4.06.2004

More on the SF <--> Poetry connection

Mary Rosenblum...

New Lethem Story

Life and Times of a Notorious Reviewer

Readability

A silly-bus: a list of books for further reading recommended by a giant of the craft

Who da thunk?

This quiz says I'm a grammar god. Is I good or what?

Lucky for me, I just learned that a sentence's question mark goes outside a quote if the quote does not have a question (I'd read elsewhere that all punctuation goes inside quotes).

Or maybe it's just a feel-good quiz, and everyone comes out a winner!

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Sven Birkerts Laments...

...what has happened to the good reviews, i.e. the non-snark and non-cheap-shot reviews.

He writes: "[T]he vitality of [polemic and feature-related journalism] depends in a thousand subtle ways on the vitality of [reviewing].

"[I]f we read [a snark review,] it was with the same churning fascination we feel when someone on the city bus starts acting crazy and shouting obscenities. The screamer's 'Fuck you!' about his job or spouse lets us get to our own frustration and rage."

He blames postmodern theory and commercialism. It's a good essay although not exactly sure-footed.

Daniel Green responds. He's not at his top form--a little chatty--but it's interesting in light of the above linked article.

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Thank God

I feel like such freak among speed demon SF readers and writers.

"[Lorrie] Moore says she reads very slowly, and thinks most writers do. (Ethan -- whose questions have so far been responded to by Moore with bewildered 'No's or 'Next question?' -- is very happy to add, I read slowly, too.)"

--from Cup of Chicha

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4.05.2004

The Tension between Popularity and Art/Criticism

I mentioned or meant to mention the commonalities between SF and poetry. One such is the need for acceptance in the larger culture. Christian Wiman, the "new" editor at Poetry (they appear to be having a half price sale), writes:

"National Poetry Month has had some salutary effects, and I'm all for anything that makes poetry more a part of the culture, part of life. But it's hard not to see the designation as a symptom of illness rather than health."

There's little chance you'll be seeing a National Science Fiction Month or even a rural city's Local SF Day, but then SF enjoys a larger slice of popularity than poetry does. Yet even so, both share a similar problem, as Wiman continues:

"That's not to say that poetry itself couldn't do with a bit of a jolt... to shock us out of the bad habits that develop when any art has abandoned hope of an audience, or begun pandering to it."

Perhaps the problem is two-fold and not either/or. It seems to me that any art should both pander and pull away from popularity to create the necessary energy. Sometimes a work is wholly focused on art, sometimes on popularity. The real worry should not be solely one or the other, but whether the body of literature falls too much into one camp.

My biggest concern for any art or genre is lack of pertinent criticism that somehow encompasses this polarity and tension. The present issue of Poetry looks at this very tension in what is bound to be a popular volume of poetry, Good Poems, edited by Garrison Keillor.

Two poets take opposite approaches. Dana Gioia, whom you might suspect as having a prejudice for the anthology since he appeared in it (just as Alan feared, asking if I might have a prejudice for Daniel Braum, which I feel I answered in the comments below though feel free to add to the discussion), I find the more objective of the reviewers. For one thing, Gioia actually examines the anthology. August Kleinzahler, while writing a wittier response, doesn't actually respond so much to the anthology supposedly under review as to the symbol of Keillor in his position of oral purveyor of poetry. Moreover, Kleinzahler doesn't seem to want to attempt to grapple with Keillor's purpose in the anthology as Gioia does. The understanding is more of a surface examination.

When we look at Kleinzahler's argument, he's somewhat inconsistent in his insistence of poetry's place in reality: "Ninety percent of adult Americans can pass through this life tolerably well, if not content, eating, defecating, copulating, shopping, working, catching the latest Disney blockbuster, without having a poem read to them by Garrison Keillor or anyone else.... Fruit and vegetables are good for you. Poetry is not."

So his view of poetry in society is strictly literal, right? But later, to examine the opposite assertion, he asserts a metaphorical position, which is wholly inconsistent with a literal purpose for poetry:

"Poetry not only isn't good for you, bad poetry has been shown to cause lymphomas."

