The OF Blog: January 2006

Monday, January 30, 2006

Eoin Colfer Interview

So after a week of emailing his agent, I managed to arrange the interview with one of the most popular fantasy writers for young adults. And here it is, for you all to see.


Q: Who or what was your biggest influence in deciding to become a writer after years of teaching? Have you been planning it since the day when you started writing plays, or did it come all of a sudden? Why did you become a writer?

I had been for a long time, since I was a boy. While the other kids were out playing sports or climbing trees, I was inside writing plays and drawing comics. It was always a hobby for me until I hit thirty and realised that I had not written the book I had always planned to eventually write. I was living in Africa at the time and so had inspiration going on all around me. These surroundings and my advancing years spurred me on to put fingers to keys and write Benny & Omar, my first book for young adults.

Q: Your Artemis Fowl books made you famous in a really short time. How, if did, it affected your family life?

There was very little effect on my relationships within the family. I have been married for fourteen years and I have had the same friends for over two decades, so things just continued on as normal there. Obviously financially, things are different now. I don't worry about money so much anymore, which is a great relief. But I did not go crazy, we still live in the same house and I don't drive a Ferrari.

Q: A lot of reviewers compare your Artemis Fowl series with Harry Potter. How do you feel being compared to the writer of the most popular series at the moment? Which writer's book of the present you enjoy reading the most?

I think the HP comparisons are inevitable. Harry is the most famous boy in the world no writer can escape the comparisons. Luckily I usually come off okay, so I am happy to be compared with the most successful series ever. At the moment I am back with the classics. I am stuck into A Scanner Darkly. Dick is still the boss.

Q: Is there significance to the fact that so many of your redeemed characters - Mulch, and Artemis himself - have an innate ability - or a marked inability - to recognize and produce the humorous moment? Mulch is extremely funny, Artemis is - well, he's funny, but it's not his natural MO. And not just these two - Meg, even Mona... Is humor the way to goodness?

Humor is a trademark of mine, everything from slapstick to sarcasm. I just can't help putting it in. I really tried with the Wish List to write a scary book- but as soon as an opportunity to clown around presented itself, i couldn't help taking it. And I do believe that a person with a sense of humor can't be all bad.

Q: Mulch, Belch... why do our professional thieves sound like after - lunch events? How do you think up the names – are some based on real characters from your life?.

I like to have fun with names. It is a great advantage of fantasy fiction that you can make up names that would not be acceptable in straight fiction. The name can be used to establish the characters, which I think 'Mulch' does quite nicely.

Q: How long will Artemis Fowl stay with us? Do you plan writing more books about this super hero, or will you write another series about the similar plot and characters?

I think Artemis will last for 6 books in total. When the end comes, I hope to have established a new series already, so that the transition will be painless.

Q: Seeing that nowadays a lot of movies are based on books, (Narnia, Harry Potter, LoTR… can we expect some of your works on the big screens? If yes, when?

Miramax/Disney have bought the rights to Artemis, so I hope they will start shooting sometime in 2006. So fingers crossed we will see the movie in 2007.

Q: When and where do you write? Do you have a writing routine, or do you write only when you have inspiration? How do you come up with your ideas?

I try to put in a full day of work every day. If inspiration is not striking, then I generally have a lot of editing to do. When I am finished that, I generally find that my brain has kicked into gear and I have some fresh ideas.

Q: Have you been thinking about working with some other authors? If yes, who with?

I am working with English Writer Andrew Donkin on a comic book adaptation of Artemis. I am very excited about this, as I have always been a big comic fan.

Q: The last question is the traditional question of the OF: If you owned monkeys, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

Ah yes, the monkey question. I was wondering when this would come up. If I had two monkeys, I would call them McCloud and Ramirez after two of the characters in Highlander, one of my favorite movies.

Thank you again for this interview you did for We all wish you the best of luck with your work and look forward to reading your forthcoming books.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

From Iraq to Arthur and Parts In-Between: Reviews

Because I read a lot both inside and outside the spec fic realm, I thought I'd just keep things simple and review every few weeks some of the books that I've read in short capsule-type reviews, in case the material might appeal to others. Now not all of these books (in fact, the majority) are going to be in English, so while my thoughts will be in my native language, the material itself is more likely to be in Spanish than in English. But there might be some English-language translations available, so feel free to look for those.

