Booklife UK

Clearly a mock-up–note “Vendermeer”–but an interesting approach, found on Amazon UK. Out in July. (Other 2010 UK releases: Finch in August and the big book of weird, co-edited with Ann, in November, both from Atlantic/Corvus.)

Updates: Clarion, Shared Worlds, Anthos

First off, just a reminder: if you’re in high school and interested in being a SF/Fantasy writer or you’re the parent of a high school student looking for a creative writing experience involving SF and Fantasy for your teenager this summer…consider Shared Worlds. It’s two weeks of awesome fun and instruction that involves world-building, creative writing, working in teams and solo, and getting fascinating crash-courses in a number of subjects. Instructors include myself, Holly Black, Michael Bishop, Marly Youmans, Kathe Koja, and more. Attendees also have access to Wofford College professors. Also, artist Scott Eagle will drop by for a two-day workshop that’s going to be amazing. For more information, check out the site . There’s nothing else quite like it.

Meanwhile, as the anchor instructors for Clarion San Diego, we’ve been helping read applicant submissions. This week the final decisions will be made, including invites for the 18 slots and those of talent who are added to the wait list. Quite frankly, it’s been tough as heck to reach final decisions–there were so many worthy applicants that instead of inviting the maximum of 18, there could’ve been 30 invites without a dip in quality. Anyone who makes it in or makes it to the waiting list should be proud of that accomplishment. I know that the competition wasn’t nearly this tough the year I went, in 1992. (I also have to say that I was incredibly impressed by the fairness and structure of the selection process–kudos to Clarion San Diego for that.)

Finally, it looks like the big book of weird may be downsized by a couple hundred thousand words. Still waiting for the final word on that. Regardless, it’ll still be a huge anthology. (And we’ll have some new book announcements soon.)

Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward at Booklifenow

I’ve just added the first post from Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward over at Booklifenow, an excerpt from their great writing book Writing the Other. I love Writing the Other because it espouses in a very specific and detailed way what I’ve always thought about writing characters, and even about writing minor characters: you need to fully inhabit them. Which is to say, if your characters aren’t going to just be carbon copies of you and your own experience of the world, you need to be able to see clearly through other people’s eyes.

I’d definitely pair Writing the Other with Carol Bly’s The Passionate, Accurate Story, because the books share a subset of similar concerns. In Bly’s case she talks in depth about the dereliction of duty on a writer’s part when, for example, writing about a character who works for a major corporation doing something illegal (say, dumping toxic waste illegally) without having any sense of how that affects their moral compass or how they see the world. This is an unsubtle, half-remembered example, but the point is: clear seeing from other perspectives is incredibly important to writing nuanced and powerful fiction.

Both Writing the Other and The Passionate, Accurate Story are recommended books in my own Booklife.

Steampunk Reloaded…Already Reloaded!!

Well, we’ve reloaded Steampunk Reloaded, adding a few things at the last minute that were too cool to pass up. I’ll summarize the additions here, but I’ve also included the entire updated TOC below the cut for those who would like it in context. The anthology, out in October, is now almost completely unbearable amazingness as far as we’re concerned.

What have we added, besides our intro?

—A reprint of Tanith Lee’s “The Persecution Machine,” a Steampunk story originally published in Weird Tales.

—A “Future of Steampunk” roundtable interview with Libby Bulloff, S.J. Chambers, Jaymee Goh, Margaret “Magpie” Killjoy, Evelyn Kriete, Jess Nevins, Mike Perschon, and Diana M. Pho (Ay-leen the Peacemaker)

—A reprint of Sydney Padua’s comic strip “Lovelace and Babbage in ‘Origins (with Salamander)'”

—Extensive additions to the already awesome section “A Secret History of Steampunk,” which forms a unified story out of several pieces of fiction, nonfiction, and art, the new bits including:

>>A 5k frame story by the Mecha-Ostrich, Steampunk heretic

>>L.L. Hannett and Angela Slatter’s “The Curious Case of Physically-Manifested ‘Bed-Sheet Mania,” along with related letters and diary entries.

>>Felix Gilman’s “An Ode, on Encountering a Mecha-Ostrich.”

>>Jess Nevin’s “Unpublished Pages from the Encyclopedia of Victoriana.”

