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JV
Posted on Thursday, July 22, 2004 - 11:13 am:   

Anyone else think that half of this list blows?

http://www.orangeprize.co.uk/press/pressreleases/essentials.html

JeffV
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jeff ford
Posted on Thursday, July 22, 2004 - 11:43 am:   

Where's my books, the turd lappers. I'll give them an orange prize.
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MarcL
Posted on Thursday, July 22, 2004 - 10:42 pm:   

I really enjoyed High Fidelity and Misery. Among the best work of John Cusack, Jack Black, James Caan and Rob Reiner.

I could tell from the previews that I was not going to like Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and so far I haven't been desperate enough to grab Girl With a Pearl Earring in spite of loving Ghost World. (Hey, where's that on the list?) Smilla's Sense of Snow was much better than Miss Smilla's Feelings for Snow, even though I liked that girl who played Smilla better when she was a character in Wuthering Heights. I really won't be sure about all of these books until I have seen more of them.
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Lawrence A
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 02:42 am:   

Misery by Stephen King, Nick Hornby??
By the standard of Coetzee's usual very high standards Disgrace is mediocre.
Miss Smilla, and this is incredible - Jilly Cooper!!
But then this list does include Corelli's Mandolin, The House of Spirits, Shipping News and The Women's Room.

The kind of people who compiled this list no doubt think Amelie and Chocolat are good movies. And that Mexican road movie with the 2 callow youngsters, what was the title? Lucius reviewed it a while back.

Doesn't surprise me in the least, this kind of list though.
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neilw
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 03:20 am:   

The kind of people who compiled (or voted for) this list? Reads to me like a contemporary British middle-class thirty-something dinner-party conversation (with-david-gray-or-perhaps-Amy-Winehouse-playing-mutedly-on-the-stereo). They're the kind of readers who don't look too far past the feature displays in Waterstones or Borders - certainly not as far as the *specialist* sections on the upper floors. They might go by word-of-mouth too, but the recommendations are by friends who all read the same magazines and culture pull-outs, so therefore a lot of the books are buzz-books of the last few years. Not terribly imaginative, though it doesn't prevent a fair few of them actually being good books.

By the same token, while I dare say these dinner-partiers would rate Amelie and Chocolat good movies (although I'm not sure what they'd make of Y Tu Mama Tambien), it doesn't prevent the movies in question *being* good movies, in my view at least (Chocolat, certainly, was giggletastic from beginning to end). But then we all have different tastes, don't we, and all a list like this *really* tells you is how narrow the demographic of the sample group was. Intentionally so, because the results reinforce the kind of fiction that the Orange Prize represents. If they'd asked *me*, or say, the shoppers in Forbidden Planet for a list, it would undoubtedly have been substantially different.
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Kathy S.
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 05:31 am:   

Neil --
No doubt. Yet, I think there would be some overlap (A Hundred Years of Solitude, Midnight Children, Tin Drum would probably make it to quite a few lists.) Differences in taste nonwithstanding, there IS such a thing as quality. This is what I find mindblowing.
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JV
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 05:52 am:   

Hey--I *liked* Amelie and much of Chocolate.

My position is not that I think the whole list is crap, just that it, as Neil says, generally represents a somewhat narrow section of the fiction spectrum, and that some of the choices are rather...dodgy. I wonder what you guys would put on your list instead? (Yes, that's right--I'm obsessed with lists...)

JeffV
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JV
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 05:53 am:   

Marc:
I'm beginning to get a sense that you might be...how shall I put this?...a *smart ass*? LOL!

Jeff
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richard
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 06:16 am:   

"Essential Reads" always strikes me as a curious expression - essential you read these or what? You won't get invited to those dinner parties Neil's talking about? People will laugh at you?

It's an odd mix though, not least for the selections from authors with substantial output. I'm not a Marquez geek, but those who know tell me Love in a Time of Cholera beats the crap out of Hundred Years. I AM a Murakami geek, and therefore know that Wind Up Bird comes in a long way behind Hard Boiled Wonderland or Wild Sheep Chase. Slaughterhouse 5 is by no means Vonnegut's greatest book, and Misery certainly isn't King's.

I haven't read even close to all of these, but the overwhelming impression is of a cautious, conservative literary establishment (and the careful excision of genre fiction, interestingly enough). The fact that voters were asked for their must have *shelf* is indicative - this is not about books read, it's about books you'd like people to see on your walls when they come round to dinner.

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neilw
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 07:28 am:   

"There is such a thing as quality" - Kathy, absolutely, but I think what we're alluding to here, and what Richard highlighted, is that quality isn't actually the issue. It's some sort of pseud status symbol.

And as Marc implied, the fact that many of them have been made into movies means that those that haven't actually read them (check out that row of pristine, crease-free spines) can still bluff their way through dinner.

Richard - I'm being obtuse with your phrasing here, and I apologise, but I think "books you'd like people to see on your walls" is entirely apt here. Like in *frames*.

neil
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Brendan
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:05 am:   

Well, that list looks perfect for insomniacs.

Personally, my favourite “contemporary” writers are:

Ernesto Sabato
Garcia Marquez
Peter Handke
Emmanuel Carrere


Aside from the obvious inclusion of Marquez, I dont recall seeing any of these people on the list. And mind you, these are all big name writers - at least in their respective countries.

