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JeffV
Posted on Friday, March 14, 2003 - 10:11 am:   

Welcome to Michael Moorcock, who is probably the last person to need an introduction. There's hardly been a more influential, hard-working, talented writer in the past century. "Writer" is a plain word for an icon whose work has spanned novels, short stories, essays and other nonfiction, and much else besides. He's also been unbelievably generous in lending his time and effort to the promotion of other writers.

This message board has been set up for general discussions about writing and books. For specifics about Moorcock's work, visit:

http://multiverse.org

and in particular:

http://multiverse.org/mars/forum/

Mike is extremely busy right now, and may or may not have time for frequent posting here.

Jeff
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MJM
Posted on Friday, March 14, 2003 - 11:50 am:   

Hi, pards. As Jeff says, I'm not much interested in talking about myself, having far too much opportunity to do so elsewhere, but I'd love to talk about writing, writers and technique in general, since that's what I enjoy most. At the moment the subject heavily under discussion on my
forum at multiverse.org is the invasion of Iraq and I know that's already being discussed elsewhere here, so I'll avoid that subject as much as possible, too! My own tastes in fiction go from Leigh Brackett to Elizabeth Bowen, from Arnold Bennett to Charles Harness, Thomas Hardy to Barry Bayley, but I must admit I've tended to read only the most idiosyncratic fantasy in recent years, including VanderMeer's, Carroll's and Aylett's, and don't have much interest in riffs on genre, such as heroic fantasy or space opera. The only contemporary detective story writer I've enjoyed recently has been Walter Mosley, largely because I read his non-generic work first. My preference is for ambitious, highly idiosyncratic writers like Henry Green, Ronald Firbank or, of course, Virginia Woolf, though I also have a weakness for minor late Victorian naturalists like Pett Ridge.
I most recently read Israel Zangwill's excellent political novel The Mantle of Elijah, Zoran Zivkovic's Steps Through The Mist, Arnold Bennett's fantasia Hugo, Elizabeth Bowen's The Little Girls, Richmal Crompton's Family Circle (I'm a sucker for the books put out by Persephone Books, who reprint fiction mostly by women which have somehow fallen through the cracks of critical attention), reread Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch for review (which I didn't like) and Tony White's Foxy-T which is written in Bangladeshi London English. I also read Alan Wall's really excellent China, which I think is his best to date, and took another look at The Lighning Cage, which came out in the US just recently. I also re-read Poul Anderson's original version of The Broken Sword for review and remained as pleased with it as I was in 1955
or so when it made such a huge impression on me.
Others were inspired by Tolkien (the review's at the Guardian.uk.co site) but Poul Anderson is still my main man. That and Three Hearts and Three Lions provided much of the influence for my own fantasy epics. I grew up preferring American fantasts in general, including Fritz Leiber, Alfred Bester and Ray Bradbury. Mervyn Peake, of course, remains my all time favourite fantast, with T.H.White a close second. I was privileged to talk about writing with both of them and both helped me become whatever I am as a writer today.
All very best,
Mike Moorcock
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Keith Ferrell
Posted on Friday, March 14, 2003 - 12:49 pm:   

Hello, Mike!

We met at a DragonCon in the mid 90s when I was editing OMNI. Shortly thereafter you dropped me a lovely note which arrived just as OMNI's death-throws were beginning their protracted writhe, a convulsion of which swallowed your note and mailing address as well as my ability to focus on much beyond keeping as many of the fine staff employed for as long as possible. (Made it a year longer than anyone thought I would!)

My apologies (inappropriate here in your public space)for not responding to your kindness of correspondence at all, much less as rapidly as, in Atlanta, I responded to your invitation to join you in sampling real Russian vodka! That evening, the morning after, and your subsequent letter remain among my fondest memories of my latter OMNI years, and to have not answered you remains as well an unconscionable oversight that has bothered me for some time.

That said, on to a question of technique.

What intrigues me most of late -- and my reading shelf has been piled high with Moorcock fiction and non- for much of this long winter -- has been what appears to be the absolutely natural and unerring grasp you have for the architecture of large novels (Mother London, Laughter, etc.)They really carry their weight with the same grace that Middlemarch or, in my opinion Earthly Powers manage.

In Death Is No Obstacle and elsewhere you've spoken of the tools you employ when composing the shorter books, and spoken as well of how the larger ones come to be, but I'm curious as to the... I guess one would say muscles (or temperament) you feel best drawn upon -- or absent in the case of most over-long novels -- when approaching the larger lengths.

I'm trying (and clearly failing) to avoid asking that sort of personal "how do you work" question that's not really my intent. But the difference -- in prose, in pace, etc -- is stunning. You mention in your post those fantasists you most admire and have learned from. Are there novelists whose sense of scale likewise affected you?

Clearly some of the differences derive from the nature of the stories themselves, their size and scope, themes. But is there also a different... drawing of breath, of the horizons one considers when approaching each page?

Too personal! But in an age when most 600 page novels could best have been told a) not at all (!) and b) at a third or a twentieth their published length, to be privileged as a reader to live in large novels that are not a word too large is a real, and an ongoing, pleasure and thrill.

all best and another apology -- for incoherence!
Keith Ferrell

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Cornelis Alderlieste
Posted on Friday, March 14, 2003 - 01:02 pm:   

Wow Mr. Moorcock! These messageboards really keep you busy!

Anyway, I would like to recommend a writer to you. Harry Mulisch! Try him! Titles: Siegfried, The Discovery of Heaven and many, many more. I think you will find him interesting.

Cheers,

Cornelis
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Luís Rodrigues
Posted on Friday, March 14, 2003 - 03:09 pm:   

Cheers, Mike! It's great that you have a forum here too. Enjoy!

Best,
Luís
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Bob
Posted on Friday, March 14, 2003 - 07:55 pm:   

Mike,
It's good to see you here!
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MJM
Posted on Friday, March 14, 2003 - 08:19 pm:   

Hi Bob, Luis, Cornelis. Well, I sort of gravitated away from one message board to another. I can only cope with my own Q&A and one other at any time!
Keith -- Yes, we remember you well and enjoyed that time, too. We were sort of surprised we didn't hear from you again! But that same sort of thing has happened to me from time to time.
Thanks for being so flattering about my own stuff. I don't read many modern long novels, I must admit. I suppose Dickens remains one of my models. I have a lot of Dickens first editions, mainly because they are bound up from the original parts and you can see the CONTENT that's on every page when Dickens was writing them as serials. I tend to think myself amiss if I don't try to get the same level of concentration.
I'm going to come back to this. While Joyce doesn't do it, lesser modernists do tend to fill up on verbiage, it seems to me, even the best of them. Might be why I tend to get irritated by Pynchon, but not DeLillo, for instance. Could be a matter of taste, too. Picked the wrong time to start. But since my mail's been flakey tonight I'll post this and return later.
All very best,
Mike
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MJM
Posted on Saturday, March 15, 2003 - 12:25 pm:   

Hi, Keith,
The mechanics of it are pretty simple, I think. You work out a structure based on the number of chapters you're going to need and the number of words which are going to go into those chapters. Each chapter must contain narrative dynamic,preferably something extra about central characters, maybe an observation or two on theme, an image or two that's new and so on. A tight internal structure, plenty of events -- make it impossible to to skip a page and still know what's going on! The temptation is to let yourself ramble, I suppose, to fill a large space but you musn't let yourself. Each new chapter must advance the story in some way. The trick is not to be intimidated by the size of your scheme and that's best best handled by focussing on one job at a time. Building a house, you must always make sure it has a sturdy frame. Then, of course, the frame presents its own demands. Each room must be solidly built and help support the others. You'll notice that Mother London breaks down into chapters of, as I recall 6,000 and 12,000 words. The current Vengeance of Rome aims for units of 6,000, 9,000 and 18,000 -- key sections are the long ones where a lost of juxtaposition is going on. This comes from when I was doing the Hawkmoon books where each chapter was 3,000 words in 15,000 word sections. You'll find that no matter what kind of book I've written, the chapters are almost always divided into a certain number of words each. The current Elric books also follow this pattern. You can find the same thing in Dickens, of course, and in Arnold Bennett. It comes partly from a habit of serial writing. Dickens knew he had 32 pages a month to write, with 64 page double issues. The novels more or less break down into fours and eights. That has to do with conventional paper sizes. As you know, from editing a magazine, a
large sheet breaks down into fours, up to 32.
The comics I used to write were 64 pages. While you can't apply mathematics to fiction the way you can to music, it certainly helps to understand these fundamentals. Ir helps you visualise the shape of something. When trying to help people shape their fiction, either conventionally or unconventionally, I'd show them those Dickens first editions. I suppose I could as easily have shown them Thriller Picture Library. I started writing 1500 word features and short stories for magazines like Tarzan, which covered two pages, plus illustrations and display type. When I started writing short stories for Carnell, he demanded a minimum of 3,000 words. When I began to write novellas for him, they were around 15,000. I wrote my first popular fiction, Stormbringer, in four 15,000 words sections. The current Elric novels, with slightly different demands, are longer, three sections of around 35,000 words to produce around 100,000 words. You'll find that those chapters are all pretty much 7,000 words in seven sections, to make 21 chapters. It's a general liking for symmetry, I suppose! I do think however that every shaping method you can devise helps provide the reader with a sense of confidence, just as you might feel better riding in a well-made car. I also don't think any of this stuff SHOULD be considered by a writer. I'm not offering a prescription, just a description.
But I suspect that explains what you've asked.
I believe resolution doesn't merely come in the narrative, it has to come in the underlying structure. The structure somehow has to serve the story. This is where things get a bit numinous, I know. In Death is No Obstacle I became aware that some of the methods I describe are almost abstract -- particular for the Cornelius books where I describe one structure as looking like a fish blowing a trumpet! I know
what I'm talking about, but I doubt if anyone else does. I think in terms of a story expanding
from a base to form a long triangular shape and then narrowing again to come to the resolution,
so that the simple shape is a sort of elongated diamond. This puts the maximum content right at the centre. I can divide this structure into
chapter lengths, the longest chapters coming at the centre. This, rather than the wheel shape some people have described, is how I think I saw
Mother London, with the two Blitz chapters at the centre and being the only two consecutive chapters in the book. Maybe this gives a non-linear structure, which uses images, associations of various kinds rather than conventional narrative, a certain sense of linearity, or at least of developing consequence.
Does this answer anything you asked ?
All best,
Mike
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Keith Ferrell
Posted on Saturday, March 15, 2003 - 02:39 pm:   

Hi, Mike --

Yeah, it answers everything I asked, and is particularly good on the issue of symmetry and shaping -- precisely what's missing, it seems to me, in the overlong novels (not just or, lately, not even mainly fantasy or sf) I keep encountering.

It is as though few of these writers have ever looked at the lessons -- and they are there -- to be found in a masterly performance at the 200,000+ word level. The job is not approached the same way in, say, Bleak House as Tale of Two Cities or Earthly Powers or Napoleon Symphonyand The Wanting Seed. A different plan and approach is called for, one that should and in the best case is invisible to the reader, but which as you observe helps the reader along, and which should surely be attended by those intending to commit (sic) a long story. Or so it seems to me.

But mostly they just type and type and type.

While much of the current fashion in bloat and over-length results from sheer lack of thought in the authors' part concerning what they're doing, and some of it results from inability or, more charitably, inexperience, I blame some of it as well on technology. It's no harder, now, to write a bad long novel than it is a bad short one. On a typewriter, it was.

I've made more than a few speeches over the years about how the computer has made it posssible for people just to type and type and type, never have to re-type, never have to change a ribbon, and so on. Nor ever sit with pencil and mark up a manuscript, see their words on paper in an analog of the way the reader will see words on the page. With a typewriter, even a good electric one, many would simply give up and spare the world, not to mention the trees.

No more! Just megabyte after megabyte of typing with never a look back to see how the pieces are fitting together, all the more vital since there seem to be so few who look ahead to get a sense of where they're going.

Then again, I write most of my work in long-hand, edit, and only then type it into the computer -- and have never been so satisfied with my PC as I have been since I added a program that makes it sound like a manual typewriter as I work.

A recidivist I suppose.

Thanks for taking so much time with my question, and answering at such sharply-thought -- length.

all best to Texas (or wherever) from Virginia,
Keith
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Mike
Posted on Saturday, March 15, 2003 - 03:43 pm:   

I still work in longhand a lot. I share your frustration and your analysis as to why it happens, but I should add that there is a readership for this stuff or it simply wouldn't keep getting into the best-seller lists. I think there's an anodyne quality to it, like those records you can buy which give you the sound of rivers flowing or whatever. And the long, boring, shapeless novel isn't a modern phenomenon. As a sometime collector of three deckers, which was another commercial type dictating form, you realise that people were writing like that and being paid for it for almost as long as the novel has been going. Indeed some would argue that Clarissa started the whole thing! Certainly the 'artificial' romances which followed the success of things like Amadis of Gaul also had the same qualities.
Some would argue that they came with the printing press and that Morte D'Arthur was the first!
All best,
Mike
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JeffV
Posted on Monday, March 17, 2003 - 02:07 am:   

Mike:

Beyond using more or less set word counts for chapters and going back and forth between characters in a logical way when you need to, what else would you say goes into the structure of a novel? And is it always important to outline? How much of it is still a process of discovery for you? Some writers say each new book is just as frightening as the last in terms of they feel like they're starting all over again, as if they'd never written a novel before.

Right now, I'm working on a new novel, Shriek: An Afterword, and one thing I'm using structurally is the idea of each chapter or section (pretty long chapters, too) starting with some memory or experience from the narrator's past, which then feeds into the present-day events. It seems to help ground me in the novel to use this structure. I'm not particularly paying attention to word count, which might be a mistake, in terms of trying to create some rhythm or flow while still keeping spontaneity.

JeffV
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JeffV
Posted on Monday, March 17, 2003 - 02:11 am:   

Re the middle of the novel--you say the longest chapters go there, "maximum content". Do you ever have difficulties with middles? Having written few novels, I find the middle of the novel I'm working on rather rough slogging, perhaps just from impatience to get to the end. Do you have any techniques or structures you apply specifically to the middle of novels. It's been awhile since I read your book on fantasy writing, so if it's all in there, just tell me to go read it again!

My own novel is a weird mix of things--it's fantasy yet not, as much a strange family chronicle as anything else. With a first person narrator, I am trying for a mix of both the personal and a very over-arching sense of the history of the setting.

JeffV
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Rhys
Posted on Monday, March 17, 2003 - 04:30 am:   

Well, I've finally read LONDON BONE, after picking it up last November on a trip to London... By the way I've never seen the city looking so good. Maybe that's because I'm a hick by nature and all the bright lights and new engineering projects sort of overwhelmed my senses...

I'm a sucker for grand engineering projects. The London Eye is superior to the Vienna ferris wheel, that's what I think. Don't know if that makes me an unwitting stooge of our glossy government (the slickest we've ever had and deeply corrupt... but at the same I'm still smarting from the Thatcher years and I'm still grateful for small mercies).

Anyway, 'The Cairene Purse' is a remarkable story... A gem. I'm not saying that I'm surprised by this in any way, but I usually think of Moorcock as a novelist, rather than a short story writer. I think it was John Barth who said that writers were either sprinters or marathon runners. Mike violates this rule. He *sprints* marathons!

One thing I want to talk about, which refers to Mike's first posting on this board, is that I'm bored (or disillusioned or maybe just glutted) with *northern* fantasy -- fantasy which seems to be directly inspired by Northern themes and images: literary tributes to Vikings, Celts and Saxons.

So even though I totally agree with Mike that Poul Anderson's THE BROKEN SWORD is superior to THE LORD OF THE RINGS, I actually dislike both for their deification of bleakness... Maybe it's an age thing. As I get older I find less joy in the notion of camping out in the snow, wrapping a woollen blanket tightly around me, staring moodily out across glaciers (or blasted heaths) while the sword (or axe) by my side reflects the frosty light of the polar stars...

