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Sending me into fangirl ecstasies, the New York Times featured two substantial pieces on speculative-fiction luminaries, this week and the last:

In “Making  Squid The Meat of the Story,” China Miéville talks about his preferences in cephalopods; his newest novel, Kraken (speaking of which, I covergasmed recently over the art for Subterranean Press’ limited edition); why he found Star Trek horrifying as a child; and more.

“At a certain stage some people end up not trusting their own imagination,” Mr. Miéville said. “You get this kind of baleful set of voices in your head that tell you, ‘That’s silly; you’re being silly.’

“But I think most people have more ideas in their heads than they think they do. It’s just that those of us in the fantastic fields — either we don’t listen to our own filters, or we have a much higher ridiculousness threshold.”

And in “Hero of Comic-Book World Gets Real,” Alan Moore discusses his current work-in-progress, “a lengthy spoken-word recording accompanied by an atmospheric musical soundtrack and a book of photographs” about Steve Moore, the comics writer and early mover and shaker within British comics. (Sorry if this is completely not-news within the realm of Moorephilia; I’m behind on news about pretty much everything imaginable.)

Also made my week to see continued confirmation that Moore will be continuing work on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, one of my most-beloved series, despite his plans to otherwise leave behind the world of graphic novels.

– E

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/24/books/24mieville.html?hpw

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China Miéville

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Expect to see a lot of random posts about Angela Carter these days, because as part of my academic-year-end cool-down I’ve been indulging in a lot of re-reads of The Bloody Chamber, accompanied by munching of whatever academic essays I’ve been able to find for free through Jstor. wheee. (If you are not, like me, a babbling Carter fangirl, feel free to move along – when I get enthusiastic about things, I get very enthusiastic.)

So this has been one of my absolute favorite finds: the blogger at The Cantos of Mutabilitie has written, in great detail, an astrological analysis of Carter. I can’t pretend to understand any of the technical (?) aspects of it, but it’s both highly entertaining, and a wonderful tribute to Carter’s style and career. Some of my favorite bits:

“There’s a huge stellium (or planet cluster) in Taurus – Mercury, Saturn, Sun, Moon and Uranus all huddling together, with Jupiter just over in Aries – and then we find Neptune and Pluto swung out to one side. Accordingly, this is an extremely ‘earthy’ chart: the other elements are all relatively weak. This intense concentration on earth evokes the baroque celebration of the mundane in Carter’s writing, her heady ability to work mud and blood into her otherwise very mannered and super-sophisticated prose.”

“One senses that Carter’s taurean Mercury liked to hoard words like trinkets, cherishing dialect words and obsolete terms for the tackle and trim of various trades. … There’s almost a hunger to possess – a Taurus keyword – language, rubbing words as though they were pieces of smooth bottle-glass on the tideline, grubby and history-filled.”

and this particularly amusing part about Carter on Lovecraft:

“I find interesting that in a piece of criticism she derided H. P. Lovecraft for his horror writing, for two reasons. First, for his naivety; she saw that Lovecraft thought of evil as visible horror, and no one with a strong Pluto could fall for that one. Secondly, she wrinkled her nose at his sheer gloopiness, his childishly putrid slimes. She was a hard-edged writer; in contrast to Lovecraft, her kind of horror is the lurid glamour of the knife in the hand of the insane surgeon, always with the frisson of style – not deliquescence and gunk.”

(worth noting that the blogger is himself decidedly unfond of Lovecraft – he explains why at length in an equally ornate and amusing post here.)

– E

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… are three reasons why Margaret Atwood believes we should keep the paper book.

There’s a little bit of a spat going on in the comments of Margaret Atwood’s blog concerning the digitalization of books. While many people do fervently agree with Atwood’s reasoning (well, if they’re reading the blog they probably enjoy reading good literature and therefore probably appreciate books), people are accusing those against ebooks for not realizing the vital advantages of the cyberbook.

No one is contesting the advantages, convenience, and necessity of digitalizing information. With online text we can use Ctrl + F and access all the information of the world using a 1-5 pound laptop.  When it comes to books, the appeal of being able to download another form of media for free is too tantalizing, even for those who would prefer to read a physical book.