Handke's "The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick" is certainly an important book to read.
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bryan
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:14 am:   

"I wonder what you guys would put on your list instead? (Yes, that's right--I'm obsessed with lists...)"

'lanark' by alasdair gray
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1841951838/qid=1090591791/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'perfume' by patrick suskind
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0375725849/qid=1090591882/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'narcissus and goldmund' by hermaann hesse
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0553275860/qid=1090592007/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'stations of the tide' by michael swanwick
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0688104517/qid=1090592092/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'city of dreadful night' by lee siegel
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0226756890/qid=1090592146/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'book of the new sun' by gene wolfe
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0312890176/qid=1090592203/sr=1-2/r ef=sr_1_2/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0312890184/qid=1090592203/sr=1-5/r ef=sr_1_5/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'disgrace' by j.m. coetzee
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140296409/qid=1090592353/sr=ka-1/ref=pd_ ka_1/103-6917237-4735066

'sufferings of young werther' by johann wolfgang von goethe
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/039309880X/qid=1090592439/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'his dark materials' by philip pullman
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0440238609/qid=1090592534/sr=ka-1/ref=pd_ ka_1/103-6917237-4735066

'lolita' by vladamir nabokov
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679723161/qid=1090592608/sr=ka-1/ref=pd_ ka_1/103-6917237-4735066

'story of the eye' by georges bataille
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0872862097/qid=1090592659/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'prometheus rising' by robert anton wilson
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1561840564/qid=1090592768/sr=1-2/r ef=sr_1_2/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'amazing adventures of kavalier and clay' by michael chabon
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312282990/qid=1090592857/sr=ka-1/ref=pd_ ka_1/103-6917237-4735066

'psychotic reactions and carburetor dung' by lester bangs
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679720456/qid=1090592919/sr=ka-2/ref=pd_ ka_2/103-6917237-4735066

'the stranger' by albert camus
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679720200/qid=1090593000/sr=ka-1/ref=pd_ ka_1/103-6917237-4735066

'summer of night' by dan simmons
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0446362662/qid=1090593047/sr=1-2/r ef=sr_1_2/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'stanger things happen' kelly link
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1931520003/qid=1090593095/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'mythago wood' by robert holdstock
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0765307294/qid=1090593192/sr=ka-1/ref=pd_ ka_1/103-6917237-4735066

'book of skulls' by robert silverberg
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0553230573/qid=1090593234/sr=1-2/r ef=sr_1_2/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'transmigration of timothy archer' by philip k. dick
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0679734449/qid=1090593299/sr=1-4/r ef=sr_1_4/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'jaguar hunter' by lucius shepard
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1568581866/qid=1090593437/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'doors of perception' by aldous huxley
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060900075/qid=1090593516/sr=ka-1/ref=pd_ ka_1/103-6917237-4735066

'different seasons' by stephen king
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0670272663/qid=1090593623/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'the passion' by jeanette winterson
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0802135226/qid=1090593689/sr=ka-3/ref=pd_ ka_3/103-6917237-4735066

'promethea' by alan moore
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1563896672/qid=1090593795/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'to your scattered bodies go' by philip jose farmer
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0345419677/qid=1090593906/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'the castle' by franz kafka
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0805211063/qid=1090594008/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'redneck manifesto' by jim goad
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684838648/qid=1090594049/sr=ka-1/ref=pd_ ka_1/103-6917237-4735066

'if on a winter's night a traveler' by italo calvino
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0156439611/qid=1090594109/sr=ka-1/ref=pd_ ka_1/103-6917237-4735066

'nighmare factory' by thomas ligotti
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0786703024/qid=1090594186/sr=1-2/r ef=sr_1_2/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'the mysterious stranger' by mark twain
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0486270696/qid=1090594298/sr=1-2/r ef=sr_1_2/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'a song of fire and ice' by george r.r. martin
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553573403/qid=1090594552/sr=ka-3/ref=pd_ ka_3/103-6917237-4735066

'things that never happen' by m. john harrison
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1892389266/qid=1090594781/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'the wasp factory' by ian banks
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0684853159/qid=1090594818/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

random stories in 'the magazine of fantasy and science fiction' by matthew hughes

'ghost world' by daniel clowes
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1560974273/qid=1090595325/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books

'my life with the spirits' by lon milo duquette
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1578631203/qid=1090595769/sr=1-1/r ef=sr_1_1/103-6917237-4735066?v=glance&s=books




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Brendan
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:17 am:   

Some good books . . . but about half of them could not be called "contemporary". Suck as Kafka, Camus, Hesse etc.
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jeff ford
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:17 am:   

Brendan: As I get older, I've kind of moved away, not consciously but more naturally, from reading the books that are "certainly important books to read." Actually, if I have a sense that they are "certainly important books to read" before I get my hands and eyes on them, I feel like I want to run in the opposite direction as fast as possible. Perhaps the books are still great, but the sense of obligation to a "taste" manufactured by committee turns me off. The personal discoveries are always the sweetest, like The Maqroll books by Mutis for me.
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neil a
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:21 am:   

Neil, I tend to agree with you. But in that case, where is the bespectacled boy wonder wizard?

