The OF Blog: July 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys: Or, a post on fallen "heroes" and fantasy

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,
and brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff's gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow whene'er they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Peter, Paul, & Mary's "Puff the Magic Dragon" is one of my favorite songs from my childhood. I even remember seeing the cartoon based on it that once was shown on PBS in the early 1980s. Now that I am entering my mid-30's, the song has taken on a whole different meaning, one that notes the passing of beliefs with the creeping maturity of little boys and girls. It came to my mind recently while reading two related articles posted by Gabe Chouinard and Matt Staggs.

Gabe in his article asks an interesting question: "But has speculative fiction grown up, or has it just gotten older?" Asked in the context of an "evolution" of speculative fiction (and why so few ever consider using the phrase "speculative literature"), Gabe's post considers the possibility (probability?) that in recent years, SF works have begun to cannibalize, feeding off of the legacy of the past and feeding the demands of a devoted, but yet shrinking audience that has aged. Maybe it'd be like a little Jackie Paper instead being in his 40s and wanting a Puff that chain-smoked and didn't always do the "right" thing. Perhaps it is this suspicion that lies behind Gabe's apparent uneasiness with the "new," "gritty" SF works. Sometimes, it does seem like the writing version of a middle-aged, balding, paunchy guy in a mid-life crisis driving that Corvette around and trying to "score."

But I think there's more to it than just a failure of SF to "grow up" and to mature further. As asked in the post Matt quoted, why no "heroic fantasies" anymore? To that, I would reply (as I did briefly in the comments section to his post) that how can there be "heroes" in a day and age in which the public eye sees all, knows all, feels itself superior to all? In a TMZ world, virtually any person who would have been held up in the past as a "hero" (movie stars, sports players, even some politicians) are revealed to have so many warts, so many problems, that there's this sense of "hey, those schmucks are even worse than I and my droogs are!"

Writers of any stripe write about what they know best or what they see around them. Even in speculative fiction, writers are going to be influenced by the world around them. Hard to hold a belief in "heroes" of this age or any age, when there's that nagging doubt of "Well, if Entertainment Tonight had been covering King Arthur's Court, doubtless he would have looked more like a petulant cuckold than the legendary king!" Cultural attitudes permeate virtually everything, including how we imagine our fantasies.

Perhaps "Puff the Magic Dragon" was as much of a cautionary tale as anything else. Little boys do grow older and they might just leave behind more than just their immaturity.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cute, or sign of the end of the world?

Well, at least I didn't tape bacon to it...

A new Mason-Dixon Line?

I asked a wee little question of Catherynne Valente here just because I was curious, and I'm going to ask it here and see what others have to say (my response is found in the link above):

Here’s a tough question: Besides those authors who literally can’t afford to do it, why does it seem that most fantasy/SF authors avoid signing tours of the [American] Southeast?
It's something that's puzzled me for a while, although I know there are a few "big name" authors who made stops in the Nashville area around the beginning of their tours (Susanna Clarke in 2004, George R.R. Martin in 2005) who had sizable crowds. Just puzzling at times when I think about the general population shift to the South over the past three decades. It is "no shirt, no shoes, no service" these days, after all...

Finalists for the 2008 Premio Ignotus Award

Taken from Fantasymundo, with my translations of the headings alone. Winners to be announced September 25-28 at the convention Almería :

Best Novel:

Alejandro Magno y las Águilas de Roma, de Javier Negrete (Minotauro)
Corazón de Tango, de Elia Barceló (351 editores)
Cristales de Fuego, de José Antonio Suárez (Ediciones Parnaso)
Los Navegantes, de José Miguel Vilar (Grupo AJEC)
Madrid, de Daniel Mares (Ediciones Parnaso)

Best Novella/Short Novel:

Fluyan mis lágrimas, de Gabriel Benítez (Grupo AJEC)
Mundo al revés, de Ángel Padilla (Ediciones Parnaso)
No habrá vergüenza en la derrota, de José Luis López Aranguren (UPV)
Sobre los inmortales, de Ezequiel Dellutri (UPV)
Superficie, de Héctor Álvarez Sánchez (Ediciones Parnaso)

Best Short Story:

Aduya, de Sergio Parra (Andrómeda)
El día señalado, de Enrique Vila-Matas (Anagrama)
En la granja de órganos, de Julián Díez (Vórtice en Línea)
La apertura Slagar, de Santiago Eximeno y Alfredo Álamo (NGC 3660)
Procedimiento de rutina, de Ramón San Miguel (Sitio de Ciencia Ficción)

Best Anthology:

Certamen Alberto Magno 2006, de VV. AA. (UPV)
Cuando los osos descubrieron el fuego, de Terry Bisson (Alianza)
El Enviado, de Joseph E. Álamo (Grupo Ajec)
Premio UPC 2006, de VV. AA. (Ediciones B)

Book of Essays/Non-fiction:

El demonio en el cine, de VV. AA. (Valdemar)
Fantástica Televisión, de Alfonso Merelo (Grupo AJEC)
Horrormanía, de José Manuel Serrano (Alberto Santos editor)
Jabberwock volumen 2, de VV. AA. (Bibliópolis)
La verdadera identidad de James Tiptree, de Julie Philips (Circe)


Ayer y mañana del estudio de la ciencia ficción en España, de Julián Díez (Hélice)
Hermeneútica relativista, de Gabriella Campbell (Hélice)
La realidad fantástica: estética, ficción y Postmodernidad en Cervantes y Tim Burton, de Fernando Ángel Moreno (Jabberwock)
Las aventuras de Emmanuel Goldstein. Usos ideológicos de la ciencia-ficción, de Alberto García Teresa (Jabberwock)
Propuesta para una nueva caracterización de la ciencia ficción, de Julián Díez (Hélice)


Cristales de fuego, de Felideus (Ediciones Parnaso)
Dholak (los últimos días de Bartpurt), de Alfonso Seijas (Silente)
La marea del despertar, de David Daza (Hegemon)
Leyenda, de Enrique Corominas (Gigamesh)
Urnas de Jade, de Manuel Calderón (Grupo AJEC)

Audiovisual Production:

Cazador de mentiras, de David Jasso (corto promocional)
El orfanato, de J. A. Bayona (cine)
Hispacón 2006, de Ramón Castillo (dvd)
Próxima, de Carlos Atanes (cine)
REC, de Jaume Balagueró y Paco Plaza (cine)

Comics/Graphic Novels:

La Legión del Espacio, de Alfredo Álamo y Fedde Carroza (Grupo AJEC)
La tira de la Saga, de Santyago Moro (Silente)
Sueños sin noche, de VV. AA. (Diabolo)


Berrido, de Francisco Fernández Miser (Días de Vino y Fandom)
El árbol del dolor, de Gabriella Campbell y Víctor Miguel Gallardo
Barragán (Ediciones Efímeras)
Héroes, de Óscar Camarero (Editorial @becedario)


Alfa Eridiani (José Joaquín Ramos)
Hélice (Asociación Cultural Xatafi)
Miasma (Fanzine Miasma) (Sci-Fi Universal)
Vórtice en Línea (Ediciones Parnaso)

Foreign Novel:

253, de Geoff Ryman (Grupo AJEC)
China Montaña Chang, de Mauren F. McHugh (Omicron)
La carretera, de Corman McCarthy (Mondadori)
Los hijos de Húrin, de JRR Tolkien y Christopher Tolkien (Minotauro)
Puente de pájaros, de Barry Hughart (Bibliópolis)

Foreign Short Story:

Cuando los osos descubrieron el fuego, de Terry Bisson (Alianza)
El monstruo de las galletas, de Vernor Vinge (Grupo AJEC)
En busca del libro de arena, de Rhys Hughes (Bibliópolis)
Macs, de Terry Bisson (Alianza)
Tom Brigthwind o Cómo se construyó el puente mágico de Thoresby, de
Susanna Clarke (Salamandra)


BEM On Line (Grupo Interface)
Literatura Fantástica (Mariano Villarreal)
NGC 3660 (Pilar Barba)
Sitio de Ciencia Ficción (Francisco José Suñer Iglesias)
Stardust CF (Javier Romero)

Alms for the poor! Alms for the ex-leper! Alms for the online reviewer!

