Thursday, August 1, 2002

Hey there. Happy Swiss National Day! Esther and Aviva are out of town and, as usual in such cases, I stayed up half the night hacking (and missed the fireworks). I'm just not used to sleeping alone anymore.

Oops, that was yesterday. Now it's Friday already.

I'm going to bold some key words in every paragraph here to make your skimming easier. No, don't thank me. I'm a prince, I know.

I know I haven't been a very good Web Rat lately, and that this journal is getting a bit dusty. I've been spending time on the Mill again, doing research, talking about networking as a writer, Charlotte BronteRaymond Chandler, and  Neil Gaiman, and just being generally silly.  My author topic has a bunch of fun, silly regulars, many of whom arrived in an entourage surrounding the magnificent Charlie Finlay.

But now, predictably, everyone is clamoring for more pictures of Aviva. I lost my digital camera on a French train, so it's a good thing that I had intentionally kept back some of the pitctures we had taken before. So these will be a little out of date. As usual, I will make you suffer through some writing news and general blather before I let you see the cute toddler. Heh, heh, heh. 

Borders has introduced a category management plan allowing the big publishers more control over what books get put on the shelves. Bad for authors, bad for readers, and very, very bad for small presses, the source of much of the innovation and experimentation and diversity in the book market. Borders, I hear, controls a quarter of book sales in the USA.

Here is Ralph Nader's letter opposing the plan, and here is my letter

If you also think this is a really, really lame idea, you can email Borders' CEO Gregory Josefowicz via his executive assistant, Kathy Brown, and perhaps also Sherry Pringle at Investor Relations. 

The Cities of Myrkhyr, the second-to-last of  the "Other Cities" are up. Only Stin to go and then my year-long run at Strange Horizons will be over.

I got a very flattering review of "Droplet" on Wow! I've heard the review of it in Locus, the main trade rag for SF/F, is also good, but the short fiction reviews aren't online there and of course things mailed book rate transatlantically take forever to get here.

If you want to read "Droplet", you can either snail-order a back issue of the July 2002 F&SF as a printed physical object, or buy a downloadable copy of that issue in PDF format at

I did a whole lot of revising on "Breakfast in Montana", my little Western short-short (well, it's 2000 words, so that's a relatively meaty short-short, four times the length of "The White City"). I submitted it to the Very Short Fiction Award contest at Glimmer Train. This is probably the most-revised thing I ever wrote. It went through at least 7 drafts and at least 13 critiquers, many of whom critiqued it in 3 or 4 different versions. Oy va voy. It was an exhausting but also fun process, and I think it ended up pretty good. I think it's the first thing I've written that has neither fantastical or speculative content, nor stylistic pyrotechnics. It's just all about the writing and the characters, baby. Although I like some authors of mainstream character-centric fiction of this sort, I'm rarely inspired to write stories like that. I usually need some neato elements of worldbuilding or style to get me interested enough to get to the point where I care about the characters enough myself to write a story for them. (In the case of "Breakfast in Montana", I think political issues and served that function instead.)

I've noticed that folks can get real riled up about genre borders. Despite the Zeitgeist dominance of tropes that originated in sci-fi (a summer blockbuster movie without a science fictional premise is the oddball), SF as a genre of fiction exploring ideas still sees itself as an embattled ghetto. No, wait, that's wrong. A certain community which has cherished and nurtured SF as a genre of fiction exploring ideas still sees itself as an embattled ghetto. 

There was a very long and impassioned debate on recently about genre borders - how clearly can we and how clearly should we define them, and are the current short SF markets delivering the wrong stuff and chasing after the wrong group of readers? The best part was probably Charlie's excellently detailed post on the market conditions for the SF mags, demolishing the argument that it is necessary to refer to content  to explain declining circulations. Also in there somewhere were elegant manifestos by Dave Truesdale and others for defining the borders of SF, and by Eileen Gunn and Mary Anne Mohanraj and Kelly Link among others for not defining them, at least not too strictly. And it was also instructive that the whole thing degenerated into a flamewar: people feel not only passionate, but also threatened, about the issues of borders. They feel like other people might take the SF they like away from them.

I think that's interesting. I like thinking about genre borders. I like trying to get at meaningful differences between "science fiction" and "fantasy", or "literary" and "mainstream", or "magical realism" and "surrealist fable", or "erotica" and "porn". I don't expect every story to fit neatly somewhere, but I think thinking about genre can be a useful tool for a writer. It can, of course, also be a trap, if the borders are seen as walls. I am leery of arguments that say "genre X is better than genre Y", or which say "authors of sort A must only write in genre B", or "a magazine that claims to be a Q magazine must only publish Q stories". Genres bleed together, and interesting stuff always happens out at the borders where we our current critical vocabularies break down. 

I consider myself still in an apprenticeship period of my writing, and I intentionally set myself the challenge of writing in as many genres, styles, and modes as I can think of. Of course, my principal writing community is the sf/f/h community -- and from all accounts, for passion, organization, intensity, intelligence, and friendliness, it's the best community going. And the principal traditions I tend to draw from are the pulp "weird fiction", science-fiction-as-literature-of-ideas, and literary/surrealist/postmodernist traditions. All the more reason, in my humble opinion, to try Westerns and haiku and gothic romance and soap opera and saga and advertising jingles.

Here are some aphorisms for your delectation:

  • The Answer to Fermi's Paradox is Wittgenstein's Lion
    • ( I'm not crazy about that link for W's Lion. I did a google search and no one on the web seems to understand why "if a lion could speak, we would not understand him". They're all like, "no, dude, of course we could, cause, dude, he'd be like *speaking*." But I'm with Ludwig on this. We have enough trouble understanding each other.)

  • The Singularity Happened in 1494
    • (Do artificial intelligences have to be implemented partly in silicon? Or can they be implemented as systems of rules which individual humans are compelled to carry out, the individual humans acting as individual parallel CPUs? What sort of system would compel humans to forgo their individual wishes and fancies and instead spend a considerable portion of their time suppressing their individual identities and acting in the interests of an artificial entity? Hmm, I wonder...)

  • You Cannot Be Both Safe and Free
  • Progress Requires Scarcity, Scarcity Can Be Manufactured

Please discuss. (No, really. I mean it. Don't leave me hanging here.)

Crimp is still coming along, but slowly, slowly, slowly. 

Waiting to hear back from various markets on various stories, as usual, but I won't bore you with them.

Aviva's vocabulary is now too big for me to chart. She occasionally approaches sentence-like constructions, or at least strings together a barrage of word-images together to communicate a complex thought. Like, "Wia! Daddy! Buus! Disha! Buus!" means "I propose that Daddy and Aviva go visit Elisa on the bus."

She has theme weeks for new vocabulary. One week it was her friends' names: Wia (Aviva herself), Disha (Elisa), LuLu (Lorrine), Bim (little Ben), Ami (Aramie), Momi (Grandma Rita), Bopi (Grandpa Simon), Papish (Pastis the cat, also employed as a generic term for all cats), Fina (cousin Seraphina); she'd used some of those words experimentally before, but that was the week that it crystalized, and she delighted in being able to, suddenly, express precisely who she wanted to go see. 

Then another week it was verbs: mohle (paint), inge (sing), hole (get), go (go), gange (went), alle (get dressed). Some were new, some taken out of mothballs, but that was clearly Verb Week.

Aviva pictures, finally. These are mostly from my parents' last trip here, in April.

At my parents' hotel: 1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   

At home: 1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    12    13    14    15