All of this talk of frames-of-reference reminds me of a slight quibble or query I had over something Farah wrote earlier >> "What all of these texts have in common is that they write the ordinary as if it is fantastical, and allow the fantastical (rather than the fantasy, which is slightly different) to remain latent." It's a pertinent point, but my problem with it is this: what is meant by 'ordinary'? After all, the ordinariness of the frame-of-reference of any narrative discourse is culturally relative; that is, what's ordinary to the characters is not necessarily ordinary to the reader. And even if a work of fiction is thoroughly grounded in its contemporary world, what was once ordinary to the reader can with time become if not fantastic then at least unsettlingly different, which is why my Penguin editions of Dickens's novels have footnotes that recontextualise for the modern reader the ordinary cultural framework of Victorian London. Alternate cultural frameworks is something I've been banging on about for some time, ever since I was outed as a ringer bending space opera to my own fell ends; that is, trying to make space opera do something that didn't reinforce the hegemony of American capitalist democracy. I don't make any extraordinary claims about this; it's an attitude that Brits are likely to assume as a matter of course, since they're outsiders in a genre that's characteristically American. Brian Aldiss was Third Worlding it long before most everyone else in a genre which is supposed to be open to all kinds of ideas and weird points of view, but is too often open only to those which reinforce American triumphalism. I think that one of the big tick marks of the New Weird is that it doesn't privilege any particular cultural frame-of-reference. Not only that, but it doesn?t make a big fuss about the fact. Its dystopias are heterotrophic, and this heterotrophy is not explicit but implicit: the culturally fantastic is latent. It's in the details. Just as it's in the details of every day life in, say, London.
By Paul McAuley on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 12:12 pm:
PS sorry about the formatting. Obviously my WP is encountering an alien environment. Must try harder.
By MJH on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 12:27 pm:
>>I think that one of the big tick marks of the New Weird is that it doesn't privilege any particular cultural frame-of-reference. Not only that, but it doesn't make a big fuss about the fact. Its dystopias are heterotrophic, and this heterotrophy is not explicit but implicit: the culturally fantastic is latent. It's in the details. I see now that "not making a fuss about it" is what Steph was trying to get at, above. This also makes obsolete my "travel writing" metaphor, which implies author as outside viewer, sited in a grounding cultural frame--in Paul's model this is actually the reader's position. So how is "latency" (a great term, Paul) achieved *by* the author ? I have my own ideas about how I've done it, from Storm of Wings on, but I'd like to hear other people's.
By Charlie Stross on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 05:14 pm:
Warren Ellis posted a great throw-away on his blog a while back that suggested a strategy: when in doubt, take the normal and invert it. Ray Bradbury's redefinition of the job of a "fireman" in Fahrenheit 451 is a classic example -- another would be, for instance, to jigger the culture you're describing so that child abuse is socially meritorious, banking is a low-status occupation, and child minders added heroin to the gripe water in order to shut the little dears up. (No, wait, that last one was true up until 1910 or thereabouts -- cultural drift in action.) But inversion of convention is a bit ... facile? Is that the word I'm looking for? Trite. (It becomes predictable after a while, and the whole point of the exercise, as I see it, is to provoke the reader into looking at the social context they're embedded in from a different angle, to step outside the frame of everyday life for a while and contemplate the possibility that things might be different and that their comfortable norms are rooted in mere contingency.) A 180-degree angle being predictable, sometimes it's necessary to go non-Euclidian, just to keep the readers on their toes ... (Someone kindly shoot me if I'm babbling nonsensically?)
By Steph on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 05:47 pm:
Charlie: makes perfect sense. Dr. Johnson said of Gulliver's Travels: 'once you've done the big men and the little men, the rest is easy'.
By Steph on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 05:51 pm:
(I think Johnson kind of missed the point.)
By MJH on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 06:09 pm:
But that's the old shock the bourgeois angle, Charlie. Its self-awareness as a technique leaves the reader in no doubt of the satirical origin of the otherness presented. We think, or we seem to think, that the New Weird assumes its otherness more organically, more convincingly--ie, in a less ironic, less literary fashion. Otherness is latent in the whole fabric of the "world" presented.
By Charlie Stross on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 06:49 pm:
That's part of what I was fumbling towards when I was wittering about straightforward inversion being trite and facile. You're absolutely right about the self-conscious satirical approach not being effective; it leaves itself open to dismissal as sature because it doesn't illuminate anything except the current social context. It doesn't open up any truly new perspectives on the world. But ... Often, for me, a new idea doesn't come fully-formed by a single technique (pulled out of my arse, or generated by inverting an existing trope); it's a combination of things that synergize, and at least one of them is an inversion or other distortion of a common idea, which strikes sparks when you whack on it with something else. Satire isn't necessarily part of the process. (Mind you, how truly "other" can such ideas be, if they're generated by a human brain in the first place?)
By Kathryn Cramer on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 08:34 pm:
I'd been planning to read all of this discussion carefully before really jumping in, but I've realized that that's just not what my life is like right now because I'm at home in the constant company of an infant. So here goes that half-baked version without the gracious, careful connections to previous discussion. When I first happened across this discussion, the notion that there was such a thing as The New Weird struck me immediately as very right. I've been co-editing (with David Hartwell) both the Year's Best SF and the Year's Best Fantasy (HarperCollins US), and I had recognized the general phenomenon that is being discussed as the New Weird, but had not come up with a name for it. First I should mention, regarding Conjunctions: 39, New Wave Fabulists that Peter Straub told me that Bradford Morrow came up with the title -- Morrow had the title for the special Conjunctions issue and want Peter to provide the fiction. (Someone may have said this already.) So even were the New Weird equivalent with the contents of Conjunctions 39, one should use that label advisedly. One question I had been thinking about was how to distinguish what we're calling here the New Weird from plain old slipstream. In addition to the New Weird's emphasis on fantasy and horror over sf, the other primary distinction seems to me to be the approach to genre boundaries. Both slipstream and the New Weird are notable for their engagement with subverting genre boundaries. However, where the slipstream approach to genre has been for the writer to position the work slightly outside the conventional boundaries of the genre, so that it might be taken for a work of Postmodern Literature, writers of the New Weird seem (at least in part) to lack the drive to break out and be lifted up to mainstream recognition. Rather, writers of the New Weird enjoy playing with genre boundaries for their own sake, because they are a good toy. Thus, to me, at least, it seems that there has been a significant rise in works that play with the boundaries between science fiction and fantasy (as in Perdido Street Station), or simply chose the best elements of each for the sake of story (Zeitgeist). This is occasionally frustrating to me when editing the Year's Bests, because we have one clearly marked SF and the other clearly marked Fantasy, and I have to decide where to put Le Guin's recent stories, for example. This is not the old notion of speculative fiction at work here, which tears down and denies boundaries. Rather it has more relation to Benford's description of hard sf as playing with the next up (in hard sf's case the net being science). The New Weird plays with the fence up and, like the Pokey Little Puppy, digs out from under the fence and goes for a walk in the Wide Wide World. But there is little attempt to disguise where it sleeps at night. (The New Space Opera is a similar kind of game, but squarely within sf.) Of the major writers, Le Guin is really in the thick of it, story by story. Gene Wolfe and Samuel R. Delany are both literary ancestors. (This is not an inclusive list.) There are a number of newer writers I've noticed: Someone in a much earlier post mentioned Zoran Zivkovic as a possile writer of the New Weird. He was definitely on my list. Other short fiction writers that occur to me, leaving aside those in New Wave Fabulists and the VanderMeer anthologies, include Naomi Kritzer, Sarah Singleton, M. Rickerts, and Kage Baker. Also Thomas Ligotti, is both a progenitor and an occasional player, in for example, his recent corporate horror. And Gwyneth Jones, when she writes fantasy. (And possibly Paul Di Filippo and Michael Swanwick who both have a nose for a good literary game.) This is perhaps a somewhat different view of this topic because it's contoured by the fact that most of what I'm reading is short fiction, and that I do have to make editorial decisions based on genre distictions. None of this is intended to deny the political engagement with the New Weird which is one of it's notable features.
By Cheryl Morgan on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 09:45 pm:
Hi Kathryn: you are quite right that New Weird is within genre while Slipstream is moving towards the mainstream, but no way does this mean that New Weird writers lack the drive to obtain recognition. A possible analogy (with profuse apologies to all my gay friends) might be that Slipstream is like a gay man who passes for straight except in the safety of his own home, whereas New Weird is outrageously camp and demands be to accepted for what he is. This is a revolution, not an infiltration.
By MJH on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 11:19 pm:
I don't think I would be interested in a game. You would have to count me out if it was that. I'm fairly certain it isn't one, but if for the purposes of discussion you defined it as that, then I wouldn't be interssted in the discussion that ensued. Games are for people who aren't willing to take risks. You play tennis with stuff, you might as well play tennis.
By MJP on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 08:55 am:
Paul McAuley: "the culturally fantastic is latent. It's in the details." Resonance in poetry. Eg "looking on darkness which the blind do see". (Shakespeare, Sonnet 27) The line says what it says through paradox. (The blind see nothing, darkness, which is seen.) That which both is and isn't. The way that you do it is an aesthetic: how that double (or multiple) point of impossible sense is created. Whatever is 'normal' is the raw material in these terms. In prose it can be as simple as spectacles that reverse the world (so that everything appears upside down), after a while making the mind accept this as normal, so the world re-inverts itself; normality becomes the upside down world, which is therefore the right way up - so that, taking the spectacles off, the world is again, temporarily, *re-inverted*! This is a central question: given that the cliche is 'normal', then it is what subverts the cliche that is the aesthetic. But things keep 're-inverting': the anti-cliche itself becomes a cliche, and so on ...
