The New Yorker has weighed in on The Southern Reach Trilogy, and I’m delighted they’ve focused on weird ecologies. I also think this may be the first time they’ve had to explain something like “mushroom dweller” to a general audience. Anyway, it’s heartening to see them differentiate Area X from the post-apocalypse subgenre and to bring up Timothy Morton, whose latest book I’m currently devouring. The first Morton I’ve read, and it’s truly strange the parallels and similarities with some of the subtext of the Southern Reach novels. And this all tends to feed into the next novel I’m working on as well.
Over at The Millions, I’ve interviewed the author Richard House–some fascinating answers. Anyone who read my year’s best list over at Electric Literature or my pick of the year for The Globe & Mail knows I loved Richard House’s The Kills–my favorite fiction read of 2014. I also included it in my list of daring books over at FSG’s site, where I wrote:
Richard House’s The Kills approximates the general idea of a thriller but the structure of four interlocking short novels makes the reader work to put the story together. (in a good way) The fact that one of the four novels is primarily thematically linked to the other three creates a unique kind of connectivity, and a situation where the entire shape of the story only locks into place on the very last page of the book. It’s not that The Kills just subverts genre tropes-—it’s not actually operating via those tropes, even in how characters enter and leave the narrative, and yet the ghostly outline of thriller expectations still do intercede on the reader’s behalf. The exquisite tension caused by this ghostly outline, brought to the text by the reader, held me transfixed and admiring as The Kills keeps becoming something different, and something different again.
There are few novels these days that read to me as if the writer understands some of the unique aspects of our modern condition. The Kills is one, Ledgard’s Submergence was another, and The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim (translated by Jonathan Wright) a third. I believe we’re in an era where a lot of what we’ve held to be universal or relevant in literature will begin to seem dated and nostalgic. But not these books.
If you came here via facebook or twitter, please note that while I won’t be on social media much this year, I will be blogging–and those posts should auto-populate to my fb and twitter accounts.
Last week, the Morning News announced the 16 titles for its 2015 Tournament of Books. Annihilation is one of them and, as my editor said, it would be only appropriate for Annie to be knocked out in the first round and come back as a zombie. But we’ll see. It’s one of those situations where you say it’s an honor to be nominated…and you actually mean it. In non-morning news, thanks to Joe at Book People for choosing Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy as his book of the year. Thanks also to The Stake for making the publication of the trilogy it’s pop-culture event of the year. You can find highlights of Area X best-of-year honors here.
Since the Southern Reach tour ended, I’ve been spending time at home relaxing and reading–and thinking a lot about the next novel, Borne. I tend to take a fair amount of time living with the characters in my mind before writing a rough draft. But I’ve also made good progress on a draft. Part of that progress is always about what you surround yourself with reading-wise. In this case, Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects, which Matthew Cheney talked about here. I’m also slowly savoring William Vollman’s rather brilliant Imperial before tackling his 7-volume work on violence–meanwhile devouring Zizek’s much smaller tome on violence, Violence.
Some of this feeds into what I will talk about at the Sonic Acts 2015 Geological Imagination Festival in Amsterdam next month. Ostensibly I’m reading from the Southern Reach trilogy and participating in a Q&A, but I’ve decided to preface that with some comments on the ways in which fiction has failed to keep current with what is happening to the world–as well as delineating those pathways and approaches that seem to hold promise.
Speaking of the former, I have to say my most depressing current fiction reading has been in the post-Collapse or mid-Collapse genre–which most commonly now takes the form of a novel in which some virus wipes out all but X percent of the population. Never all but 1 percent, though, since no doubt that would be confused by reader with The One Percent. Almost inevitably, these novels reduce down their character lists to a pretty generic and non-representative core sample of the population and proceed to get on with the Nostalgia Show, the longing for the life before–i.e., the unsustainable one we’re living now, which is also a misery for so many–whilst discreetly hiding the bodies of millions and millions somewhere offstage. Incredibly, in most of these books global warming is just a kind of nebulous thing, no hyperobject or true catastrophe but perhaps responsible for some storms and such off in the distance. In any event, real life–and the future we live in right now–is much more effective a critique of this approach than anything I could say here.
