Shared Worlds Teen SF/Fantasy Writing Camp: Year Eight!

(Shared Worlds 2015 poster and student writing book cover. Art by Jeremy Zerfoss.)

For eight years I’ve been a part of Shared Worlds, a unique SF/Fantasy writing camp located at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I currently serve as co-director of the camp, with founder Jeremy L.C. Jones, with my main focus running the creative writing track, publishing the Shared Worlds book, and bringing in five or six guest writers each year. My wife Ann VanderMeer serves as the editor-in-residence, overseeing things like the critiques and student meetings with guest writers. This year our week one guest writer was Catherynne M. Valente, who gave a marvelous reading that got the students in the right mood to start writing. In week two, we had Nathan Ballingrud, Monica Byrne, Tobias Buckell, and Ekaterina Sedia–all doing amazing work with the students.

(Week two guest writers: Monica Byrne, Nathan Ballingrud, Tobias Buckell, and Ekaterina Sedia–with editor-in-residence, Ann VanderMeer. Hub City Bookshop.)

Every year, it seems like a daunting task, and our eighth year no less so, with over 60 students, from as far away as the UK–and the mission to help the students create whole worlds in groups the first week and then write stories set in those worlds the second week. As you might expect, this requires a lot of amazing staff in addition to the guest writers–classroom instructors, guest lecturers, residential assistants, administrative and managerial assistants, and more. We’re also fortunate to have Tim Schmitz as the director of summer programs at Wofford, coordinating all of that, and assistant director Will Hindmarch overseeing the world-building track.

The culminaann1tion of all of this effort–fraught with timing issues–is that in the space of about 48 hours at the second week, the students complete their stories, put the finishing touches on their worlds, receive a critique from a guest writer, meet with the guest writer to discuss their story (and writing in general), and then present their worlds via video to each other and to their parents. During that stretch, they also receive the reward of a lot of free books donated by publishers along with other perks. The alien baby, which has been around the world, serves as their mascot, and staff commit to doing silly things as rewards for meeting deadlines. This year, Ann dyed her hair purple and wore her sushi pajamas when the students turned their stories in on time…while I fulfilled a promise I made to “eat my hat” if I turned in the 2014 SW book late and ate a cake that looked like a hat–without aid of utensils or my hands.

The Shared Worlds’ 2015 student group was amazingly energized and creative for the entire two-week stretch, without let-up–just a great group of students. We also had a lot of TAs and RAs who were former students, and one former student, Jackie Gitlin, who served as a classroom instructor. It’s nice to see that institutional knowledge come back in the service of the camp. TA Aimee Hyndman even has a novel coming out that’s based on a story she wrote while a student at Shared Worlds.

SW students
(Students in a Shared Worlds classroom, taking a break to look at their stories from a different perspective. Photo by Jackie Gitlin.)

The broader goal with Shared Words is to provide a place where creative types can use their imagination and can engage in imaginative play in a structured environment that also includes art and sometimes gaming. Yes, the creative writing component is important–and for many students having a professional consult with an award-winning writer is a huge plus at the camp. But we’re not as concerned with helping teach future writers as we are with allowing for a wider range of creativity. In the camp, students have to work in groups and negotiate as they create their worlds. They have to analyze and synthesize information provided to them about politics, biology, philosophy, and more. They also have to work on their own, self-motivated, and meet deadlines. Really, they’re asked to do so many things, and it works because they love the fantastical, they love the freedom to run wild with their imaginations. The structure gives them that freedom.

(Students browse the free books at camp’s end, provided by publishers and private donors.)

It’s remarkable to me that we’ve made it to the eight-year mark, with the camp in good order as we head into the ninth year–remarkable guests in 2016 include Nnedi Okorafor, Julia Elliott, Kelly Barnhill, Tobias Buckell, and Terra Elan McVoy. We’re also grateful for past support for some of our PR campaigns from such greats as Neil Gaiman and Ursula K. Le Guin.

So I guess it’s time to start planning for a ten-year reunion weekend, too. In the meantime, below find some more photos and videos from the camp this year. If you are a teen interested in this kind of a camp, you’ll be able to register for 2016 soon. If you’re a parent of such a teenager, feel free to email Shared Worlds with any questions.

