Archive for June, 2012

VanderMeer ReaderCon Schedule

Jeff VanderMeer • June 24th, 2012 • News

It’s been ages since I had the opportunity to attend ReaderCon, but I’m going this year (after teaching at Stone Coast). I’ll be there from the afternoon on Friday through Sunday afternoon. Looking forward to meeting a lot of cool people and having a lot of fun. Meanwhile, here’s my schedule—below. I’m thrilled to be paired with Chip and Gemma, and the panels are exciting; this is one of the few times the panel topics fascinated me. And to get to discuss Tutuola’s work is a real thrill, too. You’ll also note a first: my first reading of an excerpt from my brand-new novel…See you there!

5:30 PM VT Reading. Jeff VanderMeer. Jeff VanderMeer reads from his new novel Annihilation, about an expedition sent into the mysterious Area X (also known as the Southern Reach) and what befalls them.

7:00 PM G The Literature of Estrangement. Christopher Brown, Lila Garrott (leader), Greer Gilman, Anil Menon, Jeff VanderMeer, Paul Witcover. In a 2011 interview in The Guardian concerning the paucity of SF and fantasy texts among Booker nominees (and, we might add, Pulitzers or National Book Awards in the U.S.), China Miéville suggested repositioning the debate as not between the realistic and the fantastic, but between “the literature of recognition versus that of estrangement,” though he admitted that “the distinction maps only imperfectly across the generic divide” and that “all fiction contains elements of both drives.” Is this a more useful set of terms for discussing the familiar schism? Does it reveal literary alignments in an inventive new way? Or is it simply cutting the same cake at a different angle?

9:00 PM RI Readercon Classic Fiction Book Club: The Palm-Wine Drinkard. Michael Cisco, Sarah Smith, John H. Stevens, Michael Swanwick (leader), Jeff VanderMeer. The Palm-Wine Drinkard is a classic of world literature, a vivid, exhilarating, and linguistically breathtaking tale of a fantastic quest. The novel is based on Yoruba folktales, but Amos Tutuola makes them uniquely his own. In a 1997 obituary for Tutuola in The Independent, Alastair Niven wrote: “Tutuola was a born story-teller, taking traditional oral material and re-imagining it inimitably. In this way he was, though very different in method and craft, the Grimm or Perrault of Nigerian story-telling, refashioning old tales in a unique way which made them speak across cultures.” Now, 60 years after it was first released, The Palm-Wine Drinkard stands as the best sort of classic: one that remains a pleasure to read, but that opens up new readings with each encounter.

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Recently Experienced: Thumbnail Reviews of Books, Movies, Music, TV

Jeff VanderMeer • June 22nd, 2012 • Culture

I’ve been hoarding up little thumbnail reviews of books, movies, TV, and music experienced over the past few months—offered up to you here in a long post that hopefully has something for everyone. There’s not as much in the books section just because of all of the sampling I do for Omnivoracious features, the editing (so I’ve been reading manuscripts, really), and the writing. I’m too lazy to provide links—and too busy—but all of this stuff is easy to find.

If a movie or TV show is starred **, we saw it on Netflix On Demand.

Books

(Just a note that I’m currently reading and enjoying the hell out of the 1970s novel The Death of the Detective by Mark Smith—so far, I’d recommend it most highly. I’m also half-way through Chiina Mieville’s Railsea, and I think it’s his most relaxed novel yet—he’s clearly enjoying himself, and I think that helps the reader enjoy the book even more, too. Definitely recommended thus far.)

THE CRONING by Laird Barron. Alas, although I like Barron’s short fiction, this first novel wasn’t that good. From my review on the Amazon sales page: “Unfortunately, this novel is a mess. The main character is tediously boring, the main situation relies on the main character being something of an idiot, and there are chapters and chapters of family history that display very little talent for knowing what is useful and interesting. The rituals described are right out of old pulp fiction. Allusions to Machen et al only spotlight the problems. The last chapters, which are meant to be epic horror, are instead pretty unintentionally hilarious, with a portal described as being as big as a bowling ball and then a hula hoop not helping the atmosphere much. Opening scenes set in Mexico that feature a fairly cliched-sounding university rep and generic detail don’t help. The other problem is that the novel could’ve been written in the 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s, and the author wouldn’t have had to change more than a few words, really. The writing on a sentence level is often good, but can’t save the novel. It’s a real disappointment, as I went in wanting to like this novel very much–I am a fan of much of Barron’s short fiction. I hope the next novel is better.”

VLAD by Carlos Fuentes. I enjoyed this one a lot, with a review forthcoming, so I won’t say too much here except that he manages to mix satire and dark humor with something also very serious and Grand Guignol, and refreshes the vampire trope rather nicely. Creepy and hilarious.

GONE by Mo Hayder. A surprisingly emotional and twisty detective story from a writer who is hit-or-miss for me. Hayder can be great, as in Birdman, or just plain effed up as in Pig Island, which plays out as a horrendous bait-and-switch (first half great, second half from some other novel). Here, she’s done a great job with the characters and writing, and it’s a riveting read but had depth as well.

