Round Up

Weekend Reading - 1/15/2011

The Morning News announces their long-list for the Tournament of Books and once again there isn't one book that was published specifically as a genre novel. Though that doesn't mean they don't have any genre novels; Charles Yu's excellent How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is there, but it was still published by Pantheon and not Tor which indicates to me that the TOB people just aren't trying very hard. Where's The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi? Where's China Mieville's Kraken? And yet somehow I find myself too weary about the whole thing at this point to even work up a proper blog post about it. So here it is in the Weekend Reading.

Haruki Murakami contemplates 21st century literature and how it differs from that of the 20th century.

Seattle's famed "superhero" gets his face punched in. You know this is the thing about trying to be a vigilante in real life. You're probably gonna get your face punched in.

A fascinating essay by Naomi Klein on how corporate branding has taken over America and how American companies have intentionally tried to remake themselves as marketing names that leave the actual creation of products to other—usually out-of-country—companies.

Meanwhile, here's the Atlantic on how the rich who have gotten richer while the rest of us have gotten poorer don't understand or care about how we all feel, and have no conception that times are bad for most people.

From my writing blog, an interesting excerpt from Tom Bissell's book about video games, Extra Lives, in which contemplates how he feels about art and gaming and how that relates to "high" and "low" art.

One of the members of OK Go! talk about the future of the music business and why they dropped their record label. This is really interesting stuff in terms of the future of media and commerce.

Laura Miller talks about why we love bad writing.

The web is a customer service medium. Really there's nothing I can say that encapsulates how brilliant an analysis this is of what the web is and what it isn't and why so many companies go so wrong. Go read it.

And as always, FICTION TIME

"Secret Life" by Jeff Vandermeer is as brilliant as anything he's written, and revisits a lot of the conceptual material of his previous dissection of corporate, white collar cubical life, "The Situation".

"The Silence of the Asonu" by Usula K. Le Guin. It's Le Guin. Formally, it's along the same lines as her most famous short story, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas". You know you want to read it.

"I, Cthulhu" by Neil Gaiman is Gaiman's humorous take on the Lovecraft mythos, and is funny as He... I mean, R'lyeh.

"Understanding Human Behavior" by Thomas M. Disch... you know, all these stories this time around are by pretty legendary people and you should just read them, okay? Because they're awesome.

If you're wondering why my Wet Asphalt posting has been relatively sparse, most of my writing energy lately has been going into my fiction, which I feel is going really well. I may just opt for shorter posts for a while. Anyway, I think Quackenbush has some things in the pipe to entertain you...

Weekday Reading - 2/22/2009

In science news, your genome is half virus!

An interview with Wet Asphalt favorite Jeffrey Ford by Clarkesworld. Ford really is one of the best short story writers around, and his collection The Drowned Life is well worth reading.

Fairy tales may be more ancient than we ever knew

One writer determines that he makes a lot more money selling self-published ebooks than publisher published print books.

42 ESSENTIAL third-act twists via web comic the Dresden Codak

And in unrelated news, yes assassins really do wear fake beards. And straw boater hats.

The Anti-Kindle-Blog Round Up

As my own post might indicate there's been a lot of mixed feelings about Amazon's new feature to allow subscriptions to any blog to be sold on the Kindle. Levi Asher signed LitKicks up saying "Amazon appears to be showing conviction, focus and flexibility in the way they are evolving the product" while Ed Champion lambasted the program saying "I cannot possibly give away so many of my rights for a mere 30% of the cut." This lead to an intense debate between the two of them on Twitter (@asheresque and @drmabuse respectively). Follow the Reader probably offered the most in depth criticism of the service. After consideration of the arguments, I have decided not to offer this blog on the Kindle. Not that I think there would have been any great demand for it.

Hodgmania Returns and other Stuff

An unexpectedly fascinating interview with John Hodgman by Wired magazine, in which he talks about how he went from being a literary agent to a television personality (and also how he convinced Bruce Campbell to write a book, and then sold that book).

