Saturday, March 31, 2007
--Centric has been invaded by an alien planet!--
In a strange environment, even stranger things are happening! Curiouser and curiouser. Reality, fiction, virtuality, and metafiction are overlapping: A company previously known as Oversight, but soon to be revealed as Winfinity (in what is supposedly a fictional essay called "Far Horizon" to be published here), has dumped an entire alien planet into the 'unsuspecting' Centric office in Second Life.
Apart from evoking some surprising new office dynamics -- and let me tell you that those were already quite lateral in the first place -- the people/simulacra/Turing interfaces/I-pointers/usurping self-promoters* have offered a reward for tracing this problem.
Search the snark, but beware: they might be dragons.
Centric accepts no responsibility for those boldly going where only fools rush in, and please sign these release forms where the small print is nano-engraved in a thousand angelic scripts dancing on the atomic head of a molecular pin, you know, to save memory space. Just read it after you've completed the assignement, or not...
You have been informed/warned/warmed up*.
* = delete as appropriate, although some philosophers/ubergeeks/potheads/drunks* have suggested that they might be a superpostion of all of the above.
Update: UH, WHAT? The plot thickens...
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Last Chance: Amityville House of Pancake Omnibus, Volume 1
Because it will be out of print in a couple of weeks. "But," the more publication-savvy among you might protest, "how can a POD book go out of print?"
Well, because one of its authors has sold her novella to another publisher, and the contract for AHOP was up, anyway.
Adrienne Jones (re-)sold Gypsies Stole My Tequila to Bedlam Press, where it will be released as a paperback and a limited edition hardcover. For more info, check Adrienne's LJ, where she spills the beans (and where you might congratulate her, if you, unlike me, have an LJ account. I already did so in other places).
And while I am, of course, a little bit jealous, I am very happy for Adrienne, as Gypsies Stole My Tequila is a heck of a novella. Well deserved.
Since I, together with Jack Mangan and JD Welles, have had the honour of sharing a ToC with her in AHOP 1, you could do worse than purchase a paper copy (or an electronic one) before it really is out of print. Together with the afore-mentioned, brilliant Gypsies Stole My Tequila (and yes, I've already begged her to send me a short story for Interzone, but apparantly she only likes them big) you get The Girl in B33, Dirk Moonfire and the Nefarious Space Women, and my own Cultural Clashes in Cádiz.
See it as an investment: it'll multiply in value the moment Adrienne Jones hits megastardom, replacing both J.K. Rowling and Stephen King. Oh well, maybe not quite, but she is very, very good (no guarantee for sales, alas), and you never know. Or Jack Mangan might hit the big time (his podcasts attract healthy numbers of downloads and comments). Maybe even I --
*pinches himself and wakes up to the cruel, cruel world*
-- where was I? In any case, you can check out reviews of AHOP 1 on Tangent Online, Barnes & Noble, or SFReader (and even customer reviews on Amazon).
The story builds to a satisfying climax during Carnival, which in de Vries’s capable hands is perhaps as exciting and visually stimulating as the real thing.
(Douglas Hoffman on Tangent Online)
"Cultural Clashes in Cadiz" by de Vries is a time-travel adventure set in 13th-century Spain that pits a rogue time-traveler against the two trackers closing in on him. The story's conclusion -- where the traveler's reasons for illegally going back in time are finally revealed -- is as mind-blowing as it is brilliant.
(Paul Goat Allen on Barnes & Noble: how could they fire such an insightful reviewer?)
If you liked AHOP 1, there are also AHOP 2 (out of print already, although some dealers still have copies) and AHOP 3: check out the Creative Guy Publishing catalogue.
