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

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.

Prometheus Art…and More

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.

Toward Prevention of Brain Scarring

Having had some barricades against the internet for a few days now while I work on deadlines, I’m feeling recharged and refreshed. I think that in addition to the whole idea of having too many open channels in your mind at times because of the e-world, there’s something to be said for not being open to lots of ideas in the course of the day. That may sound ridiculous, for a writer, but the fact is that there is so much contradictory information and advice on the internet, so many emphatically stated viewpoints about issues related to writing, that you can freeze yourself in your writing just by being exposed to too much—by internalizing…everything. As advice also trends toward righteousness and offering up moral judgment, too, a kind of binary us/them rises up that isn’t useful even when you agree with a position. And not only do we have too much writing advice out there, and assign too much authority to the opinions of members of the blogosphere for no particular reason…we also have this seemingly self-destructive need to revisit information and opinions we don’t actually agree with, but that still infect us. And so you wind up wasting a lot of mental effort that could go to the writing circling back over issues that in the grand scheme of things aren’t useful to your writing. While nursing the low-grade fever of a mind-virus that can only fade if you don’t keep re-infecting yourself. You’re not required to do so, contrary to a kind of underlying belief that all of this ephemeral stuff, forgotten in a week, matters.

For those who say we should engage with the world, I would say: I indeed want to engage with the world, but I’m less and less sure I want to engage with the narrow sliver of it represented by the resounding confidence of the majority of opinion pieces out there in the e-sphere, on any side of an issue. Certainty is not useful to fiction, and I am always wary of those who are certain. Fiction writers who are infected by too many received ideas, fed by too many received ideas, tend to turn out clichéd work over time, too. I think all of us, myself included, need to seek out complexity, subtlety, nuance, and associated impulses. (Slow blogging as a concept is beginning to attract me more and more as a result.)

The meat world at least regulates the flow of Too Much to something manageable, while providing useful additional context. This also seems to me more conducive to building community and mutual respect, having a balance, because unfortunately, as we see in politics and basically all areas, the expression of beliefs on the internet seems to be dividing us and emphasizing our differences more and more, sharpening our ideological edges so that we often cut ourselves while trying to cut others…which makes it harder to actually get things done and to be proactive…often on the very issues everyone is so passionate about.

And with that, I’m gone again!

SF in the Mainstream at BEA: The Panel and the Coverage

BEA Signing

Updates:

Ed Champion has responded in a very odd and offensive way below, along with a tweet that, well, I don’t know what it has to do with the inaccuracy…i.e., I guess I was supposed to just let it pass. He’s beginning to creep me out.

The New Yorker’s Sasha Weiss also contacted me and apologized for the errors, and corrected them. Which I thought was classy.

So Ann and I just got back from BEA in New York City, where we were promoting the Tor edition of our massive new The Weird anthology. We had a wonderful time and met so many great people. I wish I had more time to blog about it, but you know who you are—thanks for making our trip so great. Thanks too to Tor—everything ran smoothly, and it was great to hang out with our editor there, Liz Gorinsky, and our publicist, Alexis Nixon.

In addition to the autograph session pictured above, we were part of a panel on SF & the Mainstream hosted by Ryan Britt that also featured Walter Mosley and John Scalzi. The panel was quite interesting, and the only regret I had is that it was over so quickly—it seemed like we were just getting into the meat of the issues brought up. Ideas about genre, about the meaning of perfection and technology, diversity in the field, etc. (I’m hopeful I can convince Mosley to spend the time answering some follow-up questions for an Amazon feature.) Back-stage had been a lot of fun, too, since both Mosley and Scalzi are incredibly entertaining people. (Indeed, Scalzi’s “need a hug” comment to me during the panel cracked me up.) I was also quite chuffed that Mosley, whose novels helped influence my own Finch a bit, told me he’d enjoyed City of Saints & Madmen.

But there’s the panel and then there’s the coverage of the panel….and the coverage has veered from accurate and objective to completely incorrect, and I’d like to talk about that just a little bit because it fascinates me how something that would seem so simple as coverage of a half-hour panel can vary so drastically.

Ann and I concur that the most accurate account comes from Ron Hogan at Tor.com. Ron’s got the quotes right, and who said what correct as well. There’s the least attempt to editorialize just a genuine effort at straight-on reporting. It doesn’t include everything we talked about, but you have to pick and choose.

[UPDATE 6pm: Rose Fox’s account at Publishers Weekly was just posted. It is also very accurate, and taken with Hogan’s gives a complete picture.]

The New Yorker blog’s coverage, on the other hand, is pretty shoddy, and I reproduce the full entry here since I’m about to give them corrections, and this version may change: [NOTE: They’ve now corrected the errors–and very graciously, I might add.]