Recently read Patrick Neate's (was he on the list?) top ten thing on Pulp.net and he has over30yr readers of HP down as 'intellectual lazybones'.

As for Amelie, I thought that was a good film. And Chocolat was at least watchable.
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Brendan
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:23 am:   

Jeff,

I agree with you. I was just under the impression that that was what this particular list was about. Personally, I don't really pay that much attention to what one is "supposed" to read, but just read what interests me, whether it be an ancient Buddhist text, a romantic French novel or a book on cosmology.

My main problem with that list, and maybe with most contemporary fiction, is that it is disgustingly conservative. Stylistically, most contemporary writers just suck.
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bryan
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:26 am:   

"Some good books . . . but about half of them could not be called "contemporary". Suck as Kafka, Camus, Hesse etc."

yeah i know. just put books i like. some weren't even fiction. i also limited myself to one book per author. gene wolfe would have eaten up the list if i had done otherwise. anyways, i'm not sure if i could create a very long list of contemporary authors i like. to be honest with you i'm not even sure where modern ends and contemporary begins.
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Brendan
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:28 am:   

In my mind contemporary means someone who is either alive or was recently (say within the last ten years). Modern usually refers to stuff like James Joyce etc.
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bryan
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:31 am:   

i would like to see some other lists... could anybody here recommend books to me based on the list i posted? i'm sure there is a theme to what i read. just haven't figured it out entirely. i like books that deal with religion. i'm always looking for something new to read. any suggestions?
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neilw
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:32 am:   

Neil (a) - potter? Yep, well perhaps the respondents didn't want to be seen as "intellectual lazeyboneses"?

Although I don't buy that as an arguement. It's not as if by reading Potter (and I very much do) you're somehow shirking your intellectual duty. You can go and read something more weighty next, surely? Mix it up a bit. Have some fun in with the serious stuff. Like saying - you're a skiver if you waste your valuable film going time by watching anything but worthy arthouse cinema. Saw Spiderman 2 last night, loved it and I ain't going to apologise for it. :D
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JV
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:32 am:   

Well, as far as I'm concerned, this thread can be about anything--modern, not modern. Guilty pleasures, even. Like, I used to love those Chesbro Mongo murder mysteries, even though the writing wasn't that good. Would I prefer to read a Mongo murder mystery instead of some of the books on that initial list. Hell yeah!

JeffV
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Kathy S.
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:34 am:   

Neil W -- agreed. Status seems important to the list's compilers. On the other hand, *why* these particular books? Critical acclaim? The intellectual air they're supposed to exude?

Neil A -- I'm not surprised that HP was not included. Its popularity probably spells a low-brow status to the compilers of the list.
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neilw
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:35 am:   

Bryan - Ian McDonald's River Of Gods deals in part with Hinduism in near future India. Highly recommended.
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bryan
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:36 am:   

not very familiar with mystery as a genre, what's good?
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JV
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:40 am:   

Derek Raymond's out-of-print series beginning with He Died With His Eyes Open is amazing.

I like the Peter Robinson mysteries, also Lovesey.

Altered Carbon by Richard (Morgan) is, frankly, a first-rate mystery in addition to be first-rate SF story.

This guy, Bruen, is also quite good.

And all the classics--Chandler, etc.

JeffV
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bryan
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:56 am:   

thanks for all the recommendations, i'll print them out and take them with me the next time i go to the bookstore.

what about ghost stories? is there such thing as a contemporary writer of ghost stories? if so, who?

my wife and i stayed at the myrtles plantation a while back, and ever since i've been really interested in reading well written ghost stories.

also, while my mind is ticking, what about occult fiction, or fiction that deals with secret societies? anything worth searching out?
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 09:12 am:   

Some more mystery/crime/noir books:

Lawrence Block EiGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE
Jim Thompson THE KILLER INSIDE ME
Patricia Highsmith THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY
Joe R. Lansdale SAVAGE SEASON/COLD IN JULY (lots of Lansdale is worth checking out)
Neal Barrett, Jr. DEAD DOG BLUES/PINK VODKA BLUES/SKINNY ANNIE BLUES/BAD EYE BLUES
Norman Partidge SLIPPIN' INTO DARKNESS

I know there's more I've read, but that's what I got off the top of my head.

JK
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jeff ford
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 09:14 am:   

Brendan: I figured we were in agreement, just from knowing you through your posts on the message boards.

Bryan: One of the guys you really want to check out for ghost stories is Glen Hirschberg. Luckily his stories are collected in a book titled The Two Sams. I really enjoyed it.
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 09:15 am:   

We cross-posted, but I really enjoyed the Mark Frost books: THE LIST OF 7 and THE SIX MESSIAHS, which feature Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the main character who gets trapped in weird Lovecraftian situations and secret societies. Alex Irvine's A SCATTERING OF JADES has secret socities and occult stuff in it.

Caleb Carr's THE ALIENIST was enjoyable, too. I have the follow-up, but I haven't read it yet.

JK
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JV
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 09:15 am:   

Early Lawrence Block--the Scudder novels--is excellent.
JeffV
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Neil
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 09:26 am:   

Neil (W).