By MJH on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 10:16 am:
Cheryl: I think you have to extend your argument by looking at things from the reception side--for instance, The Scar's reception, or Light's reception, by UK broadsheet literary editors. We've certainly caught their attention. But their interest and excitement is maintained because imaginative stuff like this really does sit on both sides of the fence at the same time. Argument by metaphor is always self-serving and unsound--anyone, after all, can make a metaphor. (I could, for instance, respond to Kathryn by saying, On the contrary, the New Weird is a bulldozer which has ripped up the fence for forty miles in both directions & is now trying to learn ballet in the space the fence used to occupy. I wouldn't, but I could.) The fence metaphor seems to me to be rather old-fashioned in the quantum century, when we rather expect things to be in two places at once; or in the complexity century, when we expect them to be the constantly emergent property of a dynamical system. Acts of the New Weird are evidence of the same breakdown of categories as is implied by the terms "slipstream" and "speculative fiction". This breakdown may be expected to be going on in all sorts of places on either side of Kathryn's presumed fence. In fact I'd prefer to see what's going on as a liquefaction or fluidising of things: the result of writers more and more often taking what's on offer in terms of technique and trope, and writing what they *want*. That's a problem for those of us whose profession still depends on acts of categorisation. But it needn't be a problem for writers, whose job isn't taxonomy or tennis but writing.
By China on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 10:24 am:
I think Charlie is a million percent right about the 'inversion' or 'subversion' becoming a cliche - and MJP puts his finger on it to with the anti-cliche becoming a cliche ad infinitum/nauseam. This, paranthetically, is one problem I have with the explosion of 'adult' or 'challenging' comics and graphic novels recently. Take Grant Morrison - clearly an astoundingly talented bloke. However, for several projects now (most obviously the Invisibles) he's essentially been saying Straight Lines/Men in Suits/Governments = Bad, and Wobbly Lines/Punks in Piercings/Scottish Chaos Magicians = Good. The fact that I more or less agree with this (though not sure about the Magick) doesn't alter the fact that this is now a fairly trite view - which mainstream Hollywood blockbuster doesn't take a pop at the Government? There's nothing less radical now than saying 'The Man is Out To Crush Our Creativity!' Or look at the whole revisionist superhero thing. How many more times do we have to hear 'Men and Women in spandex beating up villains... *it's a bit stupid*!!! What if they have personal lives??!! What if they're gay??!!' For some reason, it seems to me comics currently are particularly prone to the unconscious celebration of the cliched anti-cliche, the trite subversion. Even the much lauded League of Extraordinary Gentleman is just a rumbunctious riff off the looooong-established gimmick of choosing a literary bit-part and telling their story. Of course I _enjoy_ all these comics, but I don't buy their *radicalness*. (Compare, incidentally, Grant Morrison back in the day - in Zenith, the most impressive hero is an aging Tory MP. Now *that* - especially for a punky audience in the 80s - was radical) One reason that New Weird at its best I think can negotiate this tricky ground is related to what I said about the Weird being its own end. If you are revelling in the Weird because the Weird is what you're interested in, then the project of subverting whatever (fun and occasionally important as it may be) is secondary to this, and the destabilising affect *of the Weird itself* remains paramount, whatever its subtext. Not that there's some ahistorical and overarching UberWeird we can tap into, necessarily: one decade's weird is another's camp, and that's just a danger you have to keep working on. But the best of it is genuinely and lengthily destabilising and alienating. Look at Lovecraft. The thing about Lovecraft is that there have been countless millions and millions of Lovecraftian words written since his death, and his supposed 'weird' is now the debased common currency, the Euro of Horror. What could be less weird, more kitsch? And yet, and yet - astonishingly enough - read the original 'Call of Cthulhu' and fuck me blind it *still* gets me. And that's because its True Weird, and any 'subverting' or 'inverting' or radical posturing anyone wants to attribute to it follows from its almost S&M-style debased submission to the Weird. That's what I want. I am the Weird's bitch. And as MJH says, this isn't a 'game'. New Weird disdains Safe Words. Safe Words are for businessmen at Skin Two parties.
By MJH on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 10:38 am:
It just occurred to me that another characteristic of the New Weird is a certain celebratory rawness. I'd include Mike Marshall Smith's Only Forward on those grounds--nothing Weirder than that unexplained headless guy just standing there presiding over the ensuing events of the book. One of the problems about Movement-hood is that the assumption of it & the discussion of it lead you away from the joi de vivre, the drive, of it. China reminds us: Fuck all this, it's great, let's just go & *do some more of it*. That gets you past all category boundaries. Acts are risky & fun & take up all your attention. As a result of them you will almost certainly fall over & get gravel rash. But who cares ? That is always better than having a discourse.
By Justina on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 01:32 pm:
Well, I'm just going to say a very brief Hooray for the discourse because it's saved my brain from terminal infant-meltdown. (Hi Kathryn - I miss many finer points too). It's almost completely screwed my fiction with a great wash of self-consciousness but hey, can't have everything. My point, oh yes, kind of pipped to it by China and MJH. The thing is not the talk about it, or the imitation of it, or the reflection and analysis or the category of it or the name-check of who's in it or even the acceptance of it by big cheese editorial, super though all that can be. The thing is to get _down_ . This isn't a self-aware act, it can't be, or it doesn't work. That's why the self-consciousness of inversion, like Charlie said, is so useless except as some kind of precursor activity you have to forget entirely. MJP: if you own your cliche, that reclaims it, maybe? Anyway, my spandex super villain calls.
By Al on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 01:56 pm:
'My business is not to reason or compare, my business is to create', to coin a phrase...
By MJP on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 02:18 pm:
Hooray for the spandex super villain. I'm all for cliche. The old jokes are the best jokes ...
By Paul McAuley on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 04:33 pm:
MJH wrote >> "This also makes obsolete my "travel writing" metaphor, which implies author as outside viewer, sited in a grounding cultural frame--in Paul's model this is actually the reader's position. So how is "latency" (a great term, Paul) achieved *by* the author ? I have my own ideas about how I've done it, from Storm of Wings on, but I'd like to hear other people's." Latency isn't my term; I nicked it from Farah's quote, and I expect at any moment now to be comprehensively refuted, which will serve me right. I'm minded to push the pathological meaning - that is, the sense of something (a virus, a meme, an idea) being inactive and integrated (into the cell, or the plot) until conditions make its potential ripe for expression. Sort of sitting there, unsignposted, but emitting this mean low *significant* hum . . . Or to put it another way: we all recognise that travel writing feeling where someone's directly transposed some bit of borrowed exoticism, inverted/subverted/whatever to jazz up their pedestrian mis en scene. The kind of thing we've all noticed in Star Wars, Star Trek and skiffy novels where the aliens are *really* generic Arabs, or feudal Japanese, or some obscure tribe of South American Indians, or (save us) cats. What's infinitely more interesting is the kind of fluid mix of social, economic and sexual interaction of cultures living cheek-by-jowl seen in, say, Perdido Street Station where differences are casually integrated into the background rather than, as in travel writing, being actively foregrounded. Doesn't an imagined world become so much more interesting and exciting when the author is inside the frame, writing outwards, just as you do when writing a novel about 'ordinary' life? That kind of total absorption in a created world, rather than mechanical and considered construction, is, I think, where part of the energy of all this new stuff comes from, bursting out of the frame into the reader's face (and yes, sometimes getting gravel rash when it does a pratfall and skids past on its knees - but at least it's *moving*).
By MJH on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 05:38 pm:
Oops. Sorry Farah. Sorry Paul. Travel writing: what I really meant was the same *techniques* apply when you write f/sf, only the world you're reporting to the reader isn't actually there. Travel writers have--or had-- this huge battery of techniques for convincing their readers of the vigour & smell of the bazaar, giving a pseudo-mimetic feel of the ambience, etc etc. They used to be fucking brilliant at it in the 20s & 30s. But what comes along with that is the fixed cultural frame applied by the writer, to facilitate decoding by a reader of their own culture--Robert Byron and Peter Fleming, wild men though they were, were careful to pitch to other middle class Brits. That's precisely what the New Weird author *doesn't* do. The reader may apply a cultural frame--indeed I don't see how, as a reader, you get the frisson of the Weird *unless* you try & fail to apply your own cultural frame--but the writer doesn't. It's the resulting dissonance that does the trick. What this does is to actually revivify the very idea of otherness, which had got a bit stale. So my question was: how, technically, are we doing it ? If we aren't being travel writers of the imaginary, what kind of writers are we being ?
By Kathryn Cramer on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 05:56 pm:
Responding to MJH: >This breakdown may be expected to be going on in all sorts of places on either side of Kathryn's presumed fence. With regard to the New Weird, I agree entirely. Slipstream, I disagree. Those who coined the term Speculative fiction had grander ambitions: to redefine mainstream as a small set subsumed within the grander larger set, Speculative Fiction. Three different cases. >Argument by metaphor is always self-serving and unsound Aw, com'on, all communication takes place largely by metaphor. If we called you on every embedded metaphor, you'd never get a sentence out. (Try explaining basic physics without resorting to metaphor.) Some argument by metaphor is self-serving and unsound. Some. Not all. Metaphor can be used to lead people a long way down the path of a fallacious argument (see, there's a metaphor!), but is also essential for communicating correct information and argument. > I don't think I would be interested in a game. I should say that I view all genres as a form of game, and find that it is a useful way to look at genre dynamics that allows one to examine what's going on with a genre quite separately from what's happening with a marketing category of fiction. (I should have said that.) It is a sociological way of viewing the process. I hadn't expected such a strong reaction to that off-handed remark (which I usually explain in greater detail). Have a sense of humor, people. Literature is not a death match! This is not to diminish the strong force for cultural change that literature sometimes can be, but often isn't. Literature can do many good and important things. But acknowledging literature's importance is not at odds with using the metaphor of literary genre-as-game. >trying to learn ballet in the space the fence used to occupy I don't take exception to your playing with my metaphor, however "trying to learn ballet in the space the fence used to occupy" means something different if you know the fence was there and hold your ballet lesson there on purpose than if you hold it there simply because the rent is cheap. You can't make a counterpoint without everyone knowing what the point was to start with. I love genre boundaries, not because I think writers should obediently write inside them, but because it is so interesting to see what writer do to get over, under, around, or through. To me, the most interesting writing is constantly in dialog with whatever the writer perceives are the conventions of the genre(s) with which he or she works.
