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Horn tooting first: Both File 770 and SFSignal have linked to me today, and for two different items (!)so it should be a good day for stats. (One mentions my praise of the Cordwainer Smith website, the other the release of Chapter 9 of Pulp Comic Fairy Tale)

I’d still like more commentary though. I could engage in the hubris of assuming that since there are not that many comments, most folks agree with me (cause you know that silence IS tacit approval – right?) which means that my finger is firmly on the pulse of the world.

I just posted chapters 8 and 9 of Pulp Comic Fairy Tale.  The STUNNING conclusion is about half finished (I’m just looking for one more perfectly juicy cover).  My brain is filled with pulp mag imagery right now – each and everyone one of them inspires in some way or another.  I think the next thing I do with them will be a retrospective on pulp heroines wielding whips – seems to be a common theme…

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Michael Chabon is my new hero.  Google alerts picked up on his LA Times interview and I thought – cool, I’ll be able to get this out there before most everyone else – only to find that waking up at 6 am instead of 3 am put me behind the SFSignal eight ball.

Nevertheless, Chabon has become my new hero because he advocates for genre fiction (comics, sf, detective) from the ‘highly respected lit’rury’ podium.

Someone, somewhere categorized his advocacy as ‘highbrow meets lowbrow’ – which is a quick way of summarizing while still managing to dis genre fiction.

Chabon’s general concept seems to be that all of it falls under the rubrick of ‘entertainment’ and that by the achievement of having successfully entertained, the definition of genre becomes unimportant.  He also seems to be saying that ‘literary works’ often forget the entertainment aspect despite all of their wonderful prose and high-falutin ideas, and that it’s not necessary to write fabulous prose in order to entertain.

I hope Michael formalizes these thoughts in some physical/internet fashion, like a website or some such where “high brow and low brow writers can get together in praise of entertainment” .

I do know that he ought to get together with Gary Wolf who has often expressed many of the same sensibilities and has similar cred.

Here’s where Chabon’s argument gets summed up:

Let’s talk about this in a specific instance — Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road” and its reception.I thought it was an excellent novel. The least interesting thing to me as a reader was that it was science fiction. It presented a very pure example of post-apocalyptic literature, pared down to the essentials of a post-apocalyptic vision. But it’s nothing that anybody reading science fiction over the last 60 or 70 years hasn’t seen done many, many times before — maybe not by writers of McCarthy’s caliber.In terms of the vision it was presenting, it was notable only for the intense, McCarthy severity.

 
In fact, I responded to it much more as a work of horror fiction. But the response you saw out there generally was the sort of oh-my-God isn’t this incredible, Cormac McCarthy has written a science fiction novel! Sometimes a little bit of a panic sets in, where critics aren’t sure what to do about it or say about it.

And when this happens, when a writer of unassailable literary reputation, like McCarthy, does produce a work of genre fiction, under his own name, unlike say John Banville, the critical machine prints out and issues a pass to a writer: “This isn’t science fiction, because it was written by Cormac McCarthy.” Or, “We think all science fiction is bad, unless it’s written by a Margaret Atwood or Cormac McCarthy.”

In some ways the book may be closer to a work of prophecy, biblical prophecy, than anything else, and that’s what we’re responding to.

Ultimately with any great work of art, whether it was written by a Ray Bradbury or a Philip K. Dick or Cormac McCarthy, it’s really the intensity with which it’s been imagined and been brought into language.

Hmmm:  Genre writers are the ones who come up with the nifty ideas and sometimes mainstream writers render those ideas with beautiful prose and their own, unique, compelling style, and then confound the critics because they’re playing in the mud…

It takes equal parts nifty idea and cool presentation.  I also think – at least on the part of the critics – that it takes a willingness to recognize that good works DO NOT have to feature sterling prose to qualify.  If you get that without it interfering with the story – bonus. 

Another way of looking at it is this: high literature is obsessed with the crafting of a sentence and the words themselves.  Genre fiction is obsessed with the idea (Chabon alludes to this with his comment about genre writers writing ‘too fast’); I often think that many SF writers are racing like hell just to get the visions in their head down on paper, while the literary writer is flipping through the thesaurus and the OED, spending days on a single sentence to establish just the right emotional tone.

And it is only when the two come together in proper balance that we end up with a real masterpiece that transcends the whole genre vs mainstream discussion.  And that can be accomplished (and has been) by any writer, regardless of their stripe.

