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John Klima
Posted on Friday, January 16, 2004 - 01:03 pm:   

I really enjoyed Richard Butner's "The House of the Future". I did have some trouble reading the story as set in the today, rather than some point in the past, like the '70s or '80s. All the references to the what the kids were doing seemed to fit into my own childhood that when the protagonist was given a CD or when he called someone on their cel phone, it was very jarring to me. Maybe part of problem was that, because of my wife's job--I get to know a lot of teenagers, and none of them act like the characters in the story. Of course, the characters are pre-teens.

Anyway, the tone and narrative of the story reminded me a lot of Waldrop or Jeff Ford, which isn't a bad thing.

JK
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ellen
Posted on Friday, January 16, 2004 - 01:12 pm:   

Hi John,
Thanks for starting the continuation of the thread--it was awfully unwieldy.

I do know a few pre-teens-children of friends-- and they're still pretty "innocent" so it seemed natural to me. I think the hormones make a big difference in behavior.
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Lou Antonelli
Posted on Friday, January 16, 2004 - 01:35 pm:   

I liked the story, too, and I DO think the boys, at least, sounded typical. I have a real good memory and I DO remember what we talked about. It was that insipid.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 08:36 am:   

Reposted from SCIFICTION board per Ellen's suggestion:

Wow! I just finished reading Peregrines, by Suzy McKee Charnas. As I read it, I found myself getting angry that my phone was ringing (like a pestering gnat trying to distract me from a matter of great importance). I was stunned for at least a few minutes upon completion on the story. Charnas proves that she can craft a great story using simple techniques (or rather, techniques that seem simple but are very hard to execute well).

One of the techniques that Charnas uses so effectively is the subtle and gradual world-building that "shows rather than tells" her reader what is happening in the setting. For example, "I'd even gotten my interstate travel permit from the Homesec office down at Battery Park," is the last line of the fourth paragraph, and it is the first hint that that reader has that this tale takes place in a future and more repressive American society. As the story continues, Charnas adds, "John, second son of an African diplomat and a Swiss biochem heiress..." when describing a main supporting character. The words "biochem heiress" strengthen the impression that this is at least a few decades into the future, supporting the first clue about "Homesec." Even the casual way "Homesec" is abbreviated and used commonly as slang suggests years of useage that have incorporated it into the common tongue, just as we now say "Feds". I'll use Charnas' 45th (or so paragraph) as a last example of this point:
"Even in the comparative anonymity of lower Manhattan it wasn't smart to take in strangers, particularly dark-complected strangers who spoke broken English. People have been known to report their friends and neighbors to Homesec for less, ever since the Statue of Liberty bombing." That paragraph was only the third mention of the back-setting of the tale, and yet with only those 3 brief bits the reader now has a solid (and creepy) feeling for the back-setting. With three gradual brush-strokes (or pen-strokes, as the case mey be) Charnas has laid a layer of setting that warns the reader against some of the steps our country is now taking, and creates challenges for her characters to navigate. I have not encountered many writers who can so casually, efficiently, and completely draw a setting.

Charnas' characters take form in a similar fashion. Through a brief and natural dialog at the start of the story we learn volumes about Edie, the protagonist. "I thought, God damn it all to hell; so what else is new? I said, 'Oh.'," tells us about Edie's plodding personality immediately, and we learn more with, "We chatted awhile longer, me feeling my usual urge to scream in protest while simultaneously apologizing for the failure of my name to attract business." I love authors who can write a story without actually spelling out all the words to that story. Charnas does that here by showing us some of Edie's thoughts and actions and then allowing us to realize what Edie is all about, not by beating us over the head with it. This is what I mean by "showing not telling."

Based on reading Peregrines I feel certain that Charnas could write any fiction well. Some authors just can't seem to make it outside of fantasy or Sci-Fi, but I think Charnas kicks some serious booty! I could go on and on, but you get the point....
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ellen
Posted on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 08:50 am:   

Thanks for re-posting this Mike.
Suzy has written all kinds of fiction: sf/f/h--don't forget, one of her most famous novels (which is really three novellas) is The Vampire Tapestry.
I hope I can get Suzy to come over here to respond.
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ellen
Posted on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 08:53 am:   

John and Lou,
I got a nasty note on my personal website in my guest book from someone who implies he's a teacher of 7th graders who claimed the first para of "House of the Future" could have been written better by one of his students. I of course, went back to reread the first para and thought (as I thought the first several times I read it) that it was an excellent para.

People are weird. :-)
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Brendan
Posted on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 10:27 am:   

Well, there is no reason why 7th grade students should not be able to write well. Funny how people often use the ability of children to attempt to belittle others.

"A child could have painted that!"

Of course, children usually paint better than adults.
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E Thomas
Posted on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 11:00 am:   

Maybe you should tell him he should give his 7th graders submission guidelines and encourage them to submit to you. You could discover the next generation of sf writers. :-)
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John Klima
Posted on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 01:18 pm:   

Like I said, the characters do not act like any of the teenagers I know, but I kept forgetting that they are not teenagers, they are pre-teens, with whom I do not have any real contact. No, I thought that Butner did an excellent job of capturing the narrative voice of a non-adult, which the narrator is. It's a difficult thing to do well, and it's hard to maintain through a piece. I think any issues I had with the story are my own. I just kept placing the protagonist as a teenager in the 1970s, and that was not the case so I kept getting jarred out of my mindset. But that's not Butner's problem, it was my own! :-)

JK
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Lou Antonelli
Posted on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 03:11 pm:   

Ellen -

I went back and reread the start of the story. The teacher's full of baloney. The beginning is well written and also consistent with the narrator's viewpoint.
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ellen
Posted on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 05:27 pm:   

Thanks for the back-up Lou.

E Thomas: The thrust of his rant was that he wouldn't have his students read the swill on the website and that's why sf isn't respected as literature. Somehow, I don't think he'd encourage his students to submit to me :-)
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Matthew
Posted on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 06:36 pm:   

No wonder our schools are in trouble if guys like him are teaching.
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Thomas R
Posted on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 07:20 pm:   

Idiot. At the same time it's not like you are marketing for a YA audience anyway so I don't see the difference. Except maybe positive. From what I remember a 7th grade teacher's disapproval does loads to encourage interest in students. It's not quite up their with getting a preacher or politician to condemn you, but still congrats!:-)

(Although considering what I wrote in 7th grade maybe condolences after all.)
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ellen
Posted on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 07:30 pm:   

LOL. Thomas, you are a funny guy:-)

Matthew, I suppose it's possible he's a rejected would be writer but I'm not familiar with his name.
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E Thomas
Posted on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 07:44 pm:   

ellen: Somehow, I don't think he'd encourage his students to submit to me :-)

Alas. If they are as brilliant as he says, however, I am sure they will find you eventually on their own.

Thomas R: From what I remember a 7th grade teacher's disapproval does loads to encourage interest in students. It's not quite up their with getting a preacher or politician to condemn you, but still congrats!

LOL. Also, don't forget an adult reading something and then telling you "it's too old for you" or "you wouldn't understand it" or "it's too scary." My mom (an elementary school media center librarian) read a section of a reader's choice award nominated book to her students at the beginning of this year with the warning that "everyone doesn't have to read it if they don't want to--it may be too scary for some of you" ;). I don't think this book has been seen actually ON the shelves of any library within a ten mile radius since that time. I love my mom. She's one smart cookie.





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Suzy Charnas
Posted on Tuesday, January 20, 2004 - 11:01 am:   

Hi, Mike --

Thanks for the comments on my story! I love it when a reader appreciatively (and in public) picks out the plums that I've carefully placed in the pudding for his or her delectation. You're right, I value conciseness highly, as you might guess if I told you that one of my favorite novelists is Cecilia Holland; her first novel, THE FIREDRAKE, just knocked my socks off, and taught me what it means in writing to do more with less. This was back when the whole SF/F world was still reeling with an epidemic of Tolkienitis, and everything was being padded out to three volumes or more wherever that was possible. I reacted in a typically contrarian fashion: Ellen Datlow once bought a story from me that's an entire novel compressed into novella length. To tell the truth, if was only after it was written that I realized I'd done that because the story is so sad that at novel length nobody would be able to stay with it to the end, including yrs truly.
And yes, "Peregrines" is in part a commentary on the damage I think our current administration is doing to us as a democratic nation (for our own good, of course); and also the amazing way that people just toddle along with their lives regardless of excesses in the Big Picture around them. Not that that's bad thing: one way to stay sane in insane times is to "cultivate your garden", as Candide was advised, at least until the crapstorm blows over. In fact some folks say that's our main job anyway ("brighten the corner where you are", "Be here now" etc.), unless and until we are personally swept up into the Factory Farm of politics, war, natural disaster, and so on. I spent the past weekend at a conference up in Santa Fe where I saw a lot of tension between spiritual types with an activist and world-wide political agenda, and those drawn to look past current issues to basic truths, where acceptance is the sign of enlightenment and activism tends to be very small scale and personal.
I also enjoy playing with the idea of our world as the fantasy/adventure/challenge to bewildered visitors from elsewhere (do you know the movie THE NAVIGATOR?), in this case the shamans' world of magical beings, both enemies and allies.
And we all know what bad luck feels like, and how different people react to it; and that all events in life have both positive and negative aspects. There are no unmixed blessing, and no unmixed curses, either.
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Suzy Charnas
Posted on Tuesday, January 20, 2004 - 11:04 am:   

Hi, Ellen --

Okay, you got me! Not that I'm, er, hard to get, actually. I like chatting about the work, particularly with readers as astute, articulate, and knowledgeable as these folks seem to be. Shall I tell them the wierd stuff about the hawks?
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Tuesday, January 20, 2004 - 11:50 am:   

Suzy - I've re-posted the below note from the SCIFICTION board as well. I was discussing another SCIFICTION story with another reader but I couldn't get my mind off of yours. The story was called Nutball Season.

Nutball Season makes magic accessible. This is a trend I have been noticing more and more in modern fantasy, especially in short fiction. This kind of story-telling has its advantages. It gets us past the trappings of fantasy magic and lets us focus on the effect that magic has on the characters' hearts and souls.

I think one of the ways modern writers create this effect is to place the magic in a mundane and familiar setting. Nothing is more familiar to us than Santa, and using a comfortable beat-cop stereotype everyman makes the story even more accessible. No windswept quests or dark forests loom in Nutball Season, just the comforts of a modern holiday season. In contrast, the strange elvish chants and mystical phrases of The Lord of the Rings and other old fantasy stories seemed intended to separate the reader from the unknowable mysteries of the magic.

