Thursday, September 28, 2006

Scifaiku part 2


So here's the cover shown on the web for the special edition CD ("Kuanta"). It doesn't strike me as all the haiku-ish. And it's also not the cover that's on the one I received, which is of a more clothed woman in a sci-fi looking outfit with a sci-fi-ish, transparent shield in one hand and a typically fantasy-looking sword in the other. No castle either, more of a desert landscape, or perhaps rocky, barren hills. Not terribly haiku-ish either, but oh well.

The important thing is the poems inside.

Track 1 is the scifaiku, including the two I wrote. Ethereal, atmospheric music swells and fades in the background as Jeffrey Breslauer reads them. I enjoy the very different experience compared to reading poetry...but my initial reaction was that I wished I had them printed out as well. At times the music overpowers his voice just enough to make it challenging to catch the words. But then I think about the idea behind haiku in general, to push you beyond the words and images themselves, to trip into a sort of meditative state. And then perhaps the music, the voice, the lack of words to read supports that. And now that I've listened a handful of times, I'm catching more of the words, and there are beautiful haiku in there--I think the more you listen, the more the different pieces all work together.

I haven't listened to the other tracks as often as the first so far. The second is a series of joined haiku by a single poet. It's backed by similarly atmospheric music, and at one point the voice goes too quiet even for multiple listens, but in all I enjoy it. It'll definitely be worth some more listens.

The third is horrorku with eerie, Halloween-ish music. This is the one I've seen especially praised elsewhere, though it doesn't do a lot me. Horror's never been my favorite though. There seems to be a range from cheesy to intriguing.

Four is the tanka (a 5-line poem similar to haiku). The music is a little less ambient than on the first two tracks with some wind sounds added. It's a nice shift. By this time I find I'm paying less attention to the individual words and simply letting the general sense and flow affect me.

Five is haibun, which is a combination of a haiku with a bit of prose in juxtaposition. This seems a fascinating form, ripe for a lot of interesting connections. The background music is more understated here, which works well. Two of the three haibun struck me as a good use of the form.

And that's it. It's an enjoyable experiment. I look forward to getting my November print issue with a couple more of my poems to see how that experience compares. Until then, I will continue listening to this occasionally--not as background while I write, but perhaps for other things. Reading. Excercise. Bopping around online.
Scifaiku part 1

Last week I received my copy of the special edition CD of Scifaikuest with a couple of my poems in it. I know haiku don't have the highest esteem among some people, probably largely because they seem so easy and elementary school teachers have their students write them. How hard can they be if eight-year-olds get them plastered on the schoolroom wall?

But a haiku that's well written is much more than the 5-7-5 syllable format they teach to kids. The syllable count is really only a rough guide, not set in stone. What's essential, though, is the spirit of the haiku. (In the same way, a sonnet is more than just the the 14 lines of iambic pentameter in one of several rhyme schemes--there's a certain movement within the poem that makes it a sonnet) In poetry classes in college we would sometimes talk about tripping points, those phrases or lines that send you, not into the poem or out of the poem, but beyond it. Some poems will have multiple tripping points. I remember some of Annie Dillard's early poems seemed to at least try for a tripping point every line. Arnold's "Dover Beach" and Eliot's "The Hollow Men" each have several to go with the different sections. Others have one, but it sends readers sailing, and all the lines and words work together to keep them tripping along that same line. Coleridge's "Kublai Khan" does this.

So what's this have to do with haiku? I'd say that a haiku is that tripping point condensed. It sets a scene at the beginning full of resonant images, and the final line trips the reader beyond the poem, beyond the images into contemplating something deeper, something that can't quite be grasped in words. It's like a koan, those cryptic Zen statements meant to be outside analysis, on the edges of reason.

OK, I hadn't meant to spend all that time defining and defending haiku. Different types of tripping points work for different people, and I have no problem with someone not particularly caring for the haiku form. But it's important to recognize that that's purely a personal preference, nothing more. A lot of the dismissal of haiku seems to respond only the elementary school form, not the work of accomplished poets, and it fails to realize what's going on. So before getting into the CD itself, I felt I had to establish that there's more going on in these poems than some people might think. And they're worth examining.

So I guess I'll have to make this a 2-part post and get to the CD next.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Jupiter World Press closing

Well, I guess this one won't be a brag like I'd hoped. I still intend to get to those things soon though.