THE VANISHING by Heidi Julavits. Ann read and really liked this weird fusion of the uncanny and other elements. Psychic attacks. Mysteries from the past. Lots of layering-in of elements from different genres.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. I think it’s no surprise to anyone given prior blog posts that I loved this one to death (with a review forthcoming). As I said commenting as a reader on the Amazon sales page, “2312 is an amazing feat of the imagination: a plausible view of our solar system three centuries from now, one that combines genre and mainstream literary influences to create a rich tapestry of adventure, intrigue, and extrapolation, with strong, strong characters. What holds the whole thing together is the love story—yes, I said it. A love story. As brilliant an interesting a love story as you’re likely to find in all of science fiction. I thought this was the best SF novel I’ve read in the last few years.”

I HOTEL by Karen Tei Yamashita. This book is beyond brilliant. I can’t believe it didn’t win the National Book Award. I could rave about this novel all frickin’ day. It’s a nuanced fusion of both traditional and experimental approaches to fiction, detailing the experiences of Asian American characters and others during the time of social upheaval in San Francisco during the 1960s and 1970s. Composed of ten novellas, each one unique, each one amazing, I Hotel is notable in part for how adroit Yamashita is at negotiating such a complicated landscape with such ease. Despite the weight of the subject matter, there is a lightness to the book, and a clarity, that is remarable. What it illuminates about race, culture, class, and other important issues—and how it takes the didactic and renders it in artistically compelling ways—is stunning. And it beggars in its complexity and its sheer exuberance and compassion and…well, in every other way just about any SF/fantasy novel dealing with similar issues over the past decade. It really underlines for me why it is so toxic and so inbred to just, as a writer or reader, read only SF/fantasy, or only any one kind of approach to fiction. It’s like walking around with only part of your brain engaged. Or walking around with blinders on. Such balkanization leads to all kinds of missed opportunities for cross-pollination and for understanding.

Movies

Reminder: the ** means I saw it on demand; those stars aren’t a reviewing scale or anything.

AND SOON THE DARKNESS. A cult British film about two women biking through France who make a series of increasingly stupid decisions with a serial killer on the loose. The annoying thing about this movie is that it holds your attention for the first third, with a kind of growing tension and great use of the landscape…and then it just becomes dumber and dumber until it becomes Super Dumb. Avoid.**

ANTIBODIES. A pretty absorbing German serial killer movie, with the right weight and emphasis given so you care about the people involved. It, however, decides on a kind of semi-mystical ending that involves CGI deer that don’t look real and don’t fit the rest of the flick. Just turn it off right when you see the first deer, and maybe that experience won’t scar you.**

BAJO DEL SAL. A great-looking Mexican serial killer murder mystery that I haven’t finished yet due to deadlines. Also because it looks like it’s setting up one particular individual to be the killer, and he’s not particularly interesting. But definitely worth a look-see, depending on what you want from this kind of movie.**

CABIN IN THE WOODS. Joss Whedon can renovate rather brilliantly at times, but he’s not good at subversion. So in tackling horror movie tropes and putting his subtext on the surface in a ham-fisted attempt at social commentary or satire…all he winds up doing is perpetrating the same clichés he’s trying to make a comment about. The fact is, any bad horror movie already parodies the horror genre, things have gotten so bad in that regard. Whedon would have been better off just trying to create a horror movie that renovated and riffed off the genre instead of this meta-mess.

CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS. This documentary by Werner Herzog actually wound up not being our favorite, as it seemed to go on a little long and end with white crocodiles for no reason, but the core of it has some breathtaking visuals of the prehistoric cave painting, and Herzog’s ruminations are always great. Worth it for that alone. See it back-to-back with Prometheus. Heh.**

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Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria: Free Chapbook Preview!

Jeff VanderMeer • June 21st, 2012 • Culture

I received an advance copy of Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria from Small Beer Press a few months ago and unfortunately—I feel pretty guilty—have been so busy that all I’ve been able to confirm is that it’s really well-written and looks like a great debut. BUT, now you can preview the novel, as Samatar is letting everyone know that Small Beer is offering a free sampler. So go forth and get an early look at a promising new writer.

Rose Lemberg on Feminist Characters

Jeff VanderMeer • June 21st, 2012 • Writing Tips

I’ve been meaning to link to this post by Rose Lemberg for awhile, about not “limiting the range of female characters to the kick-ass heroine,” although that description reduces it down too much, so go read it. The comments are also insightful and interesting. I have to say—this is what I thought it was always supposed to be about. Creating individual, unique people in terms of your characters, attempting as much complexity and inconsistency and strength and weakness as we all have.

***

A tangent: I think to at least some extent, we’re also seeing a kind of push-back against the kind of shrink-wrap, pre-packaging of cliche across several fronts, in part because the commodification of fiction, the reduction of it to just one aspect of the publishing process–as commercial product—is often incompatible with dealing in nuance, complexity, and individuality. This affects many aspects of a novel but is most noticeable, of course, in the context of the characters.