So the issue of the sustainability of online reviewing has reared its fugly head again. Doesn't surprise me much, actually, since it is a matter near and dear to many online reviewers' hearts - themselves. Kidding...mostly. But there are a few things I suppose could be discussed from these links, particularly the ones to posts by Gabe Chouinard and Pat.

Yes, anything that involves time and effort is going to feel like work, because it is work. It can be spending dozens of hours crafting a beautiful bookcase after watching the New Yankee Workshop on PBS or it can be agreeing to be a Cub Scoutmaster for your son's troop. If you put the time and effort in, there are going to be times that you feel exhausted, tired, and perhaps ready to give it up, depending of course on your level of enthusiasm. Throw in a full-time paying job and chances are you'll feel exhausted even sooner, especially when there's that thought deep down inside you that says, "You're not really being paid for any of this, you know. Why not skip it for a few days and rest?" Very insidious, that voice; been listening to it for the past month and a half, actually.

When it comes to online reviewing, it depends on why the person is doing it in the first place and what he/she has to contribute. While face-to-face, I'm a friendly, pleasant person to be around, I also happen to have a very coldhearted attitude toward the online review issue. As both Gabe and Pat have noted, there have been a proliferation of online review blogs in the past couple of years. Perhaps these people have been driven by the lure of "publicity" that others get or by the promotional copies, perhaps not. There has been a huge increase, although not really in the number of books being discussed at length. After a while, I've come to feel that sometimes it isn't as much of a lively chatter about books, but rather a droning HUUUMMM sound. Rather annoying at times; some of the same ones engaging in it seem to have noticed this as well, based on their self-conscious admissions here and there in the past few months.

Being "original" or having "a good, strong voice" is part of the equation here, something that I think could have been addressed in the linked posts above. Being "original" doesn't mean just discussing things off the beaten path. I could open the door and point out a few dozen people who think they are "off the beaten path" by getting their tramp stamps, piercings, and day-glo hair dyes, for example. No, the hardest part of being "original" (and this dovetails into having the "good, strong voice") is being brutally honest with yourself and forcing yourself to admit that you have weaknesses and "blind spots" when it comes to reviewing and then working on it. For myself, those weaknesses would involve an unevenness in considering how a text might be perceived by others, not really being interested in reading paranormal romances, and perhaps being too forgiving of authors whose wordplay is much stronger than the other components of their stories.

But doing this takes a lot of effort, perhaps too much. So many have started to fall rather silent, I guess. Perhaps it is due, as Gabe postulates, to readers feeling a pressure to review each and every book that they receive from publishers. After all, even though I read much faster than the average person, if I tried to write reviews of each and every one of the 250-300 books I've received/bought this year, I'd be about as brain-damaged in my reviews as Harriet Klausner! Publishers just hope for word of mouth and I'm being equal opportunity by just photographing the weekly book arrivals (and purchases and gifts) and posting those pictures here. No pressure on me, since I don't view this blog as being beholden to any but myself and perhaps to the four mostly-quiet co-authors of this blog (no, they're all still alive...I think).

Having spent the past few paragraphs talking about effort and the damage done, I guess some are expecting me to spend even more time talking about the issue of payment, since that's what Gabe and Pat devoted much of their posts to. Nope. I don't have a really strong opinion on it. From the time I began back in late May 2007 to revive this blog and make near-daily posts on it, I've always conceived of it as a place to practice and to develop my critiques. Right now, I'm getting exactly what I wanted back then, which is lively conversations here, reaction/tangental threads being developed by others elsewheres, all leading into an interesting conversation rather than just the dull roar of I AM YOUR BLOGGER GOD! LISTEN TO MY 90210 COMMANDMENTS! (although I'll admit such a voice can be cool on occasion). As a result, I've been asked a handful of times this year to write freelance, paid reviews elsewhere. It was an honor, although the money really didn't mean much to me (in part because I'm satisfied with the money I get paid for teaching). It was the being asked to contribute something that meant more to me.

So the talk about monetizing blogs or getting genre-specific ads really doesn't mean much to me. Right now, the most important thing about blogging to me is my continued improvement as a critic and the continuation of the greater conversation. Money comes as a result of that, it doesn't generate it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Who made who?

Who made who, who made you?
Who made who, ain't nobody told you?
Who made who, who made you?
If you made them and they made you
Who picked up the bill, who? And who made who?

- AC/DC, "Who Made Who?"
I was thinking just now about the Sapkowski interview that I translated today and about a comment he made about influences. Here is the relevant quote:

I am the result of my readings of Alexandre Dumas, Henryk Sienkiewicz [Polish Nobel Prize in Literature winner, author of Quo Vadis?], Raymond Chandler, Roger Zelazny, Jack Vance, Jules Verne, Arturo Pérez-Reverte…They have created me as a writer.

That is what is passing now with me: there are many people that “use” me as a writer and in which I influenced.

There are so many influences in someone's life. Parents, other family members, friends, colleagues, loved ones, passing strangers, etc. In some ways, it would be hard to pick out exactly who "made me" in terms of influencing my social, religious, and political attitudes. But when it comes to literary influences, chances are higher that there is a select few that have had a profound influence on someone, both as a reader and, if that reader were to decide to start writing, as a writer. Although I have no burning need to be a fiction writer, there is something in Sapkowski's statement that holds true for me as well. When I read, perhaps I read in a way that best suits a reading of Jorge Luis Borges, Gene Wolfe, or Umberto Eco. Or perhaps I end up constructing thoughts in a way that reflects those of Gabriel García Márquez or F. Scott FitzGerald. Sometimes, I like to "model" my sentences, to see if I can in English match the eloquence of a Cicero, or I desire to find the le mot juste that a Gustave Flaubert would seek.

These and many more are influences on me, on what I read and what I look for when I read. What authors, if any, have had an influence on you as a reader and/or as a writer?

Part II of the June 2008 Fantasymundo Interview with Andrzej Sapkowski

Here is the second part of the interview (first part, with a link to the original interview in Spanish, is here). It is a rough translation in a few places, but I hope it will be of interest to many. In this part, Sapkowski talks about the Geralt novels as well as a newer trilogy of his which soon will be released in Spain.

Fantasymundo: In your stories it is habitual that you take the part of the losers and the defenseless. Does this owe to a certain social justice? From this, it is not common to encounter a Fantasy so demoralizing and terrible – in its message – as yours. Were you conscious of this, you a natural demythisizer, when you wrote the books of Geralt of Rivia? Can one assume an analogy with Raymond Chandler?

Andrzej Sapkowski: Of course, you’ve nailed it. Geralt has much in common with Philip Marlowe, he is a cynic. No one will deny that all writers, we are doubters of our previous readings, nor that we are intelligent and we have a blank check to do what we want. We make ourselves more intelligent when we speak than the rest, when we want a woman or we hate another person. I am the result of my readings of Alexandre Dumas, Henryk Sienkiewicz [Polish Nobel Prize in Literature winner, author of Quo Vadis?], Raymond Chandler, Roger Zelazny, Jack Vance, Jules Verne, Arturo Pérez-Reverte…They have created me as a writer.

That is what is passing now with me: there are many people that “use” me as a writer and in which I influenced. There are things that are implanted in the brain of someone when s/he writes. I am now in others and it is normal, same that Chandler is himself in me. I do not believe that Chandler would be offended by this, since only I am transferring to the book the same cynicism that he used, but in place of the dark streets of San Francisco, to the malodorous streets of some place which never has existed and never will exist. It is absolutely the same and the people like it, of course. Don’t forget that, when I began 13 years ago, all the world in Poland was absolutely sick of superhero stories and they wanted a story of a man which was not omnipotent. I receive many letters and emails questioning why Geralt is so weak, but I know that they want it so.