(And now I'm off to hypnotise some unwary editor into publishing Cultural Clashes in Cádiz...;-)
Shaun Tan's "The Arrival"
The graphic narrative (my best term: it's not a novel, nor a comic book, nor a picture book) tells the story of a migrant from the migrant's viewpoint (actually, I think it's meant to convey the migrant experience in general: so a migrant from any culture trying to resettle in any different culture about anytime in the last couple of centuries. Tan aims for the sky and -- for my money -- mostly succeeds), and therefore the language of the strange culture in which he arrives would initially be unintelligible anyway. So the lack of words substantially increases the migrant's sense of estrangement and bewilderment.
I can't recommend this wonderful book high enough. I bought it together with the spiffy Shaun Tan calendar, and I urge you to check out the vendors on the bottom of Shaun Tan's webpage, or you can order both from Amazon UK.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Anticipation had built up considerably for me, as the radio edit of "Slipstream" was playing on their website and myspace site weeks in advance, the "Pilot in the Sky of Dreams" single and videoclip (on youtube) were released online two weeks before the official album release.
It's a phenomenal way to make fans hungry for a new release, and has become the common way to do this in the music industry. One wonders if this might be copied by the publishing industry: say, release a sample chapter (or a sample story if it's a collection or anthology) online, followed by a podcast of another chapter (or story). For example, Paul Di Filippo's "Wikiworld" was put online, and this was widely announced, e.g. on Boing Boing, before the release of the Fast Forward 1 anthology edited by Lou Anders. With the addendum that the music industry in general has larger budgets than the publishing industry.
Anyway, Threshold: I got interested in the band when I read a review of the debut album Wounded Land in a Dutch music magazine (then called SymInfo), where the reviewer really liked the melodic parts, but really hated it when the huge guitar riffs came chugging in. It sounded exactly like the kind of music I was looking for: I bought the debut album and have been a fan ever since. It's also why I think that reviewers should be honest all the time: in this case even a negative review sold the album to me, as I could correctly estimate from the review that this album would be to my taste.
Apart from making great music, the 'progressive metal' they play has top class lyrics. Threshold is one of the thinking man's metal bands, and is one of the examples I give when I point people to intelligent heavy metal (not unlike explaining people that there is something like intelligent SF, although for my money heavy metal is culturally more accepted than SF). Bass player Jon Jeary used to write most lyrics during the first half of the band's career, but since he left keyboard player Richard West has taken over that role with verve.
Also, Threshold is one of those rare bands that keep trying to develop and reinvent themselves, and with Dead Reckoning they have managed to get both a heavier and a more accessible sound, effortlessly mixing monster riffs with earworm choruses, subtle piano chords with heavy grooves, inventive structures with hooks sharper than knives, and thoughtful, poetic lyrics with thoughtless headbanging action.
Over the years, the band have become good friends, as well, and when they tour I hope to have a talk and a few beers with Karl Groom, Rich West and the others.
In the meantime, you could do worse than check out the band's website (or myspace site), where they play the radio versions of "Slipstream" and "Pilot in the Sky with Dreams".
EasterCon and World Fantasy
At EasterCon I'll be mostly busy manning the Interzone dealer's table with Roy Gray. I had some big plans with Convoy which fell through when Convoy fell through (and also because of some developments in my private life), so I'm doing Contemplation more low-key (no IZ party like at LACon IV). Still, I'm looking forward to meeting old friends, and a few new ones (like Gareth Lyn Powell, whom I've only communicated with over the internet). Do feel free to come by the IZ table and talk with Roy and me. We are very communicative (even if we might try to sell you some IZ/TTA swag).
World Fantasy in Saratoga Springs will be my first World Fantasy Con. There will be plenty of good friends there, but I'm especially looking forward to meeting a lot of people who I only know online. So far, I'm not doing an IZ dealer's table there -- logistics are a nightmare -- so will mostly network and hang at the bar.
Also, sparked by Edmund Schubert's comment on my previous post, I might sugget a panel topic.
Hope to see some of you there.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
What Should Be Left Unsaid
This is an attempt to pinpoint one of the things that makes a story resonate: that is, one of those qualities that makes a story stay with the reader long after she/he has finished reading it. I'm aiming at what should be left unsaid in a story.