The newly posted tale Peregrines also follows this notion of magic being a "not-so-mystical" thing that can enter our mundane lives and change our hearts. In Peregrines, the most powerful magician character was "a short, square-built child of about eight or ten with thick, dusty-looking black hair trimmed off below the ears. Brown-skinned and solemn-faced, he had an Asian curve to his eyelids; he would have looked perfect in one of those Peruvian wool hats with the ear flaps, too. He wore a yellow T-shirt, grubby jeans, and sandals made of tire-rubber with thick plastic cross-straps." This mundane wrapping makes us focus on the character and not the awesome powers contained within.

I like the way new stories are experimenting with this style, and maybe some of you do as well....


Not that the magic in Peregines was without mystery, it just seemed more familiar than a lot of fantasy writing tries to make it seem. As you said above, "we all know what bad luck feels like..."

Thanks for writing it.

And Ellen, thanks for putting it up for me to read!
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Tuesday, January 20, 2004 - 12:06 pm:   

As regards "House of the Future" by Richard Butner: I liked the first paragraph as soon as I read this - "It [the house] swooped long and low.." I really enjoyed the notion of a house swooping. The way Butner used what seemed to me like an action word to describe the house fixed a powerful image in my mind.

Artistic merit aside, I can see how a 7th grade teacher would dislike the incomplete or fragmented lines. My teacher would have berated me for, "Straight on the edges, but somehow curved in between." That's not a real sentence! she would hiss while circling it in red ink. But cmon, folks! Middle school was a long time ago! They don't expect us to be hidebound forever... do they?
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, January 20, 2004 - 03:52 pm:   

Suzy: Thanks for coming into the conversation. Sure, tell them about the hawks :-)

And you're talking about "Listening to Brahms," I assume. One of my favorite stories of all time. I never thought of it as a compressed novel but of course you're right. It would difficult to prevent your readers from going off and slitting their wrists through 400 pages of such a sad story.

Mike: Thank you for re-posting the "Nutball Season" remarks (I have to go check the SCIFICTION BB to make sure I didn't miss anything else).

I think you may be on to something --when the fantastic or magic isn't the raison d'etre of a story there is more room to get into the nut of what the author really wants to say (hopefully without being didactic). If too much time is taken to explain the magic, or to create the world, the story well might become a novel, as the author won't have the time/space to do more than create that setting.

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Patrick Samphire
Posted on Wednesday, January 21, 2004 - 07:36 am:   

Hi Ellen

Thanks for reprinting The Stare. Wyndham was an excellent writer, and this was a nice little piece. I remember reading "Chocky" as a child and finding it one of the most disturbing books I'd ever come across.

Patrick
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, January 21, 2004 - 08:45 am:   

Hi Patrick,
I don't think I ever read Chocky but he certainly wrote some interesting short stories.

Upcoming classics, by the way are:
Twilla by Tom Reamy
Ballenger’s People by Kris Neville
King Solomon’s Ring by Roger Zelazny

I want to publish another Tiptree but can't seem to locate my copy of the collection, Her Smoke Rose UP Forever--it's got to be among the piles of books somewhere. :-)
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 05:53 pm:   

I just added this to the SCIFICTION general board, but since Ellen is the only one who responds to posts over there, I thought I might as well put it up here for you folks. John Klima and Lou Antonelli mentioned this story earlier in the thread...

When I read "House of the Future" by Richard Butner, I was impressed with the quality of the writing, but I don't think I picked up on the message until the story percolated for a week or so in the coffee grounds of my brain.

At first I was lulled by the mundane childhood conversations and family situations. I thought the dialogue was very realistic, but I was not picking up on a message. "House of the Future" just seemed like one of those 'nice enough' stories. When Butner built tension with the telephone conversations between Sofia's dead husband and the protagonist I realized that I had been sucked thoroughly into the story.

I thought the ending was happy and sweet, but until I was driving home from work today I didn't think about the 'single effect' of the story. Suddenly it came to me that (for me anyway) the story was about not giving up on your dreams.

Sofia Lucio followed her dream. She became immortal by building that house. Even though the rest of her life was plagued by a "silent cancer of failure eating away at her." Even though her dead husband claimed, "This house is a dead end. It's a mirror that casts no reflection. The smell in your lungs, that's the smell of failure. I can smell it from here, and I'm a long way away. So I advise you to leave before the stench rubs off on you." In spite of all that frustration, she was happy at the end of the tale because of her dream.

In "House of the Future" Richard Butner was telling me to never give up on my dreams. Maybe he said the same thing to some of you. So if you'll all excuse me, I have a figurative house to build.

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Suzy Charnas
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 10:33 pm:   

I tried to post two longish responses, one to Ellen and one to Mike B., yesterday, but they seem not to have show up here, so I'm sending this one as a test. If it shows up, I'll try to reconstruct the items I posted previous.
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Suzy Charnas
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 10:48 pm:   

Okay, I see -- it's the revision process that made problems for me and somehow dumped my posts out. Okay, this is going to be straight from this horse's mouth, no revisions, so bear with me: Mike, the comfortable melding of quotidian realism with fantasy elements is the core of a sub-genre called "urban fantasy" (as opposed to "High Fantasy" which is the stuff that has descended from J.R.R. Tolkien, full of feudal worlds and vast battles and empires). Modern people are starved for the sense of the numinous, the miraculous, and the holy in life, which is why there's been such an upsurge of membership in various religious orthodoxies lately. Urban fantasy (although in fact such stories could also be set in the, uh, suburbs, or even in rural settings and often are) offers another way to slake this thirst for relief from the relentless materialism of US culture in particular.
And authors are as anxious to see beyond the next SUV as anybody else is, so a lot of us are writing in this area for ourselves as much as for our readers. In "Peregrines" I wanted to
view our world as so magical, and so permeable to magic from other dimensions, that it could serve as the suitably mysterious and dangerous and unpredictable setting for a young shaman's spirit journey. At the same time, I wanted to remind and reassure readers (and myself) that there's still a lot more to be learned here than just how to make money and use it to buy stuff, although you have to go looking for it.
Or you could say that authors sometimes perform the service of the shaman in a world that both despises and exploits the old ways but needs them desperately. We do this by trying to infuse cold modernity with magic even if it's only for the duration of the time it takes a reader to read their stories, and maybe sometimes beyond.
It's funny how magic in primitive societies is threatening and scary, and the shaman is the guy you only go to when you're desperate, because he's weird and dangerous and scary and might put a curse on you; but in a time ruled by soulless technology, magic becomes a way to try to hang on to our core being, our spirit and our hopes. I guess that story's about that, too.
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Suzy Charnas
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 11:00 pm:   

Hi, Ellen --

Yes, I was referring to "Listening to Brahms"; it's one of those odd pieces that the author experiences as exhilarating and bursting with hope, even though in fact it's a story of the extinction of the physical human race, although not of human culture and aspiration -- but that's not all that obvious, I guess.
About the hawks: I'd been messing around with "Peregrines" (which was then titled something else) when my husband brought home a photo he had taken of a Peregrine falcon that had taken to hunting pigeons around the upper floors of his uptown office building, here in Albuquerque. The picture really struck me: it's of this hawk, standing on the outside ledge of a clerestory window 10 floors up (you can see a little 18 wheeler down below, trundling west on old Route 66, way down below), clutching the remains of a meal in the midst of a flurry of feathers and staring straight at the camera -- you can see the photographer's shadow looming over the hawk, which looks ready to defend its kill against all comers.
That picture really focused the story for me, in a way that I can't really explain; it made the story come together.
Then, two days before "Peregrines" went up at Scifiction, I glanced out of my kitchen window in the afternoon and saw a very sizeable hawk sitting on top of my back fence, tearing into a meal of sparrow that it had grabbed from the population of small birds feeding off a seedball I'd hung out back as winter rations for them.
Not a peregrine, I think -- it looked too big, more like a buteo, even though it sure had the dark splashes down the breast -- but still -- spooky, eh? Writers' lives are, by and large rather dull, but still there are these startling moments . . .
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 08:44 am:   

Suzy, thanks for clarifying the differences between High Fantasy and Urban Fantasy for me. I confess that I dictionary.commed quotidian and numinous. You just expanded my vocab.

I had read mainly High Fantasy novels until about 2 years ago, when I took a college course involving short story classics. You know, Flannery O'Connor, Poe, etc. After that course, I started reading SCIFICTION, Asimov, and Realms of Fantasy because I realized how much more I liked short fiction. (Since then I have only read one fantasy novel I have enjoyed, Curse of Chalion, by Lois M Bujold. If you can stand novels, I recommend it). The short fiction seems to be leaner and cleaner to me now, and yet I find layers there that I did not find in novels. Don't get me wrong, sometimes I do find some short fiction in my print mags that I wish I hadn't bothered with, but I haven't been disappointed with Ellen's picks yet (Although I do struggle with some, like Lucius' stuff. By browsing the boards I can see that I am not the only one impressed with his writing but vexed by the fact that I just don't get it sometimes.) Anyway, the point is that reading short urban fantasy is now my favorite hobby, and I'm glad I found some people who like to talk about it.

Suzy, I loved what you said here: It's funny how magic in primitive societies is threatening and scary, and the shaman is the guy you only go to when you're desperate, because he's weird and dangerous and scary and might put a curse on you; but in a time ruled by soulless technology, magic becomes a way to try to hang on to our core being, our spirit and our hopes. I think that is one of the reason I have stuck with fantasy and sci-fi through all those bad novels I used to read. It was enough just to get that bit of hope and spirit. Now it is nice to get that, and enjoy good writing as well.

Also, Suzy, it is very interesting that you had close encounters with birds of prey at or near the time you were writing and publishing this story. I have never seen a bird of prey. I think I would have been very startled by the episode! Thanks for sharing that.

I wonder if boards have a derogatory term for someone who makes overlong posts like I do... Please forgive my enthusiasm!
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ellen
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 08:25 pm:   

Mike, regarding reading short fiction vs novels. I became a short story enthusiast early in life. I read a lot of books my parents had around the house: Bullfinch's Mythology, the short stories of Guy de Maupassant, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Poe, and when I discovered sf and horror it was through the short stories--sf anthologies (I didn't know the mags existed), horror & sf & fantasy collections by Richard Matheson, Ray Bradubury, Harlan Ellison, and J.G. Ballard. So, thinking about it, it seems natural that I should become a short story editor. (as rare as they are :-))
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Matthew
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2004 - 08:57 pm:   

This is my reply to Mike's post over at SCIFICTION, just thought I'd post it here as well.


