Posts in Category: links

So something is clearly broken somewhere

It’s been a while. August was a series of daily struggles at work with the evenings spent exhausted and trying to rest. September looks the same. Everything might get easier a few weeks into October once Jen’s move to mine is completed and we’ve settled down to a new routine. What little time there’s been has been spent reading/dissecting V.S. Pritchett and Lydia Davis stories.

The two things that have caught my attention recently are Paul Kincaid’s review of two of the 2012 best of the year anthologies and Ian Sale’s post on the continuing parochial nature of the Hugo awards.

The overwhelming sense one gets, working through so many stories that are presented as the very best that science fiction and fantasy have to offer, is exhaustion. Not so much physical exhaustion (though it is more tiring than reading a bunch of short stories really has any right to be); it is more as though the genres of the fantastic themselves have reached a state of exhaustion.

Paul Kincaid makes very few new allegations: the charge that the genres of the fantastic are exhausted is not new. Cheap Truth asserted the same thing about fantasy way back in its first issue. The symptom Paul identifies is that science fiction’s authors and audience have lost confidence that the future can be comprehended. It seems that few have been able to get over that crisis; most seem to have resorted to repeating the same faded tropes endlessly. Even the best stories are exercises in nostalgia. I’ve had similar feelings for years. But then I grew up in the noughties when everything was already broken. I suspect what excites me as a reader and writer in their mid-twenties doesn’t overlap much with what gets Gardner Dozois & Richard Horton excited. I’ve an affection for the motifs of SF but find the content lacking, so get better literary kicks from other genres.

Last Sunday saw Hugo Awards handed out to several people for producing, or so the award would have us believe, the “best” of their category in the previous year. It’s complete nonsense, of course. The Hugos, despite half-hearted changes implemented over the years, are based on a model of fandom which hasn’t existed since the 1960s.

Ian Sales criticises the Hugo Awards again, and I mostly agree with him as the Hugo’s bore me senseless. Its voters are all older and more American than me: we’ve lived very different lives and it shows in the books and other media we get excited by. It’s that difference in generational and geographical demographics appearing again.

People have disregarded Paul and Ian’s criticisms. I don’t care to argue against them for doing that. They have reasons to preserve the status quo; I don’t. If nostalgia is the prevailing mood then it’s time to examine the foundations of science fiction for extensions, restoration, even, if needed, demolition.

Something is clearly broken somewhere. This is clearly an opportunity to rebel and explore new space.

Chris Marker

Chris Marker died yesterday aged 91.

Watch his cat listening to music.

The Refreshment of Leonardo Sciascia & M. John Harrison

On a Friday afternoon some weeks ago the Guardian published an interview with the Italian writer Andrea Camilleri, an author best known in the UK for the series of detective novels about Salvo Montalbano. In this interview Andrea Camilleri discusses his friendship with fellow Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia and how his prose recharges him within a couple of pages. “I call him the electrician Sciascia. What I mean is that, when I feel like my batteries are low, I take up a book by Leonardo, I open it, I read two pages and my batteries are recharged,” says Andrea Camilleri.

The following Saturday I escaped Leicester for a day of rooting around Nottingham with Jenny. There was a trip to a fine vegetarian & vegan cafe, where me and Jenny enjoyed smoked tofu sandwiches, and, later that afternoon, Jenny delighted in vegan cake & ice cream. On the final trip into Waterstones I remembered about Leonardo Sciascia and bought two collections of his novellas. So far the only novella I’ve found time to read is his last published work of fiction, A Simple Story. The translation of Sciascia’s prose is deceptively transparent leaving the complexity to the political and moral interpretation of the stories plot

Last Saturday in the same feature series the Guardian published an interview with M. John Harrison. A writer whose work I admire for the same reason Andrea Camilleri describes his admiration of Sciascia. It is an excellent profile and one that gently complements the two video interviews with M. John Harrison produced recently by Arc.

The interview with Harrison appeared in The Guardian due to the publication of the long awaited novel Empty Space. My copy arrived last Thursday and I have been reading it slowly. In part this is due to a poverty of time, but also so I can prolong my enjoyment the novel. So while I do not wish to comment on the quality of the book yet, having not finished the book, I’m willing to say that it is a recharging experience that’s putting time spent reading Katherine Mansfield & Paul Bowles short stories to a less mercenary use.

