Aug 13 2014

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Gene Wolfe

All of us from that time grew up with the feeling that you shouldn’t waste anything: you don’t waste rags, because rags can be useful.

–Gene Wolfe on the Depression, from this excellent interview shared with me by Justin Howe, reader of everything. Not a new sentiment–my grandparents were living evidence of this–but a universal one. Perennial. I can only hope the kids of the next generation grow up with this inscribed on their hearts/souls/skulls. Those of the current one certainly didn’t. Lately it seems chances are high it’s going to kill us.

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Jul 15 2014

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Review: Sherwood Nation, Benjamin Parzybok

Preorder <i>Sherwood Nation</i> from Small Beer Press

In a Pacific Northwest beset by hourly more plausible, climate change induced desertification, the city of Portland struggles under strict water and power rationing, while the government and the rich glut themselves on hoarded resources. A plucky group of rebels arises to oppose them in the name of the people, annexing the poor Northeast neighborhood to create a tiny utopian state within city limits. Idealism, triumph, smashed idealism and tragedy ensue, along with a healthy share of the soulstring-resonatingly surreal.

“…You’d need a mask and a horse, obviously.”

“Mm, spurs.”

An eerie clop clop clop sounded through the open window and they looked at each other in amazement.

“A horse!” she said. “You’re a conjurer!”

But instead it was a big moose that stumbled along the dusty street, its skin tight over its ribs. Its head jerked left and right in anxious, almost animatronic movements.

“Oh no,” Renee said, “I fucking hate this. Josh saw a bear two days ago—I told you?”

They watched it continue down the street until a shot rang out. The moose’s body jerked and sidestepped strangely and then there was another shot.

“That’s a whole shit ton of extra food rations if they can store it,” Zach said as they watched men close in on it. “God knows how they’ll store it.” The moose stumbled again on a third shot but continued on.

“They’ve got to get a straight shot in.”

“I can’t watch,” Renee said. She climbed back in bed and spoke to Zach’s shirtless back as he watched the moose fall and the hunters try to drag the animal to the side of the road. “Hunters in the streets.”

“Dying of thirst has got to be worse,” Zach said.

Benjamin Parzybok’s Sherwood Nation is the sort of SF novel I’ve been waiting for someone to write, wishing I could write: a near-future utopian political adventure romp thought experiment. By page 50 I was crying and cheering. These are not common reactions for me when reading fiction; I wish they were. Now I’m waiting for someone to write the next one, while I struggle to do the same. Here’s hoping it be you.

It’s not nostalgic–no laser blasters, no spaceships with batwings and 50s car fins. It’s not escapist. No, okay, it’s escapist–dare I say all fiction is–but it escapes to something rather than from it? It’s not grimdark, where the escapism comes from reveling in hopelessness, forcing you to roll in hopelessness like a bully mashing your face in the mud so when you look up at the real world it briefly–falsely–looks less shitty. It’s realistic, it’s honest. It’s fun. It’s as fun as Parzybok’s first novel, Couch, which is saying a lot, and somehow it manages to be almost as silly even while realistic, sympathetic, human characters are making horrible decisions and getting killed. It’s full of heroic characters I can actually believe in, I can almost believe myself and the people I love capable of being like, in the right circumstances, under great pressure. And it puts those plausible heroes in a setting enough like our own that the hard solutions they find just might apply to the real world. And that is something we need. Something I don’t see SF or literary mainstream fiction or anything in between providing.

Parzybok manages to make it feel effortless, spontaneous and painstakingly well thought out at the same time.

It’s not perfect. Sometimes Sherwood Nation gets caught up in its own myth and falls into wish-fulfillment. But it’s not often. As often, we’re shown the kind of horrors a Fox News pessimist might imagine of a dictatorial/socialist utopia. And as in every other post-apocalypse setting I can think of, there’s handwaving. The question of where the water comes from, the long view of a droughted state, fades away for most of the book. But the focus is on the social and political aspects of revolution, people getting caught up in ideas, people resorting to each other in ways they don’t, can’t, in other than extraordinary circumstances. All Parzybok’s really clever ideas for surviving water shortage and living with power shortage on a citywide scale may be considered to take the place of SF wow-factor trappings in a more traditional postapocalyptic novel–I think of Bacigalupi’s spring guns and engineered elephants. They’re cool, they fit the setting, they inspire–and in so doing set the stage for the radical choices that drive the plot–they’re not the story. But unlike in Windup Girl, really unlike in anybody else’s SF I can think of, Parzybok’s wow-factor trappings are actually practicable, now, to actual beneficial result for the individual and the potential future of humanity. And for me, at least, and for us climate geeks who are the likely target audience, that plausibility does absolutely nothing to reduce the wow-factor itself.