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Redefining Utopia and Dystopia or Post-Apoc

I thought that this review by Niall Harrison at Strange Horizons of James Bradley’s Clade was pretty fascinating and extremely useful. I like that he acknowledges the potential disconnect between the reality we’re headed toward and the way this reality is depicted in fiction—and just how difficult it is for fiction writers to tackle the subject. I also understand his point about “hyperobjects” and agree to an extent, but my point about hyperobjects, as discussed in my “Slow Apocalypse and Fiction” essay is really the same as Harrison’s: that any term we do use had better be complex enough to really help us make a paradigm shift in our thinking, because the very problems we face have occurred because we’re too simplistic in our thinking. That term could be “Fred” if Fred does the job, as far as I’m concerned. But, alas, Fred won’t do the job. We’re already running too much of our software using Fred.

The exasperating thing is that good writers are forever meant to be running data through bullshit machines that live in their heads—all while recognizing that writers are no more or less absurd or irrational than anyone else. If your bullshit machine dies, then you die on the page. But it is harder than ever for the bullshit machine to work in the current era–or to keep up with the ways in which the world outside of fiction has become fictionalized, fragmented, and layered with storytelling.

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A Summer of Reading, Sardinia, the Warwick Prize, & More


This summer I’m a guest at the Isle of Stories Festival in Sardinia, with an event July 3 (more details here). I’m taking some writing with me–about done with a novella entitled “Bliss” and some short stories. But I’m also taking some books! And what books. Great stuff has come in the door recently. In addition to the Lispector Complete Stories (more info below), I’m in the middle of reading some great books. Here are some first impressions.

ENRIQUE VILA-MATAS’ A BRIEF HISTORY OF PORTABLE LITERATURE (New Directions)–I must admit I envy Vila-Matas. He’s sneaky, funny, gets to be somewhat experimental but is still accessible, and underneath it all he knows how to tell an entertaining story. This tale of a secret society of writers and artists could just be an in-joke, but it’s not.

JOSEPH ROTH’S THE HOTEL YEARS (New Directions)–Written between WWI and WII, these essays cover a variety of topics, serious and less serious. Some are observations in a moment, others deeply evocative of setting, and some touch on politics. I’m just getting into this one, but it’s already an interesting look at the past, in a sense. For some reason, I’m drawn to think of the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel (perhaps I should be chided for that) and then its source material while I’m reading.

MARIANNE FRITZ’S THE WEIGHT OF THINGS (Dorothy Project). Brian Evenson blurbed this one as starting out simply and gently and then wading “into resonant darkness.” I haven’t gotten to the darkness yet, but it is already striking me in good ways and I’m intrigued. ALTHOUGH NOTHING INTRIGUES ME MORE than backcover copy mentioning a 10,000-page book by Fritz titled “Fortress” that she created elaborate diagrams in full color for and which Dorothy Project claims is untranslatable. For shame for shame, Dorothy. I think you should do it. At the very least, I am going to have to track down a copy in the original Austrian.

JUSSI ADLER-OLSEN’s THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES (Plume)–Although this one starts out a bit shakily, this first Department Q novel soon finds its sea legs and becomes an engrossing mystery about an abducted woman and the eccentric and shaken detective who picks up the cold case and begins to pursue it. Lively, with some unexpected scenes on a human level as well as good twists. I’ve become addicted to this one and expect it to hold up to the end.


Earlier this summer, I also read the following books (in no particular order), all of which I recommend and some of which seem like essential reading.

EKA KURNIAWAN’s BEAUTY IS A WOUND (New Directions) –This Indonesian author’s English-language debut is scatological, scandalous, lively, beautiful and dark and messed up and fantastical. It’s like One Hundred Years of Solitude kicked into another gear, with almost a punk sensibility housed within gorgeous writing–and stories coiled within stories within stories. One of the most brilliant things about the novel is how Kurniawan never loses the thread even when spinning so many tales at once.

PHIL KLAY’s REDEPLOYMENT (Penguin)–I still feel that this is best paired with The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim but on a re-read I really liked quite a few of these stories. A couple fall flat, like one set on a college campus, but in general it was a recommended read, with several that seemed brave and different to me.

JOANNA WALSH’s VERTIGO (Dorothy Project)–Stunning short, sharp shocks with insight that reminds me of the very personal work of Clarice Lispector. Forthcoming–don’t miss it. Packs a wallop into a very small space. I suspect this will get some year-end kudos.

AMELIA GRAY’s GUTSHOT (FSG Originals)–Odd, weird, disturbing stories about people in air ducts and casual conversations about, well, being gutshot. Modern fables with a visceral quality that will alter your brain.

