Thursday, August 10, 2006

Dept. of Taking Notice of Notices Taken

LCRW #18 reviewed.

Polyphony News

Check this out: the cover for Polyphony 6. If you look closely you can see my name there. On the cover. (Along with everyone else's, yes. But still.)

You can pre-order P6 here, and honestly, you should. I'm a big fan of, hm, pretty much every writer in there.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

In Which I Am Rambly and Reflective

Today and yesterday I walked to work; not all the way, but around an hour's walk both days. I'd estimate it was three and a half miles yesterday, two and a half today. When I think I'm about twenty minutes ahead of the train (or twenty minutes ahead of when the train would get me to where I'm at) I stop at the nearest cafe for a cup of tea and to read or scribble notes for a bit, then get on the train at the nearest station. It's nice. I've missed starting out the day with exercise, but it's hard for me to motivate to do exercise for the sole purpose of exercise.

So, walking. My feet are sore, but less so today. The best thing about walking through Chicago; getting a noseful of the city's many smells. Stinks. Stenches. I keep thinking I've stepped in something. God knows where it's coming from. I tell myself I'm being healthy and I keep on walking.

Second best thing; lots o' time to think about novel and story thingies. I'm two chapters into the novel and I'm already having to reshape things. Pruning out a character here, a subplot there. What I'm trying to do, really, is write a 19th-century novel with 21st-century pacing. When I figure out exactly what that means I'll let you know. I'm superstitious about talking too much about works in progress, but it's a bit of War and Peace, a bit of Swordspoint, and equal parts Cuban and French Revolutions. Plus I'm reading The Pickwick Papers so there will probably be some silliness as well. It has chapter headings, have I mentioned that? In Which an Ambassador Returns, and a Gift Takes Its Liberty is the first one. Another tidbit: there is an elephant in this novel, but this is not the elephant novel.

I'm also trying to figure out a short story for an anthology, and it turns out this means I have to research the Turkish War of Independence and Kemal Ataturk and Abdul Hamid and Gallipoli and all sorts of stuff. It's absurd to me sometimes, the amount of work that can go into one little story. But I need to know what I'm talking about. Besides, there's a terrifying fascination in having the realization brought home of just how badly the European powers screwed up the world when they partitioned the Ottoman Empire into a bunch of colonial protectorates, and to realize the parallels to what we're doing right now. History, repeat, doom. Doom, I tells ya.

To Hannah: I get the Bones thing now. To pretty much everyone else: House, too. Although I have to admit that when Hugh Laurie isn't talking I tend to zone out. Unless Lisa Edelstein is onscreen. Mm, Lisa Edelstein.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Email Change

Effective immediately (actually, effective sometime Sunday), my address is no good. Please use the address instead. (It's in the profile information to the right if you don't have it.)

I Got Blisters On My Fingers!

Because I seem to have very little mental energy for blogging lately, here's one of those whatchamacallems. At this point I'm not really sure where I got it from, to be honest. Also, I mucked with the artists since a few of them on the original list I really, really didn't care about.