Tómas Eloy Martínez - El vuelo de la reina This book won the 2002 Alfaguara Prize for Spanish-language literature and after having read it, I can understand why. While on the surface the story might appear to be a simple tale of the obsession that a renowned Buenos Aires newspaper editor has for a reporter, Eloy Martínez has made this much, much more. The story feels like it's part of the obsession, passionate, repetitive at times, almost pathological in its exploration not just of the relationship between the editor and his 'Queenie,' but also of the world around. Written just as Argentina was about to plunge into its 2001 financial meltdown, the story reflects that, the sex scandal in the US White House, as well as the Bosnia War. Elements of real-life mixing in so well with the fictional personal as to create a story that is well worth the re-read. Sadly, no English translations yet exist of this novel, at least to my knowledge.

Mario Vargas Llosa - Diario de Irak This is a non-fiction journalist account of Vargas Llosa's trip to Iraq during June-July 2003. Accompanied by his daughter Morgana (an accomplished photographer), he spent two weeks there, meeting with various people in the street as well as some of the Ayatollahs and other religious leaders there. It is an interesting account in which he is very honest in his pre-war thoughts of the US-led invasion and his sympathy for the desire of the Iraqi people to be free of terror is quite evident throughout this short collection of newspaper pieces written at the time. Although he left before the insurgency became more lethal, he does note the problems caused by continued American occupation. It is an interesting and fairly balanced interpretation of the war and its immediate aftermath. The pictures alone and the imagined captions to them are worth the $12 that I paid for this book.

Eliseo Alberto - Caracol Beach Another Alfaguara Prize winner (in fact, the inaugural co-winner in 1998 and currently available in English translation), Caracol Beach is a story that straddles genres and cultures with apparent ease. It is in part the tale of the madness that haunts a Cuban soldier after the atrocities of the Angolan Civil War. It is a tale of a senior party gone wrong. It is a story of a father dealing with his drag queen son and his lover. It is the mixture of the real with the imagined, of sanity and madness, and told with a humane touch. I really enjoyed this account of how madness can co-exist with 'sanity' and just how tragic of a loss life can be. Highly, highly recommend reading this story in whatever language suits you best. I've yet to read an Alfaguara Prize winner that didn't deserve the title of "Well-Written Book."

Gabriel García Márquez - El otoño del Patriarca This was the most difficult García Márquez novel I've yet to read. Written in a semi-stream of consciousness style (few punctuation points, no paragraphs, only 5 chapters), this was a very fluid and sometimes dream-like nightmare of the last days of a Caribbean tyrant's reign. After this novel, García Márquez grew sick of the subject matter and said he would refuse to write fiction again as long as the dictatorship of August Pinochet remained in power in Chile. Although he broke this in order to write El amor en los tiempos de cólera, it is certainly understandable as to why he grew sick. This story utilizes its strange structural form and its poetic turns of phrase to underscore the brutality, the callousness of the tyrant's reign. It is one of García Márquez's more moving works and a total 180º from the tone and style of Cien años de soledad. But it was a necessary turn and this novel, for the most part, works as he intended it to work, as a condemnation of how we permit dictators to come into our lives.

John Steinbeck - The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights Many thanks to a friend of mine from India, Rohini, for pointing out to me that Steinbeck did an adaptation of Thomas Malory's La Mort d'Arthur. I just finished reading this on Tuesday and I thought he did something very clever in this reinterpretation of the Arthur accounts. Although Steinbeck himself declares that his original intent was to modernize and 'clean up' the famous stories (as Malory himself did from 13th century accounts), he in turn ends up doing a Pierre Menard: In retelling Malory, he mades the stories more than just repetitions of 15th century accounts. Indeed, in many places, the stories take on meanings that could not have existed in Malory's time, such as how the reader interprets some of the interactions between the knights and the 'fair damsels'. Due to his rearrangement of some of the scenes and the reduction of repetition, Steinbeck's account, although based almost entirely upon Malory with little in the way of overt re-writing or in the introduction of new material, becomes much more 'modern' for the reader. In fact, Steinbeck himself notes this in passing in some of the letters that were reproduced in the back of the book. Indeed, those letters become almost as valuable as the extant materials (as Steinbeck unfortunately never completed this adaptation before his death in 1968) in revealing just how Steinbeck was interpreting Malory, both for his time and for our time. Certainly a book well worth the read, especially if you like Arthurian romances.

