Monday, November 30, 2009

The Secret History of Science Fiction

Hello, readers.

I had some thoughts recently about things related to stories and genres. I thought I'd write them down. Whether or not they're worth reading, or believing in, of course, is entirely up to you.

The Secret History of Science Fiction, an anthology edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly, appeared back in October. It showcases work from 1971 to the present from genre-ific writers (such as Gene Wolfe and Ursula K. LeGuin), slippery writers (such as Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem), and mainstream writers (such as Stephen Millhauser or T.C. Boyle).

The anthology's inspiration came from a thought-experiment proposed by Jonathan Lethem. In his 1998 essay for The Village Voice, "Close Encounters: The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction", Lethem pondered what would've happened if Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow had won the Nebula Award in 1974, for which it was nominated, instead of Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama.

Lethem thought that moment was "a hidden tombstone marking the death of the hope that science fiction was about to merge with the mainstream". It was the sort of essay bound to cause controversy, and also the sort of essay--full of an overzealously disappointed hope for acceptance by serious minded people--that seems to mark certain writers of speculative fiction (of which, I count myself, of course*).

The titular secret of The Secret History of Science Fiction is that, in fact, the wall between science fiction and mainstream writing has secretly been crumbling over the past thirty odd years in much the way that walls often do when very determined (or very ignorant, possibly blind, people) keep punching people-sized holes in them.

It is a thesis backed up, they say, by the science fiction tropes appearing in mainstream literature and the mainstream, erm, I mean literary**, ambition of those writers who are less secretly associated with science fiction, like Gene Wolfe.

Paul Witcover, reviewing the anthology in Locus, though, respectfully disagrees. He found that, in contrast to this idea of a merger, that science fiction (or speculative fiction if that's your cup of terminology as it is Mr. Witcover's***) and mainstream writing have not merged. This is what he says:

"I became convinced that Kelly & Kessel are wrong in a centrally important way, and that there really are substantial differences between genre speculative fiction of literary ambition and what is written outside the genre, even if it contains speculative elements. And I think these stories prove it: that is the secret history of The Secret History."

The main difference, for Mr. Witcover is that science fiction writers, such as Karen Joy Fowler or J.G. Ballard, accept their worlds, their novum, their time travelling historians, as real, whereas for someone like Don Delillo, writing about men on a space station above earth, the tropes of science fiction are treated not so much as real, as they are treated as symbols or play-things.

Here's how Mr. Witcover puts it:

"Speculative fiction writers are apt to treat the subjects of their speculations as if they were real, no matter how outlandish and unlikely; thus, speculative fiction of the highest quality often has a unique reality**** to it. It employs the tools of mimetic fiction to ground and particularize its flights of fancy, whether they be technological or magical. It takes them literally. It concretizes metaphors."


"...when mainstream writers venture into speculative fiction, it's all too often either a day at the playground, during which they feel free to cast aside the mimetic conventions they normally hold to in regard to plot, character, setting, etc., or a trip to the Olde Curiosity Shoppe, where they can pick and choose among exotic settings, objects, atmospheres, etc., to use as symbols and such in their own stories, which remain highly mimetic in a traditional sense."*****

Mr. Witcover, though, does not claim that all stories, in either mainstream or science fiction, follow these rules. People making generalizations generally claim things like this. It protects them from any exceptions you might bring up because they already told you there would be exceptions and so please be quiet already with your exceptions.

My thoughts in reading his review fell, more or less, with some few exceptions, of course, into two categories which I shall arbitrarily label This Is Seriously Quite Silly and This Is Seriously Quite Serious.

Here's a sample of thoughts from This Is Seriously Quite Silly.

Who exactly wants science fiction to merge with the mainstream? Why do they want this? What is this mainstream anyway? What is science fiction? Why does Mr. Witcover begin calling it speculative fiction? Is there unspeculative fiction? If my name is Ian McEwan and I speculate about a terrorist attack and I believe in that terrorist attack and don't treat it as a symbol does that make me a speculative fiction writer?