By Cheryl Morgan on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 06:04 pm:
MJH: point taken about mataphors. I was just looking for a quick and simple way to tell Kathryn that she was dead wrong on that point and start her brain on a different track. Justina: I take your point about getting down and doing it. But how are the likes of Farah and I to participate? It is Farah's job to analyse and dissect. Mine is to explain to the public. I do occasionally try to write weird reviews (the one for "Falling out of Cars", for example), but they just cause people's eyes to glaze over. Maybe I'm just not very good at it, I don't know. But it does bring me on to Mike's point about the dreadful state of modern travel writing. I occasionally try to do "mood" pieces for IGoUGo, but I always get a bad reaction from the editors. They want bald statements of facts, not anything creative. It is like travel reviews have been reduced to the level of reports on the latest new computer or camera.
By Cheryl Morgan on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 06:19 pm:
This travel writing thing has been percolating around my brain. Isn't what Paul just said is that New Weird is like travel writing done by someone who has gone native?
By Zali on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 06:35 pm:
>>New Weird is like travel writing done by someone who has gone native? Oh God, I can't say it! I always say something like this and it's going to happen again! There's no reason you can't say it - go ahead, there's no harm in repeating yrself Okay, dammit! But isn't that what Jack Vance has been doing for years? See! It wasn't that difficult, was it?
By Kathryn Cramer on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 06:38 pm:
By definition, I'm an outside observer of the New Weird, doubly so since I'm an enforcer of genre codes. That having been said, I found myself looking over the top of my glasses at Cheryl's sentence This is a revolution, not an infiltration. (Of course, I couldn't see the words that way; and the computer is not receptive to social signals.) I take the point, however hyperbolically delivered. But many more revolutions are claimed than actually exist. This is all really interesting, but I wouldn't call it a revolution. For one thing, the means of production seem to be quite securely megacorporate hands. Small press magazines and web sites don't change that. But neither was I arguing that this is an infiltration. Rather, it is a generalized willingness to play with genre and its conventions which is not confined to what one might call the Breakout Zone, just beyond genre's edge. I think this a good thing deserving of recognition and praise. It should also be mentioned that megacorporate hands were quite adept at manipulating the aspirations of slipstream: I don't know how many writers Lou Aronica promised to "break out" of the category, but there were many. (Remember Aronica copy with lines like "so good its not science fiction"?) The actual break outs were few. The travel writing discussion is promising. I've searched the back discussion for precisely what connection was being made to travel narratives, and didn't find what I was looking for. That having been said, I'm at a bit of a loss to say how a connection t o travel writing would distinguish the New Weird from the Tolkien tradition. (Or is that not at issue?) One work of Weird Travel possibly deserving of discussion in Poe's "Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym," which draws heavily on narratives of polar exploration.
By Kathryn Cramer on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 07:02 pm:
Mike's point about literary editors in the first post of this new thread is correct, though I wouldn't so much describe them as literary editor as editors who are more loyal to the field rather than to their employers. Such editors may have upmarket or downmarket taste; loyalty is the real issue.
By Cheryl Morgan on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 07:02 pm:
Kathryn: I think that's precisely why MJH dumped on me about the metaphor. How we see things is not necessarily how the rest of the industry see things, and is not necessarily how they turn out. The travel writing thing is more a question of general writing technique of New Weird philosophy. There was a panel on writing techniques at Eastercon after which I reported MJH as saying approximately, "writing SF is very much like travel writing, because it is your job to describe something strange and wonderful that your readers have not seen" (quote taken from Emcit #91, not verbatim from MJH).
By Kathryn Cramer on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 07:17 pm:
Ah. When getting a graduate degree in American Studies I read various early narratives of travel in the Americas: the narrative tactics reminded me very much of those used in science fiction and fantasy.
By John Coulthart on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 07:42 pm:
I'm going to de-lurk here a minute having followed this incredibly stimulating discussion for a few weeks now. I wanted to offer some words of defence for Alan Moore whose League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was mentioned by China above. I'd thought some time back that someone ought to mention Alan as it seems like he's done a fair degree of what's being proposed/discussed here himself. LOEG is obviously a retro exercise, something that Alan wanted to do to get some simple fun back into the dour world of pathological superwretches. So I think it's a bit unfair saying it fails to be something it wasn't intended to be in the first place. I've worked with Alan on a number of different projects and I feel reasonably certain he'd agree with much of this discussion, not least because he was a reader of New Worlds in its prime period and is infused with similar enthusiasms. As far as Lovecraft is concerned, Alan's short story 'The Courtyard', in Creation's Starry Wisdom collection, is a brilliant cross-pollination of genres as well as being a great piece of writing, one of the few successful post-Lovecraft pieces for me along with Attanasio's 'The Star Pools'. Coincidentally, both have a crime story framing narrative. Both also manage to develop Lovecraft rather than parrot his work. 'The Courtyard' would have been part of the Yuggoth Cultures book he was writing for Creation if he hadn't left the only copy in a London taxi. Of his recent work, Promethea seems very New Weird to me. I won't bother describing the series, there's a whole website that does as much. Suffice to say anything that mixes alternate SF universes, invasions of Goetic demons, journeys through Kabbalistic spheres, is often wildly experimental (the history of the universe in a single comic!), has the primacy of the imagination as its central theme AND references Weird Tales seems pretty suited to what's being discussed here. Or am I wrong? Does this attitude/approach transfer to other media? John
By Cheryl Morgan on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 07:55 pm:
Bugger. And I've been trying so hard to stay out of comic book shops. Yet another drain on the finances. BTW, could you provide the URL for the web site you are refering to. There are lots of sites that talk about Promethea.
By Paul McAuley on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 07:56 pm:
The problem I have with modern travel writing is that much of it is full of 'look at me being coolly ironic' moments instead of actual immersion. Or it's about stunts, like travelling around Ireland with a fridge. Blame it on the ease of travel perhaps, but those old guys (and gals) in their funny hats got there the hard way. Bill Bryson, in some recent interview or other, said he was trying to give up his jokey approach because he couldn't use it to get under the skin of the places where real suffering was going on. Exactly. Cheryl -- going native is definitely one way of doing it, if you can go native in yr own head. I think you get that required density/intensity by imagining your way into a place by sheer force of will, and snatching at the details you need, which aren't necessarily the details a visitor, on the look-out for the charming, the naive, the photographable, would note. My favourite photograph of London is the one by Don McCullen (have I got the name right?) of a couple of tramps going out of their heads around the back of Spitalfields. You see what I mean?
By John Coulthart on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 08:02 pm:
I find Comic shops are usually small annexes of hell but that's my problem. The Promethea URL: http://www.angelfire.com/comics/eroomnala/Promethea.htm Lots of very slow loading graphics but this guy has annotated all the issues very thoroughly. Quite staggering the amount of reference in the series. John
By Cheryl Morgan on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 09:41 pm:
Know exactly what you mean, Paul. I'm currently about 75% of the way through "The Light Ages", and for all the publishers attempts to market it as another "Perdido Street Station" I'm struck by how different the two books are. China produced a living, seething impression of a city, whereas Macleod has given us a beautifully written but curiously passionless description of a city. China's work is utterly weird, whereas MacLeod's approach makes even the magical seem mundane.
By MJH on Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 11:00 pm:
Kathryn: I see only a kind of maximum writing space, in which every technique from every genre is available to solve the individual problem of the individual writer on the day. (That is, you have something to say: how do you set about saying it ?) That crosses not only subgeneric boundaries, but the great boundaries too, between biography and fiction, or fiction and journalism. Even to say "cross" or "boundaries" is to buy a set of artficial limitations. There's only write-space, in which you make your choices according to how difficult a problem you have and how clever you are at combining modes and techniques. Boundaries only exist to be negotiated because of corporate land grabs and academic enclosures, which are constantly presented to the writer as manifest, proper, and--most definite of all--fixed. The best that can be expected if writers buy the "fence" metaphor is a dribble, a leakage across the boundary: when actually the whole fucking space is available to them already. As a metaphor the fence is self-reflexive: it acts to cage. In write-space you don't "cross boundaries"; & if there's a game to be played it's more like swimming in your food than jumping other people's hurdles. Writers have been approaching this understanding for three or four decades. They find it hard to go all the way. Every attempt to define "slipstream" or "cross genre" or "speculative fiction" or whatever, is the result of an intuitive understanding that (a) there are no distinct zones in write-space; and that (b) boundaries are held in place by a combination of authorial vertigo (the terror of choice) and anti-authorial acts of enclosure. When you tell me about the delight of "games" played between categories, you are serving the land-grab agendas which gave rise to literary academicism and corporate publishing. You're effectively offering, out of the goodness of your heart, to rent back some of the common land. I don't want that, thanks. I want to do what I want. In fact, actually, I already do. The New Weird is a small move by some writers to site themselves more fully in write-space; elsewhere, on the "mainstream" side of one of those illusory fences, authors like David Mitchell are making similar kinds of moves. The word these days is pick & mix. It is take what you need. Do the job right and you won't need to apologise, in fact do the job right *and people won't even notice* that you broke these nonexistent rules and bred H P Lovecraft onto Joanna Trollope using a little Alpine journalism to lubricate the sex act itself. Inasmuch as it's an expression, in its own way, of that mood among writers, the New Weird is worth a go. But not as a game, because that game can only be played by rules someone else put in place. I don't know about China, but I'm kind of temperamentally against that. PS: everything's a death match for me, otherwise I get bored & walk away. If there's nothing at stake, why bother ? PPS: Ok, we're stuck with metaphor. I fucking hate it because it's so easy to do. If I was a younger person I would invent a version of New Puritanism in which metaphor would be added to the proscribed list.
By Kathryn Cramer on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 02:19 am:
David [Hartwell], over my shoulder points out that I have mistaken what MJH means by "literary editor" -- a difference in British and American usage. He thinks MJH means the people who edit the book pages in newspapers, whereas I understood him to mean the more literary end of the spectrum of editors who acquire novels for publishers. (The baby is trying to unscrew a light bulb, so I'll respond to the rest later.)
By MJH on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 10:07 am:
Kathryn: David's right. Sorry, I should have made that clearer at the time. Good luck with the light bulb.
By MJH on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 10:40 am:
Kathryn: actually, I see now that I did make myself clearer a little later, Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 10:58 am, in a post to MJP. This would perhaps be worth your time, because it's a pivotal situation for UK New Weirders (also f/sf writers), and a point which was made quite strongly at the New Weird's recent Institute of Contemporary Arts event in London. While generalised use of the fence metaphor forces us to go cap-in-hand to the London literary editors we have to have a strategy which takes their needs, definitions and prejudices into account. That's been (and will continue to be) one of the practical problems ex-generic writers face; it's another aspect of the problem I outlined, Thursday, June 05, 2003 - 11:00 pm, above.