Most 'fantasy' in its traditional forms seems to be prejudiced towards the 'north' and northern things -- the north is often seen as the source of vigour and manliness, probably as a direct consequence of the harsh environment. Southerners are seen as soft, decadent, hedonistic, unwilling to defend themselves in a fair fight!

This thread runs through so much fantasy of the past hundred or so years, from William Morris and Lord Dunsany and Robert E. Howard to Fletcher Pratt and E.R. Eddison and Fritz Leiber... Moorcock (like Jack Vance and M. John Harrison) presents a less clear-cut case: Elric looks northern but isn't really...

Yes, it must be an age thing. These days I prefer my ruined castles to be overgrown with vines. Less ice please. Less root vegetables in pots. wine, not whisky. Fewer ice queens and more Duchesses of Crete. And certainly more Bhanavar the Beautifuls...
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Michael Bishop
Posted on Monday, March 17, 2003 - 04:47 am:   

Dear Mike,

Just wanted to thank you for your response to Keith Ferrell's question about structuring a long narrative. It's both fascinating and helpful to read your account of your own narrative methods and your consciousness of pattern even before you start writing. In any event, I copied your words and printed them out. Hope that's okay. For my private consideration, I mean, not for bruiting about without permission.

All best,

Another Mike
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MJM
Posted on Monday, March 17, 2003 - 07:26 am:   

Hi, Mike,
Nice to hear from you. A writer, incidentally, I much admire! Glad that stuff is useful. I have no set ideas about how anyone should structure their work and can only, as I said in Death is No Obstacle, say how I solved narrative problems of my own. I've always claimed Lester Dent's Master Plot Formula and Mozart's sonata
form as my main structuring influences! Good luck with the petition, by the way.

Hi, Jeff,
Sorry, I scrolled to the end, not expecting to read more than one letter! Personally, I don't use outlines much. I actually make a diagram of the proposed structure and point, within the diagram, where certain scenes/events will go. I suppose it is a kind of outline, but not the sort you'd submit to a publisher. It often looks a bit mystical -- like a kind of alchemical chart!
Balances and concordances and stuff like that. Qualities, tones as well as incidents. Sometimes I'll use colours. In quite simple stories, like the current Elric books, I use colours throughout. Dreamthief's Daughter took the colours of the Nazis (black, white and red) and
The Skrayling Tree is distinctly red, white and blue! Note the covers of the Gould-illusrated editions. None of this is arbitrary and all of it helps me keep the shape of a book by setting certain demands. Similarly I'll use images at certain points of a narrative, to produce, I hope, echoes, associations, all within a very rigorous framework (once I've worked that framework out) which sets its own demands. The characters are allowed to be themselves, of course, insofar as the narrative allows (that is
Hiawatha, if permitted, would ramble on for hours and hours about the nature of time and space and the best dances to get you through to another reality, but you can't let him have his head for too long or you are producing a different book to the one you've promised the reader -- which is partly why I cut City in the Autumn Stars, which was about alchemy and got out of control!). Speaking of rambling, I seem to have strayed from your point. I'm sorry. I'm doing this too early, I think! Middles. Well, George Eliot always complained about the middle volume, since the demands of the day insisted on three volumes for a novel (they were rented separately), and there's no doubt some of her middles sag a bit.
You could try what I do and that is write the middle first, whereupon everything else 'radiates' from that middle, no matter what kind of narrative you're aiming for (i.e. linear or non-linear). I think I might have touched on this in Death is No Obstacle, but I don't remember, either. In a lot of books I tend to aim to concentrate everything at the middle of the book using the Introduction, Development, Resolution method. That is, you introduce every element of the book in the first third (doesn't have to be in thirds and in my case frequently isn't), develop those elements in the second third and resolve them in the fourth. That means every element HAS to be in the first third and
you reach back to that first section to develop
the ideas, characters, whatever, so that pretty much everything you need to know about them is there, then you aim for resolution in the final third.
Your new novel sounds wonderful! Almost the perfect combination. Is the above of any use at all ? Again, I'm happy to go on talking about this stuff until we're all sick of it!

Rhys, you're making me jealous. I haven't seen the London Eye, the new bridge or anything. I haven't been able to travel such distances for a while, though I'm determined to try to get to London for a few days at the end of May. I'm feeling very homesick, these days. I've never been away from London for so long. It's driving me slowly nuts, I think. All I have are the TV
tapes Dave Britton or Dave Garnett send us! It's amazing how I cheer up, these days, at the prospect of an episode or two of East Enders. Pathetic, too, because I know the whole thing is frozen in time and that each one of the inhabitants of Albert Square would be worth about a million in property alone by now. Nobody I know can afford to live that far in unless they
are very lucky. I sit here nursing my Texas allergies and brooding about the circulation of the blood.
I see what you mean about Northern soul, as it were. As it happens I've just done a book which includes Vikings, though they are hanging around in the Mediterranean and most of that section is set in Croatia (though there's some bleakness, I fear, when they get to North America). I'd say Harrison's work is more Midlands -- it has a less romantic bleakness, in other words -- more Five Towns than Finistere. My own tends to be Southern and Elric's world is distinctly Mediterranean, I'd say. Las Cascadas, the island I use in some stories, isn't a million miles from the Balearics. Or from the Dragon Isle, either.
And I'm pretty fond of the Camargue, too... While I tended to gravitate north when younger, I prefer the warmer south, like you, these days. Maybe it is age. Maybe that's why Henry Treece gradually moved towards the Med and Greece with his later books -- from Arthur to Jason. Could explain what's happening to Holdstock, too!
Are you aware of my theory that the Teutonic expansion hasn't stopped yet -- that it's simply gone from Scandinavia, to Britain, to America ?
Are we still being buggered by Vikings ?


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JeffV
Posted on Monday, March 17, 2003 - 02:32 pm:   

Oh yes, Mike--it's very useful. I've got charts that may be similar. I don't like to outline, but this novel has got a couple of different subplots and issues with chronology that require me to chart out the characters and their interactions with other characters. I've got color-coded charts.

One thing I'm finding is that although I have this idea of the novel's structure in my mind, the novel is wandering a bit in the middle section. I'm on the one hand loathe to not just let it wander for right now and on the other hand afraid of losing the thread, so to speak. This novel is the longest I've ever done, if you call City of Saints a story collection. Veniss Underground is only about 56,000 words. But Shriek: An Afterword is probably going to be about 80,000. I guess I am suffering a bit from what you describe above--a narrator potentially just going on and on about whatever obsesses them. At some point, I might just skip a scene or two to get on with it and go back and fill in later. There's a simultaneous urge to rush to the ending and to slow up and get all the details right now. I'm sure I'll figure it out, but of course please do continue on about technique and approaches in novels!!!! Sometimes I find that I might understand some technique or approach intellectually, but need to see the same concept expressed several different ways by several different writers to really understand it in my gut, if that makes any sense.

Okay, now I'm beginning to ramble...

JeffV.
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MJM
Posted on Monday, March 17, 2003 - 03:36 pm:   

Jeff:

I had a hard time holding on to King of the City because it was a first person narrator expressing opinions which were frequently my own. It's easier with Pyat, whose opinions are generally the opposite of my own. I had that urge to rush to the ending in the final Pyat book and am still not sure if I did it right. I'll find out when I get to it, I suppose. Doesn't it help to limit the number of words you allow yourself, so that you condense everything. You can always expand a bit later. I'm inclined to worry aout the details once the story's down.
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Colin Brush
Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 03:17 am:   

Hi Mike and everyone,

Regarding the building developments in London, there are some extraordinary structures being built near or along or across the river at the moment. The new technology - giga-bit chomping computers and new composite materials - is allowing architects and engineers (those with decent imaginations, anyway) to create some inspiring projects.

The wheel is wonderful - seeing the pieces assembled by barge on the Thames and then the week-long lifting of the structure (where it was held at 45 degrees for several days due to the weather) to the vertical, I will never forget.

The new pair of Hungerford pedestrian bridges either side of the rail bridge at Charing Cross with their tall support masts and white suspension cables are beautiful by day. And both the wheel and the bridges, alongside one another, are lit at night in a cool white light topped off with midnight-blue beacons.

Foster's Swiss Re building, which looks like an enormous glass cigar (or phallus or gerkin - take your pick) is almost complete. The huge diamond glass panels are arranged in such a way that lines run across it like a closed pine cone.

The ex-wobbly Millennium bridge, linking the dark and looming Bankside power station (now Tate Modern, of course) with St Paul's, is particularly invigorating to walk across at night as, despite two blades of light at your feet, the structure almost seems to disappear while you are on it and you feel like you are suspended above the Thames. It tickles me that the beacon of the British Enlightenment and Renaissance, the domed, baroque St Paul's Cathedral, is now tethered to the chimneyed, muddy brick industrialism of Bankside.

Even the Mayor's glass bubble building in the shadow of Tower Bridge is strangely compelling to see, if not a little weird. Like some alien craft has set down next to one of London's heritage landmarks.

I have been lucky enough to work ten storeys up with a view out across the Thames at Embankment since the middle of 2001, and so have seen so many of these structures born.

As Rhys says, despite the general awfulness of the administration, there are some truly exciting architectural developments taking place in the city after too many years of neglect.

Okay, kind of hijacked the writing thread a little, but I recommend a visit to the city and a walk along the Thames if you want to see a city transforming itself - and this has only really had a physical manifestation in the last three or four years. It's astonishing to me what only a half-dozen architectural projects can do to a place. How a city that, when I first came here, seemed to be suffering through its own age, almost sinking under its own weight of history, is now rising up again.

And if anyone wants a chance to see one of the best views in London (stuff Archer and his Alembic (pent)House) when they are in town, give me a shout.

Colin
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iotar
Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 03:41 am:   

Colin: Ah give me the decaying backends of the River Lea from Silvertown through the snake-headed confusion of Stratford and up between Hackney and Walthamstow into Edmonton and beyond. Iain Sinclair has already colonised much of the landscape to the west of the river but he seems strangely reticent about crossing to the east. Even his Apotheosis of the Lea Bridge Road becomes vague about the details as he approaches the Bakers Arms. I recall however that Simon Ings in Headlong has built wonderful kilometer high skyscrapers at Stratford and Leyton - wonderful failed architectures in a London that has cut itself off from the rest of the country and embraced monarchy.

And then up from Silvertown past the Tate and Lyle refinery the forgotten blasted nothingness of North Woolwich and Beckton. Developments haven't reached this far. Sitting on the free ferry looking up towards the Docklands, you can see the carbuncular dome and the pyramid topped tower blazing away into the future behind the Thames Barrier. The forgotten poor relation.

(Sorry, got carried away!)
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Colin
Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 04:54 am:   

iotar: I live about five hundred yards from the Lea, in Homerton, not far from the old Matchbox toys factory. And, you're right, both about Sinclair and his leanings to the West, and the strangeness of the marshes to the East and beyond (Hackney seems to be as far east as he's travelling and writing about at the moment, with the exception of the orbital).

The walk up the Lea canal towards Walthamstow can be quite an unsettling experience, with houses rammed hard against the path on one side and tangled urban wilderness on the other (especially when done with a hangover).

I recall visiting a pub, I forget its name, just along from the site of a recent murder (there were flowers spilling across the ground adjacent to the canal), where the ceiling was 'decorated' with square beer mats that had been flung there and whose corners had pierced the soft plaster. A pair of y-fronts hung from a joist about fifteen feet up and a nearby sign announced free drinks for anyone that was prepared to climb up there and claim them.

I concluded that anyone investigating this area should probably proceed with caution.

Interesting that I failed to mention the Dome! I like the tent as a structure, but since it has no purpose beyond the British government's (of any colour or hue) vainglory it just irritates like the white-headed carbuncle it so obviously is.

I loved failed architecture, or rather architecture that is now redundant but still exists in the landscape - and that was what a parts of London seemed like when I first moved here. That has all been or is being recolonised now. So I am very interested to see what happens after the boom, with all these new projects springing up and proving so popular. What will happen when the rot inevitably sets in? We're already seeing Canary Wharf climbing skywards again, but without the workers to fill the gleaming glass and metal rocketships. Just like Canada Tower in the '80s.
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iotar
Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 05:33 am:   

Colin: I live in Walthamstow, just near Blackhorse Road tube. The Lea is about ten minutes from my door. Most Hackney people and even Tottenham people seem rather vague about Walthamstow and Leyton. My favourite theory on this is that geography fails to exist for Londoners - we tend to think in terms of circuit diagrams and mazes.

My memories of North Woolwich come from living there as a kid in the depths of the eighties. Wonderful landscape of mudflats and derelict towerblocks to investigate. Endlessly unnerving for our parents! The view up towards Canary Wharf and the Dome come from a return visit I did a few years back. There was a rainbow on the Thames that day and a weird pink afternoon light. And did I have a camera with me? The fuck did I!

Actually I used to have some pictures I took of London City Airport online. I might have to put them back onto my site.

BTW: What was the name of the pub with the pants? Sounds fun!
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iotar
Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 05:43 am:   

Also: actually there's some pictures that my mate Jim took of a recent walk we took from Walthamstow to Stratford via the marshes on his website here: http://www.cloud23.net/gallery05-01.html

Actually if you ever fancy going for a wander around the marshes, we normally go exploring on alternate Thursdays. Email me if yr up for it!
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jeff ford
Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 06:03 am:   

MJM: That practice you talk of as to deciding upon a certain number of pages per chapter and then trying like hell to stick to it is one I have used on all of my books. Not only does it make you think, make you invent, but without it, I'd never finish the damn book. It's happy accident of a sort.
Glad to see you have a message board here.

Best Wishes,

Jeff
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MJM
Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 01:55 pm:   

Oh, Lord, I love all that London talk. You don't know how it gladdens an old exile's heart! Keep it coming, pards! It's all I have at the moment. I'll put it to Sinclair about his suspicion of the West. We once agreed to divide London up -- I could stick to my territory (West) and he could have the Eastern turf... Now I'm over here in Texas, God knows who's looking after West London... Any books y'all can recommend ?

I agree, Jeff. It certainly works well for you.
I hope to be reviewing Mrs C for The Guardian
when it comes out over there.
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JeffV
Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 02:00 pm:   

Regarding the word limit for chapters--I think I'll have to try it, especially with two endorsements!

With Veniss Underground, the structure of having three Parts, from three different points-of-view, imposed a structure. But that doesn't help me on the new novel.

JeffV
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jeff ford
Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 07:35 pm:   

MJM: Thanks all around, concerning Mrs. Charbuque. As far as interesting books these day, I'm reading a story collection right now by this guy VanderMeer. Some crank from Florida. Although there are glimmerings of talent here and there among the pages.

Best,

Jeff
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JeffV
Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 07:46 pm:   

Those glimmerings are few and far between. You'd be well advised to distance yourself from the text as much as possible. It's basically a full confession of my crimes.

Jeff V.
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MJM
Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 09:08 pm:   

Yeah, I've heard of VanderMeer. Didn't he have
something to do with introducing various diseases
into the literary world ? I heard that stuff
you're handling is catching.
Look out, here he comes now.
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iotar
Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 05:03 am:   

Mike: I wonder how non-Londoners read someone like Sinclair? In so much London writing, and indeed writing where specificity of place is everything, the location must start to doppleganger madly. My own vision of Lovecraft's New England or Durrell's Alexandria and then the place that the writers knew.

I'm sure you'll have read most of the London novels I can think of but there's this little book called Mother London you might like though.

I've put my photos of London City Airport back up: http://iotar.8m.net/aeroport.htm - I don't know if you know the old Royal Docks very well, and this certainly wasn't there when I was a kid, but it epitomises my tendencies to take pictures of fuck all.
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Rhys
Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 05:18 am:   

MOTHER LONDON is certainly one of my favourite London novels ever...

Another is MURPHY by Samuel Beckett. One of his earliest books, before he reduced his landscapes and language to nothing.

I'm not sure if there are any noticeable problems for non-Londoners who attempt to read a writer such as Sinclair. Any problems with the location being specific to the meaning probably aren't even noticed, let alone felt as difficulties with the story. It's similar to when I read Borges' later stories before knowing much about Argentina. His early work is pretty much transcontinental, but the stories of DR BRODIE'S REPORT need lots and lots of culture-specific footnotes and explanations.