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Hell, it would be great if some large media conglomerate decided to sue me in Federal Court – that’s BIG pr, man.

Lacking that avenue of promotional greatness, I’m forced to simply tell you that Chapter 8 of Pulp Comic Story (which has now been retitled Pulp Comic Fairy Tale – something I said I might do a while ago) is now available here.

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A few other things while I’m thinking about it:

Fred Kiesche had to take a sledgehammer to my head to make me realize that his blog – which used to be called The Eternal Golden Braid is now called -

THE LENSMAN’S CHILDREN

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I’ve been thinking about this for a bit: what would entice someone to read the classics if they weren’t already inclined to do so.

I’ve spent a fair number of words exlaining the ‘whys’ here already (do your homework you lazy, good-for-nothing) so let’s just assume (momentarily or otherwise) that they’re valid reasons.

Of course I don’t mean at the expense of contemporary SF.  I mean in addition to.  As a means of obtaining some grounding, some history, some appreciation, some respect for the people who all the awards are named after (yes dear, there are real people behind those award names and good reasons for naming those awards after them – The Hugo for Hugo Gernsback, father of popularizing the genre – the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, because JWC had a nack for finding and developing new talent within the pages of Astounding SF (and the other award of the same name for best novel, given out by SFRA) – Andre Norton for YA lit, given by SFWA because she wrote so many tales that introduced young-uns to SF – Arthur C. Clarke for Best UK SF, because he helped found the UK SF dynasty and because he was, you know, British – Cordwainer Smith, for rediscovering overlooked authors of merit – Damon Knight, SFWA Grandmaster award because Damon founded the org – James Tiptree – for works that explore gender, because SHE did just that – Philp K. Dick, for having so much of his original work published in paperback – Robert A. Heinlein, for so much excellence – Theodore Sturgeon, for excellent short stories – if it weren’t for those folks we’d be giving out awards named for something stupid like The Spaceship Award or The Raygun Award.

Many of those people worked very hard at what they did and (should) leave a lasting, honored memory. And they deserve to be read, along with all of their brethren and sisteren.

So what I thought was – how about if we poll the contemporary favorites and compile a referral list like they do at BMG for music (if you liked so-and-so, you ought to like whosiswhatsis too).

I mean, we already know that If you like John Scalzi, you’ll probably like Robert A. Heinlein too and If you like David Weber, you’ll probably like A. Bertram Chandler, but who else?

So let’s ask some contemporary authors the following questions:

1. Did you read SF before you were a writer?

2. Who were your favorites?

3. Who do you think influenced you the most?

4. Which of the classic authors do you think your work most resembles?

Maybe if we tell the kids this, they’ll give those classics a try.

Maybe John at SFSignal will ask this one…

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Fred Kiesche – college buddy, SF reviewer extraordinaire, game designer, new hound and, best of all, a reader who shares most of my own likes and dislikes (Cordwainer Smith and A. Bertram Chandler among them) has reinstated his blog – The Eternal Golden Braid. Fred also writes for Texas Best Grok and SFSignal. (Please note: Fred had a very personal experience on 9/11 and his write up of the event – it took him two years to finally get it down on paper – is viewable over there.  It’s a very deep, disturbing and painful account of how the event affected him.  I wouldn’t draw attention to it usually, but as Fred points out, we’re all tending to get a little complacent.)

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I was honored by an email visit from Gregory Benford who gave me permission to print his note:

“But I’m not that old!” – Gregory Benford

Mr. Benford wrote in response to the Top 150 Classic SF Authors list.  I very carefully returned Webster’s definitions of ‘OLD’ and ‘CLASSIC’ to this fine author of excellent tales and appear to have mollified him. 

Classic, at least in the sense I used it, is not meant as an euphemism for creaky and decrepit: it means “of the first or highest quality’.

Mr. Benford is the author of the Nebula Award winning novel Timescape – and lots of other fine SF, including collaborations with Arthur C. Clarke and David Brin.

a pretty darned complete bibliography of his works can be found here.

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Boing Boing has this; thanks to them for picking this up.  A vast collection of classic European SF is being bibliographitized by the collector’s widow and she needs some help.  Please head on over to her site and help out.

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SFSignal has picked up on the updating of the Cordwainer Smith website.  There’s been a flurry of Cordwainer Smith activity lately, including the Ebay auction of the magazine containing his first published SF story – Fantasy Book #6.  The final price was $51.00 – twice what it would have cost you to purchase a copy of The Instrumentality of Mankind from NESFA Press.

