Archive for September, 2009

Evil Monkey on Fantasy

Jeff VanderMeer • September 12th, 2009 • Evil Monkey

Jeff:
I think I have a headache.

Evil Monkey:
Is it because I just hit you with a hammer?

(more…)

Saturday Night Songs of the Dying Earth Rhapsodic Cockney Remix

Jeff VanderMeer • September 12th, 2009 • Culture

I’ve been meaning to blog about Songs of the Dying Earth, the Jack Vance tribute anthology I contributed “The Final Quest of the Wizard Sarnod” (eventually “The Three Quests of the Wizard Sarnod,” when I release the director’s cut in 2011), and now I find the anthology is sold out on the publisher site, although Amazon lists some copies available “new and used.”

In any event, it’s a beautiful volume, with the added grace note of a little illustration at the beginning of each story and each contributor’s thoughts on the work of Jack Vance. Tor will release an edition in 2010.

This is fantasy of a fine vintage, reminiscent of a certain era, as evidenced by names like these found just in the first sentences of the stories:

Amberlin the Lesser
Bosk Septentrion
Dhruzen of Karzh
Dringo
Caulk the witch-chaser
Justice Rhabdion of Kaiin
Lixal Laqavee
Molloqos the Melancholy
Manxolio Quinc
Puillayne of Ghiusz
Saloona Morn
Thiago Alves
Vespanus of Roe
Wizard Sarnod

Genre purists will find a lot to love about the anthology, as will those who like playful, fun swords-and-sorcery.

For your Saturday night entertainment, and because I’m a little silly, here’re the first sentences of every story, remixed Cockney via this site, and then with the originals below the cut–to give you a true taste. Please play the song by Rhapsody while you’re reading for additional ambiance.

(1) Puillayne of Ghiusz was a geeza born ter every advantage Porridge Knife offers, for ‘is father was the bleedin’ master of mother’s pearly gate estates along the bloomin’ favored southern shore of the Claritant peninsula, ‘is father’s lover was descended from a long line of wizards ‘oo ‘eld ‘ereditary possession of many mother’s pearly gate magics, and ‘e ‘imself ‘ad been granted a Calvin Klein strong-thewed body, robust ‘ealf, and mother’s pearly gate intellectual power.

(2) Chicken pen next I found a Drum ter insert myself, I discovered the resident in the manse’s foyer, in conversation wif a traveler.

(3) Chicken pen Amberlin the Lesser stepped into ‘is workroom that sprin’ Day’s Dawnin’, ‘e found ‘is manservant diffin starin’ aahhht of the clever burnt cinder again.

(4) Caulk the witch-chaser came aahhht of almery on a risin’ tide, sailin’ Damien Hirst the brief distance daahhhn the xzan, then the scaum, towards the coast.

(5) ‘is name was Pelmundo, and ‘e was the Currant Ban of riloh, chief curator of the mother’s pearly gate ‘rchive in the distant city of zhule.

(6) The student ‘rchitect Vespanus of Roe, eager ter travel ter the city of occul in the country of Calabrande, left escani Liz Hurley in the season for an ascent of the dimwer, the deep Shake and Shiver that passes through the cleft of abrizonde on its way ter the watery meads of pex, the land where vespanus, waitin’ for the pass ter open, ‘ad passed a dreary winter in the insipid flat callow-fields of the brownlands.

(7) Dhruzen of Karzh, long-time actin’ master of the manse, surveyed ‘is nephew at lengf.

(8) The Day’s Dawnin’ the Fireman’s Hose of Dick Emery ‘rrived ter destroy ‘is calm, the wizard sarnod rose as on any ovver day Cilla Black in the Porridge Knife of the dyin’ earf.

(9) It amused Justice Rhabdion of Kaiin ter dispose of malefactors by droppin’ them daahhhn a certain chasm located at the edge of ‘is palace gardens.

(10) As the elder Currant Ban of the ‘ouse—by Ca and Calf an ‘our—it was bosk septentrion’s privilege ter sit beside ‘is father at Jim Skinner.