Brandon Sanderson - Elantris This book left me with mixed feelings. Although there were many praiseworthy elements to the book (the ability to conclude matters in less than 500 pages; the sympathetic characters; the general sense of optimism with which Sanderson imbues his characters), I couldn't help but notice the mechanics to the story were a bit awkward in places. Maybe it was due to me having read stories that utilized first-person limited narratives or rapidly shifting, dialogue-heavy exchanges, but it just seemed at times that the dialogue in Elantris was clunky and too descriptive when the characters were interacting with each other. In addition, things sometimes came across as a bit too providential at times, as though everything was going to be solved, piece of cake, in a short time after only a little bit of suffering. But these points only served to lower a potentially very good tale to merely a good and very acceptable first novel by an author. It shall be interesting to see how Sanderson has grown as an author when his Mistborn series comes out, starting this summer.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Homosexuality and Fantasy

For some people, seeing those two words together in a title is either oil and water to them or else it raises the expectation of some sort of slash fiction. But probe a little deeper, and one is likely to turn up quite a bit of hesitation, stammering, and possibly even some anger over the implications of such a title. To introduce the very real and problematic issue of homosexuality is for some akin to being violated, of having their idealized world of elves, Quests, and so forth being invaded by a very troubling sociological issue from our everyday lives.

This topic has been wandering about in my mind for some days now. Reading Matt Cheney's excellent article on Brokeback Mountain, followed shortly by glancing over a discussion of the issue over at Frameshift, has only served to make me decide that here and now is a place to post my often incomplete and chaotic thoughts on the issue of homosexuality as it relates to the fantasies that I've read. No doubt, there will be those reading this who will disagree with my comments, either because I do not understand enough about what it means to be gay in a straight world or, conversely, because I may be a bit too sympathetic towards homosexuals. Then again, the very notion of this ambiguity on my part only serves to underscore the difficult nature of this topic, right?

As many others have noted in the past (and I recall a discussion of sorts in the past with Scott Bakker on this), the common understandings of homosexuality seem to be tied up with ideals of masculinity. Whether it deals with super-buff gay men striving for the Adonis ideal or the martial attitudes of an Achilles, there is an undercurrent of hypermasculinity that some people associate with homosexuality. Perhaps this is part of the unease that some feel when trying to grasp the issue of what it is to be gay: How can one be a manly man and love men instead of women?

This is one of the 'Trojan Horse' issues I perceived in reading Bakker's Prince of Nothing trilogy, especially in the just-released third volume, The Thousandfold Thought. One of the main characters, Cnaiür, is a very conflicted individual. Known as the Breaker of Horses and Men, he has a very violent temperment, so much so that he has come to the cusp of brutal insanity. He doesn't love his women, he fucks them, often brutally and with very little passion involved, save in regards to his first wife and to the captured courtesan, Serwë. But yet the depths of his passions seem to have been reserved for another, a man known as Moënghus by some, Mallahet by others. Throughout the trilogy, Cnaiür repeatedly expresses a murderous desire toward this Moënghus, even as the whisperers among the Scylvendi have labelled him as "faggot" and "weeper." But yet in the end, when Cnaiür does manage to confront Moënghus, he but both kisses him and then kills him before he literally fades into the darkness of the second swazond he marks on his throat. A truly tragic and ambiguous end to a tragic, conflicted character.

In the coming weeks and months, as more and more readers come to read this conclusion to Bakker's trilogy, there likely will be some reactions. Already at Bakker's official forum, the topic has been raised in pejorative terms, even going so far as having the original poster question whether or not the author himself were 'gay.' I suspect there will be many people disappointed to learn that Cnaiür 'was a faggot,' while others might debate whether or not being seduced by a Dûnyain would constitute being raped and dealing with that burden/shame rather than being gay. Still others might argue that the entire understanding of homosexuality/heterosexuality is an outdated concept that does not deal with a whole range of issues of personality/identity that exist outside the realm of sexuality. Regardless, it shall be interesting to see how much of a firestorm Bakker's story will produce, if it will indeed produce any at all, outside of an awkward, painful silence that often accompanies doubt and confusion on such serious matters.

Bakker's trilogy serves only as one very recent example of the intersection of real-world issues of sexual identity and fantasy. There are other authors of course who have treated this topic in depth. Ricardo Pinto's in-progress trilogy, begun with The Chosen, has two gay characters who fall in love with each other, yet the main impetus of the story does not deal with the homosexuality. Ursula Le Guin has written many tales in which characters are bisexual, homosexual, or pansexual in stories meant to explore issues of sexuality and self-identity. Doubtless, there are other authors writing today that are addressing these issues in a straightforward and thought-provoking fashion.

But how will the readers react? Are fantasy fans in general going to be very accepting of homosexual characters and situations that focus on the possible nature(s) of sexuality? Will there be a day in fantasy, similar to what Andrew Sullivan has outlined for real-life America, in which there might be such an acceptance of situations and characters that the division between gay and straight might dissolve? Or will there be more stammering, more hem-hawing about the topic, accompanied by a deafening silence?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dreaming of 'True' Fantasy

Lately, my love for reading books of the speculative has begun to wane. I just can't seem to find as much enjoyment or originality in much of what I read that's being produced by the genre presses. Perhaps this is due to not knowing where to turn for what I want to read most, or perhaps it's more due to my readings out of genre (and even out of my native language) in recent months. Whatever is the cause, it has been troubling me.