Fantasymundo: Do you believe that time could convert the world of Geralt de Rivia into one of the great “sagas” of fantasy literature?

Andrzej Sapkowski: To say that the saga of Geralt de Rivia is going to end up being one of the great ones of Fantasy would be immodest on my part. Of course, I have done what I have been able to do. In Poland I have placed the first stone, certainly, and now there are many authors that are “learning” to do the same. Perhaps after my death, which could be near, some critics will place me on that list [[of the best of Fantasy], like David Pringle did in his 100 Best Books of Fantasy, where all are Anglo-Saxons, save Patrick Süskind and his Perfume and Michael Ende and The Neverending Story. Many critics have said to my face: “We don’t like Eskimos writing about zebras.” And now they are the zebras. Time will tell.

Fantasymundo: In your native land, Poland, they have already done various cinemagraphic adaptations of your work. Are you content with the results? [Sapkowski alludes to the comic adaption by Parowki and Polch, from which the film imitated the aesthetic. In its time, the film had two versions, one for exhibition halls, of more than two hours’ duration, and the other in the television format, episodic].

Andrzej Sapkowski: No. The question is very simple and the response is equally simple: the problem is that the films have made themselves based on something which must seen in the comic, which is not more than a reelaboration of my stories. There is no doubt that those who made them did not read my books, well, apart from leaving out many of its aspects, I encountered nothing, not a single frase that is mine. It is impossible to take pride of something like that.

Fantasymundo: Do you hope that Hollymood will do a better-received adaptation of your books?

Andrzej Sapkowski: All is possible, because if they have seen adaptations of the short stories of Lem, all is possible. Lem hoped that they would make a film of Solaris, and one was made, that of Tarkowsky (1972), and it was very boring. Then Lem waited and hoped to see if Hollywood would decide to make another version, and one was made and it was fucking more boring (directed by Steven Soderbergh, in 2002, with George Clooney as the protagonist). Well, perhaps it had to be so because the novel also is fucking boring.

Fantasymundo: Seeing the “triangle” which Geralt-Yennefer-Ciri form, I could not avoid seeing in them the sketch of the “traditional Western family.” Had you already a preconception of a pseudofamilial development for these characters or did the idea emerge little by little?

Andrzej Sapkowski: The first thing I did was to fight against the stereotype. To present the typical hero who seeks a reward, who saves the world, the World Trade Center, Tel Aviv, who has all the women which he wants. I have altered the myth, this is a hero which says “Don’t fuck with me, don’t bother me anymore.” To place this hero in front of different situations, such as with a woman which also departs from the stereotypes, could be very harsh, but also very interesting. Cherchez la fêmme!

Fantasymundo: The action scenes, over all the ones in which a “sword” appears, they feel very realistic and very plastic; above all in the fencing classes that Ciri takes or the duels of Geralt with his “monsters.” Curious, is fencing practice among your hobbies? And if it is not so, from where did you get the resources for creating images so realistic in the movements or thrusts?

Andrzej Sapkowski: In reality, I know nothing about fencing. The only thing I know I know due to books. I preoccupied myself with making it seem realistic. You can know much about fencing and not have an idea how to write it; so that, including without knowing anything, if you use the words and the adjectives correctly, if you make dynamic scenes, all the world will say, “Wow, this guy is a Fencing Master!” (mischievous laughter)

Fantasymundo: You are the creator of enormously credible characters. Tell me, as “the father,” do you have some preference for one of your “literary children?” Someone is based on some real-life model?

Andrzej Sapkowski: No, not a single one of them is based on real people. I am very strict with this and I want you to believe that all came from my imagination. I have never intended to make a caricature of someone, nor to laugh at someone, nor to demonstrate that I dislike someone. My readers don’t give a shit who I hate, I cannot hate anyone when I write, although of truth yes, I dislike people, but never would I be so arrogant as to show this to my readers.

Fantasymundo: My favorite character is Emiel Regis. With him, you confirmed an idea which I had reading your works: your writing is a “point of encounter as much for the fans of Fantasy as the “black novel,” like The Terror. Did Regis arise from the rich Slavic mythology of vampires?

Andrzej Sapkowski: Actually, all is to the contrary. Regis does not exactly limit itself to any of the existing vampire legends, for that it is so interesting. Of course, until when the famous Polish professor Maria Janion has written an enormous book on vampires in literature, she uses Emiel Regis as an example [Maria Janion is a reputable cultural anthropologist; the book which Sapkowski references is from 2003 and has been translated into English as The Vampire. A Symbolic Biography]. Emiel was a particular manner of demonstrating my personal vision of Fantasy. Besides, he is not the typical vampire bloodsucker, according to the dictates of the Canon (we have to refer ourselves to the damn canonization of the Fantasy), but inside the Canon always there is the space to be original, if you have talent. And if not, well you can go crap in some wooded place.

Fantasymundo: Judging by the apocalyptic tone which presides over your books, I have the impression that you are, in truth, about a clash of civilizations. Can one understand The Saga of Geralt de Rivia as an elegy?

Andrzej Sapkowski: Absolutely. Perhaps my case is not so extreme as that of Tolkien. He suffered a hecatomb from his youth, and he spoke of pollution and poisoned rivers; I now am 60 years old, many of the living things which I have known have disappeared, animals, plants, insects, crustaceans…from what there was when I was 10 years old, already not remaining, it is a disaster. And all that has occurred in the course of one man’s lifetime. What can happen here in 50 years? Perhaps all will disappear and the world will be reduced to ashes. Thinking of it terrifies me.

Fantasymundo: If Geralt de Rivia had been born now, in 2008, instead of 1995, would it have been different? Had your world reflected the instability of the real one?

Andrzej Sapkowski: Who knows? No one! Possibly, it would be a distinctly different story. And I would suppose I’d have to replant the traumas and its connotations.

Fantasymundo: Besides the Geralt de Rivia novels, you have also published a trilogy of historical novels known as The Narrentrum Cycle. Tell us, what exactly is this trilogy and what can we expect from it?

Andrzej Sapkowski: It is a Historical Fantasy, a very atypical form of Fantasy, distant from the worlds of Never More, of elves and dragons. It is Reality with some element of Fantasy. Centered in the religious struggle of Jan Hus, without which I had not been able to conceive our recent history. It is very far from the Peninsula, but if you can consider how all is related, you will understand that without Hus there wouldn’t be a Luther and without him, imagine the history of Europe: there wouldn’t have been the Spanish in Flanders, there wouldn’t be Rocroi…Europe would have been completely different! It is about, therefore, a people massacred and persecuted whose sacrifice changed Europe.

Fantasymundo: Permit us to do a rapid round of questions. Tell me the first thing that comes to mind when we say…

- Lech Kaczynski: Makes me vomit.
- Geralt de Rivia: Too personal. The character of my life.
- Donald Tusk: Ambivalent. His best and only virtue is that he’s not Kaczynski
- Cat: God
- Codringher y Fenn: Jurists. Ambivalent, arrogant, money.
- Tolkien: A master
- Triss Merigold: Pretty and red-haired, but insecure
- Space Opera: Opera in space. The tenor persecuted the soprano and the baritone annoys
- Rydszard Kapuscinsky: A great, great, great, master
- Wiedzym: A lot of money (laughter from all around)

Fantasymundo: Without anything more, it only remains for us to depart. It has been an immense please and, of course, we hope to see you again soon in Spain. Thanks for paying attention to Fantasymundo!

Andrzej Sapkowski: It has been a great pleasure, thank you.

