Right, I'm off.

I have transitioned over to LiveJournal.

New address for those who care: http://thexmedic.livejournal.com/

Blame Ekaterina Sedia. It's all her fault.


what i've been up to

I've been very quiet on the old blog, pretty much because I'm working on a novel, and that is sucking all spare time from me. I don't have the balls Paul Jessup does, to put it all up online, so you'll just have to trust me...

In other news, I just sold my short story "Between the Lines" to Farrago's Wainscot. It describes itself thusly:
Farrago's Wainscot is an exhibition of weirds, an almanac of experimentation, decay, and the problems with form. We present ideas: stories that estrange themselves, articles on anything from wormholes to haberdashery, poetry that makes of metaphor a transubstantial sigh—a hesitation at the thresholds of contemporary consciousness and interstitial art.
which is just plain cool if you ask me. Anyhoo, I'm very excited. Previously my story "The Histories of Now" was published as part of the Post-Industrial-Fantasy issue of Behind the Wainscot, Farrago's side-project and repository of shorter works (which I also like, but, of course, I would).

Anyway, that's enough hideous self-pimpage and linkage from me.


the greatest fight ever

Bruce Lee vs Chuck Norris.

Ever. Ever, ever, ever.

check it

Paul Jessup is doing something very cool: the transparent novel. He's putting
everything up on the web, all his preparatory writing, thoughts on process, plus the stuff itself, first drafts, edits, etc. For anyone interested in seeing how someone goes about doing this, then it's already promising to be a fascinating project. And if you're simply interested reading great fiction, then I think it's going to be good for that too.



Brief break in rant transmission: I sold my short story "Debut-de-siecle" (you'll just have to imagine I bothered to put all the appropriate accents in there) to Fantasy Magazine.


Now back to being grumpy...
one more thing

Elves. Or dwarves. Or pretty much any race that's defining characteristic will be: its race. Because you know what that is? That's racism. Saying, oh he/she behaves this way because he/she is an elf is racist. It's making an assumption about them based upon their race.

But woah, woah, woah, you say they really are a different race. They're fundamentally biologically different.

And if you say that then you're talking bullshit. Because they're made up! They're not biologically different. They can't be. They're fictional! And what's more, they behave just like people, except, I don't know, they love trees and are all employed as trackers. WTF? But because of the itty-bitty little fact of their non-reality, these characters of other races automatically lend themselves towards representing the "other". And there is no more maligned race in this world than the "other". Perpetuating that by defining a character by their race (be they elvish, martian, whatever) is racist.

Now I'm not against other races per se, but if you're going to use them, treat them like a diverse social group, which they surely would be. Unless you have giant ant people with hive mind or something. Then it's OK.

Wait... no... no it's not. Because what possible metaphor could giant, hive-mind ant people be but for the uniformity of the other? So don't use them either. They're on the goddamn list.


more on plot big-ness

OK, big plot--what's out? Quest objects for sure. I mean, in the entire twentieth, and beginning of the twenty-first centuries has there been any one object that has solved all our problems? No. There have been some wonderful advances in medicine, communications, etc, that have revolutionized the way we live, but no one thing has solved all our problems. Indeed no single one technology has revolutionized the way we live, instead it has been a steady stream of small things all culminating upon each so it seems that way. To claim that some gem, or mystical sort, or whatever shit can do this, is puerile escapism. Only the subsequent dashing of that hope is relevant. More interesting perhaps is what to do, once the quest object is achieved--because you know that shit's going to open a can of worms. Golden ages exist only in our nostalgic minds. They can never be recreated because they never truly existed.

Trilogies. Your plot may be big. But seriously, in all honesty, is it that big? Or are you just padding for marketability? Making your fiction "marketable" is killing your fiction. Well, neutering it at the very least. And I for one want my fiction to go out there, fuck as many minds as it can, and have babies.

Lessons brought back that change the way we live. It would be wonderful if it happened, if the lesson we learned was universally accepted, if everyone looked at us and nodded their heads and said, yes, you are right. Hell, why do you think I blog. But it doesn't happen. We shout alone into empty rooms. Maybe somebody next door might hear, but they're probably out having a good time. Also, what if someone has a different opinion? If there's one thing the past ten years should have taught us, it's that we don't know the only way to do things, and we almost certainly don't know the best way. And when we try to tell people we do know it, they get pissed. Yes, characters should change, should learn, should grow, but expecting everyone to follow suit, it stretches believability beyond its breaking point. The ripples individuals make are small. Only together can they make the pool spill its banks. And that sort of rainstorm isn't achieved by one person sharing their new-found knowledge.

Feudalism-lite. Do I really have to go into this? Really? How many benevolent dictators can you think of?

So what should be in the new big plot? Look to the world, not to the world as it is portrayed but to the world as it is, at the bewildering mass of news, at your messy, complicated personal life. Look at the chaos that we try to order everyday and bring that madness, that mess to the table.

