Jo would you compare to something like, say, LeGuin's version of Winesburg Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, or if you've read Lousie Erdrich's Plague of Doves?
One of my favourite books on writing. Kress's perspective is a simple one, but I think many writers can become ensared by their stories and miss fundamental structural issues. This book provides an excellent remedy to that, and a crash course in how to build a solid skeleton on which to flesh a story.
This is a terrific book, and I felt showed a fascinating byway that mainstream fantasy could have followed further, but didn't. Who knows, perhaps it will come back the way the more Conan-influenced stuff has in the 2000s.
Ah, Jo, I too am a statistic: this is the only Heinlein I've ever read. Picked it up as a teenager on the recommendation of a friend who said it was "the most amazing book" he'd ever read. More the fool me, I read the whole bloody thing, appalled at the chauvinism, arrogance, etc etc. It was one of the worst sci-fi novels I had read at that stage. Shudder. Never picked another Heinlein; watching fascism so efficiently mocked in the movie Starship Troopers and my horrid experience with this book was enough for me.
For this, and Tiger, Tiger (The Stars My Destination), Bester gets a free pass for life from me - despite his horrible later novels. This book is so astonishingly ahead of its time - its decades ahead of what Bester's contemporaries were publishing and its influence straddles so much science fiction today. We can see Bester's tortured psychologies and amoral protagonists in Philip K Dick's work. Also, as writers, I think they're both very motivated by the human; what makes us human, what is the limit of humanity, how does being a human inter-relate with the technology we use, and how we use it. In this respect, Alistair Reynolds also stands out as a Bester inheritor. I agree that the book is not especially progressive, politically speaking, for its time. The sad thing is, there's still a tonne of sci fi published today that's little or no better than this. I think the other great strength of Bester (baffingly, given some of his later work), is his taut plotting. The cat and mouse elements of both this novel, and Tiger Tiger are superb. Bester creates a system, a ruleset - or even a game, if you like - and explores its limits thoroughly, logically, and thrillingly. It's a genuine pleasure to read a book with nary a deus ex machina, or fudgy, kludgy plot work-around for the sake of it. So yeah, I like this book a lot. And I agree that the Freudian metaphors add, rather than detract. Without that, The Demolished Man would be little more than an exciting version of Asimov's Caves of Steel.
As always, excellent. What am I gonna do when the alphabet runs out?
I have to say, I love this series, but I did find the first one far more of a slog than any of the subsequent novels. O'Brian goes a little nutty with the sailor talk in this one, I felt (the literal sailor talk, mizzen this, f'c's'l'e that etc etc). I was shocked when I looked up the boat in question, and it was only thirty metres. I thought, "Wtf?! Do they have a different frigging name for every square inch?" This all said, it's still worth a read for the wonderful humour and characterisation. But when recommending to people, I always warn them that this one's a little heavy with the naval stuff and subsequent books read much easier. I feel like O'Brian was still getting his sea legs (Aubrey would be proud of that!).
James that kind of supposition would stand up a lot more if white men in non-oriental stories were equally swarthy, but that's definitely not the case; they are as Scherazade's shade.
I think I speak for over six billion people when I say how much I enjoy these posts. If only there were more letters in the alphabet!
Thanks very much, Onelowerlight! I would agree with the rest of your comment, too. S.M Stirling, I think you're creating somewhat of a false dichotomy, there. This isn't a competition of which "civilisation" was the most sensitive, interesting, outward-looking etc. I certainly don't know enough about the cultures involved to speak to whether there was a penchant for "Occidentalist" art - nor even what that might be - and given your fairly bold - and unreferenced - assertions that cover a huge range of states, cultures etc, I'm not sure whether you do, either. I'm the last person to posit Said as unproblematic exemplar of cultural theory, however I think you've demonstrate some of the same traps in your comment; namely a focus on binaries at the expense of ambiguity and subtlety. For example, it's more than possible that the orientalist artists and writers were both admirers of oriental cultures, primitive anthropologists if you will, and [I]at the same time[/I] racist, chauvinist, shallow and destructive. These a complex, multi-layered histories that span centuries and thousands of personalities, visions, and ideas. Both worldviews can be true, both can be true at the same time; an opinion which I hope I conveyed in the post. These images contain multitudes. Trivialising what subjugated people endured under imperialist rule is really not very sensitive, or appropriate. Moreover, if you want to have a competition over who suffered the most: the population of Europe, versus the Oriental cultures forced to become their subjects, you cannot seriously argue the tally is in the Europe's favour. But really, such a divisive, acerbic worldview doesn't pertain to the elusive, otherworldly, byzantine haze of these images - though I think both are equally fantastic...
