Sunday, August 29, 2010

In Which I Get Cranky Beyond Reason...

I really need to stop reading author interviews, or indeed anything which gives me any insight into the character of writers whose writing I (try to) enjoy.

It started with Orscon Scott Card. I LOVED Ender's Game when I was young, and I read the entire series with glee...until I learned more about the real guy behind them. Things like raging homophobia, his somewhat nutty views on Global Warming (It's all a conspiracy, man...) and the like colored my perceptions of the man, and thus his writing. I can't read a single Card book now without thinking, do I really want to support this man with my money and my attention?

The answer is no.

It's a similar story with Dan Simmons. His books have been such a pleasure to read,with such erudition, that when I found out the man is full of ridiculous anti-Muslim and anti-Hispanic hate (he actually complains that Spanish language education helps the "reconquista" on his blog), I nearly cried.

So it is with some sadness (which quickly turned to anger, as I'd already bought the man's book) that I read this interview that Aidan Moher had with recent World Fantasy Award nominee Jeff Vandermeer.It's not that Vandermeer is in the same nutjob/douchebag crowd as Simmons or Card, but reading that interview just put my teeth on edge. The guy's a pompous clown...every question was turned into "Gosh, what did you mean by that, you don't know anything!" and, frankly, I think the guy's a jerk. What's more, reading the story of the publishing of his first book, I think he's not only a jerk but a narcissist...I mean, he has a contract with a publisher and then DOUBLES THE SIZE OF THE BOOK, just because he wanted to. And you know what? I've read that book. The extra stuff is silly, pointless in-jokes and more ego-boosting. What kind of person writes an entire story in CODE, for pete's sake? Who thinks that I, as a reader, have the time and energy to devote to decoding an entire short story, which is in the end, not particularly enlightening or edifying? It is, at most, amusing. But hey, it's ART, right?

What was the point of such an exercise? First, it is important to the frame/plot of the new material. Second, the reader gains the experience of actually writing the story, word by word. The effect of decryption also slows the reading of the story, making each word have more weight, an effect usually specific to poetry. The sting in the tail of the decrypted story frees the reader to take over the author's role on a permanent basis. The intent is to liberate the reader from the author's manipulation, in a sense.
(Taken from City of Saints and Madmen: The Untold Story Part 1
by Jeff VanderMeer, The Agony Column for April 6, 2004

But you know what? The thing that got me going about the man's attitude could be summed up in this quote, describing the reaction to a rather peculiar piece called "The Early History of Ambergris," one part of City of Saints and Madmen:
My first readers sometimes didn't know what to make of it. Granted, about half of them enjoyed it. But among the others, one frequent response was "that's not a story." Another response--the one that irritated me--went like this: "Jeff, you've done a great job of background writing here. Now you know the entire history of Ambergris and you can write actual stories about the Silence and other events, fleshing out what you've summarized here." To which I replied, no--this is the story; the summary is the story. I wasn’t at all interested in fleshing out those events. A couple of people even advised me not to try to publish "Early History" because "it isn't a story." Did I agree? Not really. I have no defense for summarily rejecting half the advice I received on "Early History," except that it didn't seem to pertain to the actual text I had written.
(Taken from City of Saints and Madmen: The Untold Story Part 1
by Jeff VanderMeer, The Agony Column for April 6, 2004

So fully half of his readers felt that this "thing" wasn't actually a story. But he says no, the story is there, it's just missing details or cohesion. Why did he bury his intentions? Why make it harder for readers to know what you actually want them to know? WHY FOR CHRIST'S SAKE would you prevent half of the people who read your story from understanding what you're writing?

Oh, I know, because you think you're an "artist", and the thing that makes an artist is lack of understanding. Because of course, if people don't understand you it's THEIR fault, not yours, right?



If you can't understand that, it's YOUR fault, not mine.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Work In Progress, August 2010

The beginning of a story that won't let me go...a weird western.

You can thank H.P. Lovecraft and Red Dead Redemption.


Jakob Kleist was an old man, and so he woke early most days. Today was like most days. He rose and put a coffee pot on the stove, and poured water for his morning ablution. The low chime of his gate wards rang as he shaved. He carefully wiped the large razor his father had left him, patinaed with age, folded it, and slipped it into his back pocket. He did not hurry as he washed the remaining lather from his face and dried his hands. The mother-of-pearl buttons on his shirt glinted in the morning light as he closed them. He put on his hat.

He opened the door and watched the shuffling figure approach. It was a man, young, clean shaven and dressed in a well-worn uniform of dusky green and brown. He was dead, and had been for some time by the color. Smoked glass lenses covered his eyes, and a wide-brimmed hat shielded his face from the sun. The skin of his face bulged and twitched like the belly of a gravid mare. Jakob’s stomach contracted, cold inside him.

“You stop, now. That’s close enough.”, Jakob said, as the dead man approached the covered porch. The dead man stopped. Jakob stepped onto the porch and he looked quickly to each side, expecting ambush. Nothing was there. He slowly stepped foward, cautious of trickery.

“Why’re you here, boy?” he asked of the thing, not at all sure if it could answer.

The corpse opened his mouth, and a voice came from inside it, distant but clear. It said “I’ve come with a message.”