I've nothing against Harry Potter, and wish Rowling continued success. That was kind of the roundabout point I was making--with Nick Hornby et al. on the list, where is she? Regardless of the amount of adults reading the books (I'm even lazier, I waited for the films :-)) the impact on a generation of young readers is at the moment almost unimaginable. As a contemporary author, surely she is one of the most important, considering the impact her work will have on the entire spectrum of society. Far more than Rushdie will ever likely achieve.
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bryan
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 09:49 am:   

'the two sams' looks awesome. just special ordered it. thanks for the recommendation.
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bill reynolds
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 10:12 am:   

Orange list score = 2
Bryan's list scort = 11
Way to go Bryan!!!! (Even if you did cheat and include the deceased.)

Did someone mention and I miss Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer novels? Never properly handled on film. Best in his later psychological period where there is no peace until an old sin/evil is revealed. But MacDonald didn't believe in real evil. Only in mistakes.
http://www.thrillingdetective.com/archer.html
I never saw the TV series as I was living in Denmark at that point.

The only two books I regularly reread in toto are
A Voyage to Arcturus - David Lindsey
Beyond Life - James Branch Cabell.
Not that I would consider them vital to everyone to read but they are to me.
Also re-read regularly segments of
M John Harrison Viriconium series
Jack Vance The Dying Earth
yes, Gene Wolfe Book of the New Sun
Lucius' The Jaguar Hunter, primarily A Spanish Lesson which ends with the most passionate statement of the requirement to lead a moral life that was ever put to paper.
Various Clark Ashton Smith
R.A. Lafferty's Past Master
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EDatlow
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 10:21 am:   

Bryan, my ghost story anthology THE DARK is filled with original stories by Glen Hirshberg (the story that also appears in his collection), Tanith Lee, Stephen Gallagher, Ramsey Campbell, Lucius, Shepard, and others.

ALso, you can check out a story by Glen H that isn't yet collected in our archives: "Flowers on Their Bridles, Hooves in the Air."
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gary gibson
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 11:21 am:   

SOmebody mentioned well-written ghost stories, and although there aren't precisely any ghosts in it per se - and some might argue this recommendation is tangential, but I'd disagree - I'd suggest 'House of Leaves' by Mark Danielewski. I'm glad someone mentioned the Mark Frost books, since I always had a hankering to check them out. Maybe now I'll get round to adding them to my Amazon wish list.

In terms of stuff to re- and re-read ... Illuminatus!, pretty much everything by Neal Stephenson, one or two of Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius books, Silverberg's Book of Skulls, Eon by Greg Bear, and a ton of others I can't be bothered getting out of my chair to check the titles and authors of.
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bryan
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 12:20 pm:   

went to the bookstore and bought 'the list of 7' by mark frost. looks like a neat book.

thanks again to everybody for all the great recommendations.

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bryan
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 12:24 pm:   

'House of Leaves' by Mark Danielewski

does it tell a story or is it a postmodern mess? i've picked it up, and have read some really good reviews, but is it worth the time and effort to unlock its literary devices? is there a story there?
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MarcL
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 02:28 pm:   

There is a really good weird horror story buried in House of Leaves, almost a modern version of THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND. If he'd only published that, he'd have made me a fan for life, but he also would never have attracted a fraction of the critical attention he got for wrapping this book in layer upon layer of pomo "c-r-a-a--" ... well. I really enjoyed that slim central story, once I figured out how to find it. The rest of it, meh. I note that this pomo-pose still didn't necessarily accomplish what was intended. That book is shelved with horror at the local Borders. Not with classics of literature.
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gary gibson
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 02:32 pm:   

Yeah, there is a story there, but I don't deny it's buried. It's good enough (I thought) to bear a couple of re-reads. First time around you'll probably skip the complicated experimental stuff - if you're anything like me - and go for the main story, which I found gripping. I re-read it a couple of months after that, and this time read a good bit more of the peripheral material, and felt I got more out of the story than I did the first time around.

For what it's worth, there's a bit in one of the many, many side-notes and parallel narratives which basically tells you not to worry about reading all the bits and pieces, just sort of 'experience' it and have fun (although it states this subtly and not nearly as pretentiously as I'm making it sound). I'd agree with that. If it didn't have a solid, pulse-pounding, linear narrative at its core, it wouldn't work. But it does, so it did.
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MarcL
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 03:54 pm:   

I guess these Orange Prize guys never heard of Cormac McCarthy.

Their loss though.

Or maybe they watched ALL THE PRETTY HORSES and decided not to pursue any of the others.
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JV
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:19 pm:   

I loved House of Leaves. I really doubt any writer sits down and says to him or herself, "Why, if only I add a pomo element, I won't be in the horror section." The novel developed over a period of years on Danielewski's web site, from what I understand, and while the central story--the horror/love story--*is* the most important element, the rest of it isn't crap. I do think he could have left out several of the footnotes, but he's presenting, in a sense, an artifact, and to do that effectively, you have to kind of turn over everything you've "found" and put it in print.

The thing is this--it's brave of an author to attempt something like House of Leaves. Even when somebody fails doing something like that, I don't think they deserve jeers.

