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My Novella “The Cage”–Now Available at PodCastle as a Podcast

Jeff VanderMeer • September 11th, 2012 • Audio, Fiction

PodCastle has just posted the podcast reading of my novella “The Cage,” originally published in City of Saints and Madmen and reprinted in at least one year’s best. The story can also be found in The Weird.

I first had the idea for “The Cage” at a bar mitzvah party. I saw a strange-looking cage wedged high up in a corner of a ledge in the banquet area. It didn’t seem to fit. I worried that detail in my mind for quite awhile, not sure what it meant. Then one day we were traveling back from some event on the Florida coast and we passed by the University of Tampa, which is housed in part in an old former hotel. It was after hours, and we walked around that place, which was eerie and somewhat like The Shining hotel in both the decor and the way the silence was watchful. And behind glass, in an exhibit: another cage. At which point, something was sparked in my imagination and I suddenly had the core of the idea for the story.

Atlas by Dung Kai-Cheung

Jeff VanderMeer • September 2nd, 2012 • Book Reviews

My google feed brought me this possible gem today: Atlas, by Dung Kai-Cheung. I’m buying it right now.

Here’s a description:

Set in the long-lost City of Victoria (a fictional world similar to Hong Kong), Atlas is written from the unified perspective of future archaeologists struggling to rebuild a thrilling metropolis. Divided into four sections — “Theory,” “The City,” “Streets,” and “Signs” — the novel reimagines Victoria through maps and other historical documents and artifacts, mixing real-world scenarios with purely imaginary people and events while incorporating anecdotes and actual and fictional social commentary and critique.

Much like the quasi-fictional adventures in map-reading and remapping explored by Paul Auster, Jorge Luis Borges, and Italo Calvino, Dung Kai-cheung’s novel challenges the representation of place and history and the limits of technical and scientific media in reconstructing a history. It best exemplifies the author’s versatility and experimentation, along with China’s rapidly evolving literary culture, by blending fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in a story about succeeding and failing to recapture the things we lose. Playing with a variety of styles and subjects, Dung Kai-cheung inventively engages with the fate of Hong Kong since its British “handover” in 1997, which officially marked the end of colonial rule and the beginning of an uncharted future.

Japan Times has this review, which reads in part, “The faux-scholarship in this section is beautifully done and is equaled, though in a different vein, in the next part, where we move from theory to The City, an entity approached not directly, of course, but through maps and documents such as Round the World on the Sunrise by John Smith, a chronicle of, among other things, Smith’s movements on Aug. 9, 1907, the day he spends in Victoria. In Smith’s account, with characteristic subtlety, Dung mocks colonial travelers and the memoirs that reveal their odd interpretations of cultures to which they can only condescend.”

Interview with the author here.

Book Murderer Excerpt for Hal Duncan’s Storybusking

Jeff VanderMeer • August 31st, 2012 • Fiction, News, Uncategorized

Hal Duncan, the juggernaut responsible for Ink and Vellum, is storybusking. Go help him out–he’s a great writer. And in solidarity with him, here’s an excerpt from a novel I’m working on, The Book Murderer. If you like what you read, go donate something to Hal.

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Dean Francis Alfar: Read New Fiction, Buy His New Collection

Jeff VanderMeer • August 29th, 2012 • Culture, Fiction, News

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Dean Francis Alfar is an excellent short story writer whose second collection How to Traverse Terra Incognitais now available on Amazon and elsewhere in e-book form. The book comes with blurbs from such luminaries as Hugo Award winners Ann VanderMeer and Lynne M. Thomas, among others.

Not familiar with Alfar? Here’s what you need to know.

Alfar is a Filipino playwright, novelist and writer of speculative fiction. His plays have been performed in venues across the country, while his articles and fiction have been published both in his native Philippines and abroad, such as in Strange Horizons, Rabid Transit, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and the Exotic Gothic series. His literary awards include the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature and then Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Award. He is an advocate of the literature of the fantastic, editing the Philippine Speculative Fiction series, as well as a comic book creator and a blogger. Alfar is also an entrepreneur who runs several businesses. He lives in Manila with his wife, fictionist Nikki Alfar and their two daughters.

So here’s a proposition for you, since I’m a big fan of Alfar’s work. Below the cut, Alfar is allowing me to post “Enkantong-bato,” his entry from the bestiary anthology Ann and I are editing—totally new fiction, not found in the collection, free for you to read. Exclusive to this blog post and only available here for the next month. BUT, if you read and enjoy it, please do me favor and go buy How to Traverse Terra Incognita. The fact is, you’ll actually be doing yourself a favor!

