Archive for March, 2010

Awash in the Weird

Jeff VanderMeer • March 19th, 2010 • Culture

There’s a tumor made of pages exploding out of my ribcage. There’s a tickertape parade ravishing my skull. When I speak, all kinds of odd words come out of my mouth, handwritten in black ink on a long, narrow strip of vellum. Where’s the beak doctor when you need him/her?

Don’t expect too much around these here parts for awhile–just fits and starts. We’re awash in weird reading for the Compendium of Weird Fiction and a typical day revolves around work on the Steampunk Bible interwoven with weird reading. Things begin to swirl together. Some stories never leave you alone. Others fade. Ann comes home and reads what I’ve thought was great and finds some of it crap, and I squint at it again and most of the time agree. It’s a lurching progress, and it’s a love-hate process.

Ligotti and Kiernan were the worst. Too many possibles. Relief, in a way, that some Lovecraft is too dated, some too long, and some too minor.

Looking for that feel–the feel of the weird, which isn’t your standard ghost story or post modern or fantasy with an edge of darkness, but something palpable, something where you’re already not where you think you are, and you’re probably not coming back.

Oh crap. The cat just did a hairball. That’ll bring you back.

BSC Review Book Tournament

Jeff VanderMeer • March 17th, 2010 • Culture

Yep, it’s that time of year again–the silly season–and BSC is taking advantage with the ole book tourney. Does it make any sense? No. That’s what makes it fun?

Tomorrow, among others, they’ve got my Finch going up against Ajvaz’s The Other City–a book only me and three other people seemed to know about last year. Go vote early and often–for the book you think, if personified as a human being, would beat the living crap out of the other book-as-person.

Me, I think of Finch the Book as being a little like the Giant-made-of-people in Barker’s “In the Hills, the Cities”: huge and rotting and enormous and as likely to come crashing to earth as not.

Seriously, though, I don’t care who you vote for–I’m more interested in anything that highlights good books. The Ajvaz is a very good book.

The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals–It’s Here!

Jeff VanderMeer • March 17th, 2010 • News

So, we got our copies of the Kosher Guide the other day. It looks beautiful. Tachyon did a great job with it. It should be available at online sources and in bookstores by April 1st, at the latest.

It’s a fun, deeply silly little book that’s not meant as anything at all serious, but it does pack a lot into 96 pages. Not only Evil Monkey’s discussions with Ann, but an intro by Joseph Nigg, who did the OED’s definitive book on fantastical beasts, an ending section where Ann and Ace of Cakes’ Duff Goldman talk about recipes for imaginary animals, and, of course, descriptions of 34 different creatures, from ET to a headless mule, Sea Monkeys to the Pope Lick Monster. All of this given vision and style by master designer John Coulthart. (We even slipped in an Ian Miller illustration.)

Io9, Bibliophile Stalker, Jewcy.com, SF Site, and Foreword Magazine have all done nice features. It also appears the Jerusalem Post will do a review of the book.

There’s also talk of a very short-run, 34-copy limited edition from Tachyon, for those who collect books.

Nisi Shawl at Booklifenow on “Writing and Racial Identity vs the Spinrave”

Jeff VanderMeer • March 16th, 2010 • Uncategorized

For those of you who’ve missed it, Nisi Shawl has been guest blogging along with Cynthia Ward on Booklifenow. Today, I’ve posted Nisi’s last entry—very thoughtful and useful to writers, or anyone, really.

I have lots more to blog about this week, but am finishing off, for Steampunk Reloaded, “A Secret History of Steampunk,” a 16,000-word monstrosity that includes contributions from several writers and artists. More on that, new anthologies, a new book project, and a book release later on, along with book reviews, etc.

Whew. Am I going to survive this week?

Congrats, 2010 Clarion San Diego Students!

Jeff VanderMeer • March 15th, 2010 • News

Yay! A big congratulations to the 2010 Clarion San Diego class, just announced on the site. They’re all super-awesome, and Ann and I are really excited about meeting them and working with them in weeks 5 and 6 of the workshop. The instructors for weeks 1—4 are Delia Sherman, George R.R. Martin, Dale Bailey, and Samuel R. Delany.

Gregory Bossert
Stacie Brown
John Chu
William Farrar
Erin Gonzales
Jessica Hilt
Jennifer Hsyu
Adam Israel
Dustin Monk
Tamsyn Muir
Laura Praytor
LaTisha Redding
Dallas Taylor
Leah Thomas
Karin Tidbeck
Tom Underberg
Kali Wallace
Kai Ashante Wilson

Narrative Power From Aqueduct

Jeff VanderMeer • March 14th, 2010 • Book Reviews

It’s never been much of a secret how much I love Aqueduct Press–founder L. Timmel Duchamp is doing amazing work, and often at the expense of her own writing. Running a publishing company is a 24-7 job, and in this economy it’s doubly tough. So the fact that Aqueduct keeps putting out a steady stream of amazing books is something to be thankful for–especially since so much of what they do is not done by anyone else in the field.

The latest book is Narrative Power, pictured above, a collection of essays. There’s a great post about the book, with TOC, on the Aqueduct blog, and I hope to do something on Omnivoracious soon.

Also note that Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward will continue their guest blogging on Booklifenow next week.