JeffV
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gary gibson
Posted on Saturday, July 24, 2004 - 06:06 am:   

I was trying to think how to describe what I like about House of Leaves - apart from that 'pulse-pounding narrative' I mentioned - and that it's that it turns the reader into a kind of detective, sifting through all this evidence, which includes characters in one series of fragments referring to whether or not they believe in the objective reality of what's happening in other series of fragments! It sort of turns the reader into a collaborator, in the sense that with all the different elements in the book, it feels more like a 'found' collection of notes and narratives than a purely linear narrative ever could.

I always thought it was the closest thing in print to Blair Witch Experiment (which I loved). You know it's all made up, but something about the way it's presented makes you feel like you've undergone some subtle shift of perception, so the world feels just a tiny bit different than it did before - something you only ever get with the very best fiction. Books that did that to me, apart from House, are Illuminatus! and Down and Out in Paris and London.
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MarcL
Posted on Saturday, July 24, 2004 - 10:10 am:   

It's so hard to convey, in text, the rolling tones of Space Ghost's Lokar as he incants "C-R-R-RAP!" So that he is at once pretentious and not to be taken seriously. "Frankly, I find more drollery in a regional neighborhood renaissance festival than in this Space Ghost crap!" Anyway, picture I was saying it like this (scroll down to Lokar): (http://www.fortunecity.com/marina/bay/1701/)

While I agree that few authors set out to plot an escape from the horror to the literature sections (ideas of marketing strategy being absolutely useless in propelling you through the task of writing a book), I think some do stick stuff in there just to get literary props...or to be in some geekish/bookish way cooler than otherwise. Because these are such Quixotic figures, and their strategies so rarified, anyone who at this point in American history assails the gates of cultural cool by writing books and adding lots and lots of footnotes deserves, yes, cheers rather than jeers.

Did I mention the parts I liked were freakishly awesome? As for the other parts, "For those for whom this sort of thing is for, this is the stuff for you!" (To quote a hedging critic.)
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EDatlow
Posted on Saturday, July 24, 2004 - 10:22 pm:   

I agree with JeffV and Brendan that House of Leaves is really interesting on several levels. I may have enjoyed the central creepy nut of a story the best but the footnotes, letters, etc were also interesting in their own way. And I think the author was gutsy to do it. He's lucky the book was published with the timidity of so many mainstream publishers these days.
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gary gibson
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 04:32 am:   

Which begs the question, would it have stood a chance of being published nowadays, or is the publishing market (on either side of the Atlantic) still open to something that could be described as experimental?
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 08:10 am:   

I think the publishing market is open to anything they can make money on. Can they make money on "experimental" writing?

Absolutely, if it is something interesting.

The fundamental reason most people read fiction is to be entertained. Some "experimental" (ah ah) writing is entertaining. Others are painfully boring. I think it depends on the book.

The truth of the matter though is that there are no more experimental writers, but only writers who use other people's experiments to tell their own tales. Most all of the so called experiments people do nowadays were already done 20, 30, 50 or even a hundred years ago. These techniques are just in the process of being standardised.
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EDatlow
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 10:29 am:   

Gary,
House of Leaves only came out a couple of years ago. So yes. As Brendan says. If a book is good and a publisher thinks it can sell of course they'll take it on. Publishers are in business--that's the operative word. If they don't think they can sell more than 50 copies of a book and there isn't a really good reason for them to publish that book, then they aren't going to do it. Also, to me most experimental writing sucks. I only enjoy experimental writing if it doesn't get in the way of what the author is trying to communicate. I've read lots of experimental novels that worked beautifully--House of Leaves is one of them. And then there are others that I just threw down in disgust.
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 11:04 am:   

Ellen -

I think "experimentation" or using odd ways of writing should be used to help tell a story. Unfortunately most of the so-called "experimental" writers these days seem to use it just because they dont really have a story to tell.

But maybe I am being harsh.
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EDatlow
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 12:39 pm:   

Brendan, I agree with you completely. But why say specify "these days"? I think it's been true since the beginning of writing and publishing.
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des
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 02:24 pm:   

But much popular stuff published today would have been regarded experimental or impenetrable in the past. And some things in the past were quite clear then, but impenetrable to modern readers. Mix and match between. Things develop, evolve, deconstruct, revive, like everything. Individual readers' tastes also change as they develop themselves. Styles change, get denser, get thinner, all to meet the 'tale' to be told. And 'tale' can be music as well as plot ... or hopefully both. des
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 02:30 pm:   

Well, I say "these days" because the idea of experimental writing is relatively new. Most of the first people who used the term really were very innovative writers. Now however it has become a sort of genre - so it is not really experimental writing, but rather a genre called experimental writing, inhabited by a creatures completely different from Joyce, Faulkner etc.

So, there have always been people without a story to tell, but these days there are far more. It is relatively easy to disguise a complete lack of depth in a mass of rolling word combinations and puerile literary tricks. In the times of Balzac and Dickens however, one had little opportunity for such things, because literature was not just some academic exiercise in futility.

Not to say that is all it is these days, but about 95% of it is.