I confess I love everything Parzybok has ever written. I know he’s not for everybody. But I’d argue Sherwood Nation is also the most accessible thing he’s written. So…if you’re anything like me…give it a try, won’t you?

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Jun 15 2014

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Towards a Borgesian Mythos

I want there to be a Borgesian Mythos like there’s a Lovecraftian Mythos. Instead of, even. Lovecraft is worn out. Like Poe. You don’t even need me to enumerate the reasons, you know them. Whereas Borges is still and will I hope forevermore remain the shit. Mirrors, labyrinths, alephs, books, libraries, tigers, dreams, dreamtigers, roses, compass roses and every other easily encapsulated form of the infinite. Knives, swords, hronir, secret cults, the color yellow. Leibniz, Ramón Llull, Schopenhauer, De Quincey, Martín Fierro, Borges (both the fictional Borges and the real one). The Thousand and One Nights. The Quixote.

I said this to some people and they told me I should edit an anthology. That’s too much work. Also, it threatens to undermine the very purpose I’m trying to achieve. What happens when you edit a themed anthology? One of two things. First: it goes away. The original short fiction anthology as self-defeating prophecy. Once was enough, everybody stops caring about the idea and goes on with their tentacle porn. Second: everybody falls in love with it. Fifteen more of the same anthology come out, one from every micropress, until we’re all sick of it the way I’m sick of shoggoths and being asked to redeem that unsavory sociopath whose head is the World Fantasy Award.

(Can I get a bronze Borges head? Maybe I’ll commission one.)

So here’s this blog post instead.

Why isn’t there a Borgesian Mythos? There is–lurking just around the next corner in the library stacks, unassuming, impeccably researched, subtle, wry, brilliant, obscure.Christopher Brown did it hilariously in Strange Horizons. Umberto Eco, Roberto Bolaño and Mark Danielewski all perpetrate patently Borgesian fictions. One step further away one finds Jedediah Berry, Stephen Millhauser, Carlos Ruiz Zafon. One step closer, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Manuel Peyrou.

phobos

And me, yes, I do it. I’ve been trying to write Borgesian fiction for years. Not until lately have I (depending how stringently you’d like to define the term) succeeded. “The Immodest Demiurge Ezra Buckley” appears this week in Phobos Magazine. It’s a story based on a few lines from the postscript to “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” I’ll let you go look up. Panel notes where I came up with the idea are here. The title is modeled on a couple of his early “histories”, “The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell” in particular. See also “Other Palimpsests” in Bibliotheca Fantastica, maybe my first attempt at Borgesianness, which went through quite a lot of iterations over years before I finally wandered across an enervated, obsessive academic POV ready to lose himself in an aleph-text, a page that is all pages.

bf-full-cover-72

The trouble with proposing a Borgesian Mythos–or of admitting you’ve contributed to one–is now you’ve talked about it. It’s not a secret cult anymore. Point it out and it ceases to be a fictional imposition on consensus reality, a comparative-cultural hronr like all those Borges fanboys in their yellow suits, and instead reverts to a fandom, the usual kind we all have to pick apart until it’s no fun anymore.

So forget what I just said. Forget all of it. This isn’t the blog you’re looking for.

Instead, just read this interview with Borges from 1966. He’s magic! Is there anything he hasn’t read? He’s like a santa claus of literature. Read the whole thing and tell me you don’t want to read about that guy for another couple thousand pages across all forms and genres.

Ready?

INTERVIEWER

You have said that a writer should never be judged by his ideas.

BORGES

No, I don’t think ideas are important.

INTERVIEWER

Well, then, what should he be judged by?

BORGES

He should be judged by the enjoyment he gives and by the emotions one gets. As to ideas, after all it is not very important whether a writer has some political opinion or other because a work will come through despite them, as in the case of Kipling’s Kim. Suppose you consider the idea of the empire of the English—well, in Kim I think the characters one really is fond of are not the English, but many of the Indians, the Mussulmans. I think they’re nicer people. And that’s because he thought them—No! No! Not because he thought them nicer—because he felt them nicer.

Lovecraft never said no such thing, let me tell you.

The defense rests.

Jorge Luis BORGES, Galleria Nazionale, Palermo, 1984

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Feb 11 2014

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At Boskone This Weekend

I’m at at Boskone, one of the long-running Boston-area F/SF conventions, this weekend. (Weather permitting!).