This is certainly funny but ultimately undermines his entire argument. I'm reminded of Clarion critique sessions and those critiquers who were more fond of saying something clever that would find its way on to the workshop's T-shirt, than of saying something relevant to the author's story.

Dana Gioia, on the other hand, announced his immediate prejudice against a book entitled, Good Poems, thinking it'd come off like "Teen Cheerleader Murders or Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster," but later realizes what Keillor meant by the title:

"[It] now strikes me as a perfect title--simultaneously witty, plainspoken, and gently subversive--rather like its editor, Garrison Keillor. On a library shelf groaning from the collective weight of Immortal Poems of the English Language, Great American Poets, and The New Major Poets, there is something both sensible and reassuring about a collection of dependably good poems....

"[O]ne will be thunderstruck by his merciless candor and opinionated individuality. The politesse and meekness of Po-Biz insiders is blissfully absent from his lively assessments of American poets....

"Some people will find Keillor's pointed remarks offensive and uninformed. I found them refreshing and trustworthy.... trustworthy, even when I disagreed with particular opinions (which wasn't often), because I trust an editor who confides in both what he likes and dislikes. No one trusts a critic who dislikes everything, of course, but only an auctioneer, as Oscar Wilde observed, admires all works of art."

But Gioia isn't all praise. He discusses the limitations of the anthology.

Kleinzahler, on the other hand, seems to feel that a popular anthologizer will ruin poetry. Gioia demonstrates that in his own life and his mother's, popular anthologizers increased their appreciation for poetry--back when the public sometimes read poetry.

I might be inclined to agree with Kleinzahler's conclusions if there were a danger of Keillor's critical approach subsuming poetry's criticism. But that possibility seems awfully remote, considering that Keillor's anthology is presently #34 on the Amazon charts while Harold Bloom's is #1, let alone that almost no one writing reviews or editing poetry anthologies will even pick up Keillor's anthology to skim the contents while browsing for other books in the bookstore.

In genre poetry, on the other hand, a popular anthology could only have deleterious effects. The genre has almost zero critical presence. And, quite frankly, it shows.

The case for criticism in the genre proper fairs somewhat better, but where are all the insightful and incisive commentaries in each every journal? I'm generalizing far too much, but for the most part, we either have auctioneers or snarky fellows who dislike everything. Where are the Gioias who can peer both into what the editor or author was attempting to do and can assess it from that standpoint?

We've got to somehow incorporate the two pulls, the two poles together... to somehow create tension. In physics, one derives energy by harnessing opposite conditions, which William Blake pretty much summarized as "Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence."

Browsing writing books, one finds a similar, as-yet-unharnessed dichotomy, motivated by wholly different approaches to literature because of fundamentally different conceptions of what the purpose of literature should be. Noah Lukeman's The Plot Thickens is "character-based," chockful of questions to help you get to know your character, the first chapter dealing with how the character looks (he does warn against its immediate insistence in a story). Certainly, if your creative gears have ground to a halt, this could be a useful approach, but I wonder if it isn't somewhat misleading.

Madison Smartt Bell notes that Peter Taylor's story "A Wife of Nashville" has "very little physical description of any of the characters." Everybody knows from reading these books on fiction what a dire sin that is... which is, no doubt, why Taylor won a Pulitzer. (If you do read on writing, read widely. Pick what works for you. Compare it to what you like to read and want to write.)

On the opposite extreme, we find that "literary" works are so preoccupied with not pandering to its audience, that it's losing relevance both to art and audience.

We should not worry about whether literature is pandering too much or too little. This puts the emphasis on one pole. We should worry whether literature has created an energizing dichotomy, a polarity between popularity and art.

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4.04.2004

Daniel Braum--the next... Baker/Card/Shepard/Zelazny?

Outside of his current publications, Daniel Braum's work calls to mind several authors. My first comparison would be the sheer thrill of Roger Zelazny's imagination with Lucius Shepard's penchant for the exotic.