Mess is the future of big plot. The petty everyday motives that drive people, their personal hopes and dreams which only coincidentally affect the bigger picture. The big picture is there, but it has a realistic focus in people's consciousness. This will have certain requirements, I'm sure: broadening the focus, the number of lead character's (though plentiful character's has never been that much of a problem in the big plot fantasies I recall), a reassessment of what it actually takes to cause change in this world (fantasy may finally have to take politics seriously), why things change. Bureaucracy and coincidence will all have an increased role. And I know that they don't sound like big plot elements, but these things, these little things I'm advocating are not the be all and end all of the new big plot, they are simply the new groundwork that big plot must build up from, must take into consideration. Who knows the end product may be remarkably similar, but, goddammit, as long as we're thinking, trying to bring the basics up to date, then the wonderful genre I grew up loving, and still love to this day, has a future.

Now go write wonderful inventive genre fiction that ignores all my advice/random posturing and prove me a jackass.


interesting definition of "real"

just came across this and I had to share it...

Are the riding lizards in the Drizzt Do'urden books real? If so, could someone tell me their stats?

plot in a big way

Just trying to get some thoughts out of my head here. Bear with me...

I've been thinking about the term "literary fiction". It seems to have two connotations:

1. Quality--if something's "literary" then it's of value, it's worth-reading. Works that are "literary" are therefore perceived of as being of greater intellectual worth than genre books.

2. Plot-lite--Literary novels do not have the great steep plot-arcs of genre fiction. They concentrate on character, mood, setting, all the other parts that make up a novel.

Now, since the advent of New Weird in the early nought-y's there's been a movement for bringing more literary values to fantasy. This is not to say that this is what New Weird demanded (though the people involved in that furor certainly did seem to aspire to better quality fiction, and who can blame them), rather it was about capturing the zeitgeist, writing about the now, rather than some non-existent commiseratory past made up by Tolkein. However, as very few of the literary-fiction types claim to be New Weird types then I'm not sure it's important, except as a historical marker for this sort of fiction getting a wider audience.

With this, I think, there has been a drop off in the steep arcs of sci-fi's pulp past. Which is kind of funny 'cos Mieville referred to New Weird as the pulp wing of the surrealist movement. In fact, as I think about it now, Mieville is really still doing exactly what I want to do: big plots, literary values. I want the big plots to make a come back. I want people desperately rushing to save the world. I want it done in a vaguely realistic and well-written way.

Big plot's can survive the literary-isation of genre fiction, they just can't be ridiculous big plots. Big plot in fantasy isn't defined by one man and his sword fighting to save humanity. The world is in peril all the time, but groups of people act to save it. A million tiny events, a million actors all working on their own agendas effect events. Pull out a few of the more significant players, a few of the more significant factors, don't ignore coincidence, and plot can survive, transformed yes, but still a towering behemoth. Increased complexity just means the writing is more of a challenge, not that it can't be done (not that I'm suggesting the literary writers of now can't do big plot, they just have different goals than I do). So, dammit, I'm going to try to do it.
yet more hideous self-pimpage

So, I just found out that my story "The Blank Card" is going to be in Ann Vandermeer's inaugural issue of Weird Tales. Issue #347, the October/November issue. Being there front for her big WT debut is getting me very excited.


yet another reason to subscribe to electric velocipede

Well, it's another reason if you're my mum...

Mr John Klima has bought my story "The Dissection of an Imaginary Beetle."



oh boy, oh boy, oh boy...


'Nuff said.
subscribe to electric velocipede

Electric Velocipede is a fantastic zine. It publishes wonderful authors (Jeff Vandermeer, Jeff Ford, Cat Valente, Paul Jessup, Hal Duncan, etc.) and it does so very professionally. It's a really great way to spend your time and money. The publisher, Mr John Klima, posted today about looking to get more subscribers, so I just wanted to quote what he has to say about the benefits of subscription. I'm off to spend my cash right now.

What You Get Out of It

So, here are a few things to keep in mind while you consider whether to subscribe. I will be raising the price of the zine next year from $4 an issue to $5 an issue. The issue that's coming out next year for Wiscon will be a special issue, and therefore most likely $6 or $7.

The subscription price right now is $15 for four issues. That's a savings of $1 off the cover price. However, if you subscribe now, you'll get issue #13 this year, the special Wiscon issue, and two more issues for that same $15, a savings of at least $5 off the cover price and potentially more.

There is also a patronage subscription available. For $100, you get everything that I publish (shipping is included, even for international folks), for as long as I publish. I want to keep doing this for a long time.

I have two chapbooks coming out this year: one from William Shunn and one from Robert Freeman Wexler. I will publish at least two more chapbooks. I want to increase the number of issue I publish each year. I want to change over to perfect bound color covers. I'd like to pay my authors more.



comments fixed

It turns out you had to have a blogger account to comment here. I can't think that that was my doing. Probably something automatic, part of blogger trying to take over the world or something. I don't know. But I fixed it. So if you've been just dying to tell me something, now you can.