Me, I’m going to be offline most of the time for the next couple of days working on various projects.

International SF/Fantasy, Translation Award Info, Shine!

Jeff VanderMeer • March 12th, 2010 • Culture, News


(Why Shine? Well, it just came in the door and Jetse de Vries made a concerted effort to encourage submissions from around the world. It’s a good-looking antho.)

I’d just like to point people to the Locus Online compilation of international SF/Fantasy recommendations I’ve coordinated, which was completed and slotted well before the Spinrad controversy this week. These are largely not books yet translated into English–in fact, 90% of them aren’t–and so in addition to being a tantalizing look at what we’re missing out on, it’s of potential use to US and UK publishers.

Please spread the link–it would be nice to get enough interest in this feature to be able to keep repeating it yearly. It’s a labor of love and of necessity incomplete this year due to time constraints, among other factors. The plan would be to keep expanding it until most countries were covered to some extent. Major thanks to Locus Online’s Mark Kelly, who spent a lot of time finding most of the images and hand-coding foreign-language symbols.

In the meantime, anyone should feel free to add recommendations from 2009 from countries not covered (or covered), preferably with descriptions, either to the Locus Online article or here.

Secondly, a relatively new translation award has announced the winners.

Thirdly, John Klima is trying to start a magazine to showcase under-represented cultures. Go help him.

Finally, I should have Nisi Shawl’s post “Writing and Racial Identity vs. the Spinrave” up on Booklifenow by the late afternoon, EST.

Who Goes There?, The Thing, and Beyond

Jeff VanderMeer • March 11th, 2010 • Culture


(Brilliant? Yes? Effing brilliant? Yes.)

We recently re-read the 1950 story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell as part of our search for weird stories for this big book of weird we’re doing. The experience of encountering the story was an interesting one, in that it no longer evoked any kind of horror for us. This wasn’t simply because we’d read the story before, but because we had the overlay of John Carpenter’s The Thing in our minds. (The 1950s movie version of The Thing, which adheres more closely to Campbell’s story, is hardly the classic it’s made out to be, btw.)

In a sense, the story had been annihilated by the movie. At times, too, Campbell’s SF sensibilities work against the horror in the piece, and the story has a certain dated quality as well.

The idea of the movie eclipsing the story I found interesting, since The Thing seemed to have a ripple effect. For example, Michael Shea’s “The Autopsy”, for me, gets hit by the edge of this ripple effect, aided by the existence of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies. “The Autopsy” retains more of its power, but it doesn’t fully retain it.

Peter Watts’ recent story “The Things,” while representing a bold move only partially escapes this situation. By writing from the viewpoint of the Thing, Watts re-energizes the scenario. However, the story also energizes readers to imagine their own version of the monster’s point of view, and inasmuch as that version differs from Watts creates difficulties in enjoying the story. As I was reading it, I was already constructing my own narrative from the monster’s POV; perhaps this is solely a writer’s problem, but perhaps not—readers who are not writers definitely engage in this kind of storytelling extrapolation, especially when invested in a story.

Most interesting of all was encountering The Thing in the context of Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia. A chapter entitled “The Thing: White War and Hypercamouflage” completely reinvigorated the scenario, in the context of a “fake” academic paper contained within the more conventionally fictional frame of Negarestani’s fascinating and often brilliant book. (More on the book in a separate post.)

In a sense, Negarestani had imbued his chapter with the spirit and horror of The Thing in a kind of hyperlink way, without having to rewrite the story itself. All of the best parts of The Thing resonate within the piece.

Our reading for the big book of weird has been interesting in part because of issues of duplication, resonance, context, re-contextualization, and issues of debating what older fiction is still interesting as fiction and which is more interesting merely as history within the field. Our own gut feeling for this volume is not to include works that are no longer as powerful or resonant as when they first appeared in print. That helps us focus, and it still leaves us many, many powerful and entertaining works to choose from, across all of the decades we’re covering.

One question for readers would be: Are there other fictions that you no longer find as compelling because of versions from other media?

Nisi Shawl on Avatar

Jeff VanderMeer • March 11th, 2010 • Movie Reviews

I’ve just posted Nisi Shawl’s piece on Avatar over at Booklifenow. Go check it out. I think she liked it just a tad more than I did.

The Complete Review’s M.A. Orthofer on Translated Fiction

Jeff VanderMeer • March 10th, 2010 • Culture

Orthofer was a great interview subject, and the feature came out great, I think. Fascinating stuff. Here’s a snippet:

To what extent can you forgive a bad translation of a good book? And can you see the quality peeking through?

M.A. Orthofer: A bit of forgiveness is always necessary: the process of translation always seems to entail some (and often a lot of) loss, and there are many days and books where I think it’s only a matter of…degrees of badness. My personal preference is for a more literal translation, where you can ‘hear’ the original (language) through the translation, as it were, even if that can sound awkward in English. Most publishers and editors (and, I guess, translators) prefer to English (or Americanize) the texts, which I suppose makes them more readable–though when the approach goes wrong the results can be pretty disastrous. (What I find more problematic, however, is when there is more extensive editorial interference at the translation stage, and books are ‘reshaped’ (generally by trimming away a lot) for the English-language market–Wang Gang’s English is one example from last year’s crop of books.)