Fiction

After I Stopped Screaming

The blonde in the big ape's hand. Long before you had Rita Hayworth on that bed in a negligée or Marilyn standing over that grate with her skirt billowing up, there were all those pictures and posters and billboards of me, the blonde in the big ape's hand.

Fiction by Pamela Sargent

Three True Stories Begging to Be Fictionalized

History is full of great stories begging to be fictionalized. Here's three that I've come across that paint something of a portrait of the early Americas.

Friday Recommendations

Cartoonist Patricia Storms has done a number of amusing literary-themed comic strips, the best of which is "The Amazing Adventures of Lethem and Chabon" which turns the titular twosome into superheroes battling against their arch-enemy, Candice Bushnell!

Nine Inch Nails new album, Year Zero has launched with an alternate reality game, in which listeners can track down easter eggs from the album and merchandice and various other clues to paint a portrait of a dystopian future in 2022. One interesting part of the game is that if you decode the bar code on the back of the CD, you get a url, exterminal.net. There, click on "Bardsley, G (Accomplice Surveillance Underway)" for a mini-short story told in multiple panels (you'll see what I mean) with accompanying photos. The way this is done is very interesting in terms of the potential for prose fiction in new media.

Also on the future-speculation front, Warren Ellis talks about the motivations behind making his new comic book, Doktor Sleepless. Ellis: "It's 2007 and the society does not yet understand how to operate water."

Lastly, go out and read Cynthia Ozick's article "Literary Entrails" in the new issue of Harper's Magazine. In it she talks about why Jonathan Franzen and Ben Marcus' protestations of a lack of readers are beside the point, and what literature is really missing is good criticism. (And in the process, she well-deservedly hands Marcus his own ass.) She singles out James Wood as the kind of critic we need more of in a way that makes me reconsider my dismissal of him as a reactionary—though she does point out that he is "sometimes faulted for narrow sympathies, and for depricating those styles and dispositions that escape the bounds of his particular credo." (ie. realism.) Scott Esposito has an interesting and thorough reaction to the article that's also worth reading.

Stockwell

He told again the story of Bates, and then the one about himself—Jansen — and then about Gerhardie. Stacks just sat as always with his chin resting on the head of his cane, listening, sometimes grunting a bit. He told like beads Bates with that leg and rest of him you could put a knife right into and not feel a thing. He told of himself, Jansen, who had crept up to slit a disloyal throat mostly out of curiosity, damn the risk. And he told Gerhardie, goddam handsome bastard who had done fine, not a flicker of doubt through the whole struggle. The handsome, in Jansen's opinion, tended to be like that.

Fiction by Brian Evenson

The Future of the Fantastic: Feeling Very Strange

Unevenness is a problem endemic to anthologies. With most of them, when I come to each new story, even one by a name I know and enjoy, I often feel like I'm rolling the dice, and I turn the page with my fingers crossed praying I don't get snake eyes. Thankfully, in Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology even the worst of the stories are merely an entertaining sort of mediocre, and the best are truly astonishing. I found myself actually getting excited at the prospect of the next tale, which is, I think, the mark of a really good collection.

The Future of the Fantastic: Dangerous Visions

Dangerous Visions
Edited By Harlan Ellison, iBooks, inc, 544pp, $14.95

Note added 2012:

In retrospect, there are two things I'd like to change about this essay. One is the line accusing Ellison of putting Pohl and Knight in there because of sf-family nepotism. This completely ignores the fact that they were much lauded and well established authors at the time, and so might have been included on the strength of their reputations. Which exposes my ignorance: at the time I wrote this, I'd never heard of Pohl or Knight.

Second, I completely ignore Samuel Delany's story "Aye, and Gomorrah". In retrospect, this story is quite good, and it's whole meditation on sexual perversion was really novel and interesting for the time.

One of the things that comes across clearly in the various introductions to the stories in Dangerous Visions, the anthology that defined the "New Wave" of speculative fiction in the 1960's, is that these aren't just writers to Harlan Ellison, but to a large degree they are friends. Even those writers Ellison isn't close to seem part of an extended family, and Ellison admits at one point that he only accepted two stories for the anthology from people he'd never heard of (submissions that were sent to him by agents). On the one hand, this speaks volumes about the sort of collegiality that existed in sf at the time (and in all probability still exists). On the other hand, it makes for an anthology that reads exactly like someone getting stuff from all his friends together whether or not that stuff is actually particularly good.

Measures of Sorrow

I’d taken an apartment on the wrong side of the park. This was pre-gentrification, before community empowerment, when the neighborhood’s leading commercial enterprise was No-Eyed Jack, a blind barber who cut hair for tourists. My acquaintances were quick to note other local resources: “a wide array of pawn shops”; “check cashing on every corner”; “national leadership in tire irons per capita.” Their warnings didn’t faze me. I was a born-and-bred New Yorker, after all, city-savvy as a street urchin, and I looked forward to the cachet that my address—on an avenue named for an obscure president and then renamed for an obscure civil rights leader—might carry with left-wing coeds at Greenwich Village parties. Besides, it was all I could afford.

Fiction by Jacob M. Appel

Silliman on Conjunctions

Perhaps it's a sign of the times that when Ron Silliman posts about the new issue of Conjunctions (calling Conjunctions the best literary review in America), his comments fill with backlash about how journals are too long, too obsequent to big names, and that there are simply too many of them. In a follow-up post, Silliman writes, "I found myself sympathizing also with the commentators who bemoaned the difficulty of 'keeping up' with journals in an era of shit distribution, increasing reliance on web publishing & still way too many print magazines." (Let's also point out that they're too expensive.) Silliman then proceeds with a very interesting review of the poetry in the Conjunctions issue in question, including a piece of poetry within a short story by Jonathan Lethem.

Must Characters Be Round?

I recently watched the Russian mini-series of Dostoevsky's The Idiot, which was wonderful and supposedly scrupulously faithful to the novel (which I haven't read). One of the remarkable things about it, as with Dostoevsky in general, is that despite the fact that there's a huge cast of characters, every single one seems incredibly real and true to life, as if they could simply step off the page (or in this case, screen).

In his book, Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forester separates characters into "round" and "flat." The difference is deceptively simple; a flat character is "constructed round a single idea or quality"; "The really flat character can be expressed in one sentence such as 'I never will desert Mr. Micawber.'" The round character, on the other hand, is a character "capable of surprising in a convincing way"; "It has the incalculability of life about it—life within the pages of a book."

Upon first glance, it would seem like a tautology that round characters are better than flat ones, with Dostoevsky as the perfect example. But Forester does not take this view at all, rather he says, "In Russian novels, where [flat characters] so seldom occur, they would be a decided help."

Review: King Solomon's Mines

What's interesting about the book, and what in the end makes it worth reading, is how Haggard can so easily be read as the voice of colonialism. Certainly his smug and cloying tone is like the false superiority that marked colonialism in general. He protrays the African natives as vicious and blood-thirsty caricatures, alternately praising them in the most patronizing way only to turn around and insult them in sweeping generalizations. After the white explorers cross the comically named mountains, "Sheba's Breasts" (complete with snow-capped nipples), they march into the "undiscovered" Kukuannaland, home of the eponymous mines. Once there they proceed to instigate a revolution, in which numberless natives die, and install their own puppet ruler, from whom they procure a promise that they may keep any diamonds and gold they may find in the mine.