His first publication at Fortean Bureau, "The Yeti's Hand," calls to mind yet another writer: Kage Baker. The story is part of a much larger schema, linked in part to his original comics series, which he is developing and expanding upon now in prose.

Some familiarity will be helpful as Braum unveils answers to questions, like who or what the mysteriously named J. Sun is and how the Yetis fit into the grand puzzle. We'll have to stay tuned to discover.

A minor flaw is that a few of the internal monologues could be excised, but otherwise it's another fine ride from Daniel Braum, whose stories fans will be scouring the magazines with the same verve as a Kage Baker or Orson Scott Card story.

Keep a sharp lookout for this wild man's creations. You'll be hearing more from him soon. Full Unit Hookup, for one, has a story of his forthcoming.

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4.03.2004

April 2004, F&SF--it's a gas, gas, gas

This has quite a few items of interest.

Paul di Filippo tells us that "On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're Adorable"--another grand wish fulfillment, this time for all us bloggers. (I also liked the wish fulfillment, "The Great Nebula Sweep," where the protagonist won every award category possible for one story by rewriting it, again and again.)

Robert Sheckley has a new story, "The Forest on the Asteroid," that's not exactly Sheckleyesque--a new venture in voice. I like the voice, which still talks intimately with the reader, but it's also grittier and more intellectual. The story's not up to his usual par and minus the wit, but I look forward to where he takes this.

I've always admired Gordon Van Gelder's commitment to new and returning authors. This issue has a cute nature-restores-the-balance type story by Kate Mason. I eagerly await another appearance by Al Michaud whose story "Clem Crowder’s Catch" from July 2003 did not get as much attention as it deserved. It may not have been speculatively the most original, but the voice was incredible and contrasted perfectly against the backdrop of dark materials (although at times, a wee overboard at evoking the voices of Maine characters). The characters, too, were better than the average genre story. What a gem of a find that was. It's not often a first story sticks in a reader's mind of so long. I should have reviewed the story way back when I read it because it certainly deserves more attention.

Bruce McAllister has a brief fable in here as well. I haven't read anything by him since the old Omni days.

Ray Vukcevich is up to his old shenanigans in "Gas"--quirky as hell. It's not near his best work but weird and wooly and well worth the read. The bastard did the amazingly unforgivable: when asked for a grocery list, he gives a recipe for something deeper and sinister like a beautifully horrendous crisis to a climax of another wild story. If I were a writer on that list, I would be jealously angry and seek retribution for the implicit betrayal of the Mystical Writers' Guilds' Blood Oath and Secret Handshake. See his list for details of possible methods of repayment. (Other than Vukcevich's, the FB lists are fun to read for friends' and famous writers' handwriting if you've never seen them. Sometimes the lists offer glimpses into the daily lives of others, but mostly they are what FB implies they are: a fun little gag. They pulled a similar one last February using a few other writer pals. I'll review Daniel Braum's story there soon--another writer to watch.)

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3.30.2004

Understanding the Economic Side of Publishing

Eric Flint gave several talks on publishing this weekend at Willycon--talks I thought may be of interest to this group. As a caveat, please remember these are my paraphrases. Any and all mistakes are mine, so read at your own risk. Flint himself warned against using his information as hard and fast rules. This is from his perspective at Baen (as heard by me and transcribed by me from ear to page to computer, so there’s plenty of room for error along the way). Here are my rough notes:

Publishing is a good news/bad news scenario. If you write well, you can get published. A good book is rare. It stands out. It may bounce around until you find the right publisher, so you have to be patient. There are no short cuts to publication. Don’t go to vanity presses.

Create you own luck: be persistent, write another book after you’ve sent out the first, don’t let it depress you or you won’t write. (Flint said he got lucky because Shawna McCarthy had just decided to become an agent when he had won Writers of the Future so she took Flint on after reading his novel--he had an agent so he never queried publishers. He’d call her once every few months to ask if she’d heard anything.)