By Kathryn Cramer on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 11:46 am:
Regarding literary editors in the sense you mean: Reading the May 29th post, I see that in the UK you have a much more favorable situation with respect to newspaper reviewing. Once you get past about 5 major newspapers here, the quality and the quantity of book reviewing plunges. And the situation is getting worse. With regard to the New York Times, it is more likely to be the publisher's editor (for example, David) or publicist who can get Gerald Jonas to take a look, than the author. And Michael Dirda of the Washington Post is actively friendly, commissioning reviews from within the field, and occasionally showing up at conventions. The vast majority of published newspaper reviews in this country are either plagiarisms from the flap copy or the press release. Library and trade reviewing, i. e. Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly are the other important reviews outside the field, which strongly influence library distribution. Separate post to come for June 05, 2003 - 11:00 pm.
By MJH on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 01:03 pm:
Kathryn: the reviewing situation's not much different here. Some of us recently found some space inside it and took our opportunity. We couldn't have done that without considerable support from a network of wellwishers already inside--for want of a better word--the literary establishment; or unreplaceable help from total heroes like our own Muriel Gray; or contributions from publishers of the calibre and flexibility of Malcolm Edwards and agents of the calibre and ferocity of Mic Cheetham. I can't stress enough, also, that without powerful fiction all these generously-disposed but disparate people could *recognise* as powerful fiction--and without a platform that could be recognised as interesting and worthwhile--we wouldn't have stood a chance. In the end, you get judged by what you do. In the UK at the moment we're lucky to have flagship writers like China, John Courtenay Grimwood and Justina Robson, to name but three from a long, long list; not to say extraordinary up-and-comers like Stephanie Swainston. In a sense, this is aside from the main point of this thread. In another, since it deals with the social and professional liquefaction of fiction--the collapse of the categories--it has a lot to do with the zeitgeist of which the New Weird is a manifestation.
By Kathryn Cramer on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 01:14 pm:
Regarding MJH, June 05, 2003 - 11:00 pm: I'll grant that a certain amount of hyperbole i necessary to convey literary passion, so I won't pursue the death match issue. You are free to reject the game metaphor, but before we dispose of it, imagine a playground full of children. Observe their relative proximity to one another, who is making eye contact with whom, who is chasing whom, etc. You will observe definite groupings. Children move in and out of groups easily. Nonetheless, at any given moment it is easy for the playground observer watching a particular group to tell who is in the game. Literary movements in genres function similarly. Whether one calls this a game or a revolutionary council, the very fact that we are discussing this rather than just all off doing our own thing in isolation should be noted. We are taking our social signals from one another before we go off to do our work. Those signals contour what we will do. The works get published and the cycle begins again. Whether one defines it as a game or by some other name, it is this repeated cycle that is characteristic. Your position on genre boundaries is fairly widespread within the field and is not confined to the avant garde. Stan Schmidt's opinions on this topic are very similar to your own. (See my essay on Hard SF forthcoming in Farah & Edward's Cambridge Companion volume). >Boundaries only exist to be negotiated because of corporate land grabs and academic enclosures I think you refer here mostly to boundaries of marketing categories. A genre is the set of codes defining a transaction between reader and text. A marketing category is a set of codes defining a transaction between a publisher and a distribution system. These interact through the book's package: a book should be packaged honestly enough so that it does not outrage the consumer (the reader who bought it based on the package), and at the same time it must look like something the industry is accustomed to selling. These cues also come into play in reviewing, since the publishers cue the reviewers as to the nature of the book. R. A. Lafferty is a good example of someone intensely part of the genre game but who fell right out the bottom of the marketing category. The corporate land grabs definitely relate to marketing categories. Academic enclosures are a somewhat different matter. Many of the academics who take on genre fiction haven't read enough of it and so have over-simplified notions of what they are dealing with. [I pause briefly to catch Elizabeth who has taken off her diaper and removed several items from the Year's Best reading pile. Baby rediapered and redirected to her xylophone, I continue.] Often academics will take cues from category packages (or worse, movies) rather than genre reading experiences, but just as often academics take cues from trends blowing in the academic breeze as to how best approach genre fiction. One thing I found perplexing back in graduate school was that acceptable approaches to genre fiction were so non-judgmental as to make it difficult to argue that any one work was better than any other work. On renting back the common lands: Sure I make a certain amount of money off the sweat of the brows of writers. (Our household economy is founded on that!) Regarding me in particular, one could make arguments one direction or another regarding hard sf. I do a kind of activist anthology which does serve both corporate and academic agendas by providing a neat little package that says HARD SF on the cover making things very easy. However we are also very consciously revising and documenting the genre codes both for readers and for writers. I don't think the common lands formulation is a good fit. From my perspective, marketing categories are confining and genres are liberating.
By Justina on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 01:16 pm:
Cheryl - re The Light Ages. Looks like I'm on my own with this one but I thought that the way the magic in this book has become synonymous with muck, heavy industry and the exploitation of the working classes was a masterly job. The hero himself, whilst apparently on this big self discovery journey, keeps on finding out what a nitwit he is as he dabbles with socialism and his vision of himself as a working class hero with equal disregard. He dismisses people of genuine creative vision (George who tears down the Church) because of their class or because of their otherness (Mistress Summerton) and falls in love with a woman who will happily ruin her own 'mother' for the sake of social placement. His caricatures of the Stropcocks are getting a bit unforgivable but at least some people are drownded, so to speak (I'm referring to Albert & the Lion, a poem) so there's something to laugh at. It's the very fact that the magic is an energy that fuels the injustice of the industrial age here and its ubiquitous filthy results that makes this book special. China wrote in a world where 'magical' strangeness was glorious, much of the time. Here it's like McDonald's, and as inspiring. OK, I'm still two chaps from the end... MJH, Kathryn: I think, in my Malthusian moments, that literature is part of life, as essential as breathing in a literate culture, and life is a deathmatch and so writing/thinking is a deathmatch. If it wasn't, why give a toss? See Power of Naming thread in this discussion.
By Justina on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 01:51 pm:
Cheryl, re Where does the NW disco leave you - I didn't mean to be exclusionist there. I think I was overreacting to Kathryn's post, which seemed to be pushing towards a big reification moment in which NW becomes something concrete. Kathryn - one of the things I found hardest to cope with at Clarion, and since at other out and out SF gatherings, is the sense that people have a huge amount invested in keeping up walls between genres, particularly in their case SF and anything else. This came from both sides; editorial/corporate and writer/fan. Because the writers are at the sharp end of this (and actually the fans, although they don't want to know about it much) there was a big fear about writing anything a bit different. The same thing is going on here as in the movie industry, although its taking a slightly different road. But the thing that drives all this conformity to accepted norms is the servicing of the free market and largely American illusions about economic growth and stability, visions underpinned by a view of the world which is convinced that sufficient marketing analysis will eventually yield a perfect solution to the problem of how to shift product and what product will shift most. Because writing isn't just about selling units, it's also about selling ideas, the restriction on the structures and categories through which ideas can be questioned is acting as heavy leverage on publishing's massive hedge fund. Literally and metaphorically. Continuing to accept genre norms as anything except temporally convenient markers for discussing a social phenomenon is like accepting the idea that scientific advances, free market capitalism, democracy and the modernisation of the world will eventually bring an end to human conflict. Damn, I've been mainlining too much John Gray. Now, does he eventually morph into a Fiery Phoenix and attempt to take over the world in a lurid blast of adamantine economic contingency? Tell me somebody....
By Al Reynolds on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 02:12 pm:
Justina: The same thing is going on here as in the movie industry, although its taking a slightly different road. I was thinking this morning about whether there could be such a thing as the cinema of the New Weird, and if so what films might already spring to mind. Can't help thinking that films like Brazil, the Navigator, Delicatessan, Dark City, tap into something of the same "sod this, I'm going do what I want" mentality of the NW. I've found these films to be far more imaginatively stimulating than the latest slew of SF and fantasy blockbusters. Al R
By MJH on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 02:48 pm:
Kathryn, I agree sunnily with most of what you say (although I'm not entirely sure the playground image applies to anyone whose favourite activity is, or has been, solo rock climbing--as Charlie Brown said to me the other day, "You'll admit the sense of what I say now, Mike: then you'll go off and do exactly what you want to do anyway." Sharp guy, that Charlie), but I think our culture clash revolves around this statement-- >>A genre is the set of codes defining a transaction between reader and text. I'm not sophisticated enough in academic terms to unpack it and get at why this *isn't* the given you assume it to be (or would like it to be). Perhaps someone else is. I'm uncomfortably aware of a circularity in it somewhere. I'm also uncomfortable with some of the assumptions one would have to make to predicate it; not to say the implications (for readers and writers) that cascade from it. I'm afraid that if you can't give up the idea of genre as a real thing (rather than, say, an academic construct fast losing its convenience in the face of events), I can't give up the idea that it's a self-bootstrapping monster: a bad meme--or maybe, to do it justice, a meme that was useful in its time and for its generation. We don't live in a world of rigidly-definable states anymore. Compartmentalising metaphors don't catch the motion of things--complexity theory describes the world as a dynamic tangle of boundary-conditions, phase changes and abrupt, unpredictable jumps between attractors: a fiercely agitated place of emergent properties, combination and recombination, indescribably complex activity resulting from the application of simple rules: not a little Swiss town with well-demarcated sectors, or an apothecary-chest divided into lots of tiny little boxes. Readers who can manage Light or The Scar or Falling Out of Cars as easily as a Mitchell or Murakami novel--or for that matter, literary editors who find themselves able to read Light as easily as they read Everything Is Illuminated or The Corrections--seem to me to be the proof that a reading-space now exists which owes little or nothing either to academic constructs like genre or marketing constructs like... genre. I'm interested in defining, helping to construct, then taking writerly advantage of that space. (As I implied above, I think the coming changes are as much social as professional: a reading-space is, by definition, a demographic.) But I'm amiable, despite my tendency to death matches: we can agree to differ. Well, I mean we might *have* to, really, mightn't we ?