It’s also a novel bringing Narborough Road — the road infamous for drink, violence & sex that all cities have — to Space Opera, and that’s something I get behind because I’m not a fucking puritan who hates the excesses of life.

“I call him the electrician Sciascia. What I mean is that, when I feel like my batteries are low, I take up a book by Leonardo, I open it, I read two pages and my batteries are recharged.”

— Andrea Camilleri.

La Jetée

I can watch this and Sans Soleil repeatedly.

First US edition: J.G. Ballard “Crash”

Two Commercials

I have only seen these aired on television once during a showing of an episode of Mark Cousin’s fascinating documentary series The Story of Film: An Odyssey .

Walls Between Worlds

Luggage

I’m terrible at self-publicity, but it is almost a week since Flurb #12 went live and I understand part of being a writer is making a lot of noise about yourself. Anyway what’s important is that I have a short story called Walls Between Worlds in Flurb #12. It’s my début story in a major publication. (Look at the other names on that table of contents. I’m still terrified and feel like the stupid kid at the back of the class.)

The only explanation of Walls Between Worlds I’m going to give is that this story is an attempt to write “The Spy Who Came in from the Multiverse” and your soundtrack for reading should be this.

Walls Between Worlds by Will Ellwood

Arkady left the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall and encountered a demonstration outside. Most of the protesters Arkady recognized. This crowd assembled everyday on Horse Guards Avenue holding home-made signs with the names and photographs of missing loved ones. They chanted for answers. Scattered amongst the grieving protesters the expected bloc of Socialist Workers Party protesters joined in, giving the Ministry an excuse to do nothing.

From the Victoria Embankment he watched the wheel of the London Eye turning against the sky. In another London he had been responsible for the growing of a memorial garden in its place.

Arkady headed north towards Embankment underground station. A woman from the protest followed him. She pushed through the late afternoon wave of civil servants heading home. He recognized her, but not from the demonstration because that crowd of tired mothers and wives all looked the same. Her name was Rose and Arkady knew her from before he joined the Ministry. He crossed the road and sat on an iron bench next to the Thames.

She sat down next to him. She still smelled of fabric softener. “Hello Alex.”

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You are Listening to…

If you are anything like me than you will have listened at great length to SomaFM’s many wonderful stations which play ambient and instrumental music. For me they are excellent sources of background noise to have playing while I work. (I attribute my success at Uni to the Drone Zone.) Recently another source of ambient music has been brought to my attention. You are Listening to Los Angles is the first site of a series of themed sites which plays ambient music and overlays on top of the music the sound of a police scanner from the named city.

The effect is supremely relaxing and when played through my headphones works nicely with the gentle ticking of a kitchen timer that I have dividing my hours up into smaller working units of time.

There are also variant sites for New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Montréal which I assume play music from the same pool of recordings but with a different local police scanner. Just imagine how utterly trivial You are Listening to Leicester would compare to any of the cities currently offered. On You are Listening to Los Angles I’ve heard kidnappings. On You are Listening to Leicester I expect the most exciting thing you’d hear on most days would be a stolen car.

I would love to see a fictional variant called You are Listening to Mega-City One. Until then Los Angeles is good enough for me.

Some SF Films I Approve Of

Dear Film Industry,

I would like more SF films like this please. Lately you’ve been releasing an awful lot of garbage and I’d like you consider these films already made and why they’re good.


A Year of Speculation

About a year ago I started to attend a local speculative fiction writing group called The Speculators. I have no idea of the exact date. It was a Wednesday and I walked there. That’s all I remember.

The presence of The Speculators as a space to work and a peer group has been vital in my development as a writer and often my happiness. I believe that I am a much better writer today than I was a year ago. (From about 6a to 7a+ in sport climbing grades.) To mark the anniversary I’ve written a short list of writing strategies learned in the past year. You can find the full post on the Writing Industries website.

  1. Silence is golden. It is important to be able to work without distraction. Eliminate as many distractions as possible. Having two hours of silence set aside each week just to write with no interruptions gives me the space to work on hard problems. Busy cafés or pubs are also great places to work because the background chatter and ambient noise filter out any meaning from the background noises which can pull you away from the concentration needed to write.

A Year of Speculation

There’s some thoughts between the lines because I’m agnostic on if creative writing can/should be taught. Maybe I’ll write a few paragraphs on that soon.