I just learned last night that JWP is closing down at the end of the month. So my story that was scheduled to be released tomorrow won't come out (and of course neither will the one in October). At least it didn't come out last week and lose its original rights just before the website closes down. I've been brainstorming what good markets might be for those two stories. The one was written specifically for JWP's higher education themed anthology, but I hope to find a good fit for it anyway. I'd also been working on a story set in the same world as the one that was supposed to come out in October, but again, I should be able to find someplace else for it.

But what this means for "Canyon of Babel" is that if you want to download and read it (and of course I'd love for many people to do so, and not just because of the royalties--I write so that people can read my stories!), you have to download it by September 30. After that, it will be gone permanently.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Story accepted at All Possible Worlds

I've had a fun flash fiction piece accepted now by All Possible Worlds. The story is called "Sleep Magic" and it's about a sleep shaman and the war to end the world. The best part is, it's in print! The magazine is a new one, with their first issue appearing in March. I don't know yet if this story will be in the premier issue or later. The contract says it could appear anytime within a year after its acceptance.

I have another "provisional acceptance" (which seems to mean a rewrite request, but my emails with the editor seem to indicate that the rewrite will be accepted) that I'll announce soon.

I also received my copy of the special edition Scifaikuest CD that includes two of my scifaiku. So I'll blog on that shortly. The CD is an interesting experiment.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Biking

So I live in one of most bike-friendly cities in the US. Easy-to-access trails go all across our city, including a new one that just went in this summer that goes within a couple blocks of our house. I've used the trails a lot for running (pushing the jogging stroller), but I hadn't biked during the whole time we've lived here. In fact, I don't think I'd biked since my son was born, back when we lived in Michigan (and Dearborn is not a bike-friendly city).

But I love biking. So this past week I finally pulled my bike from the little space where I keep the lawnmower and other yard tools to see what kind of work it might need. Pumped up the tires, WD-40ed the chain and gears. It's an old bike. I bought it used when I was about 10. But my cousin owned a bike shop, and he sold me a very high-quality touring bike. So it's served me well. In college it was stolen (because of a faulty bike chain) and recovered months later in the basement of a different dorm, minus a seat.

And yesterday morning, before anyone else was up, I took it for a ride. It still needs some work. I can shift between most gears, but if I go down into gears 1-5, I can't shift back up to 6-10 without getting off the bike and manually moving the chain over. But I seldom use those lower gears anyway, and wow, it was so good to be able to bike again. And with the new trail, I could easily get to the opposite side of the city and back. Now we just need a trailer for my son, and we can explore much farther than we can running.

Oh, and this is what I discovered for myself right now. I'm in pretty good shape from running. The running I do is somewhat of a muscular workout, but mostly it's a cardiovascular workout. Biking is the opposite. I could have gone much farther and faster without bothering my heart or lungs much...but my legs were dead.

So, go biking!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Shadow People

Check out this article on MSNBC. By stimulating a certain part of the brain, scientists can induce someone to believe there's a shadow person just behind them. It's really just a projection of their own body slightly dislocated by their minds. But it leads to interesting new questions and things to explore about schizophrenics (not multiple personality disorder, which is what many people seem to think schizophrenia is), and stories of alien abduction or control and even simple (or not so simple) paranoia.

I think it could also be an interesting premise for a story. Many ways to take that--that there really are these shadow people following all of us around, but most of us don't recognize it could be one fun direction to take. It could be a guardian angel, or something more malevolent. Yeah, I just wanted to use the word 'malevolent.'

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Another Strange Horizon Review

Since I wrote a few entries about these reviews before, I just wanted to mention yesterday's review. Ouch. But very fun. In case you're too lazy to follow the link and read the review, it's for a book called Skinks: A Pet Store Odyssey. The review, though, is not a typical review at all but a story itself (about a reviewer who couldn't come up with anything good to say about a book). Part of me feels bad for the author...but another part of me thinks I might actually look for the book now just because of how oddball it sounds. I wouldn't buy it, but if I found it in the library, I'd probably give it a quick read.

