Monthly Archives: January 2011

January Consumption

Warren Ellis was told to do this and I suffer from the same problem. So I’m copying a good idea. Even if I forget to do this until the end of the month which leaves me trying to remember what I ate/did/read/watched. This is not a complete list because at the moment I’m a forgetful sod. (Can’t you tell?) Consider this for good or ill as what’s stuck in my memory.

  • Blue Mars.

    I enjoyed Red Mars and I really like Green Mars. However the final book in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy fails to work for me. I’ve been struggling with this since December and only made it too about the halfway point. There’s some really cool bits such as where Nirgal visits Jungfrau and the section where Michel Duval visits his homeland of Provance, but, eh, mostly this felt like such a fucking grind. I doubt I’ll go back to try and finish it properly.

  • Machinarium.

    Really sweet game this despite its many flaws. Great art. Great music. But all let down by irritating and often vague puzzles. Due to that I played the game with a walkthrough open to help me through most of the hard parts. I bought this as part of the second Humble Bundle so I don’t feel ripped off. I’m not sure I’d recommend paying full price for this game to anyone who wasn’t really into adventure games. Maybe buy the game for the soundtrack that comes with it if you like ambient music.

  • Black Swan.

    I saw this on Friday afternoon. Still digesting what exactly I think of this in comparison to Darren Aronofsky’s other films. Very proficient and shows further development of Darren Aronofsky’s usual theme of obsession. It is very good. I want more films as good and as brave as this.

  • The Pacific.

    This is a hard series to watch. Band of Brothers while full of horrible things feels hopeful in comparison. The Pacific is brutal, nasty and attempts no justification. As a work of entertainment it suffers when compared to Band of Brothers, but as a work of art it surpasses its predecessor by showing war as unmitigated meaningless horror. I watched this over the course of a few days and by the end felt numb. Watch it because you’ll get something out of it, but be prepared to be abused by the series.

I’m currently reading, as my main book, Stanislav Lem’s The Cyberiad. So far I’m enjoying it. Next I’m going to read either some Albert Camus or a copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go which I’ve had for years. I’ve also a collection of Kelly Link stories on the go at the moment, and a copy of the Penguin Classics version of The Complete Works of Katherine Mansfield is usually accompanying me for interstitial reading.

“Not Real”

Yesterday, on Salon Futura, Cheryl Morgan published an essay called What is Genre Anyway? Personally, I disagree what a lot of what was written and hold a slightly different view on what genre is. I feel the argument presented was a work of apologetics rather than definition. But perhaps this is symptomatic of my age, upbringing and increasing feelings of alienation from “The Conversation.”

Those feelings aren’t going to be discussed here. What I want to counter is an idea presented four paragraphs into the essay. I don’t think that the wrongness of what was written invalidates Cheryl’s entire argument. Although it did reduce my sympathy for what followed.

The paragraph I disagree with is:

Another common complaint leveled at science fiction and fantasy is that they are “not real”. Apparently far more skill is required to set a story in the real world than in an imaginary one. This is a bit odd, because the job of a writer is making things up. Making up imaginary worlds is hard, at least if you want to impress discerning science fiction fans. Then again, I know people who complain that the likes of Picasso and Dalì are bad painters because their works don’t look like anything real. “Why can’t they paint like Constable,” such people ask. It is an opinion, but it is not one you’d find expressed by serious art critics, so why do serious literary critics cleave so to the real?

I disagree. I disagree with every fibre of my being. Everyone has an imagination. Everyone day dreams. Every night thousands of people spend their free time inventing stories in groups playing table-top role-playing games or writing stories of their own. Making things up is the most natural thing in the world for humans to do. It is an important component of what makes us all intelligent creatures. Even if a person is not creative with their imagination they still dream. To say otherwise is to demean others from a position of insipid and false superiority. The art of impressing “discerning science fiction fans” I believe is less about inventing fantastic imaginary worlds, but instead finding how far the real world can be pushed until it becomes not credible to the “discerning science fiction fan”.

When an author is attempting to write about the real world, that author has to look at the world and their position in it. For an author to produce a work of fiction which carries some measure of truth involves looking very hard at themselves as an individual and considering how exactly to represent their place in the the world. It involves a level of introspection that I believe is missing from most science fiction even so long after the transrealist manifesto. In some societies when the work is actually about real life this has a tendency to get the work banned or even the writer imprisoned.

So yes, I think the act of writing about the real world ungarnished by the fantastic is harder because it forces the writer to confront who they are with nothing to hide behind. Writing about the real world is at the very centre of every good story written, fantastic or not.

Where the hell is science fiction’s Raymond Carver?

On Hotel Street

An anonymous purple coach filled with EDL supporters drives pasts me. It is sandwiched between four police motorcycles: two at the front and two at the back. The protesters inside are banging on the windows and whooping as the coach slows at the line of police officers twenty meters away from me. They start to get off the bus. One of the youths in a black hooded sweater is taken aside and searched. As I watch this I am approached myself. “Can you tell me what you are doing sir?”

The voice belongs to a police constable, dressed tactically and ready for a riot. He is much taller than me. He looks down at me. I decide that it would be a good idea to cooperate.

“I’m taking notes,” I say.

“Could you tell me what for?”

Slowly Waking Up

I am slowly waking up to face the new year. Christmas was fine. I read a lot, although not as much as I’d like to. Mostly free from drama, although one relatively minor health problem cropped up which I’m only just starting to recover fully from. There is also a bureaucratic nightmare that I’ve got to deal with later today (Wednesday). Apart from those nasties, all is well.

Now that I’m used to signing the date as 2011 instead of 2010, it is time to come set some goals for the new year. I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about them, and in my not-so-private notebook1 there are three goals written down. Only one of them matters. The phrasing is slightly different, but in effect my goal for 2011 is to climb the equivalent of 12,000 meters of mountain/rock. Ideally I should climb more than that. However, if I can average one thousand meters a month I’ll be content.

You will notice there are no public personal writing goals. They are useless and self-defeating. Art is not a competition. The only thing that counts in the end is how beautiful and how true your art is. Fuck word counts or total number of stories/novels written in a year. I reject this, ultimately, childish desire to grind your way through the game without exploring the full map. It is the journey that matters and not the number of tokens collected along the way.

Now I am going to start to deal with that nightmare and if I get the time before bed read a little bit about the Mourne Mountains. Music for tonight shall be David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy.

Have an interesting year everyone. I hope to climb a lot more mountains. Maybe some of you will join me.

1 – My ubiquitous moleskine isn’t private. If I write something down I don’t have a general problem with it being read.