…since I last posted. My excuses: I’ve been busy at work, with my MSc, and with a couple of other things that have to stay embargoed right now. At the moment, I’m also in the middle of the most intense reading period for the Shirley Jackson Awards. It’s my second year as a juror for these awards and, obviously, I can’t yet say much about the works I and my fellow jurors are looking at. I’m confident we’ll be able to announce some strong shortlists, though. My most recent writing assignment was, rather dauntingly, providing an introduction for a new Gollancz edition of James Tiptree Jr’s Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. Since the book is probably my single favourite collection of short sf, it was a great honour to write this. The new edition is due out in July. Along with a few other introductions and short reviews, my big project this year is bashing into book form some of the reviews and essays I’ve written in the recent past. About which more anon…
Just back from Boston, and a few things to mention. I had a terrific time at Readercon, as ever, and while I was there my Washington Post review of Max Barry’s Lexicon was published. Having been on the jury for the Shirley Jackson Awards this year, I was glad to be able to attend the ceremony where the winners were announced. (Though all of the shortlisted works are terrific and worth reading, of course.)
I was also lucky enough to stay with David Shaw and his family after Readercon: David is the author of the wonderful BelmBlog, about his adventures in the wilder shores of cooking. In return for my supplying him with bad-pun titles for his blogposts, I was able to sample some of his marvellous cuisine – particularly the eight-different-versions-of-chocolate combo linked in the last post. If you’re at all interested in cooking, I strongly recommend his blog – even if you’re not at the liquid-nitrogen-in-the-kitchen stage of things.
Finally, since the news is now on Amazon, I suppose I can mention that Gollancz is reviving its Fantasy Masterworks series from October, with launch titles such as John Crowley’s Ægypt. I’m putting the cover up here partly because it’s very striking, partly because the book is one of my favorites, and partly because I was delighted to be able to write an introduction for it. Very much looking forward to holding the book in my hands.
I’ll be attending Readercon in Boston from Thursday – as always, am looking forward to it. You can find me on the following programme items:
Friday, 11:00 AM Comforting Fiction: Faux Estrangement in Fantasy. John Clute, James Morrow, Graham Sleight, Ruth Sternglantz, John Stevens (leader). In 2011 China Miéville, discussing literature of estrangement and literature of recognition, referred to “the clichés of some fantasy” as “faux estrangement.” Yet these clichéd, faux-estranging works are often tremendously popular. What’s so appealing to writers and to readers about recognition disguised as estrangement?
Friday, 1:00 PM The Silent History: A Killer Serial. Leah Bobet, Samantha Henderson, Maureen F. McHugh, David G. Shaw (leader), Graham Sleight. The Silent History(http://www.thesilenthistory.com) bills itself as “a new kind of novel,” a serialized story told in weekday installments over the course of six months. In addition to the daily first-person narratives there are also “field reports,” reader-created first-person accounts in the story’s universe that are tied to specific locations. Rather than distract, these elements immerse the reader in the world of the story. How can non-standard narrative structure, serialization, geolocation, and audience participation serve as a blueprint for future novels?
Friday, 2:00 PM Welcome to Readercon. Francesca Forrest, Rose Fox (leader), Graham Sleight, John Stevens. “Tropes,” “reading protocols,” “the real year” of a book, “slipstream” fiction, “fantastika,” “intrusion fantasy”: Readercon panel blurbs (and hallway conversations) borrow vocabulary from a wide range of sources that new attendees may not have encountered. Veterans of other conventions may also be wondering where the costumes and filkers are. Readercon regulars and concom members provide a newcomer’s guide to Readercon’s written policies and well-worn habits as well as a rundown of our favorite critical… um… tropes.
Friday, 5:00 PM Under the Squee: The Popularity and Perils of Positive Reviews. John Clute, Jonathan Crowe, Phoebe North, Graham Sleight (leader), Liza Groen Trombi, Gary K. Wolfe. In a 2012 piece on Slate, Jacob Silverman wrote that in contrast to “the algorithms of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and the amateurism… of sites like GoodReads,” professional reviewers “are paid to be skeptical, even pugilistic, so that our enthusiasms count for more when they’re well earned.” Yet fans give Hugo Awards to the generally positive reviews published in Locus and the squeeing of the SF Squeecast, so presumably those enthusiasms count for quite a lot. This leads to the critics’ version of the argument for deliberately writing commercial fiction: if readers of reviews like enthusiasm, why shouldn’t reviewers give them what they want? And how do Silverman’s concerns over reputation, particularly having a reputation for honesty, play out in a whuffie-powered online world, where having a reputation for being fun, funny, or kind might count for more?
Friday, 8:00 PM G The Wrong Future. Graham Sleight. In this talk/polemic/rant, Graham Sleight will argue that 20th-century science fiction made a fundamental mistake in what it was asserting about the future. Individual authors have avoided this pitfall to differing extents, yet SF as a whole has fallen into this trap time and time again. He will discuss the work of Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula K. Le Guin, J.G. Ballard, Octavia Butler, Thomas M. Disch, and others; the effects of the cyberpunk authors of the 1980s; and more recent genre blendings and crossovers.
Sunday, 11:00 AM The Shirley Jackson Awards. F. Brett Cox, Ellen Datlow, Jack M. Haringa, Maureen F. McHugh, Graham Sleight, Paul Tremblay. In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. Jackson (1916–1965) wrote classic novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, “The Lottery.” Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The awards given in her name have been voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors, for the best work published in the calendar year of 2012 in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.
(My function at the Jackson Awards ceremony, I think, is to be there as a juror and so, when people decide we’ve chosen the wrong winners, to have rocks thrown at me.)
I have a review of Cory Doctorow’s Homeland, particularly talking about the late Aaron Swartz, in today’s Washington Post.
As many of you will be aware, the suicide of internet activist Aaron Swartz a few days ago has been deeply felt by many people – see, for instance, Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig‘s posts. As Lessig says, Swartz had been under threat of prosecution by the US Department of Justice for illicitly downloading a large number of articles from the academic journal database JSTOR; the Swartz family has stated that the threat to prosecute him so fiercely “contributed to his death“. As a tribute to Swartz, a number of academics have been posting their own papers online for free, using the Twitter hashtag #pdftribute.
I’m pretty sure I don’t count as a proper academic, but it seemed to me a good time to upload my talk from last year’s Readercon, “Story Terminable and Interminable“. Previous Readercon talks, “And so…” (2010) and “Excellent Foppery” (2009) are also on this site; as the little badge at the bottom-right of this page says, all are Creative Commons licensed.
…to say that I have a review of the Library of America’s recent set of 50s sf novels in the Washington Post – see here.
A couple of pieces of news to report here. Reviews have continued to come in for The Doctor’s Monsters – I was especially glad to see a brief notice in Doctor Who Magazine, which I’ve been reading since (embarrassed pause) issue no 3.
I also wanted to record that I’m a judge this year for the Shirley Jackson Awards for 2012. These are “for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.” Although I’ve not written much about horror fiction, I’ve read it pretty avidly for years – David Hartwell’s The Dark Descent may be my most-thumbed anthology. So it’s been a great pleasure to have an excuse to read extensively in the field. It’s a particular honour to do so for an award named for Shirley Jackson, who wrote so many classic works – not just “The Lottery“, but “The Summer People”, The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and many others. In the meantime, the Jackson Awards are a fine cause deserving of your support.