If a reader, on other hand, doesn't believe Ray Bradbury really believed there was a day it rained forever, does this make the reader, the writer, or the story, a member of the mainstream?

Who determines, in fact, whether something a writer writes is satirical, symbolic, or wholly believed in by the writer at the time of writing?

Are we to believe that no self-identified, or outsiderly associated, science fiction writers ever write their stories in the mode of satire? That they never have a message about the present which they aren't afraid to symbolicize in their stories?

Is, perhaps, Mr. Witcover--more than delineating a difference between mainstream and science fiction--delineating a difference between stories in general (those that believe in themselves and those that don't)?

Isn't this need to have science fiction, fantasy, etc., accepted by the mainstream, all just a left-over longing for acceptance by some authority/father/flying spaghetti monster which would presumably validate our lonely existence? Didn't we outgrow that yet?

What does it mean to have literary ambition? How do you know a story, science fiction or otherwise, has it? Is there a level of seriousness one must aspire to?

If a story doesn't believe in itself, how sad is this?

Who wants to spend their time thinking of questions like these?******

In This Is Seriously Quite Serious, I had serious thoughts about the serious subjects of identity, self-imposed ghettoization, and the conflicting need to both define oneself in opposition to, and seek acceptance from, any outside entity. It was very much like the previous category except that I tried to answer the questions. It was much less fun, and so, I will not bore you with the details.

In conclusion:

1) Labels are dumb. They should not affect how you read. You should read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice the same way--namely as if both stories are reports from a real place in which monsters exist and love confuses people. This shouldn't be all that hard since monsters do exist and love is quite confusing.

2) Labels are smart. They help us talk about things without resorting to excessively long hyphenated words or calling everything thing 1 and thing 2 and so forth. In discussing Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy one could call it an absurdist and satirical science fictional romp in which many fantastic things happen. This would take too long, though, and be impossible to fit on a shelf label. Better to try out different, individual, labels on it and see what happens. For example, one could call it Science Fiction and be yelled at by fans of Asimov who believe that science fiction should not have talking mice unless they are robot mice who cannot kill you because of three rules that Asimov made up. One could also, of course, call Hitchhiker's a fantasy, but then you'd run into the trouble of fantasy people proclaiming that Brownian Motion sounds very scientific and everyone knows that talking mice were done first, and best, in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM. But that's children's literature, though, and everyone knows that you can't take that seriously.

3) Mainstream fiction is, more or less, a genre unto itself. Saying science fiction should one day be accepted as mainstream literature is very much like saying that one day, maybe, if we hope and work hard enough, romance literature will finally, and truly, be seen as the work of fantasy that it really is.

Besides, in a hundred years, science fiction will be regular fiction fiction anyway because everyone will carry infinite libraries in their pocket. Oh, wait...

4) It's much simpler not to care what other people think and go on about the business of creation.

5) The Secret History of Science Fiction is full of good stories. Go read them. Believe in them however you see fit.

6) My brain is tired now.

7) Here are other people talking about these things. Charles Tan on The Secret History. Candy Tan (writing of the joy of the romance ghetto). Michael Chabon

8) ttfn, readers.

9) Don't forget the footnotes.

*In the sense that I believe everything is real and true and imaginary and want to one day accept awards from places. It's a condition, I imagine, many people suffer from, whether they consider themselves speculative writers or not.

**This confusion of mainstream and literary confuses me as well, readers. One imagines, though, that most people would rather confess to an ambition for literariness than mainstreaminess.

***This terminological disease of shifting terminology is called Insecuritas Identificas. It's a disease most often experienced by indecisive scientists, minority populations, and hyper-intelligent shades of blue who feel they might be teal or maybe, in certain lights, aquamarine.