Atwood uses the reasons cited above as the pragmatic basis for the argument in support of books. Although these occurrences are unlikely and probably far from anyone’s list of immediate concerns, let’s see what does hit home. How many times have you accidentally scratched a CD, or come home to find your harddrive corrupted? Blue screen of death anyone? It doesn’t work quite the same for books They’re pretty durable– they can withstand many scratches and beatings, and I doubt anyone has come home to find that their book suddenly won’t open or the words have turned into some Wingdings jargon straight on the page.

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Katherine Paterson has been appointed the Library of Congress’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature:

“New Envoy’s Old Advice for Children: Read More” (via the New York Times)

Hooray! And a lovely, Matilda-ish quotation from Paterson:

As the daughter of missionary parents in China, she read her way through her parents’ library of children’s classics by A. A. Milne, Beatrix Potter, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Kenneth Grahame and Frances Hodgson Burnett. “That is where the friends were,” she said, evoking her lonely childhood.

Also, raise your hand if you cried when you read The Bridge to Terabithia. (On a side note, I’ve heard that the 2007 movie was actually quite good – it was simply very poorly marketed, as its trailers appeared to have confused both fans and those unfamiliar with it.) I also cried A Lot when I read The Great Gilly Hopkins and Jacob Have I Loved, and I’m pretty sure also during Of Nightingales that Weep.

– E

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I’ve always been curious about the logistics of actually trying to make a living off of being an author (a sci-fi/fantasy author in particular, of course), so a couple of blog posts, both recent and older, have been particularly interesting and informative in this respect:

I hope these kind of link aggregations aren’t too overwhelming (or irritating); I like compiling them as much for my own reference as for the purposes of propagating interesting links.

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John Scalzi
Catherynne Valente

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If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ve probably noticed our mild obsession with the works of one Isaac Marion, a mysterious and sardonic Northwesterner who has independently published two novels and, on his website, many short stories – all horrifying, hilarious, and heartwarming in various measures. I first stumbled on his signature story – “I Am a Zombie Filled with Love” – by chance in the summer of 2008, fell in love, and shot the link to his website over to Kakaner.  Both of us became avid followers of his work.

This fall, we were thrilled when Marion announced that his novel Warm Bodies, a story about love after the zombie apocalypse, and based on the original “I Am a Zombie Filled with Love,” had been sold to a major American publisher. Even more recently, he announced that it’s also been sold for publication in the UK, and in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Korean. On top of all that, he’s planning to self-publish a collection of his short fiction – something Kakaner and I have hoped for for a long while.

This week, we had the honor of actually interviewing Isaac Marion. Below, he shares a little (actually, a lot) about his life and influences, and reflects on Mass Amateurism, the zombie trend, and more.

Sir Isaac Marion

TBL: Isaac, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we try to write an author page for each author whose works we review. Could you give us a mini-biography of your life until now and anything else you think should be in an author bio of you?

I grew up in northwestern Washington and have lived in or near Seattle most of my adult life. My family was really poor while I was growing up; we lived in a lot of weird places, like tents and tow-trailers and my uncle’s mossy motorcycle garage in the woods, which was eventually condemned by the city and burned down. (I have a photo of it burning posted above my desk, as a reminder that things could be, and were, worse.) Even when we were living in real houses or at least mobile homes, we moved a lot; 27 times total before I set out on my own.

The year we spent in that motorcycle garage, which I dubbed “The Hovel”, was the year I started writing. I was 16, so of course I wrote a mind-blowingly overwrought thousand-page fantasy epic called “The Birth of Darkness”, which will never be read by anyone as long as I’m alive to prevent it. I always knew I didn’t want to do any kind of job that requires a degree so I skipped college and taught myself how to write by just reading and writing a lot, which I think was time better spent. Several years and a few dozen weird and unconnected jobs later, it paid off, and now I am apparently on course to living the dream. Exploding high-five.

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How Ayn Rand became an American woman (via Slate)

Ayn Rand is one of America’s great mysteries. She was an amphetamine-addicted author of sub-Dan Brown potboilers, who in her spare time wrote lavish torrents of praise for serial killers and the Bernie Madoff-style embezzlers of her day. She opposed democracy on the grounds that “the masses”—her readers—were “lice” and “parasites” who scarcely deserved to live. Yet she remains one of the most popular writers in the United States, still selling 800,000 books a year from beyond the grave. […] So how did this little Russian bomb of pure immorality in a black wig become an American icon?