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des
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 02:35 pm:   

Can you give some examples of the new modern experimental genre, Brendan? Do you mean complete nonsense masquerading as sense? Or oblique works that convey a plot if the reader works at it and also conveys things that would not have worked without the obliquity?
des
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EDatlow
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 02:43 pm:   

Brendan,
But when those innovators first wrote, what they were doing was experimenting--with style and voice (eg Joyce and Faulkner).
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 02:51 pm:   

Well, I am a little shy of naming names, because the people I speak of are all living, writing authors, and I don't like to personally offend anyone. But is what I am really talking about are the people who disguise their own lack of talent and imagination behind "experementation".

The first people to really go out on a limb the way I am talking about were the Russian futurists, but at that time it was new, so they did have something to offer. But now, 85 years later, it is easier and cheaper to take a sleeping pill at night.

I am talking about the people who use odd faunts in place of ideas, people whd translate their stuff into german and then into spanish and back into english so that it will have fake poetic nuances, people who arrange their words on pages so that they form steps and pictures of dogs....

But I wont name names.

Oblique can be very cool. Very cool. Remy de Gourmont was oblique. But oblique needs to be backed up by a thinking mind . . . in other words it shouldnt be faux-oblique.
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 02:55 pm:   

Ellen -

Yes, they were experimenting. They really were. But these days the vast majority of writing that is called "experimental" isn't.

Look in the Journal of Experimental Fiction, for example. Pretty much everything there was being done 50 or 80 years ago. So how can you call it experimental? It isn't. It is simply a label to describe a genre.

It is a genre like horror or SF. Most horror does not horrify, just like most contemporary experimental writing does not have an inkling of originality to it.
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EDatlow
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 04:20 pm:   

Brendan,
I can't disagree :-) (don't make me look in the Journal of Experimental Fiction).

I love Kelly Link's short fiction. She has a distinctive voice and style and often uses non-traditional structure successfully. I'm already starting to see "linkian" wannabes who are writing terrible crap.

Which is similar to some latter day cyberpunk wannabes who use the superficial aspects of what Gibson did as a device, leaving out his politics and layering.
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JV
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 05:17 pm:   

Oh, Brendan, you might as well name names. :-) But I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the Journal of Experimental Fiction. I don't care for formal experimentation, because I don't think stories that originate from "I need a plot to hang around this experimental technique" are usually very good--in the sense of *lasting* in people's memories. But, on the other hand, such experiments *do* sometimes lead other writers to *renovations* that aren't quite so out there, but are more successful as stories. In other words, that leading edge that might seem unsuccessful serves a purpose.

Now, it may be true that the techniques being used in the Journal of Experimental Fiction are old, but I'd say that the vast majority of writers have never used any of those techniques over the last 50 years, so, in a way, the argument that they're old techniques is irrelevant. They're still fresh in terms of possibly leading to new permutations/mutations. (That said, I can't usually get through the Journal.)

Ellen--just out of curiosity: What are you seeing re "linkian" wannabes? I.e., what types of things are they trying to ape? Is it just structures, which I would argue are there to be stolen and re-used? Or is it more tone/style/mood/sensibility?

Jeff



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EDatlow
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 06:07 pm:   

Jeff,
Tone and sensibility. It was very obvious. I've gotten at least one submission and I wanted to throw it across the floor ;-)

I'd say her structures are varied although they often seem to fold into nesting boxes of stories within stories. But that kind of structure has been done to good effect for ever. eg Ted Whittemore's novels (as examples I know you're familiar with) but certainly others much much earlier. He's just the first one to come to mind.
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, July 25, 2004 - 10:36 pm:   

Jeff -

I wasn't dismissing JEF. I have been published their myself. Is what I am dismissing is the notion that "experimental" fiction is about experimenting.

What you say about new permutations etc. is true. That is why I said on my 8:10 am post "These techniques are just in the process of being standardised."

I don't have a problem with most of the writing in JEF and other places. What I have a problem with is the notion that these folks are doing something new - because experimental should mean "new".

Frankly I just get pissed off that everything is broken into these grotesque little cliques. And it has really given me problems with my own writing - at least for a lot of the short fiction. I don't feel altogether free to write what I want, because, in the realm of short fiction, their are so few people who really will publish something on its own merits. All, or almost all, of the magazines are genre magazines. And "literary" and "experimental" are now just two more genres. This new phenomena I think has really crippled literature. In the old days a guy like Stevenson or Balzac could write a fantastic story, or an adventure, or a psychological romance - and it would appeal to the same reading public. Now the reading public has been broken into various queues where they are force-fed "literature", "SF", "romance" or what have you, depending on which way their wallets function best.

And, quite frankly, a lot of the cross-genre stuff is no better, because now that has become its own genre.
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al duncan
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 03:49 am:   

//"literary" and "experimental" are now just two more genres//

That kind of nails it, doesn't it? If "experimental" has become conventionalised enough that it can be bracketed as a genre, maybe "experimental" is the wrong word. Certainly if you take "experimental" as meaning "new" - pushing the boundaries, trying to find new techniques, etc..

But I'm not convinced that all writers of "experimental" fiction are necessarily overly concerned with some "stepping outside of the envelope's bleeding edge" guff. Sure, some of us like to use poncy, arty, tricksy techniques that are "unconventional" in comparison with trad SF or Fantasy (or with Contemporary Realism, hereby capitalised because it's as much of a bloody genre as SF, goddamnit). But in a lot of cases that "experimentation" involves using tried and tested techniques to achieve particular results and, I would argue, is just plain old-fashioned Modernism (or post-Modernism, as if there's any difference other than the decade it was written in).