The bad news is that there’s an economic side to publishing. Don’t expect an informative rejection. You just have to be patient. Flint’s first novel published (not first written) took Baen twenty-three months, during which time Flint did not even query.

Baen is a small business hiring seven employees, putting out six books/month. Each book has the same start up cost: approximately twenty thousand, which is also usually the loss that a publisher absorbs on the road to seeking the new “stars” that will one day drive a publishing company. That cost is from renting the company building and paying its bills, the proof-reading, typesetting, the cover art, etc.

Of the six books published in a month, the publisher will make a list for distributors. At the top is the star or “lead-writer.” Everybody else is called “mid-list.” If the distributor takes nothing else, they should take the lead-writer. It is for this reason that new writers get no priority. A publisher is not buying the book but leasing an author for three books to see how they do. That fourth book is the real hurdle if the writer is bad-selling.

Book sellers put books in three categories: 1) order one book; if it sells, don’t buy more (i.e. first novels); 2) order one book; if it sells, buy another; 3) always make sure there are plenty of copies on the shelves. (Flint is approaching the latter category. Hell, he was just #1 on Amazon.com before his 1634 book even hit print.)

There are about seven or eight aspects that cause a book to sell (he couldn’t remember them all: i.e. print run, cover art and content), of which you can control one: the content. There’s mothing worse than bad-selling, high-priced author. You’ve got to be cold-blooded. As a new author, you’ve got no clout, no rights. Money talks. All you can do is fulfill your end of the bargain. Don’t blame publishers. Get to know staff. Never second guess. Publisher knows best--it’s his business. Don’t lose your temper or argue. Play well with others. He gave the example of Robert Yorick who acted professionally: Although he was considered rather talentless, he still got work.

It’s hard to get into a distributor’s pipeline. Ninety-nine percent of promotion is just getting your book on the bookshelves. Electronic is usually a great way to promote, but a lousy way to sell because it’s easier to browse the SF aisles at the bookstore than to trawl websites. Ebooks are like food processors: use once and it sits around the house--convenient for travelers but has to be cheap. Traditional publishing is best.

Publishers waste so much time and money on ebook encryption that drives up the price when all a “pirate” has to do is scan a book. To circumvent a pirate, all you have to do is sell the ebook cheap and the thrill of pirates’ sails is deflated. Publishers are reluctant to do so, but for Baen, it has added a significant amount to a writer’s income. The advantage a legal company has over a fence is that crooks can’t advertise and they have to continually move. You can always visit Baen at the same address. “Piracy” has always been with us as books have been lent out by friends and libraries and sold by used bookstores. What authors don’t realize is that this is how readers get to know authors and will use this to seek out more of their work. Flint discusses this further at Baen’s library.

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3.25.2004

Writing for the Money, I mean, Love of It; or Best-Selling Mystery Writer Tells All!

A "Jane Austen Doe" has written on the travails of publishing over at Salon.

The Nielsen Haydens respond (as do a number of others). Responses elsewhere, at least those I thought most worth taking time to read, include Charles Stross, James D. Macdonald, Nick Mamatas, John Scalzi. The general response appears to be the same.

A different take, as Gabe Chouinard points out over at the main site, is the Author's Guild's report on the midlist, which we discussed here. But if you're interested in writing only for the genre, balance that against what Patrick Nielsen Hayden has to say, which had an almost wholly different tenor from Gordon Van Gelder's assessment a year earlier when he was still in the book business. In England, Zadie Smith shares slightly similar concerns as Jane Austen Doe's although Smith's insta-presto-fame was met with success.

Among the moments of melodrama, Doe's best argument appears to be her worry "Is my career as a writer over?" because the publishers paid her more than the public thought the books were worth. The money may not be her primary concern. She may be wondering if she can simply get the next book published due to the misfortune of the public's response. After all, two-time Philip K. Dick finalist, Ann Tonsor Zeddies, has had to change her name a few times in order to get published. Even MacDonald acknowledged a variable public response due to which publisher put out his book (or was it the format?).

What do you think?

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3.23.2004

What Makes a Great Story?