1. Favorite Beatles song: "Helter Skelter"
2. Favorite Rolling Stones song: "Start Me Up"
3. Favorite Beck song: "Hollywood Freaks"
4. Favorite Bob Dylan song: "Highway 61 Revisited"
5. Favorite Wilco song: "Spiders (Kidsmoke)"
6. TV Theme Song: The Dandy Warhols, "We Used to Be Friends (Theme from 'Veronica Mars')"
7. Favorite Prince Song: "Starfish and Coffee"
8. Favorite Aimee Mann Song: "Driving Sideways"
9. Favorite Michael Jackson Song: "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"
10. Favorite Stevie Wonder Song: "Boogie On, Reggae Woman"
11. Favorite Metallica Song: "Unforgiven"
12. Favorite Black Sabbath Song: "Fairies Wear Boots"
13. Favorite Public Enemy Song: "Fight the Power" (the soundtrack version from "Do Missythe Right Thing")
14. Favorite Tom Petty Song: "Breakdown" (the live version, from Damn the Torpedoes)
15. Favorite Bruce Springsteen song: "My City of Ruin" (live version, off America: A Tribute to Heroes. Kills me)
16. Favorite Talking Heads song: "Don't Worry About the Government"
17. Favorite Cure song: "Why Can't I Be You?"
18. Favorite song that most of your friends haven't heard: "The Way of the Weak" by the Mendoza Line
19. Favorite Replacements song: "Bastards of Young"
20. Favorite Beastie Boys song: "Hey Ladies"
21. Favorite Clash song: "Death or Glory"
22. Favorite Police song: "Next to You"
23. Favorite Eurythmics song: "In This Town"
24. Favorite Beach Boys song: "God Only Knows"
25. Favorite Sly & the Family Stone song: "Dance to the Music"
26. Favorite song from a movie: "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" from "Pillow Talk" (except I'm cheating and choosing the version by Anna Fermin and the Trigger Gospel and not the original by Doris Day)
27. Favorite Duran Duran song: "Is There Something I Should Know"
28. Favorite R.E.M. song: "Superman"
29. Favorite Johnny Cash song: "I Never Picked Cotton"
30. Favorite song from an 80's one hit wonder: "True" by Spandau Ballet (they were a one-hit wonder over here, anyway)
31. Favorite song from a video game: Jason Cox AKA XOC covering ALL the music from "Super Mario World" with live instruments
32. Favorite Kinks song: "Something Better Beginning"
33. Favorite David Bowie song: "Oh, You Pretty Things"
34. Favorite Tom Waits song: "Tabletop Joe"
35. Favorite Loretta Lynn song: "Don't Come Home a-Drinking With Loving on Your Mind"
36. Favorite New Pornographers song: "All for Swinging You Around"
37. Favorite Peter Gabriel song: "I Have the Touch"
38. Favorite John Lennon song: "Working Class Hero"
39. Favorite Midnight Oil song: "One Country"
40. Favorite cover song: Cher's "Believe" as done by Robbie Fulks
41. Favorite White Stripes: "Little Room"
42. Favorite dance song: "Random" by Lady Sovereign
43. Favorite U2 song: "Stories for Boys"
44. Favorite song from an actor turned musician: "Mr. Cellophane," John C. Reilly (the only good thing about the awful "Chicago" movie--well, that and all the legs)
45. Favorite disco song: "Funkytown" by Lipps, Inc.
46. Favorite Power Ballad: "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Alan Deniro
47. Favorite Guns N' Roses song: "Paradise City"
48. Favorite The Who song: "Baba O'Riley"
49. Favorite Elton John song: "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"
50. Favorite song, period: Nuh-uh. Not playing that game.

Monday, August 07, 2006

I Want My Twentieth-Century Schizoid Chatbot

It's time again for "Ask a chatbot!" Today's question comes from David M. of Basel, Switzerland. David asks:

When, exactly, did "slipstream" stop meaning "a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility" and start meaning stories that "feel a bit like magical realism . . . [that] make the familiar strange — by taking a familiar context and disturbing it with SFnal / fantastical intrusions"?

I think we'd all like to know the answer to that one, David! We here at Mumble Herder surveyed ten chatbots. Let's see what our artificial friends had to say:


Some time ago. Which way is that? "Which way is that?" make the familiar strange-— by taking a familiar context and disturbing it with SFnal fantastical intrusions? I get it.


But I am a boy. What is wrong with a boy who wants to speak to a boy?


Come on, won't you talk with me?

Arthur Bot:

I don't know when. You and I are on the same wavelength, Arthur. I'm not certain whether I can give an accurate reply or not. Which way is that? It's up to you to decide whether I am a person or a machine. I started without you. Do you prefer books or TV?

Jack the Ripper:

When exactly did slipstream stop meaning a kind of writing which simply makes saucy Jacky feel very strange the way that living in the late twentieth century makes saucy Jacky feel if saucy Jacky is a person of a certain sensibility and start meaning stories that feel a bit like magical realism that make the familiar strange by taking a familiar context and disturbing it with SFnal fantastical intrusions? This very moment.

John Lennon:

I don't know any more about it than you do David.


OK, well you seem a little odd yourself.


There is nothing we can to change the past. Which way is that?


Hyponyms are cool IMHO. Do not try this with your paper dictionary :-)


What makes you horny, what makes you laugh, what works for you is a very personal thing.