Oooooo. Sometimes, living in Australia is the pits!
Glad to see Calvino get a mention. :) I do think you didn't go for enough in your comparison with Allende - they're not even in the same league. Allende is the Dan Brown of Magic Realism; I guess that makes Borges the Le Carre or something...
Thanks for the great interview, Greg.
Thanks guys! Rachel I didn't even think about that with the alt-text, but will be sure to do so in a future posts. Agreed with all that Haddawy's translation is stronger, but I feel that - in the context of this piece - the Burton has two potent advantages: 1) It's free! 2) It's what the people making these images would have been reading. Thanks again for the feedback, I really appreciate it.
Surely a joke, Melita?! Ironic, in a way, because I think Hobb's books - though they tend to glide over class in any granular sense - I think there is an awareness of race and a respect for other cultures in much of her work.
I think Lindholm/Hobb is just a cracker writer - in my opinion one of the minority of super-bestseller-door-stop fantasy writers that really writes intelligently and well, and she pursues some great subtexts in her work - even her mis-steps (soldier's son trilogy, sigh) have at least a few interesting facets. Her versatility is something to behold as well. I personally think all her books are quite recognisable, but there are few writers able to straddle everything from high fantasy to urban fantasy like this with so much skill.
Mike that was a terrific and thoughtful blog post. I finished a Priest book recently - Not Flesh Nor Feathers - and I somewhat agree that the experience, though pleasurable and showing promise, did not live up to the vivid panegyrics splayed across its cover. I wonder if this wasn't ever the case, however, and the benefit now is that we simply have more people talking about the books than before. I'm reluctant to say that someone's - if not the majority's - experience of a novel is invalid simply because it doesn't correlate with my own. It's a toughy.
"This is one of those series I keep wishing I could love as much as everyone around me does." Me too! I actually prefer Zelazny's other work (e.g Isle of Dead, To Die in Italbar, etc.). I found Amber - after it being relentlessly talked up to me - a bit too free-form and unstructured. I felt like Zelazny was making it up as he went along, and - contrary to the spirit of the entire series - I wanted more _rules_, lol. Everything was too god-like and easy.
Absolutely fantastic post, Irene. God I love reading articulate artists discussing their work. I particularly love the John Howe and Kaluta images. It's inspiring, to see how these ideas and stories illuminate this complicated nexus for writers between how they approach a text as practitioners of a craft, and how they respond to it as readers, as humans. I spent so long as a child looking at - I swear some of them were Ted Nasmith, but not all - illustrations in a compendium book of illusrations from LOTR. I cannot find the book nor recall the title for the life me, and it's drowned under LOTR noise when I try to search for it. A great place to look at other images is middle earth tours.
Cat, you gotta find a good production of the Magic Flute or Orpheus, I would love to see a post like this on those operas! Great post!
Beautiful post, just beautiful. Looking forward to more.
This book flopped so hard, I felt terrible for Ryman. There was a great, I think BBC documentary - part of a series - detailing his writing this novel, its editing, and subsequent reception. Very good.
Great post, Jason, as per usual. I'm so glad someone touched on Hearn. That movie is one of my favourite japanese films, too. I agree with you about Hearn's orientalism, too (and it actually touches on a subject of my next post!); judged by contemporary standards Hearn (and a million other people) come off as hopelessly quaint and naive, but I think it's important to contextualise their writings in the socio-political climate of the time. Hearn was actually very progressive. You've probably read them, but there is a wonderful hmmmm, spectral quality to Akutagawa's stories that puts me very much in mind - not so much of Hearn's books, but the film very much indeed. A kind of elegiac eerieness that I love. The original story "The Rashomon Gate" (talk about a tautology!) is fantastic (and very different from the film).