Cliche, stereotype, thinking in terms of types rather than individuals, not putting enough thought or imagination into our decisions…these things don’t just create bad writing, they diminish us as writers because it means we either don’t care enough about really exploring and investigating human nature or we simply aren’t capable of doing so.

City of Saints: Not Very Long Whale Slop!

Jeff VanderMeer • June 21st, 2012 • Uncategorized

Prometheus Art…and More

Jeff VanderMeer • June 19th, 2012 • Culture

I have a post up at Omni about the reaction to Prometheus, the art book you can buy, and more. In a nutshell, I liked the movie and my feelings about it are close to those of Caitlin Kiernan, who has posted twice about certain issues. Which isn’t to say I don’t think the movie has flaws, but that it’s far from the turd some people think it is.

That said, I do have some ideas about a version in an alt-universe or a reboot in 20 years, but I’ll save that for another post.

I also will have my ReaderCon schedule soon, and I will be at Stonecoast very soon. Before heading down to Shared Worlds, to teach.

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction

Jeff VanderMeer • June 18th, 2012 • News, Writing Tips

Wonderbook cover--Zerfoss

My WONDERBOOK: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction for Abrams Image is well on its way to being finalized, with publication set for 2013. This will be the first creative writing guide that doesn’t just supplement text with images, but replaces text with image. In fact, its 300 pages will include over 175 diagrams, illustrations, and photographs. The diagrams will be radically different from what you find in most writing books, and the integration of the text with image will also be something you haven’t seen before.

The cover above is a rough, but close to being final—it’s by Jeremy Zerfoss, who is doing the majority of the art, and the design of the book. The image below is an example of one of the ways in which this approach can be useful in teaching creative writing. Writer and filmmaker Gregory Bossert is planning to create an animated tutorial around the prologue fish.

The main text will include chapters on Inspiration, Elements of Story, Beginnings & Endings, Writing & Revision, The Bleeding Edge, and a special chapter on writing exercises that I think will blow most people’s minds visually—and will set out all of the things my wife and I do in our workshops and masterclasses. Elements like Characterization will be woven into the discussion in all of the chapters, since separating out the people from the story seems pointless to me.

In addition, the book will feature short essays on a variety of writing-related subjects by Neil Gaiman, Lev Grossman, Karen Joy Fowler, Lauren Beukes, Charles Yu, Karin Lowachee, Catherynne M. Valente, Michael Moorcock, and several others, as well as a long exclusive discussion about craft with George R.R. Martin. A comprehensive list of over 700 essential non-realist novels is just one item of interest in the appendices. The format of the book will allow annotations and asides in the margins for additional value.

Another unique aspect of the book is that it makes no distinctions between artificial boundaries between mainstream and genre, and it takes as its foundation fantastical literature. Which is to say, Wonderbook will be of use to any beginning or intermediate writer, but assumes a default of the fantastical. On facebook awhile back I indicated I was trying to create a new visual language for teaching creative writing. In retrospect, that was a grandiose claim. But I do think we have accomplished something special regardless.

prologue fish

The Goat Variations: Free VanderFiction for Other Worlds Than These

Jeff VanderMeer • June 18th, 2012 • Fiction

My story “The Goat Variations” first appeared in Other Earths edited by Nick Gevers & Jay Lake, and then was reprinted in my collection The Third Bear. Now it’s been reprinted in John Joseph Adams’ Other Worlds Than These anthology. He has a great new section on his website for the anthology, and I’ve let them post the story online in its entirety.

When first published, and then reprinted in my collection, “The Goat Variations” was fairly controversial, with some making the assertion that I was just using fiction to make a political point about President George W. Bush. Well, if so…so what? That’s not the real focus of the story, but if it were, bully for me.

Hope you enjoy it.

decapitated-george-bush-head-game-of-thrones
(It’s just a rubber head, folks. Looks a little bit more like that guy from Kiss anyway.)

Odd and Leviathan Anthology Updates

Jeff VanderMeer • June 16th, 2012 • News

Just a short note about ongoing projects. Because of our focus on the feminist spec fic anthology (see blog entry below), we’re pushing Odd back to the fall/winter and will be in touch with subscribers about a restructured schedule by Sept/October. Leviathan 5 is being pushed into 2013-14 on Chizine’s schedule for similar reasons. The feminist spec fic antho is hundreds of hours of work for an honorarium, Odd is a start-up, and Leviathan would be more work for free. The honest truth is that we can only absorb the time/money loss of one gratis or start-up project at a time, so we hope you’ll understand these delays. The feminist spec fic anthology was a wonderful opportunity, but we have to surround it with paying projects.

We’ve also just come off the busiest two years of our lives, with The Weird and other books, and I’m just getting back into my own writing. So all of this factors into the decision. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Thanks for your patience.

Friday Writing Advice: Heed Leaf #1

Jeff VanderMeer • June 15th, 2012 • Writing Tips

IMG_1088

Corollary: As a reader, I don’t care what you think about current events or international politics or what you had for breakfast or your hangnail, so get off social media…

and

Heed the Leaf