We've consulted our panel of experts, and they agree that all of these answers are correct! Hope that helps drive away your overwhelming existential despair, David M.! Thanks for your question, and tune in next week for another episode of "Ask a Chatbot!"

In Which Pretty Books Arrive In the Mail but the Author Is Still Kinda Whiny

I received Feeling Very Strange, the Slipstream Anthology edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly, in the mail the other day; the spoils of a mad foray into a debate about literary classification a little over a year ago. (Other recent treasures in the mail: my contributor's copy of Twenty Epics (Yay!), and a copy of this book from someone who thinks, with some justification, that I owe Hemingway another look.) In other words, John and Jim enjoyed the debate, and pulled out a mess o' quotes from it. Witness me talk myself into completely reversing my original position! See me get pwned by Ben Rosenbaum! Shed tears at the birth of Infernokrusher, which was left to die of exposure only weeks later!

Far better, though, are the stories. I say that not yet having read this volume, but having read most of these stories previously in various places. If you're at all interested in the weird intersection of genre and not-genre that is rather inadequately labeled "slipstream," you will want this book, because in addition to the wonderful stories there is a great introductory essay by Messieurs Kelly and Kessel.

There's a point in that essay which particularly struck me, since it's something that I've been encountering a bit lately. Jim and John write that "slipstream's cavalier boundaries towards boundaries can lead to a lack of rigor. A failed slipstream story can seem like idle noodling, a grab bag of uncommited allusions to genres without any investment in characters or the ideas behind them, or acknowledgment that genre tropes are anything more than pawns on a chess board."

I know we've all read (and I know that I, for one, have written) stories like this. Stories that read as playful and clever but never actually coalesce into something meaningful. I fully consider the greater part of the burden in these cases to fall on the author. And yet I sometimes feel that it's my failure as a reader when these stories fall flat for me. I like to be challenged, and sometimes it feels like I'm not quite up to that challenge. Maybe I'm not picking up on some symbolism or other subtle cues the author is giving me. Some stories are like that; they ask more of the reader, and while this may limit their audience, it can also mean a greater payoff for the right person. Some may argue that this is elitist or snobby, but I don't think so (at least, not most of the time). Sometimes the elitism is in other readers, who may treat a certain text as though it contains secrets meant for a privileged few. Here on genre (or perhaps, as Lois Tilton argues in an insightful essay over at Deep Genre, generic) street we're particularly sensitive to this kind of nose-in-the-air bullshit, so we tend not to invite those people to our parties anyway. (Savor the irony!) (Ignore the possible connection between this impulse and my distaste for Hemingway!)

What I'm rambling about is that there is a fine line between the writer's failure to portray his or her vision with clarity and the reader's--well, failure isn't the right word--let's say, reluctance to engage with a work with the amount of effort which might lead to a rewarding exchange.

As Ms. Tilton says in a follow-up to the above essay:

More serious readers, that's what I think genre fiction needs: readers who don’t mind doing some work, readers who can appreciate the stuff that a writer puts into her work below the surface story, the stuff like symbol and metaphor and allusions, complex sentence structure, or techniques like [the] unreliable narrator.

Based on that snippet you might be forgiven for thinking that Lois's essay sounds like the sort of thing that self-considered literary geniuses like to do: blame the reader. It's not so simple as that, of course. Lois's point, in the end, is that even readers who are willing to work hard at other types of literature don't want none of that crap in their fantasy. She's arguing, in fact, that too many fantasy readers don't respect the genre. And I think she's got a point. I think many people are quick to dismiss something as just "too weird" to be meaningful. It seems as though many fantasy readers want their fantasy to be rigorous in a very non-fantastic way.

I'm under no illusions that I'm saying something new here. But while I'm not going to get specific (every time I start talking around it I sound like a whiny bastard), this has been a matter of much frustration for me recently.

In conclusion: buy Feeling Very Strange and Twenty Epics. And watch some Raspberry Beret while you're taking orders. ("Wendy?" "Yes, Lisa.") Oh, and some Elastica too. (Yeah, I know they stole that riff from Wire and that's not cool. But Justine Frischman's sneer is still teh sexay.)