Roasana Hart (Smith’s daughter who maintains and blogs at the site) at my suggestion, has joined The Bastion, a yahoo group for SF cat lovers (Smith and the whole family were big on cats) and has been warmly received.

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Twice.

SFSignal has started a meme – The Top 48 Sci-Fi Film Adaptations.

Fred Kiesche (of the Signal and Texas Best Grok) tagged me.

Mike Glyer of File 770 tagged me too.

Does that mean I have to tag ten other people, or can I still get by with only five?

Is it possible to get tagged twice, or does one tag cancel out the other tag?  Anyway.  I’m honored by all this tagging and pass the honor on below.

Here’s the instructions for the meme-spreading:

  • Copy the list below.
  • Mark in bold the movie titles for which you read the book.
  • Italicize the movie titles for which you started the book but didn’t finish it.
  • Tag 5 people to perpetuate the meme. (You may of course play along anyway.)
  • Here’s my list:

    1. Jurassic Park
    2. War of the Worlds
    3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
    4. I, Robot
    5. Contact
    6. Congo
    7. Cocoon
    8. The Stepford Wives
    9. The Time Machine
    10. Starship Troopers
    11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
    12. K-PAX
    13. 2010
    14. The Running Man
    15. Sphere
    16. The Mothman Prophecies
    17. Dreamcatcher
    18. Blade Runner(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
    19. Dune
    20. The Island of Dr. Moreau
    21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
    22. The Iron Giant(The Iron Man)
    23. Battlefield Earth*
    24. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
    25. Fire in the Sky
    26. Altered States
    27. Timeline
    28. The Postman
    29. Freejack(Immortality, Inc.)
    30. Solaris
    31. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
    32. The Thing(Who Goes There?)
    33. The Thirteenth Floor
    34. Lifeforce(Space Vampires)
    35. Deadly Friend
    36. The Puppet Masters
    37. 1984
    38. A Scanner Darkly
    39. Creator
    40. Monkey Shines
    41. Solo(Weapon)
    42. The Handmaid’s Tale
    43. Communion
    44. Carnosaur
    45. From Beyond
    46. Nightflyers
    47. Watchers
    48. Body Snatchers

    *not science fiction because it’s Hubbard

     

    I added the following: an underlined entry is NOT SF

    And the editorializing on Hubbard was not included in the original. Just my (considered) opinion.

     

    I have no italics because I finish reading whatever I’ve started – with literally one exception, and I’m not even going to foist the title of that horrible experience on you.

     

    Opinions of the above stories?

     

    Jurassic Park – ok – can’t stand Crichton’s overbearing anti-scientism

    WotW – great, wonderful, Herbert George Rocks

    I, Robot – Ike does this kind of thing best

    Contact – Sagan rocks.  Most people missed the message at the end of the book:  there are always more questions and our job is to keep on asking them

    Congo – meh

    Stepford Wive – ok

    The Time Machine – my man HGW again

    Starship Troopers – all time fave.  If you start yapping about militarism and neo-fascism again I’m gonna hit you, hard.

    HHGTTG – meh.  Sorry, I know people love this one, but I think Harrison and Russell do funny far better than Adams could ever hope to

    2010 – decent sequel, Clarke’s done better: hey, why isn’t The Sentinel in this list?

    Running Man – hate King, hate Bachman; you’ll get no reasonable consideration out of me on this one

    Sphere – slow, dry, stupid, derivative, obvious and a waste of time

    Dreamcatcher – forgettable

    Blade Runner – PK Dick is brilliant. End of story, period, the end.

    Dune – there was a time when I wanted all blue eyes.  First two novellas, excellent, everything else, mostly suitable for doorstops

    Island of Dr. Moreau – HG, you’re hogging the limelight

    Invasion of the Body David BrinSnatchers – Finney is good

    Iron Giant – wonderful

    Altered States – meh.  drugs are cool but, meh

    Timeline – Crichton’s try at time travel. predictable

    The Postman – Brin rocks

    Freejack – meh

    Solaris – Lem rocks big time

    Memoirs – meh

    Who Goes There – one of Campbell’s best ever

    Puppet Masters – RAH again.  Just re-read it (unexpergated version), which is a clue

    1984 – Orwell rocks

    A Scanner Darkly – PKD again.  Uber rocks

    Communion – Streiber is a nutball

    Watchers – ok

    Body Snatchers isn’t this a double entry?

