Monthly Archives: June 2010

Everybody Wants To Be A Teacher Not A Critic

It seems to me that a lot of genre writers want to be teachers, specifically creative writing teachers, and this irritates me. It is not that the hundreds of blog posts about how to write are bad; indeed they are far more honest and often better written than most books that can be bought on the subject of creative writing are.

My feeling on this matter is that it is just so artisan, crafty, folksy and nice. Sure genre fandom has always been very open to sharing information about the craft of writing, and this is a level of communal introspection which is possibly unique to genre fandom. It is a good thing, but this is easy. A smart teenager can be taught and understand the level which most creative writing material is pitched at.

This is bad for genre. This is infantile and ultimately without some proper critics doing some hard thinking this is causing genre to stay still instead of grow. What if the time spent writing how to write articles was spend developing and disseminating our critical tools beyond the blunt knife of misapplied genre theory? Why aren’t we examining our field with all the other theories? Wouldn’t this help us all become better?

Oh wait, yes, I know why this isn’t happening because it is hard and not accessible. This is far harder than writing lists of comforting rules and guidelines on how to, supposedly, write a good story. But it would help us all produce better and more insightful stories in the long run if we took a more critical view of our field.

Is it time to cut down on writing about the craft of writing and start looking for new avenues of discussion? I think that it is. Ultimately I think that it would help drag fandom into a better place. This is only one axis of a much large debate of how seriously we should be taking genre and what individuals within the community wish to gain out of genre fiction. Are there people who see genre as only a stepping stone to proper fiction? Is that a bad thing? What about the people who only want to retell their favorite stories? Is this to be treated and thought of in someway as worse than those who wish to transcend?

It is time to stop being teachers, passing on established ideas, and it is time to become critics.

First Impressions of ‘The Shockwave Rider’ by John Brunner

Quote taken from IRC past 01:30 BST. Do not engage my critical faculties at this time, as I’m sure they’re sharper after midnight than before it.

[Ginja_] I’m still thinking hard about The Shockwave Rider.
[Steerpike] What about it?
[Ginja_] Just the way it has dated, and yet still feels more cutting edge than most recent SF novels I’ve read.
[Ginja_] I mean the book is about about wikileaks in places if you read it with a modern mind, there’s no doubt about that, as it is very prescient. But it’s alleged cyberpunk connection is very thin, not that I can’t see the influence it might have had, but it feels like an echo from the past now.
[Ginja_] A rotten apple. Something that was once very delicious, and still should be, but has gone off because of time.
[Ginja_] Scroll to the section from Cheap Truth
[Ginja_] Classic SF dates almost by design. It is a classic because it was so mind changing when published.

‘The Shockwave Rider’ was written in 1975, and is about predictive markets, computer worms and freedom of information amongst other big ideas which the book is stuffed with. I had wanted to read this novel for ten years, at least since I first read Neuromancer, and I was slightly disappointed as my expectations of the novel were false. Which is sometimes, you know, a damn good thing. The book has my guarded recommendation, as you will enjoy it, or at least gain something from the book, as long as you remember that it was published in 1975, and that it is written in a very fragmented and disjointed style which may or may not work for you as a reader.

A Review: Ill Met in Lankmar

‘Ill Met in Lankmar’ is a Hugo and Nebula award winning novella written by Fritz Leiber, first published in 1970, and it is what fantasy fiction is supposed to be. This is the experience I expect from sword and sorcery fiction.

The story is a prequel to thirty years of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories written in the prior to this story. The duo, a combination of a tall northern barbarian, Fafhrd, and a small former wizard’s apprentice, Mouser, are both human characters who conform to none of the lazy stereotypes which my quick description of the two might suggest. Both characters are portrayed having the same interest in boozing, fighting and womanising as well as being of equal intelligence and ability.

We start the novella with an account of Grey Mouser and Fafhrd meeting as they both steal from the thieves guild who are also in the process of thieving. After a few scenes of frivolity in their victory, the two at the insistence of Vlana, the woman Fafhrd promised to take revenge on the thieves guild for, drunkenly decided to infiltrate the headquarters of the thieves guild. From here the story rapidly descends into a horror and revenge which I won’t spoil.

The description of the city of Lankmar exist not to damn the urban environment which they inhabit and romanticise an idyllic countryside, but to celebrate the rich life within cities. There is little sentimental about Leiber’s portrayal of Lankmar, or Fafhrd and Grey Mouser’s actions, but neither is there a sense of strident doom which could exist in this novella, as Fritz Leiber writes playfully and with charm firmly placing ‘Ill Met in Lankmar’ in the Errol Flynn tradition of swashbuckling.