Part I of the June 2008 Fantasymundo interview with Andrzej Sapkowski

I read this June 2008 interview Friday and thought it'd be something of interest for those curious about Sapkowski, now that he's starting to have his stories translated into English. Due to time constraints and the length of the interview, I'm dividing this into two parts and hope to have the first part up later in the week:

The chat was vivacious and pleasant, certainly, but Sapkowski is as equally caustic and unpredictable as are the majority of the characters that people his works.

Taking advantage of the presence of Andrzej Sapkowski (Lodz, 1948) in Madrid, at the Feria del Libro, where he signed volumes of his most famous saga, Geralt de Rivia, we decided to suggest to him an interview for tackling some questions which we considered interesting. Warned that he was fed up with insubstantial interviews, we planned to focus on the person, before all else the character, with unsuspecting results: the person and the character were one together and, on occasion, exceeded by the fiction itself. There is no better character emerging from Sapkowski’s pen but Sapkowski himself.

To many, Andrzej Sapkowski is a genius, a living legend of the best Fantasy. An inexhaustible person, plagued with ideas and projects, which only in Spain can he observe them, to our great fortune, as it signifies to us that Sapkowski will remain for a while, albeit in a reduced capacity. It was enough for us, for now, considering him, without risk of us being mistaken, as the great renovator of the genre, the greatest phenomenon since J.R.R. Tolkien, of whom he would not stop invoking, reverentially, during the entire chat.

The chat was vivacious and pleasant, certainly, but Sapkowski is as equally caustic and unpredictable as are the majority of the characters that people his works. For that we have to reflect, as far as possible, his particular manner of expressing himself. We hope to have gotten it right in our depiction, more or less. Many thanks to Luis G. Prado, editor at Bibliópolis and Alamat, and to Faraldo, the translator of Sapkowski’s works into Spanish. In the near future we will have a draw at Fantasymundo related to this interview, be ready…

Fantasymundo: What do you believe is the health of “fantasy literature” and of Science Fiction at this time? In truth is it as bad as others have painted it elsewhere?

Andrzej Sapkowski: No. It always has had quality and has been very popular, including before (John Ronald Reuel) Tolkien, and it continues to be now. That of which before was better and then worse is an invention of the critics.

Fantasymundo: You have “renovated” the fantasy genre by synthesizing “fiction” and “reality” through the use of the mythology of your own social environment.

Andrzej Sapkowski: You have to comprehend that I’ve been doing fantasy for twenty years. When I began to write in Poland there was no one, I was the pioneer. That is not an immodesty, it is the truth: I had to create Polish fantasy. I believed to part from my readings and my knowledge of the genre, because the Polish reader, extremely discerning, was not going to accept hybrids of the middle road between Fantasy and other genres, or a simple copy of Tolkien. S/he was searching for something new, special. And that eagerness for creating something new, special, that is what drove me to write.

Fantasymundo: So that would be the fundamental contribution of your work to the genre?

Andrzej Sapkowski: No, by God, it is not that. I’m not a “contributor,” someone who has contributed something fundamental to the genre. Perhaps when I have died inside of twenty years the critic will encounter something in my work which merits called such. Although well it is true that also I have made something special, but, having done it, I am not able to speak of it.

From a non-egoistical point of view, it is certain that yes I would be able to say that I have made a small contribution, having opened a door wide enough for other writers which have come after me. I was the first to accomplish these things, by demonstrating that not only the Americans and British are capable of writing Fantasy, but instead a simple Pole can also do it. That is my true merit.

Fantasymundo: What are the creative steps that you follow in writing a book?

Andrzej Sapkowski: (Laughing) Well, that which one always thinks is that the idea is foremost, and that from it the book grows. I am not in absolute agreement with this opinion: the quality of the writing, the formal aspect, is the most important, since that I was the uncle which learned to write from the great masters, like Roger Zelanzy, Samuel R. Delany, Norman Spinrad, Jack Vance, or the grandmother, Marion Zimmer Bradley [this term was spoken in Spanish by Sapkowski. The other “Spanishisms” that Sapkowski mentions will appear, from here, in italics (English in this translation)]. To a point one can write of something so hackneyed as King Arthur and the Round Table: that which matters is how you write about it.

Fantasymundo: In the collection of short stories, “Road Without Return” (published in Spanish by Bibliópolis), I have enjoyed enormously your “fragments” of Science Fiction (“Battle Dust”). Is it possible that we see some day in Spain a SF novel of yours?

Andrzej Sapkowski: Who knows!? Anyways, that story which you mention, “Battle Dust,” I wrote as a joke, because Space Opera is not a genre that makes me enthusiastic, with its laser rays and all those things. The rule is that you never write something that doesn’t please you, because you will not write it well.

Fantasymundo: In “Road Without Return” is, in my humble opinion, one of the best “short stories” that I have ever read and, for that, a masterpiece: “In the Bomb Crater.”

Andrzej Sapkowski: Thank you very much.

Fantasymundo: You’re welcome. Tell us, what is the secret for constructing a story with such a deep thematic broadness, so many socio-cultural references, and at the same time, capable of reuniting indignation and tenderness without avoiding falling then into gaudiness?

Andrzej Sapkowski: Well, “talent” is the first word which comes to the mouth (laughter). Seriously, to say these things in Poland sounds bad, because there the magazine editors are very demanding, among other things because “political fiction” is a genre for this. Think of it this way: in Poland you cannot say “I am famous” and sell a laundry list, no: since the editors and readers demand quality, you must give them quality, or they won’t buy your work. This story collection, “Road Without Return,” it is the result of this circumstance. Certainly, there is a story, I will not say which it is, that was initially rejected by a magazine and I had to sell it to another.

Fantasymundo: A more boring question. Your thing with cats is, a liking, a passion, a mania?

Andrzej Sapkowski: (Laughing). For me the cats are an obsession. Cats please me, I believe that they are supernatural creatures, with an identity and personality of their own, well that there are not two equal cats, different from dogs, which there are. Not only are they all distinct, but also they have an impressive capacity to see the invisible. It is very good to have one in the house, because then no demon will cross the shadows, because this [the cat] is in the shadows, waiting and vigilant. I wrote a story over this, “The Golden Afternoon,” indisputably my best-written story from the cold professional point of view, but it is not my favorite, which is “Maladie” [pending publication in Spain: the short novel “Maladie” appeared in Poland together with an essay entitled “The World of King Arthur” and is Sapkowski’s version of the myth of Tristan and Isolde], my most personal portrait, from the depths of my heart. Isn’t it published in this collection? [Luis García Prado, sitting near him, quickly denied it]. Well, what a pity! It is my preferred story!

Also in “The Musicians” [Premio Ignotus 2003 in the category of Best Foreign Story] there is a similar fragment, in which the Demon tries to enter the habitation and the cat from the windowsill, says to it, like Gandalf on the bridge at Moria, “You cannot pass.” “You have come here in order to fight against the defenders, but I am alone, so fight against me.” And the Demon, astute, ends up retiring.

Fantasymundo: This vision of cats to which you allude, is this part of Slavic mythology or is it strictly yours?

Andrzej Sapkowski: It has nothing to do with any mythology, least of all Slavic. In fact, in Poland cats are viewed poorly, they are not much loved. A proof you have of this in the Feria del Parque del Retiro itself, where I encountered some wild cats to which I called and they came to me: this would not have been possible in Poland, they would have left running, because they have a fear of people. It is considered a false beast, dangerous, at which one has to throw stones, to expulse it.

Fantasymundo: We’ve been speaking for a while and still I have not asked you (deliberately) about which the whole world asks you: Geralt de Rivia. Tell me, what is Geralt for you, a character more or the work of a lifetime?

Andrzej Sapkowski: Geralt de Rivia is the character of my first story, of my literary debut. In my first encounter with the Fantasy and SF readers, my proposition was to do something atypical, completely new. I had to rethink the fairy tales, where some problem with a dragon in a kingdom was solved, the king was disposed to offer to the first one which passed his daughter and half the kingdom for solving it.