Having said that, it's easy enough to totally misunderstand a writer even if details of location and culture are mostly irrelevant. When I first encountered the early novels of J.G. Ballard I thought they were about characters who came to love the thing that destroyed them. Later on I began to suspect they were more about people trying (or compelled) to adapt to change.

Similarly, when I first encountered Jerry Cornelius in THE FINAL PROGRAMME I just thought he was a glib selfish decadent killer, rather than a knight of choice and champion of complexity!
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jeff ford
Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 05:36 am:   

MJM: Read your recent article on PKD in The Guardian. I enjoyed it, and I think you might be right about the latter books of Dick, even though I greatly enjoyed them when I read them. The Valis stuff is wacky to say the least, but when I read it, many years ago, there was also that PKD mystique to go along with the novels -- the drugged up visionary thing. I cottoned to this as a drugged up visionary myself, so it was like looking in the mirror. The only difference between Dick and I is that he was turning his vision into art and I was basically staring at the wall and spanking the monkey. One of my favorites from that time period was Radio Free Ablemuth. Even though I can't say as I have any idea what the fuck The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is about, I have a soft spot in my heart for these works. What your article pointed out to me is how ignorant I am of the other works you mentioned by Aldiss, Ballard, Delany, etc. These seem like an interesting vein of reading to explore now.

Best,


Jeff
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mjm
Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 11:46 am:   

One of the reasons I like Meadley's Tea Dance at Savoy is because it doesn't relate to the capital, as most English non-fiction seems to. I'm currently reading a correspondence between a friend and Ian Brady, the Moors murderer, with Brady getting nostalgic about a 'lost' Manchester he hasn't, of course, seen change. I still find the description of that Manchester, which I certainly never knew, very atmospheric, sometimes beguiling. So it's possible to enjoy Sinclair, I think, without getting quite the same buzz as one does as a Londoner. Some of 'his' territory, of course, is as new and strange to him as some of 'my' territory is to him. I had mentioned that there are probably as many little mews, alleys, twitterns and the like in the West as in the East and he was sceptical. I think he's come round a bit more of late, however! My first job was as a runner for a shipping company, so I saw a great deal of the docks when it was still a vital concern -- miles and miles without evident horizon of ships, cranes, sheds, easy to get lost in. As I've said elsewhere, I also saw London when it was bombed to bits and for some reason so many of those 18th century buildings had survived, so I don't have to imagine a time when St Pauls dominated the landscape, or the Custom House or the Royal Mint or even Billingsgate -- they actually did dominate the landscapes of my youth. Ackroyd and Sinclair have to imagine them. I saw the concrete go up and engulf them.
The only time I can regain that past is when I watch an Ealing movie where they used bombed London as a location (Hue and Cry, Passport to Pimlico and so on). I'll check out those dockland pictures. Thanks so much. Last time I was actually at London Airport was to make Sinclair's movie The Corpse and the Cardinal or a Funny Night Out, with Stone, Moore, Home and the rest of the gang...
I'd forgotten Murphy, Rhys. For some reason I've never gone back to Beckett, though I was a huge fan in my late teens. I might even have burned out. Time for a return. I've recently been back to Henry Green and Ronald Firbank, two of my other heroes of those days. Both hold up wonderfully and I'm sure Sam will, too. I remember a friend of his getting a letter from him in the mid-60s -- I am in despair, everything turns to art before my eyes.
Borges is an enthusiasm I lost. Maybe I should go back. Ballard and I met him a couple of times and were very disappointed because all he wanted to talk about was Robert Louis Stevenson and
gauchos...
I thought Ballard's characters were inclined to embrace what didn't change them! Since neither he nor I ever talked much about our own work, I wouldn't know his opinion! From The Drowned World to, say, Crash, isn't it about acceptance ?
Might be a clue in Empire of the Sun.
Yes, Jerry Cornelius was coming across a bit too sharp and slick. So many people were seeing him as a role model for a while that I felt obliged to cut him down to size and show him for the little wanker he was (as well as a knight of change and complexity)...
Jeff, I have to admit I'm not that fond of Delany's most admired works. I tended to like him in romantic, science fantasy mode. Although I ran the novella (whose name escapes me at the moment) which won the Nebula in NW I must say it wasn't my favourite story of his and he lost me with Dhalgren while I found Tides of Lust pretty repulsive (uncool response, no doubt) but I'd strongly recommend Ballard from The Drowned World,
Terminal Beach, Atrocity Exhibition up to Empire of the Sun, which in my vieew was his best period. While Crash wasn't much to my taste, I think it's a seminal book. Aldiss really started to come into his own after Greybeard, though he wrote some lovely sf stories before that. I still prefer his Acid Head Wars in their shorter, tighter New Worlds versions than the book version, but they are worth reading in either form, I think. Lots of stuff thereafter. His
later planetary stuff wasn't really to my taste.
I read the first one and wrote to him. He said it was a tribute to my generosity rather than to
his book! But he is varied enough a writer to
reward in many ways, possessing a humanity I wouldn't say was Ballard's first quality. Presumably you know the work of Disch and Sladek, two other NW stalwarts ? Again, there's some
outstanding work there.


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iotar
Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 12:41 pm:   

Might have known that Sinclair would have used London City Airport for something. I was so pissed off when I discovered he'd used the Beckton Alps in a short piece for some literary festival.

Do you think Ballard might have similar problems to PKD with characterisation. Again I tend to find he will often use characters as markers in a narrative scheme - it's perfectly appropriate to his writing but I can't say that I remember too many of them.
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Jeff Topham
Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 02:12 pm:   

Mr. Moorcock,

I was delighted to see that Haffner Press is bringing Leigh Brackett's sf stories back into print, and that you've provided an introduction for the volume. Brackett's stories were some of the first sf I ever read, and much of the other so-called "Golden Age" sf paled in comparison. After Brackett, Asimov and Heinlein seemed very dry and colorless indeed.

Regards,

JT
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MJM
Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 02:29 pm:   

I think all Ballard's characters are Ballard, really. Most of the modernist methods regarding characterisation and dialogue aren't really his strong points. It could be argued that he made a virtue of his inability to handle character and
dialogue by using reported speech as much as he did and using a retrospective narrative (similar to Durrell, say). Afterwards Travis would speak of his experiences when...
The difference between Dick and Ballard, as I see it, is that Ballard produced a magnificently
original method, which has been much imitated and has been in some ways more influential on visionary writing than Dick was. Most of Dick's influence seems to have been on the modernists casting around desperately for reinvigoration.
I agree, Jeff T, that Brackett was a superior writer to most of the other golden age writers.
She wasn't much reckoned at the time, however. She appeared mostly in the science fantasy pulps like Planet, Startling and Thrilling Wonder, which was enough for her to be condemned by sf snobs. Yet, of course, she was the greatest influence on Ray Bradbury, her young protege, and Bradbury in turn influenced writers like Ballard.
Human emotion was better described by her kind of prose. Her noir detective stories are also first class -- and what she wrote first, She was as much in that tradition as she was in the tradition of ER Burroughs. I've often made a case for 'Californian' writers as a specific kind of writing, including the likes of Hammett as well as Bradbury -- including a number of writers who were not originally native to California, like Chandler and James M. Cain (who writes eloquently about how spoken Californian was an influence on his work). Leigh, though our politics were hugely different, was a very dear friend and I valued her and Ed's friendship a great deal.
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ben peek
Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 03:00 pm:   

>So it's possible to enjoy Sinclair, I think, without getting quite the same buzz as one does as a Londoner.<

well, being trapped in sydney and never having been to london, i have to agree. i really quite like sinclair, and i found LIGHTS OUT FOR THE TERRITORY and LIQUID CITY (i haven't read LONDON ORBITAL yet) to be quite evocative. same goes for his other work. i'm really quite fond of WHITE CHAPPELL, SCARLET TRACINGS.

i am, no doubt, missing the londoners buzz, but i don't feel any less for it.
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MJM
Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 08:53 pm:   

I couldn't put London Orbital down. Read it between Texas and N. California last year and
zipped through it. Probably the fastest Sinclair read I know. Penguin paperback should be out
now or soon.
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Rhys
Posted on Thursday, March 20, 2003 - 02:38 am:   

LANDOR'S TOWER is my favourite Sinclair novel, because it's partly about *my* territory -- South Wales. And one of the characters is based on a mutual friend, an eccentric reclusive poet. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Sinclair when he was promoting this superb book, but the two main subjects we talked about were -- Moorcock and Ballard! I mentioned something that Moorcock once said: that while Ballard writes about the imposition of artificial geometry on natural landscapes, Sinclair actually goes under those flyovers and motorway bridges to talk to the dispossessed people who live there... I think this is a very pithy observation about Sinclair's work.

My favourite Ballard works are the VERMILION SANDS stories. Here he makes no attempt to define the relentless nature of his obsessions with dubious or slick psychology and in stories such as 'The Cloud Sculptors of Coral D', 'The Screen Game', 'Cry Hope, Cry Fury!' and 'Say Goodbye to the Wind' he shows himself exactly as he really is: a verbal Dali with no core (or rather consistent) social or philosophical agenda.

This is not to be negative about his work, which is astounding and which I adore, but I do *sometimes* get *slightly* tired of drained swimming pools, beautiful arrogant women in expensive hats and metaphors more self consciously modern than technetium eyebrows.
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Colin
Posted on Thursday, March 20, 2003 - 02:47 am:   

The Penguin UK paperback is out in November, as well as a reissue of Lights Out for the Territory - I've just written the cover blurbs for both.

And Sinclair's new Hackney novel - Dining on Stones, together with reissues of Downriver and White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings are out in February. Looking forward to working on them, as I love all these books (though not yet read Dining on Stones), but slightly worried that Sinclair is going to be swallowed up by the Penguin machine. I'm still not convinced that many of the people here get Sinclair let alone understand him - and that can't help with publishing his work. It's just too easy for the interesting stuff to get lost among the literary hubbub.

iotar: I'd really like to come on one of your excursions. Busy for the next few weeks, but will get in touch.

I'm currently fascinated by the almost daily changes taking place on Mabley Green. This park cum playing fields for the local schools is being visited at night by joy riders. Slashes of brown cut across the green as the cars skid over the grass aiming for the rugby 'H's, which have been slowly decimated over the last few weeks. I guess they use the cars to ram them. Where there were six standing, now there is only a solitary white pole, the others have been left, felled. Some of the trees also show signs of suffering collision. The joy riders leave the wrecks on the green, sometimes burning them, and over the succeeding days the insides - mats, seats, bits of engine - begin to migrate out of the cars as if they are slowly creeping away from the decaying hulk. Two weeks ago we were up to four trashed cars before the council removed them. And every morning people are out walking their dogs where the night before the green was being used for demolition derby. Liquid city indeed!
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iotar
Posted on Thursday, March 20, 2003 - 04:27 am:   

Colin: I'll reply to this more fully later. It's my day off so we're off to explore the wonderfully named Folly Lane and the northern extents of Wa'amstow. We'll be wandering around the borders of Chingford and Edmonton - wish us luck!

And yes, let us know when yr free and we'll sort something out.
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MJM
Posted on Thursday, March 20, 2003 - 05:49 pm:   

Jammy buggers. I think Penguin might do better for Sinclair than Granta, Colin. Granta couldn't even get London Orbital to the ICA when Ballard and Sinclair did their thing there a couple of months back. I'm really looking forward to Dining on Stones. I have a feeling this is going to be one of his best.
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jeff ford
Posted on Thursday, March 20, 2003 - 06:32 pm:   

MJM: I know exactly what you mean about Ballard's characters. When I was younger I read two books of his -- The Concrete Island and The Crystal World. I thought CI was a great concept but thought it lost for the stilted characterization, but Crystal World really struck me and the way the characters were portrayed with a certain flatness really added to the overall weirdness of the experince for me. I was very taken by that book when I read it. I got a copy of The Drowned World yesterday and have started it. All I could find in the local stores by Aldiss were 2 volumes of a multi-volume work called Helliconia. Do you know it and is it a good one to check out?

Best,

Jeff
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MJM
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 06:59 am:   

A lot of people liked Heliconia. Jeff. Its a planetary sequence. Not my sort of thing. I think it went over better with sf readers than much of Aldiss's other, quirkier stuff. I think you have to get a lot of Aldiss off print on demand or smaller publishers, these days. I'd recommend Greybeard and the Acid Head War stories. I agree about those two Ballards. Bleak characterisation plus gorgeous imagery produces a sort of counterpoint, Bleak on bleak is a bit too bleak for me. Think you'll like Drowned World and possibly The Drought (also called The Burning World). I am a great enthusiast for what he called his concentrated novels, the first of which, The Atrocity Exhibition and others, we ran in NW. They have
some of the feel of Marker's La Jete. Influenced by b&w French (sorry Freedom) movies of the 60s,
but absolutely unique, I think. If you can find some of the short story collections, Vermilion
Sands stories and so on, you might enjoy those, too.
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Rhys
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 07:25 am:   

My favourite Aldiss novel is THE EIGHTY-MINUTE HOUR. This is an ironic space-opera with a big nod to Alfred Bester and Barrington Bayley and (to a lesser extent) Philip K. Dick. In many ways it anticipates cyberpunk and also has points of contact with Moorcock's own DANCERS AT THE END OF TIME... The multi-layered plot is extremely complex but the extreme ideas are always made more digestable by humour and wit. The main SF thrust of this book is interspersed with a very funny fantasy sequence which is totally absurd and extremely inventive.

If I had to recommend a book of Aldiss short stories, I'd go for THE MOMENT OF ECLIPSE or NEW ARRIVALS, OLD ENCOUNTERS or maybe THE SECRET OF THIS BOOK. The range of styles and themes in the stories in these books is enormous...

Another favourite New Worlds writer of mine was John Sladek. His short stories and novellas are superb. 'Masterson and the Clerks' was one of the greatest pieces ever published in New Worlds, in my view!
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iotar
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 07:50 am:   

Rhys: Eighty-Minute Hour was great. The fantasy thread in the novel reminded me of Lafferty. Barefoot in the Head from that period is also pretty good. But I'd have to say that Earthworks is probably my favourite of his novels - it's a bit grim at times and sometimes his actual writing seems less accomplished than his ambition but I think taken as a whole it's a brilliant read. Hothouse is notable too.

I tend to find that Ballard works best as a short story writer, over the longer slog of a novel he can be a bit tiring. Having said that, I know a lot of people who swear by, with and at him.

Sladek's The Muller-Fokker Effect was quite dazzling when I read it some years ago. There's this scene where a lost daughter finds her mother frozen in a giant refrigerator in an oversized kitchen, or did I dream that? It was another one of those novels where people seem to spend a lot of time at parties. Read The Reproductive System fairly recently, wasn't so impressed by that one. Felt it had aged badly.

Anyone know what became of Philip Bedford Robinson. Wrote a strange book called THe Masque of a Savage Mandarin and then seemed to vanish. I always wondered is he was a pseudonym for someone else?
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jeff ford
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 08:24 am:   

MJM & Rhys: Thanks for the suggestions. Sladek is another writer I know nothing about. Will go digging. The Drowned World is excellent. The Atrocity Archive is something I've wanted to check out as I recently became interested in the art work of Pheobe Gloeckner who did the illustrations for it in the REsearch edition. I've only seen that but don't own a copy. I understand that there is a new collected stories of Ballard's out and about and that has some selections from the Atrocity Archive in it.

Best,

Jeff
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Rhys
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 08:26 am:   

Iotar: you are right, of course. Sladek’s novels were ahead of their time, but they have dated badly (does that sound like a contradiction?)

Anybody who tries to predict near-future technology, however good they are at it, is going to find themselves rapidly overtaken by reality. Sladek was one of the very few SF writers who really understood the concepts behind the science of artificial intelligence but novels such as THE REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM are more than 30 years old. The science in them is now a bit creaky and although that shouldn’t affect the excellence of the story itself, it does. Or maybe it’s just his prose style, which can be clumsy in a peculiarly original way. Sladek is an utterly superb writer when it comes to writing funny sentences, but he’s not so good at connecting these sentences into paragraphs and pages which flow smoothly! They jerk and sometimes even lumber along.