(Of course, there are more aspects that can make a story unforgettable: compelling characters, intriguing setting, breathtaking prose, perceptive plot, mind-expanding concepts, an unrelenting tension arc, an intense ethic dilemma, razor-sharp imagery, and more . Of course, I won't pretend that this list is complete. Furthermore, what works for a particular reader also depends on personal taste.)
There is a certain balance in what a story should tell, and should not tell. It is related to the question if a story should wrap up each and every bit it puts forward, or leave an open ending.
Side note: admittedly, some readers prefer a well-rounded off story. However, I would argue, such a story, unless it contains one or more of the other aspects -- mentioned above -- in abundance, will not be a highly memorable story.
To make matters more complicated (and keep in mind that the matter is complicated, as there is no 'how-to-write-the-perfect-story-in-three-easy-steps' guide, although the sellers of such guides want you to believe there is, but before you're tempted to actually buy such a guide, I'd strongly recommend you read this), the amount of ambiguity required depends on a variety of factors, such as -- but not limited to -- the subject matter, the theme, the thrust of the narrative*, and the story's sensibility and/or ambition.
(*: I almost put the writer's intent in there, as well, but if a writer's intent is to create ripping yarn rather than a thought-provoking dilemma, to write more for entertainment's than for art's, provocation's, or even complexity's sake, then one might expect the story to be more forgettable, and be wrong because the story contains a colourful world, enthralling characters, or other aspects that will make it resonate.)
Roughly speaking, on one end of the spectrum there is the story that does not stand alone: an obvious novel excerpt, a part of a larger narrative (or series) that falls flat without its larger reference frame. The ending, or story itself, is not satisfactory, because too many pieces of the puzzle are missing. I've rejected some very intriguing stories exactly for this reason, albeit reluctantly.
On the other end of the spectrum there is the perfectly rounded-off narrative: every question is answered, every thread is wrapped up (no loose ends), the dilemma is answered, and the ending is definite (be it happy or sad). I've rejected much more of such stories, and with a lot less reluctance, which should give you an indication of my preference.
There is a vast, and uncertain, middle ground ranging from 'raises more questions than it answers' to 'wraps up almost everything too pat'. With the addendum that there are always exceptions to the rule: sometimes an intentionally ambiguous story works because (or in spite) of it, and sometimes a perfectly encapsulated one rings so true that it stays with you.
So the writer must find a balance: she/he should intrigue the reader, but not leave the same reader stranded in a hall of smoke and mirrors (unless your name is Chris Priest...;-). The writer should round the story off in a matter sufficient to give the reader a satisfying reading experience, but also in such a matter that the reader hungers for more.
And, to make matters worse, some readers hate to be left in the dark, while some other readers hate to be led by the hand every step of the way. So go figure.
Therefore, I think it is very important that a writer trusts the reader's intelligence and willingness to think along. Provide enough, hopefully subtle, hints to make the narrative work, but -- and this is the heart of the matter -- leave enough unsaid to make the reader work it out for her/himself. Exactly how to do that is one of the fine arts of writing.
"So," I hear some of you complain, "can't you be more specific?" Basically I can't, because each and every story is -- should be -- different.
Because I assume that a writer wants to be unique, with a distinct voice. So each of your stories should be unique, with a distinctive tone. So each story should have a different mix of elements that make it work. So the amount of what to leave unsaid will be different for each story. Most importantly, it should be there.
Thus, the fine art of leaving things out.
In general, a lot of genre stories tend to overexplain: world-build 'till you drop, infodump like a ton of bricks, caricature rather than characterise, and ram the message home. I'm not saying that there should be no world-building details, infodumps (sometimes these are inevitable, but that is much rarer than most of us think), characterisation (instead of cardboard puppets), or even a moral; but try to use only the telling details, the essential infodump, the vital yet conflicting character traits, and make the moral subtle and ambiguous.