Personally, I'm happy to stand up and confess my sins as an honest-to-god, out-and-proud Modernist. But, well, at the moment I'm trying to flog a book that's firmly in this "experimentalist" camp - non-linear, text-commenting-on-text, and all that jazz - but I really don't see it as fundamentally "new". New isn't the issue. You can be the first person to blow snot out your nose, drop acid and scry the hanky for your "story". BFD. I'll leave that kind of "new" to the BritArt Saatchi-sluts of the visual arts, thank you very much. I don't give a damn if it's new; I only care if it's *good*.

Also, being Glaswegian, I have to say that I much prefer the term "mentalist" to "experimentalist".
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Brendan
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 04:37 am:   

Al -

Good post and good luck with the novel.

The problem I have with these various terms we are all using is that they only indirectly relate to what people are doing.

For instance, "modernism" was basically something that was happening from the 20's up until the 50's.

Then it became "post-modernism".

Now people don't know what to call what they are doing any more, and I think part of the reason for this is that literature in general has been corpratized and scholasticized to such a degree as leave most writers crippled from the gate.

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neilw
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 05:04 am:   

Brendan - I'm not sure all writers are as self-analytical as that. For many, a lot of it comes down to instinct. Such and such just seems like the way to tell a particular story. It feels right to do it that way. try doing it a more conventional way and it feels flat or, in some other fashion, wrong. Try it this way, and... yeah, baby that works! And if it works, really works for the writer - if they are engaged and excited by the process of writing it - chances are it will work for the reader as well.

Al - if I may be so bold: "pure mentalist" - ya bampot
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al duncan
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 06:26 am:   

Brendan -

Cheers. Yeah, I never did get why, in the first half of the 20th C high-brow, hyper-dense fiction using stream-of-consciousness, embedded pastiche and other such literary artifices is "modern" while, in the latter half, it's suddenly "post-modern". I half suspect it comes from this concept of "modernism" as being fundamentally about innovation - if the shock of the new is all that matters then once those core techniques become old hat, you have to rebrand what you're doing as "post-modern" - i.e. tout yourself as "more modern than modern!" - in order to not have folks saying "Been there, done that".

But the reason I like the first term and do think it relates quite well to what I'm doing (maybe even SF and Fantasy in a wider way) is I think the real focus of Modernism is nothing (or at least little) to do with innovation; it's modernity is based on it being the fiction of the "modern" era, this fucked-up world that crawled out of the muck of the Somme, a Frankenstein fusion of Romanticism and Rationalism. The dehumanisation in Futurism. The influence of cave painting in that bull figure in Picasso's Guernica. The way Joyce treats the unconscious as a Jungian "sleeping giant" in Finnegan's Wake. To me Modernism is a style of fiction, and art in general, that faces up to the world as layer-upon-layer of mysteries and mechanisms in a way that most Realist works just don't. And that's what makes it, IMHO, kick the ass of those dreary, superficial melodramas that are little more than brainfiller for those too middle-class and educated to just go the whole hog and veg out to a soap opera.
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al duncan
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 06:28 am:   

Neil, ya radge, away an bile yer heid.
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JV
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 06:53 am:   

Ellen:

Re Kelly--that makes a lot of sense, and is kind of annoying, to say the least. Hopefully, these are tyros who are just assimilating their influences and will go on to something more original.

(Hope to see you at WorldCon, by the way!)

Jeff
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des
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 07:45 am:   

Brendan said:
I don't feel altogether free to write what I want, because, in the realm of short fiction, their are so few people who really will publish something on its own merits.

*************
I wanted to copy and paste that because it deserved to be! It lies behind my concept of 'Nemonymous' and the considering of submissions anonymously.

There is nothing now that is 'new' or 'experimental' in any of the arts. Re fiction, we are all trying to tell stories in the way the story instinctively tells us it needs to be told (as Neil said). It then works or doesn't work for the editor to whom it is submitted. Cream should rise whatever the provenance or 'experimentalism' of the piece.
des

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EDatlow
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 08:46 am:   

Jeff,
I'm hoping it's just a aberration on the part of the writer (it was someeone I'd never heard of).

Good. See you there.
Ellen

<<Ellen:

Re Kelly--that makes a lot of sense, and is kind of annoying, to say the least. Hopefully, these are tyros who are just assimilating their influences and will go on to something more original.

(Hope to see you at WorldCon, by the way!)

Jeff
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Brendan
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 11:02 am:   

Des -

All the more reason to hope your production continues healthy and gains strength.

Neil -

The problem is that when you write short fiction, you often have to be a little analytical, because if you write something where the market is very small, you will have a hard time getting it published. It is not a nice thing, but that is the way it is.
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gary gibson
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 11:24 am:   

For what it's worth, the argument is sliding towards that whole 'this is what this is/defining a style of writing' thing by giving it a name. To give a collection of work is to define it: to identify common characteristics. To define it (name it) is thereby to limit it. I bring this up only because it's my belief that our desire to pigeonhole is rooted in some hardwired part of our brain, maybe the part that tells us 'that's a lion, that's a tiger, that's a bear', and now serves to tell us 'that's sf, that's modernist, that's experimental'. So we might as well live with it, and work around it.