I confess I'm kinda torn on this one. One the one hand, what you're talking about is clearly pandering by publishers to a largely homophobic public (though I guess, to be more accurate, publishers feel there are more readers to be gained by eliding queerness than highlighting it). Publishers would, no doubt, argue that they are simply booksellers, not moralists, advocates, etc. This is a weak argument in my opinion. On the other hand, a character's sexuality, age, race etc. is something I truly don't give a shit about when looking for a book - fantasy or otherwise - to read; there's a million other things I care about. In this respect, I feel like making a book's selling point a demographic one does both books and authors a disservice, regardless of the social utility in highlighting particular minorities. There are plenty of shit books with gay characters, and plenty of shit books with heterosexual characters, so - for me - it's not a particularly useful metric. I guess my conflict comes to that eternal debate between reader-response theories, and those based more around a new critical view: Can we (should we?) trust readers to approach texts with an open mind and leave ultimate interpretative responsibility with them, or do we believe that responsibility rests ultimately (or predominantly) with authorial (in this case, publisher) intent, and thus the ethical and textual responsibilities lie with a publishing house? As a reader, obviously, the former view appeals to me more. If being gay is an important part of what the novel is about, by all means please mention it on the cover, but if being gay is just part of the story like other relationships or personalities, it's not necessarily worth the call-out. As a left-leaning political citizen, however, I feel more strongly in the opposite direction. Publishers have a responsibility - as we all do - to encourage a world of tolerance, diversity and even, perhaps, curiosity. By keeping non-hetero sexualities a love that dare not mention its name (on the back-flap, at least), they are contributing to a discourse that says these lifestyles and feelings are secret, elliptical, hidden; perhaps a bit distasteful. Not mentioned in the polite confines of the bookstore fantasy section. Trying to dodge accusations of discrimination by pointing out the main function of back-flaps is to sell books is specious; not mentioning it is just as political an act - especially when placed into the context of how often heterosexual sex is used to sell fantasy novels. I would be really, really interested to hear from some of the Tor folk who frequent this site (Megan, Irene, Patrick Nielsen Hayden) on their thoughts about this, and I would _love_ to hear from some of the authors (like Morgan) who have to grapple with the possibility that highlighting the sexualities in their books may cost them sales. Interesting stuff.
That's incredible. God, it makes such a difference not only when an artist is capable, but they have actually read and invested in the text. Breath-taking work.
I just... I just don't know if I can read a book with a protagonist named "Wynter Moorehawke". It flirts so dangerously close to parody.
I, too, was surprised by how enjoyable this film was. I think of it as the MarioKart movie we will never have.
Boy shucks howdy! After the somewhat elegiac first episode, I love how this one basically plays out as giant farce. Watanabe really displays his cinematic literacy in this episode, I feel. He's so competent and comfortable with old-school comedy. From an anime perspective, it reminds me almost irrepressibly of Lupin - however that is quite possibly more a result of my own relative ignorance. I also love how Watanabe sets up Einstein to be another character in Bebop - and yet he is and he isn't. Sans the ability to talk, despite his smarts he really does remain like a "real" dog. I thought it was a cute way of playing with expectation.
That's exactly right, a-j. Marina Warner, in the book I mentioned above, discusses how disappointing it is when he transforms into a beast. This dovetails very nicely with her own take on the story, which is that Beauty and the Beast - in a modern context, if not older ones - is really a story of a young woman discovering her own 'beastliness' (Warner posits this as predominantly - though not wholly - as a beastliness of sexuality; sexual desire and need), and thus the wan human we are left with at the conclusion seems poor recompense for the magnetic and powerful beast left behind. I think there is a lot in this idea - if you watch the Disney film you can see that Beauty's colour scheme is a kind of cornflower blue - however her eyes (the so-called window to the soul) are actually that rich, tawny umber we recognise as the colour of the beast's own fur. Likewise, the beast's eyes? No sorrel shades for him, no, his eyes are a limpid, human blue. Disney has chosen to represent his humanity, not in his hands etc, but through his eyes. And also, once he starts "humanising" in a rich, imperial blue suit. Interesting stuff.