I prefer reviews that are willing to let a text move them into deeper areas of thought about life or fiction in general or a genre of fiction.

Wayne Edwards has done just that in his Flesh & Blood review for issue 14. He writes:

"I think the difference between good stories and great ones are the small things, things that register on an almost unconscious level."

I couldn't agree more. It seems this is the ultimate task of the author--to seek those little things: from commas to scenery to dialogue to literary connections to... a plethora of writerly concerns.

(A Three-Paragraph Aside: While I buy his general comment, I'm not sure if I buy his specific scenario, in which "picking a random door" differs from "picking a door at random." The former he says is impossible, which doesn't seem to match Merriam-Webster's assessment of the term as an adjective: "chosen at random[, i.e.] 'read random passages from the book'."

The book Edwards chose to review may be as sloppy as he claims, and this was just something that lodged in his craw, instead. But there's definitely a danger in reading things as a stickler for grammar, especially in fiction where writers get a little more experimental in their play.

I'm done discussing Edwards' review, but that's why I love it when reviewer's are unafraid to make statements on the art as they see it: it gets me to thinking!)

Let's take this passage for instance:

"Hang up [the phone] hard, whacked unwitting his elbow, swore and snatched the coffee. Lukewarm, he drank it anyway."*

This stream-of-consciousness style would upset a strict grammarian, but let's consider he or she had read this far. Obviously, the reader would have to fill in the pronoun in the first sentence; but the second sentence, with "Lukewarm" modifying the subject instead of the object, makes sense only at a verbal or consciousness level since it does not follow grammar rules.

But there's another, major problem with reading it in too strict a manner. As Karen Joy Fowler told us at Clarion, assume that the author meant to do what he did. It's possible it's a mistake, but then it's possible that it's exactly what the author wanted you to notice. Too often our genre's better authors are confronted by readers who did not allow the author other possibilities. In this example, Koja may have meant both (via the immediate conscious inference) the coffee and (via a subconscious inference) the protagonist. Can such things be?

Unfortunately, in this case, not much is gained by assuming the author meant anything more than the immediate conscious' inference to the coffee.

But this is exactly the sort of ingenius turn that makes reading a pleasurable, sly and intelligent act that allows careful readers to be complicit in the story's unfolding and to, therefore, remember it. It's what Derrida called "play." Words can have more than one meaning (which does not take away any other potential meaning). It's this sort of act the raises a good story over a great one in my estimation--continual play of character, plot, theme, and/or words.

*From Kathe Koja's "Leavings" in Thomas F. Monteleone's Borderlands 3 and again in Stephen Jones & Ramsey Campbell's The Best New Horror: Volume Five.

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3.22.2004

Dark, Weird, Brief, Online Movie

3.21.2004

So I'm writing a rather large piece on the 'frontiers of speculative fiction', and it's coming along alright. But in the process, I've attempted to dig at the reason for speculative fiction, and I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

I'm not looking for justification for speculative fiction or anything like that. Rather, I'm trying to dig into our NEED for the fantastic, and attempting to define its relevance within society. Why does speculative fiction exist? Why do we continue to publish it?

I realize it's a bit, nebulous question, but sometimes it's the big questions that should be explored. And as I say, I'm interested in your thoughts.

If you could, I'd be thrilled if you would discuss this post at our messageboard, rather than posting enormous comments here.

Thanks for your time!

3.16.2004

For the Brit book lovers

The Alien Online announced that BBC4 is looking for sharp literary SF readers. Some of the "battle[s] of the books" look like no-brainer contests to me, however.

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Charles L. Grant

“Am I dead? ...is this like one of those stupid TV shows where I have to choose between heaven and hell, or wander forever in some kind of stupid limbo? Are you an angel or something? You pop up when it snows or rains or something, and take souls to heaven?”

