The Windup Links

  • A bit of housekeeping first. First, per Jed’s suggestion, I’ve updated the short story club schedule with links to the discussions that have taken place so far. Second, I have started collating and analyzing the responses to the survey. I have 60,000 words of responses from 82 authors, and I need to write the whole thing up by mid-October. So it’s going to take a large chunk of my time over the next few weeks. (I should note that if there are any authors who meant to respond but haven’t yet, there’s still time! I can integrate a few late responses without trouble. Emails to the usual address.)
  • Graham Sleight reviews Mike Ashley’s much-discussed Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF
  • Abigail Nussbaum reviews Sylvia Kelso’s Amberlight and Riversend. I’m disappointed that nobody’s responded to this one; I’d like to see more discussion of these books.
  • Matt Cheney interviews Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr, author of The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction (which, remember, you should all read)
  • Reviews of Iain Banks’ Transition: James Walton in The Telegraph, Doug Johnstone in The Independent, and David Hebblethwaite; and there’s an interview in The Guardian today.
  • More District 9 views, mostly negative: Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Nnedi Okorafor, Jonathan McCalmont
  • More on The Year of the Flood: Jane Shilling in The Telegraph, Robert Macfarlane in The Times, Philip Hensher in The Observer and, most punchily, Fredric Jameson in the LRB: “Atwood can now be considered to be a science-fiction writer, I’m happy to say, and this is not meant to disparage”
  • Paolo Bacigalupi in discussion at the Borders Babel Clash blog: “If you don’t have a model or archetypal pattern of a highly functional society that deals with drought or peak oil or global warming it makes it difficult for a rational dialogue to commence about how to create an adaptable society.”
  • The women in sf reading club reaches Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time
  • Tim Holman’s graphs of the commercial rise of what we are now calling urban fantasy; see also Paula Guran’s notes on the origins of the label.
  • Adam Roberts asks, “Is sf handwritten?” [pdf]
  • Nader Elhefnawy’s essay, “The problem of belonging in Robert A Heinlein’s Friday“, first published in Foundation, summer 2006
  • Excerpts from a Locus roundtable on fantasy and history, with Cecelia Holland and Guy Gavriel Kay
  • io9 graphs sf TV since the seventies
  • Scott Lynch joins the ranks of writers serializing projects online: Queen of the Iron Sands.
  • Richard Larson reviews The New Space Opera 2, and Paul Jessup’s Open Your Eyes
  • Abigail Nussbaum on Defying Gravity
  • Toby Litt on Generation A by Douglas Coupland
  • Lisa Tuttle’s latest sf roundup in The Times
  • David Hebblethwaite considers Penguin’s Robert E Howard collection
  • Martin Lewis discusses a review of Eric Brown’s Xenopath
  • And in The Guardian, Eric Brown reviews The Hurricane Party by Klas Ostergren:

    In an impoverished post-apocalyptic future, in an unnamed northern European city, Hanck Orn makes a living refurbishing ancient typewriters, a cherished commodity in an age bereft of manufactured goods. […] The novel details the slow, sensitive blossoming of a man from a loveless unit in a totalitarian state to someone whose account of his emotional travail might, it is suggested, change the heart of society.

    But:

    On the downside, a 50-page digression at the mid-point of the novel, recounting the Edda of Norse mythology, seems extraneous.

    My only problem with this is that The Hurricane Party is the latest in the Canongate Myths series, a fact that you can’t help thinking should have been mentioned somewhere in Brown’s review. Specifically it is — you guessed it — a rewrite of Norse mythology. Which makes the above digression seem a little less extraneous, although of course that doesn’t mean it’s well-integrated into the narrative. (On a side note, I’m a little surprised to see so many people on the Canongate site bemoaning the lack of a hardback edition of this book. I had the impression that most readers preferred paperbacks.)

Short Story Club: “This Must Be The Place”

Here’s the story; and here’s the comment, starting with readers on the Strange Horizons forum:

KYL: I was really stunned by this story. A beautiful variation on an old theme, and very movingly done. Some parts made me sad because I don’t know if I can ever write anything that good.

Coolchinamonkey: I came across your story after having googled the song. Temporal etiquette. Brilliant. The whole damn story is brilliant. Keep writing like that and you’ll find your way. Superb.

Jason Sanford at The Fix:

The February 2009 fiction from Strange Horizons features four stories from new writers. The first is “This Must Be the Place” by Elliott Bangs, which is also Elliott’s first professional publication. The story is the tale of Andrea, who is newly dumped, slightly drunk, and far from home when she meets Loren Wells in a San Francisco club. Loren is a fascinating guy who seems to already know Andrea, which simply can’t be true. But then Andrea discovers Loren’s secret: he is a time traveler from the future, reliving over and over what he consider the best year in history.