However in his short stories this defect is much less noticeable. There’s one Sladek story which I regard as almost pefect. I can’t remember the exact title but it’s called something like ‘A Report on the Migrations of Educational Materials’ and is about how books suddenly start flapping their pages and flying off shelves and out of windows and over the horizon to some unspecified point in the Brazilian jungle. Soon the skies are dark with clouds of migrating books! At the end of the story, the narrator realises that nobody is ever likely to read his report on this literary disaster and so he releases the unpublished report and it flies off to join its brothers and sisters…

Sladek’s parody of a J.G. Ballard concentrated novel is also hilarious. It’s called ‘The Sublimation World’ and magnifies the repetitive obsessions of a typical Ballard piece to the point of absurdity. The strange thing is that is also works as a serious Ballard pastiche!!!!!! The one thing it lacks is Ballard’s lyricism. Ballard at his best can write absolutely beautiful prose, really poetic and evocative. Sladek could never really do that, though his ironic humour is more to my taste than Ballard’s.

It depends what you want. Ideally, good ideas presented in beautiful prose is what I really want from a writer. But I’ll take good ideas in clumsy prose if I have to. I certainly prefer that to beautiful prose without any ideas.
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S. Hamm
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 12:40 pm:   

Jeffrey,

The illustrated edition of THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION is still availiable from RE/search Publications. The only previous American edition was published by Grove under the title LOVE & NAPALM: EXPORT USA and is extremely hard to find.

Most of Aldiss's back catalog is available from a POD ouftit called House of Stratus. If you are not yet insane, trying to navigate the House of Stratus website will certainly help you on your way.

I'd be shocked if you didn't warm to Sladek's dead-on parodies of Dick, Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury et al. They ran originally in F&SF and were later collected in The Best of John Sladek from Pocket Books.
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 12:50 pm:   

Jeff: I had a difficult time with the Helliconia books. There were many times where something along the lines of "But Frank would later lose his leg and never run like this again." would be written in the prose, and then the next section of the book would be Frank losing his leg. [this is a made-up example from me, I can't remember specifics] Except that from what I remember of the novels, they were major plot points that were exposed thusly. Very frustrating. The concept of the books is Helliconia is a planet that orbits two suns in a figure eight and so has extremely long winters and summers (centuries long, in fact). Interesting concept, but I didn't feel they were executed all that well.

There is a lot of Ballard stuff available from Picador, so that should be in most bookstores (or at least available), but I wasn't sure if you were looking for Ballard. Picador has two short-story collections: BEST SHORT STORIES OF... and WAR FEVER, that might be worth checking out.

JK
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jeff ford
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 12:50 pm:   

Sam: Thanks!

Best,

Jeff
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mjm
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 01:50 pm:   

Are those Picador editions available in the US ?
I don't get out enough.
I would strongly recommend Sladek's Masterson and the Clerks and, I agree, his parodies are superb.
There is also the recent collection Dave Langford put together.
I'm inclined to agree with you about Helliconia,
John. I can't help feeling that these were Aldiss's attempts to return to a classic sf form which he left behind too long ago. I still like
Greyboard, with its squabbling old men, a lot.
Cawthorn's Ballard of a Whaler, a parody of both Ballard and me, didn't go down too well with Ballard, but it made me laugh a lot. Don't know if it was ever reprinted from NW. Would be worth
putting on Fantastic Metropolis or somewhere.
It was only a page. A tribute to Ballard, I think, that he is so often parodied (or imitated).
I would, however, suggest that the Complete Short Stories might not be the best thing to get of his, though it does demonstrate well his two
extremes, from baroque to minimalist.
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JeffV
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 01:54 pm:   

Mike:

Not to keep you going on about other writers, but what do you think of John Crowley?
JeffV
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 02:13 pm:   

Mike:

Picador is the trade paperback imprint of St. Martin's, so they should be available anywhere in the US. They also have editions of: Rushing to Paradise, Concrete Island, Crash, and Super Cannes.

JK
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RobertW
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 02:20 pm:   

I read Aldiss's Eighty-Minute Hour years ago. I remember liking it, but don't remember much about it. I've been meaning to read Graybeard and Report on Probability A.

I think Ballard's Selected Stories is still available in the U.S. (not to be confused with Collected Stories, which is larger and not published here). Selected Stories would be a good place to start. I think I read that first, then Crystal World and Empire of the Sun. I've read most of his stuff, and liked pretty much everything but the more recent ones. A lot of what I have is in British editions. Not sure what's available here right now. Like MJM says, Ballard's bleak characterisation/gorgeous imagery really does it for me.

Robert
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MJM
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 05:26 pm:   

I've yet to read him. Have bought several books on the strength of recommendations but somehow
haven't been able to start them yet. I'm sure he's good, but I haven't hit the right mood yet.
There you go, John. Picador used to be the posh imprint of Pan and I'm confused, these days, about who owns what. I ought to check Amazon more! Robert, I read pretty much everything up to Empire of the Sun then started running down a bit, but Empire is definitely an important book, a key work. Selected stories, too. Complete is a bit overwhelming and repetitive. Probability A, which we ran in NW, is very much a different sort of book, closer to a French experimental novel than most of Aldiss. I wonder if anyone's ever written anything about the influence of French existentialism on the British anti-modernist movement (which we didn't call 'New Wave'!). Or anti-modernist, for that matter. It's just a definition someone made which I thought explained how we were reacting at the time.
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 06:26 pm:   

Mike:

That makes sense. They're all owned by VHPS (Von Holtsbrink): Pan MacMillan, St. Martin's, Henry Holt, Tor Books, Farrar Strauss Grioux, Picador, Thomas Dunne, etc....

Don't worry about not knowing who owns who; I'm fairly certain at some point there will be only three big publishers (or has that already happened?). I'm only this well-versed on VHPS because I used to work for Tor.

JK
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 09:19 pm:   

Of all of Ballard's work (not to go on and on) it seems to me the Unlimited Dream Company stands out distinctly; am I wrong, or was it Ballard's version of Blake? With a bit of Hamsun's "Pan"? It's the only not-from-concentrate novel of his that stays in my memory.
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Al
Posted on Monday, March 24, 2003 - 12:54 pm:   

Intrigued by the anti-modernist tag - I'd always seen the more experimental side of the work you were all doing as fitting very much into a modernist, experimental tradition. Having said that, I'm not too well versed in modernist fiction, so could be completely wrong.

Have just started on 'Death is No Obstacle' - apart from anything else, am amazed that you used to work on 'Look and Learn'! I read through them at school in the 70s, piles of them abandoned in the library, these amazing time travelling magazines from another time (steam train cutaways, great liners, echoes of Empire etc).

The Alexander stories a bit hazy, but I always thought that 'The Trijan Empire' was magnificent - particularly loved the bathos of telling these great stories of Empire knowing that it was all doomed to fall, narratives pulled from a lone spaceship lost in space... Beautiful artwork as well.
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Jayme Blaschke
Posted on Monday, March 24, 2003 - 01:10 pm:   

Howdy Mike! I'm just now recovering from Aggiecon over the weekend, and all the silliness that ensues when you get Rick Klaw and Joe Lansdale in the same place. Got to talking with Rick, and soon discovered we're both working on a similar project, and had both approached you for participation. Great (or diseased?) minds thinking alike. So it looks for now that we shall pool our efforts and present a united front. Until one of us kills the other, of course!
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MJM
Posted on Tuesday, March 25, 2003 - 08:06 am:   

LOOK AND LEARN was about the best paying market of the day, Al! That expensive gravure production lent itself to lots of great stuff, especially that drawn by Lawrence (who I worked with). Wish I had the copies. I don't think I hve any of my own work at all. Barry Bayley did a lot of work in there, too. I remember his AROUND THE UNIVERSE ON A RAY OF LIGHT. I did quite a lot of stuff on lost cities, too. I got my information for The Final Programme by researching for L&L. The Trigan Empire is something I'm often credited for but I didn't have anything to do with it, as I recall. Pretty good stuff though, I agree. The writer was a guy
called Patrick something. Only met him once.

Modernist experiment ? I'm not sure. Certainly Ballard and I were reacting as much against Joyce as Heinlein, I thought. I hated Woolf at the time (come round to her since). I'd have called
Amis junior's work, along with B.S.Johnson's, a continuation of the modernist tradition. But maybe it's only something you can see with narrowed vision... All new movements (though we
never called ourselves a movement) tend to believe they are rejecting the old, when often they're only modifying it. Much like revolutions, everywhere really.
Hi, Jayme. Consolidation of Texas forces, eh ?
Sounds good.
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EricS
Posted on Wednesday, April 02, 2003 - 04:04 am:   

Given your discussion of structure, I am interested in your response to Iain Bank's work. He strikes me as a current author who works from a carefully laid out narrative structure in each of his novels. The structure is defined from chapter by chapter so that it can easily be understood by the reader, but structures tend to be non-linear.
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James R.Cain
Posted on Wednesday, April 02, 2003 - 07:02 am:   

Hi Mr Moorcock,

Well, I'm an Aussie and have loved your work since I was a teen. I think my favourite standalones were the 'Warhound and the World's Pain', and 'Stormbringer'. Only last week in fact (and this is no suck) my 12 year old son finished the Corum cronicles and loved them. Your work has a timeless quality and that's what I admire most about your work.

The only criticism I hear though, and this is said with no disrespect, is in relation to the Eternal Warrior thread which binds quite a few of the books. I've had an experience of recommending the Elric series to a friend and that put them off entirely, which was a shame, as they never made it to the final book which is one of my favourite fantasy novels. I've read quite a bit of your work, and I'd have to agree I think Corum and Elric would stand better as stand-alone entities. However, I still read and love your work, and I'm sure I'm in the minority within your fans. Please - no flames.

I would like to thank you though, as I recently started a small press magazine publishing pulp in response to the declining literacy rate. Now, authors such as yourself which have these timeless stories were definately one of my inspirations, as well as Graham Masterton who appears in our current issue. Basically it's a magazine for your common Joe, not run for profit but to publish some good yarns, something that doesn't try to educate or illuminate just entertain, and your stories do that. Other inspirational authors: H.P.Lovecraft of course, Robert E.Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs and contemporaries like Tim Curran whose work I adore. Good old and new pulp writers like yourself.

Anyway, have a look if you're of the inclination. http://www.darkanimus.com Hell, if you're ever craving to give a dusty old short story some air, drop us a line. You know I won't say no.
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MJM
Posted on Wednesday, April 02, 2003 - 07:36 am:   

To be honest Eric I have trouble with Ian Banks, partly because space fiction just isn't my bag and partly because I find his actual writing a bit sloppy. I like him as a person but have never been able to complete a book. I'd like to
be able to, but so far no luck. So I don't have
an opinion, in other words. I've just never been able to 'engage' with space stories, hard as I've tried sometimes. I'd be curious, though, if you feel like expanding on that. Sounds interesting.
Might get me to read one, too!
Fair criticism, James. But it's just in my nature to do what I do. Some people have suggested it was a commercial ruse to put them all together, but for me it's a way of continuing themes through a version of the world's complexity. I know people don't necessarily like complexity in heroic fantasy but at heart I suppose I'm more an sf writer than a fantasy writer in that I do like exploring ideas. The current Elric novels tend to do that, too, developing the idea of the multiverse and how we'd negotiate it if we could. Probably the Blood sequence (ending with The War Amongst The Angels) is the most complex model yet. Also the
Multiverse comic I did a few years ago. For my own part, I feel I AM writing one huge novel. I know I could make my books more commercially accessible if I didn't do certain things, but then I wouldn't be true to my own instincts. Because I put the story first (and am certainly not trying to illuminate or educate) doesn't necessarily mean that I'm not also a moralist in a tradition which goes back at least to Wells. This means, if you like, that I can't leave stuff alone. My own reading tends to favour complex work and in fact I find it hard to get on with
'simple yarns'. This doesn't mean I have any attitude towards those who only want that sort of story for their entertainment. It just doesn't satisfy me. Good luck with the magazine, though.
There are lots of people out there who'll be glad to see it, I agree. And, by the way, I'm not saying there are hidden complexities in Corum or
Hawkmoon but there are probably a few in Elric, with whom I identify most, and I'd wither and die if I couldn't explore them! You're welcome to any story that's out there, by the way, but I don't have anything mouldering in a draw mainly
because, perhaps in contrast to any impression I've given above, I almost always work to commission! That's how the Elric stories got started.
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EricS
Posted on Wednesday, April 02, 2003 - 09:14 am:   

Relating to structure in the novels of Iain Banks, probably the most effective of his novels for me was Use of Weapons, in part because of the interesting structure, in part because of the horrific relationships among the characters that come to light as the novel progresses. The novel has two strands of story, alternating with each other chapter by chapter--not that big a deal in itself, but one strand runs forward in time while the other runs backward in time.

Another simple but effective structure for me was MJ Harrison's latest novel Light.--three separate and alternating strands. The fun part, for me, with these was the use of the little cartoon images at the beginning of each chapter to provide an immediate visual cue as to which strand one was following.

Any thoughts on Light?

And on the use of visual cues, whether overt or covert, as elements of structure (potentially within the comic adaptations of your work)?
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MJM
Posted on Wednesday, April 02, 2003 - 05:16 pm:   

You've talked me into getting a copy of Use of Weapons! And I'm still waiting for my copy of LIGHT to turn up, though, of course, I've heard very good reports on it. I'm inclined to prefer books set in the here and now, though Harrison shares with Ballard a talent for the baroque as well as the bleak and, like Ballard, can do gorgeous gothic as well as he can do what you might call minimalist modern, so if he's combined the two in one book that should be tasty. I use visual (images) elements a lot in my work, even at the simplest level. Also use colours and other resonances, sometimes for ironic or other effect. Sometimes you do it with an image, sometimes with tone. To save time and space mostly. For instance in Mother London each of the pubs various chapters are named for are another link to the mythological themes being touched on. There are different reasons for different methods, of course. Sometimes you are just trying to link themes without being too obvious about it, sometimes you're trying to produce an effect of coherence without resorting to the clumsier or over-used methods available. The medium often being the message you either have to avoid the medium or subvert it in some way. So now I've got two books to read which
involve (as I understand it) spaceships. It will be interesting to see if I can overcome my aversion. If they have soldiers in them too I might not be able to make it!
I used a number of fairly simple devices in the
Multiverse comic -- the grey cat, the appearance of various differently named characters (one artist kept letting me down on this by drawing them the way HE wanted to draw them and so causing me to have to adapt and modify given what he'd done), parallel action, different manifestations of the same forces. I was interested to see that Philip Pullman said recently that he drew much of his inspiration from comics, liking comics because the three elements, scene, commentary, dialogue could all tell different stories in the same narrative. Conrad will do this, too, with his descriptions of body language, for instance. I sometimes think Conrad was the first author to learn thoroughly from the movies (or maybe from the
theatre). John Brunner used to argue that we sought fresh techniques as novelists because we were conscious of competing with the cinema and I think he had a point. I know my training in comic strips helped me tell a multi-layered story and a lot of my early work is more greatly influenced by historical movies rather than fantasy novels. What do you think's going on in Banks, for instance ? The same sort of thing ?
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James R.Cain
Posted on Wednesday, April 02, 2003 - 05:50 pm:   

Ah, I think I was simplifying when I said 'simple yards'. I have yet to read Blood, but I will certainly pick it up now. We have a nice little publication with lots of art, and some very fine writing.

Thanks for the offer re. your old stories, but I wouldn't feel right about reprinting them as it would seem like a shameless self-promotion. However, as an small press publisher I may be interested in commissioning a small tale - dark sci-fi perhaps, something to catch your interest. Give me an email and I would love to negotiate something. I don't think it appropriate to discuss on a board. Who knows, it may be the catalyst for another Michael Moorcock classic epic!

