News & Curiosities

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Ali Almossawi, an engineer/designer, elegantly illustrates every subsidiary of the Big Five American publishing houses (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Hachette). Fascinating and pretty to look at (and playing “spot the sff imprint” is fun), but, as always, it’s slightly unnerving to be reminded how conglomerated just about everything we buy nowadays is.

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Angela Carter remembered and interviewed by Anna Katsavos, reproduced by the Dalkey Archives; a good part of the interview dwells on Carter’s eventual dissatisfaction with the reinvention or reuse of mythology. The central question might be, “Have we got the capacity at all of singing new songs?”, as Carter says towards the end while discussing gender and representation.

Fevvers is a very literal creation. She’s very literally a winged spirit. She’s very literally the winged victory, but very, very literally so. How inconvenient to have wings, and by extension, how very, very difficult to be born so out of key with the world. Something that women know all about is how very difficult it is to enter an old game. What you have to do is to change the rules and make a new game, and that’s really what she’s about.

There are some fun things as well about speculative fiction:

One kind of novel starts off with “What if I found out that my mother has an affair with a man that I thought was my uncle?” That’s presupposing a different kind of novel from the one that starts off with “What if I found out my boyfriend had just changed sex?” If you read the New York Times Book Review a lot, you soon come to the conclusion that our culture takes more seriously the first kind of fiction, which is a shame in some ways. By the second “what if’ you would actually end up asking much more penetrating questions. If you were half way good at writing fiction, you’d end up asking yourself and asking the reader actually much more complicated questions about what we expect from human relationships and what we expect from gender.

Also, she delightfully describes The Bloody Chamber as “cholesterol-rich.”

-E

Go to

Reviews: Angela Carter’s “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon”
Wayward Girls and Wicked Women, ed. by Angela Carter (1986) E

More essays and interviews: Chamber of Secrets: The Sorcery of Angela Carter
Astrological Angela Carter

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Charming Baker’s new covers for Roald Dahl’s short fiction

First of all, why is my name not Charming Baker? Secondly, these are really elegant and disturbing. (The Cruelty cover makes me wonderfully uncomfortable.) I do feel that Dahl’s adult fiction still has a decided cartoon or slapstick element that is not so elegant as these, but of course the elegance works against the perception that Dahl is just for kids.

Fond flashbacks now to Kakaner lending me her giant hardback Dahl short fiction collection in high school…

Iconic book covers + subtle animations by Javier Jansen

Quiet magic. I think this is so wonderfully proximal to the quiet stirring of excitement that one feels upon seeing a favorite book cover.

Both of the above links sent my way by friend C.; thank you!

– E

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…with a charming illustrated overview of classic and contemporary authors’ favorite edibles (and drinkables) while writing. (Whitman: “Oysters + meat. For breakfast!”)

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…and with an amusingly obsessive infographic comparing authors’ wake-up times to their literary output and awardedness. I have quibbles with the visualization (these colors are noooot self-explanatory, or easily distinguishable), but the wake-up times alone are entertaining and informative as to character (of course Murakami gets up at 4am).

And visually, I have to assume it all works better as a poster, where you can actually see everything at once. Indeed, the graphic is available as an attractive poster print.

– E

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Annotations are fun. Here are some handy collections thereof, featuring…

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If you love behind-the-scenes stuff, are weirdly interested in marketing, and/or fixate on cover art decisions for sff novels, check out creative director Lauren Panepinto’s wonderfully in-depth series (13 posts!) on the making of covers for a recent epic fantasy novel trilogy. The series goes all the way from casting of a martial artist as the photographic model, to prop and costume acquisition, to multiple rounds of retouching and graphic design.

So much chewy procedural and decision-making detail in there. It’s also a fun insight into what being creative director for a major sff imprint actually entails – being hyperaware of aesthetic and stylistic trends in current sff media, for example.

Panepinto also shares great advice for commercial sff illustrators over at the Muddy Colors art blog, which is where I first found her Orbit cover series.

Go to:
China Miéville: bio and works reviewed

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Helen Oyeyemi interviews Kelly Link  for the LA Review of Books, about her new collection, Get in Trouble. (“The title has a lot to do with a realization I had about the underlying mechanics of narrative. Which is that trouble drives story…”)

Now I’d like to know what, in your opinion, is the difference between a love story and a horror story?

So how it works is that I immediately begin to think of the similarities, rather than the differences. The idea of falling, that vertiginous feeling, the idea of being seen and known; a kind of attention to the body — attentiveness to the being, the presence, the whole of oneself or of the other; being seen and known, absolutely; absorption. The extension of oneself into the unknown.

Go to:
White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi (2009): review by Emera
The Icarus Girl, by Helen Oyeyemi (2006): review by Emera
Undercover: Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters

China Miéville’s essay on forbears and mascots of the Weird, “M. R. James and the Quantum Vampire,” was republished over at the Weird Fiction Review back in 2011; I finally got around to reading it lately. It’s characteristically baroque and acrobatic.