By MJH on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 02:52 pm:
Justina: couldn't agree more. Al: couldn't agree more.
By Cheryl Morgan on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 04:12 pm:
Kathryn: nice sleight of hand defining genre and marketing category as something different, but I'm not sure that it has any practical use. I'm thinking back to my experiences at the recent Wiscon here. We live in a world where aspiring young writers very seriously say, "Oh, you must never write cross-genre novels, you'll never get published", and where fans in the audience say they wish that bookstores would have even tighter sub-genre classifications so that they can find precisely the sort of book they want to read and nothing else. And this is Wiscon, one of our most literary conventions. Al: City of Lost Children Justina: Thanks for not being exclusionary, but I'm still interested in knowing how us critics should approach this. As for "The Light Ages", I'll reply off-board as it isn't really on topic.
By Charlie Stross on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 04:55 pm:
Cheryl: They're trying to put our brains in boxes. But the appropriate response is not to behave like a Dalek (surely the ultimate infantile media rendition of a malevolent brain in a box-on-wheels), rushing around shouting "exterminate!" -- it's to ask why. Consider that, as Kathryn says, the state of SF book reviews in the popular press is dire. Consider also the fact that we're seeing more and more books pumped out by the publishing industry (because Mike's big engine of corporate capitalism is doing exactly what you'd expect, and trying to commoditize ideas) in a random attempt to saturate the target with randomly-selected stuff. If you put these two facts together you come out with an environment which is reader-hostile; you could be surrounded by brilliant, challenging literature that you want to read, but you'd never know about it. I'm currently bogged down in a book by Alexander Jablokov, who I've barely heard of, which was published in 1993 ... and which I only ran across at random the day before yesterday because a local bookshop was having a let's-clear-the-stockroom day. I've got stuff by people like Adam Roberts, or Justina, and indeed "Light" is languishing on my shelves waiting to be read because I just don't have enough goddamn time, and this sucks. And the reason Jablokov's book short-circuited the to-read stack was that I'd heard some throwaway comments about him and I have, at least, read other books by Mike or Justina, so ... I'm suffering from information overload, basically. I don't read very fast, I take time to digest challenging works, and I consequently can't really get through more than about fifty decent books a year. If you consider that the average reader has even less time/capacity, is it any surprise that they demand ever more selective labelling to highlight the stuff that fits what they're looking for? The readers are Not The Enemy ...
By Cheryl Morgan on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 06:23 pm:
Hi Charlie: I'm mildly stunned that you could have taken my last post as advocating exterminating readers, but you have at least got the point that I was trying to make. Now, given that the environment is reader-hostile, and that some of those poor folks (to throw Kathryn some more hyperbole) are convinced that they should only ever buy whodunits set in the 18th Century in which the amateur detective falls in love with the dark handsome stranger accused of the crime while her cat solves the mystery, because it is just Not Safe to try any other sort of book, how is it helpful or liberating to define genre as something other than a marketing category? I can define my prison bars as sausages, but I still can't bend them to escape, nor can I eat them.
By MJH on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 06:30 pm:
Hey Cheryl, those are exactly the kind of books I like. Where can I get more of them ? Only the cat has to be a blue-cream longhair, I don't like the ones where it's a Siamese.
By Kathryn Cramer on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 07:02 pm:
Replying to Cheryl: >nice sleight of hand defining genre and marketing category as something differentt, but I'm not sure that it has any practical use To be really direct about it: People like Ian Ballantine and Tom Doherty get to define marketing categories. People like you and me get to define genres (or at least subgenres). >you must never write cross-genre novels Thre is a certain kind of slush pile novel in which the new writer, eager to be as commerical as possible, combines genre tropes from a variety of genres in hopes of appealing to as broad an audience as possible. This strategy is usually a terrible failure, because marketing categories don't add; they subtract. New writers are told this sort of thing for much the same reason that they are told not to write sf or fantasy in the first person and to avoid the present tense. The cross-genre novel demands a higher degree of skill than a novel within the confines of a single genre. And the crossing should be done for aesthetic reasons, not from a misplaced desire to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. An aside on Charlie's comment: >more and more books pumped out by the publishing industry Given the state of the distribution system in the US, it could be more books, but fewer titles, or as megacorporate stupidity goes on and they try to stripmine and use up the book, it could be fewer and fewer books. The distribution system is in serious danger -- though it has just dodged a bullet since AOL Time Warner has decided not to sell their book division to Bertelsman. The US book market is in danger of a collapse similar to what happened in the UK. Replying to Justina: >life is a deathmatch and so writing/thinking is a deathmatch OK. Here's my supressed deathmatch comment: Taking Peter to the dentist and having to sit there while the dentist pulled out his top 4 front teeth gives me a bit of perspective about what I would actually die or kill for. I knew what I wanted to do about it and I had to sit there and not. I do wonder, however, whether pediatric doctors and dentists are ever attacked by parents who can't stand it anymore. (David's joke, to get me to come down from the ceiling, was "You could always have thrown your body between Peter and the dentist and said, 'NO! Take Mine!'") I take literary argument very seriously and it is also is important to me. But it does not provoke the way pediatric dentistry does.
By Cheryl Morgan on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 08:00 pm:
MJH: Given the level of interest in the new genre, I will be setting up an e-book publishing company, a web site, and a set of awards. I'm currently working on a set of authorial guidelines so that aspiring authors will know where to place the first kiss, and where to place the scene where the cat gets chased by the villain's dog. Kathryn: But if I were to define a genre called New Weird and write long and enthusiastic articles about which authors were authentically New Weird and which were not, then China would kill me. Always assuming that MJH or Jeff Vandermeer didn't get to me first. And Charlie would probably try to exterminate me except I'd hide upstairs.
By Kathryn Cramer on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 08:32 pm:
What I think I'm understanding here, and I'm going to use my phrasing and terminolgy, is that what the New Weird is deeply opposed to is the corrupt linkage between marketing category and genre product. Very good. And also quite worthwhile, especially since forces beyond our control that don't care even a little about genre politics may take down the old regime of publishing anyway (here I allude to the consolidation of distribution into too few hands). One issue related to genre boundaries that I neglected to mention earlier is how a work is read. I'm going to go all Delany on you here. SF & fantasy are intended by most practioners to have a literal level. Much of the postmodern lit which seems to overlap with slipstream is not. To steal from a review I wrote a long time ago (I think it was of something Larry McCaffrey did on cyberculture) when Cathy Acker writes about brain eating, it's a metaphor. When Rudy Rucker writes about brain eating, there is a saw and a spoon involved. I'm not clear on how the New Weird approaches this matter of reception. >But if I were to define a genre called New Weird and write long and enthusiastic articles about which authors were authentically New Weird and which were not, then China would kill me. I started to ask how setting up an e-book publishing company, a web site, and a set of awards differ materially from the kind of advocacy you say you'd get in trouble for, but then I realized you were joking. (Bruce Sterling tried to put a stop to such things once the cat was already out of the bag.) It's the awards that gave you away. Awards are a lot more work than e-book publishing and web sites. Do I gather here that this amorphous thing that we must not call a genre is not intended to be the next big thing, promoting some writers and excluding others, but rather is intended as a set of liberatory tools available to all, if only they will use them?
By MJH on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 08:58 pm:
I haven't got any perspective at all on what I'd die for, having spent so many Saturday afternoons looking at a hundred foot fall on to my left elbow for no reason I could explain adequately at the time. And that isn't to mention the quality of the driving on the way home from the crag. I'm probably not the best person to be talking about this, inappropriate levels of committment being my middle name. Speaking of which, Cheryl, what do you mean, "dog" ? I don't like the ones with the dogs in. I think that's unjustifiably violent. We all know bad things happen, but we don't need to have them rammed down our throats, thank you. I'll be taking my business to that nice Mr Harper Collins from now on.
By Cheryl Morgan on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 09:10 pm:
Kathryn: I think you've got it there, but I'll leave it to the actual writers to say if they are happy with it. Well spotted on the award thing. Comes from living with someone who has administered the Hugos several times. I'll thank Kevin when he gets home. (Er, you didn't think I could have been serious about publishing cat detective books, did you?) MJH: I love it when people pick up on my straight lines like that.
By Kathryn Cramer on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 09:26 pm:
I'm envisioning Mike wearing a sign around his neck which says WILL DIE FOR FUN.
By Zali on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 09:57 pm:
There are things out there that can break you...
By MJH on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 10:06 pm:
...but they are probably more frightened of you than you are of them. That would have been my sign, Kathryn, in the 80s. Now I'm just a Leo I'm afraid.
By Faren Miller on Friday, June 06, 2003 - 10:16 pm:
I don't think discussion of The Light Ages is off-topic, for its take on magic and history is thoroughly New Weird. The pacing may be quirky at times, but I think it works (my full review will show up in Locus for July). Re Charlie's point on reading -- as a reviewer, I get paid to read 60+ books a year and love it, but I know that's far from the readerly norm. The only recourse is to check out tips from friends, discussion mates, and (yes) us scribes too. As for New Weird films, does surreal black comedy qualify? Just last night our podunk local station showed a gem from 1989, "Twister" starring Harry Dean Stanton (with a choice cameo from William Burroughs, target shooting in a barn and offering false information). Anyone else seen that one? I'll have to do a websearch for more info.
By Kathryn Cramer on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 01:52 am:
Ah. I think China has already answered my reception question in his long numbered post in the second section: >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. Readers are Delany-style readers and opposed to McCaffrey's postmodern readers. Good.
By Cheryl Morgan on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 05:28 am:
Um, no Faren. The Light Ages is fundamentally and agressively anti-Weird. That's one of the things about it that Justina and I do agree on. It is a book that claims that reading any genre is a drug addiction and that trying to change anything about the world is futile, irresponsible and dangerous. I can't imagine many of the people here wanting much to do with a book that claims that there is no point in caring because the Daily Telegraph readers always win in the end. But I suspect that most people here haven't read it, so I really think we should discuss this off-board.