Elliott’s story is well-told, with a sharp style that enhances the story without ever overwhelming the actually storytelling. For example, when Andrea is dumped by a new boyfriend, she mutters that “All Bud had left me was a heap of dirty bowls and spoons, a crap sci-fi paperback, and that same old case of rabies,” with the rabies being her curiosity to discover who this Loren Wells character truly is. Because this is a first story, there is a small problem with the narrative. The story is set in 1984, but the reader doesn’t realize this until halfway through the story (meaning the writer should have set up this little fact better). But the mere fact that someone from the future would want to relive 1984 over and over delighted the hell out of me, while the story’s ending is as perfect as can be. As a result, the reader can’t help but overlook the story’s minor flaws. Recommended.

Rich Horton, in Locus, also liked it:

Elliott Wells’s [sic] first sale appears in February at Strange Horizons, and it’s a delight. Sometimes SF is a game, and especially so when dealing with time travel. “This Must Be The Place” mixes one part The Time Traveler’s Wife with perhaps a hint of Hobson’s Choice and a cup or so of “If This Is Winnetka, You Must Be Judy”, while adding a healthy dose of ’80s nostalgia (of a sort) and with a great last line, to bring yet another slight change to an old theme. Andrea is stuck in a boring corporate job when she meets a guy who seems to have met her before, then they meet again in another city and the guy seems younger and doesn’t know her at all. Okay, SF readers know what’s going on right way, but Wells has found another way to make it fresh, to ring a fine new change or two on the old melody.

Lois Tilton, at IROSF, wasn’t so impressed:

Time travel. Andrea, a workaholic who drinks too much in bars, meets an equally undesirable man named Loren Wells who seems to have known her before. In another city, she is the one who recognizes a younger Loren. Elsewhere, she has the affair with another version of him and finally learns his secret.

An interesting idea, but the characters are both so disagreeable that I don’t particularly care when they are or what happens to them.

Among Torque Control readers, Evan didn’t care for it:

Not a lot to say about this one. I hate time travel stories, and this one is a particularly odious example of the breed. Too many time travel stories go into puzzle mode, and so too here. The writing is all right, but the characterization is of necessity a bit thin. As a disclaimer, it takes Gene Wolfe level talent to get me interested in this sort of thing, so my opinion is best ignored here.

Nor did Chance:

My main beefs with the story are basically two: There’s no real sense of time identity here. We either get 80s cliches or no description at all. Andrea was wearing a “borrowed dress” There’s “throbbing music.” Of course, we don’t get the details on why the future isn’t very interesting either. And then you get the talking points: flock of seagulls hair, she blinded me with science, talking heads (though she blinded me with science was in heavy rotation on MTV in 83, not 84. And the Talking heads song on MTV was almost certainly Burning Down the House, not the song the story is named for.) It all adds up to a bland vagueness that gives the impression that the author knows very little about 1984 and didn’t live through it.

The other problem is neither of the two main characters is very interesting.(and the other characters are nothing but plot movers, especially Bud.) Loren loves pop culture to the point where he doesn’t care about seeing his family or friends. He’d much rather live in a time when Michael Jackson wasn’t considered a nutbag. Excuse me while I yawn at the dullness of his interests. But at least he has an interest–Andrea appears to have none. We don’t even get the details on why she and Loren break up. So ultimately I could not care less what happens to these two vapid bores.

If I ever get a time travel machine, I’m going to travel back in time and tell myself not to read this story. I just hope I listen.

Maureen wasn’t wild about it, either:

But we are in the hands of a first-person narrator who is utterly clueless about such things. I’d hesitate to say she’s a monster but she is not a very thoughtful person. Her life is shallow but in many respects it seems to be the life she deserves. She seems to be very isolated, and although she clearly hates it she seems to show little inclination to move on – determinism at work. The one time she takes action is to move to Seattle, away from everything reminding her of Loren, and it’s interesting that she a) does not talk about what went wrong, but b) does for the first time mention making friends. And yet, at the end, she blows it. Having discovered the secret of the mysterious motorbike, she determines that she is going back in time because she likes The Beatles. (Is it bad of me to wonder which moment of Beatles history she would want to go back to?)

In fact, it’s that ending that undoes the story for me. I can put up with some horribly clunky and ill-thought-through descriptions, such as ‘My borrowed dress was heavy with perspiration and self-consciousness’ (you know, I bet it wasn’t heavy with either), and the alliterative arabesques, like the ‘sequin-scaled scarecrow’ … sounds lovely, what does it mean; not to mention the ‘chatter of cocaine conversation’ but that cutesy ending? No, really, it’s so trite it’s ridiculous. Until then I would be quite willing to argue that despite superficial appearances, there is more going on in this story than is obvious at first sight, and that while I wasn’t in love it it, I did enjoy the process of reading it critically, but that last paragraph did sound as though it was lifted from a school essay. Not the idea, which is in keeping with her lack of self-awareness, but the execution.

But Rose liked it:

As someone who deeply and seriously loves 80s music, I approve of this story. Light and sweet, very cute.

And now, the floor is open.

Panel Notes: We Are The Knights Who Say F***!

[Yes, I’ve finally got around to writing up some of my notes from Anticipation. This is the panel from which I have the most complete, and most interesting, set of notes – it was one of the best panels I attended. But of course bear in mind that the notes below are still very partial – links between different comments are not always recorded – and you should assume that everything here is a paraphrase. Corrections or additions are, of course, welcomed.]

When: Sat 12:30
Location: P-518A
Session ID: 627

Participants: David Anthony Durham, Guy Gavriel Kay (moderator), Marc Gascoigne, Pat Rothfuss [Ellen Kushner was added at the start of the panel]
Description: Diction in fantasy used to be pretty formal, and, indeed, this can be a problem for the contemporary reader in getting on with The Lord of the Rings. But more recent epic fantasies have had their characters speaking more demotic language (and with a fair bit of Anglo-Saxon thrown in). What are the costs of doing this? Does it really make things easier for readers?
Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes

[Guy Gavriel Kay opened with the canonical “change four words” passage from “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie”, and asked the panellists for their responses.]

EK: The ways in which we use language in fantasy have changed since Le Guin wrote that essay. I’m in sympathy with what she says, but I’m not sure how it relates to the modern genre.

DAD: You couldn’t change four words in my book and make it a contemporary novel, but you might be able to change four words and make it into a historical novel. I’m not sure what I think of that yet. And I’m not sure how non-fantastic fantasy fits in.

MG: The assumption of Angry Robot is that the audience for our books will have grown up with computer game fantasy. For them the idea that fantasy should transport is crucial. But it can have the same plot as, say, a crime novel.

PR: It’s a stage magician trick on Le Guin’s part. The payoff of wonder and delight that she speaks of is a certain kind of fantasy, but it’s not all fantasy.

GGK: Are perceptions of travel different today? Is there more of a desire to explore the remote but remain anchored in the familiar? Do we have a generation of readers who have grown up with that as their default and who cannot read in the way Le Guin wants?

PR: It’s always been an issue. Fairy stories – include urban fantasy in this – are about the interaction of the real with fantasy.

EK: This links to diction. The words that you use and how they are ordered are part of the world you are creating.

GGK: Cites a discussion on a librarian’s email list about a loss of sensitivity to language among readers, a desire for a mirror of the familiar.

DAD: I’m reluctant to use historical patterns of diction to mark a fantasy world.

PR: I remember reading A Clockwork Orange and thinking: what you’ve done here is impressive, but I don’t want to fight this hard.

GGK: Do we need to differentiate between challenges of language and challenges of theme or content?

EK: A joy of urban fantasy is the intersection of different dictions. Two guys walk into a bar, and you can tell who the elf is by how they talk.

GGK: The TV series Merlin, the film A Knight’s Tale – these have an obviously deliberate mix-up of the historical or mythic with modern dialogue. Is hearing King Arthur say “screw you!” a payoff or a betrayal for readers?

MG: Shakespeare was writing in his time’s contemporary English.

EK: But their language was glorious! Much more metaphorically rich than ours is.

MG: Ben Johnson was the venal gutter writer. The Joe Abercrombie of his age.

GGK: It was a glorious language, but it’s true that he made no attempt to evoke historical settings. Caesar’s dialogue should all be in Latin, not just Et tu, Brute?

MG: You need the ability to move between the two modes we’re discussing.

GGK: It’s true to say it’s all in the execution, but there are situations where we can say it’s a good thing to make the reader work, to make them comprehend the alien.

PR: I pay attention to idiomatic speech. “Pulling my leg” has no place in a secondary world, it must have its own idioms. That’s what got me about Abercrombie’s books (which I like) – he has references to Shakespeare in his titles, epigraphs from our world. Is that a cheat?

EK: Fantasy is in the end made up. I’m a fantasist second and a contemporary novelist first. I’m not going to be able to create from whole cloth, I make something new out of parts.

GGK: So you’re playing? I’m with you on that.

EK: If the reader never questions it you’re doing your job.

DAD: Pat’s idioms struck me as vibrant but not foreign.

PR: There’s more foreign-ness in the second book.

EK: Another way of thinking about it: I’m writing for you in translation.

GGK: Going back to some of what Pat said, is it always a good thing to have an immediate approachable “hook”? To what extent is that an assumption in contemporary fantasy?

PR: It has to be legitimate, not a trick. It took me a long time to work out how to start The Name of the Wind.

MG: We’re not used to lengthy prologues, as readers. What we expect as a good story – we as mass culture – has changed.

DAD: I’m aware of having to promise that what comes later will be action-y and exciting. I don’t necessarily have that immediate hook, but I feel that need.

EK: I think language may vary, mileage may vary, for different readers at different times. I couldn’t read Austen until I was in my 20s. You can learn. I suspect that contemporary genre fantasy can be a gateway to older works and different ways of using language.