****Oh, dear. Now we've gone and brought reality into things. Heaven help us.

*****Presumably, this classifies Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as a piece of mainstream fiction because Douglas Adams appears to be having fun. At the very least, I guess, it gets classified as genre literature without literary ambition and that just sounds sad when you say it like that because it implies that literary ambition is more about realism, and, well, seriousness, than it is about ray guns or miscarriages. Absurdist literature has always been discriminated against, though. One day maybe it will be accepted as mainstream and then we can all be happy and very confused about how to be absurd.

******Me, apparently.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Different Things, Now With More Pie!

Hello, readers.

It's Saturday. Thanksgiving 2009 has gone the way of all Thanksgivings before it, which is to say, back in time to the land of was. This particular Thanksgiving for me and the many magnelephant members of my family involved several similar things to years past, and a few different ones.

Similar things included eating lots of turkey and sweet potatoes and seeing people we seem to see mostly at the end of each year and not so much at other parts. It's always seemed inefficient to me that Thanksgiving and Christmas occur within one month of each other. But no one asked me, and they probably didn't ask you either, so it's nice we're together on this.

Different things included me, as well as my sister and her boyfriend, both cooking Thanksgiving dinners. They occurred on different days and included different things. Mine occurred on Thanksgiving night. Seeing as how there was turkey before (lunch at a great uncle's), and after (at my sister's the next day which we'll get to momentarily), it seemed best to provide a different sort of Thanksgiving dinner. As such, this is what we ate:

Mushrooms stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese, yogurt, parsley, garlic, and a smidgen of chipotle pepper.

Ratatouille with green peppers, leeks, zuccini, and tomatoes

Twice baked potatoes. For my sister and I, this meant sweet potatoes stuffed with a puree of chipotle, honey, tomatoes, garlic, and other things I've forgotten. For others, this meant unsweet potatoes with parmesan and butter and garlic and cayenne, if that was there thing.

Roasted red pepper and herbed goat cheese lasagna.

It was all very lovely and if my sister gives me the pictures I will go back in time (I'm sensing a theme) and post pictures in the appropriate places.

We did not have dessert because of the aformentioned lunch at a great uncle's in which there was the aformentioned turkey and sweet potatoes and people we don't see all that much.

On the next day, which was yesterday, we had another dinner at my sister's house. This was different because it was a house in which we never had Thanksgiving before. Here are things we ate there:

Sweet Potato Casserole with lovely not quite burnt mashmellows which we kept calling mushrooms because we are silly and have trouble with 'm' words.

Green Bean Casserole with mushrooms that weren't marshmellows and a surprising amount of walnuts. Surprising, of course, because there was any amount at all. It worked.

Grilled Potatoes with things I don't remember but they tasted like grilled potatoes and that was good.

Grilled Turkey which tasted like oak and smoke and I will stop before anything else rhymes.

Neil Gaiman's Bestseller Pecan Pie, which caused some people to curse aloud in wonder.

And this was all very lovely, too, especially the turkey, the sweet potatoes, and the Neil Gaiman Pecan Pie.

I've since heard some parts of this pie were eaten for breakfast.

Pictures of this event may also be posted sometime in the future, although they will look, through the magic of the internet, as though they had been here all along. But we'll know better, readers, won't we?

There were other different things that happened in that they weren't there, but we'll not mention them because we had a place set in case they decided to show up without telling anyone. People do that sometimes, however impossible it may, or may not, seem.

That said, it's time to go buy more food because we ate everything we had, apparently.

Until the future, readers.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Under the Dome, A Brief Review of Thoughts Had While Reading The First 30 Pages

Continuing in our new series of occasionally serious reviews, here's a somewhat silly, though earnest, review of my thoughts while reading the first 30 pages of Stephen King's Under the Dome.

Under the Dome
Stephen King
Scribner, November 2009
1088 pages (of which the reviewer has read 30)

First, my thoughts:

What? Why? That woodchuck just got split in two and you're describing its bits wriggling and now you're choking women while airplanes explode in mid-air and body parts rain from the sky! Calm down, sir. Calm down. You've got 1000 pages to kill and maim things and explore your conflicting needs for 1950s family values and flaming torsos.