I’m on three panels, one dealing with a subject that I love–stories told through documents–and two others dealing with online magazines or podcasting:

  • Great Podcasts and Where to Find Them (Sat 3pm): Panelists discuss some of their favorite podcasts, sites, and stories. (One of my favs being BCS 100: Boat in Shadows, Crossing” by Tori Truslow.)
  • From Pixels to Print: The Challenges of Running a Magazine (Sat 4PM): Funding, staffing, and managing your organization, and then printing (or enpixeling), distributing, and publicizing your precious products.

I also have a reading Friday at 9:00 pm, where I will probably read some of my Clark Ashton Smith pastiche.

Other than that, I’ll be wandering the halls with plenty of BCS flyers and postcards, in the bar, or trawling the party floor.  Feel free to say hello!

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Oct 08 2013

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At Capclave This Weekend

I’m at Capclave, my local D.C.-area F/SF con (where reading is not extinct!), this weekend.

I’m on four panels, all dealing with online magazines or podcasting or secondary-world fantasy:

  • Friday 7:00 pm: New Media, New Markets, New Business Models (a review of notable genre ezines, their forms and business models)
  • Saturday 2:00 pm: World’s Shortest Epics (epic fantasy in short fiction; what makes it work and who’s doing it)
  • Saturday 3:00 pm: Hearing Voices? (a survey of podcasts)
  • Saturday 5:00 pm: The Evolution of Fantasy (modern fantasy trends and tastes)

I also have a reading Friday at 8:00 pm, where I may read something forthcoming in BCS or some of my own fiction. Drop by and find out!

Other than that, I’ll be wandering the halls with plenty of BCS flyers and anthology-cover postcards, in the bar, or trawling the party floor.  Feel free to say hello!

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Aug 27 2013

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At WorldCon This Weekend

This weekend I’ll be at WorldCon this weekend, in San Antonio, Texas. (Right near The Alamo, apparently.)

I’m not on any panels, although I highly recommend the State of Sword & Sorcery: New Trends one Friday at 4PM. It features BCS authors and novelists Saladin Ahmed and Chris Willrich and Pyr Books editor/BCS fan Lou Anders. That sounds like an awesome topic, a lot like the S&S panel I moderated at World Fantasy 2010, and I’m bummed that I won’t be at the con yet by then.

But I will be out and about Saturday and Sunday. Saturday night, I’m planning to hit this bar-hosted author event that will include BCS authors Cat Rambo, Brad Beaulieu, Ann Leckie, and Saladin Ahmed.

Sunday night I’ll be at the Hugo Awards banquet, where BCS has the honor of being a nominee for Best Semiprozine. (The ceremony apparently will be streamed live at www.ustream.tv/hugo-awards. In case you want to see me in a suit and tie.)

I will have a stack of BCS flyers and some brand new postcards of the forthcoming Best of BCS Year Four anthology. If you see me wandering the cavernous convention center or the party floor of the hotel late in the small hours, feel free to say hello!

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Aug 16 2013

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“Excision” at Podcastle!

My story “Excision,” from Ann VanderMeer’s first issue of Weird Tales, is now out as an audio podcast from the good folks at Podcastle. Read by well-known podcaster Jen Rhodes. Thank you!

Their content rating for it says “Rated R: Contains Surgery”. How can a story with that label fail to entertain!

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Jul 09 2013

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At ReaderCon This Weekend

I will be at ReaderCon– one of my favorite cons!– in north Boston, again this year.

Saturday at 11:30 AM, I have a solo Reading from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, where I will read from some stories from the magazine. Audience’s choice! Older stories, current ones, and even forthcoming ones from later this summer or our Fifth Anniversary Double-Issue this Oct.

Saturday at 2 PM, I am on the panel The Relationship of Reality and Fantasy. It’s about fantasy secondary worlds borrowing elements from real history, in particular the social consciousness facet of societies, and readers’ interpretations of them; for example the irony of fans who accept magic and dragons but balk at the idea of female pirates or a black Lancelot because they’re “unrealistic.” It asks, whose reality does fantasy need to reflect in order to be believable?

I deal with fantasy secondary worlds all the time with BCS, so I have plenty of thoughts on this. Whose reality do I think that fantasy needs to reflect in order to be believable? Come to the panel and find out. :)

I will have shiny BCS flyers and postcards. I hope to also have the shiny tiny rocket-ship badge pin that I get for BCS being a Hugo Award finalist this year. :)

Feel free to drop by the Saturday reading or panel or to stop me in the halls and say hello!