There's also a tendency to tell a story from a first person point-of-view, so that the readers are privy to the main character's thoughts, and the writer is tempted to explain all the main character's motives this way. That's lazy, and is one of the reasons that first person PoV is hard to do well (of course, you can, such as in Andrew Humphrey's "Open the Box": a story that first repulsed me, but which I couldn't stop thinking about, and impressed the hell out of me on rereading. It leaves a lot unsaid, and forces you to consider the roots of racism, if you're prepared to go the distance), as it's often better to show a character's motivations through the character's actions rather than through the character's direct thoughts. Even then, don't show every tidbit, but only the choicy parts, and also show conflicting actions: people are rarely consistent in their actions, and make wrong decisions on the spur of the moment.
In essence, every good story is a collaboration between the writer and the reader: the writer creates a framework on which the reader can build her/his imagination. A story can't simulate reality (reality is too complex for that: nothing that is less complex than reality can perfectly simulate it. A computer simulation that would duplicate reality would be at least an order of magnitude more complex than reality itself), but can evoke it, trusting the reader to fill in the gaps. One of the paradoxes of writing is the creation of nothing, that is: leave things out. In that vein, doing nothing just right is hard work (and it's not an oxymoron).
Make work avoidance work for you!
(Note: these thoughts came to the fore after I was reminiscing about a little discussion I had with Paul Raven, Sean Green and Gareth L. Powell on Paul's Velcro City Tourist Board about a drabble competition Paul held with a copy of Glorifying Terrorism as the prize.)
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Interzone #209 -- The 25th Anniversary Issue
Throughout the anniversay year there will be two '25' columns: 25 IZ in which various editors and authors comment on the magazine's first twenty-five years, and 25 TV in which a different columnist comments on her/his personal genre highs, starting off with Stephen Volk on 25 years of genre TV.
Personal favourites in this issue are Hal Duncan's "The Whenever at the City's Heart" (which I think is phenomenal, a true tour de force), Al Reynold's "The Sledge-Maker''s Daughter" (with a great Jesse Speak illo) and Ed Morris's "Journey to the Center of the Earth".
"The Whenever at the City's Heart" is part of Al's (yes, his real name is Al) The Book of All Hours, encompassing his novels Vellum and Ink and a four story cycle of which "The Whenever..." is a part.
Those four stories are (in chronological order):
- "The City of Rotted Names" Grendelsong chapbook, illustrated by Gabe Chouinard (slated for May 2007);
- "The Prince of End Times" Solaris Book of New Fantasy (slated for December 2007);
- "The Whenever at the City’s Heart" Interzone #209 (you know you want it...;-);
- "The Tower of Morning's Bones" Moonlit Domes anthology (slated November 2007);
If the other three stories are only half as good as 'WatCH' (you don't think Al would 'code extra meaning into titles', would you?), then you should go out of your way to get them. I already ordered the Grendelsong chapbook, and will buy both the Solaris Book of New Fantasy (I already have the SF counterpart) and the Moonlit Domes anthology.
I actively solicited this story from Al at last year's FantasyCon in Nottingham, and I'm very happy that I did. Should make Year's Best's ToCs, but of course I'm prejudiced.
Ed Morris sent me "Journey to the Center of the Earth" during one of the email reading periods. All 24K of it. I looked at the length of this one (officially we have a 15K cap), shook my weary head, and thought: Ed, this had better be better than sliced bread. Then I read the novella, was completely enchanted, and thought Who needs sliced bread, anyway? I forwarded it to my colleagues, who were just as enthusiastic about it as I was.
Since a 24K story is very difficult to place in a 64-page, A4-sized illustrated magazine we decided to release it as a separate PDF for the special occasion.
Update: the first review is already posted, thanks to the folks at Tangent Online. So check out the review of IZ #209, and the separate one for the "Journey to the Center of the Earth" PDF, and see that I'm not the only one who's enthusiastic about the Hal Duncan and Ed Morris stories.
