M. John Harrison on “World-Building”

A fascinating post here.

This part particularly resonates:

The writer–as opposed to the worldbuilder–must therefore rely on an audience which begins with the idea that reading is a game in itself. I don’t see this happening in worldbuilding fiction. When you read such obsessively-rationalised fiction you are not being invited to interpret, but to “see” and “share” a single world. As well as being based on a failure to understand the limitations of language as a communications tool (or indeed the limitations of a traditional idea of what communication can achieve), I think that kind of writing is patronising to the reader; and I’m surprised to find people talking about “actively reading” these texts when they seem to mean the very opposite of it. The issue is: do you receive–is it possible to receive–a fictional text as an operating manual ? Or do you understand instead that your relationship with the very idea of text is already fraught with the most gameable difficulties & undependabilities ? The latter seems to me to be the ludic point of reading: anything else rather resembles the–purely functional–act of following instructions on how to operate a vacuum cleaner.

Last Dragon by J.M. McDermott: Best First Novel of the Year, or Just One of the Best, Period?

J.M. McDermott’s first novel, Last Dragon, is coming out in February from Wizards of the Coast, part of their new Discoveries series. This is part of what I wrote in a forthcoming Realms of Fantasy review of the book:

“Relentless, dark, and dangerous…A rare kind of clarity inhabits McDermott’s prose through the character of Zhan and the entire novel is a breath of fresh air in the sometimes moldy room that is traditional fantasy fiction. I’m not prepared to say that this novel is a work of genius, but comparisons to Gene Wolfe, in particular, are well-earned and I would not be surprised to see this novel on finalist lists come awards time.”

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Conversations with the Bookless: Kelly Barnhill

In support of the short story, and specifically those talented writers who are currently “bookless,” which is to say those writers who are at that stage of their career where a collection or novel is a year or more away, I’m doing a new feature called Conversations with the Bookless, of which this is the latest installment. (See also: Paul Jessup, Rachel Swirsky, Nathan Ballingrud, and [conducted by Rick Klaw] Paul O. Miles, Scott A. Cupp, and Chris Nakashima-Brown) The fact is, if you don’t have a book out, it’s harder to get attention and it’s harder for reader attention to crystalize around you. I hope these interviews introduce readers to some of the great talent that, in the coming years, will be amazingly and bountifully bookful.

Kelly Barnhill is another very gifted but bookless writer whose work is emotive without being sentimental, often Romantic in the best possible way, and populated with believable, fascinating characters. I first became aware of her work when she submitted a stunning story to our pirate anthology and am impressed also with her sense of humor, her curiosity about the world, and her stylistic richness. She was kind enough to submit to a Bookless interview recently via email…

Where are you, right now, as you’re writing these answers?
In the attic. In the dark. I don’t always write in the attic. Thanks to the technological miracle that is my laptop, I write most often in the kitchen, somewhere between making breakfast for the children, and lunch, and dinner, and baking bread, and sweets and other momish-type tasks. Besides that, I move restlessly around the house, writing on the couch, at the dining room table, in the children’s room, in my bed during a rather nasty bout of pneumonia this fall, and, when the demands of motherhood refuse to allow me one second to finish my sentence, I go to the only room in the house that has a door that locks–the bathroom. But right now, I am at my desk, which is in the attic, which affords me a view of the winter sun coming up orange and raging over the far off tops of the empty trees. There is something satisfying about writing in the highest room in the house, as though, if I needed to, I could fly away and be back before anyone noticed.

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How the Dead Dream: What We’ve Lost

Listening to Lydia Millet talk about her latest novel How the Dead Dream makes me both sad and hopeful. Sad because what she says is true–we’re destroying the planet, we’re practicing a sometimes unintentional genocide against hundreds and hundreds of species–and in the process, although many of us don’t realize this, against ourselves.