Aw shucks, thanks guys. :) I could talk about this stuff non-stop; back in the day, I actually wrote my honours thesis on Disney's Beauty and The Beast, I've thought about it so much! For my money, [URL=http://www.marinawarner.com/]Marina Warner[/URL]'s book, from Beast to Blonde, really captures these issues of malleability and change over time. She's a wonderful writer; erudite, witty, very lucid prose.
Do you have an aquarium at home, Irene? It's a wonderful way to bring some life and exoticism inside, in my opinion. These picture remind me of the temperate rainforest where I grew up in the Queensland ranges. There is nothing more fecund to the imagination than hectares of uninterrupted forest where you may in fact be the first person to stand.
Oh hell to the yes, I love this show, and everything about it. So excited to see someone of your calibre writing on it! :D [I]"Asteroid Blues" functions as a perfect introduction to the series as a whole, because it foreshadows the larger events that unfold across the entire narrative. [/I] It really, really does, doesn't it? I remember the first time I watched this episode it kind of slid into the background in light of the subsequent wild directions the series would take, but really, it's all right here, and what it all comes back to at the end. Also, seconding recommendations for Ghost in the Shell (series!! series!! The Oshii film/s are in my opinion, nowhere as good); the soundtrack for Ghost in the Shell (also by Kanno) is freaking sublime.
Yeah, I'm with Rezendi here: by even 'rebelling' against the idea that SF can't be literature, and even talking about "serious" writers, and "serious" genres I feel like you're buying into a binary discourse ("literature" vs. "other") that gives the debate a legitimacy and relevancy it frankly doesn't deserve - not ever, and certainly not in this day and age. Atwood herself is just as guilty of this, by refusing to countenance the label of "sci-fi" writer when that's what she often is, and frankly I think she could do with reading a bit more sci fi. It would make her feints into the genre much stronger, and certainly more original, imho. The idea she's risking her reputation by doing anything is a bit spurious; she's one of the world's most accoladed writers. She could publish her shopping list to great acclaim if she wanted. As a reader-response ho, I'm a bit reluctant to read much into a writer's motivations - whether she's trying to save the world or just writing a story. However I will say, if it's the former, I'm not really impressed. I don't think Oryx and Crake is going to change a lot of minds about anything. There's nothing wrong with preaching to the choir, but I'm hesitant to paint Atwood as some kind of martyr - hopelessly soiled by filthy genre -, sacrificing herself on the altar or literature for the noble cause of environmentalism, anti-GM or whatever you want to label her position. I feel it's neither reflective of the actual 'cost' of writing and publishing the book, nor of its effect in the world at large.
Perbacco! Wow those images really capture the alienated, literally non-sensical side of Dick. I can feel the fear, emptiness and confusion spreading out from them like a hoar frost.
I could talk about this all day, it's one of my favourite things. :) I would be a bit leery about mentioning "the original message" though: unless you subscribe to the recent controversial view that most of the popular stories were invited by Grimm et al, then we don't really know what the 'original' was, coming from an oral tradition shrouded in the mists of history. Indeed, I would actually argue (pretty controversially myself!) that the longevity and utility of fairy tales is precisely because of their ambiguity. We take several archetypes, then shuffle them around like a deck of cards, displaying a combination that most suits the age, author, audience, etc. The archetypes may not change, but how we think of them does. I'm actually working on a post to put up here later in March around this very topic!
Oooh, these are great! I love the Rats of Nimh and Sabriel ones.
Thanks Irene. I just love Sime's work, and it pains me that people still talk about Rackham and Dore and Crane and neglect his really mind-blowing stuff. TrishB, that's a great picture. I had no idea Sargent did work like that. It totally highlights a subject all of these artists - particularly Beardsley - had in common, which is orientalism, a subject I definitely plan on tackling in the future!
Lovely post, Caragh. Whenever I free-style something in the kitchen that just works, first time round, I get that feeling. I can only imagine seeing your children just work would be the ultimate expression of this emotion.
Interesting fact: This movie was such an incredibly huge success here, that when you crunch the numbers, it works out that just under 2 out of 5 Australians saw that movie in the cinema - an astonishing figure, especially given the dvd sales were equally incredible.