My vision of Fantasy is almost real. You have to believe that which occurs in the stories, because they are not a fairy tale. No one comes to believe that a king can be so stupid as to give half the kingdom and his daughter to some cretin. It can take some time to imagine how one is going to kill the Dragon, perhaps with dynamite, or with an AK-47, since with this you can kill all. I re-wrote the story, since it is not a poor shoemaker who kills the dragon and saves the kingdom, but instead a professional, who works for money. I have turned to construct the fantasy story: it is almost real, you have to feel it, to believe all. It is not the typical fair tale, all is fucking real.


Part II deals much more with the Geralt storyline. Hope some found this to be of interest, despite the occasional rough spot in the translation.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Best American 2008 cover, Michael Moorcock writing a book on Mervyn Peake

This cover art image was just posted on Ecstatic Days by Ann VanderMeer, co-editor of the upcoming Best American Fantasy 2008. I loved the first edition and am highly eager to read the second volume.

The second news item (and no, it's not just to please Matt Staggs, who hosted the announcement yesterday ;)) is the news (with excerpt!) of a forthcoming book by Michael Moorcock on British writer Mervyn Peake and his wife, Maeve, called Lovers: Mervyn and Maeve Peake. A Personal Memoir. I'm looking forward to reading this non-fiction piece (which also contains information added by the Peake children), even though there is no announced release date.

July 17-26 Book Porn

Two pieces of book porn for the past 10 days. Seven books, two being advance review copies, two being regular review copies, and three being my own purchases. First, the image above:

Top-left: Walter Jon Williams, Implied Spaces; Tim Powers, The Stress of Her Regard.

Bottom: Andrzej Sapkowski, Tiempo de Odio (Book IV in the Geralt de Rivia Saga).

Top-left: Tim Waggoner, Cross Country; Irwin Shaw, Evening in Byzantium.

Bottom-left: Scott Westerfeld, The Risen Empire; Angélica Gorodischer, Las Jubeas en flor.

Perhaps a few more next week, but unless publishers are sending me a ton of books for future review consideration, it might be a while before I have a substantial number of books to show again, since most of my remaining money will be going into buying classroom-related materials.

And for my next trick...

While I struggle to wind down a review in English, I also plan on distracting myself some this weekend by translating this June 2008 interview with Andrzej Sapkowski from Spanish to English. I'm currently reading his Geralt novels and am about halfway through the fourth book, Tiempo de Odio in Spanish translation (to be released as Times of Anger in late 2009 in English translation). I haven't enjoyed reading much in the way of epic/heroic fantasy over the past couple of years, but Sapkowski's writing has me very curious to read what happens next because of how he's constructed his characters. This interview reveals a few interesting nuggets of information.

*Hopes that the Spanish translation of the final volume is out by the end of the year, as he doesn't want to have to wait 4 years for it to be published in English*

Friday, July 25, 2008

Two more just-released cover art images

Cover art is, like most things, in the eye of the beholder. Considering the recent discussion here and here over perceived deficiencies in the US Bantam cover art for Scott Lynch's upcoming 2009 book, The Republic of Thieves, I guess it is a matter of tastes varying, because in a way, this is the sort of cover that is aesthetically pleasing to me. The mixture of dark purple and black is something "cool" with me, and the image is not a garish one and apparently is related to an important "new" character in Lynch's third volume. When I glance at it, it holds a bit of a mystery (why is the woman holding a mask?), but it also manages to convey a sense of expectation. Or perhaps that's just my own feeling in regard to this book, as I'm hoping it'll be an improvement over the second book, Red Seas Under Red Skies, which felt a bit "flat" to me (then again, I rarely like sailing/pirate stories).

The second cover art image was just posted on Felix Gilman's blog and is the just-released cover image for his second novel (and sequel to his excellent debut novel, Thunderer), called Gears of the City. This cover image certainly is more in tune with the spirit of Gilman's first novel (although to be fair, the Thunderer cover art does depict a scene from the novel) and perhaps will be received better by potential readers. The cover art is darker, both in color shades and in the images shown. The namesake gears give a more "steampunk" feel to the Gears cover art, which perhaps might convey more of the storyline, although I suspect (not having read this book, obviously) that there'll be other elements in there, just as there was in Thunderer. Wait and see, I suppose.

But what about you? What do you think of these two just-released cover images?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cover art and possible different interpretations of a single series

Over the past year, I've been slowly reading some of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski's works as they've been translated into English and Spanish. Beginning in July 2007 with reading his The Last Wish just after it was published in English for the first time, I found myself intrigued by Sapkowski's mixture of humor, wry observation, and deft dialogue. It has all of the appearances of a "traditional" epic fantasy, with elves, dwarves, dragons, sorceroresses, etc., but there are many references to contemporary concerns, such as the ecological state of the realm, among other things. It is hard to describe in a few pithy words without the people reading this having read the book, but I thought I'd showcase another issue with Sapkowski, one that deals with possible interpretations of his stories from the cover art. These are of the books I own or will own shortly and I think it's safe to say that each varies quite a bit from the others.

The first two images are from the UK and US editions of The Last Wish. What I noticed immediately about the UK edition is that the wolfhead emblem, surrounded by the Roman numerals, gives an arcane effect without the cover screaming "fantasy!" to it. With its edged vellum look to the back and to the edges of the front cover, it is a very stylish-looking cover that I found to be fitting for the story.

The American edition, however, borrows from the recently-released The Witcher video game. Red is such an attention-grabbing color, one often associated with danger and violence. While perhaps it is suitable for the tone and pace of the video game (I cannot claim any knowledge of such, since I haven't yet bought the game), I found this over-abundance of red to be distracting and not really suitable for the nature of the series itself.

The next image is for the second short story collection, La espada del destino (The Sword of Destiny), which has yet to have a scheduled UK or US release date. This book features a near photo-realistic image of one of the recurring characters in this collection (and the series), the sorceroress Yennefer. I liked this cover, as I felt it represents well one of the more "human" strains that run throughout Sapkowski's Witcher stories. This is, of course, quite ironic, considering what has happened to the Witchers and Sorceroresses to make them what they are. Regardless, this might be my personal favorite of the Sapkowski covers that I own.

Next is the cover art for the upcoming UK release of the first book (third total, counting the two collections), Blood of Elves. Like the UK cover art for The Last Wish, the fantasy elements are only suggested, but never actually shown in explicit detail. However, as some have noted elsewhere, it is interesting that Tolkien's tengwar alphabet was used on the cover, since in the story, Sapkowski's elves use runes instead. But this is a minor quibble, as I believe that cover art for a series of books ought to have some constancy to it to serve as a unifying element for the books that follow. In
this regard, the UK cover for Blood of Elves works perfectly, even if the greenness might be a bit odd at first.

And finally, I have the Spanish cover art for the fourth volume in the seven books related to Geralt that Sapkowski has written to date, Tiempo de Odio(translated as Time of Anger - as per the Amazon UK listing - or Time of Disdain, which would be in keeping with the Polish original's title). Of the five covers I have presented here, this is perhaps the most "fantasy-like" of them, with the sword prominent in the front, with what appears to be the aftermath of a battle, with arrows stickening out of bodies (I think) and some wild animal roaming under a yellow, cloud-filled sky. It is a rather jarring image and one that doesn't seem to fit well with what Sapkowski was writing, although doubtless it might appeal to those who enjoy that sort of fantasy cover art. Needless to say, I am tempted on occasion to want to smack those who love these sorts of covers, for the simple reason of their horrid taste in cover art. But I digress.