I had the priviledge of listening to your record produced in the 60's some year back with a fellow fan who had a copy. It was very dark, almost surreal musically and dare I say it, but ahead of it's time? We used to sit and listen to it while we painted, as the music was inspirational. Seeped in dark energy. Did you ever consider continuing in the vein of your music career or was that just a fun experiment?
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EricS
Posted on Thursday, April 03, 2003 - 04:49 am:   

I like your use of pubs with Mother London, particularly because there is this innate mythic quality to the pub itself (completely different from the American bar).

This has become more apparent to me of late because I have been working the past few months in Norwich, England. Whenever I ask for directions, the destination is always given in reference to the nearest pub. So pubs, in and of themselves, provide a directional cue in the here and now, as well as being linked to the past and myth.

The presence of pubs has also induced me to grab a pint almost every evening at the local pub--The Pickwick in this case. In the US, I typically just drank my beers in the backyard, sitting on a bench, while reading a novel.

I won't even pretend to guess what most other authors (e.g. Banks) are trying to do at the less obvious levels with their story structures. Much of that is subliminal and, for me, may only come out with repeated readings if at all. I have read Dhalgren a few times over the years, and with each reading I have found certain parts interesting and other parts awkward or intruding--but which is which tends to change with each new reading. The reason I bring this up, is that during one of these readings I found that Delany was generally describing people's reactions before he told what they were seeing. It became apparent that this was a narrative device on his part, and related to the novel's (Delany's) interest in how we perceive and put together information, but it became such a repeated device that it intruded upon my reading because then I was consciously looking for it reappear.

The Delany example doesn't represent a large structural motif for the novel, but instead a structure/mechanism on how information is presented to the reader. Gene Wolfe also plays games with what level of information is available to the reader, with many of the most important events in some of his more recent novels taking place outside the written boundaries of the novel, so that the main characters only feel the effects of the event, not the event itself. I'm not sure how effective this has always been in practise.
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MJM
Posted on Thursday, April 03, 2003 - 08:46 am:   

Thanks, James. I've dropped you a note. That New Worlds Fair album (which I think is what you're talking about) was until recently still available and not that expensive. It got reissued a while back. You can also hear it at
multiverse.org my own website. It's on at AM
quality, as it were. Which is probably about right for it! I must admit, while I don't normally remember the lines of my own songs, that opening line for Rolling in the Ruins keeps popping into my head, these days -- 'Isn't it
delicious, there's a red sun in the sky -- every time we see it rise another city dies...'
You've picked another bloody book I haven't read,
Eric. I know Chip's got a lot of literary theories and it's interesting to know what he's doing there. I certainly don't have any such plan for the reader -- at least consciously. I sort of assume (as in the Cornelius books) that the reader knows what's going on and offer springboards, if you like, for the reader to employ their own imaginative processes. It's why
any interpretation is the right one. I tend to write for the ideal smart sophisticated reader who has read, if you like, Proust as well as Ballard, who is familiar with Alan Moore and
Eduardo Paolozzi -- that is someone who is generally well educated and is as happy at the
Tate as at the National Theatre or the National
Film Theatre or reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or checking out Elizabeth Bowen and Ronald Firbank, whatever -- with as wide a range of tastes as my own. It's fair to assume there are a fair number of such readers and, of course, sites like these confirm that. I was corresponding with Ricardo Pinto a little while ago and said much the same, that I assume
the reader is going to have as much fun as I'm having with stuff like the Cornelius stories.
I'm glad you 'got' the pub stuff and, of course, I agree with you absolutely. I also taught Linda, when she was first in London, to steer by steeples, just as people used to. Churches, as
Sinclair and Ackroyd believe, also carry a good
weight of reference. I see what you're saying about Delany and Wolfe. Meredith was a great one for never including the major event as a scene, only in reference, and I like the method, though
I don't often use it myself, maybe because I'm a
sucker for a big scene and don't like to leave a book before I've offered at least one! My idea is that all the structural stuff can be absorbed
unconsciously, that I might have failed if the reader has to become too conscious of what I'm up to. For my own part I just want to become absorbed in a work, be it music, film or novel, and don't want to have to interact with the
creator. I don't expect any reader of mine to
do that with me. The idea is to produce a SENSE of structure, even when no structure seems to be
present. So if you get rid of conventional narrative, you use other means, you produce a
catharsis, if you like, in a different way, you
offer a sense of closure (if that's the right
word), a sense of completeness, just as a good
piece of modern music might -- not necessarily
with a bang or a whimper. I'm talking off the top of my head here, half-asleep. I suppose what I'm saying is that I don't want the reader to be aware of the machinery, I sort of expect them to
jump in, as someone said of Jerry Cornelius, and
strike out for the nearest shore. I am not a
controller, by nature. I'm trying to entertain on a fairly ambitious level. But in some way or another there has to be Introduction, Development, Resolution, not necessarily in that order. Have I gone off the point here ? Do you think this is what Delany and Wolfe are doing, for instance, or do
they want us to 'think about it' as it were --
are they confronting what they assume are our
presumptions ? If so, that's not at all what I'm trying to do. If this is getting to self-referencing please forgive me. I'm completing the last Pyat book and am a bit self-involved!
And, of course, having said all that about the sophisticated reader I'm revealing that I'm not as
well-read as I should be! I wonder if you've
read White Apples, by Carroll, which has an interesting structure, reflecting the theme of the book.
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EricS
Posted on Thursday, April 03, 2003 - 09:05 am:   

Steeples! Yes!

My wife and I started using steeples to orient ourselves among the twisting city streets after being here a little while. I hadn't even thought that we were tapping into something that others had been doing for hundreds of years.

On the other hand, taking a train north from Norwich to Cromer, we kept seeing the same type of church tower in every little village we passed. So, instead of giving a sense of purposeful direction, it left us feeling as if we were trapped in a Twilight Zone episode endlessly circling the same town.

I will have to pick up White Apples. I've read some of Carrol's other work but not that one.
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MJM
Posted on Thursday, April 03, 2003 - 04:29 pm:   

I think even those church steeples would have worked if you knew roughly the direction you were
heading in, especially if you had a high road to follow. I'm tickled to know you were doing the same thing, though. Roots, roots, roots, roots
showing us the way again, Routes, routes, routes, routes... Ahem.
I'd like to know what you think of Apples just because the structure seems to echo the theme
very nicely. I'm about to review it for the
Guardian (it's out early April I think) and was
very impressed. He's also about the only author
I know who actually makes me fear for my immortal soul (well, first he convinces me I actually have an immortal soul and takes it from there!).
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James R.Cain
Posted on Thursday, April 03, 2003 - 05:05 pm:   

I'm going to try and track down my own copy of your music.

*thinks E-bay*

;)
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Forrest
Posted on Thursday, April 03, 2003 - 05:25 pm:   

Hello, Michael, and welcome to the discussion boards.

I'm wondering if there was any set method to your writing the "chaotic" chapters in the BLOOD series? There's a wonderful rhythm to them, as if your brain waves were showing through in what could be interpreted as "automatic" writing - was this just my imagination, perhaps my own brain waves interpreting a pattern that wasn't really there?

In any case, I enjoyed those sections the most, though I enjoyed the rest of the chapters a great deal as well.

Forrest Aguirre
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EricS
Posted on Friday, April 04, 2003 - 01:08 am:   

I picked up the anthology CITIES and I have started to read your novella Firing the Cathedral. I find your use of quotes fascinating and I was wondering, based on your mentioning his work in a previous posting, if you feel a strong affinity for Alan Moore's work. In some ways I see Firing the Cathedral and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as sharing a related passion--how to weave associations from the past into a work. In Moore's case he is working in the history of fictional characters, you with the history of moralized aggression.
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MJM
Posted on Friday, April 04, 2003 - 07:11 am:   

Don't try too hard James. I'm used to people buying a record and then comes embarrassed silence!
Hi, Forrest,
Glad you enjoyed those sequences. They seemed to baffle the regular sf/fantasy reader who I think perceived them as parodies or satires on old fashioned sf. The same characters crop up in the Multiverse comic, too, perhaps confirming that impression. They represent a kind of genre fiction, it's true, but are the exemplary legends, if you like, of that Chaotic world -- Sam Oakenhurst is at some point absorbed by them. I used style in those books far more than I used formal structure to try to get the sense of shape I wanted. The crazed tone of characters completely given up to the chaotic multiverse, an environment almost without boundaries of any kind, but somehow managing to cling to the few rules there were -- scale, for instance. I had worked out that the
multiverse could exist not as 'branes' per se but as scales -- each version of the universe being another scale up, invisible to the other because of the differences of mass, yet each one being only marginally different to the last, so that radical changes came via vast numbers of similar
versions, the 'ships' travelling up and down the
scales and actually changing mass in order to do
it. All this, of course, based on Mandelbrot.
A wild style, as opposed to the more melodic 'Southern' style of the other chapters seemed to be the answer. There's a measured,
Southern pace to the opening, the cadences being those I'd heard in parts of Louisiana and Texas,
rather formal. But the intervening chapters, of course, probably owe more to William Burroughs than William Faulkner. I think it was an instinctive memory of, say, The Naked Lunch which was informing me there! And Ronald Firbank, of course, forever hovering in my memory banks.
Firbank and Henry Green are probably always going to inform my work somewhere along the line. One, if you like, surreal, the other real.
Typically, I haven't seen a copy of CITIES yet, Eric.
The other stories look good and I'm looking forward to reading it. The stand-alone version of Firing the Cathedral actually has a long introduction by Alan Moore, saying what an influence Jerry Cornelius had on his youthful mind. It's a very generous and interesting piece.
I think Alan and I have always had certain ideas in common. I've always thought of him as a fellow spirit. Maybe Iain Sinclair does, too. He put us together in his movie The Cardinal and the Corpse; or, A Funny Night Out, though I'm not sure we ever met on any set! I think we both despise imperialism but use the 'glamour' of imperialism to tell our stories. He does, I believe, what I do -- which is to take certain forms and turn them against themselves, as it were. Or use them to examine themselves, if you like. There's an essay on the Fantastic Metropolis site (also on the New Worlds site off the Multigverse site) which deals with this method ('intervention') in reference to The Warlord of the Air and says it a lot more elegantly than I can. I think
Alan's sceptism around 'the hero' was reflected in such things as The Watchmen, just as mine is
reflected in my heroic fantasy. To return to
James's comments about The Eternal Champion for a moment, the scheme was already formulated in the very first Eternal Champion story, which is why
I'm never likely to do an heroic story outside of that context. It just isn't possible for me, any more than it is for Alan. We've set our courses and are stuck with them!
As for the quotes, I've always used them (at least since A Cure for Cancer) to offer an ironic counterpoint to the text and also to save time in spelling out what I'm writing about. The whole
method is designed to carry the maximum amount of narrative weight on the minimum amount of structure! Characteristic, of course, of the New
Worlds writers, though not necessarily of the so-called 'New Wave'. The trick is to find good load-bearing methods! It's also a way of keeping cool, if you like, when so much anger fills your soul!

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MJM
Posted on Friday, April 04, 2003 - 07:14 am:   

Forgot to say, Forrest, that yes there was a freewheeling associational quality to those
chapters very similar to automatic writing.
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James R.Cain
Posted on Sunday, April 06, 2003 - 02:53 pm:   

haha. I have listened to your music before and I did like it. It's weird granted, although that's a subjective term, it's certainly unconventional, but it has a lot of energy about it, and that's what I like.

;)
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MJM
Posted on Sunday, April 06, 2003 - 08:54 pm:   

Thanks! You know how to touch an old man's heart
(or ego, anyway)!
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James R.Cain
Posted on Monday, April 07, 2003 - 07:56 pm:   

Reading "The Blood Red Game" at the moment. I know this is an old one, but it's been skulking around the corners of my booksleves hovering under the radar for like forever - no reflection on the author of course - more my slack ass! Really enjoying it though - I think this one really lays out clearly the theory behind the multiverse. Leads me to wonder about the subversive nature of fantasy and science fiction especially. How many great breakthroughs in science were first elaborated by dreamers - writers, and poets - before science caught up and proved it's existence? Personally I think this probably relates to the nature of the collective subconscious, where we 'scent' a truth before it becomes an actuality. Highlights to me the importance of fiction in relation to human evolution. If we as a race, or society, lose the ability to collectively dream, where will that leave us? I think we have to keep moving or as a race we'll die. Sounds a bit airy I know, but I'm not stoned. Just in a philosophical mood I suppose.

*treads on thin ice*

So do I beleive in the multiverse as a scientific actuality? I think I certainly have an open mind. It would explain a lot of unexplained phenomenon - things shifting between realities. Perhaps a multiverse is the truth behind ghosts and even death itself? Who knows. I guess one day I''ll find out.
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MJM
Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2003 - 06:35 pm:   

Well, it's always worth putting an idea out there to see what the boffins come up with! Today
Science Fiction Adventures. Tomorrow Scientific
American. It's amazing, really. Remember the story of the FBI calling on Asimov (or was it
Heinlein) because they wondered how he knew so much about that top secret atomic bomb project being worked on ? Oppenheimer himself reckoned
physics and poetry were very close. And poetry
and visionary fiction always have something in
common. So it goes. As another famous sf writer
had it.
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Night Shade Books
Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2003 - 09:45 pm:   

I think it was John W. Campbell, something he wrote in an editorial.

Jason
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James R.Cain
Posted on Friday, April 11, 2003 - 04:01 pm:   

After all, how can a worm evolve to see unless he first allows himself to dream.

Enjoying "The Blood Red Game" too. ;)
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MJM
Posted on Saturday, April 12, 2003 - 04:00 pm:   

Dreaming worms ? I might not have been on anything stronger than tea and Mars bars when writing that book, but are you sure
you're not on something when reading it ?
I was pleased to learn a while ago that if a mouse
falls into water, swims about a bit, fails to
find dry ground, he'll give up and drown. If on the other hand he has fallen in before and got
out safely, he'll keep swimming a lot longer.
Don't know what that has to do with anything, except I liked to hear it. Sort of Bruce and the
Spider moral, I suppose.
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James R.Cain
Posted on Tuesday, April 15, 2003 - 02:10 am:   

ha. Point taken - but take my word, I'm totally drug free. I just think alot on what I read, as I think no writer can produce a work without themes being present, even if they are not intentionally incorporaated into the work - the subconscious is very subversive.

Writers are the conscience of humanity in many ways, drawing attention to crimes of nature and on other levels exploring possibilities or dreams. The point on the worm was simply that how can humanity reach a stage where it's able to evolve to another level, a point beyond possibility, unless it can first conceptionalise and dream of another state of being beyond its own? In relation to the multi-verse who's to say it does not exist and you are a writer-prophet expounding his vision? This opens the door of possibility for your work to inspire others who may go on to create/discover the science to make it a reality? It's a pleasant thought, and I'm sure you'll agree that you'd aspire for your body of work to be more than just brain candy. I know in your books you usually have some benevolent entity or "god" reaching down and helping us out of the dust - in "The Blood Red Game" it was the Originators basically evolving Renark and Asquiol into multi-dimensional beings. I'm more pragmatic and prefer to look at things from the bottom up rather than relying on salvation from some possibly non-existent higher beings or race. I think we have to reply on ourselves and take the reigns of our own destiny.

And yes I do go on . . .

It was interesting to me that the idea of the contracting, self-destructing and rebirthing universe present in "The Blood Red Game" and even "Elric" is also present in Peter F.Hamilton's Night's Dawn triology. Makes me wonder if he'd read your work and become inspired. ;)

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mjm
Posted on Tuesday, April 15, 2003 - 03:59 pm:   

I think my early books had stuff like The Originators in them, while I was still writing in a certain tradition but mostly thereafter, while Gods and so forth play a part in many stories, there is a strong 'anti-leader' message in my books, forever saying for people to solve their own problems. Self-reliance is a strong theme, I'd have thought, in pretty much everything I've written!
I don't know how much of my stuff Peter Hamilton's read, though I suspect we might just think along similar lines.
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James R.Cain
Posted on Wednesday, April 16, 2003 - 12:59 am:   

Hi,

There is an interesting article in Scientific America on Parallel Universes by Max Tegmark to support my point, so people don't think I'm a crazy nutter. If people build a machine to traverse these dimensions then your work will be hailed as visionary and ahead of it's time - as all good science fiction should be.