Update 2: an article of SciFi Wire on IZ's 25th anniversary, courtesy of John Joseph Adams.
Update 3: an interview with Alastair Reynolds on the same topic on the SFX site.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
HUB #2 Is Released
With my story "Transcendence Express" as lead story.
This is the first time that the artwork for a story of mine is used for the cover, and the artist is nobody less than the very talented Vincent Chong. Vinnie has done quite a bit of artwork for both TTA and Interzone (amongst many others), and I'm flattered that Lee Harris chose him to illustrate my story.
For my money, he captured the essence of the story beautifully. Now I can be a little bit less jealous of Paul Meloy.
Check out HUB #2 on the HUB website (I enjoyed Sarah Edwards' "Talent Search" and David Viners' "Eight Excerpts from a Secret Interdimensional War" so far, and hope to read the rest soon), and consider buying a single copy (either the paper version or a PDF), or subscribing.
Monday, March 19, 2007
DeathGrip: Exit Laughing
So why blog about it now? Well, simply because I received my contributor copies only last Friday. I did order four extra copies, which probably complicated things, and I'm sure Walt Hicks (publisher/editor) did his damnedest to get the books across the pond.
This anthology was, as far as I could see, quite a difficult project, and is most probably the very last publication from Hellbound Books. In his last email to me, Walt mentioned that he was closing down the Hellbound domain, so this will, very unfortunately, be another genre publisher that bites the dust.
This is a shame: while horror is certainly not my main staple of reading, I think we need as many quality publishers as we can get in the genre, and judging by DeathGrip: Exit Laughing Hellbound was a quality publisher, also selling their paperbacks for a fair price (10 dollars).
I greatly enjoyed working with Walt, especially as my story must have been hell to typeset. Still, with the help of Pete Tennant's proofreading skill (I'm sending him one of the copies) we got it done, and I'm delighted by the end product.
However, that it is the last book from Hellbound leaves a bad aftertaste.
What baffled me even more is that my story is not horror, not by a long shot (unless you find a couple of deadhead, hippies-après-la-lettre detectives horrific), so Walt obviously bought this one for its humourous qualities.
Humour is *very* subjective: what I find funny might be boring (or even insulting) to others. The basis of the story is the notion that time travel is, if not implicitly impossible, then at least extremely impracticable. So I figured, that to have an actual working time machine, one would need not only incredibly advanced technologies, but also a certain type of black hole, and getting these all near Earth would be such an enormous long shot that one would need 'The Ultimate Coincidence" to make it happen.
And so I did. In the process, I tried to tackle a plethora of clichés both in- and out of the SF genre, heavily satirising Al Reynold's "Diamond Dogs" -- a story I highly admire -- in the process (I'll be sending Al a copy, as well).
So, if gonzo SF satire fuelled by neigh-impossible cosmic coincidences amidst heavily spoofed infodumps (if there's anything serious in the story, then that is not intentional), then check this one out.
Also, you could do worse than support both Walt Hicks and Neil Clarke (who suffered a recent family tragedy) by buying a copy of DeathGrip: Exit Laughing through Clarkesworld Books. And if they sell out, try Shocklines.
Update: it *is* already sold out at Clarkesworld Books. So buy something else from Neil, like the Amityville House of Pancakes, vol 1 (which contains my novella "Cultural Clashes in Cádiz, that features the same characters as in "The Ultimate Coincidence"), TEL : Stories (edited by Jay Lake, with "Gaudí, Cons & Spires"), Midnight Street #5 (with "Near Absolute Zero"), or even In the Outposts of Beyond (with "Bridge Across Forever", my first published story, and it shows, but what the hell).
Sunday, March 18, 2007
OK: so Interzone #209 — the 25th Anniversary issue — has already come out. Nevertheless, since this is my personal blog, I'd like to mention that Interzone #208 (pictured left) was the special 'sense of wonder' issue, for which I selected the stories and did the editorial.
