Archive for August, 2010

Cyclonopedia: Best Horror Novel You’ve Never Heard Of

Jeff VanderMeer • August 14th, 2010 • Book Reviews

Reza Negarestani’s first novel Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials is among my favorite books of the aughts, and the most original piece of fiction I’ve read in ages. I have to thank China Mieville for bringing Negarestani to our attention. We’re excerpting the novel in our anthology The Weird, and Reza is a contributor to our forthcoming Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities anthology, working off of an illustration by Mieville.

Think Borges by way of Lovecraft by way of William Burroughs by way of…well, Negarestani. This is a one-off original, by a writer who is only going to get better. For once an Amazon product description comes close to describing a book in all of its complexity:

At once a horror fiction, a work of speculative theology, an atlas of demonology, a political samizdat and a philosophic grimoire, CYCLONOPEDIA is work of theory-fiction on the Middle East, where horror is restlessly heaped upon horror. Reza Negarestani bridges the appalling vistas of contemporary world politics and the War on Terror with the archeologies of the Middle East and the natural history of the Earth itself. CYCLONOPEDIA is a middle-eastern Odyssey, populated by archeologists, jihadis, oil smugglers, Delta Force officers, heresiarchs, corpses of ancient gods and other puppets. The journey to the Underworld begins with petroleum basins and the rotting Sun, continuing along the tentacled pipelines of oil, and at last unfolding in the desert, where monotheism meets the Earth’s tarry dreams of insurrection against the Sun. ‘The Middle East is a sentient entity – it is alive!’ concludes renegade Iranian archeologist Dr. Hamid Parsani, before disappearing under mysterious circumstances. The disordered notes he leaves behind testify to an increasingly deranged preoccupation with oil as the ‘lubricant’ of historical and political narratives. A young American woman arrives in Istanbul to meet a pseudonymous online acquaintance who never arrives. Discovering a strange manuscript in her hotel room, she follows up its cryptic clues only to discover more plot-holes, and begins to wonder whether her friend was a fictional quantity all along. Meanwhile, as the War on Terror escalates, the US is dragged into an asymmetrical engagement with occultures whose principles are ancient, obscure, and saturated in oil. It is as if war itself is feeding upon the warmachines, leveling cities into the desert, seducing the aggressors into the dark heart of oil …

Buy this book.

The Utter Squee! That is Finch in the UK Corvus Edition

Jeff VanderMeer • August 13th, 2010 • News

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My Nebula and Locus award-finalist novel Finch is finally out in the UK, in hardcover this month, from Atlantic/Corvus—and it looks amazing. I’m squeeing all over the place.

To be honest, after awhile it’s easy to get jaded about receiving the actual book, but I’m going to say this new arrival made me act like I’d never been here before.

I’m not sure that any photos can do justice to the way this cover pops, but I’m gonna try…

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BAF: 65 Stories to Seek Out from Viet Dinh, Amit Majmudar, Melanie Rae Thon, Karen Russell, Aimee Bender, and More

Jeff VanderMeer • August 12th, 2010 • Culture

Larry Nolen has now posted his shortlist for the Best American Fantasy vol. 4 that will, unfortunately, not be published. BUT, the list is worth reposting here since it points to a lot of great fiction that readers of fantasy should seek out. It also sort of points to the rationale behind publishing BAF–it’s difficult to seek out all of the literary magazines out individually, especially if you want just the good fantasy from them. Although Conjunctions, Tin House, Black Clock, and a few others regularly publish non-realistic fiction.

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Best American Fantasy Series to End

Jeff VanderMeer • August 12th, 2010 • News, Uncategorized

After three volumes, we’re discontinuing the Best American Fantasy series founded by me, Ann VanderMeer, and Sean Wallace, along with Matthew Cheney. The amicable move from Prime to Underland following the publication of BAF2 was meant to rejuvenate the series and to finally achieve stability for it. Unfortunately, this didn’t occur, for a variety of reasons. BAF did not having a wide margin for error. A cross-genre fantasy year’s best that focused not just on genre magazines but also on literary magazines, that required sympathy and generosity from both the mainstream and genre, as well as the right placement in the chains, was always going to be a difficult sell.