On a more pleasant note, there are some books I read over the holidays that I liked quite a bit and I’ll blog about them soon. As Ann and I read and research more for The Big Book of SF (Vintage), I’ll talk about that as well.
In addition to the Amsterdam conference, this spring I’ll be appearing at the University of Buffalo, Tallahassee’s Word of South lit-music festival (with Vernon Reid!), and at MIT. Over the summer Ann and I will teach at the Yale Writers’ Conference and at the Shared Worlds teen writing camp. I’ll post a full schedule sometime in the next week.
Outside of that, it appears I’ll probably be on NPR’s Science Friday (February 6) if all goes well and The Atlantic online will be publishing a long tell-all about the story behind the Southern Reach. My interview with Richard House, author of the fantastic novel The Kills, will post at The Millions next week. I’ve also turned in an introduction for Melville House’s edition of the Strugatsky Brothers Dead Mountaineer’s Inn, am working on another intro for a Ligotti reprint from Penguin Classics, and will complete an intro for PM Press’s reprint of Moorcock’s Breakfast in the Ruins later this year as well.
In blurbing news, I’ve been happy to blurb Kelly Link’s forthcoming story collection, Leah Thomas’ first novel, and Rikki Ducornet’s latest nonfiction collection.
And, I’ve not really had time to blog about it, but Italian editions of the Southern Reach Trilogy will come out this year. Indonesia, Finnish, and Czech Republic rights recently sold, too–meaning Area X will appear in a total of 22 countries.
And, also, happy to see Jenn Brissett’s Elysium made the PKD Award finalist list. Congrats, Jenn!
Finally, why is there a photo of our cat Neo at the top of this post? Just because.
(Thanks to WORD bookstore for this wonderful photo–and support all year.)
It’s been a ridiculously amazing year for the Southern Reach Trilogy, which included making the New York Times bestseller list and nonstop touring. Now, at year’s end, the trilogy has made over 35 year’s best lists. In addition, Annihilation is a nominee for the Folio Prize, was a finalist for the Goodreads Choice Awards, and is on the long list for the Morning News’ tournament of books. I also made Waterstones Booksellers’ list of the authors of the year and the cover of the Area X omnibus from FSG was selected by the New York Times as one of the best book covers of 2014.
Perhaps the most exciting best-of list to make was Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10, along with Esquire’s holiday gift guide, Amazon’s top 100, Buzzfeed’s Top 24, NPR.org’s favorites, Gawker’s best reads, HuffPo’s best, Globe & Mail, and the Los Angeles Times’ 2014 recommended reading. But you’ll find a selection of those year’s best lists below—in case you’re looking to spend some post-holidays gift-card money on books. You’ll find some great stuff on these lists. (Perhaps the most perplexing to me: making Slate’s list of the most overlooked books. I’m grateful, but it seemed to me you could hardly walk a block through the book culture this year without tripping over the Southern Reach.)
My own year’s best lists can be found over at Electric Literature—fiction and nonfiction. I also contributed to Globe & Mail’s list and to FSG’s survey about unusual or daring books. In addition, I wrote about My Life in Indie Bookstores this year. (You can find the rest of my nonfiction for the year, give or take a couple, at this link and this Area X omnibus link. Also check out this flipbook of links and images and my essay on Weird fiction at the Atlantic and my opinion piece on lighthouses in the NYT.)
Happy Holidays, everyone! I’m going to hibernate for a little while, but I wanted to thank all of the readers, booksellers, reviewers, and publishers (here and abroad) who have helped make this year so special for me, and made the Southern Reach Trilogy one of the most talked-about series of 2014.
Highlights lately have included making Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10 and the LA Times Gift Guide, as well as Buzzfeed’s favorite books of the year.