--Charles L. Grant’s “The Snowman”

Precipitation -- literally and symbolically -- is a common motif of transformation in Grant’s work. My favorite use of which comes from “Penny Daye,” a story that first appeared in the Fantasycon X Programme Booklet (1985) although I read it in Karl Edward Wagner's The Year’s Best Horror Stories XIV (also part of an omnibus volume called Horrorstory Volume 5). Here the transformation is imbued with a bitter yet romantic tone that raises it above the common horror story. It's always impressive when an author manages to convey powerfully conflicting emotions (see also Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy). The story is well worth hunting down.

Available on the internet is his story “Temperature Days on Hawthorne Street” at Scifi.com.

Unfortunately, Grant is suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and the cost is exorbitant. Click here to find out how you can help and here to find out more about COPD, a difficult disease to live with.

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Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg recently won the Grand Master award, proving there are many deserving candidates to choose from. The most recent issue of Asimov's has his perspective on story: "Toward a Theory of Story," which is well worth reading.

Here are a few links for those of you who'd like to cop a feel for what Silverberg has been up to, but it's just an ice cube off the the tip of an iceberg, I'm afraid:

STORIES ONLINE:

"Caught in the Organ Draft"

"The Pope of the Chimp"

"This Is the Road"

INTERVIEWS:

SF Weekly

Computer Crow's Nest

Freund/Datlow chat

Freund/Datlow chat #2

Strange Horizons

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s1ngularity & the news

3.13.2004

Childhood's End as Parental, as Metaphysical, as Metafictional

Adam Roberts argues that Childhood's End embodies aspects of parenthood.

Roberts argues persuasively and insightfully, so the essay's well worth reading. But a more obvious corollary is the metaphysical embodiment of the Overlords, who behave more inscrutably like gods than interventionally like parents. In most religions, gods father the people, so the connection is here as well.

In fact, "sense of wonder" itself may be an unwitting pseudonym for the transcendently metaphysical, so Clarke finds it necessary to distance himself from this while he simultaneously and ironically embraces the spiritual through the stipulation that, since the world's religions are all different, they must all be wrong (a little specious, but a logic trap that we all fall prey to).

The embodying of the metaphysical while rejecting the metaphysical is almost omnipresent in the field. Even Asimov, devout atheist, dipped into the Gaian mythology with his Foundation series. This strange relation is made less strange when we boil down both science and metaphysics to express the same ideology: The universe is far larger and stranger than we can know (at this time).

Although this is a well of inquiry that intrigues and has much left to plumb--it seems likely that someone else has tackled this in one form or another (feel free to discuss it further)--I'm actually more interested in the less obvious connection: Childhood's End as metafictional.

1953, the date of publication, may be early for the first use of the term, "The Golden Age," but certainly writers had time to consider that a regime change was underway. This was the height of the magazines' explosive proliferation. Even Hollywood was also growing increasingly fascinated with the genre at the time. For the moment, we must forget what we know happened beyond 1953 and examine what the view from there looked like.

Clarke published his first story around 1937 with comparatively little publication to later decades. 1949 appears to mark Clarke's logarithmic catapult to fame. What's interesting to observe, especially in light of the metafictional theme of Childhood's End, is that Clarke's esteem had a beautiful trajectory, climaxing sometime after Stanley Kubrick's 2001. One could chart the catapult with Childhood's End itself using various polls regarding the all-time SF novels.

(In some ways, Jonathon Lethem may have Kubrick to blame for Thomas Pynchon's loss at the Nebulas--not that Rendezvous with Rama is without merit, especially in the realm of wonder. It's too unfortunate Kubrick didn't have the same effect on Brian Aldiss' career.)

With the background estabished, we can now examine Clarke's book as metafiction or, as Barry Malzberg puts it, "recursive science fiction."

The Golden Age of man, as Clarke defines it, is the bringing of peace, order, and stability to Earth as instituted by the Overlords (Campbell's Astounding?) but later the conditions stagnate the world into a blasé culture.

A new age of man comes through the children of the Golden Age, who are able to transcend the achievements of humanity beyond its imaginings--an ability that the Overlords do not possess. Clarke's character, Jan Rodricks, witnesses the final transfiguration, not with hate or envy or loss, but with simple awe.