Back at the Uptown stage, James VanderMeer, the editor of the “The New Weird,” an anthology of science fiction, was talking about the composition of the B.E.A. It’s “mostly white, mostly featuring writers from the U.S. and the U.K… In ‘The Weird’ we wanted to show, yeah, there’s this stuff, but there’s also so much other amazing stuff, from Japan, from Nigeria, from all over the place. In the period from 1910 to about 1930, people all over the world were thinking about the same things.” Walter Mosley, a sci-fi elder dressed like a beatnik in a black leather jacket and cap, reflecting on the capacious world of contemporary genre fiction, remembered his early rejections from publishers. “They told me, ‘White people don’t read about black people, black women don’t like black men, and black men don’t read, so who is going to buy this book?’ ” Sorting books into rigid categories, VanderMeer said, is “neither how it’s always been, nor how it should be.” Mosley: “One Hundred Years of Solitude—it’s a great fantasy novel, but also a great work of literature.”

What’s wrong with this description? Just about everything. Let me break it down. (1) My name is Jeff VanderMeer not James VanderMeer. (2) I coedited The New Weird with Ann, not by myself. (3) The book we had at BEA was The Weird not The New Weird. (4) The book is not science fiction. (5) The mostly white comment about BEA was from Walter Mosley, not from me. (6) The mostly white comment is then shoehorned in with my “mostly featuring writers from the US and UK”, which was about some prior compilation anthologies, not about BEA. (7) Walter Mosley is definitely NOT a “sci-fi elder” but someone who is mostly known for his great mystery series, while also having written some SF. (8) Scalzi said the quote about “neither how it’s always been nor how it should be.” (9) Ann is not quoted at all and erased from the panel entirely, as is John Scalzi.

The third account, from Ed Champion, trades outright inaccuracy for suspect editorializing, and some rather bogus attempts to get inside of the panelists’ heads. It all starts to go wrong when Champion writes in a completely tone-deaf new journalism way about moderator Britt’s “gray vest insinuating some classy authority” and then states that the two big questions are (1) “How do the glories of ‘weird’ in any form get self-respect,” given that “plenty of us have experienced ‘weird’ moments in our lives without having to cleave to genre.” and (2) “…whether Walter Mosley would attempt to rile up the crowd with an outlandish and unsubtle statement.” Neither of these questions were on my or Ann’s minds, and I dare say they weren’t in the minds of most of the gathered crowd—although I did in passing address the first question during the panel (not reported on by Champion). Immediately following these… questions… Champion writes that “But before Mosley opened his mouth, Jeff VanderMeer” spoke up. The clumsy transition makes this read to me as the false assertion that I interrupted Mosley at some point during the panel.

Later in the account, Champion includes Mosley’s comment (paraphrased, I think—this doesn’t strike me as his exact wording) that “One of the things walking around this place is how many white people are. And it’s another weird moment. Maybe it’s a weird moment for me, not for other people in here.” In response to which he writes “I did observe Jeff VanderMeer, dressed in a white suit and seated next to Mosley, sink further into his seat. Ann VanderMeer attempted to return the conversation to the human factor that Scalzi had set up so well…. Jeff VanderMeer attempted to respond to Mosley by pointing out that the duo had selected stories “from Japan, from Nigeria, from all over the place.” Mosley spent much of the time after this puffing up his cheeks.”

This is a very odd and inaccurate interpretation of that sequence of events. First of all, it attributes a physical reaction to me that I don’t recall and as an implied reaction to Mosley’s comment, which is definitely false. What I was thinking as I possibly innocently shifted in my seat, unaware my every movement was going to be parsed from afar, was “fair point” and then was thinking of how this was a good entry into discussion of how when we’d looked out on the vast majority of previous compilation volumes like The Weird we saw mostly UK/US white male writers, and how we wanted to show what was missing from the equation by including work from other countries, etc. Ann, meanwhile, wasn’t trying to redirect anything—she was just answering the moderator’s original question. Finally, I have no recollection of Mosley figuratively or literally then “puffing up his cheeks” for most of the rest of the time. I certainly at no point thought he was trying to “rile up” the crowd, and I didn’t find his comments to be anything other than interesting and useful.

Champion also writes that “Then Mosley tried to pass off Scalzi’s anecdote about the Star Trek communicator as his own.” This is another odd statement. Why would Mosley have to have some kind of bad intent even if he was repeating something already said? In any event, although I don’t recall that particular exchange, I can say that this attempt to parse intent seems totally off-base.