So there they are, five covers for four books, written by a single author and published in two different languages, each with brief commentary by myself in regards to appearance and effectiveness. But what about you? Which are your favorites out of these five? Which is your least favorite? What works or doesn't work about these covers? I'm very curious to know who agrees and who disagrees with me on this. Well, I guess I should be honest I'm still more curious to know what happens next in the fourth book, so back to reading I go!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A few genre-related odds and ends

After reading Matt Staggs' excellent daily links post, I saw a few articles there I wanted to comment upon briefly:

Michael Cisco blogs about a rather unsatisfactory relationship he has had with Prime Books. From what I understand, he is not the first to have problems with their books being published on time or with receiving royalties every six months. Perhaps it is a standard occupational hazard when it comes to having a book published with a smaller publisher or perhaps it is an issue limited to Prime alone, or even a colossal misunderstanding. I don't know, but Cisco's post certainly is worth reading, even if it might turn out that he was mistaken on all this.

Edit: Prime's editor/publisher, Sean Wallace, responds to Cisco's charges. From this and a couple other things I've since learned, it might be a big misunderstanding on Cisco's part and I feel obliged to provide more to this.

Charles Tan has a very interesting post up about his experiences with PDFs, with how it affected positively his ability to read/review books, as well as his occasional reliance upon pirated e-books. He also refers to my post on the latter subject and I believe those reading my posts on the issue ought to read his excellent article.

There's a Guardian post of Top 10 Slipstream Novels, as chosen by Christopher Priest. Read many of these and while I agree with the excellence of those novels, I can't help but to wonder if the term "slipstream" is the literary equivalent to "rockabilly."

SF Signal has a Mind Meld forum of authors on "worldbuilding." While informative and full of interesting points by the various authors, I would have loved it more if there had been more discussion as to whether or not such a term as "worldbuilding" ought to have the cache that it currently holds in some corners.

And finally, there's an article in Spanish from one of Spain's leading newspapers bemoaning the state of SF. Yes, there is a Spanish version of Dave Itzkoff. Needless to say, it is but one editor's opinion, as many others I've read over the past year seem to indicate that Spanish SF is healthier than before. After all, the recent Semana Negra seems to have been a great success, something I couldn't imagine happening here in the US, although it certainly would be cool to have an outdoor festival to take the place of some of the summer conventions.

Hopefully, these links will be of interest to others. Thoughts on these, please?

The key to being an "elitist"

Just as I was falling asleep earlier, I had a thought occur to me that was related to the past few posts. What is it about the "elitists" that sets them out from the presumed hoi polloi? Is it merely quantifiable measures such as erudition, education, or the élan with which they approach matters? I think those are but symptoms. I would argue that the root cause that leads to one eventually being labeled as an "elitist" (regardless of that person's own personal attitudes) is but one little thing.


It is easy to be certain about a whole host of things, but much more difficult to be doubtful. It is a point that Scott Bakker has brought up many times in the past 4 years in interviews and within his books, but it usually ends up being something brushed aside, often because there often isn't an effective response. Let's look at some of the ways doubt can be used to make someone an "elitist."

1. Doubt drives one to reconsider "truths." Ever tried to question long-held beliefs with anyone and take note of the immediate reaction afterward? Doesn't matter if the doubter is "right" or "wrong," more often than not, there's going to be resentment and the belief that the doubter is putting him/herself "above" others.

2. Doubt pushes one to ask more questions. This is pretty much a corollary to #1. The more questions asked, the more some are going to feel uncomfortable, since it forces them to have to consider possible holes in their cherished beliefs.

3. Doubt leads to explorations of things that are "outside the Pale." For example, one might end up doubting that Tolkien-influenced fantasy is the best/only type of fantasy around. But for some who are convinced that it is, those questioning that assumption might end up being viewed as "Other."

4. Doubt causes the occasional shift in perspective. If, as Grace Slick once sang, "truths become lies," then how does one attitude towards those things change? And if there is fundamental change, then how does that person end up viewing other things?

5. Doubt makes one less confident of "right" and "wrong" without evidence. It pretty much is the antithesis of the bandwagon effect. And when one ends up going, willy-nilly, against the tide of popular opinion...

6. Doubt leads to more questions, more shifts. Pretty self-explanatory in light of the comments above.

7. Doubt creates a more critical attitude. And who really likes anyone who has a critical, questioning attitude, anyways?

I probably could think of more characteristics, but these will do for now. So if one is led to separate him/herself from a commonly-held position, to question if things are as they should be (whatever that "should be" might mean), and to explore other possibilities that lie beyond the general realm of expectations and that person expresses those opinions, just how quickly do you think there might be that bandying about of the term "elitist," with the connotation that such characteristics that I've listed above are "bad"?

PDQ, I'd imagine.

Nick Mamatas on anti-elitism

This post by Mamatas in regards to people complaining about a few observations he made made my day...err, night...umm...kinda day:

Something similar happened when I made fun of the many Dr. Horrible posts I've seen on my f-list. People objected, claiming that I was just being snooty about what a lot of people liked. Never said any such thing. Point of fact, MOST of the posts I remembered had nothing really to say about Dr. Horrible, except that it existed and would be available for free for a limited time. Most of the posts I saw were simple commercial messages from people who hadn't even seen the material. That was the core of the joke. I had, and still have, no idea whether or not the people whose posts I poked a little fun at even liked the show. (Apparently, some people didn't like that the female lead died or something?)

The faux anti-elitist canned argument is one of the most tedious regular features of the comments section of this journal, and of panel discussions I'm on at cons. Complain that a movie makes no sense — elitist! Prefer a good book to a bad one — elitist! Note that people are making commercials for free about something they haven't even seen — elitist! Wonder how it is supposed to be that a publisher can produce 400 books a year with all of them being great, just great — elitist!

Does it sound a bit more stupid when presented in the abstract? It should. Next time you're feeling defensive, really, check yourself.
Sometimes, I feel like a Pinko when being called an "elitist." Then again, perhaps that's not such bad company to keep, huh?

Edit: After reading Mamatas' exchange with someone named "mallory_blog," I can't help but wonder how he didn't bang his head against the wall until he bled. It is a classic trainwreck exchange.

The Crack Manifesto

Despite the understandable reluctance to abide by them or to stomach the umpteenth reiteration of worn-out rhetoric, literary manifestos can be fascinating. Although I've been aware of this particular "group" since 2004, for some reason I never thought to blog about the Mexican Crack Manifesto group until after reading yet another post commenting on that person's wariness of such manifestos.

The link above discusses each of the five authors involved in this ad hoc group. I have read two of them, Ignacio Padilla and Jorge Volpi, and I would hold them up against most writers today. Best of all, much of their work skirts around the boundaries of Anglo-American "speculative fiction" without ever being "Magic Realism" (a term against which they were rebelling in 1996, incidentally). Below is an excerpt from one of the five authors' comments about why they were publishing such a manifesto:

Consistent with its life project and its future, the Crack novel longs for renewal in the last spot to be visited: another walk through the Crack’s fair, with the same willingness for failure, as shown in the following tetralogy:

1. The Crack novels are not small, edible texts. They are, rather, a barbecue: let others write the steaks and the meatballs. Between that which is disposable and ephemeral, the Crack novels oppose the multiplicity of voices and the creation of self-ruling worlds, which is not a tranquil task. First commandment: “Thou shall love Proust above everyone else.”

2. The Crack novels are not born from certainty, which is the mother of all creative annihilations, rather from doubt, the older sister of knowledge. There is not one kind of Crack novel, but many; there is not one prophet, but several. Each writer discovers his own breed and shows it proudly. Descendants of champion fathers and grandfathers, the Crack novels take all their risks in stride. Second commandment: “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s novel.”

3. The Crack novels are ageless. They are not novels of formation, and Pellicer’s phrase reemerges: “I am old, and believe that the world was born with me.” They are not, therefore, the first works of their authors, sweet temptations of autobiography; they are not about first loves or family histories, which underline everything. If the writer’s most valued possession is the freedom to imagine, these novels go much further, demanding more from their narrators. Nothing is easier than to write about oneself; nothing is more boring than a writer’s life. Third commandment: “Thou shall honor schizophrenia and listen to other voices; let them speak through your pages.”

