Or, well, not really catching up at all. But at least putting something up here, so that you don’t all think I’ve dropped off the edge of the world. So what have I been doing?
Reading: Mostly Clarke Award submissions, of course, about which I cannot speak. (The pile is now down to just over knee-height, or about 66cm, which means I’ve got to read about 8mm of book a day, or near-as-dammit 100 pages.) However, I have managed to fit in a few other things. Notably, like a few others of this parish, at the end of last week I received a proof copy of the new Iain M. Banks novel, Matter, and immediately put all else aside. (Well, I had to get it read before the BSFA meeting interview a week on Wednesday, didn’t I?) Having just finished it, I can say that (1) I will have more to say about it later, and (2) it’s good, possibly very good, and (at least compared to The Algebraist, of which I was not particularly fond) a real return to form. I’ve also, in my lunch hours, been making my way through Jonathan Strahan’s new anthology, Eclipse, about which I may well say more later this week; and I finally got around to reading Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, which is as beautiful and moving as everyone has said it is.
Planning: Once again this has already been reported elsewhere, but the 2008 SFRA conference, which was going to take place in Dublin, has been relocated to Lawrence, Kansas, where it will be held jointly with the 2008 Campbell Conference. This is disappointing, since I’d been looking forward to going, and there’s no way I’m going to get to Kansas at that time of year; it also means that the second SF Foundation Masterclass in criticism is being relocated, although in that case to London, which is actually somewhat more convenient for me than the usual venue (Liverpool). So I still plan to apply for the Masterclass, even if I haven’t got around to it yet.
Somewhat more imminently, I’m moving house! On the 8th of December, to be precise, if all goes according to plan. So at the moment, on top of two hours’ commute a day and those 100 Clarke pages and Strange Horizons work and Vector work, I’m attempting to organise removals and boxes and all the other logistics of moving. So it’s entirely probable that things will stay quiet around here until the New Year — although I have big plans for when I’ve freed up a bit more time, don’t worry.
Watching: Not a huge amount of this going on at the moment. I’m still enjoying Pushing Daisies, which is interesting given that I wasn’t a huge fan of either of Bryan Fuller’s last two series, Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls. The difference that makes Daisies, I think, is the extreme and conscious artificiality of the whole enterprise. The most fantastical thing about it, in many ways, is not Ned’s magical ability, but the technicolour world in which Ned lives. I’m still enjoying Heroes, more than not, anyway; I’m a little bit concerned by the interview Kring gave, because while I agree with some of the things he identifies as flaws, I don’t agree with all of them, I don’t agree with the fixes when I do agree they’re flaws, and there are issues with the portrayal of various characters that he doesn’t touch on at all. This last is understandable, perhaps — saying to Entertainment Weekly, “yeah, we know [plot point or character] came over as [racist|sexist], but we’re going to fix that” strikes me as a good way to commit commercial suicide. But the rest seems to assume that the root problem is not giving the audience what it wants, rather than executing the writers’ vision badly. Case in point: saying that Monica, Maya and Alejandro “shouldn’t have been introduced in separate storylines that felt unnattached to the show”. Yes, they should have been; that’s one of the things that will help to differentiate Heroes, to give it scope and a sense that there’s more to the world than just New York. The flaw is not introducing separate storylines, but introducing separate storylines that the audience didn’t connect with. (Although personally speaking, I thought they were strong.) The same goes for Kring’s comments about pacing: I don’t care whether Heroes tells stories about people discovering their powers or whether it sticks with the people we know. I’d be happy if they dumped the whole cast at the end of a season and started with a clean slate the following year — as long as the stories being told are interesting. (In point of fact, I think Peter and Sylar have both outstayed their welcome; they were both so intimately tied to the season one story arc that they can’t help feeling like spare wheels now.) I do agree with Kring about one thing — no romance — but that’s only because so many shows do revolve around romance that it’s refreshing when one doesn’t.
And some links to finish:
- Lucius Shepard reviews Southland Tales, and makes me want to see it.
- John Clute reviews Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan.
- Gwyneth Jones has been re-reading feminist sf.
- There’s video from Steph Swainston’s BSFA interview with John Berlyne online here.
- Martin McGrath reads John Scalzi’s “green soldier” trilogy (or Old Man’s War trilogy, if you prefer).
- An interview with Matthew de Abaitua, author of The Red Men:
There was a point when I was writing the book when I thought that one of the statements I wanted to make – or ideas I wanted to get across – was to imagine that everything that happened after 9/11 happened – and then you had a really weird dream about it. The Red Men is that nightmare.
I was interested in this thought pattern — you see it in things like Donnie Darko, which was released just around 9/11 (obviously it was made beforehand) – but it’s like 9/11 in that it’s about a split in the time streams caused by a plane crash. And also Michael Moore says in Fahrenheit 9/11, imagine if we’d woken up and Al Gore was President.