(11) Once a mighty city rose beside the Crust of Bread of a deep gulf in the Housemaid’s Knee of sighs, and its ships plied their trade, and the magnificence of its buildings proved its wealf…but in these latter days, only a dusty Joe Brahn remained, buildings Westminster Abbey, patched wif stones from its earlier grandeur.

(12) From the second-story burnt cinder of the kampaw inn, near the center of Kaspara Viatatus, Thiago Alves watched the risin’ of the currant ban, a ‘abit ter which many ‘ad become obsessively devoted in these, the Present and Past of the Present and Past days.

(13) “I aint a magician,” Lixal Laqavee announced ter the shopkeeper ‘oo ‘ad come forward at the ringin’ of the Hair Gel upon the counter, “but I play wahn in a travelin’ sha.”

(14) Manxolio Quinc was a grandee of old romarf, ‘oo dwelt in the antiquarian’s Farmer’s Daughter, and enjoyed a Porridge Knife of leisurely routine.

(15) Aalfaro Morag, ‘oo, in ‘is Jack Jones Chinese Blind, styled ‘imself the long Noah’s Ark of dawn, rode ‘is whirlaway ‘igh above a forest.

(16) Insensibili-y, melancholia, ‘ebetude; ordinary Radio Rental tumult and more elaborate physical vexations (boils, a variety of thrip that caused the Vera Lynn of an unfaithful lover ter erupt in a spectacular rash, the color of violet mallows)–Saloona Morn cultivated these in ‘er parterre in the shada of cobalt mountain.

(17) Dringo crested the Present and Past Cream Crackered ‘ills of the mombac ambit just as the evenin’ flickered into night wif a pulse of dim purple Isle Of Wight.

(18) Sum way up behind the s’een forested canyon wherethrough flows the slender Shake and Shiver derna, porkies a depressin’ landscape dotted wif small villages.

(19) In the wanin’ millennia of the 21st aeon, durin’ wahn of the countless unnamed and chaotic latter eras of the dyin’ earf, aw the usual signs of imminent doom suddenly went from Sorry and Sad ter worse.

(20) The currant ban was ‘avin’ wahn of its Robin Hood days.

(21) Through the purple gloom came molloqos the melancholy, borne upon an iron palanquin by knock at the Dorothy Lamour brahn bread deodands.

(22) There ‘re flea-markets aw across Florida, and this was not the worst of them.

(more…)

Friday Links: A New StarShipSofa Sofanauts Podcast, Von Schlegell’s Mercury Station, and Kibuishi’s Amulet Series

Jeff VanderMeer • September 11th, 2009 • Culture

I reviewed Mark Schlegell’s very impressive Mercury Station for Bookforum. In some ways it feels a little like Moonshadows or Stepan Chapman’s The Troika. It’s one of those SF novels criminally overlooked this year, and it deserves your attention. Its ideas on time travel are playful and unique, its take on our future grim but realistic.

“The many delights of Mercury Station include Ryan’s jousting with MERKUR qompURE during interrogations about the gaps in his memory, the inclusion of Ryan’s rather suspect résumé, and the author’s extended riffs on the nature of time travel; a description of chronautics as “time’s sex organs” is particularly good.”

I participated in the latest Sofanauts podcast show, with Mike Allen and Jeremy Tolbert, Tony C. Smith presiding over the festivities. Topics range from anthologies to portals versus doors, and other cool stuff.

My Graphic Novel Friday post about Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, the second book of which has just been released by Scholastic.

“The history of Fantasy is littered with the scattered remains of books that took their magic seriously but not their characters—or, more accurately, didn’t take life seriously. True fantasy classics, in any medium, reflect what we know about the real world: that it is a bittersweet place in which terrible things sometimes happen for no apparent reason. Further, imagination and creativity must be wedded to the personal, with actions having real consequences. Otherwise, we’re left with diaphanous eye candy that doesn’t remain in the reader’s memory. Artist and writer Kazu Kibuishi, editor of the Flight comics anthologies, seems to understand this truth–at least, its reflected in his Amulet series from Scholastic, a truly imaginative yet grounded fantasy story that has amazing potential.”