ALEXANDRA HOROWITZ’s ON LOOKING (Scribner)–“Eleven walks through expert eyes” that should be required reading for writers as it’s a fascinating showcase of bias, emphasis, and how we miss things in our environment depending on our background.

NELL ZINK’s MISLAID (Ecco)–A hilarious but also serious comedy of errors and comedy of clashing cultures. Zink’s strengths from her first novel Wall Creeper are all on display in this tale of the South. Some good interrogation of dominant hierarchy and systems as well.

CLARICE LISPECTOR’s The Complete Stories (New Directions)–I don’t know how to describe this book except as a revelation and transcendent. It’s tough to write such personal stories that seem so universal. Lispector can take the smallest detail and make it fascinating and the center of a story, or she use a wider lens. This collection, to me, is as important to any writer as the collected stories of Vladimir Nabokov. Like the Nabokov, these stories are arranged in chronological order, so you can chart the writer’s progress over the years. (I’ll be reviewing this one shortly.)


Finally, in other news, my Nebula Award for Annihilation came in the mail yesterday–and if you missed it, Annihilation is on the long list for the Warwick Prize, which comes with a generous 25,000-pounds for the winner. Will my slim novel containing multitudes beat out some of those heavy hitters? We’ll see. The short list is announced in a few months.
VanderMeer--Nebula Award

Hyperobjects: The Slow Apocalypse, Spooky Science at MIT, and Ex Machina


A few things of interest have occurred in the past week or two, and I wanted to draw your attention to them.

—Ex Machina is out in theaters, a film written and directed by Alex Garland. Since Garland’s on board to write and direction the movie of my novel Annihilation, I was curious to see what his debut as director would look like. Both Ann and I found the movie mesmerizing, intelligent, thought-provoking, but also visceral. It also carries through to the end in a way that’s rare in cinema these days. There are also so many little details that are so right, including something as simple as a Jackson Pollock painting that creates a chaotic counterpoint to the stasis of the principal setting. The acting is also first-rate. Ex Machina is also a film that assumes an intelligent audience, and so there’s really not a scene or moment wasted in unnecessary exposition. The cinematography we also found first-rate. Highly recommended, and it makes me even more excited for a possible movie version of Annihilation. (There’s a great interview with Garland here, in which he briefly mentions my novel.)

—Recently, I spoke at MIT, for an event entitled “The Spooky Science of the Southern Reach.” You can now listen to that conversation here. For over an hour, I talked about science and SF and collaboration with my long-time collaborator and friend G. Eric Schaller–he also happens to be a scientist and a fan of SF and fantasy. We talked about the slow apocalypse, when science seems right in novels, and a host of other subjects. The event was moderated by author Seth Mnookin, and I thought it turned out pretty great. We had a very responsive audience and thanks again to Harvard Square for providing books for the event.

–Finally, I wrote a long piece on “The Slow Apocalypse and Fiction” for Electric Lit, which documents my reaction to participating in the Sonic Acts Geologic Imagination Festival and which also includes a review of the book published in conjunction with the event. I also touch on how we perceive animals in fiction, talk about the relevance of hyperobjects to fiction, etc. As noted, novels by Margaret Atwood and Kim Stanley Robinson have entered the public awareness in a way others have not. What does this mean? What doesn’t it mean? The essay is meant to serve as an initial personal inquiry, not to be taken as a definitive list of answers. These issues are so vast that it is generally a mistake to reach conclusions, but it is important to ask questions.

As I said in my presentation at Sonic Acts festival, there’s a caveat to some of this exploration. “Fiction is contamination–of the writer by something foreign to the self (if you’re lucky) and yet intimate to it, and contamination of readers, who themselves mutate, and mutate the text. Because people are not at heart rational. Because fiction is not a road to a theorem or a final accounting of sums–and not just the hackneyed idea of a ‘journey,’ but also a series of microcosms in the paragraphs along the way and sometimes a series of traps. In such a context, philosophy or ideas must warp and be rendered at times as disinformation or misinformation, overheard wrong even, and remade as something living, understood and misunderstood in the usual, everyday human world. In other words, to ‘cook’ philosophy into most fiction, you must beat the living crap out of it metaphorically speaking.”

Vintage Science Fiction Readings #7–Alice B. Sheldon

Ann and I are now in the process of reading for The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage, which will appear in 2016. This huge anthology of well over 500,000 words will collect the best and most unusual SF stories from approximately 1900 to 2000. This requires a lot of reading and research. Every so often I will report back in an ad hoc way about current reading related to the anthology. I don’t claim these are systematic reports.