I’m putting down here some of the highlights, mostly for my own clarification and reference:

  • The assertion that the tentacular is the avatar of the Weird, on the basis that the octopus is ontologically challenging (shapeshifting, armed and/or legged, both swimming and walking, etc.) and without folkloric precedent as a Big Bad Beastie. (But what about the kraken, in “[h]is ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep” [thanks Tennyson]? Could that be said to be more of a literary precedent than a pervasive folkloric element? Eh. Unconvinced; it seems like a convenient omission to me.)
  • The lack of historical & folkloric precedent being another hallmark of the Weird, as opposed to the Hauntological. Hauntology is a Derrida thing and I make no claims to being a connoisseur of Derrida, but my understanding is that its principal claim is that the present exists only with reference to the past. Miéville here uses it very literally: referring to the condition suggested by ghost stories, where ghosts represent an intrusion or remnant of an actual, historical past. The Lovecraftian Weird, by contrast, invents the history, the mythology, the tradition that reemerges to disrupt the present. Being literal about that dimension at least: the horror is not that of the return of the repressed, but the return of the invented, the return of the never-was.
  • That M. R. James’ work, with his beastly, insistently tactile and physical, yet historical ghosts, represents a pivot and transition between the Hauntological and the Weird.
  • And witness the documentation of Miéville’s skulltopus obsession. Hah.

 

Go to:

China Miéville: bio and books reviewed

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The secret attic that inspired Charlotte Brontë’s vision of the madwoman in the attic is now open for visits in Yorkshire. The real Thornfield, it turns out, is the manor of Norton Conyers, which dates to the Middle Ages; its present architecture is mid-18th-century.

Brontë paid a visit in 1839 – 8 years prior to the publication of Jane Eyre – and there heard about the 18th-century “Mad Mary” who had purportedly been imprisoned in one of the attic rooms, accessible by a hidden stair…

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For anyone who’s ever lingered over a particularly vivid description of food in a book: Dinah Fried’s photobook Fictitious Dishes features meticulously styled and photographed recreations of notable fictional meals. You can see photo selections and some background on the creation of the project here at Brain Pickings. (And then, if you’re feeling like cooking something up yourself, check out Kakaner’s collection of loving and lavish book-inspired recipes, Booklish!)

I actually laughed at the first photo featured at Brain Pickings because I had just the day before re-read the bit with the crab salad food-poisoning crisis in The Bell Jar: “There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends…”

There’s also something quite perverse about the bright lighting and colorful bits of produce in Gregor Samsa’s meal.

– E

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I just posted my review of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home; one of the principal features of that book is the frequency with which other books appear in it, working as signposts, ciphers, thematic echoes, and ironic commentary. I was fascinated and delighted by this internal library, and decided to go back through after my first read to compile a reading list (with particular personal interest in Alison’s self-education as a young lesbian in the 1970’s).

Here it is! I’ve annotated some of the books with quotes or notes from the book (until I ran out of steam), and included dates where they were topical. They are listed more or less in the order in which they appear in the book.

Any corrections or additions are most welcome. Go forth and read!

READING FUN HOME

Alison’s father’s Cultured Reads

Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina
Kenneth Clark – The Nude (“I was Spartan to my father’s Athenian.” Young Alison plays soldier in the background while her father reads this in the foreground.)
John Ruskin – The Stones of Venice (“But once I was unaccountably moved to kiss my father good night.” Bruce is reading this in bed.)
Rudyard Kipling – Just So Stories (“…some encounters could be quite pleasant.” Bruce reads bedtime stories to Alison.)
Albert Camus – A Happy Death (“A fitting epitaph for my parents’ marriage.” Alison finds it suggestive that Bruce was reading this shortly before his death.)
Günter Grass – The Tin Drum (Father and mother in “expatriate splendor” in West Germany after the war.)
Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby, The Far Side of Paradise (“Such a suspension of the imaginary in the real was, after all, my father’s stock in trade.”)
Nancy Milford – Zelda
Marcel Proust – Remembrance of Things Past
Erick Rücker Eddison – The Worm Ouroboros (“Maybe that’s what’s so unsettling about snakes.”)

Read the rest of this entry »

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I’m forever a concept-art junkie; for any fellow Saga fans, here are some concepty tidbits that I’ve enjoyed:

  • An interview with Fiona Staples, in which she discusses how she works out designs from Brian Vaughan’s descriptions (or in their absence) – since it’s not always clear to what extent an artist helmed visual development, I was delighted to learn that Staples was responsible for so many of the series’ trademarks, like its (yes yes yes) largely non-white cast, and skull- and seedpod-shaped spacecraft.
  • A set of sketches hashing out Marko and Alana’s looks (I can’t check whether these were included in the trade collection as I’ve lent mine out, so I’m including them just in case).

Go to:

Saga, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (2012): review by Emera

 

Fans of Australian author-illustrator Shaun Tan, please to enjoy his very short illustrated story “Eric (presented by the Guardian), about a peculiar foreign exchange student. (Fans of Chris Van Allsburg will likely be keen on Tan’s work as well, given the resonance between their quiet, eerie, carefully rendered illustrations.) The last image made me gasp, and my skin prickle.

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Dispatches from a Troubled City (via Super Punch) is a satisfyingly varied collection of art inspired by the work of China Miéville, featuring work by nearly 20 different artists. The collection encompasses sculpture, artifacts, poster/cover design, and illustration, all almost entirely based on the Bas-Lag books, but with a couple of tributes to Un Lun Dun (my review; Kakaner’s) as well.

Favorites: Steve Thomas’ pro-avanc propaganda, Jason Chalker’s awkward-creepy-cute magus fin, and Jared Axelrod’s box of battered memorabilia from the pages of Perdido Street Station.

Go to:

China Miéville: bio and works reviewed

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