By Al on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 10:03 am:
>> The corporate land grabs definitely relate to marketing categories. Hmm. There’s something intriguing here, which I’ve been meaning to rant about a bit for a little while – I think it directly effects this question of genre, whether in broader sci fi / fantasy / whatever terms, or in narrower subdivisions thereof. In the Western World, we’ve been living under a consumer capitalist system for quite a while now. As a result, most of our marketplaces are pretty much fully explored, fully exploited and fully saturated. That is, pretty much every consumer within a given marketplace knows about the full range of *stuff* that is on sale; pretty much every consumer realises exactly what *stuff* will meet their needs; pretty much every consumer is already buying that *stuff*, whatever it may be. That makes it very difficult to grow sales; there aren’t really very many new-to-category consumers to sell to (you’re already talking to them all), and those consumers within the category are already seeing all their needs as being very nicely met by existing product, thank you. This becomes a problem for your average marketeer because he or she is generally incentivised not to keep sales of their particular products at the same level, but to grow them. In this context, pretty much the only way you can do this is by taking market share from your competitors. The only way you can do that is by better understanding and serving the needs of your shared consumers. This can be a very useful process; from my consumer point of view, I’d rather bank (for example) with First Direct (who’ve clearly thought very carefully about exactly what I want from a bank) than with Nat West (who, equally clearly, hadn’t). So, I changed from Nat West to First Direct, because I can trust them to consistently give me exactly what I need – no more, no less. Related to this is the drilling down into a particular category to break it down into individual segments. Take ‘fresh fruit juice’, for example; this now breaks down into a variety of different niche marketplaces – health fresh fruit juices (Optio), luxury fresh fruit juices (innocent), basic fresh fruit juice (Tropicana), kid’s fresh fruit juices (Sunny D – at least until everyone realised what was really in it!), etc. People drill down like this because it allows them to create more buying opportunities. Historically, you’d think – hmm, I want something healthy and tasty, that will be a bit of a treat, so I’ll buy a carton of fresh juice; now, you’d think – hmm, I want something healthy and tasty, that will be a bit of a treat – so I’ll buy some Optio to be really healthy, some innocent because it’s a bit of a treat, and a little Tropicana to have for every day. Oh, and some Sunny D for the kids. More *stuff* is sold. And, more broadly, what you end up with is a system of knowledge / practice that is predicated on breaking individual consumer need down into the smallest possible categories, and then servicing those categories individually. This becomes deeply problematic when you translate it into book terms – and I think explains a lot of what lies behind the apparent shift towards ever more niched / finely categorised fiction. Looking from the outside, publishing seems to me to be becoming an ever more corporate activity. As such, it will prioritise corporate goals – build sales, develop new marketplaces, maximise the potential of existing ones – rather than literary ones - create interesting new work. The experts in this are the marketeers, who for the most part work as described above. So, you will have an explosion of sub genre of sub genre of sub genre. This won’t be a result of any literary judgements, but rather of a sense that consumer need can be clearly defined in very specific terms and accordingly serviced. I think this lies behind Charlie’s comment ‘Consider also the fact that we're seeing more and more books pumped out by the publishing industry…in a random attempt to saturate the target with randomly-selected stuff’ above, though I think that the attempt is probably either less random than it seems, or will become so as literary marketeers become more sophisticated. Many consumers already think like this and indeed expect to be serviced thusly – look at Cheryl’s ‘where fans in the audience say they wish that bookstores would have even tighter sub-genre classifications so that they can find precisely the sort of book they want to read and nothing else’ above. A marketeer’s dream… So, in this context, I’d see the New Weird and writing of its ilk as a resistance – making the point that the value of literature lies not in its ability to service specific niche marketplaces, or provide a specific, secure reading experience on tap (which, if it’s driven by marketing thinking as defined above, is all it does) but rather in its ability to confound and challenge expectations, surprise readers, and introduce something shockingly, rawly new into your life. Surprise is anathema both to marketeers and consumers; the two want to enter into an economic relationship where each gets exactly what each expects from the other (like me with First Direct – in some parts of life, this kind of relationship can be very useful). It’s the very lifeblood of all the best reading and writing – and there’s a lot of economic structure working at the moment to stop it happening.
By MJH on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 10:25 am:
Nice piece, Al. Good to get a very professionalised view of that process. And clearly you're right: the corporate publishers aren't very experienced at this, at least in the UK, but if they survive they'll get better. I was going to say, our job will always be to provide an alternative, whatever we call ourselves. But I wonder if sudden outcrops like the New Weird actually only cater to another niche taste: the shock of the new. And are there not processes in place in most corporates now, geared precisely to finding any new niche, or change in a niche, and getting on top of it before the possible profit leaks away ?
By Kathryn Cramer on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 12:23 pm:
>Related to this is the drilling down into a particular category to break it down into individual segments. Al, you are right up to a point. I wrote a essay along these lines in a very early issue of NYRSF. The difficulty with this model is that once one gets down into the final classification, the product must be repeatable. We are not supposed to find one great carton of orange juice, or a band aid that surpasses all others. The portion of the fiction market that most closely resembles your description is the romance. Romance readers often are looking for a repeatable experience, so change then names and the setting and off we go again. But SF & fantasy , as a whole, are quite resistant to this because readers do not want exactly the same book every time. Within certain parameters, they're looking for something new every time (or at least think they are). As I recall, Harlequin (or was it Silhouette?) launched an sf line in the 70s and it failed. Roger Elwood was involved, I think, (I've just searched my hard drive and the really old stuff isn't on it: I think my discussin of this was in "Sincerity and Doom: An Eventual Review of This Is the Way the World Ends by James Morrow.") A few details I remember: Mr. O'Keefe, the corporate spokesman, saying that "books are very much like cabbages" and also that they were not going to put authors' names on the order form, because it doesn't matter who write the book. The brand is what matters. If this strategy would work in SF and fantasy, they would have taken over the field. They certainly had the money. There are portionsof the audience who want the repeatable experience, and today's market is happy to provide it in the form of gaming tie-ins and movie tie-in series etc. But even the audience for, say, Robert Jordan, is not looking for repetition of the kind Mr. O'Keefe wanted to provide. The other thing driving splits into finer subgenres is that good books tend to be different from one another, and it is the publisher's job to convey what it new and interesting about this new book or writer. One cannot go out with every idiosychratic book and say this is like nothing you've ever read. Instead, one must make comparisons. I tried digging out a few of David's from Amazon, but they seem to drop publisher's descriptions once they have a batch of reviews but I found one good example: On John Wright: "The Phoenix Exultant is a continuation of the story begun in The Golden Age and, like it, a grand space opera in the tradition of Jack Vance and Roger Zelazny (with a touch of Cordwainer Smith-style invention)." (I tried looking up his copy on Richard Garfinkle, Patrick O'Leary, and Candas Jane Dorsey also, The books are here somewhere. . . . ) While David's adhering to the "inthetraditionof" formulation, he signaling an idiosychratic book to the audience that can decode the comparisons. Now, even these kind of careful signalling tend to clump books and they packages tend to cluster, so that subgenre groupings occur also among the most individual books. (I should say that David is especially good at publishing idiosychratic books; may such books are published with less care or not published at all.) SF and fantasy are not a marketer's dream; closer to a marketer's nightmare. The distribution system wants repeatability more that the readers do. The problem that some of the readers are articulating is that the package that gets the book distributed is not necessarily the package that points the reader toward the book he or she most wants. Book packages are optimized for distribution. The needs of the readers are secondary. There is a certain conservatism among readers, but it is not the same conservatism as that of the distribution system. Publishing will never be a very efficient system from the standpoint of business school models. That is one reason why in the long term megacorporate ownership of publishers is a very bad thing. It's never going to produce the way abstract business models say it ought to. So they'll torture the goose trying to get a higher output of golden eggs per unit of grain fed until it dies.
By Farah on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 12:48 pm:
I spend a week writing an essay on why YA sf doesn't work and the world has moved on. But I wanted to backtrack a moment to the travel writing metaphor. Several people have suggested that the New Weird is written by a writer who has gone native. If that were so they would be a brilliant guide who made everything alien clear because they understood *both* worlds. The New Weird is written as if by someone who has been commissioned to write a travel guide, but who has no idea what a travel guide is, has never met a tourist, and didn't actually know that there were people out there. S/he wanders round, pointing out arbitrary "sights" such as the local supermarket while you wonder what that interesting building in the distance is. And when you ask them, they say "oh, that's old, you don't want to know about that". Farah
By China on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 01:14 pm:
Farah: Love that post. genius. (_Perdido Street Station: or, A Guide To New Crobuzon By A Local Moron With No Sense Of Perspective_) John Coulthart: ('Nuff respeck, btw, great to see you post) Never meant to be dissing the great Alan Moore, only pointing out that some of the inflated claims made (by others, I grant you) about the *STUNNING NEWNESS* of LoEG are, um, inflated. My bugbear is more Morrison than Moore, any day.
By MJH on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 01:19 pm:
>>Publishing will never be a very efficient system from the standpoint of business school models. That is one reason why in the long term megacorporate ownership of publishers is a very bad thing. It's never going to produce the way abstract business models say it ought to. So they'll torture the goose trying to get a higher output of golden eggs per unit of grain fed until it dies. Couldn't agree more, Kathryn. Especially with that last sentence. On the description of books, though, & strictly from an authorial point of view: I'd prefer to be described as genuinely idiosyncratic (indeed idiolectic) than be compared to something I'm not. I don't feel it helps me in the long term to be sold to an audience which is really looking for something else... Here's where I suspect even slipstream or New Weird or whatever, as categories. They lump me together with something which, in the last analysis, I'm actually not. So I guess I'm coming up on Cheryl's original satirical position (the reader-driven one-book category) from the other side of the mirror. I'd like to be sold as M John Harrison, please; indeed, I'd like Light to be sold as Light, not as a "return to space opera after 30 years..." When I was a kid in the rural Midlands, the local library stripped the dustjackets off its books. No dustjacket, no picture or blurb: no picture or blurb, no structured expectations: the reader had to read the book to know its identity. I was never happier as a reader. Every day you took a risk, you were rewarded more often than you'd think. Another reason I hate marketing/genre: expectations structured by the packaging (& even the assumption of category) actually *change the meaning of the book* by framing the reading act. I want readers with no expectations! (John Clute & I have been having this argument for thirty years now.)