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Borne: The Balcony Cliffs

Jeff VanderMeer • August 27th, 2012 • Fiction

Another novel I’ve been working on and hope to finish soon is entitled Borne. Here’s an early section, mostly exposition, that I’m not sure will survive intact in the final novel. Borne is set in a kind of post-collapse city.

My relationship with Wick was complicated by more than our sleeping arrangements. It was defined by where we lived, in the ruins of what I had dubbed the Balcony Cliffs. By the time I found the sea anemone, our fates in that place had become intertwined: Wick provided his biotech and chemical deceptions and I provided my talent for building traps both physical and psychological.

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Brit Mandelo’s Beyond Binary Interview

Jeff VanderMeer • August 27th, 2012 • Book Reviews

beyond binary

Over at Omnivoracious.com you’ll find my feature on the excellent anthology Beyond Binary, including quotes from an interview I conducted with editor Brit Mandelo. Go check it out and recommend it to your friends! And below you’ll find Mandelo’s full answers to a couple of the questions; I couldn’t include everything due to length considerations.

What do you think makes SF/F ideal for exploring ideas and issues related to gender and sexual identity?

I think that the astounding range of possibilities speculative fiction offers for asking vital questions, reinterpreting or discarding contemporary mores, and breaking boundaries is what makes it ideal for exploring issues of gender and sexuality. SFF not only allows us to ask “what if?,” it also allows us to make real whatever we can imagine—the very nature of the form, as a literature of extrapolation and invention, opens up a field of discourse where everything has potential and anything is possible. This nearly unlimited ability to explore, expand, and explode definitions makes speculative fiction the only form that can effectively transcend and truly embody an equally vast multitude of potential gender and sexual identities.

In the same vein, Joanna Russ’s argument for speculative fiction is one that resonates with me, too, and I tend to quote it when asked a question like this. She said, “science fiction […] provides myths for dealing with the kind of experiences we are actually having now, instead of the literary myths we have inherited, which only tell us about the kinds of experiences we think we ought to be having.” In SFF, we can deal authentically with issues of identity and self in a way that is often effaced or barred from traditional literary forms; being able to twist and restructure reality in narrative is a powerful tool for social criticism. In fact, I’d say that the tools for social criticism are natural to and almost inseparable from the same narrative machinery that drives speculative fiction to begin with—that willingness to ask questions, to imagine, and to invent worlds that are not quite like our own. Speculative fiction, then, offers a golden opportunity for folks whose stories are often silenced to encompass their narratives, their identities, in a form that is—in a lot of ways, though this is a whole different argument—itself a sort of outsider literature.

I’m curious as to what kinds of effects stripping out gender referents has on fiction, in your opinion?

When done well, it can destabilize narrative assumptions about gender—and, even more so, reader assumptions. When we begin reading a story, we make assumptions based on hints and clues from the narrative, yes, but also based on our own implicit worldview. I’m as guilty of this as anyone; it’s just a way that we make meaning during the reading process. But, when a story manages to sidestep gender referents and craft a narrative not mediated by explicit gender, that’s something special: it forces the reader to step back and check their own assumptions about character gender, and destabilizes the assumption that everyone presents a specific gender. The thematic force of a narrative that rests on an agendered, neutrois or un-gendered person can also be pretty stellar, challenging mythologies of gender performance and the binary of male/female that the English language so commonly subscribes to. (And, on a craft level, writing without gendering a character is a pretty thrilling display of technical mastery. It’s hard to overstate the control and precision required to write, and write well, without pronouns or gendered language.)

The Book Murderer (excerpt)

Jeff VanderMeer • August 25th, 2012 • Fiction

For awhile now I’ve been working on a novel entitled The Book Murderer. It’s a strange hybrid in that it has satirical elements (sending up all aspects of book culture) but becomes more and more psychologically three-dimensional as it goes along and you come to know the main character’s background. It probably has a little bit of something to offend everyone. And it’s incredibly sweary, for those who don’t like the sweary… (As readers should know by now, I often write characters I don’t agree with or don’t agree with in all particulars…)

Here’re the opening sections…

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More Weird…

Jeff VanderMeer • August 23rd, 2012 • Culture

Just a few things to mention in the aftermath of the Weird Tales debacle. I’m speaking for myself only in this, not for Ann VanderMeer. And if you’re not interested—no worries. There’s lots of interesting stuff upcoming on the blog that has nothing to do with this issue, including updates on Weirdfictionreview.com.