Special thanks to my wife Ann, agent Sally Harding, and Sean McDonald and everyone at FSG.
(The start of it all: At Elliot Bay in Seattle, this February; photo by Todd Vandemark.)
Over on Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s Housekeeping site, they’ve posted my year in indie bookstores. I was fortunate enough to spend much of 2015 on the road in support of the Southern Reach Trilogy, and a big part of that was reading at or signing in independent bookstores.
Head on over and check out my notes on Bookmark It, Book Passage, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Booksmith, Book Soup, Chop Suey, City Lights, Elliott Bay, Fountain, Kramers, Green Apple, Housing Works, Hub City, Inkwood, Malaprops, McNally Jackson, Mysterious Galaxy, Politics & Prose, Powell’s, Quail Ridge, WORD, and more.
A special shout-out here to Kathmandu Books for handling the limited edition S.R. chapbook, Subterranean for various kindnesses, and for Borderlands for providing books for the Writers With Drinks event I did in San Fran–one of the best events ever.
(Thanks, Matthew Revert, for the great info-graphic.)
It’s a perennial problem, isn’t it? How to make that dang-blasted book look like something else when you wrap it, because otherwise what’s the point? It can be slathered in wrapping paper that’s covered in three-dimensional rainbow-colored topographical anomalies interspersed amongst Satanic dog-headed kittens and the person receiving the gift will still figure it out.
But don’t despair! As a public service, you can find my preferred method above. I finally admitted to this approach when NYT bestselling author Lois H. Gresh asked the question on her facebook page. Matthew Revert was then kind enough to provide an illustrated version as a holiday season mitzvah.
Of course, Gresh then had to raise some issues that point to a possible need for refinements in this approach. Specifically:
So let me get this straight. I use the Fishomatic to pulverize 12 dead fish. I dump the fish pulp into a 12″-diameter sphere-shaped ice tray (and good luck finding one of those). Then I push the book into the fish pulp. Clearly, a pulp title is best. I freeze. Carefully, I pop the frozen sphere from the “tray” and arrange it in a nest of fish scales. Then I put it under the recipient’s pillow in his/her bed. Oh, wait. That’s The Godfather Method of Wrapping a Gift Book.
This interpretation is a little time-intensive and perhaps limiting in terms of the type of book. And, granted, sometimes I will just strap the dead fish to the book and cover both with wrapping paper and hand that to the lucky recipient–especially if there’s no convenient sea nearby. Her next suggestion, however, may further streamline the whole process…
If I hide the book or toss it into the sea, and hence, the supposed recipient doesn’t know that he has this wonderful gift… then I can save my book money and give him something much smaller and cheaper, such as a pea. Yes, I can hide a pea and feel good, knowing that I intended to give him a book. After all, it’s the thought that counts!
I have no suggestions on how to hide a pea. Nor for wrapping an e-book. But for less avant garde suggestions on book-wrapping, here are a few links.
–Google Image Search (less terrifying than you might expect)
–Pinterest, suggesting disguises that will fool no one (like if you put a fake moustache on)
Of course, you could always just wrap the damn book using time-proven and careful techniques.
Or share your own secret ways in the comments below…
One highlight of my year-long book tour in support of the Southern Reach trilogy was doing a Functionally Literate event in Orlando, Florida. The organizers did perfect pre-event publicity, had their own built-in PR through their own radio show/podcast. They also knew exactly what details to take care of to make my life easier after having been on the road a lot, and the gig itself was impressive as hell. From the venue to the format to the dedicated, extremely large (and enthuastic) audience of regulars–with great back-up from the awesome independent bookstore Bookmark It–Functionally Literate had pretty amazing organization, logistics, and support. (I highly recommend this reading series to all writers and their publicists–I put in a good word for them with Farrar, Straus and Giroux.)
They also had books they’d published–beautifully designed books, smartly edited, imaginatively conceived, featuring really interesting writers. I got a sampling of them at the hotel they’d put me up at. They all bore the Burrow Press logo. Burrow, you see, is the driving force behind Functionally Literate. And Burrow quickly has become my favorite new independent press.