1972: Author note entitled “Man of All the World” from Best Science Fiction for 1972, edited by Frederik Pohl (for Tiptree’s story “Mother in the Sky with Diamonds”)

As with Doris Piserchia (elsewhere in this volume), James Tiptree, Jr., is a writer I would not recognize if he walked into my office and sat on the corner of my desk. We have never met. I rather think the chances are we never will, because every time I see in my peripatetic career a date when I will be in the neighborhood of the city where he lives and suggest we get together for a drink, it turns out that in his peripatetic career he is that week off to Borneo or Brooklyn or Swaziland. I do not know what he does in these places, I only know that he must have been on every airline in the world, and must by now know every customs clerk by first name and bribe rating. I also know that I like very much the way he writes, and above all the way he writes his stories, nobody else’s.

1974: Author note for Tiptree’s “The Women Men Don’t See” from The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3, edited by Terry Carr

Like any branch of literature, science fiction reflects the trends of current thinking. Last year Joanna Russ won a Nebula Award for a feminist story entitled “When It Changed”; this year James Tiptree, Jr., offers  a male viewpoint on the same subject. As you might expect, other than the basic theme, there’s very little similarity between the two stories.

1976: Author notes from Aurora: Beyond Equality, an anthology of “amazing tales of the ultimate sexual revolution” edited by Vonda N. McIntyre and Susan Janice Anderson. The Sheldon story included was “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!” and the Tiptree story was “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?”

Raccoona Sheldon, a retired teacher who lives in Wisconsin, has published many articles in technical journals but only recently began writing fiction. “Your Faces, O My Sisters,” uses an especially imaginative approach to explore feminist themes.

James Tiptree, Jr., was born near Chicago but spent most of his childhood in Africa and India. Many of his stories show the influence of these and later explorations in extrapolation to alien worlds in a wider view of human potential, and the variability of social systems. In 1974, he won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.

1977: Author note for “The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Awful Things to Rats,” from The Best Science Fiction of the Year #6, edited by Terry Carr.

James Tiptree, Jr., has been the mystery man of science fiction for the past several years. No one in the sf community had met him or even knew what he did for a living; his address was a post-office box in Virginia, near enough to Washington, D.C. to make some people suspect that Tiptree was a CIA agent or some such. Others, noting Tiptree stories on feminist themes such a “The Women Men Don’t See” and “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” suggested that Tiptree must be a woman.

Tiptree ignored the rumors as much as possible, issuing little personal information out of the conviction that the stories should be judged for themselves, not as products of a known person with all the expectations and usually irrelevant interpretations to which that situation is prey. But early this year Tiptree finally allowed the truth to come out: “he” is Alice B. Sheldon, 61, a married semiretired experimental psychologist who has recently begun publishing science fiction under the name Raccoona Sheldon.

Of Tiptree, Sheldon wrote to me, “I swear he exists, and is in part dictating this. Much as I hesitate to embrace Jungianism, it seems as though one contains shadow-shelves—or maybe something was waiting to get incarnated.”

The news of Tiptree’s identity is already stirring comment. Theodore Sturgeon remarked in a speech prior to the unveiling that all the major new sf writers with the exception of Tiptree were women—“The exception is now gone,” wrote Charles N. Brown when he broke the news in Locus. But Tiptree/Sheldon was right all along, of course: an author’s identity is irrelevant to any given story.”

1978: Author note for “The Screwfly Solution,” from The Best Science Fiction of the Year #7, edited by Terry Carr.

You’re probably more familiar with “Raccoona Sheldon” under her more famous pen-name “James Tiptree, Jr.” Actually, as I explained in last year’s book, her real name is Alice B Sheldon, and most everyone in the field was stunned (and many delighted) to learn that the author who had written so many excellent stories in a crisp, supposedly “masculine” style is a woman…The fact is, of course, that personal data about an author is seldom, if ever, relevant to our enjoyment of stories; what matters is simply the quality of the stories.

1978: Author note for “The Screwfly Solution,” from The 1978 Annual World’s Best SF edited by Donald A. Wollheim.

[This story] is the sort of thing that readers expect from the mysterious James Tiptree, Jr. And we mention that because Tiptree is no longer a mystery. “He” is the person signing this story. Just add Alice.