Publication-wise, this was my first big event of 2007. Needless to say, I absolutely adore the issue, and I have fond memories about almost every story. Nevertheless, we did struggle quite a bit to get this 'sensawunda' issue together, as it was not until the issue almost went to print that Jim Burns finally supplied the artwork for the Alexander Marsh Freed story (the artwork fell through with a previous artist).
The stories and artwork, and my personal memories of them:
- Softly Shining in the Forbidden Dark: when I read Jason Stoddard's story, I was swept away. However, the alien life forms on the planet Manoa were originally estera, that is: mats. Problem is, that it reminded me immediately of Greg Egan's story "Wang's Carpets" — a well-known, widely anthologised story. So I discussed this with Jason, and we did a rewrite, where the estera became palos (sticks), and other points were addressed (in the IZ team, I do the majority of the rewrites with the authors). That worked out real well.
- Then Andy (Cox) was wondering which artist would be suitable, and I suggested Kenn Brown. Actually, Mondolithic Studios is Kenn Brown and his partner Chris Wren, and they did a fantastic job. Initially, Jason was a bit lukewarm about it, but eventually he was won over, especially after Ken and Chris gave me two prints of the artwork on LACon IV.
- (NB: on LACON IV I threw an Interzone party, with which I had superb help from Jason and his friends from Centric and the Fictionados. The party was a great success, and Kenn and Chris attended, as well.)
- Empty Clouds: I lifted this one from the email slushpile, and while not everybody in the IZ team liked this one (our decisions are seldom unanimous), I'm happy that it saw the light of day. Funny thing is that Inspector Chen, as pictured in Doug Sirois's artwork has a red uniform, while in the story his uniform is supposedly green. A reader attended us on this mismatch on the TTA Boards, and I improvised by saying that the sand and duststorms around Bejing had coloured the Inspector's uniform. Now Gary Leeming owes me a beer...
- Where the Water Meets the Sky: Jay Lake's tale of a future that makes amends. I remember that Paolo Bacigalupi was looking for optimistic stories for the Summer Reading Issue of High Country — of which he gave a copy to me at LACon IV — and in that they mentioned that there were no convincing utopia stories sent their way. Paolo told me that the reader of High Country News are hyper-critical, and extremely hard to please. Still, I find that a shame, as there is a glut of gloom'n'doom fiction out there (Paolo being a main proponent thereof), and I would like to see more optimistic and realistic fiction (and no: those two words are not an oxymoron). I like to think that this story might have fitted in there.
- Islington Crocodiles: Paul Meloy has always been a TTA mainstay, and in the IZ team we thought that it was high time that he was introduced to a larger audience, and so we did with this story, his first in IZ. Admittedly, the change to the full-on visually spectacular finale after the character-rich, but relatively calm first half comes more naturally if you've read his previous stories in the Quay-Endula milieu (especially Black Static and Dying in the Arms of Jean Harlow). Still, Paul is a hell of a writer and a great guy to boot. And Vinnie Chong's artwrok is a feast for the eyes.
- The Star Necromancers: Alexander Marsh Freed sent this my way in the August 2006 email slushpile, and I distinctly remember reading it on a hot sunny day while I was taking a short break from a bicycle trip (I read all slush on a PDA). It was *very* hot, I was sweating like a pig, but when I started reading "The Star Necromancers" I forgot where I was. I like to think of it as Jack Vance's "The Dying Earth" on a galaxy-wide scale: an understated sense of awe against the inevitable onrush of entropy. Jim Burns did a great job with the artwork, and saved our arses. Thanks!
- Velcro City Tourist Board;
- Best SF;
- SF Revu;
- Tangent Online;
- SF Crowsnest;
- Internet Review of Science Fiction (in Lois Tilton's short fiction column of March: login needed, it's free);
- Whispers of Wickedness (a slightly different review: this one focuses on the artists)