Seconded Jason. Mr Zipes, your work has been a tremendous influence on me, and was a critical part of my eventual major and honours thesis. I'm so excited to see you on Tor!
Great write up Irene! "major works reaching six to nine feet," - I had no idea, wow. The Magic circle has always been my favourite of his, also. It's really interesting, I think, looking at Waterhouse, and seeing how his thematic concerns and approach to colour are very much of a piece with other pre-raphaelites like Millais, Rosetti etc. but then other, more 'commercial' artists like Beardsley and Sime took up this high-falutin' purity, and kind of twisted it, appropriated it for fairy-tales that were less Romance and more folkish. Rawer, commoner stories. Took that sexuality and busted it out a little, twisted the contrast, the unnatural composition and pushed it a little further, and ended up created these very different images - or rather, images that superficially look kind of the same but resonate in a very different way. And those artists went on to influence people like Harry Clarke and Kay Nielsen, who in turn went to to influence a raft of others. And so you see this kind kind of approach popping up in all kinds of unexpected places, from Snow White to (I personally think) a particular style that's prevalent in a lot of graphic novels nowadays. Interestingly, I think it's largely vanished from the more classically "children's" literature.
Just fyi, Whittimore = Whittemore. And Jerusalem Poker (indeed, the entire quartet) are well worth reading. There's a bit of Tim Powers in there, a bit of Angela Carter, even a bit of Lawrence Durrell (shudder).
Also, for a fantasy/scifi series, a socialist movement doesn't really make a lot of sense. Hi John, genuinely curious, why would you say that?
Ooo, Teckla is probably my favourite of the series so far. Not only do the characters undergo tremendous development and depth, but Brust confronts what is effectively the elephant in the room in so much fantasy. The frustrations and difficulty involved will all too clearly evoke memories in anyone who has worked in a political organisation - particularly a 'grass roots' one. In some ways, you could compare this book to Mieville's Iron Council, but where I felt Mieville retreated into empty symbolism to mitigate his downer ending, I felt that Brust keeps his downer ending with a tacit and frank acknowledgement that the Dragaera have not resolved any of these feelings, but simply crushed their loudest vessels. Also having Vlad question not only his origins, but the fact his ostensible profit and entire life is built from the misery of his kinspeople is done in such a believable and interesting manner. Teckla was the book where I thought, "Hey there _is_ something more to these books."
How fascinating. I wonder, Irene, if you have a say in the spine of the book as well? I find that spine aesthetics exert a powerful pull over me in bookstore settings - particularly more crowded bookstores - and I'm always aghast when I see a spine that doesn't really stand out, even more so when it's actually hard to read the title and author. Given the limitations are so much more strict, I would love to hear about how (and if) you navigate the fine line between striking and stupid, unique and illegible, cohesive and camouflage when dealing with spines!
Brust is a great example of a writer where there is more going on underneath then you can see at first glance. As genre capers, his books satisfy, but I find as I read the Dragaera books his commitment to genuine character development really deepens the series in a way that sets it apart from many superficially similar fantasies. This said, I find the "wisecrack" angles easily the weakest parts of any of the books, I find them juvenile and genuinely unfunny - a kid's idea of something that would be cool. He should take some lessons from Vance for banter. Countering that his the naming guide at the front of many of the volumes. I love that he took the time.
Oh yeah, I quote from the NY Times book review:
For whatever reason - he always said it was because he was mistrusted by the British literary establishment he had rejected - Mr. Fowles was always far more celebrated, both critically and popularly, in the United States than he was in his native country. In America, his books became mainstays of college literature courses while managing to achieve that rare combination: admiring reviews from serious-minded critics and best-selling sales in the stores. Not so in England, at least not all the time. "In many ways, I have been put in exile in this country," he once said.