4. The Crack novels are not optimistic, rosy, adorable novels; they know, as much as Joseph Conrad does, that being hopeful in an artistic sense does not necessarily imply believing in the world’s kindness. Or they search for a better world, being aware that such a fiction can exist only in a place we will never know. The Crack novels are not written in the new Esperanto, which is the language standardized by television. It is the celebration of language and a new baroque: of syntax, lexicon, and the morphological game. Fourth commandment: “Thou shall not take part in a group that accepts you as a member.”

Needless to say, A-MEN to #4. Thoughts on this? If I have time later this week, I'll blog about another Latin American "group" from the late 1990s/early 2000s that have produced some interesting works. For now, just know that I think Padilla and Volpi deserve greater recognition among the gringos (and yes, Padilla's The Shadow Without a Name and Volpi's In Search of Klingsor are available in English translation and presumably in at least a few of the major European languages).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Fantasy version of Godwin's Law

I am going to presume that most reading this have heard of Godwin's Law, that pernicious meme regarding the nature of certain internet discussions. What many might not know is that on a few fantasy forums, there is a SF/F version of Godwin's Law that can be applied to the discussion of a writer's merits.

Inevitably, there are going to be disagreements about an author's style, writing, plotting, and even his politics and attire. More and more, especially on epic fantasy sites, things will devolve from analyzing these perceived deficiencies to a state where that author, rightly or wrongly, will be compared to one entity that has become the epitome of suckitude, smug arrogance, uncouth attire, and loathsome ideology.

Yes, Terry Goodkind has become a shortcut to denying the validity of another's arguments regarding another author's talents and abilities. To use Goodkind in the comparative is to imply that other writer in question has questionable merits, if any. Take for example this recent comment on the George R.R. Martin fansite, Westeros, where almost out of the blue a poster decides to deride Michael Moorcock and China Miéville for their prior comments regarding J.R.R. Tolkien:

I'm expecting to get whacked down for this, but I think Moorcock has turned into a mirror universe version of Terry Goodkind. Moorcock wrote entertaining fluff when he was young, but gradually he fell into delusions of brilliance and decided that he should write political didactic fiction to educate us stupid people. Moorcock separates himself from Goodkind by his opposite political views and his tendency to cover his simplistic stories with a thick layer of purple prose and misguided, self-indulged artsy techniques like random tense changes all over the place.

Not-so-coincidentally, both Moorcock and Goodkind hate worldbuilding and requirements for self-consistency, preferring to slap cool-sounding stuff into the story just like that.
Ignoring the near-total lack of evidence to support this assertation, let's look at how this poster uses Terry Goodkind as an ersatz Nazi. We see first "he fell into delusions of brillance," an intended claim to megalomania (one that the SFWA committee in charge of deciding their Grandmasters might look askance at, perhaps). Then it is followed up with the writing of "political didactic fiction," which of course makes me wonder if the poster confused occasional political undercurrents with the subordination of Story to Politics. The "educate us stupid people" bit is something else, one that leaves me with eyes agoged and wondering what sort of janja was being smoked then.

Then there are the obligatory disclaimers, as no-one in his/her right mind would accuse Moorcock of being an Objectivist, only for the thing to have the cherry on top of "hate worldbuilding and requirements for self-consistency," whatever the hell that might mean. While I never thought of Moorcock as being someone who slaved over how to create a non-existent language with 13 variants just so five words could be used in a story that would have the numbing details of a Baedeker's, I can't say I see the comparison with Goodkind either.

But this, of course, is beside the point. Making logical arguments is subordinate to using the new nuclear weapon in these forum debates of dropping the "Tairy Bomb" on someone. Once the comparison to Goodkind, good- or ill-fitting notwithstanding, has been made, the chances of a give-and-take discussion have dropped precipitiously. Might as well have called the other person a Nazi.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Do SF/F authors have to be SF/F fans in order to be good writers?

It's funny how small townish certain things can be. Speculative Horizons rants about comments made around a year ago by David Bilsborough in an interview on Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. Gabe Chouinard reads this rant about a week later and opines about deficiencies in the SH rant, which of course leads to this rebuttal of sorts, followed by discussion on the SF Site's forums. Sounds almost like the SF blogosphere version of which cousin is screwing someone's other cousin, doesn't it?

But buried in all that is an interesting question: Do SF/F authors have to be SF/F fans in order to be good writers?

This of course is predicated on a few things. By "science fiction" or "fantasy," are we referring to 1:1 correlations of say epic fantasy writers with epic fantasy fandom? Or can we have, as in the case of a China Miéville or a Michael Moorcock, to name but two of numerous examples, of writers who are well aware of a C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien but who think that those authors' works are weak, deficient, turgid, filled with nonsense and/or dangerously reactionary ideals, etc. Something tells me that those two authors didn't have to be "fans" in order to write some interesting and compelling fantasy stories based on what influenced them, not on the ossified examples of Lewis or Tolkien.

Yes, often an author needs to have some awareness of the genre in which he or she is writing. However, being a "fan" can be as much of a detraction as an advantage. If a writer is so immersed in his/her fannishness that there isn't an honest look at what deficiencies might exist in his/her chosen form, then what point is it to write in a field if only the same formulae, the same mistakes are copied by rote regurgitation? Would it not be better if an author who is perturbed by said perceived weaknesses decided to explore things, push boundaries, or perhaps (to be a bit blunt) decide to "fuck some shit up"? After all, James Fennimore Cooper did pretty much this when he got frustrated at reading a then-popular author's rather wretched frontier novel. Last of the Mohicans was the result of that non-fan's writing.

While doubtless some will make the argument that this is the exception that proves the rule, I am not so certain. I think it is a rather naive presumption that only those who have immersed themselves in reading hundreds of (epic, since that's the subgenre implied in the SH post) fantasy books can have something to say. After all, some of the more acclaimed writers writing today have utilized diverse genre influences to create something that is more sui generis than the presumed majority of say epic fantasists who read and write within narrow bounds. Does "fandom" have to equate with an almost obsessive reading and then writing in one field? I certainly would hope not.

But perhaps there are other ways of looking at this. All I know is that it seems rather confining to argue that authors ought to be "fans" if they want to write something great within X genre.

Tor's new site: Very early impressions

A couple of days ago, the revamped site launched as a combination online story hoster, a blog central of sorts for various writers and industry professionals, and with the beginnings of a sort of social networking among its users.

Reactions have been interesting, especially this one, where there's a bit of a heated debate about the site's merits. I haven't had the time to do more than register (see if you can guess my screen name ;)) and browse a bit, but it seems to be to be a place that'll thrive or fail based on the willingness of everyday SF/F fans to communicate and to be part of a community setting. The blog entries so far are suitable for an opening weekend, but it'll be interesting to see if there'll be much in the way of pointed discussions regarding the usual topics surrounding awards, spec fic as a "ghetto," or racial attitudes among authors and fans, just to name a few hot topics of the past couple of weeks. Likewise, it'll be interesting to see how Tor approaches the marketing of the short stories, as I suspect it'll first be mostly "name" authors to drive readers to keep coming back to the site, with newer authors slowly being integrated into the site. I could be wrong on this, but I suspect this is the basic model.

Anyone else have anything they want to share in regards to their impressions of this new site?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

2008 Shirley Jackson Award winners announced

Via Locus Online:


Elizabeth Hand, Generation Loss

(Read this one twice in the past year and it certainly is a worthy winner out of a very good group of finalists.)


Lucius Shepard, Vacancy

(Only read Živković's entry, but Shepard has released some really good stories over the years, so I hope to read this one in the very near future.)