Anyway, the review itself is worth a good laugh. And apparently the silliness of it all was intentional to celebrate their one-year anniversay of reviews. Today's review was back to normal style.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Delay

I just learned that my next story with Jupiter World Press has been delayed to Sept 27 instead of the 19th as originally scheduled. I know, it's hard to be patient and wait, and so many of you have been eagerly awaiting this...but you'll just have to wait a bit. I've placed pictures of the cover for both "Canyon of Babel" and the new story, "The Underground School of Lower Education," to the right. I now have a release date for "The Bridge of Lok-Altor"--October 25--but I'm still waiting for the cover. Until then, if you haven't purchased "Canyon of Babel," feel free to check it out!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

"Force them to re-examine..."

At various times I've posted links here to articles on MSNBC or NY Times, especially scientific articles. I never enjoyed science classes much, but I love learning about new discoveries, especially related to stars, animals and plants, and history. For example, there was recently an article (at both those sites) about a new discovery that Neanderthals may have survived much later than previously thought. Evidence in Gibraltar seems to point to a small surviving group of Neanderthals thousands of years after they'd apparently gone extinct elsewhere. Things like that are fascinating to me.

But...

To all those writing these articles, please retire the phrase "...force them to re-examine..." Astronomy articles seem especially guilty of this, probably because we're constantly learning new things. But please, you're writers--find a new way to say it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Speculative--what's that mean?

Different people seem to be using this word in different ways. For some, it's essentially a way to encompass the entire field of fantastic (or non-mimetic as I've seen some call it) literature. Any story that posits a world that is not compatible with today's world, whether that's fantasy or sci-fi, horror or surreal, slipstream, interstitial or cross-genre. I'd say that most often this is how I use it.

Other times, I see it used for the more literary stories within the genre, and I do admit that one reason I choose the word is because of this association. It's not limited to the cross-genre (etc.) stories that push against genre boundaries, though that's included, but also those that reside firmly within genre conventions...and yet don't settle for poor writing or stereotypical characters or plotlines. Deep genre, I've seen one group of writers try to call this--I'm not convinced that the phrase is entirely useful, but I check their blog now and then, and I like at least that they're examining this.

But other times, it seems like people mean something more explicit, something where the speculation is foregrounded in some way. My initial feeling is that many of those using it this way are the Hard SF fans who want another way to separate their favorite types of stories from others in the field, but that may not explain them all. I had a (clearly fantasy though not stereotypical by any means) story rejected from one magazine because the editor felt it wasn't speculative enough. He liked the story, had some nice praise for the characters, but the ending didn't seem speculative to him. This baffled me. I found the story as a whole very speculative, not just a story that could happen in our world transplanted, but genuinely a part of the speculative setting. And the speculation was woven throughout, but always subtly, never foregrounded to take away from the story itself.

The first issue of that magazine is now out (it wasn't at the time I submitted), and the two stories are more sci-fi than fantasy, so maybe that's his preference. I think it is more common in some SF to foreground the speculation more, and in fantasy it tends to be more metaphorical and incorporated at a deeper level. So maybe that's this editor's preference. But that's not the direction I want the use of the word to go, because that will just build up the walls within the genre once again.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Alternate History

For those of you who like alternate histories, like if the south had won the Civil War (War of Northern Agression ;) ) or if Hitler had won WWII...check out this alternate history at Newsweek: An Alternate 9/11 History. Is some of it a bit far-fetched, wishful thinking? Yeah. But even so, I can't help wish the US leadership had followed this road instead. Now, the most blindly loyal supporters could counter with a much darker alternate history with Saddam and Bin Laden joining forces and in possession of WMDs...but we know in hindsight that such a thing was always unlikely whereas in hindsight this one looks at least possible.

If only...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Worldbuilding

The other day a conversation among some fantasy writers centered on the question of world building. It can be fascinating to develop things for your invented worlds. But it can be dangerous too.

I was skimming a site I'd bookmarked a while ago, Great Science Fiction & Fantasy Works. It has reviews of various authors whom the site creator considers worthy of reading and studying. The more literary examples within the genre. He has a pretty extended introduction to the site, and I just wanted to mention what he has to say about world building:

There is in this worldmaking business a clear example of the oft-cited observation that circumstances generate their opposites. In years not yet beyond living memory, it was a commonplace of science-fiction and fantasy criticism to assail writers for careless and thus inept worldmaking: suns of impossible color for their size in the sky, cities off in the middle of mountain ranges with no conceivable economic basis for existence, that sort of thing. It was, and apparently remains, an article of faith with science-fiction and fantasy authors that readers care very much about such matters and will recoil in horror from any such inconsistencies. (To me, barring comically gross ineptitude, such flaws are invisible, but I must--as with the joy of drinking tea--take it on faith by report that the phenomenon exists; I suspect, however, that few of the carpers, if such there truly be, are of voting age.) In consequence, a new generation of science-fiction and fantasy writers undertook never, ever to tell a tale set in a world for which they had not worked out exactly the exchange rates of seventeen various currencies, the tidal height at the equator and both tropics, the number and names of all spices added to stews (by season), the geomorphology of five separate continents (if Doctor Watson wishes to distinguish between separate continents and whatever the alternative kind may be, let us not differ), and the sexual habits of uncountably many species of domestic animal. That, in itself, was harmless: idle hands do the devil's work and it kept such folk off the streets at night.
And then a bit later:
What a successful world-maker must accomplish is to fully imagine the world of the tale, then simply tell that tale in that world. Really, that's it: tell that tale in that world. Where the tale, of its own accord, intersects some aspect of that world that differs from our own, there are two basic possibilities: the difference matters to the tale, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, pass on: leave it that the heroine heard the haunting notes of a traditional kabba played mournfully on a drall. Does it matter a rat's ass what a kabba or a drall is? No? Then don't kill trees telling me about them. If it does, then--and then only--in the fullness of time reveal to me these things. Do you suppose Zane Grey devotes pages to explaining how an exploding compound of niter propels a blob of lead out of a short metal tube at so many and so many yards a second? OK, you spent a lot of time thinking through your private Brave New World: get over it.
I love it. I almost want to post the paragraph between these two as well, since it's well worth reading (and is far enough into the essay that I can't just link directly to it), but instead I'll just recommend you go read the essay as well. And then after you finish his introduction, check out some of the authors he recommends. I can't say I agree with all of it, but it definitely includes many of the writers I most respect. (The one problem with the site is that many of the authors don't have the discussion about them posted yet, just their name, a star rating, and the recommended books by them--I'm not even sure if the site is still being updated or if it's simply a relic itself.)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The world as knowable

In these reviews on Strange Horizons that I mentioned yesterday, it's come up a few days and most explicitly in today's review that a basic tenet of SF is that the world is knowable :
the aesthetic of science fiction, which maintains that the world can (and should) be figured out.
I had never seen this as central to SF. An aspect of some SF writings, certainly, but basic to the entire idea? This has me thinking, and I probably won't finish pondering it for some time. So what I say here is by no means final. Certainly this idea can't be applied to Gene Wolfe's writing...and maybe that's why he's achieved such critical success without as much popular success. And maybe it's why he's more likely to be associated with Borges than Asimov.

So I'm wondering about my own writing. Signs and Wonders of the Genies and the Deaf is SF (though as I wrote it, it never felt like typical SF). I'm going through final edits of the manuscript now, so it's pretty fresh in my mind. Does it posit a knowable universe? There are many unexplained mysteries that aren't even answered by the end of the book (some of that was laziness on my part in the initial writing--I put in clues for where I thought the book would go and then changed directions without removing that clue). But some of it is certainly intentional. And the book essentially ends with 'I don't know.' He's made contact, but he doesn't know what that will mean. Despite the contact, the aliens remain, ultimately, unknowable.

My first reaction was that maybe that explains why I tend to prefer works on the more fantastic side of speculative fiction. But then the review goes on to identify a basic part of fantasy as the need of the characters to understand, not the world but the story, their role within the world. I'll have to think about this. But I think that does apply to the fantasy novel I've finished as well as the one I'm working on now. Does it apply to Genies though? And if this is also opposed to the unknowability of slipstream, what does that say about what I write?

Hmmm. Interesting things to ponder.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Reviews at Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons this week is running a series of reviews on various collections of speculative fiction that don't quite lie within the genre. Slipstream, interstitial, fabulist, whatever you want to call it. I'm very interested in this type of story, since they do what I like of pushing against the walls that others try to put up around speculative fiction, especially the completely false one between literary and spec fic. [Side note, in case you haven't seen other things I've written about this--I don't consider 'literary' to be its own separate category of fiction, but something that any genre can enter, including the mainstream genre. It's just that people seem to assume that it resides solely within mainstream, which is rather limiting, both for the term literary and for the various other genres.]