My review of those thoughts: They exhibit a tendency towards excitability which seems to lead to the thinker repeating the word 'and' a lot. He should be careful with that.

ttfn, readers.

You'll See

Hello, readers.

As mentioned previously, we are nearing the end of the year, and the decade, and possibly life as we know it, and so people are busy making lists just in case.

At The Onion A.V. Club, they've a list of the 25 Best Comics of the Decade. The, erm, cover image? first image?, is of Blankets by Craig Thompson, and so I trust their list will be good because I also like that book.

Otherwheres, NPR has a list of the decade's 50 most important recordings. Presumably, by recordings, they mean musical recordings and not everything ever recorded during the last ten years, in which case, of course, one must not forget, erm, it would be good here if I could think of some funny, non-musical recording, but it isn't happening. Oh, well.

Largehearted Boy, as he does every year, is compiling an extensive list of best of music and book lists. His heart is just that big.

In personal news of me, I've realized that possibly the novel I'm writing for NaNoWriMo is really only missing one thing. Namely, a plot, otherwise known as a story. I've decided this isn't a good thing for a story to be missing and so we'll see what I can do about that. If I fix it, maybe one day you'll see how I do it.

Happy Tuesday, readers.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vacation, A Review Of A More Serious Nature

Hello, readers.

Recently I said I might begin reviewing things on occasion. I began with Zombie Vampire Robots from Space!

Later, I may take a look at such classics as Octaman or Futureworld.

Today, though, I take a look at a book called Vacation. It was written by Deb Olin Unferth. Here is how I saw it.


Deb Olin Unferth
McSweeney's, 2008
240 pp.

What a strange, wonderful, and sad book this is. Inside it one finds all sorts of people looking for a way out of all sorts of places. A woman out of her marriage. A man out of his heartbreak. A boy out of his window. A daughter out of her loneliness.

It begins with a girl on a train. One of the better ways to begin, really. This girl’s going somewhere, but we don’t know where. The girl’s name is Claire. As she relates to us her story of having a dead mother, of becoming poor, of learning that her father wasn't her father, she keeps coming back to her mother's favorite sentence, "You won't even feel it." That was what her mother said all the time. It doesn’t seem all that right, though. Claire feels things. She feels sorry for the man beside her, for example, a man with a dented head who reminds her of her father that wasn't.

The man with the dented head gets off the train before Claire. She feels sad to see him go.

The man's name is Myers. He's searching for a man named Gray. He takes a taxi. Later, we will learn that he’s searching for Gray because his wife had been in the habit of following Gray and Myers had been in the habit of following his wife and now that his wife is gone, Myers wants to understand what all that following was about. He knocks on Gray's door. No one's home. Myers waits. He hopes. Eventually, he goes looking somewhere else.

As the story follows Myers along to elsewhere, it collects, and floats, among several characters’ points of view. We continue to spend time with Claire and Myers, but also with Gray himself, as well as Myers' wife, an exiled Nicaraguan man returning home, Claire's father, a volunteer nurse, a kind-hearted mother, and, for one sublime moment, a sexy bikini girl on a boat in a hurricane as she watches Myers do something impossible.

All of the characters here are following something, whether it’s a father, a dream, or a bird.

This is Deb Olin Unferth’s first novel. She published a previous collection of short stories called, Minor Robberies. That collection, and this novel, were both published by McSweeney’s, which, as a publisher, tends to fancy stories that possess much whimsy and sparse description. And that is what we find in Ms. Unferth’s first novel. She crafts a thoroughly believable world in which people untrain dolphins and boys jump out of windows and at least one impossible thing happens. She leaves the great majority of that world to the reader’s imagination.

Scattered about the book are letters written between Myers and his estranged wife, and between Myers and Gray. There's something always a bit desperate about a letter. Someone talking about themselves and waiting, hoping, that someone responds.

Myers composes one letter while in Nicaragua, under a building which fell on him during an earthquake.