>>Additional snippets of text by Rikki Ducornet and Mary Shelley, as well as excerpts from Albert Robida’s “Railroad Wars” and the 1800s Edisonade “Electric Bob’s Big Black Ostrich”.

A comparison of the TOC below and the original one will also reveal that we’ve re-contextualized a few things. Finally, I cannot confirm or deny that I am the Mecha-Ostrich.

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On Oscar Day: Cold Souls as the Antidote to Avatar (and Facebook tonight)

Ann saw Cold Souls for the first time last night and loved it. This was my second viewing, and it held up for me. Basically, the movie has Paul Giamatti, playing himself. Giamatti’s hung up on playing a role in a Chekov play, and after seeing an advert for Soul Storage in the New Yorker decides that the answer might be to divest himself of his soul. As a result he comes into contact with a Russian mule, played brilliantly by Dina Korzun, who is carrying souls into the U.S. for resale.

What follows is both serious and absurdist humor, and most definitely SF-Fantasy. The plot becomes more complicated, the characters gain nuance and depth. There are plenty of laughs in Cold Souls, but there is also plenty to think about, and plenty that will move you. In its thematic resonance and devotion to its characters it’s much more like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind than the relatively bloodless Being John Malvokich.

Cold Souls is an indie film, but it’s not a small film. The way the first-time director and writer Sophie Barthes extrapolates the idea of storing and harvesting souls, hardwires it to real-world parallels like organ harvesting, and gives the apparatus involved with extraction the sleekness of Apple design is truly impressive. The movie fails if you don’t buy into the premise, no matter how interesting the situations and characters. But Barthes’ approach is flawless, in my opinion–and a great example of how you make a viewer (or reader) suspend disbelief.

Frankly, I thought this was the best SF movie of the year, not the awful Avatar or the good but ultimately disappointing District 9. So, if you want an antidote to the three hours of mindnumbing dumbness, recycled Cameron plots, and faintly veiled Dances-with-Wolves condescending, makes-no-sense bullshit that is Avatar, try Cold Souls.

Also, if you’re a facebook friend note that I’ll be facebooking about the Oscars tonight while they’re going on. Probably a couple of anchor status messages and then commenting in the thread. Hope you’ll join me–from the red carpet on.

Weird Loot, Entering the House

(Sleeping cats for a Friday.)

First of all, happy birthday to my wonderful wife, Ann!! (Okay, so her birthday is tomorrow, but I’m not online tomorrow.)

Second of all, I did an interview with writer and editor Maurice Broaddus on Omnivoracious. I really love this interview–it’s one of my favorites. Go check it out.

So…we went down to one of the local used bookstores yesterday, thinking “Maybe we can pick up a couple of anthologies or author collections of use for weird and other projects”…only to find more than 200 titles, mostly in old Doubleday or Book Club editions–part of a collection sold by an elderly man moving to a smaller house.

An unseemly feeding frenzy ensued, and close to half of that collection now resides in our house.

It’s fascinating going through these older books. First off, there’s not as much of a reliance on names–they’re absent from some front covers entirely–and more of an emphasis on “hey, you’re about to read some great stories.” New writers appear several times, and there’s a value assigned to publishing new writers expressed in the introductions to several of these anthos. I don’t find that to be the case, generally, with present-day anthologies from large publishers, which fixate on big names as the best or easiest way to generate sales.

And, yep, women appear in these books, sometimes in quantity (although I haven’t looked through all of them yet), and especially in Marvin Kaye’s anthologies there’s a good balance of type of story and also lots of great stories by writers like Joanna Russ, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Joyce Carol Oates, etc. Indeed, there’s at least one story by Rabindranath Tagore in Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown. In addition, there are translations either picked up in reprint or commissioned for a particular antho. (Full Spectrum 3 isn’t pictured here, but it features two translations.) In Foundations of Fear, not pictured here, edited by David Hartwell you can find stories by Daphne Du Maurier, Octavia Butler, and more.

This all by way of saying that with regard to the SFX stupidity in not featuring any women in its special horror issue…maybe we shouldn’t let a few asshats define how we think women in horror are or have been represented. Castigate the asshats, yes, but don’t let them define the overall experience. Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, and Fantasy Magazine have all published excellent creepy/horrific stories by women over the last few years, there have been many anthologies with great horror by women, and some of the top editors interested in horror include Ellen Datlow and my wife, Ann VanderMeer, just to name two. (Indeed, all SFX had to do is email Ellen or Ann and ask who to feature and they could’ve had a cornucopia of women.)