Lucky you.


q: how excited am i?

A: very.

I have just been published for the very first time.

Which may mean little to you, but it means a lot to me.

My story "The Histories of Now" is now freely available in issue 5 (part 1) of "Behind the Wainscot."

The issue is dedicated to Paul Jessup's invention: Post-Industrial Fantasy, which he talks about in the issue.

There's some really cool author's there who I admire just a ridiculous amount: Cat Valente and Ekaterina Sedia. It's very kind of Mr Jessup to put me up in such awesome company. So I'm really honoured about that.

"Behind the Wainscot" is also WAY cool, and is an offshoot of the equally cool "Farrago's Wainscot." I've culled a little bit from their site to give you, dear reader, an idea of what the hell it's all about:

Farrago's Wainscot is an exhibition of weird, strange, bizarre, interstitial, or otherwise liminal fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and experimental forms.

Behind the Wainscot is a companion blogozine to the larger Wainscot exhibition, exploring similar ideas in smaller, more fragmentary segments.


the next big thing

Well... for me, I'm not sure about you.

Paul Jessup and I will are working on creating an excited little melting pot of steampunkery and post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Everything is early stages at this point, lots of random thoughts, odd combinations of like interests, surfing the web for everything we can that's just damn cool (like this post up at Urban Decay).

It's really exciting to be working with Paul. Not only does he run GrendelSong, which is rocking, not only did he invent post-industrial fantasy, not only is he publishing my story "The Histories of Now" (btw - boo-yah!), but he's also a fantastic writer. Check out the links on his site for free fiction and also grab PostScripts 12 when it comes out, because he's in that too. The man is a dynamo of creativity.

Anyway, enough hyperbole! Back to discussing how cool mechs are.


brief extract from wip:

There is the smell of meat and the buzz of a fly--a small insistentcy in my ears, a nagging wrong-ness that drags me back out of the abyss and up into the city real. My body is thick and useless, a flopping flesh marionette. My eyes are crusted shut. My flailing hand finally picks them open. I am in my studio again. Seigfried’s book is in my hand. Across from me lies Siegfried.

Siegfried covered in flies.

Wikibooks. Why did no one tell me?
interzone is the man

As in this is a good thing. Not as in "getting screwed by the man." This is the man we shout and cheer for.

- Why?

Because next year's May-June issue will be the Mundane issue.

- But isn't mundane boring?

Would I be blogging about it if it was?

- Well... surely that answer depends upon what I think of your blog.

Be quiet.

Anyhoo... Yeah, the mundane issue. What this boils down to is a list of stories that meet this list of rules:

• no FTL travel or communications
• no aliens
• no time travel
• no parallel universes
• no immortality or telepathy

This is awesome-ness. These are potential genre crutches, which can undermine the creativity and imagination of speculative fiction. Geoff Ryman, by kicking these crutches away, is forcing invention back into spec fic. The more we see of this sort of behavior the better. Even cooler that this is taking place in a magazine as prominent as Interzone.

- So a little bit exciting?

I said be quiet.
visual steampunkery follow-up

After blogging about some steampunk designs back on Friday I further explored the old web-space and chased a link to Keith Thompson's web-site. Simply stunning stuff. A mad mix of tarot and steampunk imagery all rendered absolutely beautifully. Incredibly inspiring stuff.


great concept, wonderful execution

I just wanted to take a moment to speak of the wonderfulness that is conceptart.org

Definitely worth checking out there forums to see what's up. Almost always something amazing every day. It's bad for my writing because it makes me want to abandon it and take up painting again. Just some marvelous visions of both fantasy and scifi. Stuff that's at least as good as you'll find in a Spectrum collection (although admittedly mixed in with some stuff that's not as good).

Specific threads that are blowing my mind right now:

Steampunk designs

pstraub's concept, matte, speed painting, and illustration work

alice in wonderland macabre/dark interpretations



Jay Lake made a really interesting post today about the difference between fantasy and sci-fi (and no, it doesn't state that sf could happen and fantasy couldn't, because who in there right mind would make an argument that silly...). I posted in comments and am vaguely satisfied with what I wrote, so rather than retype it here I thought I'd just post the link, so that you can see what other, more sensible people had to say.

So here it is: Fairy tales of future past


the soundtrack of steampunk?

Just wanted to link to the most excellent "The Dear Hunter" who have put their full album up at purevolume. Of course my musical tastes are not yours, but personally I find this to be wonderful writing music.

the post i was destined to write

I was listening to a rather groovy interview with Mr China Mié
ville on the Bat Segundo show and he was talking about characters and destiny and how he always felt it was slightly suspicious as a child. Personally, as a child, I freaking loved the stuff. Because it gave me that hope that maybe, just maybe I might be destined for something too, something big and cool, and (hopefully) magical.

This may shock, but I was a bit of a geek.

Yeah, the use of the word "was" there wasn't completely truthful.

