On Genre

Awesome post over on Adrian Tchaikovsky’s blog about reading in the genre.

A genuine ignorance of the genre is possible. If you simply don’t read it, fine. However if you claim that, and then write this, people may ask how come, since you reinvented the wheel, all those spokes, the hub and the rim were just sitting about ready-made in your store-room. There are books that cross into the fantasy genre from outside, because genre boundaries are artificial and (yada yada yada see previous posts tagged fiction) (6). On the other hand, most fantasy books have strong and clear antecedents within the genre. You wouldn’t write a haiku without knowing how many beats to the bar, after all (7). As a good example of this, David Gemmell wasn’t a fantasy reader. However, he was a Westerns reader, another marginalised genre, and one can see the Westerns influence in his work.

He’s very eloquent about the whole thing, too.


Reviewers Reviewed

Gabe Chouinard lights a fire under the ass of reviewers.

I like to start the week off with a bang, so each Monday I will be posting a longer, more indepth piece that will examine varied issues and concerns. The intent is to kick-start a discussion around these concerns; to create an open dialogue with others. I hope you enjoy this meandering piece, and I hope it spurs some thought.

I’m not going to name names.

But according to the review blogs, it seems the publishers have been doing a good job of putting out nothing but readable, good books. In fact, reading the review blogs for any period of time, one might get the impression that SFF is filled with an inordinate amount of quality work, all of which equally demands the reader’s dollars. In fact, reading the review blogs for any amount of time, one may come away with the idea SFF absolutely teems with worthy books.

Which just isn’t the case.

There are a couple factors leading to this overall impression which I’d like to discuss.

And discuss he does. I’ve seen a couple of such musings in the blogosphere recently, and whether I agree or not (I do, in fact, for the most part), it’s certainly important to have these sorts of things out there. Wherever there is. Even with a publishing, or a reader hat on, I’ve seen some terrible reviews of books—not slagging off the books, simply badly written reviews, with little thought, or bringing an agenda to the table before hand. (This is fine, if we assume that the writer doesn’t claim to be any better than a fan reviewer.)

Plus there’s something that brings a smile to my author’s face to hear of reviewers being reviewed.


On genre reading

Interesting rant by James over at Speculative Horizons.

Something which has become increasingly common in recent years is the number of fantasy authors who, when asked what other genre writers they read/admire, give a reply along the lines of: “Oh, well…I don’t really read fantasy, you see.”… So why don’t some fantasy authors read fantasy novels? Are they embarrassed to read fantasy (but not to write it)? Do they not have respect for the genre? Perhaps it’s because after spending a day working on their own stories in their own worlds they don’t want to then get lost in someone else’s world, but I think that is just an excuse. I spend every free waking moment thinking about/working on my own project, and I still love to read fantasy on my daily commute.

It’s a fair point. I have to say, there’s something distinctly S&M about authors who write fantasy but don’t like it. Me, I think it’s important to read in the genre. If you want to claim to innovate, how can you if you don’t know what’s gone before? If you don’t want to copy what’s gone before, you need to know what’s already there. Also, for new writers, you need to know what market you’re writing in—know how your book will fit in with what publishers actually want.

But I think it’s equally important to read other genres and styles, too. It gives you something fresh to play with, ideas that approach prose style, plot and characterization from different angles.


Literary Tattoos

A not so complete history of literary tattoos. (Link pinched from the blog of Jonathan Carroll.

Johannes Guttenberg invented the printing press in Germany in 1439. Samuel O’Reilly invented the modern tattoo machine in 1891. And sometime around the turn of the century the first literary tattoo was born. Whether nostalgic for the characters from a favorite children’s book or as a tribute to a favorite writer’s words, the book tattoo is a classy way to go. The lowbrow nature of the tattoo juxtaposes nicely against the highbrow art of the book. Here now, a look at some of its many forms.

Right, I’m off to get something from the books of Hemingway, or DeLillo. And I swear I’ll propose to a girl who has either of these authors’ work etched into their skin.


Rushdie: Best of the Best of the…

Very happy to see Salman Rushdie winning the Best of the Booker Prize Award.

Midnight’s Children won the Booker Prize in 1981. It was then chosen as the Booker of Bookers in 1993 – the only other time a celebratory prize has been awarded.

The Best of the Booker shortlist was selected by a panel of judges – the biographer, novelist and critic Victoria Glendinning (Chair), writer and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, and John Mullan, Professor of English at University College, London. The decision then went to a public poll.

When voting closed at midday on 8 July over 7800 people had voted (online and SMS) for the six shortlisted titles, with 36% voting for Midnight’s Children. Votes flooded in from across the world with 37% of online votes coming from the UK, followed by 27% from North America.

Victoria Glendinning comments, ‘The readers have spoken – in their thousands. And we do believe that they have made the right choice.’

I need to read it again, if only I have the time… Whilst not as strong a book, IMHO, as the Satanic Verses (which has one of the best openings in any kind of fiction), it represented a start point in my reading life where I began to demand more from my fiction. It was the first book I’d ever read to so clearly show symbols, themes, motifs, with an electrifying style and humour, and how it can all be used to construct a truly unforgettable piece of fiction, (as opposed to what I saw being referred to, perhaps unfairly (but this is a subjective industry of course), as forgetful entertainment). Being half-Indian myself, sure I could really enjoy seeing the cultural clashes, but that aside it was one of the books to change how I view other books.

