Living With the Weird

Editing an anthology as large as this book of weird we’re doing is a bit like fighting a war or running some kind of multi-threaded private political campaign. Attrition. Battles won. Others to fight. Some things seen clearly. Some hazy as we feel our way through a dark forest. Others beckoning on the horizon. True light or false? Recalibrating. Secure that flank. Fall back over here. Rally again at this point. Hold the line right here no matter what…and it’s also like living in a cell of sorts. Working from morning until midnight. Rarely getting outside. Seeing the book come together bit by bit. Exercising at home. Watching the lawn turn to weeds. Wondering if it’s worth it. Well, at least by the end of this I’ll be able to bench two-fifty, if I don’t get knifed in the side.

Books That Make Me Happy

I love the cover of Stories–just makes me smile. The new Dungeon in English translation is wonderful! And I just did an interview with Ajvaz about his new novel, The Golden Age. Check it out and spread the link–he deserves more recognition.

Work on the book of weird progresses. Although we’re not really disclosing the contents just yet, I can confirm that we will include a new translation by Gio Clairval of Michel Bernanos’ cult classic short novel “The Other Side of the Mountain”. This story has been out of print in English since the 1960s, I believe.

Ridley Scott and “Alien” Prequel

Director Ridley Scott talked to MTV about his plans for an Alien prequel that will explain the space jockey. As Scott puts it, “Who the hell was that Space Jockey?’ The guy who was sitting in the chair in the alien vehicle — there was a giant fellow sitting in a seat on what looked to be either a piece of technology or an astronomer’s chair. Remember that?”

I read that as somewhat sarcastic, especially when Scott goes on to say, “They’ve squeezed the franchise dry. The first one will always be the most frightening, because the beast we put together with Giger and all its parts — the face-hugger, the chest-burster, the egg — they were all totally original, and that’s hard to follow.”

He’s right, of course. None of the movies that followed Alien gave us much of anything new. All Cameron did with Aliens is base his movie on action-adventure rather than horror/SF. The third and fourth added absolutely zero to our sense of the world the aliens came from, or anything about the space jockey. I mean, there is a whole alien civilization out there that pilots space ships and leaves a huge freakin’ skeleton behind, and apparently was deliberately transporting alien eggs.

You’d think that by now we would’ve gotten some new data on all of that, in the movies. Instead, we’ve gotten riffs on the same movie, over and over. And don’t get me started on the Alien vs Predator movies. (And, yeah, there are some base similarities between my Predator novel and the new Predator movie, but I’m fairly certain the movie will be much, much stupider.)

So I think I’m actually looking forward to this prequel. The thing about Alien is, yes, it was horrific. Yes, it was a haunted house movie in a sense. But it also gave us a glimmer of a sense of wonder. One of the best scenes in any SF movie is the one in which they first encounter the space jockey. It’s fundamentally about what we love about SF, and especially about subgenres like space opera…and then they didn’t follow through.

The Shared Worlds Bestiary: Cory Doctorow, Nnedi Okorafor, Lev Grossman, Elizabeth Hand, and More!

To get the word out on Shared Worlds, a unique two-week SF/Fantasy writing camp for teens, Wofford College has hosted a fantastical bestiary–original imaginary animals created by a mix of some of the best writers out there. Go check it out. This is a very generous contribution by the writers, and the students will not only draw some of the beasts, they’ll also riff off of the descriptions.

Here’s more info on the camp, for which I am the asistant director. I can tell you in all honesty that working on Shared Worlds has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life, and it’s a wonderful, structured, secure way for teens to express themselves, learn new things, and make great new friends. Not only that, the students get one-on-one sessions to discuss their writing, writing labs, workshops, field trips, detailed and constructive critiques of their fiction, and much more.

Wofford College provides tremendous support and infrastructure, making Shared Worlds unique–it is the place to send your kid. Register! Slots are still available.

Here’s the official description. I serve as the assistant director.