I would know like to openly state that destiny is a crock of shit. This is not just childhood disillusionment. I have made my peace with the fact that I am not destined to throw magical fireballs and save the world. It's something I live with...

Anyhoo... the reason I want to complain about it now, is that the idea of destiny totally robs individuals (be they fictional or real) of any sense of volitional control. It fosters a mindset in which the individual can do nothing to change events, because maybe they're not a chosen one. And if they are, well they are... they don't have to do anything to become that person. And that's a dangerous mindset.

So many stories show us that people can change, but once destiny is introduced then that message is undercut and completely devalued. It's a form of learned helplessness and it benefits no-one.

We make our own fates. We may make a mess of it, but we do it. Sure situations out of our control both hinder and help us. The capricious force of coincidence is rife in the world. There are 6 billion people all with their own agendas out in the world too. But these forces are not destined to be. It may feel like that, but giving into that mindset is just another way of giving up.

So yeah, no pre-destined paths in fantasy, basically. 'nuff said.


International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day!

In celebration of the most excellent
International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day (a response to the rant by Howard V. Hendrix) I am posting a shortshort called "consumed culture", which was living in my notebook and which was otherwise likely to die there. The editing is minimal, and the thinking in it light, but I think it's the principal that counts. Scalzi for president, etc.

consumed culture

I am listening to Britney Spears when I die. We are in the car, my sister and I, counting down the top ten, our enjoyment inversely proportional to the ranking. Then the other car comes and I die.

My sister doesn’t die, just breaks her leg. I am only dead for a little while. But I am dead—lying down and not moving at all. But then, I don’t know, maybe one of the ambulance guys knows voodoo or something because he brings me back. That’s what they tell me: ‘You were dead but he brought you back.” I figure it must be voodoo. Because I’m dead, right? I just haven’t stopped moving.

It takes me a long time to work out what I am, who I am. I put on my old clothes and I go back to school, but I’m different. I know I am. I can feel it. My clothes and my friends no longer feel comfortable. None of the old labels fit me any more. I stand apart.

The worst of it is the food. I can’t eat it now. Because I’m dead. It tastes like nothing. I spit it out. But I am so hungry.

I figure maybe I’m a vampire so I buy some blood from the butchers. Pig’s stuff. I’ve seen how you can do it on TV. But it tastes so gross and it makes me gag, so I toss it down the drain.

Next I think maybe I’m a zombie. They eat brains but I’m not cool with that at all so I buy a hot dog from a vendor on the street. That shit’s got to have some spinal cord or something in it. You get all sorts of shit in those things.

But it doesn’t work, and now you wouldn’t believe how hungry I am.

Since I died, I’ve got all new clothes. All from thrift stores and places like that. None of them have designer labels because I can’t find any that fit me any more. My parents say I’m going through a phase. “Adjusting to the trauma.” I saw a shrink but her neat TV sound-bites we no longer things I could understand.

That’s another thing: the TV. I can’t understand what the people are saying any more. How can that be a phase?

Eventually I work it out. I don’t know how. But I see my sister’s T-shirt drying after the laundry and it has this great big designer logo on it, curling and unfurling all over the fabric. My mouth starts to water and I can’t help but take the T-shirt and start to push it into my mouth. Eat it, I suppose, but not that exactly, something else that I’d brought back with me from being dead.

When I’m done it is just a plain pink T-shirt. The is was gone. It’s inside me. And the hunger isn’t quite as bad. But I lose control a little then. My sister’s out and I go to her room. I go through everything she has. I eat it all.

She doesn’t seem to notice. Not like you would imagine anyway. But she feels it. So can her friends. They stand with her differently, talk to her differently. She listens to them differently. She is like me.

We take others now, one by one. You’ll see us, standing apart, clothed in blank unembroidered cloth. Our numbers are growing. None of us look alike but still you will spot us. Because we look nothing like you.
the flurry of posting continues!

While I munched on my cereal this morning I was thoroughly entertained by this video. Don't know who was responsible for the idea behind this vid, whether it was the folks in Modest Mouse themselves or the director (whose name I sadly don't know) but I love the sense of fantasy and play behind this. Enjoy. Enjoy it now!

a little bit excited

Ann Vandermeer rocks. Ninja rocks. Why, you ask. Because she bought my story "The Blank Card" to appear in Weird Tales. First pro sale. How excited am I?

Very. Obviously.

I don't know when it's coming out, but you can subscribe to Weird Tales for half-price at the moment so you could do that and eventually hermaphroditic pirate action will be yours. Whoop.
sing it with me

The inestimable Paul Jessup has released issue 2 of his most excellent magazine Grendelsong. To celebrate this he's having a virtual release party which features Catherynne M. Valente reading aloud her poetic contributions to the magazine. So that's basically awesome. To check it all out visit his blog. It's linked over on the right but you can also just click here.