Hopeful because I’m glad fiction writers are dealing with these issues in a personal and contemporary way. What perhaps bothers me a little bit is that writers not associated with SF/F are doing more in this regard (the Stone Gods novel by Winterson is another example, in a totally different tone), while the majority of what I’ve read in SF/F in the last couple of years is, in fact, escapist–it is dead set on ignoring, denying, or simply pretending that what’s going on around us is not in fact going on. I’ve loved a lot of this SF/F, to be honest, and it’s been a solace, a way literally of getting away from the thought in my head that we’re witnessing a kind of slow end of the world. I don’t mind that, but it doesn’t make me, as a reader not a writer, comforted in a more general way, because I feel like I’m being lied to.

Another, odd but true thought, that has occurred to me in recent weeks: That when we watch movies from now and the past in, say, thirty years, we will literally be seeing backdrops, seeing animals, that don’t exist anymore. Movies and other media will be repositories of what we’ve lost. In our lifetime.

Ebay Madness…

So I made my first listing on ebay, in the interests of decluttering the house. We’re never going to use these traditional flower remedies, alas, but they are very very cool. Later, we’ll be liquidating the 50-plus beanie babies that got into the house in the early 1990s. Goal: please let there be fewer books, stuffed animals (except for all of the Totoro stuff!), and unlikely weird crap we never use…

Jeff

Pred Research Detritus: Alien Vs, um, Hunter

The trailer above cannot really convey the abomination that is the Alien/Predator rip-off Alien versus…ready for it…Alien vs Hunter. Yes, that’s right: Alien VERSUS Hunter. Starring an aging William Katt, former teen heart-throb. If starring it be, me hearties.

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Friday Links–Catching Up with the Amazon Book Blog

Here’s a Friday round-up of all of the December/January posts I made to the Amazon book blog–the ones I didn’t blog about because I was busy on the novel. Enjoy! (And thanks to Matt Staggs for some technical help with these.)

Jeff

Elizabeth Bear’s Dust

David Keck–ambushed!

Michael Boatman, actor and writer, interviewed

Zombie Virginia Woolf rises from dead to author creative writing book

Spot yer monsters, spot yer monsters here!

KJ Parker’s massive fantasy trilogy parsed in a sparse paragraph

Three bloated Behemoths from three white dudes…approacheth…

Peter Beagle’s…an oak king?

Age of Bronze–like 300 without the stupidity…

Saterstrom’s spirit ‘n’ meat

Hal Duncan, confused but sassy, calls SF fantasy

Visiting with contemporary cartoonists

Dick announcement

Love for Russo’s Ship of Fools

Robin Brenner parsing manga–with avatars!

Metatemporal Moorcock

Sarah Monette–ambushed!

Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse Intro

Just turned in the intro to the next compilation of Ben Templesmith’s Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse comic. I’m not sure when it’s coming out, but above find a little teaser about Wormwood, and below a snippet from my intro.

Some long-dead painter from the Renaissance once said, “Be normal in your life so you can be strange in your art.” As far as I can tell, Ben Templesmith resembles that remark–one of the hardest working guys out there, one of the nicest people you’re likely to correspond with…and yet, his talent is seriously weird. Weird in a way Decadents like Baudelaire and Rimbaud might admire. Yet also weird in a way the Ramones and Iggy Pop might admire.

VanderMeer Critique Service Once Again Available

Yep, that’s right ladies and gents, I’m opening up the critique service again. Specific and general comments on your short stories, novellas, and novels. I also provide comments on nonfiction books if that’s your thing. The goal of the critique is not just to give you insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the submitted piece but also give you insights that will help your fiction in general.

Here’s a testimonial from one satisfied customer:

Jeff Vandermeer’s critique of my novel was clear, balanced, exceptionally thorough and contextualised within the status and trends of the current market. His notes on everything from sentence level issues to characterisation, plot dynamics and pacing were delivered with a matter-of-fact candour that clearly showed me the book’s problems without patronising, and were leavened with [positive comments on] the parts that were done well. Of particular value was the contextualisation of his comments in terms of what is publishable, noting that some of the mistakes I was making can be seen in published novels; the inference being to settle not just for what will sell, but to aim higher than that. As such, I found the experience both inspirational and technically invaluable.

If interested, email me at vanderworld at hotmail.com and I’ll provide you with more information.

Jeff