Where's my Foreign Pop Fiction?

So, here's a list of cool looking books you can't read. Well, mostly. It's a list of notable recent foreign science fiction and fantasy books. Almost none of them have been published in America, so good luck reading them.

The list is a sort of reaction to a recent bruhaha in the sf world where some idiot named Norman Spinrad said there's no science fiction that evolved from non-european cultures except for Japan. In response people have been jumping up and down angry at Spinrad and his ignorance, when what they really should be doing is clamoring for more translation of science fiction and fantasy from other cultures. Like China. China has what is pretty certainly the largest speculative fiction readership in the world, and almost none of it is translated. I've talked about this before, but I can't help feeling really annoyed when I read an excerpt of a really interesting Chinese science fiction novel on the Words Without Borders website, and realize there is no way for me to read the full book without learning Chinese. In fact, a look at the recent books that have been translated from Chinese is almost entirely dreadfully serious books about subjects like the horrors of the cultural revolution. Where's the popular literature? We know there is one! And it's not just Chinese, why are popular books the world over so neglected when it comes to bringing them to America. There are a few counter-examples, like the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series (crime fiction often gets a certain pass other "genre fictions" don't) and a recent push for Japanese SF (indeed, in terms of pop culture, Japan is probably the most well-represented of foreign countries thanks to manga and anime), but these things are the exception rather than the rule. Where is my foreign popular fiction damn it?!

How and Why Plot Structure Works

You've heard this before:

There is a protagonist who wants something, badly. There are obstacles in the protagonist's way, usually an antagonist working against him/her. After being obstructed again and again, and finally, when all seems lost, the protagonist risks it all to win and succeeds (or perhaps fails).

Most of the books on writing you'll find in your average bookstore talk about the above, rudimentary plot structure. Often, especially in screenwriting books, the structure is divided up into three acts, with the rhythm going something like this: in the first act an inciting incident forces a protagonist to make a decision to pursue the object of desire, culminating in a minor first act climax in which the protagonist meets up against the full force of antagonism for the first time and manages some small success. Then, in a long second act, there are progressive complications as the protagonist tries to overcome successive obstacles, culminating in a second act climax, which often results in all seeming lost. Then, in the third act, the protagonist keeps fighting and risks it all, leading to a story climax in which he/she (usually) triumphs. Finally there is a denouement in which loose threads are wrapped up and things return to equilibrium. In some cases there are more acts, for instance the five act structure typical of Shakespeare, or fewer acts, a one or two act structure in a short story or half-hour television show, but three acts has become the base norm, especially in film.

You've seen/read/experienced this hundreds of times. And because of that, it's easy to dismiss it. It's easy to say, this structure is what leads to the formulaic shallowness typical of Hollywood, and I want no part of it. It's easy to say I'm going to make stories that bear no resemblance to the three act structure and they will blow your freaking mind. And while it's definitely possible to buck structural norms and create something wonderful, there are examples that could be cited (Roberto BolaƱo springs to mind), the problem both with this attitude per se and with the way this information is presented in most writing books is that it ignores WHY this structure has become so standard, that is why it works. And even if you want to do something unconventional, it's important to understand why the conventions exist and how they work, to avoid falling into the traps that they are specifically designed to circumnavigate.

Down and Out in the SF Ghetto

Attention people who argued with us that fandom isn't creepy, or who claimed I was wrong about the convention culture enabling predatory behavior, please consider the following:




Yeah you want to say, isolated incident and look how the community is responding to support the victim?

read this:


To rephrase my own point on this: the atmosphere of anything goes that exists at SF conventions wherein people are routinely not challenged on their bullshit behavior and there are panels advocating dangerous sexual practices to be openly accepted is irresponsible and ugly. It leads to bad things and empowers the emotionally retarded and predatory to act on their darkest impulses.

Given this latest spat that no doubt will soon devolve into something like RapeFail 2010 as people take sides, well, I rest my fucking case about how broken the SF Ghetto and Con Culture are.

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.

Rebranding the Filibuster

So, the senate is broken. Long gone are the days of Jimmy Stewart valiantly seizing the floor of the Senate to oppose corruption in Mr. Smith goes to washington. The fact of the matter is that the filibuster is a bad rule, it has always been a bad rule, and it is time for it to die. The House of Representatives gets by just fine without a filibuster. The history of the filibuster is rife with abuses, such as Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats famously reading the contents of a DC phone book into the congressional record in order to block civil rights legislation aimed at ending Jim Crow. Rachel Maddow thinks that what the campaign to kill the filibuster really needs is a rebranding. I tend to agree. It's a complex parliamentary rule that the Senate can change if it wants to quite easily, but nobody really understands it and it sounds weird.

I think the British have the right idea here. Their parliament can use what's called a "guillotine motion" to cut off a debate when opponents to legislation that will pass an up or down vote resort to the kind of delaying tactics currently being abused by the Republicans in the US Senate. Rather than talking about ending the filibuster, it's time we gave the Senate a sharper guillotine to cut of the heads of Republican obstruction tactics.

Go vote for my suggestion here:


The iPad is NOT a Kindle (or Nook) Killer

The iPad is basically a big iPod Touch with optional 3G internet, optional external keyboard and the ability to use iWork. It has access to an Apple ebook store, which is nice, but because it runs iPhone apps it can already read Kindle, eReader and B&N books as well as books from FictionWise and Books on Board through Stanza. So that's just not such a big deal. It's not a Kindle killer because it doesn't have an eInk screen, which means it's backlit, just like the iPod Touch, iPhone and laptops. Though I must admit it looks sweet for reading color comics on.

I'm still waiting for a tablet that can change from eInk to regular screen and back, like some of the technology demos that have been floating around.

What this is: A decent alternative to a netbook, because you can write and read on it, and do low key work related stuff. No flash, which means no Hulu etc, but most Netbooks are too slow for Flash video anyway, whereas the iPad can do video from the iTunes store and from YouTube. And it's supposedly very fast, unlike most Netbooks, and it's going to have rock solid OS software unlike the creaky Windows XP that's on the typical Netbook. So it's a good addition to Apple's lineup, but yeah, not exactly the revolution people were thinking about.

The Poetics of Aggravated SF Assaults

So in the interests of being less vitriolic and not just hurling insults, I thought I'd approach some of the more irritating aesthetic (as opposed to political, ethical, or social) problems with the SF Ghetto and Con Culture in particular. Some of this stuff is just dumb, and it's probably not worth pointing out why. But I think it needs saying in order to point out the differences between what I think about this stuff, and the things I'm more vocally critical of.

1. Filk

Filk makes no sense to me. My enduring image of filk is that guy from Trekkies who was really bad at being in drag, singing a klingon hymn of some sort. It made me cringe. I still cringe when I think about it. It was that bad. Supposedly the idea behind filk is a group of people getting together and singing songs. That, on its own, is a good thing. Music is wonderful and we all need more of it in our lives, even people like me who have a lot of it. What doesn't make sense to me is the form that Filk takes, which, to an outsider, appears to be something like a cross between Weird Al Yankovic and Mark Russell, only with none of the musicianship or genius to be found in those musical satirists. The point here is not that the idea of filk is a bad one, it's that it seems to be executed in an internally contradictory way. What I mean by that is that on the one hand it's pushing this "everyone can sing" idea which is laudable. But at the same time, the actual activity itself is rife with in jokes and jargon that are only really accessible to a very small group of people. It's this internal irony, that seems to be completely missed by the participants, that I find displeasing about filk.

2. Costuming