All hyperbole aside, Grendelsong is a great magazine, up there with zines like Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and Electric Velocipede. Purchasing a copy is supporting the future of this wonderful genre. For what it's worth, I recommend.


me getting slighly pompous

So, recently I’ve been reading Mervyn Peake’s “Titus Groan,” the first of his Gormenghast, and it’s simply phenomenal. About half way in there is still no real sense of narrative structure but everything else is simply wonderful and the book pulls you along with the power of its wonderful eruption of prose, wit, and erudition. Never before have I been confronted with so many wonderful visions presented with such lucidity and clarity. His writing is incredible. And what’s more, for all it’s gothic trappings, it’s written with a sense of humour.

Read it, read it now.

However, I didn’t really want to talk about how great Mervyn Peake is, but rather about one of the quotes on the back, which comes courtesy of Mr C. S. Lewis. And it is this:

“[Peake’s books] are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of possible experience.”

Now, obviously there is the usual sense of book-blurb-hyperbole here, but I think the quote really strikes at the heart of what I believe fantastic fiction should be. By throwing of the trappings of the quotidian, or at least by throwing up a point of contrast against which the quotidian can be compared, fantasy doesn’t just transport the reader to other lands but transports there minds to new emotions, new perspectives, new attitudes.

It comes back to the whole escapism/engaging in the world thing.

Speculative fiction has the ability to batter the reader with more weird, crazed shit than any other genre can. It can throw up more contrast to the everyday than any other genre. And unless we are limited by the perceived limits of the genre, then its limits are those of the writer’s imagination.

If fantasy engages with the world, rather than simply offering a route out of it, it can broaden a readers mind more than any other type of fiction out there.

And it’s legal too, kids.

This is not simply a platitude though, this is a call for action. If anyone who writes speculative fiction reads this, don’t just pat yourself on the back and say “Whoop-dee-doo now I can feel good about what I write,” go away with the knowledge of the power of what you can do with your fiction and let that fuel you. Work to confront your readers with scene-scapes they have never even conceived of the possibility of occurring before. Broaden their perspectives. Make them see things differently.

Because that’s the way to change the world. And if it didn’t need changing, why would be pursuing such an escapist pastime as reading fantasy?


a personal manifesto

For a long time I have been talking (not on this site, but out there in the real world) about what sort of fiction I don't want to write in very concrete tewrms, and what I do want to writew about in very abstract terms. I think its time to firm the latter up.

But first, a caveat: this manifesto is for me, not you.

I have my own vision for what I want speculative fiction to be, but the world would be a very boring place if everyone just wrote what I advocated, What's more it would soon stultify and die. The life blood of speculative fiction (and really almost every creative endeavor) has to be change--mutation and evolution. New ideas must come along and the existing ones must react to them, develop from them, be in a dialogue with them, until they themselves become something different and are the new idea. With that in mind, I intend to revist this document about once a year, not only to see where I have succeeded and failed in my goals, but also to updaye it with any additional thinking I may (and hope to) have had.

So, please, takie thias as it is intended: a purely personal manifesto.

1. Everything that is in my stories will be there for a reason
This is the golden rule. When someone asks me why I did something, why I made a particular choice, I shall have an answer/ Asking "why" should be a critical element of the editing process. The answer "because its cool" is not good enough. Everything should served either to build on the themes of the story, or to move the plot forwards.

2. My stories will attempt to leave the world a better place than they find it
As I have stated before, the least a story should be is entertaining. This is the minimum point of success. Stories should move beyond the point of entertainment and also engage in a discussion of the world in which they exist. This world is far from perfect, there are many flaws, problems, and areas of misunderstanding. Stories should engage with these issues, raise awkward questions, expose unfairness, and, where applicable, suggest solutions.

3. My stories will be entertaining
While I have stated that this is the minimum point of success, stories do have to be entertaining in order to succeed. Boring stories fail. Of course, what is entertaining vs. what is boring is an ambiguous area. What I, personally, mean here is that my stories should contain conflict, action and resolution (the latter may well be open-ended but it will offer some sense of completion to the story). I am less and less interested in 3-Act structure and the monomyth, but I recognize the need for rising and falling action, and that I enjoyt stroies that contain these elements. While I strive to experiment with structure, if the story loses a sense of forward motion, then it is likely a failure.

4. My stories shall be clearly written and not confuse the crap out of the reader
This is not to say that I will abandon narrative structure, sentence structure, or language, or that I will abandon the depth of ideas for the breadth of appeal, simply that I shall regard these experiments as failures should they render the story and the ideas unintelligible to anyone except me. Stories are a frm of communication and should thus communicate their theme(s) and plot(s) as clearly as possible.

5. I shall push the language of my stories to be as poetic as possible
That said I am not interested in writing prose poetry. As much as I admire her work, I am not Catherynne Valente. Still, I want my stories to sound good when read aloud, the language to be rich and vibrant and to add to the reading experience. I want the languaged used to add to the emotional tone and meaning of what is written. And I want to do all that without sacrificing clarity.