     

    I tag:

     

    Bill the SciFi Guy

    Heckler and Kochk

    Gary Wolf of Roger Rabbit

    John Whalen of Raygun Revival

    Rick Novy

     

     

    If I’m responsible for tagging another five, it’s gonna take a while.

     

     

     

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    SFSignal is now including my updates of Pulp Comic Story in their ‘free fiction’ section of the Tidbits.

    A.  THANK YOU VERY MUCH

    B. please email commentary as I don’t have a forum on that site – maybe I ought to add one? – but I DO want to hear what people might have to say.  No excuses in advance, but I do recognize that the text needs some editing, for typos and to nuance it a little.  When you’re trying to mix comic book narration and Grimm’s Fairy Tales style, you can easily get lost in a weird never-never land where the text says what you want it to say but doesn’t SAY what you want it to say.  Feel free to comment here also.

    C. Jo Walton takes Heinlein juvenovels to task for their dystopian societies.

    Huh?

    Summary:  Starman Jones – poor sharecropping farmers/guilds. Tunnel in the Sky – overcrowding. Farmer in the Sky – overcrowding. Citizen of the Galaxy – slavery.  Red Planet, Between Planets – “imperial” Earth. Space Cadet – nuclear war. The Rolling Stones – no one ever goes near Earth.  Have Space Suit – Will Travel – Earth is stupid. Time for the Stars – overcrowding.  Star Beast – everyone is kowtowing to aliens.

    Lack of resources, overpopulation and overbearing governments just absolutely LEAP OUT from the pages of these novels. Not.

    Interesting that Starship Troopers, Podkayne of Mars and Rocketship Galileo aren’t mentioned in this survey of indictment.  Maybe S.T. was left out because we’ve been drowned in oblique criticism of that book by way of the (awful) movie – but let’s remember that in that testament to military rule, you don’t get a vote unless you’ve served, and every school child is abused by wounded vet teachers who deliberately display their injuries while brainwashing the kiddies.  And in Rocketship Galileo there are NAZIs on the moon!  Oh the horror!  (Maybe R.G. is the secret prequel to S.T.:  see, Hargreaves and the boys didn’t destroy the Nazi moonbase – they were captured and converted, the Nazis took over the Earth and viola – Starship Troopers.)

    Perhaps it was word length that led to this piece by Walton.  You certainly can’t stretch ‘everyone needs a compelling reason to want to leave Earth’ into a full length entry. 

    Sorry to say, but I think someone missed the point.  Those novels were not about the background histories/societies, they were about what people did after leaving them or breaking with them.  It’s called contrast.  The overall message is – be smart, be observant, don’t kowtow to convention and take responsibility for yourself.  In other words – Grow Up, because when you grow up, you leave childhood behind.

    Lots of commentors stepped outside the box by mentioning non-juvenile works in support of this dystopian theory.  Yes, valid as far as the body of work is concerned, not valid when focusing just on the YA stuff.  But I’ll play the game.  In Time Enough For Love, Lazarus is ALWAYS leaving things behind.  He leaves a paranoid Earth to save the Howards from persecution, he founds new worlds so he can have ‘breathing room’, he leaves one set of descendants to start a whole new line.  At the opening of the novel he’s preparing to leave life.  Those things left behind are often dystopic – but not necessarily because they actually are.  We don’t know how they actually ‘are’ – we’re only seeing them through the eyes of a (prejudiced) leaver.

    Let the dead past bury its own, as someone once said. These stories are not about how bad things are, they’re about how good things can be for people who beat their own drum.

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    Today there will probably be a large number of posts as there are a large number of things going on.

    First up – the cornucopia of top ten lists.  SFSignal and Rick Novy both raised awareness on these.  They’re offered by Gwyneth Jones (by women writers), Rob Grant (comic SF), Dick Jude (broad top 10) and Michael Moorcock (also broad top 10).

    I’ve read 50% of Jones’ list, 70% of Grant’s, 0% of Jude’s and 70% of Moorcock’s.

    My hits and misses clearly illustrate the generational divide of my SF reading selections. 

    I also find it interesting that maybe two of the works listed would make it onto my own top ten list.  Of them all, I’m closest to Grant and Moorcock in my likes and would put Grant’s at the top of my Top 4 List of Top Ten SF Picks, were it not for his completely ignoring Eric Frank Russell.  The win therefore goes to Grandmaster Mike.