Glen Hirshberg, "The Janus Tree"

(Haven't read any of the finalists, but am familiar with Hirshberg's 2007 WFA-nominated American Morons)

Short Story:

Nathan Ballingrud, "The Monsters of Heaven"

(While I haven't read this particular story of his, he is an outstanding short story writer and this was a strong field of finalists)


Laird Barron, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories

(Haven't read it yet, but I've heard only very positive things about it. Good finalist list as well).


Ellen Datlow, Inferno

(Hope to read this in the near future, along with the other finalists.)

All in all, a solid group of winners here for the inaugural Shirley Jackson Awards.

The ethics of "free" e-books

I rarely read e-books if I can help it, mostly because I've yet to plunk down the money to buy a portable reader (large as my 19" widescreen monitor is, it isn't conducive for reading PDFs for more than 10-15 minutes at a time). However, I recently did a search and found a "free" .zip file e-book. It was for the Spanish translation of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski's Blood of Elves, called Sangre de los Elfos. I had just placed an international order (setting me back almost $50) for the Spanish translation of its sequel, Tiempo de Odio, as I wanted to have the sequel on hand when the English translation comes out in the UK in September.

I very rarely am tempted in the days of Itunes and other music services to go the "bootleg" route; I like the idea of cheaper payments that do at least put some money into the artists' hands. Same goes with books, as excerpts and the occasional full "free" e-book made available by the authors themselves usually leads me to buy the physical copy once it is available. This certainly shall be the case with the Sapkowski, as I like his first two collections (The Last Wish in English, La espada del destino in Spanish) enough to consider paying hefty import fees for owning the entire Witcher saga first in Spanish, then later in English.

Of course there is that twinge of guilt associated with finding this in bootleg format, even though in two months I'll have bought the English translation. But part of me also thinks that as an evaluation tool (and yes, what I've read so far confirms my high expectations) it is a cheap, reliable way of allowing readers to judge for themselves, in lieu of the actual thumbing through the book in the bookstore option, just how valuable the book may or may not be for them.

Recently, there have been postings by a few authors about how e-book availability of their books for various promotions (Tor's just-concluded Watch the Skies program and the one Neil Gaiman had for American Gods) has affected their sales. I am curious, however, about the reader impact. Are the majority of readers of e-books purchasing them or getting them for free in either a legal or bootleg fashion? If they get it for free, do they read the entire book in lieu of purchasing the novel, or is it used (as in my case) as an evaluative tool that then often leads to a purchase of a physical copy?

Just curious, as always.

A religious-type post

J.M. McDermott's post yesterday about the Christian Fiction section of bookstores reminded me of something that had been vaguely troubling me in recent weeks in regards to the relationships that religious faiths (and if I use certain forms of Christianity here and barely touch upon other faiths, it is only because I'm most familiar with it) have with their societies and how such attitudes are expressed in literature.

Over the past twenty years or so (or as far back as I can remember seeing such a development) there seems to be this increased segregation (not saying it wasn't there before then, only that it had become much more prevalent after the 1980s) of "Christian" media (books, music, TV, radio, movies, etc.) from other media forms. But more than that, but such "Christian" outlets started to reflect a tinier and tinier sliver of the religious spectrum. One couldn't be marketed in most "Christian" outlets if one were outspoken in his/her belief that evolution was "true." One could be castigated in certain corners if one had a fairly tolerant (or "permissive," as some commentators would have labeled this) attitude in regards to the LGBT community. And let us not forget the various "street preachers" who would rail, in their best impersonations of the odious Fred Phelps, about how everyone who was not "with them" was somehow "against them" and thus would be condemned to a fiery Hell. And this is even leaving aside the various "missions" to convert Catholics to Christianity...

While there is rightly much to condemn about such attitudes, sometimes I am left wondering if perhaps that vocal minority has been so successful in appropriating the label of "Christian" to themselves as to leave others such as myself, a Catholic convert strongly influenced by Liberation Theology, out in the cold. It is odd, having attempted to read the rather horrid Left Behind series (I stopped after the first; shoddy dialogue, cardboard characterization, disjointed plotting, all of which is topped with a religious theology that insults my own faith at every turn does not make for a conducive reading experience), feeling that there are those who nominally are part of the same religious faith as me who are so strident in their attempts to enforce their own viewpoints that they try to steamroll over 1950+ years of recorded differences in Christian belief and worship in an attempt to proclaim their version of Christianity as the "only true faith."

Irritating as this is, it becomes doubly frustrating when those who are not Christians for whatever reason tend to conflate others such as myself into this same category. Yes, there are those who do differentiate, but often it feels like an afterthought; the main thrust is that the association of "Christian" is with a narrow subset of Evangelical Protestants who deny natural selection, evolution, those whose idea of "pro-life" is to protect the fetus by murdering or condemning those who believe otherwise, not to mention those who use the religious trappings to enrich their bank accounts. Sometimes when I'm reading a story in which religious elements are introduced, I get this sense of a bigoted, narrow-minded faction that is so based on an author's conception of "Christians" (again, the minority strain somehow dominating the outsider's viewpoint of the whole) as to be rather transparent in many cases.

But this post isn't merely one expressing an irritation or one that seeks to have a self-defensive tone. I didn't check in my brain when I switched faiths and became Catholic five years ago (for those curious, it was the combination of ritual and an emphasis on using reason that appealed to me), nor do I believe others who believe otherwise checked theirs in. Religion is one of the most complex and pervasive things in human societies, yet I fear that too often we reduce it to a cipher, something that can be somehow quantified in an "easy to follow" directional approach. Yet such an attitude risks major distortions. I know only a few Muslims, all of them Sunnis. From what I've observed and from what they've told me in conversations, Islam can be quite peaceful, both for the internal state of the believer and also in the societal sense. Yet there are those who associate the religion with violence, because of the actions of those who are so desperate and confused that they act without regard for themselves or for others. This too leaves to unfortunate tarrings, such as the one that was made in the William Sanders controversy a couple of weeks ago.

Sadly, there are those who have concluded that "religion" itself (whatever that might mean) is at fault and in blog posts, forum commentaries, stories, etc., said attitudes are repeated. Yes, I know there is some justification for being sickened and repulsed by the actions of a few, but it does get rather irritating at times being lumped in with the hardcore intolerant zealots just because of a shared general belief in a Trinity. Sometimes, I can't help but wonder if in many parts of the world (not just the US), there isn't as much to gain anymore by sharing in a dialogue with others about differences of opinion, including faith. Armed camps don't make for peace, and seeing "Christian Fiction" sections and the boorishness of a Richard Dawkins being praised certainly doesn't help matters. Makes me wonder if the root of this, both in real-life and in writings on said subjects, is a fear and mistrust of the Other.

Perhaps those reading this will have things to add, things to share? I'm curious and I rarely bite...

Fantasy, SF: Influenced by religious movements?

Since it seems I won't have the time to get around to reviewing Adam Roberts' The History of Science Fiction before the school year begins in a shade over two weeks, I thought I'd throw out (with the unavoidable risk of distorting this part of his thesis) a central argument of his work, that of the religious influences on SF and Fantasy (at least as it pertains to European/American writings).

Roberts postulates that the Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis on a more empirical approach to matters of faith (and ultimately of life) created a climate more favorable to the eventual development of science fiction. However, for Catholics, there was a more mystical, backwards-looking approach that favored a more static society, elements that later were featured in tales by Catholic authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton, among others.

As I said, such a brief sketch risks distorting Roberts' argument, but I think it can suffice to serve as a ground of debate. Are the elements most commonly associated with SF to be found more often in places where the Protestant Reformation took place? Are there really deep connections between fantasy fiction and Catholicism? And what about the other groups, such as the Jews, Eastern Orthodox, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.? Where would they fall along this?

Just a little discussion thing to start the week, no?
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