6. The structure of the stories I tell shall refelect the themes of the story
The monomyth is increasingly less significant in the modern age. I shall not blindly fall back on three-act structure. Instead, the shape of the narrative should be influenced by, and attempt to reflect, the themes of the story.

7. I shall attempt to offer more questions than answers
To be honest, this is likely to be the hardest for me. My desire to influence the reader can lead to preachy endings, and, as I don't like reading that sort of thing, I don't see why I should inflict them on others. Instead of forcing my own opinions onto others I shall strive to simply get people thinking about issues, so that they can, at least, make up there own minds rather than simply accepting received wisdom.

8. When I create secondary worlds (and I shall) they shall exist as reflections of this world
Secondary worlds should not exist as places to which the reader can retreat to and escape from the real world. As previously stated, stories should deal with real world concerns. As an extension of this thought, and secondary world should reflect/mirror/be a metaphor for this world. It should be a tool with which to examine this world. The reflection, of course, will be imperfect. Certain aspects of this world will be distorted or warped to further develop the themes of the story. Otherwise why bother with a reflection?

9. I shall explore the use and updaying of mythic archetypes
While I am movinbg away from the monomyth as an archetype for stories, I am still interested in exploring mythic archetypes and seeing how they can lend power and width of appeal to a story. At the same time, they should should not be used purely for width of appeal, but should be explored for what they once signified and what they now signify, in order to add to stories depth of meaning.

10. I shall include stuff I think is cool
Steam powered suits of battle armour, cyborg monkey samurai, the word "behemoth"--hell yes. But at the same time, being cool will not be sufficient reason to include something in a story (see Rule 1). Still, whenever I can justify it, I will get my geek on.

11. My work shall not emulate or be derivative of Tolkein's work
I have no problem with TOlkein. I love his stuff and geeked out thoroughly to the Silmarillion. Yes, you heard me, the Silmarillion. What I take issue with is his cloying, clogging, stultifying legacy. I see no need to retread the ground which he so thoroughly covered. I will never write about anything with pointy frickin' ears.



So there’s been a lot of chatter in blogland about Mike Harrison’s post on worldbuilding (
http://uzwi.wordpress.com/2007/01/27/very-afraid/) and the response made by some bloke called Pat (http://fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com/2007/02/be-afraid-be-very-afraid.html).

It’ll probably help if you read them for this to make any sense, but on the other hand, I don’t think anyone reads this so…

First, Mr. Harrison. He states that “Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.” I think that what he’s talking about is an author’s insertion of detail about the story’s setting that is present purely for the sake of showing that an author has exhaustively built a world, not for the purpose of moving the story forward.I don’t see what is so controversial here. He’s arguing for good storytelling. Every part of a story should be there for a reason, that relates to the story, to the sequence of events described and the effect of those events upon the character(s). Wallowing in overblown descriptions of the rain cycle on this planet (unless it specifically relates to the two aforementioned subjects) is bad writing. Mike Harrison is arguing against extraneous fluff that should have been edited from a story anyway.

Wow – radical thinking.

And that’s the real tragedy here, that some people are taking this as radical thinking. Fantasy has become so trapped in it’s own formulae that the quality of writing is unimportant – it’s whether or not a story strictly conforms to these dictums that is important.

The more formulaic a book is, the better it is? That doesn’t sound right.

This brings us to this bloke called, Pat.

Pat disagrees with Mike Harrison’s post. Pat seems to think Mike Harrison’s post has something to do with the importance of prose over any other aspect of writing. This would only seem possible if you read “…the triumph of writing over worldbuilding” as “the triumph of prose over worldbuilding.” Maybe that’s what he’s done. But all this misunderstanding leads to this paragraph…

“If Harrison can only fall back on his prose to compete against writers who can create deep and believable characters, a vivid setting and a gripping and multilayered plot, doing it all with nice prose to boot, then he can never hope to produce works that will surpass those of his peers. Which, sadly, appears to be the case here. Hence Mr. Harrison's post.”

Just so we’re clear here, the peers Pat is referring include Stephen R. Donaldson, David Eddings, Raymond E. Feist, Terry Brooks, Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, Robert Jordan, and Terry Goodkind.

I should probably refrain from the use of adjectives at this point…

Anyway, back to the quote. This quote comes from another strand of Pat’s argument, which is “a vast majority of speculative fiction's readership is drawn to the genre for escapism”

As, I posted earlier, all novels are escapist. I want to expand this statement to include all forms of entertainment. Movies are escapist. So is music. Anything we use to take us out of the moment in which we are existing is escapist.

However, as I also stated, these forms of entertainment can achieve more than pure escapism. Again, I want to take this further. Entertainment should do more than simply entertain. Entertainment/escapism is the minimum level of success a story can achieve. If that’s all it achieves it is, in the end, disposable. I certainly consume disposable forms of entertainment, but I am equally certain that I don’t want to produce them, and I sure as shit don’t want to laud them over more powerful works.

I wouldn’t laud the books of Robert Jordan over those by Mike Harrison, for example.