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    According to various blog reports the folks at AMCseem to have recognized that SkiffyTube(R) is no longer targeting the key ‘geeky young guy’ demographic.

    Charlie Collier, AMC’s general manager, either thinks like I do or he reads the blog.  He wants to “mine” classic shows and movies for possible remakes, hoping to appeal to the fans who are in their 40s and 50s.

    About frakkin time!

    Someone in cablevisionland finally woke up to the fact that: 40 & 50 year olds (generally) have money, most of ‘em grew up on TVand a whole shitload (official measurement according to the US Dept. of Weights and Measures) get off on some kind of science fiction.

    That’s right. Science Fiction.  NOT Nazi Werewolves versus the Giant Alligator from Planet Redneck.

    They’ve also not missed the obvious fact that SkiffyTube(R) – aka the SciFi Channel – has abandoned that demographic in favor of Inbred Nazi Werewolves from the Redneck Planet.  (Although to be fair, inbreeding for werewolves might actually be a good thing.)

    AMC is producing a remake of Patrick McGoohan’s cult classic The Prisoner.  From the buzz I’m hearing, they’re going to do it proper justice. Although the proof will be in the pudding, I’m rooting for ‘em. 

    Collier seems to be looking for other classics that AMC can give the same treatment to.  I have a strong suggestion to offer.

    Before you go and remake a classic, find out if your core audience prefers a remake, the original, or maybe even both.  Give some strong and serious thought towards EMBRACING a comparison between the old and the new.  Have your cake and eat it too.

    As one (vocal) member of the fifty year olds who grew up on SF on television and in the theater, I know I cast a jaundiced eye towards any redo I’m offered. I know I watch in horror and pain when some smartypants director or script writer thinks they’re capable of improving on the original and fucks the entire thing up by failing to have understood not just the original message/plot/characters, but the zeitgeist of the era that produced it as well.

    Its admittedly pretty hard to get the feel for a 50s era film if you’ve never been instructed to hide under a school desk in the event of nuclear attack.  Its impossible to know what it was like to watch a space flick before man had landed on the moon.

    Which is one of the major reasons that I think that so many re-makes have failed to hit the mark, at least in my estimation.  To provide a recent example – I’d MUCH rather sit down and watch Heston’s Omega Man than Smith’s I Am Legend.

    What I WILL happily do is watch both back to back, with Vincent Price’s Last Man on Earth thrown in for good measure.  I’ll spend the entire 6+ hours explaining to my friends exactly how and why LMOE is the closest to Matheson’s story, OM is a good update and strikes the right balance and IAL sucks on so many levels that the real tragedy is that its the only one of the three that shares Matheson’s title.

    As far as the broadcaster is concerned, it doesn’t really matter why I’m watching now, does it? I’m watching. Nielsen can tell I’m watching and they can tell the advertiser’s that I’m watching. That’s all that really counts.

    Now, when it comes to The Prisoner, I really have my doubts as to whether anyone can improve on the original.  McGoohan was made for the role – or rather, he made the role for himself. No other actor can say that.

    The vaguely displayed technology of the original was pretty far-out for the time. Nowadays its standard government operating procedure for ordinary citizens, let alone retired secret agents.

    The zeitgeist of the time was one of ultra-paranoia (pretty darned close to now) coupled with a sense that the old order was about to be overthrown and replaced with – what? Flowerpower? Anarchism? Communism?  No one knew.  The latter is going to be very hard to capture and translate for a different era.

    But I’ll tell you what, AMC.  If you broadcast the original show before of after your remake – I promise I’ll watch both. I’ll even watch the redo with an open mind and anticipatory heart.

    On the other hand, if all you offer up is the new version, I might remember to schedule watching the first episode .  After that its all up to how badly I think you’ve screwed with the original.  But if you give me both, I’ll have a reason to stick around.

    AMC has a good chance here to eclipse SkiffyTube(R) and make the SICs over there regret ever having coined their new mantra, because all you’ll be hearing around their offices will be people saying “What If we had stuck with science fiction? What If we had realized our audience was already more than just geeky young guys? What If we hadn’t been such idiots?”

    AMC has a hot, successful head of programming in Collier, a wide open field, some good connections to the existing SF community (Scalzi’s blog for one) and they’ve demonstrated with this move that they’re paying attention to what’s going on.

    Just remember AMC – let us have our cake and eat it too!

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