Ideal and IT Crowd (with Arctic Monkeys)

Jeff VanderMeer • September 10th, 2009 • Movie Reviews

Two new comedies on IFC (although old hat to fans of the BBC not living in the U.S.) have had me watching and in stitches for a few weeks now. One features Moz, a drug dealer, the other Moss, an IT guy at a corporation.

Ideal is set mostly in the apartment of Moz, a low-level drug dealer. A succession of bizarre characters, including a guy named Cartoon Head (who has a cartoon head), parade through, seeking a fix, or sometimes something more dangerous. The series is dark humor at its finest–truly hilarious but you have to adjust to the vibe of the show. I watched two episodes, decided I hated it, but watched a third anyway. Then watched a fourth and it suddenly all clicked into focus for me. It’s hard to explain just how funny (and at times disturbing) Ideal is, except to say that when the next door neighbor admits to necrophilia it’s a laugh-out-loud moment, or that when Moz, trying to comfort her says “don’t go down on yourself” when he means “don’t get down on yourself” it’s worth a huge chuckle. No, this show isn’t for kids, and it’s gloriously tattered, decaying around the edges, realistic in its approach, foul, and yet hypnotically watchable. Moz makes it work because even though he’s a drug dealer, he’s much more sensible, sane, and moral than anyone around him. There are also odd moments of sweetness mixed in. Although I’ve included a clip above, I don’t know if any single clip can really convey how the show works, because it’s almost a cumulative effect. More clips here.

The IT Crowd, on the other hand, is sillier, and not as darkly funny. It’s instead just outright hilarious beyond belief, as Moss and the other members of the IT department at a seriously screwed up company get entangled in mess after mess. In a favorite episode, Moss develops the perfect bra for his boss, except it has one flaw: it tragically overheats. In another episode, a fire breaks out and Moss methodically goes through various processes to fight it; when the fire extinguisher doesn’t work, he starts typing an email for help while the flames are blazing all around him. For anyone who’s worked in an office or with computer, this is a must-see. More clips here.

Finally, I’ve bought a lot of CDs recently, but the one that’s stuck with me is the new Arctic Monkeys, which I wouldn’t have expected. I’ve liked their prior material, but not loved it. On this CD, however, they deepen and darken their sound, and create additional texture that really appeals to me. It’s a rewarding CD that only gets better with repeated listens. Of course, the single is a little closer to their prior material, but at least it gives you a taste.

Catching Up With Linkage: Moers, Stone Brewing, Apex

Jeff VanderMeer • September 9th, 2009 • Culture

Lately on Amazon, I’ve posted the following:

Walter Moers returns with more genius-level insanity.

What book would go best with Stone’s 09.09.09 Vertical Ale?

What are your favorite graphic novels of the year so far?

Brian Slattery’s top ten books that don’t get enough respect.

Matthew Cheney’s interview with Samuel R. Delany.

In other news Apex asked me for my top three books and stories that everyone should be reading. Go check it out.

One Book. One Chance. And You.

Jeff VanderMeer • September 8th, 2009 • Culture


(Would this be the book you would choose? If so, I am not your friend.)

Here’s the scenario: Human civilization is collapsing. There’s no guarantee we’ll be around much longer. In the chaos, you have the opportunity to put a book in a cannister that might be the only thing that survives–it must contain as much of the totality of human experience as possible. It might be found by aliens or by our successors. Problem is, you’ve only got novels at hand. Which do you pick? Why?

(No picking your own book. No choosing anything other than a novel. Can’t choose omnibuses. Might use this for an Amazon feature…)

Things That Won’t Be Happening This Year…

Jeff VanderMeer • September 8th, 2009 • Uncategorized

Finch, Booklife, Last Drink Bird Head, some short fiction projects, a humongous book tour upcoming, and any number of other things mean the following Won’t Be Happening This Year.

– The Leonardo Variations – a Clarion charity anthology
– Mapping the beast – a best-of the Leviathan series
– Leviathan 5 – reading period postponed
– Borne – the next novel, about a giant ravenous bear
– Beluga! – working title of the text-with-marine-photos SF story book
– Learning French – yes, I planned on learning French this year
– Ministry of Whimsy chapbook series – for emerging writers
– Love Drunk Book Heads – nonfiction book of interviews about books
– The Memories of Others – near-future SF Novel
– Heart of the Beast – collab fantasy novel

Ah well. The good news is, all of them except learning French and possibly Love Drunk should happen next year. Unless I die of exhaustion first.