The inaccuracies in the New Yorker account and the kind of banal tyro-novelist attempts at sussing motivation on Champion’s part seem somewhat unfortunate, given that we had a lively and interesting discussion. The fact that all of the panelists were coming at the subject from different angles created some fascinating exchanges. I’d be on a panel with these same participants in a heartbeat, and I really enjoyed meeting Mosley for the first time.

Books Being Read: The Eclectic List, for Your Perusal

It’s been a busy week of deadlines and I’ve been more active on facebook than here, but I’ve wanted to post some photos of the books I’m reading or have set aside to read, because I think all of these titles are fairly fascinating. Some of them are perfect for dipping into, like the nature titles. The Tim Robinson books are magnificent in that regard—the finest I have ever read. Others like the Nabokov and the Perec are re-reads: books that certainly deserve and reward the effort. Dalkey Archive Press continues to bring us great translated works, and you can see a Michael Cisco title peeking out there. The Vanishers also looks quite intriguing. Rondo I’ve started and it’s very promising. Click through the links to check out more about all of them.

What book piles are you currently working your way through?

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Fiction from Georgia edited by Elizabeth Heighway

Walaschek’s Dream by Giovanni Orelli

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Transparency by Marek Bienczyk

Dadaoism: An Anthology edited by Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp

Lectures on Russian Literature by Vladimir Nabokov

Celebrant by Michael Cisco

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

Engines of Desire by Livia Llewellyn

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Rondo by Kazimierz Brandys

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose MacAulay

Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage by Tim Robinson

Stones of Aran: Labyrinth by Tim Robinson

Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin

Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec

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Dra- by Stacey Levine

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson

Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains by Barbara Hurd

Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination by Barbara Hurd

Entering the Stone: On Caves and Feeling through the Dark by Barbara Hurd

Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction edited by Brit Mandelo

The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits

Incoming Books: Polish Dying Earth Antho, Dalkey Archive, Blake Butler, and More

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Just a few of the incoming books in the last day or two. The book in the upper left is the Polish edition of the Songs of the Dying Earth antho edited by Gardner Dozois and George RR Martin, including my story that I now call “Grod Impatient With All.”

Below the cut you’ll find new titles from Lazy Fascist press, Lethe, and Dalkey, among others. To be honest, the titles from LF and Lethe use this kind of uncoated matte cover stock that feels unpleasantly like slightly rough latex. It’s very hard for me to hold them for even a couple of seconds as the texture makes me nauseous. I’m going to have to rip the covers off to read them. Does anyone else have this reaction to that texture? Ann doesn’t. The books themselves look cool.

[Read more…]

Treasures From Abroad: Secret Europe, Tartarus Press, Eric Orchard Art

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Lots of incoming mail, but just a few gems to show off for now…

Eric Orchard is selling the original, large, hand-painted pages of the comic art he did for my story “The Situation. He was kind enough to send me this one, but you can still buy a page if you’re interested, I believe.

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Tartarus Press spoiled me by sending these beauts, which we’ll feature on Weirdfictionreview.com soon: work by Aickman, William Hope Hodgson, and a Jason A. Wyckoff collection that looks interesting. You can buy all of these and more at their website.

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Ex Occidente sent Secret Europe, an oversized limited hardcover collection by John Howard and Mark Valentine, which we’ll also be featuring on Weirdfictionreview.com. You can order the book here. A couple more shots of this beautifully crafted tome…

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Eric Basso Week at Weirdfictionreview.com

Commander Galaxy
(Eric Basso in a lighter moment, and a different career…)

One of the great discoveries Ann and I made while editing The Weird compendium was the work of US author Eric Basso. His neo-Gothic, beautifully strange fiction, poetry, plays, and nonfiction are without a doubt essential reading for anyone who loves weird literature. He has had a cult following among avant-garde gothic writers since “The Beak Doctor” was first published by the Chicago Review in 1977. Since then he has published a novel, several plays, many poetry collections, and a book of nonfiction. In part, “The Beak Doctor” reads like a modern, more Joycean version of the first selection in The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, Alfred Kubin’s “The Other Side,” in that the nameless city is plagued by a strange sleeping sickness.

So we’re very happy to be hosting a week of appreciating the works of Eric Basso over at Weirdfictionreview.com. If you’ve never read Basso before, or read critical essays on his work, you’re in for a treat.

We’re running more material tomorrow and Friday, but for now here are the relevant links, with teasers…

Our managing editor, Adam Mills, provides his thoughts on Basso, and welcomes readers: His writing is marked by a quality I would label as simultaneity. Oftentimes within even the same paragraph, there are details and cues suggesting actions taking places at different levels of action, possibly even in different locations. It is left up to the reader to try and maintain the order of events while they read his writing. More often than not, typical conceptions of time and causality cannot be taken as givens.