The letter he dreams says this:

My dearest wife,

Today I saw collections of documents, works of art, phenomena described by books. I walked through fields. I went to a town filled with more tourists than citizens--tourists sitting in seats, tourists rising to occasions, large tourists, small tourists, tourists frozen in an arabesque on the stairs.

As I am alive, I am your husband.

Myers never sends this letter. A lot of the distance in this novel comes from so many letters dreamed and unsent, or if bravely sent, then sadly misunderstood.

Vacations are, as a rule, an escape from everyday life. They are taken by families and businesspeople in the hopes of shaking things up a bit. Recharging the batteries as it were. However far you wander, though, to far-off lands, or nearby amusement parks, there is always the comforting notion—if a bit sad and necessary, perhaps—that at the end of your journey there is the return home.

The trip back to the way things were before.

Here, though, Ms. Unferth sets her characters leaping, jumping, falling, and flying after things, but there’s little chance of anyone making it home again.

There is no more before for these characters. There is only what’s in front of them. What leads them on.

Some of them realize this and are brave enough to jump without anyone to show them the way.

Others do not.

In either case, they are all waiting and hoping to feel something before all’s said and done. They all live, as they can, in the new lives they've fallen into. They swim with dolphins. They set dolphins free. They follow men around for no particular reason. None of it really makes any kind of sense. But it is what happened. And it is wonderful and sad. You'll feel something by the time you’re through, readers. I promise.


Other things of interest. An interview with Deb Olin Unferth at Bookslut.

A short story by Ms. Unferth, "Things That Went Wrong Thus Far," what you can read for free.


Until next time, readers.


Saturday, November 21, 2009


Hello, readers.

Today a movie comes out which chronicles the bestial woes of a fanged and furry love triangle. That sentence ended in a strange, naughty place. Sometimes sentences do that. It's nobody's fault.

In any case, other newsy things are happening today besides that.

Here are a three.

There's a new literary history of America called, A New Literary History of America. It's edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors. Phyllis Wheatley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Tarzan, among others, make an appearance in the volume's some 1000 pages. Co-editor Greil Marcus said they understood from the beginning that it would be about the "different ways in which America has explained itself to itself." Nice to know literary critics share mine, and Stephen Colbert's view, that America is, if nothing else, a remarkable practitioner of rationalization.

A bird sabotaged the Large Hadron Collider recently by dropping a baguette on a nearby power station. Presumably this was an attempt by some future super-intelligent bird species to travel back in time and save the world. Only time will tell.

Also, Ray Bradbury has written a Christmas musical.

Here is a clip from another movie not at all about any sort of fanged, or furry, triangles. It's about working boys, social justice, and cool hats. Happy weekend, readers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Zombies. Vampires. Robots. From Space.

Hello, readers.

I have decided to review things on this blog. Mostly, books. Occasionally music. Possibly movies. Maybe you, if you are a book or a music or a movie. I'm going to begin by reviewing this picture sent to me by a faraway friend.

Here are zombie vampire robots from space. They are kidnapping a red-head in a blue dress that seems not to be trying all that hard to get away. She appears to be waving goodbye. Perhaps she harbors a secret love for the rusty undead. But let's not discuss feminism.

Let's discuss, instead, the font of the picture's text which recalls the font used in monster trailers from Universal Studios. These trailers had the habit of proclaiming things as, Shocking! and Terrifying!. Here is an example.

This font is appropriate, then, for a picture depicting zombie vampire robots, who are, one presumes, both shocking (being robots) and terrifying (being zombie vampires).

Of note, they are not denoted as aliens, so we must assume that they, at one time, lived on our planet and were, at some later point, expelled, and then at some later, now-ish point, have since returned seeking bloody vengeance. Note, in fact, the very small print in which "From Space!" is printed. One wonders if, perhaps, the artist isn't trying to communicate humanity's buried shame over the treatment of these poor, defenseless monsters.