Although we are disappointed in this outcome, we’re mostly sad for Larry Nolen, the new series editor, and for Minister Faust, the guest editor, both of whom had put work into what would have been volume 4. (Not to mention the extensive online reading completed by Alan Swirsky and Fabio Fernandes’s efforts re Latin America.) It also would have been wonderful to see what the guest editors for volumes 5 and 6, Junot Diaz and Catherynne M. Valente, would have chosen, just as we enjoyed reading Kevin Brockmeier’s selections for volume 3.

On the plus side, the various BAF volumes picked up a wonderful blurb from Michael Chabon, made NPR’s recommended summer reading list, were placed on year’s best lists, and garnered a few nice reviews in large newspapers. In addition, a lot of bloggers supported us, and we received good feedback from the readers who picked up the books. Many libraries have stocked them, and all three are still available for sale on Amazon, providing a nice alternative view of the year’s best for those three years. We also made inroads into the literary mainstream through events like the AWP conference, and we were very successful in convincing literary magazines and genre magazines to send us material. In addition, we brought writers into contact with each other who might otherwise not been aware of each other’s work, and our correspondence with magazine editors and writers while running BAF led to many, many other creative liaisons and projects.

BAF was always going to need time to establish its brand and to reach the intended readership. To do so, it needed to remain consistent in its look-and-feel, its publishing schedule, and its PR. BAF also needed long-term strategies in addition to short-term strategies to reach its objectives. It needed more time and attention from Ann and from me, consistently, across volumes. It needed to be ramped up slowly, with lowered expectations for sales, and build up from year to year. Is there blame to assign? Yes and no. As happens on every project, everyone involved made mistakes—that is part of the learning curve. We certainly now have a better idea of what we would need to do if we started up such a series again, and we are indebted to both Prime and Underland for making a go of it.

That said, we’re still absolutely committed to the idea of erasing the artificial wall between “genre” and “mainstream,” as evidenced by most of our other projects. We also still believe that SF/Fantasy needs the balance of something like BAF, in terms of guest editors. Yes, you need the continuity and experience of a year’s best editor whose series runs for many years. But you also need the freshness and different points-of-view created when you have at least one year’s best series that rotates editors, and draws those editors from a pool of writers rather than professional editors. Mainstream fiction has at least two such series, and it works well in not enshrining one particular approach as the canon.

But, as noted, we got three volumes out, we shone a spotlight on some fiction that might not otherwise have gotten the attention, and at the end of the day, we know we tried hard, despite some lapses. The only option for continuing now would be to put our own money behind it, and that’s alas not possible.

Thanks to everyone who supported us, thanks to the magazines that sent us issues, and thanks also for the help of first readers like Tessa Kum and Clayton Kroh, and Luis Rodrigues who set up the website. (We know we’re leaving out people—apologies in advance.)

On the Magpie Mind and the (Mis)Uses of Research

Angela Slatter • August 12th, 2010 • Evil Monkey, Fiction, Writing Tips

This evening I had the weekly write-club session with my writing buddy Peter M. Ball (the man who committed the novella Horn). I went back over the novel, which I’ve not touched for about a month for a multitude of reasons (PhD, proofing short story collections and stories for various anthologies, fear, laziness, etcetera). I re-read the last chapter I’d written just to get a feel for it, to put myself back into the story (so I can distinguish the pseudo-fairytale German-like setting from the pseudo-Arabian Nights Damascus-like setting, and get my tone straight).