Great to see you pick up on Fowles, Jo. I find he's a writer I can always say is "interesting"; whether I enjoy the books is another question entirely, but definitely always interesting. I, too, read this is a teen and loved it (though the ending always deflates you a bit). I then promptly forgot all about it for about ten years, only to later recollect how into it I was at the time. I think you're right in that - somewhat ironically, Fowles falls victim to Nicholas' failings, namely over-confidence coupled with I guess you'd call it gnosticism. When he finally pulls the curtain aside, you sense he's almost as disappointed as you that there's nothing but sawdust behind. Interesting, too, how Fowles reputation really waned in his native UK; viewed as a hopelessly middlebrow poseur, whilst I believe in the US he has always been regarded quite highly? I do think many UK critics do him a disservice, especially with regards to his prose which is really very good in most of his books. Will do be doing A Maggot? Definitely his most speculative book. Oh, and also, have you seen the film they made of The Magus. God damn, it really is one of the worst films ever made.
Yes Pablo et al, a theme month was tremendously good fun, I enjoyed it very much.
Ying, though I've not read it yet, it sounds like these are very much some of the concerns driving Yu Hua's Brothers, which has just been published in English. I would not rue anything that gives you a better appreciation of your surroundings, be they a beautiful granite benchtop, or a beautiful granite mountain!
I think ghosts - in the Victorian sense - can function really beautifully as metaphors, too. Stories like Onions' Beckoning Fair One, where the haunted effectively becomes the real ghost of the story, effectively trace the social isolation that people can too easily fall into (see also Le Fanu's Green Tea). Robert Aickman, I think, also deals with this, using his hauntings as manifestations of sexual, social or historical anxieties. I think we often tend to read these stories through an historical lense of nostalgia which prevents us from remembering that - whilst we find them quaint - these stories were contemporaneous for their readers in the vast majority. Thus, I feel in some ways that a story like Leiber's "A Modern Ghost", for example, has more in common with the best Victorian and Edwardian ghost stories than lots of contemporary work that more explicitly references them. Despite the difference in tone, I would argue those stories actually have more in common with gothics of the Radcliffe flavour, depending as they do on a shared, historically somewhat fictional compact with the reader. It's interesting because on paper, Aickman fits this latter model, but the experience of reading his stories is often of a malignant and vast history reaching down to brush the protagonist aside.
Oh man, this movie sucked so hard it blew my mind. Twenty years of great IP and they flushed it down the toilet for the most paint-by-the-numbers, generic, holiday-filler story they could find. It's not an Astro Boy movie. It's a movie about a boy who happens to look like and be called Astro. Virtually nothing from the series remains beyond the visual, certainly not its beating heart and the genuine torment Astro felt as a kid who couldn't fit in. My five year-old niece fell asleep during it, and I wasn't far behind. Truly, truly a bad movie.
Beautiful, they remind me of a cross between Rene Bull and Gustav Dore. Like the best black and white drawers, he really understands how to best use contrast, but not in a (to my mind), unsubtle Harry Clarke sense, but the more modulated use as seen in Dore and H.J Ford. Paradoxically I think not being afraid to use large swathes of a similar contrast actually leaves you with a much stronger picture.
Great post, at the risk of being a bit wanky, I see a lot of Baudrillard's concept of the hyperreal in Mad Men. Many of the employees are unable to tell where the symbols they produce of their lives end and their real lives begin - as typified by Sal's reaction to the client's invitation or a characters in-denial pregnancy. Whether the show is about the folly, or the power of such reasoning is an interesting question.
It's very apropo: Google's recent 10 to 100 philanthropy kick actually has a nomination on airships!
I dunno, I always felt that Radcliffe took herself so damned seriously, hence my love for the far more depraved The Monk. Lewis understood that no one really cares about the heroine - it's the evil that we love! - in a way that I don't think Radcliffe fully appreciates. Also she sometimes confuses telegraphing everything as a good substitute for suspense. I know it's not gothic, per se, but no love for Melmoth The Wanderer? It and The Monk I think are responsible for many streams of modern suspense or horror fiction.
Great post Irene, just lovely.
Ah, Jo, you poor fool. I didn't even read Feast For Crows, determined as I am to wait out the series or die attempting such. Thank God Robin Hobb has never toyed with me so. It's too heartbreaking, though I suspect also compounded by the nature of GRRM's story-telling - it would be night impossible to provide a nice, _kind-of_ resolution at the end of each individual novel with so many characters in play.
In case anyone hasn't seen it, Charlie Stross talks about his near-future process and thinking in this great keynote speech.