And there’s something encouraging about a magic realism book winning such an award, because it shows that those who are often accused of literary snobbery do like their fantasy.


Age And Male Writers

Interesting post on the Guardian website about what hitting the big four-zero does to male writers.

Perhaps the most complete accounts of midlife crisis come, as ever, from Shakespeare. Few would question the autobiographical nature of the The Tempest, in which an ageing Prospero breaks his staff and turns his back on “this rough magic”. It’s traditionally interpreted as a play about growing old gracefully, but granted that Shakespeare died in his early 50s – in an age when, by his own account, a man could expect to live to three score years and ten – could it not be reconstrued as the middle-aged bard of Avon chucking all his toys out of the pram? Then there’s A Winter’s Tale, when Leontes accuses his pregnant wife quite unreasonably of having it off with his best friend, consigning himself and her to 20 years of misery. If someone had only given him a motorbike, it might all have been over so much sooner.

Lord knows what I’m going to be like when I’m 40. I was full of preoccupation with age and death when I was writing the Nights of Villjamur (now at the age of 27). Not in a morose way, just in a kind of White Noise how come we avoid thinking about it kind of way.

But I’d like to think if I had enough money by that age, whatever crazy shit I’d be up to, I’d be doing it in style. I’ll pencil one of those babies into a future novel. Somehow.


The Alexandria Quartet

Some thoughts on a book I read late last year. The Alexandria Quartet comprises of four novels, Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea. The first two are the most tightly linked, for everything you know in Justine is looked at from another angle, although still from the same narrator. Mountolive is more distant, and Clea certainly moves the three novels forward in time. But, as Durrell intended, they are all meant to be read as one.

The books follow a group of individuals based in Alexandria, Egypt, up to and including the Second World War. That’s about as general as I can get. There is sexual tension, and release; political tension that gathers throughout the story arc; there’s a whole wealth of Middle Eastern history. There’s religion and philosophy. There are momentous descriptions of place and time. The characters are the most complex and layered in any kind of fiction that I’ve read. From our often naive narrator, Darley, who is not really an ‘unreliable narrator’ because we have no reason not to rely on him. Then, the seductive and outrageous Justine, and her husband, the dark-hearted Nassim. There’s Pursewarden, who is one of the greatest fictional creations, layered with metaphor, representation of art, a dose of wit, and some incredible aphorisms. Perhaps my favourite character in any book, even when he wasn’t on the page. There are more, but a sentence here would to no justice.

I am in awe of Durrell for so many reasons. Firstly, for his experimental approach. For showing the relativity in his narrative, and how important that is to fiction—because it is real life. Not merely ‘point of view’, but showing us how one can never be certain of anything, in life or fiction. Secondly, the man brings alive Alexandria to be a character in her own right, a changing, liquid, grand place. (By the time you read Clea, the city has gone, as it was. A construction in the first place, only in words, when revisited after many years, it just isn’t the same place. It isn’t the same character.) Third, is his ability to carve a character to be just as unreliable as real life. In fact, more than any other novel, I was thinking, Here is the truest representation of existence.

This isn’t really a review, is it? I’m just gushing thoughts onto the page. Maybe I can’t really summarise it. Maybe, you just can’t? There are faults, perhaps. Some of the passages of text can make you sweat with their headiness. But that’s an aside. There’s so much to discover here. A history, a philosophy, a poem. I’m using very grand phrases, but you can’t do anything specific with a book like this.

Durrell is a phenomenal talent. He makes you pine for an age you never knew, as much for the quality of writing if nothing else. His ability to bring character and place alive are unchallenged. A thoroughly de-constructive narrative, too, the kind of thing to destroy the formula of a novel and rebuild it, brick by brick. And he often delivers some punching sentences:

  • ‘A city becomes a world when one loves one of it’s inhabitants.’
  • ‘There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.’
  • ‘A woman’s best love letters are always written to the man she is betraying.’
  • I wish I’d jotted more down as I’d gone through. Just get it. Read it. Take your time and enjoy it luxuriously. Feel the dust of those Alexandrian streets. Feel that warm air blowing off the ocean. Hear the palms fizzing in the breeze. Durrell will show you the rest, but go at his pace.


    Feist—Gatekeeper (Paris) & Some Dude Hating Second-Hand Books

    I think I love her. Yes, I really think I do.


    And this piece in the Guardian, where some dude is discussing his hatred of second-hand books. You have to admit, he might have a point on one or two of the matters.

    It’s all those stains, thumbprints and creases that get me so queasy. I’m far from a gentle reader and by the time I’ve taken in the first few chapters of any brand-new tome, it will often be creased and coffee-stained beyond recognition. But they will be my creases and my stains, and that’s what matters.

    I hear you, bro.


    Borges’s “Book Of Imaginary Beings”

    One of my favourite reference books is The Book Of Imaginary Beings, by Jorge Luis Borges.

    If I have a problem with the fantasy genre at the minute, it is that, on occasion, it does not embrace… erm… fantasy. It can be quite conservative in the imagination department, and I wonder where the fantasy has gone. Well, this book is chock-full of great creatures that can be referenced. It is a bestiary of mythical creatures, including ones I’ve used, banshees, garudas and sirens, covering locations all over the world, and their origins. It’s not even that big a book, so it really is something worth picking up for any connoisseur of weird stuff, especially for writers, and then there really is no excuse for having standard fare!