I think that House of the Future is about how visionary artists are often ignored or hated during their lifetimes. Miles Davis's music (by the way I own the cd that the narrator buys) was often ignored early on, but now is considered to be one of the greatests, if not the greatest, musician of the 20th century. I could see the narrator growing up and becoming an architect and being influenced by the House.
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john kessel
Posted on Sunday, January 25, 2004 - 02:36 pm:   

In re Miles Davis: Richard Butner brought the first draft of "House of the Future" to the Sycamore Hill Writer's Workshop last summer. When it came time to critique his story, we put the Miles Davis album on the CD player in the critique room.

The album was finished before the critique was. Someone said, "We've just taken longer to critique this story than Miles Davis did to play one of the great works of art of the 20th century."

This was not meant to be (and i don't take it as) a criticism of Butner's story. I was knocked out by it then, and still am. It does seem to me to be about holding onto that innocence of early adolescence in a world that makes it hard to do so. But something like innocence is necessary to do great art in a world that indeed does not often appreciate it.

Inside his desk, after he died, Herman Melville's wife found the note, "Keep true to the dreams of your youth."

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Suzy Charnas
Posted on Monday, January 26, 2004 - 09:24 am:   

Hi, Mike --

I love urban fantasy, myself -- you might want to check out some of the novel-length work in this area. There's a lot of it, although much turns out to be aimed at the Young Adult audience rather than adult readers (I'm not talking about Harry Potter, which is aimed at middle school readers, at least so far, and is not, IMO, *written* very well). Women readers tend not to be put off by books aimed at teen readers. All the women I know who enjoy urban fantasy will eagerly read good YA fantasy. Not sure whether this is also a common pattern among male readers, who in my experience seem to go more for the more popular heroic fantasy mode.
You might try a few of the better known full-length novels of urban fantasy. If you like them, there's lots more to choose from. Try Emma Bull's THE WAR FOR THE OAKS, and another older book, THE WIZARD OF THE PIGEONS (sorry, author's name lost).
I did read THE CURSE OF CHALION, and liked it quite a bit. Have you read T.H. White's book (very old now), THE SWORD IN THE STONE? If not, run, do not walk, to your bookstore or library and grab it. It's a brilliant urban fantasy in tone, but set in the prime heroic fantasy world of Arthurian legend. It's funny, beautiful, wistful and inventive in ways impossible to describe (and anyway why bother, when the book itself is there to be read?).
Also a good deal of the more literate short work in horror is actually very dark urban fantasy -- Ellen, do you think I've got that right? Katherine Rusch, John Shirley, Laura K. Hamilton (wait, does she do short stories?), etc. It really pleases me that there's so much good fantasy out there that's NOT about mailed warriors charging around waving their swords, for those of us who would rather be encouraged to look more imaginatively at the world we live in right now than to lose ourselves in daydreams of imaginary pasts.
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ellen
Posted on Monday, January 26, 2004 - 09:53 am:   

Suzy, I've never analysed it but just looking over my choices for YBFH #17 (not quite finished) I don't think so. There's a goodly amount of horror set in the suburbs, the countryside, the desert, the jungle. So although there is a subset of horror that could be considered "dark urban fantasy" I wouldn't say it's the majority--or even necessarily half.
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steve r
Posted on Monday, January 26, 2004 - 01:29 pm:   

Must second plea that people read TH White's 'The Sword in the Stone' - absolutely wonderful!

Though myself I've gone a bit off 'dark urban fantasy': seems to have become the shibboleth of our day, the 'in-thing', every new magazine insists on having it...
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Tuesday, January 27, 2004 - 08:24 am:   

Ellen, I read Suzy's post as meaning Urban Fantasy to mean non-High Fantasy, regardless of setting, at least in these posts. Above she said, Urban fantasy (although in fact such stories could also be set in the, uh, suburbs, or even in rural settings and often are). I'm sure she was simplifying for my benefit. She had just lost a long post to the computer gremlins... I hate when that happens!

Suzy and Steve R, thanks for the referred reading... Ordered "The Sword in the Stone" and "The War for the Oaks" just now.
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, January 27, 2004 - 02:31 pm:   

Mike, I guess she'll have to come back and let us know :-)
However, there's also psychological horror, which isn't necessarily fantasy at all. And there are terror tales, conte cruels. I wouldn't consider any of these urban fantasy.
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Matthew
Posted on Tuesday, January 27, 2004 - 03:57 pm:   

When I think of Urban Fantasy, I think of a sort of magical realism in a modern urban area. Then there is sword and sorcery in an urban setting like many of Fritz Leiber's Gray Mouser stories and definitionless fantasy in an urban setting like Harrison's Viriconium stories.
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E Thomas
Posted on Tuesday, January 27, 2004 - 08:08 pm:   

This reminds me of a discussion we had in my folklore class over the term "urban legends." They can take place in the city, but they obviously don't have to take place in the city, and often don't. Mostly the setting is just recent enough so it happened to you or your grandmother. I'm guessing she means some sort of contemporary-feeling fantasy?
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2004 - 08:25 am:   

Today, I'd like to comment on our new story, Terry Bisson's "Scout's Honor," which as much of Terry's work does-seems perfectly timed.
There was an article on Neanderthal's in yesterday's New York Times in the Science section,questioning whether they were human or an entirely different species.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2004 - 01:01 pm:   

I just read Scout's Honor by Terry Bisson. I loved the inside joke:
The Web has released all sorts of wannabe writers, sending stuff to one another and to little amateur sites.
Made me chuckle. I was surprised at how effectively Bisson built suspense even though the story was broken up with the email/real life/email format. I would have thought that would break the flow, but it seemed to help.
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2004 - 01:07 pm:   

I usually hate epistolatory(sp) stories but in this case the story just pulled me along without really noticing that that's what was going on.
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steve redwood
Posted on Friday, January 30, 2004 - 06:43 am:   

Being a bit slow on the uptake (took me years to realise!)the name Suzy Charnas has just clicked. One of the few books I brought to Spain with me was Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women, and therein I just read 'Boobs'(1989), a delightful revenge story, an updating, 'feminizing' of the werewolf tale to great effect. ("Who would think that somebody as horrible as Billy Linden could taste so GOOD?") And a lovely inversion of the 'Lestat-like monster-with-a -soul-won't-eat-humans vow at the end.

Peregrines' is quite different, much more mature, but shares with Boobs an easy flowing style, and the taking of a pretty uncommon idea, and changing and polishing it up, and (especially) making it relevant to the Bush era. My only quibble would be the suggestion that the boys are from either another world or another dimension: the writer has made them too 'real', too 'solid' (and smelly and physical; and too vulnerable?) for that to really convince.

By 'easy, flowing' style, I don't mean simple. I mean the APPEARANCE of simplicity, so that you are sucked into the story slowly, noiselessly, not distracted by the vehicle used to tell it. The most difficult of skills.

And yes to what Mike Bailey said earlier about word- and people-building.

"We do this by trying to infuse cold modernity with magic even if it's only for the duration of the time it takes a reader to read their stories, and maybe sometimes beyond." I like that comment. I get the impression sometimes that writers of 'magic realism' plus variants sometimes take themselves too seriously, want you to think they're super duper avant-garde, and their work somehow Very Important. Suzy Charnas make a lesser claim, but that doesn't make her work any lesser. Even with my lousy memory, I'll remember these stories (and their 'lessons') for a long time.
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um
Posted on Friday, January 30, 2004 - 06:44 am:   

Suzy Who??
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ellen
Posted on Friday, January 30, 2004 - 11:10 am:   

I know Suzy plans to check the BB here again Steve, so maybe she'll respond to your quibble about the boys possibly coming from someplace "other."
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steve redwood
Posted on Friday, January 30, 2004 - 12:35 pm:   

Oh gosh, now I'm in trouble! Please check her for lupine accoutrements before you let her in, or at least convince her I'd taste horrible.
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Suzy Charnas
Posted on Friday, January 30, 2004 - 10:31 pm:   

Hey, Steve and all --

Grrrr-OWF! There, that'll teach ya.

But seriously, folks: realism/fantasy is tricky. I needed the boys to be very palpable so the reader could care about them, and believe in their intrusion into our modern world, and I trusted to the wierdness that happens around them to convince you that they are also otherworldly. That's a balancing act that will work for some readers and not for others, however you do it, I think.
You may have hit on the reason I can't stand Magic Realism, by the way: it always strikes me as so full of itself, somehow, and is jammed with effects that come off (for me as reader, anyway) as showy for their own sake and not embedded in the story's necessities. The only example that I got through (and loved) was Marquez' "100 Years of Solitude", but he was a master of the form, and masterworks not only embody the characteristics of their chosen form, they also transcend them, which is what makes them accessible to people who don't ordinarily enjoy that form.
Beyond that, well, I'm a casual person, like many folks with passionate (not to say stubborn and even prejudiced and extreme) opinions, and I like that easy accessibility in what I read, too. I'm not a fan of the great stylists, like Nabokov and, yes, Kerouac, et al, because the style gets between me and the story. My loss, but of course out of our incapacities we devise our
own strengths, at best.
On the other hand, "Boobs" is *made* by its style, IMO. I don't generally speak or write like a prepubescent schoolgirl, but my heroine does. Each of my short stories that is told in the first
person has a distinctive "voice" or style, I hope.
Which reminds me: I wonder how "Peregrines" would come out told in, say, Holluth's voice, "speaking" in his own language? Hmm.
Ellen, I posted here the other day, but the post never showed up; I hope to do better with this one. Is there some trick to it? When I hit "post message", below, I get a "chance to revise"
screen, and I hit "post message" under that and ignore the revision window, but that gets a
post through only sometimes. Am I supposed to go down and hit 'Post message" under the
(untouched) revision window also? I'll try it this time; hope this message doesn't pop up twice.
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steve redwood
Posted on Saturday, January 31, 2004 - 05:25 am:   

Hey, Suzy, thanks for answering. Oh no, it worked, the 'otherworldly' bit, but more (for me) in the sense of they had/will have 'powers' than in any literal 'they-came-from-another-world' sense.

'Embedded in the story's necessities' - yes,indeed, and you got that 100% right.

As for 'Boobs', of course: without that 'voice' of the girl, it would have been just an unusual satisfying-revenge story. With the voice, it's a little masterpiece! And little details, like Billy, hoping for a feel, for the first time using Kelsey's name, then using 'Kelse'. You've got us men down to a T!

'Peregrines' through Holluth's voice? You like problems??
Anyway, you might then lose the Edie-John relationship.

When I can get hold of some dollars (I've suggested an idea on the F&SF board, but Mr Van Gelder hasn't taken me up on it...)I shall seek out more of your work. Stay casual and stubborn!
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ellen
Posted on Saturday, January 31, 2004 - 08:04 am:   

Suzy, when you post, it always gives you a chance to revise but then asks again for your user name (at least mine does). If you do revise you get the same thing--and have to hit "post" for it to show up. It really isn't difficult once you get the hang of it.

Just remember that the first "preview/post message" is not the real one but your draft until you hit the second "post" which is on top of the screen below your previewed post. The preview/post button below your new message will never actually post your message.

Urggh--hope that doesn't make it more confusing for you.
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steve r
Posted on Saturday, January 31, 2004 - 08:13 am:   

Suzy, I don't need those rotten old dollars (as a euroman)- I forgot Amazon.co.uk. Orders have been given for Vampires to arrive here in Spain. I think you owe Ellen commission...
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Suzy
Posted on Saturday, January 31, 2004 - 10:54 am:   

Ellen, thanks for info -- I think <ggg>! I think I wasn't putting my name on the revise/post button.
Steve, women writers tend to have a better chance to "get men down to a T" than vice versa, in
my opinion (which has often been challenged on this subject, but here goes anyway), in part
because women are the moms who get to spend more time with sons, nephews, grandsons,
etc. than guys tend to do, and to see those young males when they're at their least disguised --
not putting on a show for their peers, but looking for their socks at home. As for adult
behavior, well, women in most cultures are taught to find the cues for their own behavior from
that of the male they are with if they want to make a positive impression (which they are
also taught they'd better do).
So we're raised to be very attentive to men, whereas I think men are inclined to be too busy
putting out, as it were, their own performance in order to impress whoever's around to be
able to also pay attention to cues (except the overtly sexual) from women. Guys learn to
compete all the time with a "display" sort of style; women (who are certainly plenty
competitive in their own ways) are busy looking for the angles that will allow them to play
their best strengths to the individual they're interacting with.
At least, that's how I read it: and seen this way, there's a definite advantage for women
when it comes to being observant and knowledgeable about the behavior and psychology
of the opposite sex, IMO.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Saturday, January 31, 2004 - 12:25 pm:   

Us guys never stand a chance, do we? Hapless victims, all.... heh (forgive grammar)
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Suzy
Posted on Saturday, January 31, 2004 - 04:03 pm:   

Oh, the grammar -- you mean it should be "Us guys never stand a chance, do us?" <ggg>
That's why part of a male author's job, if he cares to accept this bit, is to *make himself more
attentive* so he can learn to pick up on women's behavior and psychology, and then report
what he finds accurately in his fiction -- which is probably (though by no means
necessarily) going to have more male readers than the fiction of his female counterparts.
Or not. The example that comes to mind is Steve King's DOLORES CLAIBORNE, but then
one of the things I like most about Steve's work is his general accuracy in depicting his
women characters.
An extremely acute ear for the language as she is spoke by all manner of modern
Americans is one of King's strengths (his conversations around the family supper table
are usually superbly real), and he has managed to keep the focus of his observation
pretty wide there. And if you really listen to what a class (and lots of subsets of that
class) of people say when they open their mouths and talk (and you have a functional
brain, of course) you are going know a lot more about those folks than will the people
who just turn up the sound of the football game, as it were, so as not to have to listen.
Like many aspects of writing, it's largely a matter of *paying attention*. And that's at
least as difficult and demanding as sitting down and putting words on the blank page.
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steve redwood
Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 06:47 am:   

‘Scout’s Honor’ is indeed well-timed, and builds up the suspense well, as Mike Bailey says. But I didn't find it as good as ‘Peregrines’ (wot, a coward, scared of Suzy, me??¿¿). Even a minor detail that you, Mike, generously thought an in-joke (’wannabe writers, sending stuff to one another and to little amateur sites’) I found both complacent and arrogant, a quite unnecessary dig at those who haven’t ‘made’ it (and do some of us even WANT to wind up doing novelisations of films = novelisations of other people’s ideas? Well, yes we do, the loot!).

But that’s a minor detail, and doesn’t affect the quality of the story. Ellen’s point about hating ‘epistolary’ stories. Odd. They can work very well when, as here, they are well done. The reader doesn’t feel (as in normal short stories) that the writer (of the letters, at least) knows what’s going to happen. The modern equivalent of this is the present-tense story (and, worse, the present-tense second-person story), which can really irritate unless done VERY well indeed (you know, the chap sitting in a dark room, his writing hand just about to be eaten by a monster: why, by the way, are monsters always HUNGRY? Does this not perhaps reflect on us as a society and the shabby way we treat them?)

But, I fear, our lad has done an Agatha Christie on us. You know, withhold or give information in a misleading way. Ron refers to the new quantum computer, which receives ‘a message a few milliseconds before it was sent’. Milliseconds. But if the narrator (unless I’ve misread the story, which often happens!) is supposed to be receiving messages from himself, they are arriving at least weeks, and probably months before he sent them (he’s not going to be sent on that ‘secret project’ in the next day or two, obviously). And if we’re not meant to believe it’s the computer achieving this (but we must be meant to believe this, since the narrator in the past has to be connected to SOMETHING) then it’s a red herring (step up again, Aggie!).

But I don’t think the time travel story has yet been written in which one cannot pick holes, because of its very paradoxical nature, and the joy of reading them is to see how far the writer can achieve the impossible (I loved Mike Moorcock’s ‘Behold the Man’, for instance).

But, that aside, I was certainly gripped all the way through, and this, I think, was mainly because of the skilful way the narrator is presented to us. After a few pages, it’s a 95% probability that the narrator is either the HS or the NT (since there isn’t anybody else to choose from), but Bisson keeps us guessing by making the narrator such a mysterious person, and implying a back story. Is he simply an anti-social dumb person? Or (I THINK this was intended) has the experience (which is both his past and his future) done strange things to him? What’s the implication in the fact his mother was a doctor? Why did Ron have to promise? Does Ron lip-read him , or has he come ‘back’ with a unique ability to communicate (like Grub)? All this is excellent.

Or have I missed the point??

No time right now to deal with Suzy. I’ll leave Mike to get mashed up a bit (throw him to the werewolves, ahem!), while I fetch reinforcements…
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 10:12 am:   

Suzy, having a good friend (an ex actually) who's an athropologist and browses this board, I have been coerced to pass on a vastly simplified form of her response to your comment about magic in prinitive societies being scary -- though she understands your point, she states that the gestalt of magic in priimitive societies is really quite varied -- in some, shamans are not at all threatening, but rather like aunts or uncles who have a bit of a mystical cachet, yet project an entirely consoling sort of image.

Mike Bailey, if you want to read great urban fantasy, go to the source. Fritz Leiber was the writer who in my view really modernized the form. Stories like "The Button Molder" and "Black Glass." The Novel, "Our Lady Of Darkness." These are classics of the form.
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 02:05 pm:   

Steve R: I thought it was pretty clear that the pov character (in the present) is somehow dysfunctional--mild asperger's syndrome possibly...
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steve r
Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 03:51 pm:   

Hi , Ellen, of course he's dysfunctional, but don't you agree this MIGHT be because of a time loop? That the 'modern' narrator learnt his stange communicative ability from 'Grub' the NT? Just an idea. (By 'dumb', by the way, I meant literally. He isn't given quotation marks when he 'speaks'.)
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steve r
Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 03:59 pm:   

moi again, after a quick swot-up of Asperger's. Yes, everything fits - except te fact that people with Asperger's apparently can and do use language normally. Hence, I still think that Bisson intended some special significance in the fact that apparently the pov chap does not speak. Or no?
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Suzy
Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 05:44 pm:   

Lucius,

Thanks for the broadening of p.o.v. on this. What your friend says would be typical of the Hispanic curandera (sp?) that you can find around here, in the Southwest. Most of the
reading I've done on shamanism, though, has stressed the alienating nature of the whole
call-to-shamanism process -- in native Siberian culture for example -- and the solemnity and, to some degree, fearfulness of consulting a practitioner in such traditions. This was
certainly the case in West Africa when I was there in the early sixties.

A person who has gone through phases of desperate illness, of being considered crazy or
possessed, who has perhaps had his whole body torn apart by spirit beings and
reconstructed with iron or iron-reinforced bones, and who navigates the dangers of the
spirit worlds doesn't sound to me like somebody you could easily think of as comfy friend
or relative.

But shamanism in the modern world is not the shamanism of the Old Days, at least to hear
the moderns tell it. I read an interesting article last year about someone searching out
shamans down in meso-America and points south, and how every time she found one, she
was told, "Oh, I'm not a *real* shaman, not like my old teacher was -- the real shamans
have all gone away to the west" or "to the mountains" or have died. They are not here; they
are somewhere -- anywhere -- else.

The concensus seemed to be the people now practicing shamanism "here" have some talents,
but nothing like the full force of your real, old-fashioned spirit-venturer who (they assert)
really could do impressive, scary stuff, like call down lightning, kill with a glance etc. etc.
The author suggested that this dilution of the powers of the shamans she found was in part
a result of the inroads of Protestant missionizing -- all the shamans she spoke with had
incorporated symbols and prayers of Christianity into their practice, presumably to appeal
to local populations that had largely converted. Once you take on Christ as your primary
helper, I think you might feel it wise to give up on the scarier, more impressive and
formidable claims of your craft which might seem at odds with Christian teachings about
the gentle and submissive nature of the true Christian, so you'd take pains to be rid of them
-- lest you be labeled a witch in Christian terms, lose your custom entirely, and maybe get
kicked out of town besides.

But I don't want to fall into the trap of imagining the shaman as in the Old Hollywood exploration/imperialism adventure flick, where the fearsome grip of the evil, scary
witch-doctor on the whole tribe has to be broken by the brave (White) hero. Certainly
your anthropologist friend is right, that shamanism is varied enough to have plenty
of room for the more gentle and inviting practitioner.

And yes, yes, by all means -- Fritz Leiber! A fine writer.
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 06:21 pm:   

Whoah, wait a minute Steve. Why do you think the pov character can't speak? He's just thought he was uncommunicative ie. anti-social.

eg: "You oughta know," I said, raising my eyebrows in what I hoped was a suggestive manner.

You've been reading it wrong, I'm afraid.
Ellen

<<Hi , Ellen, of course he's dysfunctional, but don't
you agree this MIGHT be because of a time loop? That the 'modern' narrator learnt his stange communicative ability from 'Grub' the NT? Just an idea. (By 'dumb', by the way, I meant literally. He isn't given quotation marks when he 'speaks'.)

moi again, after a quick swot-up of Asperger's. Yes, everything fits - except te fact that people with Asperger's apparently can and do use language normally. Hence, I still think that Bisson intended some special significance in the fact that apparently the pov chap does not speak. Or no?
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 06:49 pm:   

Shamans vary greatly even before introduction of Christianity to regions. It's kind of a "catch all" term, like animism, which really describes a host of sytems. Often times though they were indeed both inspiring and frightening figures. Granted that can be true of Christian ministers as well, but there was some difference. In many shaministic cultures communing with good and evil spirits was seen as necessary, whereas in Christianity evil spirits are just to be driven away not analyzed as such. So some of them would behave in frightening or strange ways at times. In American Indian lore often times they'd also have in essence shamans who used their power for malign or in least self serving reasons. Stories of shamans helping men seduce women or seduce themselves being quite common.

(A more mundane explanation, which I somewhat prefer, is that shamans used hallucinogens. Therefore they could have a "good trip" or a "bad trip" and assign it to good or bad spirits. A similar idea is that shamans were what we'd classify as mentally ill, perhaps bipolar. So they'd have episodes of inspirational rapture, hysterical paranoia, or a mix of both)

As for the Bisson story I just read it today. I thought it'd get more clear at the end what the guys problem was, but Asperger's seems quite possible. It's a pretty "popular" condition in SF these days. My nephew is believed to have it, but I'm not sure it's confirmed. He would be a bit too young to compare against the narrator anyway. Although there are some similiarities. Example: my nephew is a whiz at numbers so I think him quite smart, but he pretty much can't have a conversation at all. He speaks, but they are like disconnected sounds and words. Even the kind of conversation a four year old can manage is hard for him. He spaces out quite a bit too. I hope his life isn't going to be quite as dire as that characters.
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 07:04 pm:   

Suzy,

I certainly wasn't trying to rule out the threatening aspect of shamanism.. As a matter of fact, my personal exposure to it in Mustang definitely had that aspect. The Tibetan shamans were wild men who lived in caves and wore coral braided in their hair and sometimes growled. The rituals of Bo, Tibetan animism, were often violent and frightening.

Like I said, just passing a message along,

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ellen
Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 08:28 pm:   

Steve,
By the way, re: people with Asperger's. I've known at least one who is monosyllobic in person but has no problem when writing so it makes sense that the protag barely speaks but can write normally in a journal.
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Suzy
Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 09:53 pm:   

Lucius,

Not a problem. My own studies here have been with and about pretty benign figures, but there's always been a dark nimbus of less savory possibilities lurking on the margins . . .
and I think there is a tendency to judge shamanism by current, much weakened and
compromised and even deliberately disguised survivals in cultures that have been pretty
much ravaged by contact with European culture and Christianity (these days there is,
whimsically enough, a resurgence of reconstructed native shamanism in Europe, along
the lines of reconstructed Wicca, as part of a "roots-seeking" spiritual movement there).
What's left is not necessarily what was there when shamanism flourished in its full,
unchallenged glory and (possibly) powers.

Can you expand a little on the nature of your contact with shamanic practices in Tibet?
I know it's the old, pre-Buddhist beliefs, about which there's damn little to be found in
print (at least not where I've looked).
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steve redwood
Posted on Monday, February 02, 2004 - 07:35 am:   

Sweating with fear, I nonetheless copy out the text:

"What is this?" he asked, when he finished reading the printout.

You oughta know, I said, raising my eyebrows in what I hoped was a suggestive manner.

or:

Huh?

"It's crude," Ron said. "He, or maybe she, uses 'oddly' twice in one paragraph; that would never get by me. And the timeline is all wrong. The escape comes before the danger, which deflates the suspense."

You didn't send this, then?

"No way. Scout's Honor."

And so on. and later:

At the least, it would give him something to talk about. I think (know) my silence is awkward for him.


I tremble with fear here like a malnourished gnat arguing with a leopard, or Bush with Aristotle, but, while completely accepting your Asperger's explanation, is it not odd that Bisson forgets his quotation marks precisely when the narrator 'talks' (or talks!). Also, earlier, the narrator had 'listed my reasons' why he thought Ron had written the messages, and yet in the sentence above, his 'silence' is awkward for Ron. (I forgive you for adding those quotation marks...) I offer you a draw¿¿


Thomas R, hope your nephew gets to be OK.

I know nothing about shamanism - just enjoyed Suzy's story.
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Suzy
Posted on Monday, February 02, 2004 - 08:26 am:   

Folks interested in pursuing the shamanism subject might look for a book called SHAMANS
THROUGH TIME, ed. Jeremy Narby, Tarcher 2001. It's a compendium of excerpts from the
writing of all sorts of explorers, soldiers, and scientists who've recorded their own thoughts
on the shamans they observed, all over the world, dating back to 1557. Great stuff, and
wonderfully complementary and contradictory.

Or -- you can just read "Peregrines" and still get it and enjoy it without knowing a thing
about shamans, like Steve! God, I love diversity!

I liked "Scout's Honor", but ended up quite baffled about the narrator myself. I thought he
realized that he was studying his friend Ron's bones (and Grunt's), but wondered why
there were several mentions of a power figure called "Mother" who never became clear as
to either identity or function . . . unless that his mom and Ron's too, and they're brothers?
I enjoyed the running account of dealings with the NTs and HSs, saw that there was a
smart time travel story conjoining the paleolithic and modern events, but was unable
to dope out the significance of the contemporary frame with satisfying clarity, so for me
the story is only partially successful (or, I am an only partially successful reader of this
story).
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, February 02, 2004 - 09:23 am:   

Suzy, my ex-wife the anthropologist did her field work in Nepal, part of it in the Kathmandu Valley, part in Mustang, which at the time was an interesting place, due to the ongoing Tibetan resistance to the Chinese seizure of their homeland, much of which, in the person of the Khambas, was being operated out of Mustang, in the region around Dolpo (Cryystal Mountain) where we were located. Though situated in Nepal, the village where we were based was purely Tibetan--houses with slate roofs held in place by boulders, roamed by huge mastiffs, walls of black mud morticed by yak bones. The mountain is a sacred place. Pilgrimmages are made to it and there were many shamans living on the slopes. My contact with this part of the culture was pretty minimal. The shamans weren't the sort of guys you just dropped in on. They were a bit forbidding. I did observe the funeral of a tulku in the village that was presided over by one of the shaman, the reading of the Book of the Dead, et al, which was to say the least pretty damned atmospheric, what with the weird butter lamp lighting and a storm blowing all around us and the growly false basso of the oration and the dead guy dressed in his robes and so on. I also was witness to the aftermath of a chod ritual--this being a kind of test in which the participant, a shaman in this case, stakes himself out in nature, his arms and legs tied, and risks himself against the demons who come to eviscerate or otherwise harrow him. What I saw was associates of this particular shaman bringing him down from the side of the mountain after such a test. He was a mess. Incoherent, beat-up looking. I spoke with one of the guys helping him and he gave me a sketchy version of what purpirtedly happened. We were in Mustang a little over three months before the rebellion intensified and we were forced to retreat to the K valley. It was an incredible experience. I also spent a week in a lamasery near the Tibetan border. That was considerably tamer an experience, but throroughly rewarding.
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ellen
Posted on Monday, February 02, 2004 - 10:58 am:   

Steve, I've asked Terry to come check out the discussion of his story on the BB. Maybe you ARE correct --I added that quotation mark because I was looking at the ms rather than the story on the site and assumed it was left off by accident and correct on the site. So if the guy isn't speaking aloud then perhaps that's why the quotation mark is not there. If he is, then it's an error we have to fix.
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tbisson
Posted on Monday, February 02, 2004 - 02:19 pm:   

Asperger's (sp?) is right. The narrator speaks, a little, but doesn't put his own words in quotes. I should have made it clearer by saying
my silences are awkward for him.
Ellen, if you would make that change I would appreciate it.
And thanks, everybody, for such a generous and careful reading of my little tale. I will have the chack out this site more often.
The snotty remark about wannabes was not from me but from the SF writing teacher. I will reprove him.
Now back to my novelizations!
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tbisson
Posted on Monday, February 02, 2004 - 02:48 pm:   

Miles Davis ignored? Are we in an alternate critical universe here?
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ellen
Posted on Monday, February 02, 2004 - 03:39 pm:   

Terry, that's the nice thing about the internet, we can make fixes :-)

I'll have our producer make the change.
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Suzy
Posted on Monday, February 02, 2004 - 10:11 pm:   

Lucius, thanks. Fascinating -- and scarey sounding. I'm still trying to get my head around
the idea of a place with lots of shamans hanginga around doing their trials and so on, as a
regular thing -- although given what's been happening in that unhappy region in the past
couple of decades, I imagine they're gone now, or underground. Have you been reading
the books of a writer named -- Pattison? About a Chinese detective stuck in the Tibetan
boondocks and trying to do an honest job in an atmosphere dedicated to overrunning,
erradicating, and blaming the native Tibetans for anything that goes wrong. Damn. It's
all gone out of my head. *sigh* He sounds pretty passionate about the situation.

Someday I'll tell you about my hippie cousin-several-times-removed who became a
Buddhist nun in Dharmsala, over a beer someplace, yes? Life is unutterably weird
sometimes.



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Tribeless
Posted on Tuesday, February 03, 2004 - 12:48 am:   

Credit where credits due; Terry I loved 'Scout's Honor' and Suzy I similarly enjoyed 'Peregrines'.

These were the first stories that I have read by either of you. 'Peregrines' was especially a surprise as that 'type' of sub-genre would not normally be my 'thing'. Must have been superbly written :-)

Appreciative reader.
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steve r
Posted on Tuesday, February 03, 2004 - 04:24 am:   

Drat and tarnation!! Will I NEVER win an argument? I remember, 45 years ago, when someone admitted I might be right, but I was standing on their head!

Ok, Terry, you reprove that SF teacher, and I'll reprove myself for that petulant and childish (my poverty and failure speaking!) comment about novelizations.

Next!

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T.C.
Posted on Tuesday, February 03, 2004 - 10:01 am:   

I very much enjoyed "Scout's Honor," -- I didn't even realize the Asperger's aspect, though, until I read this thread. After re-reading the story, I did notice one or two references, such as the mother reminding him to practice facial expressions, the discomfort around people, but other than that, the narrator doesn't appear "eccentric" enough, e.g., eye contact is extremely difficult for folks with Asperger's, many dislike touch, are highly sensitive to sounds and light, have difficulty remembering faces, say odd things at inappropriate times...I know this because *I* have Asperger's Syndrome, as well as my daughter (well, she's presently going through tests, but if it walks like a duck...). I should also mention that there are varying degrees to AS -- I have a milder form, whereas my daughter appears to have a much more severe case.

Anyway, Thomas mentioned that Asperger's is a "popular" thing in SF today -- surprise to me, that. Perhaps I'm just not as well-read as I should be. I'd love it, Thomas, if you could point me in the direction of a couple stories. Thanks!
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Thomas R
Posted on Tuesday, February 03, 2004 - 03:25 pm:   

Umm Egan used it alot. I think in the novel Distress he just called it "higher functioning autist", but the description sounded like Asperger's Syndrome. Elizabeth Moon's child has Asperger's I think. At the very least he's autistic and she's dealt with Asperger's. Her book The Speed of Dark has some Asperger's characters I think. I intend to read it someday, it sounds good. On the much pulpier side I believe one of the geniuses in Dykstra's War has Asperger's. Some of these, as mentioned, just call it autism but generally it's clearly the kind you mention/have.

I don't know if "popular" is the right word, but it's something of a current trend. A study, which I have severe doubts about, stated that many to most of the greatest scientists had Asperger's. In truth my problem with it was in part that I'm generally leery of when they diagnose the long dead. However they also listed scientists as Asperger's who didn't really fit most of the criteria I'd heard. Einstein for example didn't have the problems with faces, touch, light, sound, or even communication in the ways you mention. He had some difficulty with metaphor or empathy I think, he became rather inward and towards the end had few lasting emotional connections, but it didn't sound like Asperger's judging from what parents of kids with it said. I think they just listed every emotionally distant and socially awkward scientist as a potentially having Aspergers, whether it made any sense or not. They tend to list most of the religious hermits as autists or Asperger's whether there's any evidence or not. In some circles it's kind of becoming the new bi-polar. (By that I mean read older biographies and every other eccentric from times passed was bipolar. Now it sometimes seems every other awkward person is Aspergers, it's odd)

I hope this didn't come out wrong. The only people with Asperger's Syndrome I know are children, I hope you're not offended.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, February 03, 2004 - 04:47 pm:   

Suzy....

I wish I did know the name of your Tibetan detectvie writer -- I'll seek it out.

Yup. Chances are the boys ar all gone from Dolpo -- it was a pretty exciting time for me, especially dealing with the Khambas. After the CIA cut them loose, some of them wound up running boutiques and cafes where you could get hash yoghurt on Freaky Street in Kathmandu, and various associated businesses, which was strange, because they were very powerful-looking people, almost Native American in aspect and size, lots of six-foot-plus guys who walked around wearing robes and carrying AKs...and here they were dispensing tea and hash to post-hippies...

I'll take you up on the beer and the story....
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T.C.
Posted on Tuesday, February 03, 2004 - 05:26 pm:   

Thomas, thanks so much for the recommendations --much appreciated!

Einstein may well have had Asperger's as there are so many odd little traits associated with this disorder. As you stated, however, I too am leery of diagnosing the dead.

The symptoms vary *greatly,* some with this, some with that, some with this AND that. I'm capable of feeling great empathy, sometimes too much, for instance, but I feel extreme discomfort being around people I don't know very, very well.

I've found that drinking helps quite a lot. ;-)

Oh, and I'm certainly not offended, Thomas! Please, after being labeled "that weird girl" my whole life, it takes a hell of a lot to offend *me*!
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Thomas R
Posted on Tuesday, February 03, 2004 - 08:25 pm:   

I'm glad. Like I said the people I've known wih it are too young, and perhaps also severe, to be communicative. So was worried I might come off weird. (I am disabled, but for reasons I can't explain I sometimes embarrass myself dealing with people with conditions different from my own)
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Suzy
Posted on Wednesday, February 04, 2004 - 12:00 pm:   

Lucius,

It's Eliot Pattison, first book SKULL MANTRA, second "WATER TOUCHING STONE", latest
BONE MOUNTAIN. Good, rich, meaty stuff, with a passionate feel for the struggles of
Tibetans to survive as a culture despite China's determination to overwhelm and subsume
them utterly.

Thomas,

Some years ago -- before Asperger's became a relatively common subject in the media -- I read
a story in the Guardian which may have been the kernel of this idea. The Asperger's Institute
(I think that was the name) had sent out questionnaires to a number of university faculties
around England outlining the symptoms of Asperger's, in search of a response that would
help them see more clearly the parameters of the pool of Asperger's sufferers. What they got
back was a whole bunch of letters from science faculty members of both sexes saying, more or
less, "Thank God, at last there's something to tell all my colleagues and family members who
keep accusing me of being arrogant, cold, inattentive, etc. etc. -- I have had most of these
qualities/symptoms for as long as I can remember." There was also, in the article, a line of
speculation that one hitherto unrecognized reason for the predominance of males in the
hard sciences might be that Asperger's sufferers do seem to tend toward those field, and that
the great majority of these folks are in fact male; they said it was pretty rare among women.
Don't know if this is still the general assessment. There was a photo of Einstein sticking out
his tongue, and a sentence about how he *may* have been a mild Asperger's case. The people
who had sent out the questionnaire sounded dazed and amazed by this apparently completley unexpected result.

Is that the study you mean? It's several years old now, I think; haven't they gotten beyond it by now? Or is the study you mean exactly that, something newer built on that groundwork?
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, February 04, 2004 - 12:03 pm:   

Thanks, Suzy....
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, February 04, 2004 - 12:15 pm:   

I just read Zora and the Zombie by Andy Duncan. Now I can say that Lucius is no longer the most confusing writer (to me) that I have read on SCIFICTION!

I also just read this article
http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/dec97/keegan3.htm
about opening stories, and Duncan seems to nail his opening, especially if we judge it by the criteria in the article.

Alex Keegan instructs: Yes an opening should interest, tilt us forward, but an opening does far more; it sets the agenda, it makes not just promises to us, but suggests to us how we should react, what mood we are likely to find here, how best we might take on the upcoming dream.

That seems to be exactly what Duncan does by beginning with the line: "What is the truth?"
By the end of the story I can admit that I have no clue what the truth is. Duncan prepared me for a confusing story, and that is exactly what was delivered.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy the way Duncan peppered the tale with bits of Haitian culture in a natural way. He seems to be good with the "seduction not instruction" or "showing not telling" technique. I feel like I just had a crash course in Haitian religion without sitting through a lecture.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, February 04, 2004 - 01:00 pm:   

I just read Twilla by Tom Reamy. From the beginning I was enchanted by the story, and I was not entirely expecting the turn it took! I figured Twilla was no good, but yikes! Was she a baddie!
My wife is a schoolteacher, and Reamy really nailed some of the situations and dialog at the school. I was chuckling at some of the teacher’s lounge sections. The realism of those portions really drew me into the story.
I can see why this made it into the classics section. Thanks, Ellen.

BTW, this story reminded me of another SCIFICTION classic story (David’s Daddy) that was set fully in the school setting. Here is a link to the story itself, and another link to my thoughts on that story. I really enjoyed David’s Daddy.
Story: http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/classics/classics_archive/rgbrown/
My review: http://bboard.scifi.com/bboard/browse.cgi/4/8/131/1
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Thomas R
Posted on Wednesday, February 04, 2004 - 01:52 pm:   

That's probably the study. I admit Asperger's is moderately new to me. I read it about it some in 1999-2000, but it didn't matter as much to me until recently.
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Simon
Posted on Wednesday, February 04, 2004 - 10:00 pm:   

You know what's weird? I'm in the middle of writing a voodoo/zombie/Haiti story and was planning on sending it to Sci Fiction, but much to my dismay a story that was eerily similar was published this week by Andy Duncan.
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Michael Kingsley
Posted on Friday, February 06, 2004 - 10:06 am:   

I'm planning a panel for MidsouthCon (in March 2004, Memphis, TN) on "Going to School in a SF/Fantasy Environment" to give fans and authors an excuse to talk about Hogwarts, Battle School, Sunnydale High, Smallville High, etc.

I had totally forgotten about "Twilla", which I read several years ago, and really enjoyed. With "David's Daddy", that makes two new stories to add to my planned handout for the panel.
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AndyDuncan
Posted on Saturday, February 07, 2004 - 08:46 am:   

Michael, y'all also could talk about any of Zenna Henderson's lovely "People" stories from F&SF, the first of which was "Ararat" in 1952. Henderson was a schoolteacher, and most of the "People" stories revolve around a rural school where all the students have Powers.
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AndyDuncan
Posted on Saturday, February 07, 2004 - 08:48 am:   

Simon, that happens to me all the time. Keep writing that story, make it as true to your unique vision as you can, and when you're done it won't be one thing like mine.
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AndyDuncan
Posted on Saturday, February 07, 2004 - 08:50 am:   

Thanks, Mike! Your post makes me want to re-read all my opening lines, to see whether they encapsulate a theme of the story as well as this one seems to.
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steve redwood
Posted on Sunday, February 08, 2004 - 10:27 am:   

Loved 'Zora', even though I was as baffled as Mike Bailey at the end. The fascination lies in Zora herself. Although she says she spent 20 years with Christian fanatics and yet never came down with 'even a mild case of christianity', she has been hooked on zombies all her life, fromthe time she saw Bela Lugosi, has been exposed to theatre life, and as she says in her novel (mostly unwritten), 'she pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net... so much of life in its meshes...She called in her soul to come and see'. She goes to Haiti determined to get beyond the usual 'tourist' stuff. And is given that opportunity by a real 'woman of power', Freida, who tells her of Felicia, the'zombie'. But there is also the competition betwen Zora, who herself has always used sexuality as a weapon ('Huh! what's Erzulie got on Zora, got on me?') and Freida/Erzulie.
It seems to me that Duncan is really writing about the power of the imagination, which is why Zora has the power to dismiss/disarm the Sect Rouge when it when necessary (her imagination here is greater than th efolklore of the Haitians). A lesser writer would have had Zora gobbled up by the cannibals, this ending is far superior: 'She would believe in zombies, a litle, and in Erzulie, perhaps, a little more. but she would not believe in the Sect Rouge'. Zora's one hell of a lady!
Anyway, I must leave, I'm 'sufferng the digestion'. (I loved the sketch of the good doctor, hoping that zora maybe has a 'feminine complaint'.)
Apart fronm th e coincidence above with Simon's story, another one is that this week precisely the rebels are in control of Gonaives (which I'd never heard of till I read this story)
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jeff ford
Posted on Sunday, February 08, 2004 - 04:37 pm:   

Andy: Enjoyed this story even more this time than in its original incarnation. It's very visual and very mysterious. The writing is just great -- better than lunch at The Waffle House. Wonderful fiction!
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, February 11, 2004 - 02:08 pm:   

I read Pat Murphy’s short story Inappropriate Behavior today.

Stories written from multiple points of view, like this one, seem very hard to do well. When I began reading and saw the POV switching coming, I was not expecting great things. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Murphy not only did a great job of avoiding the pitfalls of multiple POVs, but that he had written a short that was greatly enhanced by the POVs.

The voice of Annie was delightful. It was so simple and clean, and gave a deeper impression of her condition to us than any instructional narrative could. I loved the way Murphy was careful to keep his sentences short and simple, Lots of subject - verb – object, not much variation, but enough to keep us interested. Can you imagine how hard that must have been? I would have had to tweak endlessly to end up with something this deceptively simple yet still interesting. I was chuckling away as Annie analyzed the fairy tales.
I thought about it. I liked this story better than Cinderella. Cinderella was very good and very helpful, but the fairy godmother made her go to the party and then she had to marry the prince, rather than staying in the quiet kitchen alone. She was punished for following the NT rules. Well, if she was NT, maybe it wasn't a punishment, but if she was like me, it sure was.
Jack broke lots of NT rules. He traded a cow for beans; he didn't ask his mother if he could climb the beanstalk; he stole stuff from the giant. But he got to go home to his little room in the cottage. He didn't have to go to a party or marry anyone.


And the voices of Evan, Dr. Rhodes, and Mars offered Murphy a great chance to explain the complex portions of the story that would have been impossible to do in Annie’s voice.

Besides appreciating the effort Murphy put into this story, I also liked the message. Murphy shows us that by judging others; by assuming they have the same abilities, goals, or point of view; by trying to force others into our molds, we may be slowly killing someone. And Murphy does it in a non-preachy (is that even a word?) way.
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Ellen
Posted on Wednesday, February 11, 2004 - 03:28 pm:   

Hey, nice to see you've all been around and yakking away while I've been in Poland and London <g>.

I admit that I loved "Zora and the Zombie" even though I know nothing (and have never read anything by) about Zora Neale Hurston. I had to take Andy's word that the important aspects of her life were accurate.

Mike B: Just so you know, Pat Murphy is female. And although no one's mentioned it yet it's totally coincidence that a recent character has Asperger's and another (Murphy's) is autistic. Sometimes these things do come in clumps.

Simon, as Andy says, keep writing the story and let me see it when it's done. It's YOUR voice and your story and it will not be the same as Andy's.
Kelly Link wrote another "zombie" story recently --it was in my ghost story antho THE DARK and it is a completely different take on what "zombies" are--more ghost-like than anything we should fear.
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AndyDuncan
Posted on Wednesday, February 11, 2004 - 09:20 pm:   

Steve, you may feel baffled, but your reading of the story makes perfect sense to me! Thanks for all your comments.

Yes, it is an odd coincidence to have Gonaives and Ennery in the news the very week the story is published. On the other hand, the cycle of Haitian unrest and U.S. military and cultural intervention -- which Zora and her rivals on the "Haiti beat" were very much a part of -- seems to keep repeating itself, so the headlines aren't a surprise, either.

I didn't mean to imply that Zora's novel in Haiti didn't work out, which is how I take your reference to its being "mainly unwritten." The novel in question was "Their Eyes Were Watching God" (1937), which did get written and published and which I highly recommend to everyone.

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AndyDuncan
Posted on Wednesday, February 11, 2004 - 09:23 pm:   

Thank you, Jeff. I'm very pleased you feel that way, as your opinion means a lot to me. May I use "better than lunch at the Waffle House" as a blurb on my next book?
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jeff ford
Posted on Wednesday, February 11, 2004 - 09:40 pm:   

Andy: It's yours for a small fee. Seriously, read the story again yesterday. Dug it again. Are there more coming soon?

Best,

Jeff
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steve r
Posted on Thursday, February 12, 2004 - 10:05 am:   

Oh gosh, and NOW I find out Zora was a real person! Hmm, really suffering on this board...
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Thursday, February 12, 2004 - 10:16 am:   

Thanks for the correction, Ellen.
Pat Murphy, if you're around, I'm sorry for the gender mixup.
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Richard Parks
Posted on Thursday, February 12, 2004 - 01:55 pm:   

Reading the opening paragraphs of "Their Eyes Were Watching God" was a rather humbling experience for me. Zora Neale Hurston could flat out _write_.
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Ellen
Posted on Thursday, February 12, 2004 - 04:32 pm:   

I've asked Pat Murphy to come by and reprimand you (just kidding, Mike).
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Suzy
Posted on Friday, February 13, 2004 - 09:07 am:   

Here's a funny thing about "Inappropriate Behavior"; I finished it thinking, I know that
voice, Annie's voice, from somewhere; it echoes something I'm very familiar with. And then
it came to me: it reminds me of the narrative voice of Ernest Hemingway at his
Hemingwayest, simple, almost telegraphic declaratives sentences and unmodified
judgments (Hemingway, they say, learned it from Gertrude Stein).

I remember my period of enchantment with EH's work, although it was a long, long time ago
now, and what I found so attractive about it. The attraction lay in the illusion of perfect
honesty, which also translates as "telling it like it is" -- the voice of the truthful child who hasn't yet taken to lying as a substitute for power and who simply reports on reality as percieved, the voice of the homespun countryman who has nothing to lie about in his plain,
basic life (ha ha -- but we're talking ideas and ideals here). And America was in love with
Hemingway for a long time, American authors in awe of him. "The Old Man and the Sea" was
first published, as I recall, in full, with drawings, in Life Magazine, so we're not talking
about rarified literary tastes here.

Is this the natural, the preferred voice of America as she wishes to think of herself? Naive,
well-intentioned, firmly focused on the tangible and immediate, virtuous as a child is
virtuous?

Just musing.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Friday, February 13, 2004 - 01:13 pm:   

I haven't been able to stop thinking about Annie's voice yet, either.

Like when she said:
NTs thought that everyone should act the same way, everyone should fit in.
And
That was how it was when NTs talked with each other. They looked at each other and they looked away. If I looked too much, Dr. Rhodes would tell me I was staring. NTs didn't stare, but they looked. It was all very complicated, like an intricate dance. Look up, look away, smile, blink, and it all meant something if you were NT.

Those lines had me reflecting today on all the weird things that we do as "NT" folk. I do all this wacky stuff without really thinking about it, like not making too much eye contact with someone I pass in the hall, but making enough so that they feel recognized. With men, I can't look too long or it is a challenge, with women, too long a look is flirtation. But to pass without a glance, now that just seems rude. Isn't it strange that we learn that stuff without anyone telling us to act that way?

I liked how Inappropriate Behavior poked some fun at that kind of activity.

As an aside, I thought it was interesting that Scout's Honor used the abbreviation NT, as well as Inappropriate Behavior, although they meant different things (of course, if you asked Annie, she might feel that neanderthal was a good description for Dr. Rhodes). Ellen already pointed out that both stories involved autism and Asperger's, too.

Musing bakatcha...
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - 07:15 am:   

I just read “Articles of a Personal Nature” by Deborah Coates.

Some nitpicky things:

The opening of AoaPN seemed more like instruction than seduction, and it wasn’t until halfway through the second paragraph that Coates finally got a hook in me with, “You can't tell by looking at her that Sarah was gone for seven years, lost in some unknown alternate dimension.”

The tracking lecture seemed more distracting to me than helpful to the story, especially since even when I finished the story I wasn’t convinced that dog tracking really struck a chord with me as a relationship analogy. I suppose a case could be made that trust and release of control was the key to dog tracking, and that those elements are also the core elements that needed work in the relationship between Sarah and Tommy. But it seemed like Sarah was the only one that really understood the dog tracking analogy. Even Tommy was baffled by it, and when Sarah finished a long dialog on dog tracking in her effort to work through their problem, he simply said, “I don't know what that means.” My other concern with the dog tracking lecture was that it broke up the story. Again, one might argue that this stretched the story, causing tension to build, but for many readers this kind of writing can cause them to lose the scent of the story and fall off track (pun intended).

Some very nice touches:

Coates does a phenomenal job of creating the throat-constricting tension one feels when a relationship is hanging by a thread and about to break free. Those of us who have had these edge-of-breakup-talks know that the overpowering emotions present during even a quiet dialog like this one can cause all other things in our lives to lose significance. Coates wrote as Tommy, I see no path at all in front of me, as if this moment swallows light and allows nothing to leak out the other side. I thought that was particularly fitting since the cause of Sarah’s disappearance was alluded to as a black hole synergizing with quantum and nano technology.

Coates also does a great job of comparing Tommy’s two love interests, Sarah and Jody. I loved this part,
Sarah: "I already have a CD player," she said, turning it over in her hands. "But, uhm, thanks." And then she looked at me and smiled. A bright, open, happy smile as if the world had just promised to remake itself every night for her, a smile that, at the time, made me completely forget that anything else existed.
The first gift I gave Jody was a set of three bracelets made of ceramic and silver, blue and green with silver woven in and through. Each one was custom-made and fitted; each one was slightly different than the others. "Thank you," Jody said, turning each of them on her wrist and watching them catch the light. "They were almost exactly what I wanted."

I felt this really showed that Sarah was more real and honest than Jody, that Sarah was unafraid to tell the truth, but was still genuinely appreciative. Jody got a great gift, but you could tell that it didn’t quite cut the mustard. It made me want to ask Jody’s mom if she never taught Jody how to properly accept a gift.

Parts of AoaPN also reminded me of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” In TTTC, the soldiers toted around a lot of stuff that told us a lot about their spirits. The way they cared for things, and the very things that they found important told us volumes about the characters. (Here is a paper I wrote about TTTC in case anyone is interested… http://www.geocities.com/mikebailey2000/literature/TTTCpaper.htm ). Like O’Brien, Coates also seems to turn items into powerful symbols in AoaPN. We are told about the special hair clip that Sarah wore every day until she disappeared, and the personal effects Sarah left behind that Tommy ended up storing. "It had seemed terrifically important to pack it all, every small piece of her, to establish the hole she'd left as a real, dimensional thing."

I better stop now… Sorry for the over-long post! If I keep this up we'll have to start a new thread soon...