By Kathryn Cramer on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 01:35 pm:
>Several people have suggested that the New Weird is written by a writer who has gone native. If that were so they would be a brilliant guide who made everything alien clear because they understood *both* worlds. For me, this points toward roots in Delany's Neveryon stuff. (Delany tells this story, so I don't think he'll mind me telling it. I think it was Elizbeth Lynn who told him that reading the Neveryon books was like going to a great museum with a really intelligent, knowledgable person who won't shut up.) >And when you ask them, they say "oh, that's old, you don't want to know about that" So, are we suggesting that the NW has solved certain problems of expository technique?
By Cheryl Morgan on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 02:00 pm:
Guess I should defend the "gone native" thing a little. Having lived on three different continents in three supposedly similar cultures (UK, Aus, US), my conclusions about going native are: 1. The longer you live in the foreign country the more you realise it is different and you don't understand it. 2. After you have been there for a while your friends from back home start treating you as an incomprehensible foreigner. It was more than sort of thing that I was thinking of than Farah's person with total knowledge of both countries. And like al metaphors, this one will have weaknesses too.
By John Coulthart on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 02:05 pm:
Thanks China (and hello). Alan is first to admit that Philip Jose Farmer was playing with characters from Victorian lit decades ago. If there's anything new about his approach it's the sheer encyclopedic spread of it, especially in the prose journals he's been writing for the new series. The point about packaging/cover art is a good one. A good example is the Savoy edition of Lindsay's Arcturus. Whatever you may think about it as a novel, it's been ill-served over the years by terrible generic covers trying to make it seem like another S&S adventure. As soon as you put it in a gorgeous Symbolist jacket it feels (and possibly reads) like a different book. Since no publisher is going to dispense with cover art, I think it's up to authors to get involved with the presentation of their work (assuming they can). There's a whole history of fantastic (as opposed to fantasy) art out there that's far more inventive and downright weird than something you'll get from a poorly paid Photoshop hack. The best cover I've seen for The Crystal World (done at Ballard's suggestion?) uses Max Ernst's The Eye of Silence spread across the whole book with a couple of lines of type on the front. Simple and brilliant. Speaking of authors getting involved, I'd love to know what grouchy Chris Moore thought about his spaceship being almost wholly consumed by lettering on the Light hardback. John
By Paul McAuley on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 02:21 pm:
"The New Weird is written as if by someone who has been commissioned to write a travel guide, but who has no idea what a travel guide is, has never met a tourist, and didn't actually know that there were people out there." You nailed it, Farah. When was the last time who lives in London went to the Tower of London? Or St Paul's (I keep meaning to go to St Paul's, actually, but I'm always on my way to somewhere else when I go past it). Generic fantasy is London's tourist-space. The New Weird is Green Lanes. Or the back end of King's Cross.
By MJH on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 02:25 pm:
The hub of Farah's post was this-- >>S/he wanders round, pointing out arbitrary "sights" such as the local supermarket while you wonder what that interesting building in the distance is. That's so accurate. Part of the *writer's* problem is to "naturalise" that which is not natural to the reader. This is the perfect way to do it: the writer presents the material as if the implied narrator *is not applying the selection techniques of an experienced travel guide*. The result is that you don't get either a boringly explicatory tour which tries to mimetise 100% of the world, or a selection of "sights" which enable the plot. You get an apparently subjective view, full of obliquities and false assumptions of what might interest you. This *naturalises* both the process of explication and the actual elements of the world. It *assumes* the world by (apparently) arbitrary glimpse. Given that, I'd say it was almost the exact opposite to the Neveryon technique, and that it does represent a step forward in explicatory technique, for f/sf in general. In the late 70s I used to express the problem to myself as, How do you describe an invented world not just as if it was a real world, but *the* real world ? Much of the late Viriconium stuff testbedded solutions to that problem. The thing is, you don't want to be stuck with mimesis, as in the classical novel, for its own sake. You don't want the obvious "index of the real". Otherwise all the brilliant developments in fiction since 1910 might as well not have happened. Background has to be done the way character is best done, by obliquity and glimpses. Also, in a totally different sense, the fiction should partly be *about* the revelation of background, just as one of its goals is revelation of character and narrative. They should all feed into one another, as in a Mansfield story. That's what I think, anyway. Or some of it.
By MJH on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 02:37 pm:
It's a double gesture or trajectory, in fact: techniques like the above also begin to solve the "how do you present things as genuinely alien" ? problem. If you present anything in a fractured, oblique way (often using diversionary detail too--that is, detail which doesn't really help explain anything) the reader is going to read it as the naturalised alien. You get two effects for one technique. I'm all for that. Finally, of course, you can back-apply that to mainstream fiction. Ho ho. You don't want to know. I'll shut up now. I like this stuff. Can you tell ?
By MJH on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 02:41 pm:
There should be quote marks around "naturalised alien" there. I don't mean that the reader reads the stuff as if they were a naturalised alien. It means "that alien stuff the author has naturalised".
By Paul McAuley on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 06:17 pm:
MJH wrote: >>"Background has to be done the way character is best done, by obliquity and glimpses. Also, in a totally different sense, the fiction should partly be *about* the revelation of background, just as one of its goals is revelation of character and narrative." Or, revelation of character *through* narrative? I've been trying to work at this for no little while now. The stuff hangs in the background until it needs to swim into focus, and then the reader realises that it wasn't what she thought it was. It's not just misdirection; it's playing judo with the reader's assumptions, which means that it becomes a kind of conspiracy. My very first rule was to never make up a word when you can use a perfectly good existing one. If your narrator is drinking a liquid made by stewing some kind of leaves in hot water, call it tea. Not some dumb made up word with an apostrophe somewhere in it. When I come across this kind of cheap alienating trick of coinage (Blish said that this habit was like calling rabbits smeerps instead of, say, rabbits) I instantly have a problem with believing the rest of the text.
By Kathryn Cramer on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 08:39 pm:
I like this discussion of the travel-writing aspect of the New Weird. However, I do wonder how long one can go on discussing specific techniques and characteristics of the New Weird while at the same time refusing the common practice of listing the body writers and works invovled. Do you have in mind a way around this?
By MJP on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 09:33 pm:
Maybe there doesn't have to be a specific body of writers? Regarding making a world that is strange. We are tourists of the familiar anyway. There is a danger in this kind of thinking of conceiving the world intended to be described oppositionally. “That is ordinary so …” That would be to misunderstand where things begin from. I think that Handke and his perpetuation of German Expressionism has a lot to offer here. For example in Across he writes: “The only sounds from inside the café are the hum of the ventilator and the intermittent clatter. A glance goes up to the branches of the plane tree, as if someone were standing underneath it, watching the countless incessantly swinging seedpods, the large-lobed, long stemmed leaves, which move spasmodically, all together, like a semaphore, and the swaying, deep-yellow nests of sunlight in the foliage; where the blotchy trunk forks there is a hollow that might be the home of some animal. Another glance goes down to the fast flowing river … At the same time, the rays of the sun reach the wall of a basement room, filling the entire pictureless surface and giving the whitewash a grainy look. The room is neither abandoned nor uninhabited …” Who is doing the “glancing”, who is in the café, why this is being observed, everything, is left unexplained. The entire narration is ‘phantom’, told to no apparent end. It builds into a tour de force of non-explanation over about five pages. The familiar is rendered as strange as anything ‘Martian’. The intention underlying New Weird would seem to be much the same. The perspective is cosmic, to do with the nature of things beyond their culturally given or ostensible sense. So it begins not from a series of oppositions, but from chaos. I would invoke Wittgenstein here: “In order to do philosophy you must be prepared to descend into primordial chaos and feel at home there.” (Culture and Value) However, the initial position is 180 degrees from where Handke begins. If the idea is to ‘start without form’ then we have to consider what ‘form’ is in these terms, and I would say it is memory. If the novel (and by extension the short story) is a form in such terms – by definition a form of memory – then New Weird (sf) works as a declaration of intent to remember without limits: to remember in the absence of a past: without the form of remembering as a given. It is – to do as one likes: this utopian (dystopian) element is the foremost or defining characteristic. The remembering is not of a personal history but of the cosmos in which the writer/reader lives. That place in which in spite of intention personal history intercedes even to the degree of being tragically or comically absurd. Sf (the New Weird) stands as an attempt to shrug this off. It can be argued as material to this impulse that this is what contemporary science goads the writer into thinking possible. For example genetic modification; identity seems to be shown as a fluid state under the aegis of this technology. So: what might a person be if he (or she) can be anything? The problem with such a direct connection between science and the loss of one’s past is that it creates a fiction in apparent servitude to science. In other words, that requires scientific explanation to get beyond the mundane state of one’s personal history, a dependency that ultimately, aesthetically, is self-defeating because it reduces the fiction to series of overtly banal untruths. Looking back to MJHs point about the sense of engaging in this kind of discourse on the New Weird, it being better just to write it than to talk around it, the value of this present examination is, possibly, to create a means of keeping one’s attention on the object to be described. That is, on the idea of discovering sense in the absence of ‘form’ – of given memory. (In the absence of a past, a personal history.) And thus on the importance of remembering to not explain. To contrast: something like Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky represents an example of normalising this impulse to break free of the mundane (from personal history). It puts the cosmos within familiar limits; or in other words, this novel *is* still very much about Heinlein’s personal history, despite appearances. The real challenge is to breach such concerns and see what results. (It might be argued that Heinlein did this later, in a way, but the problem here is that he did this self-indulgently (as in Stranger in a Strange Land). It negates the possible sense of discovery. The bulk of the novel is so wrapped up in his mawkishly wooden attempts at communicating sexual liberation that it induces ennui (in this reader at least).) Science fiction is above all a form of pretence. A pretence about what scientific explanation can do for us. The New Weird takes this a stage further: the fabulously, spectrally, unreal, these things are given without a ground. They just happen. This for me represents the lyric intensity that underlies Wittgenstein’s genius: “For we must do away with explanation and description alone must take its place.”
