Nonfiction This Year: Scenes, Weird Florida, Black Clock, Black Mirror, Squirrels, and More


It’s been quite a year for me writing-wise. I’ve finished a couple of long novellas–“Bliss” and “The Journals of Doctor Mormeck”–made significant progress on two novels and something weird called “Nice Is Just Another World for Terrible,” and I wrote a fair amount of short fiction.

This in addition to selling the movie rights to my forthcoming novel Borne to Paramount and having The Big Book of Science Fiction, co-edited with my wife Ann, come out from Vintage. We also were able to fund a year of The Octavia Project through our VanderMeer Creative corporation and broker a deal with NYRB Classics to reprint David R. Bunch’s brilliant Moderan collection from the 1970s. And, finally, I served as the Trias writer in residence at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and we had many other adventures too numerous and various and splendid to go into.

But I did want to point out the nonfiction I published this year as I’m very proud of it. I’m very thankful to Sophie Gilbert at the Atlantic online, Caroline Kellogg at the Los Angeles Times, Justine Jordan at The Guardian, Emily Firetog at The Literary Hub, and everybody at Electric Literature (including Lincoln Michel and Halimah Marcus) for giving me a home to write about cool and interesting stuff. Also thanks to LARB for posting this conversation between me and philosopher Tim Morton.

–M. Suddain’s Hunters & Collectors was one of the best novels of the year and horribly underrated. I wrote about H&C for The Guardian. “On the one hand, it’s a galaxy-spanning space opera with intrigue, adventure and fascinating tech extrapolations. On the other, it’s a hilarious, almost Nabokovian account of a food critic’s gastronomic misadventures as he conducts a tour of restaurants on dozens of far-flung planets. Suddain manages the almost impossible task of balancing cosmic scope with slapstick, intricate wordplay and dialogue at times worthy of PG Wodehouse.”

–Elizabeth McKenzie’s The Portable Veblen was another favorite of mine this year and justly received awards attention and critical acclaim. I wrote about the novel for the Los Angeles Times. “With so light a touch and yet more serious and beautiful and relevant than many a weightier novel, “The Portable Veblen” has the feel of an instant, unlikely classic.”

–D.G. Compton’s  dystopian SF novel The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe was reissued by New York Review of Books Classics and I wrote a new introduction for it. The Atlantic kindly reprinted the intro online.  “Yet Katherine Mortenhoe remains as relevant today as more obvious classics from the 1970s. This is largely because the novel stands apart from its times, but it is also because it displays an astonishingly easy intimacy and interiority. These are the hardest effects for a novelist to achieve, and all too often novels that critique media take on a metallic patina, a shell-like hardness as a result of this lack of fluidity.”

–Craig Pittman’s “Oh, Florida!”, a lovely compendium of everything strange about this state, prompted me to write a more general article for the Los Angeles Times about what’s worth preserving about our wilderness and our uniqueness. “Then there was the time when, as a kid, my mom asked me to go retrieve a colorful buoy out on some mud flats in the Florida Keys and I sunk into the goo to my waist and had to be hauled out with a rope. And all too recently I opened my car trunk to an eruption of fungi after a thunderstorm and was so unnerved I drove off with my pant leg caught in the door and in the middle of driving started screaming because I thought some animal was in the car with me.”

–I got to view the third season of Black Mirror in advance and write about it at length for The Atlantic. This was some of the most fun I had writing in 2016, especially in suggesting Darth Vader should run a vineyard. But also in just getting to immerse myself in a TV show and analyze it. I’d never written about TV before. “What the best of these episodes share is a dislocation caused by opening up the context, as if experiencing a telephoto lens that keeps widening our perspective far beyond expectation. With an eerie precision, our sense of the context and characters changes because the scriptwriters keep pushing inexorably outward, often past the point where a lesser show would end.”

–Visiting The Octavia Project over the summer led to an interview with one of the founders about the value of diversity and unique voices, published over at Electric Literature. “Named after Octavia Butler, the Octavia Project uses girls’ passion in science fiction, fantasy, fan-fiction, and gaming to teach them skills in science, technology, art, and writing, equipping them with skills to dream and build new futures for themselves and their communities.”

–Wanting to do some kind of tribute to the wonderful lit mag Black Clock, now deceased, I found myself also caught up in a mystery of bureaucracy and archiving when it turned out the online manifestation had been taken down and the physical back issues pulped. I wrote about BC and the situation for the Literary Hub. I also interviewed editor Bruce Bauman and Lit Hub posted my short story from BC’s last issue

–I retired a lecture this year, about scenes, based on part of my writing guide Wonderbook. Electric Literature was kind enough to post a long, edited version of that lecture, with diagrams, and it went on to become the fifth most popular article they published in 2016. Here is the Hand of Possibilities from that lecture…art by Jeremy Zerfoss.

2 comments on “Nonfiction This Year: Scenes, Weird Florida, Black Clock, Black Mirror, Squirrels, and More

  1. Hi Jeff. Congratulations to you and Ann on an extraordinarily creative, productive year!

  2. Matt Black says:

    The more you shall honor Me,
    the more I shall bless you.
    -the Infant Jesus of Prague
    (<- Czech Republic, next to Russia)

    trustNjesus, dood,
    and wiseabove to Seventh-Heaven…
    cuz the other realm aint too cool.
    God bless your indelible soul.

    Google+: kold_kadavr _flatliner

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