The front cover quote on my 1988 edition of Swords & Deviltry by Micheal Moorecock declares Fritz Leiber, “The best living American fantasy writer” which is apt, as even though he died in 1992 his prose still outshines most fantasy writers working today. Highly recommend that you find an anthology which contains this story.

A Comment I Made About Stories

In a recent blog post to the Guardian Book blog David Barnett discussed Neil Gaiman’s introduction to the anthology he co-edited called “Stories.”

I have been thinking about this question for a little while now. About the tension between the experimental and the storytelling sides of fiction. I think that I firmly rest on the side that says experimentation and playing with form is a good and important thing as long as it is carried out with clear intent and with an understanding that it might backfire horribly.

Not that I don’t enjoy a good plot driven adventure, but I do think that speculative fiction has become over reliant on this form much to its detriment. Where are my philosophical wanderings like Olaf Stapledon’s The Star Maker? Where is the playing with form like John Brunner gone?

Here is my comment:

Might it not be best to consider it a question of intent?

There is a strong tradition within literary writing of pushing at the edges of traditional form and exploring the perceptions of characters but neglecting plot.

There is a strong tradition within genre fiction of telling a meticulously plotted story within a detailed created world at the expense of character and form.

The best fiction, the fiction we remember the most and celebrate, I would suggest manages to find a balance between the two. There is a place for good writing to not tell a story, and that is in the finding new ways to tell stories. These experiments might not always be successful, but the fact that they take place helps upen up new avenues to tell more stories better.

The place that more traditional fiction plays is to remind writers that a lot of the time people just want to read an enjoyable or thought provoking story.

“Writing is fifty years behind painting”
– Brion Gysin

Gaiman’s choice: shouldn’t good writing tell a story too? : [Guardian Book Blog]

Surface Detail

Well isn’t this a thing of beauty?

Out in October, and here is the blurb taken from the Orbit website:

It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters.

It begins with a murder.

And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself.

Lededje Y’breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to
risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture.

Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful – and arguably deranged – warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war – brutal, far-reaching – is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it’s about
to erupt into reality.

It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the centre of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.

New Iain M. Banks Culture Novel : [Orbit Books]

800 Memories: An Experience

I have written about this album before for Ectomo. My opinions on this album are, unusually, uniformly positive, and I don’t think this is because I am friends with the musician. One would hope that it is because the material presented is sublime.

Yesterday when I got into the car to travel into Leicester for an open meeting for a young readers initiative called “Everybody’s Reading” I put the burnt CD of 800 Memories on. I was intending it to be a change of pace from my usual diet of electro-pop and dubstep, and man what an experience it is driving under a clear blue summer sky to sparse industrial hauntings.

Of course when someone has to travel to a destination they usually return. Instead of returning in glorious sunshine I came back to base at night. On the horizon bright lights from a quarry working twenty four hours a day. The feeling of driving, legally, at 40mph through the city center and out along the A6 with this music as my soundtrack was a profoundly relaxing experience.

Now during the production of this album I was privy to many of the test pieces and sample tracks that were produced for it, so this is an opinion that has been a long time forming. I think that this album is nearly the right one for me to write fiction to, and I have written this blog post while listening to a second burnt CD of the album. It is certainly the perfect set of sonic vibrations for me to drive to, as it is calming and keeps me relaxed, and yet abrasive enough to keep me aware of the road ahead.

It is now time for me to sit down and write material for Ectomo and to try and start a new short story. I may just keep this CD on loop all afternoon.

The album is free/name your price high quality download and you get get it from here.

800 Memories Per Second : [Bandcamp]

Taphead – “800 Memories Per SEcond” / Case Bandcamp : [Whitechapel]

Noise du Jour: 800 Memories Per Second : [Ectomo]

Northlanders #30

Kicking off a new storyline with art by DMZ regular Riccardo Burchielli! Erik, a blacksmith living in Viking-era Norway, meets Ingrid, a poor girl fallen in with corrupt Christian missionaries. When the unlikely lovers find themselves duly banished from their respective societies, they launch a crusade of violent retribution!

Quote and image taken from here.

This is the best cover I’ve seen for a comic in a long long time, and then we get to the premise. Also it comes out in time for my birthday. =D

Edit: turns out that this is just the promo image and not the actual cover. Source.

Oh My Molly!

Yes I know the Internet is already full of pictures of people’s cats. But I’ve been ordered to by people from Whitechapel, and I’m not about to argue with them because some of them know where I live.