If you’re looking for me in the bar, note that this year, the bar is closed for renovations! The horror! But the fancy restaurant’s bar apparently will be open late, so you might find me in there. :)

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Jul 02 2013

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Readercon Jitters

Behold, my schedule for this year’s Readercon, which is next week.

Friday July 12

12:00 PM    G    Writing Others I: Theory. Michael J. DeLuca, Andrea Hairston, Rose Lemberg, Maureen F. McHugh, Daniel José Older, Joan Slonczewski (leader), Sabrina Vourvoulias. Authors who want to write outside their own experiences of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and sexuality face a multitude of challenges. How do we present each character’s unique perspective while celebrating their distinctive identity and avoiding stereotypes and appropriation? How is the research and writing process affected by differences between the author’s and the character’s levels of societal privilege? Is it possible to write about future diversity without oppression, or does today’s reality require us to write in today’s frame? Which authors have handled this well, and what form does “handling this well” take?

Proposed by Joan Slonczewski and Michael J. DeLuca.

1:00 PM    G    Writing Others II: Practice. Michael J. DeLuca, Rose Lemberg, Daniel José Older, Joan Slonczewski, Sarah Smith. This practical discussion, led by Joan Slonczewski and Michael J. DeLuca, is for writers who have read Writing the Other, or otherwise carefully studied the pitfalls of cultural appropriation, and decided to take the plunge of writing about people whose experiences differ significantly from the author’s. How does one go about acquiring sufficient understanding of another culture, gender, or sexuality to write about it respectfully, productively, and effectively? We’ll discuss research techniques and writing methods used by successful writers of the other, as well as problems and solutions we’ve encountered in our own work. Attending “Writing Others I: Theory” is recommended.

Saturday July 13

10:00 AM    VT    Reading Michael J. DeLuca reads “Remorse and the Pariah,” a mini-epic poem published in Abyss & Apex.

Sunday July 14

10:00 AM    G    Digital Marginalia: A Conversation with Your Future Self. Neil Clarke, Michael J. DeLuca, David G. Shaw (moderator), Ruth Sternglantz, Gayle Surrette. Electronic reading devices allow us to carry huge libraries wherever we go. They also provide us with the ability to highlight, annotate, and share what we read. In a 2012 blog post, Clive Thompson described this enhanced reading experience as “a conversation with the author, with yourself, and in a weird way, if you take it along as a lifelong project… a conversation with your future self.” According to Craig Mod, “The book of the past reveals its individual experience uniquely. The book of the future reveals our collective experience uniquely.” What tools will we embed within digital texts to signal this shifting relationship with literature, and how will readers use them?

I’m the token white guy on those Writing Others panels. This comes as no surprise—it was partly my idea—but that doesn’t make me any less nervous. I have only the shallowest command of the theory, have not read nearly as widely as I should (though struggling to correct that as we speak) and have participated not at all in the great debate. Believe me, I will be showing up prepared, with copious notes and humility. Not that it will do any good. You know what might do some good? A friendly face or two in the crowd. So please come. Because it’s an important topic, getting more important pretty much in real time. Because it’s something we all need to know. And because I have put myself in the unenviable position of really, really needing it in order to keep writing what I want to write.

Nerves aside, I’m sure it’s going to be a great weekend with people I love dearly and don’t get to see enough.

Come to my reading too!

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May 23 2013

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Balticon, Ho!

I will be at Balticon, the annual Baltimore F/SF con, this Sunday for the day, including on several panels about editing and podcasting:

From Slush to Sale (Sun, 1:00 PM)

This panel will be a reprise of the ‘From Slush to Sale’ roundtable that I was on in February hosted by the Baltimore SF Society. Other editors on this panel include Hildy Silverman, editor of Space & Time, who has bought several of my stories.

We’ll be discussing various aspects of the submission, acceptance, and editing process, including the ever-popular ‘what do editors want’ and its converse, ‘what do editors see all to often’. :)

Jake Bible We Hardly Knew Ye: The Current State of Podcast Fiction (Sun, 2:00 PM)

This panel features a number of prominent podcasters, such as Mur Lafferty. I will be representing the trends in ‘hybrid’ online magazines–those, like BCS, that publish short fiction in text / ebooks and in audio podcasts.

Editors’ Q&A Session (Sun, 4:00 PM)

This panel includes several editors of theme anthologies and will answer audience questions about submissions, acceptances, and the publishing process, for anthologies and magazines. I’m moderating, and I’ve got a stack of my own questions to ask, including some that I bet you’ve never heard before. :)

I will also have the requisite stack of shiny BCS flyers and postcards. If you see me in the halls, feel free to say hello!

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