Pat boosts his argument by calling Mike Harrison a number of names: elitist, literati, and mid-list. He also boosts it by pointing at sales figures.

Mike Harrison is elitist. He is. I don’t disagree with that point. I disagree with it being used as an insult. What’s wrong with being elitist, for desiring something a little more than the quotidian? What’s wrong with encouraging author’s to stretch themselves, to reach for something a little more significant? The man’s offering sound advice on how to do that to. That, to me, seems laudable.

There should be more elitists.

The other three points--literati, mid-list, and sales figures—seem to all be related. This is because Pat is judging Mike Harrison’s worth based on his sales figures. Mid-list and sales figures, seem to me, to be the same thing. And in terms of sales figures I’m sure Mike Harrison is mid-list. But in terms of quality of writing, and the quality of ideas, then I think the listing goes a little different. And that’s because, yes, he is trying to write literature of quality. And what’s wrong with that? Literature is, hmmm… writing of quality, again? Writing which does not rely purely on plot, but which goes beyond this one aspect of writing, which Pat seems to hang so much upon.

It also seems a little odd for someone who’s literary achievements are limited to a blog to call Mike Harrison mid-list…

It’s not that Mike Harrison is my favourite author, although I admire him. This defense of him is not inspired by sycophantism, but rather by the desire that people realize that his post offer sound advice. That it is a call for better fiction, less self-indulgent fiction. That it’s important, and petty pot-shots at his writing, are not a reasonable response to valuable advice.


pick 'n' mix

This isn't really my idea. The phrase is stolen from M. John Harrison, but it's been buzzing in my head for a day or two, after Gabe Chouinard made
this post.

Imagine literature as a candy store. In the candy store are a series of pick 'n' mix stands. Each stand represents a genre and is appropriately labelled. There's the Mystery stand, next to it is the Romance stand, there's Fantasy, etc, etc.

Now, at each stand is a wide variety of candy. Each candy represents a particular convention of the genre. So at the fantasy stand, there's candy representing elves, dragons, simple-minded farmboys, big swords, and possibly maybe even some candy you might want to eat.

It's the same at the Mystery stand. There's a big tray of belgium super-sleuthes, ex-cons turned PIs, and so and so forth.

Now, here's the big secret: you can take your candy from any stand in the store. You can if you want, it's up to you. But you shouldn't feel constrained.

Because that's what genres have a tendecy to become: constraints. They shackle the writer. And the worst thing is: people don't even see it. They include magic in their fantasy novels because... well, because it's fantasy. Genre conventions are included mindlessly, because that's the genre. But fantasy doesn't need magic - just read the Viriconium stories. I'm not saying it shouldn't be included, but when it is, it should be for a good reason. (A great example of this is K. J. Bishop's master The Etched City).

Genre conventions are the starting point, the launchpad. They should inspire creativity. The Dogme movement in cinema is a wonderful example. In literature, the OuLiPo model is also exciting, though it frequently limits itself to simple word games. Limits should inspire the writer to find new ways to work around them, to express what he/she is trying to express in new and exciting ways. Instead they become... well... conventions.

I think the strength of the pick 'n' mix model is that it emphasizes the arbitrariness of the ruleset. And, by exposing that arbitrary nature, it encourages the writer to move beyond it. Instead take the candy you like from any stand in the store. Create your own... well not entire genre, but sub-genre. Just like Paul Jessup did with Post-Industrial Fantasy. Here he manages to create something that's close to what genre should be: a do-it-yourself, pick-n-mix, home-brewed creation that inspire rather than constrains. You may not like Post-Industrial Fantasy, it may contain no elements you like, but that should simply prompt to create your own sub-genre. Hell, create ten, and only ever write one story for each sub-genre. But take control of genre.

Don't be genre's bitch.


arts and crafts

So the other day I came across this: Which science fiction writer are you?

Which is awesome in itself but one of it’s questions got me to thinking. It was: “Do you consider what you do to be art?” And I thought, “Hell yeah.” But then the potential answers were making a distinction between the art of writing and the craft of writing, and I wasn’t sure. So I took a peek in the dictionary.

1 : skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
2 a : a branch of learning: (1) : one of the humanities (2) plural :
3 : an occupation requiring knowledge or skill
4 a : the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced b (1) :
FINE ARTS (2) : one of the fine arts (3) : a graphic art
5 a archaic : a skillful plan b : the quality or state of being artful
6 : decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter

1 : skill in planning, making, or executing :
2 a : an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill b plural : articles made by craftspeople
3 : skill in deceiving to gain an end
4 : the members of a trade or trade association
5 plural usually craft a : a boat especially of small size b :

What’s more: one of the synonyms given for ‘art’ was ‘craft,’ and the only synonym listed for ‘craft’ was ‘art’