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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - 09:03 am:   

Hi Mike,
Thanks for your quick appraisal of "Articles of a Personal Nature."
I love the structure--to me it deliberately helps depict the emotional separation between Tommy and Sarah that has existed way before she disappeared.
I've suggested Deborah come by and check out the BB.
We'll see if she does :-)
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - 10:23 am:   

Ellen,
I never thought about that element of the story (the prior-disappearance separation, that is). The separation that existed before the disappearance is probably the real issue here, and the fact that she vanished and then came back gives Tommy and Sarah an excuse to finally deal with it and truly become close. Maybe their relationship would have been doomed if she had not vanished. Sounds like Tommy actually might appreciate her more now...
Thanks for the heads-up.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - 11:04 am:   

This must be mental illness month on SCIFICTION. Asperger's, autism, and now MPD (Ballenger's People).

BTW, I thought Ballenger's People was an example of interesting writing that does not qualify as great science fiction. To me, great science fiction or fantasy is not just good fiction writing dropped into an SF or Fantasy setting. The writer must also explore (at least a little) why that SF or fantasy setting impacts the story.

One of my favorite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold, agreed in an article at http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/sep01/eosconhobbit.htm
"The whole difference between SF and mainstream is that the tech or magical differences from our here-and-now world matter. To be satisfying, a story does seem to need to examine those postulated differences on some level."

I did not think the tech level mattered at all to this MPD story. It could have taken place in the 1950s, 60s, today, or a few decades from now. While the writing was good, (and it was very fun to read about this internal democracy) I do not think of Ballenger's People as exceptional SCIENCE fiction.
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Deb Coates
Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - 12:24 pm:   

Ellen suggested I come over here and look around and lo, here I am :-)

Mike, thanks so much for your comments on my story! I'm really delighted at the things you mention liking. And the comparison to 'The Things They Carried'...yes, that's the kind of thing I'd like very much to be able to do, to create larger resonances (understanding of character or situation or unarticulate thoughts) through the descriptions of the objects that are notable. I don't always succeed at doing it (sometimes I don't even understand it), and it's total egoboo to me to remind someone of 'The Things They Carried' which I like very much, but I like stories where objects carry weight beyond the circumstance of their presence.

As to the 'tracking bits,' I (obviously, I guess:-) think they're critical to the story. For me, they resonate with the events in a way that makes it not the same story (to me) with them excised. But equally important, they provide resonance and understanding to Tommy. In his conscious mind, he can't articulate the meaning or importance of those tracking bits, but somewhere, in that same way he 'knew' Sarah before he met her, he knows that those lecture bits and Sarah's tracking dialgoue are important. On Sarah's side, she keeps coming back to them because it does explain everything (to her). She doesn't have the words to explain it in terms that would be more familiar to Tommy, but she knows this stuff and so she keeps trying to tell him with the knowledge and the words that she has (and yet, to complicate it, she's figuring it out as she goes along too--which is partly why she doesn't have the words).

To change the topic slightly, one of the most interesting things for me in writing this story was figuring out just what tracking details were critical to the story and what things I had to tell the reader up front (but still--I hoped--directly related to the story at that point) so that things made sense later on. In the very first draft there were more lecture bits and I kept knocking them down until I finally had what I hoped were just the essential things. Then, I made other people who had never tracked (or heard me go on about it) read it to see if it made sense to them.

Thanks for the chance to go on and on about the story! :-)
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - 01:12 pm:   

Hi Deb!

Thanks for commenting, and thanks for writing the story.

I can see your point about how Sarah is fumbling toward an explanation by using what she knows (dog-tracking). In my earlier posts I failed to mention that one thing I liked about the dog-tracking element of the story is that real people do tend to analyze and examine their world based on what they know well. I guess a lot of us like to use analogy to understand our feelings. It made Sarah seem more real that she was using her passion (dog-tracking) to try to make an analogy or explanation for Tommy.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - 02:04 pm:   

Suzy, in response to your earlier musing:
Is this the natural, the preferred voice of America as she wishes to think of herself? Naive, well-intentioned, firmly focused on the tangible and immediate, virtuous as a child is
virtuous?

I think you hit the nail on the head with that. We Americans love to think of ourselves as simple and honest. Hey, we are the guys and gals in the white hats; truth, justice, and all that. I personally think we have as much dirt on our hands as anyone (for one example, there used to be a lot of Native Americans living here before we showed up and did some very unethical things). But I prefer to just gloss such little "incidents" over and declare my fervent patriotic belief that America is all that is good, pure, and simple in this world. Ahem.
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Thomas R
Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - 02:27 pm:   

Agreed. Every time something happens to America we're claimed to have "lost our innocence." Going back to the Civil War. America almost sees itself as being like that planet of perpetual virgins in the Hitchhiker's Guide series. Every night they'd see a dragon, flee as couples to the forests, and then awake as "sticky, sweaty, and doe eyed virgins but virgins the same."

None of the people who even came here as colonists were innocents. The Quakers being maybe the closest, but many of them had been in prison and colonial Quakers were more vicious than Puritans on some forms of sexual immorality.

Considering all we know now it's even odder. Although there are many nations that like to believe things about themselves not entirely true.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - 06:03 pm:   

"sticky, sweaty, and doe eyed virgins but virgins the same."
Heh, heh! Great quote, Thomas R!
Hmmm, that sounds sexual... Maybe we should censor it so we can protect our American innocence! If we let writers post this kind of titillating text (oooh, nice alliteration) on Ellen's board, we could be setting America on a slippery slope to severe naughtiness (I mean, if we aren't careful, Janet Jackson might show us the rest of her chest! We can't have that...)
Uh, oh... I seem to have strayed from SCIFICTION topics... sorry! See what you started, Suzy?
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Thomas R
Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - 06:47 pm:   

Nonsense, I rarely if ever curse or use suggestive language. I just quote authors who have done it much better for me:-)
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Suzy
Posted on Thursday, February 19, 2004 - 12:21 pm:   

Hey, Mike --

Well, yeah, I have this weird sort of agglutinative thought (?!) process that makes my
conversations jump around a bit, so -- one last jump, on the childish style question: the
other thing about the childish voice, the naive virgin, is that it's basically ahistorical
because of the here-and-now focus, and that suits American culture down to the ground.
It's been pointed out that most people came here to reinvent themselves (as somebody
freer, richer, more secure, more high class etc. than they could be at home), and to do that
successfully it helps to simply wipe the slate clean (as many did by taking or at least
accepting entirely new names, for example).

This helps explain why we have such a short cultural memory (part of what makes Europeans and others think of us as naive, not to say simple-minded). The recent Amercian interest in geneaology and reconnecting with pre-immagration roots strikes me as a hopeful sign of at least the beginnings of maturity.

I have looked in this message for someplace to put some suggestive language, but it looks like more effort than I'm willing to put in . . .
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, February 19, 2004 - 12:30 pm:   

Mike,
SCIFICTION's journey into mental and related illnesses is completely coincidental, as was the series of stories about death and dying I published a few months ago. I schedule what I buy fairly quickly so sometimes things come in and are posted in clumping themes :-)

Barry Malzberg is Neville's agent and when I told him I wanted to use "Ballenger's People" he said he thought it one of the first stories to deal in schizophrenia--and that's what it might have been like for the guy who killed JOhn Lennon--I've forgotten his name.
So while I agree it's not a great story it is an interesting one.
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Thomas R
Posted on Thursday, February 19, 2004 - 05:32 pm:   

Mark David Chapman was Lennon's assassin. (Why are almost all assassins known by three names?) I didn't know he was schizophrenic. I remember he thought Lennon was in league with witches, or something similarly bizarre, but I didn't know if there was a specific diagnosis.
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, February 19, 2004 - 06:56 pm:   

Not absolutely sure myself. It was Barry M who made the comparison.
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Iron James
Posted on Thursday, February 19, 2004 - 08:34 pm:   

I've always taken the statement "America has lost its innocnece", and variations tehreof, as meaning we've lost our sense of invulnerability, and when taken this way, I believe there is much truth to teh statement.

As a rule, those who live in this country have a much easier time of things, and certainly feel far safer, than those who live in many other countries.

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Thomas R
Posted on Thursday, February 19, 2004 - 09:34 pm:   

True enough. We've traditionally been farther from war torn regions than most. Of course even at that I think many nations would quality. Did Australia feel a similar "loss of innocence" after the Bali bombing? (I'm actually asking, it seems like most forums I go to have few Australians)
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Friday, February 20, 2004 - 05:26 am:   

There goes Suzy, sending me to dictionary.com again to look up agglutinative (tending to unite, or having power to cause adhesion; adhesive, or forming derivative or compound words by putting together constituents each of which expresses a single definite meaning, united as if by glue).
Suzy, does it get confusing when all your thought processes stick together? :-)
This board is better than an English class!
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Suzy
Posted on Friday, February 20, 2004 - 10:30 am:   

Mike,

Can't you tell? I was thinking (stickily) of your second definition, which I've come across
as describing German (I think Finn may also be agglutinative, and Hungarian, which is
related to Finn). German was my maternal grandmother's native language -- maybe that
factor "glues on" in some way?

Actually, I want a word for "tending to jump unexpectedly from one subject to another,
making connections as one goes along, and typically ending up pretty far from the starting
point". "Agglutinative" puts the emphasis more on the solidity of connections between
jumps and of the whole when all the jumping is completed, which is a nice thought but
(in my case) overly optimistic. What word would stress instead the jumping-around part
of such a process?

And yes, James, I think you're right about American "innocence", in this context, meaning
child-like propensity to *trust* in the ongoing safety and goodness of life. When we
Americans periodically lose that ability to trust, we seem to be very vulnerable to becoming
raging (if ineffective) paranoids instead; from one extreme of naivete to the other, not a
pretty sight.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Sunday, February 22, 2004 - 04:44 am:   

Suzy, I looked on Google but couldn't really find a word for your "jumping around" process. At least not one that rolls off the tongue like agglutinative. But I just read this article on teleportation, and maybe you could call your thought process a teleportive thought process.
http://www.techreview.com/articles/rnb_020904.asp
When the two carriers of electrical current -- negatively charged electrons and positively charged holes -- meet, they cancel each other out. The researchers have postulated that an entangled electron, however, could continue its existence at a distant location.
Entangled electrons are connected in such a way that specific properties of the electrons remain synchronized regardless of the physical distance between them.

I'm picturing your thoughts "bamfing" around your brain like little Nightcrawlers (comic book superhero reference) yet remaining in touch with each other.
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2004 - 01:54 pm:   

I really enjoyed Sean Klein's "Five Guys Named Moe." In an era where most rock music is as contrived and manufactured as the "do-be-do-be-do" of the story, it's nice to see a reminder of how powerful rock was (and perhaps still can be).
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Tribeless
Posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2004 - 03:04 pm:   

Sorry to butt in, but I enjoy following this thread (although have not contributed), however, its so long now its taking ages to load.

Any chance of the next post starting SCIFICTION 5?

Cheers

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