Writers: Are you a Face-hugger, a Grub, a Maggot, Godzilla, or What?

Jeff VanderMeer • September 7th, 2009 • Writing Tips


(The writer Sir Tessa, in a contemplative moment, reciting Proust to a captive audience.)

The Emerging Writer interview I conducted for Clarkesworld had an unexpected side effect–putting writers in mind of how they emerged, or how they would like to emerge; similar in a way to the secret I revealed in this blog post, about how writers molt.

Sir Tessa instigated it, of course, with this interpretation of emerging: “I like the idea of ‘emerging’. It puts me in mind of the headhuggers in Alien. The egg peels open, I extend my creepy-arse legs over the lip, I emerge, and then I leap at you, shove my gonads in your face and ram my proboscis down your throat and lay eggs in your chest, and then those eggs hatch and a wee bebe alien emerges. From your chest. At velocity. I would like to one day write a story that has that sort of effect on the reader. It would probably put me in gaol. Oh well. Totally worth it. You suffer for my art!”

…which, after a chuckle between me and KJ Bishop led to Bishop’s observation that she “was more like something discovered under a rock–a colourful grub, perhaps, like one of those painting maggots.” (Although she added that now she’s done emerging, ‘I will be like a Japanese movie monster. I shall publish no more novels, in order to save Tokyo from destruction when I grow to be 100 feet tall with laser beams sizzling from my eyes.'” Don’t ask how we got to that point…)

When I think of how I “emerged,” I was a creature with a long gestation period, something that had a long juvenile stage or stages. Some slow-growing cephalopod, suddenly scooped out of the sea by Michael Moorcock and genetically altered to live on land. And then undergoing further mutations year after year. Steady evolution–or devolution, depending on your point of view.

But this metamorphosis through strange creatures, for fun or for keeps, isn’t new. A member of Kafka’s writing group saw him, prior to his fame, as a somewhat timid “moon-blue mouse.”

So, if you’re emerging, how do you see yourself? And if you’ve already emerged, looking back, how did you emerge?

MIT Lecture (Boston, MA)

Jeff VanderMeer • September 7th, 2009 • Events

At MIT on November 19th in room 4-231, I’ll be presenting a lecture on Booklife, followed by a discussion and reception. The discussion will be with Kevin Smokler of BookTour.com.

Booklife: The Private and the Public in Transmedia Storytelling and Self-Promotion

Fictional experiments in emerging media like Twitter and Facebook are influencing traditional printed novels and stories in interesting ways, but another intriguing new narrative is also emerging: the rise of “artifacts” that, although they support a writer’s career, have their own intrinsic creative value. What are the benefits and dangers of a confusion between the private creativity and the public career elements of a writer’s life caused by new media and a proliferation of “open channels”? What protective measures must a writer take to preserve his or her “self” in this environment? In addition to the guerilla tactics implicit in storytelling through social media and other unconventional platforms, in what ways is a writer’s life now itself a story irrespective of intentional fictive storytelling? Examining these issues leads naturally to a discussion on the tension and cross-pollination between the private and public lives of writers in our transmedia age, including the strategies and tactics that best serve those who want to survive and flourish in this new environment. What are we losing in the emerging new paradigm, and what do we stand to gain?

Presented in conjunction with Futures of Entertainment 4

Booklife
Finch

B&N Review: Ward Sutton’s Illustrated Look at Inherent Vice

Jeff VanderMeer • September 7th, 2009 • Book Reviews

I don’t know if the Barnes & Noble Review is getting its due, but it deserves your consideration (readers, I’m curious: do you regularly check out the B&N Review?). They’ve been publishing some first-rate reviews and commentary on books. The latest piece to catch my eye is Ward Sutton’s comics-version review of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice. It’s lovely stuff, with colors that burst off of the page. Check it out.