Everything was flowing rather well; I was happy with the state of the writing as I’d left it. It needs work, of course, it’s a bit skeletal in parts and needs a good hamburger of plot, but on the whole I was happy with the first draft. And then I came across one of those gems that a writer finds her/himself heir to … the things you insert into the text when you’ve not yet done enough research about a particular topic, so you put in square brackets, type in CAPS a note-to-self and highlight it in yellow. Or that’s my normal habit, at least. On this occasion I seem to have been a little laissez-faire and so what I actually found in the middle of a paragraph was this little beauty:

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Summer travels and story

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz • August 10th, 2010 • Uncategorized, Writing Tips

Summer brought with it a trip to Malmedy in Belgium where we visited the Baugnez 44 Historical Centrum. I found myself quite impressed by the museum and while walking through it, I couldn’t help but be moved by the fate of the soldiers who were massacred at Baugnez. My son was very vocal in opining that the Germans were the evil guys and the Allied forces were heroes. Indeed, this is what history tells us, and there is no excusing the atrocities of the Nazi army. But, as I told my son, we cannot apply blame to an entire people because not all Germans condoned the acts of Hitler and not all Germans embraced his agenda. There is also something to be said about denial, and how it is possible for people to close their eyes wilfully because seeing is equal to accepting responsibility and accepting responsibility means having to take action, and action always involves risk. In this particular case, risk being a life or death thing.

I think it was Nalo Hopkinson who said to us at Clarion West that every character is a hero in their own story. This statement was brought home to me when we visited another museum at the border between Belgium and Germany. In this museum, there was an unlabelled case with memorabilia and relics from German soldiers. Looking at these relics, I wondered whether the German soldier considered himself a hero fighting for the beliefs of his Germany. I thought then of how there are casualties in every side in every war, and how on all sides there are victims. If we look at the enemies as individual people, hating is something we cannot do.

Sometime ago, I attended a talk given by Sarah Waters. Sarah spoke of how she was constantly busy with her fiction. How even when she was not writing physically, she was writing inside her head. While we were out in Belgium, I did not write as I had intended to, but the impressions I gathered have found their way to a story I am working on right now.  It’s somewhat political in nature having to do with armed struggle, the displacement of a tribal people, and the conflict between tribal right and corporate power. I was thinking of how my corporate people seemed too one-sidedly evil and I wondered whether the corporate people in my story saw themselves as saviors–as benefactors–instead of the villain I had presented them to be. I realized that the change came from how I no longer hated my corporate people as wholeheartedly as when I created the first draft of the story. While I did not condone or like them, I could write about them with compassion.

The challenge that faces me in writing this story is how fine the line is between preaching and storytelling. Too heavy a hand and it would be better to rent a church and start yelling at the top of your lungs. I feel that where a story succeeds is when it opens up room for conversation between the storyteller and the reader.  The conversation may not be a vocal one, but when the reader takes the story and moves with it into realms of his or her own speculation, then the story ceases to be a static thing on the page, it takes on a life of its own and that is what moves us.

Needless to say, I will only know if I succeeded with this story once it is read by someone other than myself.

Moorcock, Purple Beard, More Books

Jeff VanderMeer • August 10th, 2010 • Culture

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(More about this mega-monster from Mike Moorcock, designed by John Coulthart, on the Amazon book blog in a few days…)

After a week teaching at Shared Worlds and then teaching the last two weeks of Clarion San Diego with Ann, I’m back home again. Here’s a sampling of a few books that came in while I was gone, as an interlude between guest blog posts (which continue through the weekend).

Yes, Clarion turned my hair purple (and I performed a Truffidian wedding). More on all of that soonish. Best moment afterwards: Explaining to a kid that no, in fact, my beard didn’t grow in naturally that way…

me purple

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Guest Post: The Software Engineer’s Guide To Writing

Caroline Ratajski • August 9th, 2010 • Uncategorized

Writing a first draft is, for me, panicked, frenzied, and riddled with wrong turns. The first few steps are clear, and from there I’m running in a black room and my only light comes from a pair of shoes that blink when I step. At some point I run smack into a wall with “You’re Done” painted on it, and then I start the process of turning my winding path into a straight line.