For example, I am just over halfway finished with Brandon Sanderson's Elantris. Over at the OF Board, this book has been praised for being well-written, with interesting characters, intriguing plot, and for having a complete story told in just one single 500 page volume. But as I've been reading it, I've noticed some troubling things. The dialogue is a bit trite and forced in places, the action is contrived (too many coincidental or providential events occur), but most importantly, there isn't a magic in the writing. Don't think of this as an unfair attack on the book, as it indeed is written better than the majority of epic fantasies that I've read, but I guess this is just a case of damning with faint praise.

Now I know there are books written within the genre mood that seem like they will meet my criteria for a truly fantastic read. For example, Jay Tomio has been lauding Catherynne M. Valente's Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams and Hal Duncan's Vellum to me (and others, of course) for a while now and I am very eager to read these volumes when I have the time/money to purchase them online. But what about the rest of the genre? Is Fantasy in truth just a branded, marketed entity with a focus on secondary worlds, stock characters and situations, with only servicable language, with other visions, other dreams to be relegated to the sidelines? Could there be much truth to the accusations some have made of speculative fiction that it really has lost its connection to the power of language to create the moods necessary for proper wonder/speculation to take place?

I do not have the answers to that, only just this growing suspicion that if I fail to discover more works of wonder, that I will eventually move on, perhaps back to the world of postmodernist fiction, where I used to dwell, lost in fractured time-stops and giddy moments of language explosions, in which differance possibly held a key to the understanding of what I failed to grasp. Hopefully, there are some fantasy/speculative works being written today that can grasp me in such a way. Perhaps some of you reading this can suggest works for me to consider. Perhaps.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


As many of you know, I like to read a variety of genres and styles. Although I very much enjoy fantasy (especially in the form now categorized as 'magic realism'), I also very much like to read stories that are set in the here and now, sometimes to the point where it seems the story, the cuento in Spanish, reads like a diary of someone who has existed under our very noses and yet we never noticed until that narrator thumps our nose and makes us pay greater attention to what is transpiring before our very eyes.

Alberto Fuguet has a gift for this. One of the founding members of the McCondo movement, which aspired to wage a 'war' of sorts against the notion that Latin American literature=magic realism, Fuguet has been a very successful author and screenwriter for about 15 years now. I particularly enjoyed his transnational update of The Catcher in the Rye known as Mala onda (Bad Vibes in English translation) and his 2003 novel, Las películas de mi vida (The Movies of My Life), demonstrated quite well his talent for relating his experiences living in both the U.S. and Chile in a fashion which illustrated the ever-growing influence that American pop culture has had on the 'other Americans' of the Western Hemisphere. His latest book, (Cortos: Cuentos (Shorts: Stories in English), illustrates this influence even more.

The stories found within Cortos revolve around a few Chilean youth. Some of them never leave the country, while others take extended tours of the United States, often with disillusioning results. It is a tale of a group of pop culture cognoscenti, those who are as much at home discussing the latest Hollywood gossip as they are reflecting upon Chilean culture (which often is seen in a negative comparative light). The tales are written in a variety of ways, from a traditional narrative coming-of-age moment that opens the tale, to the usage of screenwriting script to portray in vivid terms the conflict between the traditional and the disposable pop culture.

One story in particular, "Más estrellas que en el cielo," ("More Stars Than in Heaven"), highlights what Fuguet (and in some fashion the others of his literary generation) has aimed to achieve. It is a tale of a group of youth that have arrived in the US and have become enamoured with the bright lights, big city of Los Angeles. Told in a form that is even more Spanglish than usual for Fuguet (and he and others tend to mix in more Americanisms to reflect the speech of South American youth today), this story is a tale of the conflicts that occur each and every day in the cities of the United States, where not only are there a thousand tiny humillations but also a profound gap in the worlds that separate the nations of the Americas. It is powerfully written and yet subtle, as Fuguet tends to let the characters show what is happening rather than just trying to explain.

The other stories in the collection come close to the level achieved by "Más estrellas que en el cielo," but in different fashions. There are accounts of sons returning home to visit, talking about just how strange it is to be at 'home,' or how difficult it is to be a Latino in the land of the Yanquis. Cortos is a reflection of just how interconnected and yet segregated still the various Americas have become and as such, it is a valuable work of fiction. Highly recommend reading it in either language (although I myself read it in the original Spanish).
Add to Technorati Favorites