Speculative Fiction in Conversation Part 4

This is part 4 of an email conversation I had with Matt Cheney about the state of Speculative Fiction. Read part 1 and part 2 and part 3. Some things discussed: the object-subject relationship, zombie movies, the evaluation of art, Star Trek as godawful crap vs. fun godawful crap

Speculative Fiction in Conversation Part 3

This is part 3 of an email conversation I had with Matt Cheney about the state of Speculative Fiction. Read part 1 and part 2. Some things discussed: Delany and transgression; anthologies; sf writers vs. literary writers; frames, objects and subjects; Roberto Bolaño.

Quick Notes

89-year-old Frederik Pohl has a blog. Who says you can't teach old SF grandmasters new tricks. (Though I can't agree with the sentiment that if you haven't heard of him you should be thrown into a wood chipper.

Also on the SF note, the Spanish Digg clone Menéame listed their 70 best Science Fiction novels of all time (in Spanish). What's interesting to me about this list is that there isn't a single book there that was originally written in Spanish, and the vast majority of them were written in English (though Stanislaw Lem and Jules Verne both make good showings). I honestly expected that, with all the Spanish speakers out there, that they would have SOMETHING of their own SF scene. Note further that this list was a REACTION to the list made by the Times of London of the 10 best SF writers, which the posters on Menéame thought was lacking. Does this mean SF is almost entirely the province of English-speaking countries (especially America and the UK)? I'm under the impression that both Russia and China have burgeoning SF&F scenes, so are they just not making as big an impression on the world stage? Is there something I'm missing?

Lastly (almost forgot), a Wet Asphalt essay is now part of a college curriculum. Is this a sign of the end times?

Speculative Fiction in Conversation Part 2

This is part 2 of an email conversation I had with Matt Cheney about the state of Speculative Fiction. Read Part 1 Here.

Speculative Fiction in Conversation Part 1

In November, I posted a blog entry about James Gunn's essay on protocols and ways of reading in science fiction, a concept he drew from the essay collection Starboard Wine by Samual R. Delany. While I was critical of Gunn's post, the concepts discussed made me realize that there might be a lot of SF criticism out there that I had never read and never even heard of. After a little Google searching, I discovered that the Delany book was out of print and difficult to find, however an earlier collection, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, had a forthcoming reissue with an introduction by my own friend Matt Cheney, who was trying to get the other book back into print as well. Matt is also the author of the blog Mumpsimus, a number of fine short stories, is the series editor of The Best American Fantasy, and is an English teacher who's known to sneak speculative fiction into the curriculum. It seemed natural that I would turn to him to fill in the gaps in my own SF education. What follows is part 1 of the email conversation that resulted, which moves from criticism to the history of SF and the ongoing debate about SF's place in the literary world, and whether protocols really exist at all.

The Protocols of the Elders of Sci Fion

James Gunn has written an essay about the "protocols of science fiction", a concept he draws from the 1984 Samual R. Delany essay collection Starboard Wine (or more exactly, the MLA conference that preceeded it). (This book is sadly out-of-print and difficult to find -- Amazon Auctions has a copy for $175 or so -- though Matt Chaney is leading the effort to bring out a new edition.) In the essay, Gunn, quoting Delany, says that Science Fiction does not work in the same way as other written categories, in that it has "specific conventions, unique focuses, areas of interest and excellence, as well as its own particular ways of making sense out of language." Gunn then introduces an example, the story "Sail On! Sail On!" by Philip José Farmer.

Elric and Michael Moorcock

I've recently become addicted to the Elric novels of Michael Moorcock. For the uninitiated, Elric was created as a reaction against the kind of Conan-the-Barbarian/Lord-of-the-Rings style fantasy that still dominates sword-and-sorcery novels today. He is the anti-Conan; a frail, albino sorcerer from the decadent kingdom of Melneboné, addicted to drugs to stay alive and to the demon black sword Stormbringer, which both fills him with strength and compels him to kill so that it might eat the souls of his victims. Adjectives frequently used to describe him include "cursed," "tortured" and most of all "doomed." He is totally emo. Elric was most popular in the 1970's, when Blue Oyster Cult wrote a song about him ("Black Blade") and Dave Sim parodied him in the comic book Cerebus as "Elrod of Melvinbone." Yet, with new additions of the books coming out, the prospect of a movie and Moorcock now writing new Elric adventures, the albino seems to be having a resurgence of attention.

F&SF All Over Again

Another reviewer receives a free issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and is disappointed. This after, my own recent review of a different issue found it lacking.

It's clear to me at least that the editor of the magazine is hopelessly out-of-touch and, in general, may simply have poor taste. For good SF stories read instead:

Farrago's Wainscott
A Fly in Amber
Strange Horizons

All of which are free on the Internet.

The State of SF Magazines

In a recent blog post, comics and prose writer Warren Ellis discusses why the print SF magazines are dying. The key for me is when he says,

As was stated over and over last year, any number of things could be done to help these magazines. But, naturally enough, the magazines’ various teams appear not to consider anything to be wrong.

You all may recall that I recently did a not very flattering review of a recent issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, in which I discussed in some depth how almost all the stories within were derivative, uninteresting and for the most part crap. However, when that post was discussed on the F&SF message board, I found the editor in chief, Gordon van Gelder, not only unreceptive to my comments, but completely dismissive of them and of me.

First he wrote "I think my attitudes were a lot like yours back when I was 19 or 20. ... One thing I learned is that while I'm completely entitled to my tastes, my likes, my dislikes, it's a mistake to think that everyone else shares them." What are we, in high school? Are you really arguing that all opinions are subjective and the view that they aren't can't be true because you thought that way when you were young?

Then he says that I would be "better served by anthologies" and that it's an old joke that a "Slipstream" magazine would lose money, because he's obviously raking in a fortune as it is. Moreover, he keeps insisting that F&SF is better than ever, and if that was the case why are they loosing readership year after year? And don't say because people are watching TV and movies and playing video games instead; that's a cop out. As Ellis explains in a later post, print is not dead. Not even close. Ellis seems to think that it's too late for the existing SF magazines, for F&SF, Analog, Interzone, and Asimov's. I'm inclined to think he's right.

Fantasy and Science Fiction Discussion

I got involved in a discussion with the fiction editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Gordon Van Gelder, on their forum. I chime in on the second page.