This narrative recalls, of course, many things worthy of recall. Firstly, there are the Cylons of Battlestar Galactica, fellow robot exiles, who returned and killed all the humans except the ones on a ship they somehow overlooked. The Cylons themselves, of course, recall the progenitor of this genre as laid out in the forgotten chapter of Genesis in which the exiled Adam and Eve return to exact bloody revenge on their maker. What good's a flaming sword against a .357 Magnum? Not much, as it turns out. Death Proof owes a huge debt to this story.

In conclusion, this picture recalls many great past works of science fiction and fantasy. Also, Charles Bronson.

Also, it is very silly and very awesome.

I give it 3 1/2 Zombie Vampire Robots from Space!.

It loses a half star for not in some way incorporating 'Nazis,' which, as we all know, with their funny helmets and holocausts, are inexplicably essential for true evil silliness.

Maybe next time.

Some of the reviews may be more serious than this. Anything is possible.

ttfn, readers.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Musical Cops and The Lack of Women Writers Who are Apparently Able to Write

Hello, readers.

The whole ___ and the ___ title format works much better if one of the blanks contains the phrase 'end of the world,' but sometimes you have to be willing to experiment.

Unless, you know, your experiment is a musical cop show called Cop Rock, which I first heard about on a commentary for one Buffy episode or another. Possible the musical one. It might have made that much sense.

At LitDrift, they have up a transcript of an iChat in which Alex and Julie discuss the wrongs and rights and maybes of musicals, cop shows, and Hugh Jackman's calves. I had no idea Hugh Jackman's calves were so calfly, or that you could post chat transcripts as articles. But both, it turns out, are good things. There is video evidence of Cop Rock's particular brand of unbrilliance, as well.

Also at LitDrift, it turns out that PW's list of Top 10 books for this year included no books by women. It also includes no books by robots, but robots, as of the present, have always had trouble organizing internet campaigns and so there has been less attention paid to their continued absence. In the future, though, there will probably be a controversy.

Also, here's Neil Gaiman's old NaNoWriMo encouragment, posted two years ago today.

And here's new encouragment.

Keep believing, readers.

And be nice to your robots, if you have any. One day they'll be people, too, and will probably make their own misguided musical robot shows that will still be sources of inexplicable joy years after their cancellation.

Ah, the future.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009


That is what I'm listening to at the moment. It is a song by one Elvis Perkins. A lot of horns. Snare drum. A feeling that if and when the apocalypse comes, this song will be played by the second line.

The funeral for the world will be in New Orleans. You didn't know?

In other news, Kurt Vonnegut is still dead. And this is still sad. He wrote a lot about the end of the world and it always made me laugh. A friend pointed out to me that Steve Almond's essay, "Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt," is online at The Rumpus. It's 60 pages long but it's worth it, according to my friend, who also pointed me to Elvis Perkins and that worked out.

And now I'm going to buy vegetables.

And then see Elvis Perkins at The Mercy Lounge where previously I saw The Walkmen and very nearly went deaf but didn't.

Happy folk rock, readers.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Art and Science and Penguins

Hello, readers.

It's very nearly the end of the year, and of the decade. A lot of people are making lists of things. I thought I might make lists, too, so as to not to feel left out or miss the momentousness of an arbitrary block of time passing.

Possible lists pondered included:

1) Things other people taught me to love.
2) Stories about mice and/or rats. Possibly two overlapping lists--a Venn diagram might be called for.
3) Movies in which there are surprising penguins (Fight Club, for example).
4) Random lines written while nanowrimoing. Something like, "The crow's name was Benson."

And so forth.

And I may do this, because I do love lists.

But, this past yesterday, I saw a film called Between the Folds. The Nashville Library showed it as part of the Independent Lens community series. It was about origami. It was also about art and science, creativity versus technique, odd passions, deep love, and having fun.

It was narrated by a very somber voiced lady and included very serious piano music. That didn't take away from the joy, though.

Here are origami pictures to make your mouth open and go "Ohhh."