By Charlie Stross on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 10:25 pm:
MJP: There is something in your use of the term "science" that makes me deeply uneasy. Sf (the New Weird) stands as an attempt to shrug this off. It can be argued as material to this impulse that this is what contemporary science goads the writer into thinking possible. For example genetic modification; identity seems to be shown as a fluid state under the aegis of this technology. So: what might a person be if he (or she) can be anything? -- This isn't anything I've run across in any papers I've ever read, or coursework I've done, or lab I've been in. This isn't science. This is imagination set free by a misconceived view of science, through the distorting lens of popular imagery. Nor, in your definition of the novel, do I recognize anything remotely like what I write, or what I read. (This may be a personal failing on my part, or just unfamiliar terminology ...) I like the travelogue analogy that seems to be developing. But I think there's a hazard here -- the risk of deconstructing the golden goose before its egg-laying days are done. (Or maybe you're just casting pearls before swine. Oink, oink.)
By MJP on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 11:38 pm:
I don't want to distract from the travelogue idea; but it's a many-sided thing: I am looking at it from a different angle. (Handke writes travelogues by the way. In a sense that is *all* he writes.) Also, I haven't attempted to define the novel in any kind of literary way; only to suggest what it consists in, in substance. Surely that isn't controversial. In Search of Lost Time is one of the major novels of the Twentieth Century. And it is all just memory. The same with Ulysses. Joyce's memory. (He never made anything up, apparently.) The novel is a form of remembering; but you can fictionalise remembering. Scientifiction writers make it up don't they? But through a sidereal window: through whatever seems to be happening in current science. Anyway, the golden goose is still there as far as I am concerned. (That is, as usual, nowhere.)
By Cory Doctorow on Sunday, June 08, 2003 - 12:51 am:
Charlie pointed me here, blame him. [[ Meatspace concerns. A bunch of you live in London. I'm going to be there at the end of next week (June 13-14) and again a week later (June 22-28). Any interest in taking over some location and eating and drinking and shouting at each other? ]] I've just ploughed through the posts in these threads with great interest and alternating admiration and outrage, and a fair bit of self-examination. Here's what I think a label is useful for, especially if self-applied: it's useful to stake out a difference in the author's intent. "Space Opera" and "Cyberpunk" and "Heroic Fantasy" have real-but-unarticulated purposes. The stories are meant to tell a specific group of people a thing. [Warning: Generalizations ahead] Heroic fantasy, for example, in its purest form, is meant to tell outsiders that beautiful [men|women] will have sex with them and that the masses will exalt them, if only they reject social norms in favor of a "self-evident" morality that includes things like protecting the weak and standing one's ground before bullies. (check out "Otherkin" for an example of people who've really bought into this mythos: http://www.otherkin.net/otherkin/telling.html ) A new label for heroic fantasy, applied by author or critic or marketeer, implies that the writer is working to a new/different purpose. S/he is writing stuff that is superficially like heroic fantasy or cyberpunk or $LABEL, but s/he's writing it promulgate a new narrative. $LABELpunk may or may not require some foreknowledge of Heroic $LABEL, and it may, in some sense, be a descendant of $LABEL, but that's not the important bit: the important bit is that the author is telling a group of people a new pack of lies/truths. It doesn't matter if $LABELpunk is acheiving some its effect through a reflexive reversal of some established cliche (the secret lives of sidekicks, superheroes as self-important dicks, whatever). What matters is the terroritory that's being staked out by (or ascribed to) the $LABELpunks. I fear I'm not being very clear here. How about an example: "The street finds its own use for things" is a primo piece of real-estate staked out by, and ascribed to, the cyberpunks. It's a message targeted to an educated, affluent generation of kids who are embedded in a world where a new toolsuite is propagating, one that allows motivated people to create complex, ephemeral, highly liquid works that express some personal motive. In 1985, there was a generation of 16-year-olds who'd just gotten their hands on a PC with a dev environment and a network connection that enabled anyone who'd spent a couple years copying BASIC programs out of Byte magazine to write simple and funny applications that could bounce from BBS to BBS and cover the world, given sufficient compelling-ness. But the people who were making these tools had NO FUCKING CLUE. They were telling us that our tools were mostly "productivity" applications and "multimedia" and games. That it let you do the boring things you used to do, but faster, while preserving the traditional relationship between producers and consumers. "The street finds its own use for things" was an aspirational lifestyle rallying-cry for the veterans of the CoCo v. PCjr holy wars and for their spear-carriers and lookers-on. It legitimized the non-"productive" frittery of BBSing and warez d00dling and other cyber-timewasters. It was "punk" in a really precise sense: DIY-against-the-machine. Screw Lotus 1-2-3, gimme some MacJesus! At the same time, it was throughly allegorical. The mcguffins of cyberpunk were useful Deus-Exes to stage these morality plays against. It's become a cliche to observe that Gibson didn't know anything about computers, but the point is that he wasn't writing about computers. He was writing about the way that omnipotent technology would behave if it was a tool of a disaffected counterculture that sought to co-opt the machineries of state. There's a new kind of sf that no label has stuck to yet. It's the stuff that Charlie alluded to upstream, what I called nerdc0re for a while, and what I've been calling "Overclocked" lately. Stylistically, it shares a lot of its moves with cyberpunk, but it's got a couple of signal differences: * Rigorously mimetic treatements of computers and the network, what they can and can't be reasonably expected to do * Near-total disregard for the realities of bio- and nanotech, and the unashamed use of these words as stand-ins for useful narrative devices Philosophically, Overclocked fiction is mostly about what Rheingold calls "Smart Mobs." The enabling of collective action through ubiquitous tools, and the way that the civil polity changes in this world. A lot of it is about asking whether it's possible to effect change through secession, by rereating into dissident clades that hack disruptive tools that trump the bad laws of the doddering state. A lot of it asks questions about whether technology can be truly neutral, with all that entails (resistance of control or capture by any agenda -- and whether such a thing is an agenda unto itself). I'd group Ellis's Transmet, Watts's Maelstrom, Schroeder's Permanence, Stross's Glasshouse and McAuley's Whole Wide World into this $LABEL. I don't mean to imply that any or all of these people are deliberately pursuing this agenda, but rather that by hook or by crook, this agenda is appearing in their work. There's a built-in audience for this stuff, too, a group of people whom we might even some day convince to pay us folding money to be our onlookers. The audience is every group of cranks, activists, idealists, co-religionists and other separatists who've realized that the Internet can ease the sorrow of being a vocal minority, and can act as a magnifier that focuses your comrades' agenda to a pinprick of coherent light that can be used to actually nudge the body politic in the direction you want it to move. It's a big group, and it's growing. Some of them even have discretionary income. And all of them can read. Calling this fiction post-cyberpunk misses the point. It steals a bunch of cyberpunk's moves (which were in turn stolen from lots of other sources), but it is written to a different purpose and audience. Charlie and I have been noodling about this in the discussion about the climax of Unwirer, an alternate history story we're collaborating on through a blog. The main site is here: http://craphound.com/unwirer and the bit to pay attention to is this discussion: http://craphound.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=34 .
By Kathryn Cramer on Sunday, June 08, 2003 - 02:14 am:
>it's useful to stake out a difference in the author's intent Often the case, though an interesting counter-example is radical hard sf, where the term staked out a difference in editorial intent.
By JeffV on Sunday, June 08, 2003 - 03:42 am:
I don't think New Weird encompasses what I want to write in general. For one thing, I have this idea that I don't ever want to write the same book twice. This of necessity means that even if I wrote a "New Weird" book (and I think the last 100 pages of Veniss Underground definitely qualify as well as some of City of Saints, but not all), I would soon be out of the New Weird subset anyway. Do labels like this attach themselves to the skin or to the bone marrow? Do the original cyberpunks still feel constrained by that label? Probably not, but I can't speak for them. So perhaps there's no harm in it. And yet I see a lot of indications that "fantasy" is entering the mainstream and transforming it, so I'm also wary of possibly limiting myself by throwing in my lot with the New Weirds (assuming the New Weirds want me. lol!). Am I reading you right, Cheryl? That a New Weird book has to have a certain political orientation? Because that's a deal breaker for me. I'm left of center, but confining myself to a particular political viewpoint in my fiction seems...dull. JeffV PS--MJH: I'd be very grateful if you'd email me at email@example.com. I don't have your email.
By Cheryl Morgan on Sunday, June 08, 2003 - 06:18 am:
Hi Jeff, Nope, I just didn't explain myself very clearly. I wouldn't like to see New Weird restricted to a particular political viewpoint. (After all, I'd be among the first to get tossed out.) But New Weird is, it seems to me, about challenging things, about looking at things differently. The Light Ages is adamantly against rocking the boat in any way. It is very strongly conservative (with a small c, although of course the big one creeps in too.)
By MJH on Sunday, June 08, 2003 - 10:30 am:
I go out for the evening and have to spend an hour catching up. Kathryn: I think I'd rather describe technique and content for now, and elect a reading list on that basis, later. That would seem less gung ho, somehow: also, the right way round: also, more writerly. After all, what you might be trying to say, and how you might be trying to say it, are the basic concerns of writers: and any movement is writer-driven. Jeff: our sentiments exactly, I think. Although I'd put it that a liquefaction of the writing space is taking place. This gives me less a sense that "fantasy is entering the mainstream & transforming it", a statement which seems to describe rather vaingloriously a one-way process (in which the religion is finally accepted & its adherents elevated to the station they always imagined for themselves), than a sense of everything changing at once, and from now on constantly, in a process of fluidisation. I'd see anything like the New Weird as an exciting eddy in that excitable medium: one of many opportunities for writers who have previously existed on one side or another of a "fence". That allows me both to be part of it and, like yourself, be very, very much myself. Metaphors of conquest or annexation seem to me to be as old as metaphors of geographical boundary. Charlie, MJP is a very careful thinker, a Wittgensteinian, who can genuinely do something none of us can: formulate from the outside. He hasn't a speck of genre background or thinking in him, for which I am deeply, deeply grateful. If we're really to live in a fluidised world, we will have to learn to give other kinds of thinkers some space. It's a language problem. I have to say I find Cory just as difficult to follow, and I haven't read any of the work he mentions either; whereas I have read Proust. Cory: I bet if you talked to Paul McAuley or Pat Cadigan, you would find that food and drink and argument are easily come by in this burg. Paul: I am so all the way with you on this. Never make anything up unless you absolutely have to.
By MJH on Sunday, June 08, 2003 - 10:40 am:
PS: all these long & excellently argumentative posts have rendered the thread cumbersome for us dial-up guys again: so I've opened New Weird 4. Please continue there.