Mills also interviews Basso: “I was a great admirer of the principles of Surrealism, the daring mind-experiments they performed on themselves, which really carries back to Rimbaud. So I began, at nineteen, to experiment on my own consciousness, particularly the process through which we pass from the conscious to the unconscious every time we fall asleep. What most would regard as an eccentricity became a discipline with me. I was able to remember and recount the bizarre and illogical journey that takes place, on a daily basis, in our heads. I learned to lie still, immediately after waking from a dream, so I could seize the memory of it before it slipped away.”

An exclusive excerpt from Basso’s most famous work, “The Beak Doctor”: Before the mask. I must at least go through the motions for as long as the antitoxin can keep me awake. An increase from 0.5ml. of a 2,000 million per ml. vaccine, given as the first dose. My eyelids are get¬ting heavy. A little while, and yet a while longer, to follow the tick of the clock (corner-of-the-eye hallucinations: livid specks that seem to jump out of the walls before a glance decomposes them), and I will have begun to dream. A window impossible to distance. Somewhere beyond the grimy panes there was, there is, another room, high above Promontory Wall, where he used to spend his time.

Larry Nolen’s 101 Weird Writers appreciation of Basso and “The Beak Doctor”: As the story unfolds and the narrator wanders through a city afflicted with a strange sleeping sickness, he encounters strange sights, such as a “headless shirt with no visible legs. One bare arm reaches slowly for the glass stem. Suddenly the hand draws back, as though a spark had passed from the smoky helix through the tip of one of its fingers.” There are even deeper, weirder mysteries to be encountered as he moves on through the city.

Weird fiction icon D.F. Lewis chronicles his real-time encounter with Basso’s Beak Doctor: Imagine the almost endless ‘sweep-shot’ of the Dunkirk madness in the film ‘Atonement’?–?here densely textured, bememorised, TS Eliot blended with Dickens, a cruelly fog-masked synaesthetica of a journey over variegated surfaces and amid befogged characters towards an inconclusive ‘Roundhouse’, a bookful journey by the I-Narrator doctor (interspersed, say, with a cat’s journey (Maybury’s cat?)), a stumbling rite-of-passage through a modern (post-holocaust?) world become Dickensian again as transcended by a discrete imagination that is granted you by the author as your imagination…

Part 1 of Basso’s own brilliant essay “Annihilation”: The human head may be taken as an ideal model for the contradictions inherent in animastic annihilation. Consider the case of a corpse newly dead and in full habit; that is, of one who has died without suffering the ravages of starvation or disease. The flesh lends itself readily to a close, pore by pore examination; its finest details gain an incredible sharpness by virtue of their immobility. Nostril hairs, commissures of tooth and gum, shallows between half-open lips where the tongue curls in the dry cavern of the mouth, these are subtleties that go far beyond even the most skillfully crafted waxworks effigy, though the skin, through the slow gravitation of blood to a lower depth, assumes the pallor of dulled candlewax. Often, as in litera¬ture, a physiognomy much troubled in life can ransom a few lost years from the brief repose preceding rigor mortis; fretlines may yield to a smooth, unaccustomed complexion as the eyes flatten under their lids, settling fast in the skull’s sockets.

Matthew Pridham’s excellent dissection of Basso’s work, from the Beak Doctor on to several other texts: Basso’s oeuvre is a challenging one, filled with odd states of consciousness and mutable, disorienting realities, as well as a referential, grimly poetic style. These pieces reward careful attention and a willingness to temporarily surrender some of one’s expectations. I hope that new trends in critical theory and genre tastes will bring his work the broader readership it deserves. Those who delve into it will come away with an enhanced sense of what is possible in fiction as well as the sensation of having briefly visited a strange new, yet oddly familiar, world.

Selected poetry from Basso:

what I could feel on my eyes
blank spatulate tips of stone
cold against the heaviness of the lids
hands caked with coal slivers and dust
and no ointment to salve the horror
of the haunting ground below

And, finally, Larry Nolen’s “Caught in a Moment,” providing some insightful thoughts into Basso’s poetry: Throughout “Villa of the Mysteries,” references to “dreams” and “blindness” abound. There are references to dreams that foretell horror and doom, dreams of separation. Blindness lurks in the dark caverns, in the personified monster, in fates that are unseen by others. Both are bound together in the person of Tiresias, whose own fate figures in several Greek poems and myths. “Villa of the Mysteries” grabs attention quickly because it cuts straight to the heart of the matter: we often enter labyrinths that confuse us, upset us, and make us turn our heads away in shame and eagerness to forget what we have just encountered.

Tomorrow we’re running part 2 of Basso’s essay “Annihilation” and a great appreciation by John H. Stevens…