Shared Worlds is a summer think tank at Wofford College for teenagers who have an interest in fantasy and science fiction literature. For two weeks, students create imaginary worlds and write fiction under the guidance of writers and professors. The instructors for 2010 will include Spiderwick Chronicles creator Holly Black, critically acclaimed YA and adult authors Kathe Koja and Marly Youmans, Nebula Award winner Michael Bishop, writer and gaming expert Will Hindmarch, and World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer. Artist Scott Eagle will also conduct a workshop during the camp. Register online today!

Instructors in 2011 will include Nnedi Okorafor and Minister Faust.

Creative Mimicry Across Book Projects (and small books)

“Steal don’t borrow” as advice is about using the inspiration of someone else’s creativity as part of the spark of something original using your own creativity.

One area in which this can be especially potent is book design, including the format of a project, which can either affect the text or reflect existing text’s properties.

In my case, contributing to Canongate’s marvelous The Libraries of Thought & Imagination (2001) woke up my interest in small books. The production values, including full-color interior art were wonderful, the content clever and thoughtful. But it was essentially the small size and nice design that hooked me.

So when I came up with the idea for Album Zutique (2003), a surrealist/decadent series, I wanted to use the prior book as a jumping off point. Keeping a remnant of the original’s color scheme, I decided I wanted to ditch the idea of a photographic cover and play with typography–typography that became art, but was still readable. Jonathan Edwards came up with a great design that perfectly captured what I was going for.

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Finch Up For Locus Award

I’m glad this happened, because I’ve got nuthin’ to say this week. LOL.

Happy to be in that company for best fantasy novel. Cheers.

The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett (Harper; Doubleday UK)
Drood, Dan Simmons (Little, Brown)
Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
Finch, Jeff VanderMeer (Underland)

In other news, the Heretic limited edition of Finch is just about sold out, so visit Underland if you want one.

Digging Out Toward the Subterranean to Reach the Tunnel Leading to the Light

What you don’t know about the transdimensional properties of the komodo dragon can kill you in more than one place. They can scent your wound through time, through space, sporling out before them like a mist that curls and beckons. While you, you’re more like a rabbit with a pocketwatch who’s been stuffed with sawdust, and it’s falling out of you in chunks, and you’re feeling more and more like part of the scenery. Everything’s receding. Except the komodo. The komodo’s getting closer and closer. Reeling you in through its sixth, its seventh senses. That tongue, forking out. The bandy-legged rude walk over rough terrain. The smell of rotting flesh that you can’t quite tell. Is it you, or the komodo? Is it your life on his breath? Is this the last thing you’ll ever see? That ugly pitted bullethead. That shit-eating grin.

Because the thing is, you have to die to escape a komodo. You have to let your wound take you. Are you up for that? I wasn’t. I wasn’t ready yet. I’ve always tried to save dying for Plan B.

(c) jv

Weird Reading Update

For the book of weird fiction (which I may have alluded to once or twice here) Ann and I are now in that phase of further testing that comes before final and last decisions, with over six hundred thousand words chosen.

The interesting thing is how “the weird” as opposed to just “weird” has manifested itself and guided our choices. This isn’t to say there isn’t just plain old “weird” fiction in the anthology, but that the dominant tracks we are collecting do first and foremost deal with “the weird” in the sense of the supernatural–sometimes horrifying, sometimes transcendent. From that main thread, other elements come into alignment.

Certain types of SF-horror have the right feel, even with no supernatural element. A few stories are immersed in the weird while not partaking of it. Some commercial horror clearly has communication with the weird and some does not. Certain “Twilight Zone”-type stories enter into honest transactions with the weird and others do not. Certain “literary” stories enter the weird and certain pulp stories don’t. As mentioned in a previous post, zombies/werewolves/vampires are being de-emphasized, along with subtle ghost stories.

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(Image from Matt Staggs; eye-beams courtesy JV.)

Evil Monkey: Is that the new ska album you and Ann have been working on?

Jeff: Yes.