One other interesting note before the book photos…one of the books is Dreams that Burn in the Night, by Craig Strete, who writes using a lot of Native American themes. This collection comes with a blurb from Jorge Luis Borges as well as James Tiptree Jr, and one story is co-written with Michael Bishop. The stories, in my opinion, are among those that haven’t dated well. But, given that he apparently was up for the Hugo and the Nebula and no one’s really heard of him today (except for this mention; scroll down), it’s a cautionary note for all of us writer types–see also the Peter Tate collection (who?). Here today, gone tomorrow. Bwaahahahaahaha.

Any observations about these covers? They’re drab in many cases, but, honestly, I prefer drab to the pseudo-Romance covers so popular today, with characters represented. I really don’t want any image of the characters in my head other than the one provided by the words inside.

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Kornbluth Cover: Squidalicious

(Cover depicts a character from his insane Mind-Worm story)

Okay, is that a cool cover or what? I mean, I look at most of the covers in the SF/F section and I am bored beyond belief. But this? I’d buy that in a second.

Weirdly Funny

(Funny? FUNNY?!)

Before I forget, Maurice Broaddus gave me some great answers about his forthcoming anthology, Dark Faith. It’s also the UK launch date for his first novel, from Angry Robot. So go check out the feature. Go pre-order Dark Faith. Go buy his novel. Both books look really interesting.

Now, to the main order of business: the fact that there’s funny—and I don’t mean “Hmm. That seems funny–why is that thar door to the basement open and why is there a cleaver in my forehead?”–in horror fiction, or in weird fiction if you prefer. It’s perhaps not the laugh-out-loud, slap-your-knee kind of funny. It’s more of a really dark humor that stands out in relief because one element of the story is slightly less perverse than the rest, but it’s still humor.

For example, in re-reading Ligotti, a lot of humor shines through. “The Town Manager” is a good example of this–it’s a disturbing story, but it’s also very funny in its way. Of course, there are other types of examples. Roald Dahl and Gahan Wilson can both be funny and horribly dark at the same time. Angela Carter has her moments of mischief in the midst of the gothic, and so does Tanith Lee (giant ant-eater, anyone?).

This issue of some sort of humor in horror is important in part because it provides variety of tone–either within a story or within an anthology composed of weird fiction. The key is that the humor should be hard-wired to the ‘orribleness; otherwise, there’s not the requisite depth, or the ‘orrible element comes off as cavalier. For the most part.

Anyway, we just turned in our list of the first 205,000 words of the book of weird fiction to our editor. Once we get sign-off we’ll be getting permissions. We’re also, of course, continuing on with selections for the remaining 555,000 words of fiction for the anthology. Yes, it boggled our minds, too. We just turned in a list of stories that’s 30,000 words longer than any antho we’ve done in the past…and we still have 555,000 words to go. The temptation to just include five and half weird novels and call it a night is strong in us right now. (Not really.)

O True Deceiver, How I Loves Thy Flowery Rabbits

I’m much taken by rabbits these days, whether it’s smorkin’ labbits or the demented rabbit of Donnie Darko, my own Sensio or the dream-derived rabbit of Sexy Beast–or even the rabbits of our friends in Berlin (one of which I swear looks like a tiny bison, its wooly brown ears flopping down to cover the eyes in just the right way). So I ask: Is it wrong of me that one reason I liked Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver is because of the rabbits? The book’s about a contest of wills between two women, but one of them paints rabbits in children’s books for a living, and then puts flowers on the rabbits.

(No, these aren’t the flowery rabbits.)

Anna Aemelin, Jansson writes, “had the great, persuasive power of monomania, of being able to embrace a single idea…And that one thing was the woods, the forest floor.” She paints watercolors that “made people see” the “springy blanket of mosses and delicate plants.” Therefore, in some people’s opinion “It was a shame that Anna spoiled her pictures by putting rabbits in them, that is to say, Mama, Papa and Baby Bunny. Moreover, the fact that she drew little flowers on the rabbits dispelled much of the deep-forest mystique.”

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