After the movie, there was a Q&A with a mathematician, painter, physicist, and paper folder. People asked about fractals, fibonaccis, and pop-up books. I asked about whether as scientists and artists they felt like they were discovering or creating their science or art. It was a mean question that I was proud of. The mathematician said it would take all night to answer, but they did what they could in five minutes or so.

A dark haired girl with very stylish glasses made a comment after this, about my question. She began by looking at the panel and ended by looking at me and talking about scientists playing a game with light, deciding it was a point or a wave as their whims and situations demanded. "Do you see?" she said. "Yes," I nodded.

I think the lesson here is that paper is cool and we should not forget about it as we advance into the future decades.

If you're in Nashville tonight, and attending the Regina Spektor concert, I'll be in the balcony, left section, mid-way up. Wave in my general direction. I probably won't see you but it'll be a nice gesture.

Happy Monday, readers.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Something Completely Different

Hello, readers.

It's Friday the Thirteenth.

Here's something truly terrifying to wear on your feet.

Here's what it's based on.

My sister once traumatized a small child with this scene. He got better.

Happy Horrors, readers.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lynda Barry Says What I Said

Mostly because I was saying what she said.

Reading What It Is got me into writing in a notebook. It's also what woke me up during a time of my life in which I needed waking. There's a whole thing in there about how to save a kingdom turned to stone. It proved helpful.

Nanowrimo has a pep talk from Lynda Barry today. It is about writing by hand and the invisible thing that is the thing we're chasing.

Go read, feel pepped.

If you need more pep, read Junot Diaz, here, talking about failing for five years, then failing less for another two years, and then sort of being okay.

Happy Wednesday, readers.


p.s. Dollhouse is cancelled. I had, for the longest time, been slightly wary of it, as though it were a dog I loved very much but it was looking at me funny like maybe something large had hit it and now it thought it was a raccoon.

Which is to say, all of Joss Whedon's shows, have been driven by one thing. The mission. Buffy had her demons. Angel had the champion thing. Nothing that we do matters. The only thing that matters is what we do.

Mal was simpler and more complicated. He wanted freedom.

For that longest time, mentioned earlier, I did not understand the Dollhouse mission. I could not find my Whedon. He was there, hidden in very small, beautiful, sad things, like the exchange of doll and tech:

Did I fall asleep?
For a little while.

He was there in the obviousness of women being controlled. He was there in the very basic Whedon idea that good and evil are beside the point. In the end, it's about power.

But I didn't understand the mission.

And then, very recently, I did.

Some people aren't ready to wake up, the man said.

Something bad is coming, said the girl. And I want everyone to survive it.

More subtle than demons, simpler even, than freedom. Simply, and only, to wake people up so they don't fall asleep. Not again. Not ever. Not even for a little while.

And now it's cancelled. And it's not surprising. And it wasn't Whedon's best, but I was ready, readers. I was ready to wake up again.

Alas. Alas. Alas.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thirds and Thrices

Hello, readers.

Being November 10th, we are a third of the way through the month. It's unclear how many thirds of the way I am through this possible novel possibly being written for #nanowrimo. It would help if I knew exactly what the story was or how long it was and if I wrote on a computer. Writing in a notebook began as a way to avoid RSI, and has become, for me, a lovely way to be still and focus and doodle in the margins, but it does not lend itself to word counts.

Other things happening today include Neil Gaiman being born in another universe where it is today but 49 years ago...otherwise known as the past if you believe in that sort of thing.

Also, my computer has begun acting wonky and will not let me click on things. This doesn't happen with a notebook.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wyeths, Moondancing, and Historians

Hello there.

See, that's different. I didn't say, Hello, readers.

Another different thing I did today was walk around the neighborhood in a women's jacket from Old Navy and a spiffy hat. People said I looked like a movie star. I'll trust them to be right.

Yesterday, Andrew Wyeth's granddaughter held court at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art. This was a very ritzy place in a ritzy area called Belle Meade. There was a woman manning a gate who directed visitors where to go. Where we went was the Visitor Center.