1980: Author note for “Slow Music,” from Interfaces: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction edited by Ursula K. Le Guin and Virginia Kidd.

James Tiptree, Jr. is a pseudonym. He is a woman. She is also Raccoona Sheldon. They are an experimental psychologist of great insight, a writer of surpassing strength, and a person of infinite reserve, generosity, and charm.











(Image from Wikipedia.)

Vintage Science Fiction Readings #6–“But That’s Not Science Fiction”

Ann and I are now in the process of reading for The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage, which will appear in 2016. This huge anthology of well over 500,000 words will collect the best and most unusual SF stories from approximately 1900 to 2000. This requires a lot of reading and research. Every so often I will report back in an ad hoc way about current reading related to the anthology. I don’t claim these are systematic reports.

The following excerpt is from Judith Merril’s introduction to George P. Elliott’s “Among the Dangs,” published in the Merril-edited The Year’s Best S-F, 7th Annual Edition, published in 1963. “Among the Dangs” was first published in Esquire.


But that’s not science fiction…!

Even my best friends [to invert a paraphrase] keep telling me: That’s not science fiction!

Sometimes they mean it couldn’t be s-f, because it’s good. Sometimes it couldn’t be because it’s not about spaceships or time machines. (Religion or politics or psychology isn’t science fiction—is it?) Sometimes (because some of my best friends are s-f fans they mean it’s not really science fiction—just fantasy or satire or something like that.

On the whole, I think I am very patient. I generally manage to explain again, just a little wearily, what the “S-F” in the title of this book means, and what science fiction is, and why the one contains the other, without being constrained by it. But it does strain my patience when the exclamation is compounded to mean, “Surely you don’t mean to use that in ‘S-F’? That’s not science fiction!”—about a first-rate piece of the honest thing.

For some reason, this comes most often from other editors—and most irritatingly from the editor who first bought and published the story in question, and does not want to think that he printed that kind of story. But the ultimate frustration is to hear the same thing from the editor who is publishing me

[It is hard not to add commentary here, since Ann and I have experienced the same frustration. What the tribalism of genre usually results in is invisibility for some authors and an incomplete understanding of the amazing constellations of fictions that make up the entire SF and fantasy universe. What it does, too, is wear down those editors and writers who try to breach these boundaries, who want to present the complete picture. I’ve rarely read such an evocative description of the frustration inherent in dealing this issue. – JV]


Vintage Science Fiction Readings #5–1971-1975, Presented Without Comment


Ann and I are now in the process of reading for The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage, which will appear in 2016. This huge anthology of well over 500,000 words will collect the best and most unusual SF stories from approximately 1900 to 2000. This requires a lot of reading and research. Every so often I will report back in an ad hoc way about current reading related to the anthology. I don’t claim these are systematic reports.

“The dead astronaut: The phrase is filled with anxiety, the words themselves evoking the tension and anguish, the words themselves evoking the tension and anguish that gripped the whole world in that fateful month of April 1970, when a technical malfunction came close to costing the lives of astronauts Lovell, Swigert and Haise…All but one of the stories in this book were originally published before anyone set foot on the moon. And yet these stories foretold the perils of space travel, often with uncanny accuracy and curiously precise detail.

“A case in point is ‘Here Comes John Henry,’ [by Ray Russell] the protagonist of which is a black astronaut. The story was written in 1967, just a week or two before the announcement of the first real-life black astronaut, Major Robert Lawrence (since deceased). That appointment compelled the editors to delay publication of the story for over a year, to help dispel any erroneous assumptions that the fictional astronaut was based, even remotely, on Major Lawrence.” – from the introduction to the Playboy anthology The Dead Astronaut, published 1971

“Some of the ideological declarations that have been made concerning the New Wave have been as meaningless as they have been asinine. Proponents of so-called traditional science fiction have declared that the New Wave does not exist, while out of the other sides of their mouths attacking this supposedly nonexistent phenomenon as nihilistic, anti-rational, involuted, and a threat to the special virtues that supposedly distinguish science fiction from the ‘mainstream.’ For their part, some of the writers and critics who have become associated with the label New Wave…have expended a great deal of energy in attempting to substitute the label ‘speculative fiction’ for the label ‘science fiction’ when classifying their own product.” – from Norman Spinrad’s introduction to The New Tomorrows, described on the first page as “a predestined collision of fifteen first-rate stories of somewhat scientific speculative fiction”, published 1971