“You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be able to be here. How’d you get through?” Jakob asked.

“Things have changed, the walls wear thin. We are coming.” the dead man said.

Fear started to pulse in his throat, but Jakob didn’t let his voice quaver. “That your message then? You finished?”

“No, Jakob Kleist. My message is this...” There was a pause then, his throat worked strangely and a new voice came from between dead man’s lips. “Hello father. I’ll be seeing you soon.”

The world seemed to shift a little under Jakob’s feet. The voice stirred up memories he preferred to keep locked away, and their rising shattered his self control. He blindly put out a hand as if to steady himself on the porchpost, but the dead man moved suddenly. He leapt forward, grabbed the groping hand and shifted, pulling Kleist into the air and throwing him rolling in the dirt. The old man felt something give in his chest, and the pain took his breath away. He blinked away the black spots dancing in his vision, fear spurring him to roll over and scramble backward, trying to keep away from the corpse shambling toward him.

The dead man must have used all his energy in the sudden attack, for he now moved weakly, stumbling drunkenly toward the old man rolling in the dust.

Kleist crabbed backwards until he backed up against a tree, and he used the leverage it offered to get to his feet. His breath escaped in a pained wheeze, and the world spun around him, but he stayed upright and managed to slip the folded razor out of his back pocket. He flipped it open and ran the blade over his left palm, just deep enough to let the blood run freely. This he flicked at the corpse, and as it hit his skin the crimson liquid exploded, knocking the corpse to the ground. Jakob slid down the tree to his knees, and slapped his bleeding palm to the earth. The ground rippled, like a pond disturbed by a dropped stone, and the ripples spread toward the dead man now trying to struggle upright. But when the first ripple reached him, the earth reared up in a wave and crashed over him and then hardened again into solid earth. The corpse was suddenly imprisoned in a small hill, hard as kiln-fired ceramic.

Jakob relaxed, breathing shallowly against his broken ribs, and stood. He stumbled over to the hill and, using his still-flowing blood, wrote a few scrawled figures across the smooth surface of the hill. When he finished, the hillock trembled then withdrew back down into the ground, leaving a clean patch of earth in its wake, leaving behind no sign of the abomination it had swallowed.

Jakob’s world went blank.
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Monday, August 2, 2010

Hi Kids! You might remember me from...

This other blog!

If you want to read more about my lief in Japan, you might want to check out my monthly article series at Grasping For The Wind, where I'll be writing about being a fan of Fantasy and SF living in the mysteriose Oriente.

I'll still be posting here and at that other place, but for Japan-centric stuff, it'll be funneled over there for a bit.

Check it out!

Click Here to read the rest.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Temeraire love...

Have you read Naomi Novik's Temeraire books? Well, have you?

I just finished Throne of Jade, the second book in the series, which I bought on Kindle as soon as I finished the first volume, His Majesty's Dragon, and if I had a bit more spare cash I'd already have bought all of the others in the series.

Yes, they were that good.

First, the basics. The series is set during the Napoleonic wars, and focuses on one Englishman, Captain Martin Laurence, and his dragon, Temeraire. Of course, that reveals the big twist here--this is a history of a rather tumultuous time in European history...with dragons. Lots of them, of all shapes and sizes, and the difference adds a lot to the power of the story.

The Napoleonic wars took place at the beginning of the 19th century, and engulfed Europe in a series of wars that left millions dead. Throwing dragons into the mix seems almost unnecessary, as the true story itself is the stuff of fantasy. A single man, starting life as a lowly artillery corporal, rising to found an empire, overthrow republics and turn all of the continent of Europe into a battlefield...seriously, it's more than a little epic.

In writing about Laurence and his dragon, Novik succeeds in making the backdrop of these conflicts a stage for truly engaging adventure on a smaller, more personal scale, as well as giving opportunities for conversations about issues as difficult and timely as slavery and racism, intercultural conflict and the place of the individual in the sweeping events of history. The role of dragons in the European war is thrown into question as Temeraire discovers the evil of slavery, and sees the place that dragons hold in societies outside his own Britain, where dragons are seen as a kind of necessary evil, vicious brutes tamed for the use of men but still viewed with fear and suspicion, and kept isolated except in the performance of their duties at e behest of their masters.

I've yet to finish the series, but already I can see a politicization of the dragons in the outing--parallels with African slavery has already started to surface, and as Laurence himself has abolitionist leanings, it is inevitable that the series would treat this issue. In addition, a trip to China reveals an alternative to Temeraire, one where dragons are equal members of society with their own money, creative roles (dragon poetry, etc.) and most importunely, respect. It'll be futo see how Novik explores this issue more deeply in e future books.

But, really, these stories are just fun. The characters are brilliantly painted, as lifelike and believable as any I've seen in fiction. They grow and breathe, live and die and wear their histories like skin. Rarely have I been so moved to care about fictional characters, some of them not even human, as I have in these books. The action scenes, as believable as they are exciting, are drenched in glory as well as blood (nothing gory, but not exactly flinching at the ugly side of war). The political intrigue is engaging while not taking over the story, and in these first two volumes seems to be buoying toward something truly deep. Honestly, I've not had as much fun reading fantasy OR history books in a while.

Big big thumbs up...

Click Here to read the rest.