After only three years and 10 books published, with four more scheduled for 2015, Burrow Press has become a prominent part of the Orlando literary landscape. One recent title, the story collection Train Shots by Vanessa Blakeslee, blurbed by Laura van den Berg, won an IPPY in addition to being long-listed for the Frank O’ Connor International Short Story Award and named a Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award Finalist.
Burrow Press seems poised for continued and sustained national attention–especially with its release of the novella on which Terry Gilliam’s latest movie is based. Indeed, you could say that Burrow Press is both reflecting a revitalized Orlando culture scene and helping drive that revitalization. It was energizing to see, and reminded me of ancient days back in Gainesville, Florida, where my cohorts and I founded one of the first significant indies in that city. (Today morphed into Cheeky Frawg.)
With the year coming to the end, and in celebration of the indie press/bookstore renaissance that seems to be sweeping the U.S., I thought I’d interview Ryan Rivas, the publisher and co-founder of Burrow Press. His writing has appeared in decomP, Annalemma, Prick of the Spindle, Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012, and elsewhere.
Michael J. Seidlinger is the author of a number of novels, including The Laughter of Strangers, The Fun We’ve Had and The Face of Any Other. He serves as Electric Literature’s Book Reviews Editor as well as Publisher-in-Chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specializing in unclassifiable/innovative fiction and poetry. He can be found on Facebook, Twitter (@mjseidlinger), and at michaeljseidlinger.com. Flavorwire recently called this unique writer “a kind of 21st century David Markson. He’s prolific and talented and we should all read together to try to figure him out.” I’ve long liked Electric Lit, Civil Coping Mechanisms, and the press that published his The Face of Any Other—Lazy Fascist Press (highly recommended in general). So I thought I’d ask Seidinger here to talk about his book…or, in this case, excerpt it. – JV
When Jeff graciously offered this space to let me talk about my most recent book, The Face of Any Other, I was ecstatic—so much that I couldn’t come up with any ideas about what that guest post might be. I came up with all kinds of ridiculous ideas, from something “creative” (read – tacky) dealing with the book’s cover to writing some big behind the scenes (that would likely just go on and on and on), but ended up back where I started. With nothing else, I figured I might as well come clean, much like the unnamed main character of the novel: no personas or facsimiles. Just be myself; or, more precisely, let the book be the book. It gets weird, but that seems to happen to every single one of my books. The following excerpt takes place at the beginning of the novel, offering a candid look at the character’s skewed worldview. –Michael J Seidlinger
Over at Storybundle, they’re running a selection of our Cheeky Frawg titles, which include fiction from Finland and Nigeria. It also includes Stepan Chapman’s PKD Award-winning novel The Troika and an exclusive: my novelette Komodo as a stand-alone e-book, in expanded form.
Proceeds go to the authors, to the Helsinki 2017 WorldCon bid, and to us, the publishers. Our share will help fund more translations and support our huge forthcoming omnibus of iconic Finnish writer Leena Krohn’s short novels.
With 10 days to go, I’d like to make it even more interesting. One of the titles on offer is Secret Lives, which collects the flash fictions I wrote for readers as a thank you for buying a prior book of short stories.
Anyone who buys our Storybundle at the bonus level (all of the e-books) will be eligible for their own secret life. Three randomly chosen readers will win a flash fiction written by me that incorporates details of their lives as the starting point. Handwritten, personalized, and one-of-a-kind. No other copies will ever exist. in addition, those three winners will receive the Area X hardcover of my NYT bestselling Southern Reach trilogy, with a limited edition Southern Reach art booklet. (Anyone who has already bought the Storybundle at the bonus level will be entered in the random drawing.)
International fiction is important to us. Now you might just win some unique fiction yourself.
Please share the link. Go forth and acquire our Storybundle.
In addition to a secret life, here’s what you could win: