(Are trout too smart to eat? Just one topic of discussion with Karen Joy Fowler for NPR.org’s science blog.)
It’s been a long but amazing year touring behind the Southern Reach trilogy. Last week the final volume, Acceptance, came out. You can find really awesome and humbling coverage at NPR, Entertainment Weekly (multiple times!), Slate.com, The Guardian, and from just-announced Man Book Prize finalist Neel Mukherjee in The New Statesman, and too many other places to list.
Because I haven’t written any fiction this year due to touring behind the novels, I’ve turned to nonfiction. Below you’ll find links and short excerpts to a fairly eclectic mix of pieces.
In addition, here’re some of the more extensive interviews I gave this year, which often felt like I was writing essays or articles (in a good way!): for FSG Originals, Raw Story, Buzzfeed, NPR’s Bookworm, 4th Estate’s podcast, Rick Kleffel/KUSP, Locus, the Coode Street podcast, Wired.com, NPR’s Studio 360, and NPR’s To The Best of Our Knowledge. Just today Electric Literature came out with another one.
NPR.org’s cosmos and culture blog
Living on an Alien Planet: In Conversation with Karen Joy Fowler
VanderMeer: Dis-empathize, right. If sharks were as smart as chimpanzees — using our conventional definitions of worth — it wouldn’t make a difference, in a sense. So how far do you think “personhood” should go in terms of our thinking of animals? Is there a cut-off point? Or is it simply that we need to rearrange our entire thinking about this?
Fowler: I just think that’s such a hard question. At least, I think it’s a hard question. I can tell you where my thinking is today. But what I’m seeing is that the more we look at animal cognition, the smarter other creatures seem to be. I’m at a point now where I eat fish. I’m sure the day is fast coming when I will learn that fish are creative puzzle solvers.
Vulture (NY Mag online)
This Is the Best 5,453-Word Interview With Bronson Pinchot About Audiobooks You Will Ever Read
I once described [my novel] Authority to a friend as my attempt to show what would happen if Franz Kafka and Dilbert had a love-child that was then raised by John le Carré and Mark Z. Danielewski. How, then, to read something like that aloud? Done the wrong way, it could be a mess. Yet miraculously, when I heard Pinchot’s version, it was exactly as I’d imagined it might turn out if done right — with an understanding of the rhythms of the language and the intent behind them. I felt almost as if Pinchot peered out from between the words on the page, a position perfect for a novel haunted by so many things. So when the opportunity arose to have an in-depth conversation with Pinchot about audiobooks and the decisions you make inhabiting a text, I couldn’t resist the opportunity.
A True Detective Fan’s Guide to Thomas Ligotti
Who the hell is Thomas Ligotti? That’s the question many people were asking after a spate of articles last week speculated on plagiarism charges leveled against True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto on an H.P. Lovecraft website. The media attention spiked sales of the book at the center of the controversy — Ligotti’s nonfiction philosophy tome The Conspiracy Against the Human Race — to the point that it began to outsell Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
New York Times Book Review
Escape from LA: Edan Lepucki’s California
Perhaps the world as we know it will indeed end this way for many Americans: terrified of porcupines, longing for the sound of S.U.V.s, unable to distinguish between an artifact and a keepsake, helped to find temporary sanctuary by the last black man on earth. If it does, we won’t be able to say that “California” didn’t warn us.
Los Angeles Times
Sci-fi and Fantasy Authors Reveal the Truth in the Strangest Fictions (with contributions from Nnedi Okorafor, Lauren Beukes, Ann Leckie, Lev Grossman.)
Authors of speculative fiction face a completely opposite expectation, discovering that spectacle comes with the assumption that fantastical characters, dystopian story arcs, even an encounter with an alluring ghost emerged whole from the author’s imagination, without any help from anything as boring as the pesky and unreliable imp known as reality.
(Another piece that ran on the LAT website, a short essay by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the author who wrote the novel that the blockbuster film Edge of Tomorrow was based on, started out as answers intended for this article, but worked better as a stand-alone piece.)
Insomnia Takes Over the World: Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun
Writing about sleeplessness and dreams is ambitious. Cramming so many viewpoint characters into a relatively short novel is also ambitious. Like a half-formed dream, the novel aspires to encompass both the detached compassion of Ben Marcus’ “Flame Alphabet” and some atonal mix of Bret Easton Ellis and Stephen King-style Americana.
An Epic Fantasy of Brotherly Bonds: The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil
Yet Weil’s earnest, deep commitment to a portrait of brothers in crisis means that these issues recede into the backdrop. There’s pathos and tension in how Yarik becomes trapped in his relationship with Bazarov. There’s breathtaking brilliance in Weil’s portrayal of Dima as an outcast estranged from society, especially in one astonishing scene in which Dima walks around in a reverie of dissolution.
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson: Book Review
Early in the story, Pete observes that “We’re all animals. Just dancing bears in tutus and monkeys with cigarettes. Painted up and stuffed into clown cars.” Henderson is committed to showing us unhappy and unstable people existing at the edges of any safety net. But they’re also people struggling to find a kind of truth, and they’re portrayed with compassion and humanity, in a voice that crackles and lurches with the intensity of a Tom Waits song. Here, at the beginning of his career, Henderson has come within shouting distance of writing a great American novel.
The Nature of Reading: 10 Influences on the Southern Reach
The series might be a mix of science fiction and conspiracy/spy fiction, but the underlying concepts come out of an intense awareness of our natural landscapes and of our current predicament with regard to global warming. I wanted for any details about the natural world in my series to be based on direct observation, rather than received second- or third-hand. For the real research involved, I have been grateful for ideas encountered in a number of texts, most of them directly rooted in some aspect of the natural world. Here are the top 10.
My Wilderness Year
My R&R right after was to plunge right into what we’d been talking about: the wilderness. I drove up the coast to Morro Bay and spent a couple of days at the Blue Sail Inn. Morro Bay, dominated by a giant rock in the harbor, is a great base from which to explore the coast – walk along the beaches, hike the seaside cliffs, and go up into the foothills leading into the mountains.
Music Influences on the Southern Reach Trilogy
Much of this music documents a measure of the beautiful strangeness of our world and juxtaposes against that backdrop the lives of people who are flawed, sometimes struggling, but always trying. Most of them just want to do the right thing, even if they keep doing the wrong thing. Some of this is momentous and stirring and desperate. Much of it is also by turns mysterious, absurd, funny, or wonderfully creepy. Hopefully the novels are too.