So, the argument for writing as art as based purely on Merriam-webster definitions (this is sounding like a worse and worse idea the more I type):
The most relevant descriptions here are:
1 : skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
3 : an occupation requiring knowledge or skill
4 a : the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects;
Writing, at least good writing, certainly requires experience, study and observation. I do not subscribe to the idea that some people can write, and some people can’t. Anyone, can do pretty much anything if they put enough time and effort in. (The problem is, what is enough?). Definition 3 is pretty much saying the same thing, except it defines it as an occupation. There are people out there lucky enough to make enough money for writing to be an occupation, but they are few and far between.
I really like definition 4. That seems to come very close to what I think of as writing except for the final two words: “aesthetic objects.” This is pretty obviously Merriam-webster’s attempt to be a catch-all for what we all mean when we say the “arts” but it strikes me as a loaded phrase, and I’m going to credit the dictionary’s writers with the intelligence to have known that because they seem like very smart people to me. Aesthetic, to me, implies beauty but also a sort of uselessness. Aesthetic objects don’t seem very functional to me. They are there to be looked at and wondered over, but little else. And I don’t want my writing to just be that. I want it to have a function: to make people think about the world they live in.

So let’s turn to crafts:
Here I like:
2 a : an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill
3 : skill in deceiving to gain an end
Especially number 3, as that ties into my whole “fiction is lying” thing that I’m on at the moment. That aside, the emphasis here seems much more on producing a functional object. Maybe, in tone, it looks down on the role of the artist a bit more, but like I said above I like the idea that what I’m producing is functional. But at the same time, I do want my work go beyond that as well, to have at least some aesthetic qualities

So here goes the whole awkward tie-in to yesterday’s ideas about escapism…

It strikes me that aestheticism is tied to escapism, while functionality is tied to the idea of social commentary. Like I said yesterday, writing cannot escape being either, it’s a question of emphasis. So the writer is both artist and artisan. How much he is of one or the other is up to him or her.

Personally, like usual, I’m going to try to aim somewhere in the middle.


the escape plan

I love fantasy fiction. That much should be clear. And whenever this subject comes up with my parents, sooner or later one of my parents will mention that it's "not about real people."

No fiction is about real people. Not even historical fiction. It uses their names, and maybe even events from their lives, but it's still fiction. Every piece of fiction, in every genre, and even "literature" that has transcended genre by the acclimation of academicians, is a lie. Hopefully, a carefully constructed, entertaining lie, but a lie all the same.

Non-speculative fiction, or "realistic" fiction, has pulled off a fantastic con job. It has convinced people (or at the very least my parents) that because it looks real, and it sounds real, and it even feels real, that it is real. But it's not. And it's certainly not about real people.

What I'm angling towards here is the subject of escapism. Another complaint often made about speculative fiction is that it's escapist, that by not writing about the real world, then we're escaping it. This is part of the con job pulled by "realistic" fiction.

"It's set in the real world, how can it be escaping it!" cries the shamelessly stereotyped adversary I just invented. Well, foolish fictional being, it can be escapist if it has nothing to do with the lives that we live. Just because it's set in the real world doesn't mean that it's necessarily engaged in meaningful cultural and/or political debate. It can be about the real world without making any meaningful comment about it.

(I use the word 'meaningful' here because, in the end, everything is culturally and politically influenced, and makes some comment about society, but it can do it to a greater or lesser extent and I am talking about the books that do it to the lesser extent).

The Da Vinci Code I am looking, vindictively, at you.

I would argue that escapism has nothing to with whether a book is mired in genre, or if it genre-less. Rather, it is to do with the author's intent.

Now, I also realize that to many the author is dead, and that in no way is a bad thing. We each have to make of a text what we can, and we're going to do it whether an author wants us to or not. All an author can do is try to direct a reader's thinking in one particular direction or another. And some author's do that more and some author's do it less, regardless of whether their fiction is set in a realistic world or not. (I've dropped the quotes, I think I've made my point).

However (and I do love to use that word), as I stated above, all fiction is a lie. And because of that all fiction is to a certain extent escapist. And while realistic fiction may have pulled a con job, a lot of speculative fiction has been written that's escapist in the extreme. And you know why? Because people want escapism. I know I do. That's why we buy fiction rather than non-fiction. (Yes, I know we buy both...)

The trick, I think, is in the mix. If it's fiction, its escapist. Don't worry about it, just go with it. But don't let that be the be all and end all. If we are to dedicate a good portion of our time to writing fiction, it seems that the only responsible thing to do is to use that medium to comment, at least somewhat, on the world around us, to be politically and culturally involved. To try to make a difference that lasts beyond the back cover.

And speculative fiction is in a position to do this better than most realistic fiction.

No, I'm serious. Because it is detached from the specifics of the quotidian, speculative fiction can look at the big picture in a way that realistic fiction can't. It can invert problems, turn them around, make us look at them in new ways. It's loose, and fast, and can ask the "what if?" questions that expand the horizons of our thinking. Realistic fiction can't do that.

With speculative fiction we can have our cake and eat it. And it's better cake than that served up by realistic fiction too. It may take a while to get used to the taste, but once you do, you'll love it.