A few days ago I suggested The Fountain (century-crossing meta-romance painted in black and gold, yay!) to one of my friends for our weekly movie night, and was mightily confused when she made a disgusted expression and said, “Isn’t that by Ayn Rand?”  She had apparently misheard my suggestion as The Fountainhead.

I’ve never read Ayn Rand and am only familiar with Objectivism in the vaguest way (much of that knowledge coming, pathetically, from Bioshock), so this article in today’s Slate, which examines how Rand’s traumatic, warped life mapped onto her cultishly successful writing, went a long way towards explaining my roommate’s reaction. The ending of the article gets a little frantically polemical, but as usual, I’m not savvy enough to examine its claims with a critical eye.

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Once upon a time, Emera and Kakaner were high school students who shared roughly half their classes and more importantly, were badminton partners in gym.

I am writing to tell you all about a peculiar period of time in our senior year of high school during which we tried to memorize the hulking blaring entirety of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. Emera had read this first and strongly impressed upon me that if I did not read it soon, my very existence would dwindle and die away. In no time, we were both completely obsessed with JSMN and literarily worshipped its texts, and for a long time, could speak of nothing else. Reviews of JSMN will be forthcoming– it’s just that our current reviews are rather explosive and incoherent. JSMN also made it to our The Black Letters Top Books list, so you can understand what kind of literary entity we are dealing with here.

We were inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. Although both of us had already read the book before being assigned to read it in AP English, the second time around, the concept of memorizing an entire book in secret really tickled our fancies. So, we conferred, and somehow decided that the 800-page JSMN was the obvious choice.

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isaac_marion_anna_warm_bodies_inside_postcard

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen Emera’s and my numerous reviews of Isaac Marion‘s works, namely The Inside, Warm Bodies, and Anna. These works are pretty much all highly recommended, and are self-published by Marion (links provided at the bottom of this post). Marion is noted for his strange genre niche that is, for the most part, a mix of horror, weird fiction, and romanticism.

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Ursula LeGuin wrote a very useful review of Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood that I just finished reading, in which she touches on one of my favorite conundrums: what does it mean to call oneself “genre” versus “literary”? Atwood apparently likes rejecting the sci-fi designation, based on an arbitrary definition that I frankly find bewildering. (The dynamics of of genre/literary “tribes” are discussed in greater and amusing detail on Jeff Vandermeer’s blog here. This, of course, is all following the enormous brouhaha made by Lev Grossman’s bizarre less than carefully argued* editorial  in the Wall Street Journal about the so-called Victory of Plot in contemporary fiction. Sorry to link-fling if you haven’t been following this from the beginning, but I find it all pretty engrossing.)

Anyway, LeGuin provides a great review of the book, as well as very delicately, very incisively nailing Atwood for her fallacy in evading the designation of sci-fi. Being considered as a work of science fiction, LeGuin tells us, is not a limitation, but something that enriches the experience of reading a novel, gives us another dimension from which to analyze and celebrate a book’s creativity, fullness, and success.

Damn straight.

Separately, The Mumpsimus has become my favorite blog for reviews and discussion of speculative fiction. That its author, Matthew Cheney, is an English professor (as well as a writer of assorted fiction and nonfiction, and editor of Best American Fantasy) is not surprising: his reviews are lucid, accessible, and literary, filled with useful allusions and fun, thoughtful analyses. Every time I read a review of his of a book or story that I’ve already read, I want to go back and read the work again.

The excitement in his reviews is tangible – reading them is like sitting with a good friend and discussing the story at hand, tossing ideas back and forth and unraveling knotty plot points together. I also think that he tends to appreciate a lot of underappreciated and misread works. Case in point: his ecstatic, playful review of Kelly Link’s “Stone Animals” (which I loved and briefly reviewed here). Judging from the comments following, said story was not so well-received by many readers; I think it’s a shame that none of them seemed to get anything further from Cheney’s review. Note that his review is somewhat spoiler-y.

Unfortunately, his blog is also rather unwieldy to navigate, but the material is all so good that I don’t mind trawling.

*correction made following the reading of Grossman’s comments in response to all the heated criticism.

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