Hodgman was nice enough to send me a reviewer's copy of his first book, The Areas of My Expertise, which I then reviewed. I wonder if he'll send me a copy of his new one. (Hint hint Mr. Hodgman.)

Speaking of Bruce Campbell, yesterday for Halloween I saw My Name is Bruce and was surprised when Campbell himself showed up to introduce the movie and do a Q & A and make fun of my Groucho Marx costume (the face paint was wearing off). The movie was hilarious, as was Campbell (and his enormous chin). (That'll teach him to make fun of me. HA!)

And back to Hodgman, here's him on This American Life doing a piece on super powers. (Yes, I know this is from 2006. Sue me.)

Ed Champion interviews Charlie Kaufman. And Neil Stephenson!

Ed gave me a "via" link for this post about Keith Knight's controversy with the "N" word, which might have confused some people who came here looking for the link. I originally emailed it to him. But now it's on the site right here, so all's well.

Who knew? It's ridiculously hard to become a prostitute in Second Life.

And that's all you get today.

Off to Russia

Today I fly to Russia, for a long and much anticipated trip. I will return the evening of Monday the 22nd Edit: Tuesday the 23rd. And while I intend to do some travel blogging in this space (expect picturers!), updates may be spotty at best. So here's some stuff I've been meaning to post about for a while, nice long things to keep you occupied.

First is an absolutely fascinating series of posts from Hal Duncan, author of Vellum. In a series called "Notes on Strange Fiction" on his blog Notes from the Geek Show, Duncan does an in-depth lit theory analysis of narrative, language and weirdness in fiction. An excerpt from "Narrative's Function (2)", the most recent addition:

All narratives live in the Village, some as guardians or wards of the social contract, others as seditious prisoners intent on asserting their autonomy, challenging the legitimacy of authority. ("Who is Number One?" asks McGoohan's prisoner, the real question being less who is in charge as what.) Whatever the ethical impetus underlying a transgressive aesthetic stance, to the reactionary, these refusenik narratives are as often damned for rudeness as much as anything else, for breaches of the politeness principle -- with accusations of pretentiousness (the immodest and anti-generous assertion of prestige) and controversialism (deliberate disapprobation, tactlessness and disagreement for the sake of it). To the reactionary there is no real autonomy; all ethics are moral, all mores are part of the natural order, and all individuals are intrinsically subject to that order. So if the aesthetic stance of a narrative is transgressive this can only be willful perversity.

Here's the series:

Next on the docket, Sarah Weinman has just finished her "Publisher Imprint Report Card" series, in which she goes through each of the major publishers in America and talks about their imprints, dissecting where they're successful and where they fall flat. She names names and points fingers. It's an amazing read for anyone who is interested in what the publishing industry looks like right now and where it's going. An excerpt from part one:

Right now, common wisdom is that authors are brands and publishers are not - no matter how hard ex-HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman banged that proverbial gong. Common wisdom is nowhere near so black and white, otherwise why would certain small press outfits like Soft Skull, Akashic, Hard Case Crime and Tachyon have clear publishing goals recognized by those who read their books (Soft Skull: offbeat, underground. Akashic: crime anthologies, literary punk. Hard Case Crime: retro-pulp fiction reissues and originals. Tachyon: smart SF/F that's not always easy to classify.) Conglomerates could, and should, learn from their less financially mighty cousins, as they should from the larger splintering of mass media, that their imprints should mean something to the reader. Sometimes that means staying with the status quo; other times it means doing away with the imprint altogether.

Here's the series:

Enjoy, and catch you on the flip side.

It's Been A While Round Up Blues

Should we stop making link lists like this and just post some content already?

No? Alright then...

Reading Experience tells us why The God of War is "a novel that reinforces the most retrograde notions of what a 'serious' novel should be like, leaves one lamenting not just the persistence of the kind of formulaic 'literary fiction' this novel represents, but also the inability of so many critics to evaluate this fiction in other than the most vapid, critically submissive terms."

This article kind of makes me want to buy a Sony Reader.

I do not, however, want to buy the Readius pocket eReader. Not that it doesn't look cool, but according to an article in the NY Times, "The price is not yet set, but Thomas van der Zijden, vice president for marketing and sales, said the Readius would be more expensive than the Kindle, which now is selling for $359."

I'm sorry, these ebook readers are much too expensive. The first person to get one down to $150 is going to make a bundle. How much can those eInk displays cost to produce, anyway?

How not to run an on-line magazine (or just about anything).

Finally! The truth about literary criticism!

This interview with Alan Moore is worth reading, if only for this anecdote:

I was turning 40 and thinking, Oh dear, I'm probably going to have one of those midlife crisis things which always just bore the hell out of everybody. So it would probably be better if, rather than just having a midlife crisis, I just went completely screaming mad and declared myself to be a magician. That would, at least, be more colorful. So, I announced, on the night of my 40th birthday party — probably after more beers than I should have had — that, ''from this point on, I'm going to become a magician.'' And then the next morning you have to think, Oh, what have I said now? Are we going to have to go through with this? So I had to go about finding out what a magician was and what they did.

Bonus, here's Dave Gibbons talking about Alan Moore, Watchmen and the Watchmen film.

Is Tor's new blog not that big a deal? Scroll down to comments if you want to see a lot of discussion and vitriol.

You know, I wrote "SF" in an email to a friend of mine and he became very confused because he thought I was talking about San Fransisco. Another example of genre labels being annoying. Not a link, just an aside.

But then, "Science fiction and fantasy are particularly derivative genres. It’s very hard to get away with anything original in either without people challenging its right to be included among the ossified pantheon of Heinlein and Robert Jordan.". Is this still true? Is it less true than it used to be? Perhaps more true?

This review has made me want to read Chabon's new collection Maps and Legends, which I was going to pass on. Just goes to show why reviews are a good thing.

On that subject, here's an interview with Chabon about genre.

Scalzi points us to an article (in Spanish) about the state of Science Fiction in Spain.

Speaking of Spanish, ever wondered why México is spelled with an "x" and not "j" like it's pronounced (in Spanish)? This article (in Spanish) explains it all. (Nothing to do with anything, not in English, don't care.)

Why Philip Roth still rules, having a grand time putting on those who take his work too seriously.

ReGenesis is on Hulu! Hooray! Here's an example of a show that was too good for it's own good. It was a little Canadian thing buried on some cable station and then it became popular, so what happens? It gets bought out by an American studio who cancels it so that they can remake it in America, for the networks, with a whole new cast. Which is another in an endless set of examples of how TV and film can eagerly trample all over a good thing.

And lastly, Michael Ross explains exactly why oil wealth is so bad for third world countries.

Overdue Round-Up Rag

What does the future of publishing hold?

What foes the MFA industry mean for writing in the long term?

Bruce Sterling gives a fascinating talk about design in science fiction, and what it means for how we write.

Philip Roth gets the roasting treatment

Genre vs. Big Ideas

NPR shorts does a reading of Philip K. Dick's "Beyond Lies the Wub"

Art is a social construct; so what?

The beginning of this Tom-Bissell-does-super-heroes story is great. I just wish VQR put their content online for free...

"The SF short fiction market is toast".

But then, short stories were never quite as lucrative as people think...

Speaking of which, John Scalzi has an idea; the "shareware short story".

Yes, you can have a novel with talking animals.

Franzen vs. Wood, competing to see who can be more annoying.

What's the real problem with reading?

The Strand still sucks. And let's not fool ourselves, it's always sucked.

John Scalzi examines why SF writers are jumping ship for YA. SF/F as a field wasn't worth Scott Westerfeld's time anymore. MediaBistro expands on this.

China's bizarre best-selling author. Not mentioned in the article: he's also a plagiarist.

Cory Doctorow wants writers to "think like a dandelion", and spread their seeds far a wide.

Chabon: genre doesn't matter.

David Lapham has a blog. One of the best creators in comics lets us in on his weird world... (Also check out his new comic Young Liars which is freakin brilliant.)

And finally, Does fiction in the VQR have "a lack of attention to character and a focus instead on culture and outside events"?

Round Up

The state of the short story is pretty deftly summed up by The Millions

Think about the numbers: 350 fiction programs. 3,000 new graduates per year. Each taking let's say four workshops, each of which requires three submissions. That's 36,000 short stories for each graduating class of writers, who have worked to convince each other that the top 1% of short stories - those that come closest to generating workshop consensus - may be published in a literary magazine. A literary magazine whose readership may largely comprise writers looking for a place to publish their short stories. "Guarded self-consciousness" starts to look like a mathematical inevitability. Perversely, then, the greatest danger to the short story may be the very institution that's sustaining it.

Speaking of endangered art forms, poetry may soon become primarily a web-only art form.

Dave Sim is in the news again because of his forthcoming comics Glamourpuss and Judenhass. If your not familiar with his work, this is a pretty good introduction to both it and the reactions to his new work floating around the net, though it mistakes his misogynist fundamentalism for a "philosophy". To sum up: Dave Sim is brilliant but completely insane.

Why is James Wood coronated as the only thing going in literary criticism?

Everybody's linking to it, so I will too: Nicholson Baker's fun discussion of his time editing Wikipedia.

Also, everybody's linking to Colson Whitehead telling everyone to get over writing in Brooklyn, already.

This sounds like a good book (I'm a sucker for Tesla, the original mad inventor)

Michael Chabon deconstructs superhero tights. (I still prefer Warren Ellis' term for superheroes - "Underwear Perverts")

BoingBoing suggests that all you need to make a living as an artist is "100 true fans"

Assume conservatively that your True Fans will each spend one day's wages per year in support of what you do. That "one-day-wage" is an average, because of course your truest fans will spend a lot more than that. Let's peg that per diem each True Fan spends at $100 per year. If you have 1,000 fans that sums up to $100,000 per year, which minus some modest expenses, is a living for most folks.

Of course, this assumes that you put out $100 dollars worth of stuff every year, which seems like a stretch for things other than an actively touring musician. If a novelist, for instance, puts out one book a year, that's usually pretty prolific, and novelists don't generally have t-shirts and other merchandise for fans to lap up. Or conversely, a painter might sell paintings worth thousands of dollars, but have far fewer than 1000 people willing to buy them year after year.

Stephen Page in the Guardian argues that the Internet will save serious literature.

Did Allain Robbe-Grillet cause a backlash of archaism?

And lastly, a brilliant deconstruction of the history of Science Fiction (via Warren Ellis)

SF critics often want to make grand claims for the genre. For Scholes and Rabkin, it "create[s] a modern conscience for the human race" (vii); it fits, indeed supersedes, the great humanistic claims for literature as a whole. At the same time, and on the same page, they are equally aware that SF is constituted out of "trivial, ephemeral works of ‘popular’ fiction which is barely literate, let alone literary." Most of the subsequent work of their text is dedicated to affirming these two contradictory statements by separating them out, divorcing them from each other as distinct and "pure" sites within SF. An internal border is constituted whereby, on the one hand, the "grand claim" is asserted and so entry to Literature can be gained, whilst on the other, SF can, in alliance with the categories of the legitimate, be condemned.

Long-Awaited Round Up

Is Dave Eggers the most influential man in literary circles? I think I'll still say that honor belongs to Oprah.

The argument against Dave Itzkoff gets more ammunition.

Is Science Fiction the last bastion of philosophical writing but suffering under the weight of execrable prose stylists? I think the issue is more nuanced than that, but the original Wired Article on the subject discussed by this MediaBistro article seems more than a little ham-fisted and clumsy.

Strange Horizons is quickly becoming my favorite place to read new fiction on a once-a-week basis. The lastest We Love Deena uses mind control to explore obsessive behavior in a particularly disturbing and entertaining way.

An interview with Jorge Luis Borges, in English for the first time.

RIP Steve Gerber, a man who helped make comics weird and funny again.

There is no old buddy network controlling the literary world, I don't care what you say.

The Internet is a copy machine

Sharon Mesmer and the odd world of Flarf poetry (Full disclosure: Mesmer is a former writing teacher of mine).

What ails the newspaper industry is not the Internet. It is, rather, economics.