Clarke's style is definitely Golden Age, but this perspective is a retrospective assignment, and his best work came after the Golden Age through the 50s' Childhood's End, the 70s' stunning "A Meeting with Medusa" and Rendezvous with Rama and on into the 90s' "The Hammer of God."

But whatever your choice of interpretation, do not forget Clarke's opening words: "The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author," which leaves us the question of which opinion does the author not agree with?

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3.12.2004

Theorists: Notes Toward Building a Testable Theory

Science recently had a multidisciplinary issue on language. It's worth checking out at the library (or ordering photocopies of the pertinent articles from the interlibrary loan). If you've got the money, the magazine's worth a subscription. The front half is written for the general public while the latter has the specific articles in great detail, written for specialists--articles which are difficult to wade through but it can be done: the more you wade, the easier it gets.

From the introductory article "First Words" by Elizabeth Culotta and Brooks Hanson:

"But how did this powerful ability [to string meaningful words together] evolve? And how has language changed through time, from what was presumably one mother tongue to the babel of thousands of languages spoken today? This interdisciplinary special issue explores these twin problems of language evolution, and also peers ahead into our ever-evolving linguistic future. Five News stories explore the history and prehistory of language evolution, from the origin of speech to recent language changes, and three Viewpoints speculate on the future. Elsewhere in this issue, three Book Reviews explore the latest in a growing crop of books on this topic.

"In several cases, old theories associated with leading scholars are breaking down. For example, as Holden reports (p. 1316), linguists and neuroscientists armed with new types of data are moving beyond the nonevolutionary paradigm once suggested by Noam Chomsky, and tackling the origins of speech head-on...."

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Splendid Isolation: Does SF Play Well With Others?

It turns out that mainstream lit is paying more attention to the genre than I, at least, thought. It leaves me wondering: what if it's the culture more than the content that isolates SF from a wider range of readers. discuss this post at our messageboard

3.07.2004

Mining Our History

If "in the high-tech 80s, 'technological literacy' meant outright *ecstasy and dread.*," as Bruce Stirling proposes in Cyberpunk in the 90's, perhaps I should be more understanding if today's current rate of technological innovation has frightened the science fiction community into "head in the sand" SF and flight to fantasy, while the core of fantasy has become so static as to be confused with deceased. Only the faint fog of "New Weird" and interstitial appearing on the mirror as a sign of like--and even these movements are keeping their distance.

"Cyberpunk," before it acquired its handy label and its sinister rep, was a generous, open-handed effort, very street-level and anarchic, with a do-it-yourself attitude, an ethos it shared with garage-band 70s punk music.

Cyberpunk's one-page propaganda organ, "CHEAP TRUTH," was given away free to anyone who asked for it. CHEAP TRUTH was never copyrighted; photocopy "piracy" was actively encouraged.



I've always had a high regard for CP as a breakaway literary movement, a radical departure from what came before. I was never aware that it was a successful grass roots movement, or that it owed its success to a samizdat publication--CHEAP TRUTH--which would correspond to Gabe Chouinard's smartmobs.

CHEAP TRUTH had rather mixed success. We had a laudable grasp of the basics: for instance, that SF writers ought to *work a lot harder* and *knock it off with the worn-out bullshit* if they expected to earn any real
respect. Most folks agreed that this was a fine prescription -- for somebody else.


Somehow it is both reassuring and distressing to visualize the influence and health of SF as a cycle, but I'd be a lot more comfortable if the genre looked like this cycle belonged to an ascending spiral of increasing readership, influence and adventure. From here it looks like each turn of the wheel brings fewer readers and more of a sense of claustrophobic contraction. If this were a revolution, reducing the genre to a core membership might be a strengthening move, but this is supposed to be a populist literature.

What the history of dawn of cyberpunk also says is that anyone, even everyone, can play a part in identifying what is good, original, unique, and promoting it by doing nothing more than talking about what you like to others who might like it (or something like it).

Best Regards,
Alan Lattimore
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