Anyway, today's review was of Paraspheres, which I've heard good things about. And this review agrees that the stories within it are excellent. But the commentary of the editors sounds completely idiotic. Granted, I'm saying that at a remove, based only on what this reviewer is reporting (and clearly the reviewer disliked it as much as I do, so the way she reports it affects my reactions). But this is something I've seen before, so I'm reacting more to the general idea than to the specific commentary I haven't read. Basically, the editors of this book are trying so hard to get 'literary' readers to accept these stories as worthy of their notice, that they denigrate the entire fields of speculative fiction. Rather than telling people to look again at the speculative fields because here are some of the exciting things happening within, they tell people how awful speculative fiction is and how these speculative works aren't really part of the genre, but are Literary.

It's ridiculous, small-minded and regressive.

Anyway, the reviews of the other collections make them sound worth picking up as well, and I'll proabably try to find a copy of this one too--I'll just ignore the commentary (except to see if this reviewer was fair to it).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

New story accepted!

I've just learned this morning that Noneuclidan Café has accepted my story "The Sports Fable Press." 'Noneuclidean Café?' you say. What in the world is that? Well, according to the website, the idea came from the strange, twisting streets of Greenwich Village where the perfectly rectangular grid of streets in the rest of Manhattan become jumbled. One intersection is of West 4th and West 12th Streets, which by rights ought to be parallel (and elsewhere are). So, parallel lines, intersecting--we need noneuclidean geometry for that. Euclidean geometry does a good job of explaining the things we see, but when we explore the world closely, we realize that it's not a perfect explanation--we have to reexamine the premises of it to understand some ways the universe works. By metaphor, the journal is a place to go back and question our premises.

Anyway, the story is a sports story set in Metro Detroit. I started writing it years ago when I was living in West Michigan, knowing that I might be moving to Detroit in a few months but not sure (depending on where my wife was accepted for medical school). I abandoned the story, not sure where to take it and only recently returned to it with a new idea (after I'd once again moved away from Detroit). It's gone through a couple more revisions since then, and it should be available next spring. The story comes from my dislike of corporate advertising on everything--clothing, sports stadiums, sporting events...

Saturday, September 02, 2006

One link and some updates

One writer I admire is David James Duncan. I hope to reread The Brothers K soon to see how well I like a second time (sometimes books that I loved once don't quite stand up to a second reading), and I'd also recommend his other books. A few months ago I found an article he'd written about writing. I shared it with a few writer friends, but I decided to post it here now as well. Essentially, he spends the first part of the essay telling you why you shouldn't commit yourself to writing--or even enjoying--literature. It's a dangerous habit. Here's just one quote to show his humorous writing style:
"My very best, most financially useful writing advice to those who show extra spirit, the way you're doing, is this: If you want a sane work life, economic viability, happy family, home, flat abs, nice ass, reliable car, health insurance, and teeth, DON'T TRY TO WRITE BOOKS AT ALL! STOP NOW!"

That often ends the conversation, or at least moves it on to happier topics, such as viruses or STDs.
For those who ignore that advice, he goes on to explain the overarching guiding principle for his own writing. Fun. That sounds sort of shallow at first...but if you read the essay, you'll see that he's using a deeper, more mystical sense of the word fun. He's a very funny writer, but not a Dave Barry type (I love Dave Barry's writing too, but there's much greater depther to Duncan's).

Anyway, here's the link: Duncan's essay.

Just a couple quick updates on earlier posts. I've read Justina Robson's Living Next Door to the God of Love and was very disappointed. I finished it, thinking that maybe the ending would justify everything else, but no. After how much I'd loved Natural History, this was a big disappointment.

Our book group is reading Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees. It's good...but a bit disappointing as well. I'm not sure why VanderMeer considers it his best, better than If on a winter's night a traveler or Invisible Cities (which I have to place as two of my favorite books by any author). I'm looking forward to hearing what the others in the group have to say about the book, since none of them have read any of Calvino's other books.

And I did write a poem the other day. I should keep trying to write a new poem fairly often to get used to poetic style again. I checked out some other ezines with poetry afterward, and I'm not sure it really fits the types of things they've published in the past, so we'll see if anything becomes of it. I basically took the central image of the story "Canyon of Babel" that's at Jupiter World Press right now and condensed it into a poem.

That's all for now. Have a great weekend!