Or here's an idea: electro-shock therapy. Get a writer, strap him in a chair, wire him up, and fry his brain until he, eh, perceives the world in new, non category defined ways (assuming he's not crispy by then). Or do the whole Leary, cultural-reprogramming thing by dunking enough psychedelics in his beer at a convention to send London to the moon. Then, perhaps, he might find him or herself able to operate without slipping in and out of preconceived notions of acceptability and peer approval like a car bouncing across a series of barely negotiable potholes.
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des
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 11:48 am:   

To define it (name it) is thereby to limit it.
**************

Exactly. Hence 'Nemonymous'.
I think I should take your post above as the credo in advance of Nemonymous~5.
Thanks, Gary. (Btw, do you still edit/publish 'Territories'?)
des
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MarcL
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 12:04 pm:   

Anybody else remember a mid-70's collection called SUPERFICTION! (edited by Joe D. Bellamy)? You could see the marketers angling for a way to turn "Experimental Fiction" into a genre right then. There were some good stories in there, as I recall. Or anyway, some funny ones. It lead me to read a lot of things I might not have encountered otherwise. Unfortunately I can't find a table of contents online (Amazon is mum). We need something like the IMDB for books. (I'm now bracing for a deluge of links to exactly such a thing.)

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gary gibson
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 12:17 pm:   

I got involved in some minor capacity in editing one issue, but the man you want is Erich, aka the Chickenbone Man, aka (deleted), and next time I see him (if ever) I'll still be having fantasies of wringing his scrawny gulpy neck for ever saying 'hey Gary, wouldn't it be cool if you like, helped out on my cutting edge 'zine?' Gah!
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des
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 02:00 pm:   

Sorry, Gary, I thought you *were* Erich Zann! Thanks for putting me right.
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Kathy S.
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 04:00 pm:   

Gary --
Interesting observation re: the desire to pigeonhole. I doubt it is hardwired though -- seems to me, the categorization of things is a very Western way of thinking. And it's getting progressively worse, especially in terms of fiction categories. I suspect it has something to do with placing books on the shelves at Barnes&Noble.

"Or here's an idea: electro-shock therapy. Get a writer, strap him in a chair, wire him up, and fry his brain until he, eh, perceives the world in new, non category defined ways (assuming he's not crispy by then)."
Um, this is exactly what happened to Robert Pirsig, from what I understand.

Des -- Nemonymous 5 is coming? Hope, hope.
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JV
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 04:27 pm:   

I must say we've gotten much more erudite than my original "Anyone else think that half of this list blows?" post. LOL!

There's an anthology called Anti-Story from 1973 that is nothing but experimental short fiction. It's interesting, not always successful, but of interest.

Brendan and Al and Neil--all great posts. Wish I had something to add.

For my part, I'm just a thief. I'm always looking for techniques to steal. So I trawl those experimental publications for stuff that might fit whatever machine or animal I'm building. Sometimes they don't, and I don't try to force them, either. But sometimes they do, and they solve a problem I'm having.

JeffV
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Brendan
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 10:39 pm:   

Here here (or is it hear hear?)! I am all for theiving, though I am a bit more of a grave robber interested in exhuming the corpses of old styles.
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al duncan
Posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2004 - 02:34 am:   

//Or do the whole Leary, cultural-reprogramming thing by dunking enough psychedelics in his beer at a convention to send London to the moon//

Ooh ooh, yes please! Do it, do it, do it, do it!

I'll leave my Guinness right beside you. I'll even look away. And I'll take full responsibility for anything that happens, boy scout's honour.
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EJ
Posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2004 - 01:54 pm:   

Bryan,
Do Vance's Dying Earth books and Wolfe's Book of the New Sun improve much after the first of each?

I've long heard them recommended, and read the first of each. The first Dying Earth book struck me as nearly unreadable rubbish that was a chore to finish. The Shadow of the Torturer interested me until Severian was expelled from the guild. From that point forward it struck me as rather tepid. Any thoughts appreciated
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bryan
Posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2004 - 03:49 pm:   

i couldn't get into 'dying earth'. i liked the environments, but the characters/dialogue seemed flat. i didn't read very much of it though.

i loved the 'new sun' books. i thought they were all equally good. wolfe's layers are unsurpassed. his stories really open up the more you visit them. have you read any of his other books? try reading 'the knight' and 'there are doors', then attempt the 'new sun' books again. it might help.
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MarcL
Posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2004 - 04:24 pm:   

EYES OF THE OVERWORLD has been at the top of my list of all-time favorites for many years. Cugel the Clever, flat? For me, it's more memorable than the disconnected stories of THE DYING EARTH. I've never been able to shake the scene where the little shore fairies laugh at Cugel and he tears them from their shells.

THE KNIGHT is excellent. The only problem with reading it right now is that you'll have to wait a few more months for THE WIZARD. It just...ends...mid-stride...
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Mike S.
Posted on Thursday, July 29, 2004 - 11:37 am:   

Speaking of essential reading, Jeff's Amazon.com Wish List got a nice mention in the Bookslut blog:

http://www.bookslut.com/blog/archives/2004_07.php#002915

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