I’ll start with some links that I think are relevant:

—Adam Mills puts the entire incident into a wider context, which lacks only a few items, such as Marvin Kaye posting on author walls on Facebook soliciting stories prior to the announcement of the change in editors; the new editors discarding the electronic submissions portal; imposing erratic submission windows; and offering a terrible e-issue for last year’s World Fantasy convention made worse by a bizarre postcard advertisement that implied Neil Gaiman (or “Neil Fucking Gaiman” as they referred to him) and other World Fantasy Con guests of honor were in the e-issue (they were not). Maybe some of the information in Mills’ post and here will be of use for aspiring magazine editors re what not to do. Although, frankly, most of this appears to fall under the category of Duh.

—SFFWorld has an interesting discussion worth reading in its entirety.

—Larry Nolen offers up a cogent analysis of the controversial novel itself, with which I concur. There are certainly controversies that arise in which the interpretation is debatable. This is not one of them.

—The Guardian also offers a review that hits on some key issues.

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The Art of the Literary Fake–Now Online

Jeff VanderMeer • August 23rd, 2012 • Book Reviews

My essay “The Art of the Literary Fake (with violin)” is now online at the New Haven Review’s website. At over 9,000 words it’s my longest essay since I wrote about Angela Carter almost 20 years ago. I’m appreciative of the opportunity, courtesy of Brian Slattery, and I hope you enjoy the results. The essay references everything from mad penguin researchers to capybaras, bizarre crayfish dictionaries to Nabokov.

Excerpt:

“Play isn’t academically rigorous, can’t be easily quantified, and suggests a border that criticism cannot cross. The Quintus Erectus that lies peacefully in the morgue, awaiting dissection, suddenly slips through our fingers when we produce the scalpel, and then reappears, grinning at us mysteriously from a chair across the room. It’s as if a mischievous but highly intelligent ghost haunts the text. To speak of a ghost directly, and especially an unpredictable ghost, is to be seen as childish or superstitious, even though we are all childish and superstitious.”

Editors, Influence, and You

Jeff VanderMeer • August 14th, 2012 • Writing Tips

SF Signal just posted a podcast dealing with the aftermath of the writer Genevieve Valentine being harrassed at ReaderCon, which included the fall-out from ReaderCon not following its own zero tolerance policy. The panel consisted of Stina Leicht, Mur Lafferty, Jaym Gates, and Carrie Cuinn with Patrick Hester asking the questions. Hester didn’t do the best job in the world this time around, in my opinion, but the input from the interviewees is excellent.

One thing not related to Valentine or ReaderCon that came up during the podcast discussion was a report from a prior World Fantasy Con about an editor trading off of his influence to hit on women writers, especially up-and-coming writers where the power imbalance is very severe. The suggestion being, put up with this because I can help your career.

I mention this because I think it’s important that every writer, beginning or otherwise, know that this is absolutely, terribly, awfully wrong and no one ever should have to put up with this kind of behavior. Or any lesser variant of it. And also that no one editor out there has enough influence to have a dampening affect on your career if you have to tell them where to go. And that most all editors out there will be horrified and pissed off to hear of such behavior by a colleague and want to punch their teeth through the back of their face.

Beyond the harrassment, Valentine also was on a panel during which she was heavily condescended to by the male moderator. This is also not okay, should never be okay, and I don’t think it’s entirely out of bounds for audience members to address such an issue as it comes up—or other panelists to do so. The other general issue being men talking over women panelists, not listening to them, etc. Also not okay. Which should be obvious. (For my part, I tend to get into manic modes that sometimes coincide with being on a panel, and I will happily shut the fuck up if told to shut the fuck up, should I forget to stop going on and on. Although I also do try my best to self-regulate and be a responsible member of all panels I’m on—a good moderator is always appreciated in this regard, too.)

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In a different context, I got to thinking about the editor-writer power balance in general, outside of toxic situations. Which is to say, although I personally am beginning to enter the Old Fart stage of my career, I still often feel like an up-and-coming outsider—and that is certainly the vantage from which I usually conduct my conversations, whether in email or in person. I do not see much distance between myself and some writer in their twenties. If I drop a newbie writer a line, it’s generally in a relaxed and informal mode, for instance. But what I’ve come to realize is that no matter how I might see things, some beginners will attach more weight to your words than you yourself expect. And this, quite frankly, horrifies me. I love that people enjoy the books we put out, but please don’t give too much authority or…whatever the word is…to any editor or writer. Seek out those who produce books you love, learn whatever you think you can from them, and that’s it. (Besides, it has a calcifying effect on Old Farts…we tend to turn to stone much sooner, babbling out of our rapidly solidifying mouth-parts ridiculously boring anecdotes from the old days.)

This blog post feels as if I only kind of got at the meaning I wanted to convey, but hopefully it’s good enough.