They had a large room full of chairs which were full of people. The granddaughter, Victoria, stood at the front. Behind her were projected her grandfather's work.

Her grandfather was in love with light and belt buckles and everything. She said he loved SUVs. When he became older, in his eighties or so, he drove out in the woods, cranked the heat, and sat in the trunk, painting trees (you never met a man who could fall so in love with a tree). Another thing is he loved painting the same people over and over.

This was the true test. Looking at the same face again and again and again and finding something to be excited about. To love.

"Why do you paint people from the back," she asked her grandfather.

"Imagination," he said.

"Why did you paint that woman in the fool's cap naked?" she said.

"That's how I dreamed her," he said.

Victoria loved her grandfather very much. His death left a hole in her heart. She is still excited. She does impressions of him. She re-enacts whole conversations. She inherited his love of things. If she's coming to a town near you, check her out.

Tomorrow, I think, I may go see Doris Kearns Goodwin receive the Nashville Public Library Literary Award. Presumably, she will not be showing pictures of naked moondancing, but one can hope.

Happy Friday, readers.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Positive things to be excited about...

Hello, readers.

It's Guy Fawkes day. So, if you haven't almost not quite blown up something lately, get to it.

This morning, I managed not to blow up anyone with meteors. It's still unclear if it's a novel, though. But it has people and not-people talking and riding subways and we'll see.

There's a new story up at the Interstitial Annex. "Quiz" by Eilis O'Neal. It ponders things about stepmothers, frogs, and promises. These are ponders worth pondering if ever a ponder bothered to ponder, wouldn't you say?

Over in England, there's a graphic novel called Salem Brownstone that Alan Moore is excited about. If he was excited about shoe polish it would be worth a read and so we should probably pay attention.

A co-founder of Comic-Con, Sheldon Dorf, passed away this week. Technically this isn't a positive thing to get excited about, but it seemed worth a mention.

Kelly Link and Gavin Grant won a World Fantasy Award for Small Beer Press. Several other people and books won awards, too.

There's a new comic book based on a concept album that is getting made into a movie. It's all due to A Life of Science and their being a very ambitious band.

A collection of Steve Ditko's more macabre early comics has been collected. Fantagraphics is offering a free pdf preview.

Happy Failed, but Immortal, Revolutions, readers.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Various Unsurprising Things and Two Things Possibly Less Unsurprising

Hello, readers.

It's November, and I've gone and done something rather rash again, in that I've decided to participate in NaNoWriMo even though I'm already at least two days late and so already hopelessly behind. Alas.

In other, unsurprising, news:

Michael Chabon loves the new Dr. Who. This get a mention in Charlie Jane Anders' review of Manhood for Amateurs.

I liked this bit from the Loser's Club essay.

"Every work of art is one half of a secret handshake, a challenge that seeks the password, a heliograph flashed from a tower window, an act of hopeless optimism in the service of bottomless longing. Every great record or novel or comic book convenes the first meeting of a fan club whose membership stands forever at one but which maintains chapters in every city — in every cranium — in the world. Art, like fandom, asserts the possibility of fellowship in a world built entirely from the materials of solitude. The novelist, the cartoonist, the songwriter, knows that the gesture is doomed from the beginning but makes it anyway, flashes his or her bit of mirror, not on the chance that the signal will be seen or understood but as if such a chance existed."

That I like something Michael Chabon wrote also qualifies as unsurprising news.

In more surprising news, if ever you thought, hey, didn't Michael Chabon one time have a website wherein he archived all his essays? You would be thinking correctly. It went away a long time ago, though.

Luckily, the past isn't dead--it isn't even past.*

There is a website called the Wayback Machine. It archives the web. Something you wrote is probably there. Many things that Michael Chabon wrote are.

Time, like so many things, is bigger on the inside.

Enjoy your time travels, readers.

Happy Tuesday.


*This may come as a surprise, but William Faulkner was quite the zombie fighter in his day. His preferred weapon? A 2x4.