There was a sense that during that period – while all that was unfolding – that we’d gone down the wrong time stream… And I wanted to write a book about having gone down that time stream and dreaming about it afterwards … That’s what The Red Men is.
- Abigail Nussbaum on the Stephen King-edited Best American Short Stories and Intuition by Allegra Goodman.
- Interesting conversations at Benjamin Rosenbaum’s place: is a true sf story one that “cannot be told otherwise”? and taking on the Turkey City lexicon.
- Ben Peek has been reading the Australian Military Reading List.
- Jonathan McCalmont didn’t like Spook Country.
- Paul Kincaid’s latest Bookslut column: “… putting God at the head of a universe that is, in all other respects, purely science fictional is a category error of the most egregious and troubling kind. Let us try to maintain the secular and rational tradition that has been the defining characteristic of science fiction for the last 500 years.”
- And finally, just because I love it so: the latest XKCD opus.
And that’s your lot.
11 thoughts on “Catching Up”
I received a proof copy of the new Iain M. Banks novel, Matter
Why you lucky sonofa-! Well, let’s just say I’d really like to be in your shoes (or sofa) right now.
You’re part of the Science Fiction Research Association? Sorry, I’m very new to everything and I’ve been interested in SFRA for about a month or so now, ever since randomly finding its link. Is there potentially someone I might be able to speak to about it to get a better idea if it would be a good place for me to be a part of? With them moving it to Kansas this year, this means I have a better chance of going to the conference too.
the rest seems to assume that the root problem is not giving the audience what it wants, rather than executing the writers’ vision badly
You’re assuming that there is a vision. As I said recently on AtWQ, the guiding principle behind season 2 seems to be ‘the audience liked season 1, let’s do it again,’ and as you say Kring seems to be faulting himself not for that fundamental, conceptual failure, but for not making this rehash the best rehash it could be.
I sometimes wonder whether Joss Whedon was as good as he was at what he did not because he was a good writer, or a feminist, or a truefan, but because he had such a clear vision of the kind of story he wanted to tell. So few television writers these days do.
SMD: I’m not part of the SFRA myself, but as I say I was planning to join and go to the Dublin meeting. However, I know that various other people who read this blog are SFRA people, so hopefully they’ll be able to help you.
Abigail: Well, we sort of agree, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with repeating the formula of season one. Buffy was at its best when its seasons followed a formula as well — introduction, arrival of big bad around ep 5-7, crisis in February sweeps, big resolution at the end of the season. I see in principle no reason the writers of Heroes couldn’t ring successful variations on “group of people discovering their powers and each other” for seven years, if that’s the story they wanted to tell. We probably don’t actually know enough to know whether Kring lacks a vision, whether this was his vision but executed badly, or whether he was just ignoring it in favour of giving the audience what he thought it wanted.
Buffy was at its best when its seasons followed a formula as well — introduction, arrival of big bad around ep 5-7, crisis in February sweeps, big resolution at the end of the season
That’s not so much a formula, though, as a structure. What Whedon placed within that structure was constantly changing: Buffy fights big vampire; Buffy fights big vampire who happens to be her boyfriend; Buffy fights powerful enemy who isn’t a vampire; Joss Whedon loses the plot; Buffy fights powerful enemy who isn’t a vampire while shouldering familial responsibilities; etc.
You’re right to say that replicating season 1’s structure – which is what Kring is beating himself up for – shouldn’t have been a hindrance to season 2’s success, but he also replicated the first season’s story. Maybe you’re right and starting off with a completely different batch of characters would have worked, but what I wanted to see was the current set (minus Sylar, and perhaps, as you say, Peter) move on from where the first season left them.
I think you forgot to paste the hrefs into several of your Gwyneth Jones links there, though I can guess at the pattern…
(Okay, there is no pattern. But I think I did find all the installments, eventually.)
Thanks Niall, I hope so too. I went to uni thinking I’d be able to study literature I’m very interested in only to find out the uni I decided to go to hates my preferred genre and won’t be teaching anything outside of Frankenstein…Seeing how I can’t afford to go out of state, I’m stuck here until I get my BA. So I thought maybe the SFRA would be a place that could replace what I had hoped to do here at UC Santa Cruz.
David: sorry for the delay; should be fixed now.
Bonus link, pointed out by Martin: the world has made dystopian sf redundant, says Brian Aldiss.
Re. ‘is a true sf story one that “cannot be told otherwise”?’
Blish, as William Atheling Jr., quotes and refers back to Sturgeon’s definition several times in The Issue At Hand (1964) and More Issues at Hand (1970).
“A [good] science fiction story is a story build around human beings, with a human problem, and a human solution, and that would not have happened without its scientific content.
It is actually very instructive to see how many sf stories don’t completely collapse when you remove the science part – which was part of Sturgeon’s argument: a cowboys in space story is still a western in skiffy drag and no amount of spaceships and ray guns will make it a science fiction story.
Oddly, the more contentious part of this definition, “with a human solution”, appears to have gone largely unchallenged. Must all good sf stories present a solution?