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&articleID=000F1EDD-B48A-1E90-8EA58 09EC5880000

I agree with you on self-reliance. I think it's a common mistake of society to think that science will solve the world's problems at the 11th hour. It's like the sailor who sat down to eat the last dodo - probably thought there were more, or simply didn't give a damn - it was no concern to him while he was hungry. The consequences of his actions on future generations certainly didn't stop him shoving the fork into his mouth.

Happy Easter.

;)
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mjm
Posted on Thursday, April 17, 2003 - 08:42 am:   

Thanks. I think I've seen that in print.
I'll check it out.
Did that sailor eat the dodo or did he just
shoot it for fun or as a specimen or did they just steal all the eggs ?
I don't actually know how the dodo died.
Sounds like a good idea for a story for someone
to write.
The Last Dodo.
Have a good holiday.
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John Thompson Jr.
Posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - 02:25 am:   

Hi Mike~Interesting you mentioned Jonathan Carroll. I once read an interview where he stated he is the type of writer who knows next to nothing about a story before he begins. Knowing this, it amazes me how well everything in his novels fits!

By the way, I appreciate your thoughts on structure; very useful and informative. This could just be a presumption of mine, but it seems like many British writers write more concisely than their contemporary American counterparts. Just look at the difference between Clive Barker and Stephen King. King's characters are often more warm and sympathetic, but most of his novels would benefit from tighter editing.
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mjm
Posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - 08:10 am:   

I'm not really a reader of horror. Scares me too much. Certainly there was a movement in the direction of packing as much in as possible -- cf
Ballard's 'condensed novels'. We were looking for
techniques which could do that -- Harrison, me,
Langdon Jones and others -- either through structure or language or both. But there are some pretty precise American writers, I'd have thought, Carroll included. I have, I must admit, sometimes reflected how California has gone from laconic (Chandler) to lugubrious in not much more than a generation. A couple of years ago I was talking with some writer friends who were bemoaning King's success and their own relative
lack of it. I asked them if they wanted to spend their lives taking ten pages to describe how the
postman walks up to the house to deliver the mail and they agreed I had a point. It does seem that the longer you give the popular reader the chance to absorb a simple scene the more likely you are to have a best-seller I know I'd die of boredom if I had to write like that.
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James R.Cain
Posted on Sunday, April 20, 2003 - 04:11 am:   

In regards style, with all respect to King and his accomplishments, my own thinking is that writing will get more condensed and precise over time. People have a smaller attention span, and we have to justify more and more the discipline of reading. Why people should make the effort to read our work, something which may take them a few weeks, as opposed to sitting down and watching the whole story in two hours on TV.

I do think that a lot of King's success stems from the fact that so many of his tales have made the transition onto film. Having a movie made of your work has a certain prestige to the layman, which can admitedly be disproportionate to the literary quality of the prose. As far as horror goes, I'd much prefer to read Graham Masterton, a man who has sold over 90 million horror novels worldwide, yet only one of his books have been translated into film, a B-grade horror film at that. This means, to the uninitiated reader, they simply do not know who Graham Masterton is, whereas King has pretty-much entered the pop culture of the world and is a name synonomous with horror.

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mjm
Posted on Sunday, April 20, 2003 - 07:51 am:   

I agree that movies have a great deal to do with what becomes a best-seller, though to be fair Tolkien wasn't doing badly before the movies came out. It is well known that the MORE exposure a book has -- i.e. read on the radio, made as a movie, done as an audio book and so on -- the better it sells, but on the other hand it's popular taste which determines all that, too. Fundamentally a popular best-seller has to support certain public perceptions of the world. The more it confronts those perceptions, the less
well it will do. King tends to begin with assumptions of commonality and then writes about people alienated from that. From what I know of Masterson the people are alienated and don't give a damn. Writers who don't give a damn, like Thomas Hardy for instance, whose novels didn't do well in his lifetime, tend to last longer, assuming they have qualities of longevity. In the UK the Sun newspaper is a rival of The Daily
Mirror for what is essentially a working class,
lower middle class, readership. The Sun, which reflects many of the prejudices of the mass of those people, does a lot better than the Mirror which tries to tell it like it is, if in a popular style. The Daily Mail, which reflects the prejudices (including the racial prejudices) of the broad middle class does a lot better than
any rivals. The Times (an upmarket version of
The Sun, which is also owned by Murdoch) does better than The Independent which, as the name suggests, tends to take an independent view of the news. That these independently-minded papers are often ahead of turns in public opinion (as with wars, for instance) makes them respected but not as rich. Nobody ever got poor under-estimating the public taste, as someone sort of said once. This isn't to condemn popular writers like John Grisham, say, as being without any kind of substance, but their attitude has to be of a certain kind. Grisham, like King, is a conscientious writer with moral convictious he puts into his stories, but they don't actually
confront much. They echo popular sentiments, in
other words, like Big Corporations are bad, Big
Government is bad and so on. But they don't go
much beyond that. They don't really examine why they are bad or what we might do about it. That's what good science fiction does, but it's not the kind of sf you generally see in the best-seller lists. Or it certainly doesn't get translated in that way by the movies (of Philip K. Dick, say). The Space Merchants or Tiger, Tiger have qualities which have made them last for some fifty years but don't supply the sort of gratifications of the Star Trek books, for instance, not merely because Star Trek is a TV/movie series, but because it has the qualities of most movies and TV series -- it generalises and sentimentalises and expresses frustrations without actually getting to the nub of any problem.
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John Thompson Jr.
Posted on Monday, April 21, 2003 - 01:50 am:   

Roger Ebert once opined that people like reading hefty books filled with wordy descriptions because this torpor actually calms them. You see similar parallels in most TV shows: Law and Order, where the detectives slog through the same, tired procedures each week (and this is one of the most praised shows ever!) or The X-Files, which takes worn-out science fiction ideas and attempts to make them seem important by subjecting them to some of the most portentous, lugubrious pacing ever.
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mjm
Posted on Monday, April 21, 2003 - 10:32 am:   

Nature experts say grooming is the anthropoid form of conversation. I think conversation is the human form of grooming. The intention is to reassure, not to communicate. I think that kind of fiction is like grooming.
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Mark W
Posted on Wednesday, April 23, 2003 - 11:02 pm:   

Hello Michael!

I was surprised to learn that you're a fan of Don DeLillo's. Could you please explain why? I don't understand the appeal of his work.

Cheers,
Mark
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mjm
Posted on Thursday, April 24, 2003 - 06:50 am:   

I think his prose can be magnificent and I like the way he engages with contemporary issues, frequently through the perceptions of ordinary
Americans. I don't seem him as the same sort of writer as, say, Updike. Updike's concerns don't engage me at all, perhaps because they're too concerned about Updike. I find the same is true
of both Amises and later Waugh. Books about the
subjective lives of their authors seem to dominate
English fiction, these days. Books which take on large subjects and offer social complexity don't seem to do so well. A current novel I like a lot is Alan Wall's CHINA, which to be fair has been picking up some good reviews. So maybe there's some hope. I've also liked, for totally different reasons, Tony White's Foxy-T which is
written in Bengali Cockney and is pretty much set in one street (where a friend of mine used to live, as it happens -- Cannon Street Road --
so titled because it is near Cannon Street station
only the taxi shop is now an internet cafe) but
offers an insight into the lives of second or third generation Bangladeshi immigrants. I think my own bedrock seems to be Elizabeth Bowen, Henry
Green, Ronald Firbank and Angus Wilson.
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Mark W
Posted on Thursday, April 24, 2003 - 12:33 pm:   

I'll give "White Noise" another try. Perhaps there's more there than I realized. My first impression was that it was rather slight and pretentious, a bit like a Tom Wolfe or John Irving novel.
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Marie-Bernadette Strang
Posted on Thursday, April 24, 2003 - 10:40 pm:   

Hi, Mr. M!

Thought I'd pop in since you mentioned this site awhile ago.

Wow, there's a lot here! And it looks interesting and helpful.

I've been thinking about your advice on self-consciousness affecting writing-- I sent more about that via the multiverse Q&A.

I also took a hint from Voltaire's _Candide_ and did some gardening today. Nothing like a good weed pulling to calm the mind.

It's getting a bit late, so more later.

Cheers,
M-B
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mjm
Posted on Saturday, April 26, 2003 - 02:52 pm:   

Maybe you should try Mao II or one of the others,
Mark ? White Noise isn't one I'd recommend someone to start with.
Marie-Bernadette -- nice to see you here. Don't let THIS site add to self-consciousness, though!
Hope you enjoyed the cultivating.
Look forward to hearing from you.
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James R.Cain
Posted on Saturday, April 26, 2003 - 03:04 pm:   

Well said on popular writing, but some of the classics of literature "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" for example, were certainly confrontational, in this case in regards racial prejudice, a very controversial topic at the time. The first book in American Lit. to portray a person of the negro persuasion as a man, a human with feelings and a soul, someone so much more than a slave or property. Mark Twain/Samuel Clemmins wrote for the common man, and didn't pull his punches. True, that particular work was not as well received in his time as "Tom Sawyer", but it's persevered to become an important literary work to this day.

I think, in the end, writers must write to their own vision. Some will be subversive, and others will write for the masses - simple mind candy, and all power to them. There's a place for that as well. I think the true art is to write so your work performs on multiple levels - to entertain as well as illuminate on the possibilities presented by your imagination. After all, science fiction is an art to present possibilities, and as a presentation of a future possibility, it can't help but be a commentary of human development on some level. The future, whatever that may be, will be based on the past - our present and what has become of us, can't be anything else but a commentary on how we're going now.

I think the appeal of Star Trek comes from the intrinsic message of hope for the future. It's a very optimistic view, and I think the books would be popular with or without TV. After all, TV may get a person to pick up a book in the first place, but it's the writing which will keep them coming back for more.

Finished 'The Blood Red Game' and liked it. I particularly liked the surreal presentation of the game itself. That war should be waged that way was an interesting notion, and perhaps one which the leaders of the world should consider. ;)

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Mark W
Posted on Saturday, April 26, 2003 - 06:22 pm:   

MJM -- What DeLillo novel should I start with?

Thanks.
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JeffV
Posted on Saturday, April 26, 2003 - 07:44 pm:   

Yes--I like Mao II quite a bit, Mike. It's actually one of my favorites of his. I got lost in Underworld just because I'm not a big baseball fan.

I have a question, technique-wise. I'm currently revising the novel and I have these recurring scenes. Some are memories of the character's childhood. Some are recollections of a particular event, fragmented, that is finally brought into focus at the end of the book. (It's not a tease of the reader--I'm not really withholding information.) These recurring scenes are wrapped around the main narrative.

But my question is a sequencing issue. Right now, these scenes are haphazard throughout the novel. Based on your experience, do you think it's best to literally space them out so they fall with mathematical precision throughout the novel, or do you think it better that they come up more organically, so long as there's a general pattern of recurrence whereby they don't fall too far apart. I.e., I could try setting the memories at the beginning of each Part or each Chapter of the book. But I'm also afraid that such a structure will begin to seem mundane.

JeffV
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Mark W
Posted on Sunday, April 27, 2003 - 12:43 pm:   

Oops! Sorry for my stupid question, MJM. I didn't read your last post carefully enough. I thought the first line was addressed to someone else. I'll give Mao II a try.
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mjm
Posted on Monday, April 28, 2003 - 08:02 am:   

It seems, James, that the confrontational books have greater longevity, though Dickens got appalling reviews for Oliver Twist and a huge audience which, of course, has never gone away.
But he started with Pickwick and got himself a lot of authority with the public that way, as Eliot did with Scenes from Clerical Life and Mill on the Floss. Twain, to some extent, did the same with his earlier successes. Not all his books did that well at the time they came out.
Is Jim the first humane representation of a black man by a white writer ? I suspect Uncle Tom was an attempt to do that but Stowe was too much of a sentimentalist to achieve much. Twain was anything but a sentimentalist. Between them they could be said to represent two important streams in American fiction. Sentimentality, as I think I said in King of the City, is the syrup which clogs the wheels of social justice. Thanks for liking Blood Red Game (Sundered Worlds). It was my first sf novel and it's always seemed rather
poorly structured to me. But it's nice to have
some positive thoughts!
Hope you enjoy Mao II, Mark!
I too have trouble with DeLillo's baseball novels, Jeff. I'd imagine they're even harder for me. I don't even know when the teams are winning or losing, much as most Americans are baffled by cricket! Both games seem to give rise to aesthetic joy in their enthusiasts, however.
To tell you the truth, Jeff, without reading the novel, I'm not sure I can make any suggestions.
I did this in Behold the Man and there made the
flashbacks entirely associational, to do with
the protagonist's place in the story. I'd be inclined to link them in that way and, if it isn't easily done, to space them fairly evenly
through the book. I think the structure will only seem mundane if the content is mundane which in your case I'm sure it won't be!



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paul witcover
Posted on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 01:17 pm:   

Hi Mike!

I wandered over through Liz Hand's website and now find even more excuses not to get my writing done. But at least here I can read about writing rather than my usual habit of seething silently over Bush's latest attack on liberty.

Just read and reviewed The Skrayling Tree for Realms of Fantasy -- looking forward to Vengeance of Rome!

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mjm
Posted on Friday, May 09, 2003 - 11:59 am:   

Cheers, Paul. Nice to hear from you. Yes, I'm trying to keep this site war-free. My own site at
multiverse.org is rather full of fury over the
invasions at home and abroad and I thought it would be nice to have one place at least where we can keep talking about writing and stuff. We've settled down a bit there, too, now. I've just written a piece for the LA 'alternative' newspaper Arthur about the Decline of the American Empire, arguing that when
the empire is in decline is when it's most visible. Some people said that the American empire didn't exist but some Puerto Rican correspondents, among others, said that wasn't their perception... Arthur's very good. Do you
know it ? Current issue has a long interview with Alan Moore and some good sardonic graphics
from John Coulthart (designer of Zenith, Tea Dance at Savoy, Voyage to Arcturus, illustrator
of Lord Horror and other Savoy publications).

But enough. I'd rather be talking about technique and books I'm enthusiastic about. I don't get Realms of Fantasy any more for some reason, so I'd love to see the review some time. You might like to know that Four Walls, Eight Windows are doing a new Jerry Cornelius collection in Fall. That's the
book I suppose I'm most excited about at the
moment. Oh, and we're about to run an Alan Wall
short story at Fantastic Metropolis. I'll be
doing a short interview with Alan, whose latest
in the States is The Lightning Cage and whose
latest in the UK is China. Are you familiar with his work. I think you'd love it if you're not.
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paul
Posted on Friday, May 09, 2003 - 01:16 pm:   

Hi Mike,

No, I'm not familiar with Alan Wall, but I'll look him up.

I'm reading a superb first novel -- a "mainstream" historical adventure romance called The Crusader, by Michael Alexander Eisner. It has more of the feel of a true fantasy than most novels published under that label.

Next up for me are two Lawrence Norfolk novels: The Pope's Rhinocerous and The Shape of a Boar. His first novel, Lempriere's Dictionary, is a historical paranoid fantasy with a touch of Whittemore about it . . . and reminiscent in some places, at least in tone, of Mother London.

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John Thompson Jr.
Posted on Saturday, May 10, 2003 - 01:52 am:   

Speaking of technique, is it possible to guide how fast or slowly a reader absorbs the text? Certain novels encourage a contemplative approach; other tales opt for the fast and furious. In your case, Mike, we've seen both, sometimes in the same work!
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mjm
Posted on Saturday, May 10, 2003 - 09:28 am:   

Paul, we're about to put a very short Wall story up on Fantastic Metropolis, together with an interview from me. Yes, I've been intrigued by those Norfolk books. The titles alone are enough to whet your appetite. Haven't heard of the Eisner, though. Will keep an eye out for it. About to read The Redetzky March at Jonathan Carroll's suggestion.
Yes, John, you do it through tone and the pace
of the prose -- the music of the language you
use, if you like. By the same token you can
offer the reader reassurance (even if you're
tricking them) or signal that you are going to hit them with some other approach. I think many
of the best Victorian novelists used reassurance to drag the reader in and then hit them with a
bunch of surprises (Eliot, for instance). Like
playing a familiar tune and then gradually introducing unfamiliar themes.
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Bill
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 07:52 am:   

Hi Mike, another follower from the Q&A. I promise to stay on the topic of writing!