Designing software to a nebulous set of requirements feels just like this.

I am both a writer and a professional engineer. Sometimes people are surprised, that I could manage being an engineer-type yet still pull off being a creative-type. This is strange. Sometimes people say it makes sense, pairing a very left-brained activity with a very right-brained activity. This is less-strange, but still strange. These responses tend to come from people sitting on one side of the divide, who have maybe glanced over the fence, but aren’t too sure about the other side, with their strange cocktails and funny hats. Being a card-carrying member of both camps, I am comfortable saying: Folks, we have a fair bit in common.

For me, there is a highly creative component to designing and implementing software, and there is a highly technical component to writing and editing a novel. Outside of the basics of simply getting your grammar done right, moving through a novel and getting something cohesive at the other end requires a blend of creativity and methodicalness very similar to designing software. I should know. I do both.

First comes the original creative push. What if this guy dedicated his whole life to chasing a big whale? What if I made my college directory into a website where you could openly call people your friends and send them messages? At this stage it’s ephemeral, just a dream waiting to be made real.

Then you start in on some of the details. Wondering what shape your story will take. How your software will look in the end. For writers, this is the outline or first-draft stage. For engineers, is the design and proof-of-concept stage. (While you certainly can code by the seat of your pants — similar to writing without an outline — it isn’t always advisable, unless you do so love rewriting your codebase.)

Then you sit back and examine what you’ve done. And you realize, crap, I wrote this realtime application in Java, and I should have done it in C. You realize, damn, I just wrote a 88,937-word novel in past-tense when it would be so much better in present tense (this is totally not from personal experience, nope). There is no hard-and-fast rule for what tense to select for a story or what perspective to write from, just as there are no hard-and-fast rules in software development for what language to select or what algorithms to use.

Though there should be a hard-and-fast rule against Java in realtime applications. Sayin’.

You examine the flow of information. Are the critical details in the correct order? Will the person seeing this struggle to sort out what’s going on? Will they be immediately pulled in and find themselves effortlessly moving through what you’ve created? In both writing and software, there is the human element. You do not publish your work for no one to read it. You don’t release software for no one to use it. As such, both have to be created with user/reader expectations in mind. And while to an extent these are known metrics, with tried-and-true methods to achieving your goals (Checkhov’s gun, binding +S to “Save”), there’s a point at which you don’t have a model for what you’re doing and you simply have to know, from a deep and intuitive place, that what you are doing is right.

So you revise. You refine. You rub your work with a soft cloth until the stone begins to shine. A well-placed data structure, an elegantly constructed flow of data, these are like a lovely turn of phrase or the unfolding of details on the page. It requires a skilled craftsman to come to the correct solution in either discipline.

And, just like writing, software is never completed. It is only abandoned.

Morgan Dempsey is a writer, professional engineer, and part-time masters student living in Silicon Valley. If you enjoyed this post, you may find more at geardrops.net.

When the Cover Doesn’t Match the Story

Sir Tessa • August 9th, 2010 • Uncategorized

Exhibit 1: My face.

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On reprint collections or Never accept a raisin danish from an Evil Monkey

Angela Slatter • August 8th, 2010 • Evil Monkey, Fiction, Writing Tips

*Angela is snoozing on an eighteenth century fainting couch, using a pile of books as a pillow, and blanketed by sheets of a A4 paper (printed on one side, double space, 12 pt font). A blue pen dangles from her limp fingers and a large blue splot of ink mars her wrinkled brow.*

Evil Monkey creeps closer, leans down and yells: Hey!

Angela: Argh!!! *flails about, falls off the eighteenth century fainting couch, swears* (a lot)

Evil Monkey: Did I wake you?

Angela: I’ve known you for what? A week and a half?

Evil Monkey: About that, yeah.

Angela: And I already hate you. (more…)