“[In The Mirror of Infinity anthology,] James Blish, that most erudite and academic of sf authors, can be discovered mourning the loss of the stringent plotting demands of the extinct pulps, and giving a little succinct advice about the art which gave rise to Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula (an invaluable work, to be found on the shelves of all those much loved and sadly departed masters of interplanetary adventure). Who would remember Whip Queens of the Scarlet Asteroid, Mr. Blish implies, if that narrative of courage in extremity had not been founded on a ‘sympathetic character with whom the reader can identify’?…[followed by discussions of types of sympathy, bad and good in the writer’s estimation and reviews of novels by Blish and Jack Story, which leads to…] If the genre as a whole imagines that it has somehow become worthwhile [because of mainstream attention], that its relationship to real life has been consummated, because a few men have walked on the moon, then it had better stop and think. Because until…the Master Plot Formula and Mr. Blish’s ‘sympathetic viewpoint character’ are replaced by a little observation of reality and human understanding, it will never become relevant to anything.” – from M. John Harrison’s essay “The Problem of Sympathy” in New Worlds Quarterly #4, published 1972

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Vintage Science Fiction Readings #4: Talk to the Hand

Ann and I are now in the process of reading for The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage, which will appear in 2016. This huge anthology of well over 500,000 words will collect the best and most unusual SF stories from approximately 1900 to 2000. This requires a lot of reading and research. Every so often I will report back about current reading and conversations about the anthology.




Also from the past week.

“That was a movie, not a short story.”

“That was written in 1834.”

“That wasn’t an alien. That was not an alien.”

“Because there was no internet, he got away with it–look at the copyright page.”

“That was it? That’s all that happened?!?!!”


Science Friday and The Lost City of Z: Further Thoughts


I was thrilled to be on Science Friday today along with host Ira Flatow, producer Annie Minoff, and space archaeologist Sarah Parcak. We were talking about the current SciFri Book Club selection The Lost City of Z by David Grann and you can listen to the show here.

I’m glad they’ve devoted several segments to The Lost City of Z over the past weeks as the book is too complex and too wide and deep for a single discussion. It details the Amazon expeditions of Percy Fawcett, one of the last Victorian explorers. The book also describes the author’s own attempt to retrace the footsteps of Fawcett, who disappeared during his last expedition in 1925. Grann also fills in the time between, during which many people went into the jungle trying to find Fawcett. Some of them could be termed professionals — professional explorers or scientists — but many were amateurs. And many of them died or disappeared in the attempt.

The ending of The City of Z turns much of the testament to human eccentricity present in the book’s first half into something profound and haunting. It is not so much a twist as a different way of seeing the landscape, and a commentary on something you see so often with early European explorers and even later anthropologists or archaeologists: the evidence is right there but they can’t see it. Either from lack of tech or lack of imagination or pre-set cultural expectations. Or through bad luck. So the book builds and builds until what’s absurd takes on a kind of quietly luminescent quality. It really is a classic.

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Vintage Science Fiction Readings #3: Please Let There Be a F*cking Spaceship in This Story

2015-02-03 19_29_21-DSCN3198 - Photo Gallery

Ann and I are now in the process of reading for The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage, which will appear in 2016. This huge anthology of well over 500,000 words will collect the best and most unusual SF stories from approximately 1900 to 2000. This requires a lot of reading and research. Every so often I will report back about current reading, although not in any systematic way. In fact, almost deliberately not in a systematic way.

When you read for a big anthology, you become a little obsessed with being complete in tracking down “the good stuff.” The definition of “the good stuff” varies for every editor, but for us it tends to be international fiction, fiction that falls between the cracks of “mainstream” and “genre,” and choices that don’t come from the expected sources. That search is, of course, in the context of re-evaluating the classics in a category, in this case science fiction, and anchoring the anthology with the Usual Suspects who are indeed the Usual Suspects because their fiction is excellent.

The search for the good stuff doesn’t always lead to what you’re looking for, even if it often leads you to something great. Take these three anthologies: The Big Aiiieeee!: An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature, Surrealist Subversions: Rants, Writings & Images by the Surrealist Movement in the United States, and Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction From Japan, 1913-1938. I spent a fair amount of my time last week reading just about every bit of fiction and nonfiction in these books, all the while thinking to myself “Please for the love of God, let there be a fucking spaceship in one of these stories.” Just a little spaceship, nothing spectacular. Just a hint of something extraterrestrial going on, maybe. Anything that will give me an excuse to bring it to Ann for further investigation.

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