I have two ideas for stories that I would like to pursue, and both seem at first glance to be best served by the first person narrative. One would clearly be in the form of a flashback, with the prologue (or first chapter) and the last chapter in the present tense. The other, I haven't decided. The resolution is clearly present tense; I will most likely bring the story to that point chronologically. In the former case, the narrator is not the main character, though he plays a key role in the story. In the latter, the narrator is the main character, and since the character is not a sympathetic one, I think the perspective lends tangible tension to the story.

Can you comment on the particular challenges of the first person narrative? Does this choice carry "baggage" from the standpoint of maintaining reader involvement, or is that simply a matter of plot and/or character development?
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MJM
Posted on Thursday, May 15, 2003 - 08:33 am:   

Well, the disadvantage is that you have to supply all your information via the narrator. You can do this by having a straightforward narrator, of course, or an unreliable one -- so that in some ways you know more than they do. I'm inclined to make most of my first person narrators just a trifle unreliable and you do that by setting them up at the beginning by letting the reader know, in some way, that they're likely to be lying or
misunderstanding what they're seeing. I think
first person is in many ways the easiest way of
maintaining reader involvement. Readers seem to like an autobiographical feel to a story. It's your story, really, which maintains a reader's
curiosity, not so much your narrative viewpoint.
However the old 'It was only many years later that I would realise...' device is always good, too, since it whets curiosity from the start.
The retrospective first person, in other words.
Durrell used it very persuasively in his Alexandrian Quartet. Only when he began to lose
it did the quartet run into narrative difficulties!
Hope that answers you. If not, just let me know
here!
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John Thompson Jr.
Posted on Friday, May 16, 2003 - 12:35 am:   

This may be off the subject, but I think the modern bloated novel may have its roots in a misplaced romanticism. Many university teachers and even some noted writers promote the idea that doing preparatory work (like an outline, for instance) is somehow cheating. But if you don't do a little mental woolgathering before setting pen to paper, you run the risk of creating a shapeless thing, the literary equivalent of sludge. It could be argued that a tight structure gives you more freedom...especially since it's hard to juggle characterization, grace notes and plot all at once.
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Stu
Posted on Friday, May 16, 2003 - 01:21 am:   

Mike -- Wow, what a message board. Going to take me about a week to sift through all the different comments on story structure, Alan Moore, Philip K. Dick etc. Speaking of story structure have you read, or at least heard of, STORY by Robert McKee? A guide to story and genre structure.

Anyway, you get a mention in my column about prose writers who have also worked in comics. The column’s at http://www.thealienonline.net/columns/wp_may03.asp?tid=7&scid=64&iid=1633
if you fancy taking a look.

Didn’t find out about your new Elric stuff, The Making Of A Sorcerer, in time to mention that though.
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Marie-Bernadette Strang
Posted on Friday, May 16, 2003 - 07:39 am:   

Dear Mr. Moorcock,

I haven't asked you for awhile, since I thought you might be tired of answering this all the time, but how is your foot doing?

I read somewhere (can't recall if it was here or at multiverse.org) about you using notecards and colours to help organise your writing. Could you tell me more about that? I am an artist, in addition to trying to be a writer, so I'm very visually oriented and I love to use colour. I think this might work better for me than the standard sort of outline. A couple people at writerbuddy.com mentioned that they use notecards, too, but I don't think they use colour.

I have been trying to keep in mind what you told me about taking the courage that I had at other times in my life and applying it to writing. Now when I hear that internal critic, I think about what you said, look for that courage, grab a hold of it and smack the critic over the head with it! I hadn't realised it before, but it does take a certain amount of courage to write and to say what you think is important even though others may not agree or understand. It's interesting how it's difficult to make these connections on our own, but when someone else points them out they become clear.

You mentioned to me before about letting my writing and characters possess me-- believe me, they do! I get so involved in my stories and characters that it can be difficult to step out of it all long enough to write! I can really see things through the eyes of my characters-- I'm constantly seeing things through their eyes; I sometimes feel that I'm living their lives more than my own. I can't really recall a time when I wasn't absorbed by my characters. I think I am almost too possessed by them; it's hard to distance myself enough to get the objectivity necessary to write.

Cheers,
Marie-Bernadette
(Gosh, that's awfully French; should I change my name to Freedom?)


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mjm
Posted on Friday, May 16, 2003 - 10:10 am:   

Yes, Marie-Bernadette, I think you should change your name to Freedom. And we should change Bush
to Trivia. We could then have the Old Bull and
Trivia, the Burning Trivia, Shepherd's Trivia...The Trivia Administration...
Hmm too English. Meanwhile we'll eat our French
muffins and put a little more French on the ball.
If that doesn't sound too seedy. Yes, self-consciousness is the enemy of creativity. Producing fiction or painting or music or whatever involves the death of the self, or at
least the conquest of the self, so that you can
become a conduit for the work. That might sound a little too Zenny, but that's what I believe.
When I behave childishly I call that part of myself 'Baby'. Baby has to be made less noisy
sometimes, less intrusive, and sometimes has to
be rocked to sleep! Foot seems to be healing
faster, thanks to the dermagraft. I get another
treatment at the end of this month, then it has
to be monitored. So I don't get to go to England in June, after all. Should be July now, all being well.
Cheers, Stu. I'll check the site out. We don't
have a deadline for Making of a Sorcerer yet.
Walter has a Wonder Woman to write and then we
go non-stop into the project. First part is done
(of four 48 pagers) and I'm currently sketching
out the second. Less complicated than the current Elric novels, so a bit of a holiday. I just checked your column. Don't forget all the
comic book versions of Elric, Corum and Hawkmoon and what I think is the outstanding collaboration I did with Chaykin Swords of Heaven and Flowers of Hell! I'm sad to tell you that the posters I saw last week at an Austin movie theatre do
back up your fears. League of Extraordinary
Gentlemen has become The League indeed. At least
on the poster. Which has none of the qualities
of the original. We'll have to see about the
movie. I think the studio has had too much influence over that movie. Not a good idea, these days, it seems. They haven't yet learned
to leave all that stuff to the creative guys.
By and large they have a better sense of the
audience. All the studios have is a sense of
What Has Gone Before. The best studio heads have now become much more sane in their approach, keeping their anxieties and their egos out of the
creative process.
Yes, John, I think that the tighter and more
demanding you make your structure, the more you
have to pack in. That doesn't stop the books
being long. Lots of books are long but have plenty of content. Misplaced notions of spontaneity don't help, I agree. But that's true in the production of rock and roll music. The
amount of money wasted in studios because of that
idea always upsets me. I like to think of the
disciplines of jazz -- you're playing around a
theme, often moving a long way from it, but you
are bound to come back to it sooner or later and
sometimes the tensions are actually in how you are
going to modulate from one key to another, for
instance, but the mathematics of music makes certain demand. I see nothing wrong with applying that math to fiction.





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Stu
Posted on Saturday, May 17, 2003 - 06:46 am:   

Mike -- Damn, forgot about the Chaykin collaboration. *hangs head in shame*

Have you seen UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud? It’s a graphic novel that discusses a lot of the things that you mentioned in earlier posts about the way that comic strips work. It’s pretty amazing to see ideas literally illustrated by McCloud as he talks about them. Fascinating book.

And I don’t know if Walter Simonson has mentioned this to you but he was interviewed for a book called PANEL DISCUSSIONS that deals with the mechanics of comics writing and comics art. Amongst other things he discusses a battle he drew between Thor and the Midgard Serpent. One of the devices he used was narrating the story with Viking style poetry. “You get a mythic echo through the poetry. You get a contemporary take from the dialogue, and the sound effects are kind of a graphic element that serves as visual patterns across the page that arrest the eye.”
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mjm
Posted on Saturday, May 17, 2003 - 09:03 am:   

I haven't seen McCloud's book. I'll check it out next chance I get. I was interested to see Philip Pullman saying his big influence was American comics. He had the same comments, that you could tell a complex story -- even using the
pictures to contradict the text -- in a comic book. You get similar techniques, say, with Conrad where he will describe a character who is saying something pretty much in contradiction to their body language. It's a method I tended to use in the Jerry Cornelius stories. I haven't read those remarks of Walter's but we have talked about the same idea. Walter loves 'sound effects'. I never object to his adding them to my
graphic story scripts. He's also a joy to watch
solving narrative problems. Always maintains or
improves the dynamic.
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Stu
Posted on Sunday, May 18, 2003 - 01:12 am:   

Mike -- I’ll have to dig out my copies of Pullman’s books and see if I can spot the comics influence. Btw, you mentioned T.H. White in one of your earlier posts. Did you know he gets referenced in X-MEN 2?

Jeff -- RE: Deciding at which point to insert your flashbacks in your novel. I don’t know if this is any use to you but Joe Edkin has a diagram that illustrates a method of pacing subplots alongside your main plot. See what you think. http://www.williamsullivanadvertising.com/joeedkin/writing02c.html
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mjm
Posted on Sunday, May 18, 2003 - 09:23 am:   

No, I didn't know White got a reference in X-MEN 2. Is that movie the gay sub-text everyone says it is or is that some sort of bullshit ? White
would have been tickled, anyway.
That site looks excellent, Stu. Real common sense. And, like Lester Dent's Master Plot Formula, which I've always sworn by, can be applied at almost any level of ambition from popular fiction to literary novels.
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paulw
Posted on Sunday, May 18, 2003 - 12:11 pm:   

Mike -- where can we find Lester Dent's formula? I'd love to take a look at it . . .
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Bob
Posted on Sunday, May 18, 2003 - 12:54 pm:   

Second that!
I'm posting it in a new thread.
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Bill
Posted on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 06:41 am:   

Mike,

The Elric series seems to follow this type of approach pretty closely in the first "set" (from Elric of Melnibone through Stormbringer), and still, but less so, in the subsequent novels (up to but not including Dreamthief's Daughter, which I have not yet read). Is this conscious, or more a result of the way the first novels were assembled from parts as opposed to having been written as standalone novels?

I read Lester Dent's formula, and I am sorry if I am being dense, but I can't tell how serious you (collective) are in this "formula" approach.
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Stu
Posted on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 11:53 am:   

Mike -- X-MEN 2 can definitely be seen as having a gay subtext. There's a "coming out" scene where a teenager reveals to his parents that he's a mutant and his mum replies, "Have you tried NOT being a mutant?" And you can read stuff into everyone strutting around in black leather. But the basic idea for the comic, and I think for the films, is for mutants to be a metaphor for any minority. It's a "one size fits all" allegory.

Seen a lot of stuff recently where people use diagrams of one form or another to describe story structure. Syd Field, Robert McKee, Denny O'Neil. Come to think of it the first piece of story structure advice I ever received was that the basic shape of a story is a W. Start on a high point to hook the reader, then slow things down so you can feed them the background details to power the plot and characters. Then hit another high point halfway through the story to stop the reader getting bored. Slow it down to give them the final details to explain the plot then hit them with the big finish. Add as many peaks and troughs as you need, depending how long your story is.
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Bob
Posted on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 12:23 pm:   

X-Men amplifies the hypocrisy and hysteria of all prejudice, from where I sit. You can slap any deviant (I use the term with the non-loaded definition meaning non-conforming) group into the "mutant" role, and their establishment opposites into the "normal".

Story diagrams: Mike does some excellent story diagrams in Death is No Obstacle. Especially liked the fish one.
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Stu
Posted on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 03:11 pm:   

Bob -- The X-Men comics (the ones I remember anyway) stressed the idea that everyone should strive to overcome prejudice and try to live together in harmony. A lot of my favourite moments were when mutants got non-mutants to back down from physical confrontations by making them recognise their own prejudices. Or when non-mutants stood up for mutants, risking their social standing and even their lives to protect a persecuted minority.

I was annoyed when the marketing campaign for the first X-Men film gave out the opposite message on its posters -- "Trust a few. Fear the rest." Not exactly designed to inspire tolerance.
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MJM
Posted on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 04:41 pm:   

Yeah, Bob, the Fish Blowing A Trumpet variation!
I gathered , Stu and Bob, from a review by Mark Steyn in The Spectator (where Steyn, a serious conservative, saw the whole thing as being taken over by trendy liberals from the original robust conservatism of the comic) that X-men retained its themes from comic to screen. Steyn, like many of his ilk, claims familiarity with the originals and then betrays a lack of familiarity byu making such comparisons. When asked by someone a while back to name a Marvel Comic
to show what reactionary stuff it all was I had to point out that, as with cartoons from the 18th century on, the tendency is for comics to take the underdog's part. I think Hollywood is responding to current times much as it did in the
50s and later in the 70s, with fantasies of
resistance. Rise up and lose your chains stuff (as in Matrix 2, I gather). Let's hope those neocons we're all reading about don't get enough power to start the HUAC all over again. Happened the last time Congress had a Republican majority and a Republican president. And Eisenhower seems positively benign and liberal in comparison to the present incumbent!
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Bill
Posted on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 06:32 am:   

I didn't ask my question clearly enough; sorry. Is it a given that similar diagrams get reused (like in music: the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus structure is in probably 4 of every 5 songs on the radio, regardless of genre, and doesn't necessarily automatically render the song cliche) making the shape of the diagram important, or is the point simply that the diagram lends structure, with all that comes with that structure (clearly discussed earlier on the board)?

I think I am too young to be turning into an iconoclast, but I tend to be very dissappointed in comic adaptations on the big screen. The first Superman was okay (but it was the novelty; I was very young) and I liked the first Batman and Spiderman, but the tendency, I think, is to add too much camp, as if the costumes automatically made the story unbelievable. The core Marvel titles of the late 60's and early 70's and the core DC titles of the late 70's and early 80's (of which I am most familiar) are anyuthing but camp, and anything but unbelievable. I am hoping the Fantastic Four (rumored to be in production) can capture some of that. Probably my favorite character(s).
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mjm
Posted on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 09:53 am:   

I've said this somewhere else, Bill, but to a degree structure is in the mind with fiction. It's really a matter of finding something which helps you organise the story you want to tell, so to a degree all diagrams are going to be more abstract, I'd guess, than they would be for music, for instance, which depends upon math in a way fiction doesn't. I don't think I'm being camp when I refer to Lester Dent -- because underneath Dent's 'hit your hero with a heap of trouble' there is something close to Mozart's
sonata form in terms of tensions. It's sonata form (Introduction, Development, Conclusion at
its simplest) which I use for 'classical' structures. Yeats also talks about this, of course, in a slightly different context. Statement of theme, restatement, resolution is another way of looking at it. The old three act method, as it were. However, I'm not suggesting that everything reduces to this or that you should or could reduce everything to these formulae. In Death Is No Obstacle, for instance, I offer them as explanations rather than as
universal formulae. It's how I do something, not how I think anyone else should do something.
That said, I can offer my own experience in structuring if it's of some use to others. A
highly individual structure, such as is in Mother London, emerges entirely from the requirements of the material, the stories, the characters. That it's mathematically put together as a duodecimal structure, demanding certain numbers of words and certain tensions, is a reflection of my own
preferences. The Cornelius structures are a
similar reflection. King of the City is more
organic, though there is still a structure -- the bones of the book, if you like. Short stories
can be pretty much entirely organic, with no
pre-determined structure if you don't want it.
Big novels with a multitude of themes probably need more organising, though of course individual parts can remain entirely organic.
What I'm not sure I like about current films made from comics is that they are no more than the comic. They are perfect reproductions in film (Spiderman for instance) of the originals. I'd
rather see development there, given that there's so much more (and sometimes less) you can do with film. It seems sometimes, too, that without the hand of the original author/artist on the material it decidedly loses something. I haven't seen 'The League' yet, but that might be an example, as was, from what I heard, 'From Hell', which Alan never went to see. Wiser than me.
After seeing 'The Final Programme' I didn't write
for almost a year!
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Bob
Posted on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 11:11 am:   

Actually, Dent's formula isn't too bad. Scott Meredith said much the same things in WRITING TO SELL. And I don't think anyone here could fault either man's career.
And I think there was a lot of room to play with in Dent's structure. Like Bradbury said, plot is nothing more than footprints in the sand. You can't really tell what happens in a story by breaking it into its plot elements, you need to be in the moment, there with the characters.
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Stu
Posted on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 12:19 pm:   

Bob -- Read your posting on the Lester Dent Master Plot on the other board. Very interesting.

It occurs to me that a 4 issue comics mini-series offers a pretty good model to story structure (providing it’s well-written of course). The 4 issues break the story into 4 acts (or 3 acts with a midpoint climax in the middle of Act 2 if you prefer thinking of it that way). Characters and basic plot are established in the 1st issue (act). Each issue ends on a cliffhanger which serves as the turning point for the following act. The final issue offers climax and resolution.

Mike -- Was discussing THE MATRIX: RELOADED reviews with some friends. One of them said he didn’t care that the film is supposedly totally bankrupt philosophically speaking, he just thinks it looks “cool as fuck.” Personally even though I missed most of the philosophical references in the first film I like the idea of a piece of pop culture trying to get people to think about philosophical matters. But I want the fight scenes to look cool too.

One of the things that bugs me about THE MATRIX is the way that innocents that have been assimilated into the Matrix are considered cannon fodder for the heroes. It’s clearly established that if someone dies in the Matrix they die in real life but Neo and Co. blaze away at these mindcontrolled innocents without even without a hint of remorse. Surely they should be trying to save these people, not killing them? The only time this moral dilemma even gets mentioned Morpheus says something like, “Once someone gets taken over by the Matrix they become the enemy.”

When I’ve mentioned this to other people the reaction seems to be one of two extremes. Either they reply, “Yeah, that really bugged me too!” Or else they give me a pitying look, “It’s only a film!”

Waiting to see if the moral implications of the heroes’ actions get addressed in the sequels.

And as for superhero adaptations I really like Smallville. It’s a bit cheesy and the characters can sometimes be a bit bland but the idea of showing Clark Kent before he donned the iconic red ‘S’ and before he even fully developed his powers is fascinating. Even more interesting is watching Lex Luthor struggling against his destiny, trying to mature into a kind-hearted businessman when you know he’s ultimately doomed to become the most evil man on the planet.

Of course I'll probably watch the repeats in a couple of years time and regret ever saying I liked it.
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Bob
Posted on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 03:53 pm:   

Matrix Reloaded: Oi! I hated that movie! The second Keaneu(sp?) stops pounding the bad guys and opens his mouth, I'm flipped out of the movie like spittle from his drooling mouth.
As to the innocents: Well, I guess I could take two tacks with that, either dismiss it as nothing more than movie violence, or address it as a serious tactical situation.
I guess, if we're going to discuss the realistic ramifications of such indiscriminate violence, we have to establish the mind-set of the active combatants. The Neo-phytes™ consider their activities to fall under a wartime protocol, and as such the mission becomes more an imperative than the concurrent collateral damage casualties.
The Matrix holdouts, agents and their cronies, are nothing more than enemy soldiers, and the mission is nothing less than the salvation of all mankind. Therefore, the sacrifice of a few, few hundred, or even a few thousand seems justified in the eyes of the Counsel of Zion (what's with all the Old Testament nomenclature, by the way?).
When I was military, part of my duties was training the Security Alert Teams that protected ships from boarders and terrorists. One of the protocols we rarely spoke of was high-level hostage events. At certain levels, within the ship's hierarchy, officers had access to extremely sensitive information and technologies that could seriously damage the US military's efforts throughout the globe.
So, in such cases, if it seemed likely the hostage takers might make good of their mission to access such information or technologies, it became a standing order to kill the hostage. Not a pleasant prospect, I assure you, and many men were deemed unfit to serve on the team for their inability to fire a bullet into the head of a man they served with. It wasn't in them, and I respected them for that, even as I arranged their posting elsewhere during security events.
Sometimes sacrifices must be made.
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MJM
Posted on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 11:12 pm:   

Not sure if I don't lean to Forster's 'I'd rather betray my country than betray my friend', though I find Forster pretty glib, since it's unlikely he would have the opportunity to betray his country very easily. And I can't see him doing your job, Bob! Sort of saddens me that we live in such a world, though I agree it's the real world. I find those cold equations pretty scarey, and suppose I wouldn't put myself in the position of having to shoot or be shot. But I take your point and bow to your experience! At least it's realpolitik and I'd rather hear the truth than hear it larded with sentimentality. It would be good, maybe, if the Matrix characters could express that realpolitik, too, but from what I saw of them on the Charlie Rose show, they are still pretty much up to their knees in Hollywood syrup. But very proud of themselves. Everyone I know who's seen Matrix 2 pretty much agrees with everyone here. I shall go to see it because, like Linda, I enjoy the balletic aspects, but at least I won't have my hopes raised. Dark City will no doubt continue to be my favourite sf movie of recent years. That has something of a similar theme but seems to cast a colder eye on the implications than Matrix. As, of course, does much of the sf written along similar themes over the past fifty years or more. That was what I thought. I watched it in a hyperbaric chamber.
Which tended to make me identify a bit more with the tubed-up sleepers! When I came out and was being unplugged I said I thought it was pretty average. Still, at least the effects are the tail wagging the dog, the way they used to be, and that's what encourages me that we might see some REALLY smart imaginative movies soon.
I agree that it would be nice if those guys actually addressed the moral issues, but they certainly didn't in the first movie. It seems to be the first priority of the guys I'm working with on the Elric movie -- even more than it is mine -- so that's reassuring!
Actually, Stu, there's not a lot of overall structuring of the comic I'm doing -- though
four parts is my favourite -- I break it down into Introduction, Development 1, Development 2,
Rosolution, with the first part of the development working back, as it were, and the second part prefiguring the resolution. Each
comic story is pretty much stand-alone, though I do develop it a bit. Probably more than I think. But I'm trying to keep this one simple feeling that Multiverse got far too complex, even for the smart audience which exists out there.
Did you know that apparently Scott Meredith was the name of two brothers originally. The story was that they took the names of two 19th century novelists, Scott and Meredith, and put them together. Judy Merrill used to write to Meredith as 'Dear Scotts'. I haven't read that book.
I'm not a great TV watcher, Stu, but I have to admit that I sort of like the notion behind Smallville, too. A way of getting back to the ambience of the earliest superhero stories, when you still believed it was important to keep that secret identity and Superman actually leapt rather than flew! Maybe we can share our regrets in a couple of years time. I'm willing to go on the line, since you are!


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Bill
Posted on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 07:08 am:   

I find it hard to lose myself in a story that doesn't have moral touch points I can identify with (even if they are ambiguous or I don't necessarily agree with them). Not to blow smoke, but that is one of the things that really keeps Elric fresh for me. It is also why most of the "action" movies made today are lost on me. I don't necessarily need reality (like the Dark Knight version of Batman). I can totally get into the "dumb" costumes and names (you have to admit, it is hard to take someone seriously that calls himself "Spiderman"), but there has to be that element there. That, I think, is why Batman is such a tough character and one of my favorites. When handled correctly, (not the 60's comic or TV version) it has, to me, the clearest touch points. Of course, the fact that Vin Diesel gets $15M a picture pretty much means that most of America doesn't agree with me.

Have any of you read Robert Ludlum? I imagine he would not be mentioned in the same breath as Shakespeare any time soon, but he incorporated this moral element in his best stories.
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MJM
Posted on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 08:11 am:   

Absolutely agree. It's what keeps me doing the Elric stories. Couldn't see any other point in writing them. Trying to make them engage with some of the moral issues they raise. But then I always was a moralistic old bugger. I'm not that familiar with Batman but am always a sucker for a good moral struggle.
Yes, we're discussing elsewhere the games business and how the most amoral games seem to do best. I think Vin Diesel knows better, too.
Pitch Black is what I continue to judge him by rather than the upgraded 1960s B movies currently
appearing. Did you know, for instance, that he was interested in buying the Elric rights. My
guess is that he already has some moral issues, if he's the nice guy everyone says he is. Of course he could ruin his career, maybe, if he put his dumb aggressive roles behind him. Yes I've read some Ludlum and agree with you.
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paulw
Posted on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 12:28 pm:   

Mike,

I agree with you about Dark City. What I thought especially well done, and rare for the movies, was how they managed to capture -- notably in the 'alternate life' memory sequence at the very end -- a real science fictional 'sense of wonder' -- I mean cinematically they performed the equivalent of a compressed narrative movement of the sort I associate with Zelazny, for example, or even Frank Herbert. It had a kind of 60s-mid-70s feel to me that I liked very much.

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Bob
Posted on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 - 01:49 pm:   

Mike: Yeah, I wasn't to happy having to consider that kind of inhuman act myself. Made me feel a bit like a Nazi guard ushering Jews into the showers at Auschwitz. But it's one of those unavoidable elements of grandiose thinking, that some sacrifices are more palatable than others.

On diagramming, there were a couple of elements I didn't really understand. At first I thought it was just my denseness, then I thought perhaps more study would reveal their secrets to me. Finally, just recently, actually, I realized why your diagrams -- all writing diagrams! -- were so impenetrable to me: They're too personal! Just as I can never write like you -- I'm speaking stylistically, rather than the obvious qualitive differences -- I can't see a story as you do. If we were each to read, at the exact same time, while sitting in the same room, the same story, each of us would still, I think, come away with very different impressions.
So it's no surprise that those elements you choose to diagram, and the abstract you create from them, in no way match the way I myself see the story structure. Where you might focus the action, I might focus on the protagonist's reaction, or vice versa. I think it's all in the mind of the writer, and therefore only tangentially relatable to anyone else.
It took me nearly a year to figure that out. Perhaps I am just a bit dense....
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Stu
Posted on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 01:39 am:   

Bob -- I don’t mind the heroes in THE MATRIX killing innocents so much as the fact it’s never really addressed within the film. There’s not even a hint of that “We’re not happy about this but the situation demands we act this way” attitude that you mentioned.

And yeah, I have a similar problem with writing diagrams. I tried to get round this by drawing an all-purpose diagram. Basically the Joe Edkin diagram but divided into three parts and labeling them with the different defintions authors gave to the 3 Acts. e.g Act 1 = Beginning = Setup = establish characters, setting, staus quo and introduce destabilising element. And I had an arrow following the incline to remind me to always follow the spine of the story. I was really pleased with it. Of course then I lost the diagram.

Mike -- If you don’t watch a lot of TV that messes up the question I was going to ask you about what you thought of the state of modern TV serial writing. It’s something of a cliché at the moment to say that a lot of US TV programmes are actually better written than modern films. Stuff like THE SOPRANOS, SIX FEET UNDER, 24 etc. Even bubblegum stuff like BUFFY is a lot better than the stuff I remember watching as a kid. I just wondered if you had any thoughts on the subject.

As for the complexity of comic books this is one of the reasons I tend not to show my friends THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT as an introduction to modern comics. It’s a great book but I think it reads better if you’re already fairly familiar with the techniques of comics narrative.
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mjm
Posted on Thursday, May 22, 2003 - 01:05 pm:   

Bob, as I said it's something of an abstract, a diagram, done for your own satisfaction. But I
do them for slightly different reasons -- to tell me what should go in and where, how much time/space to devote to a scene. It's an organising diagram rather than one which tells me how a plot thread should run, what should happen. More, I suppose, to do with pacing and placing.
Fish blowing a trumpet is to do with where to bring all elements to resolution -- how to condense action, character, theme and at what point.
Stu, I like The Sopranos. I watched a lot of them on tape. But it began to develop the redundancies and repetitions of all series, as far as I was concerned -- I mean how long would any real shrink be able to stand the ups and downs of being the central character's confidante ? I agree that Buffy is probably better written than an old Republic serial, but then so is most everything else! I didn't find the ones I saw THAT remarkable, although I was well-disposed to them. I think what I probably miss in most TV and movies is the sense of an authorial hand -- or a directorial hand -- in play. Or anyway I haven't yet found a series which engages me in that way.
People have to learn how to read comics much as they have to learn to read. I was talking to Anna Sinclair, Iain's wife, a while ago. She said she didn't know where to begin on the page with my Multiverse comic. I explained how a comic was read and she brightened 'Oh,' she said, 'it's just like teaching a child to read.
You have to explain it's from left to right and down the page -- at first all the words seem a jumble to them.' So the more complex graphic stories, like Luther Arkwright, are the ones least likely to be understood by the smarter
reader, maybe ?

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Stu
Posted on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 01:40 am:   

Mike -- I forget where I saw this but a comics writer said he once showed a 2 panel sequence of a sunset (panel 1: sun high in sky, panel 2: sun sinking below horizon) to his son. "What do you see in these pictures?" asked the writer. "A sunset," came the reply. All well and good. The writer then shows the same panel sequence to someone much older (his mother?). "What do you see in these pictures?" His mother pointed at the first picture. "Well, that's a picture of the sun in the sky." She then pointed at the second picture. "And that's a totally separate picture of a sunset." It just didn't occur to her that the two pictures might be part of a consecutive sequence.
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mjm
Posted on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 08:17 am:   

That's a good example, Stu. I remember how the vocabulary of sf used to baffle the reader of social novels, too. Now, at least as it appears in The Matrix and Bladerunner, say, it stimulates them so much they start comparing it to Descartes.
Funny old world.
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Stu
Posted on Sunday, May 25, 2003 - 06:56 am:   

Mike -- Can’t find a link to it on the Net but a couple of years back Warren Ellis wrote an article on Frank Miller’s SIN CITY series saying how its format made it a really good comic to show non-comics readers. The “classic” SIN CITY page layout is to divide the page into 2 panels -- one taking up the top half of the page and the second taking up the bottom half. Insets can be added for extra impact e.g. a closeup of the hero’s shocked expression or a key being inserted into a lock. This is pretty easy for the average reader to follow seeing as they’ve probably got the basic idea of how a comic strip works from seeing newspaper strips like Peanuts or Garfield. Added to this the strip’s hardboiled “voiceover” is printed next to the panel rather than within it. Dividing the different threads of the narrative up in this manner instead of cramming them all into the same panel is less confusing to the inexperienced eye. Instead of saying, “What do I look at first? The picture? The speech balloons? The captions?” it’s simply a case of “Okay, I’m reading this nice simple comic strip. Oh look, there’s a bit of text to read before moving onto the next picture.”

As for how SF is received I think it's a case of how it's presented. In the minds of the general populace I think it breaks down something like this: STAR TREK = Strictly for nerds. 1984 = For nerds who take themselves too seriously. THE MATRIX = Cool!
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mjm
Posted on Monday, May 26, 2003 - 02:06 pm:   

It also has something to do with genre. You could argue that genre is a form talking to itself in its own language. Often inaccessible to the newcomer -- or hard, at least. Music
genres and forms, for instance. Once you become familiar with the language, you start forming
preferences. Couldn't you argue that 1984 is not written to a genre audience ?
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Stu
Posted on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 01:02 pm:   

Mike -- Yeah, 1984 wasn't the best example for the point I was trying to make but my mind went blank so I just grabbed at the first title that occurred to me. Probably should've said 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

I remember when I first read 'real' SF after enjoying commercial SF; I couldn't make head nor tail of the stories. Some genres seem to be more accessible to the general reader than others. SF has the problem of the technology, alien/future cultures, shifting realities and cosmologies. Can be a bit offputting.

But yeah, once ideas have been around for a while it's easier to work them into the mainstream. THE MATRIX is influenced by so many different sources that it tapped into umpteen different fanbases, picking up followers as they went. Philip K Dick, cyberpunk, video games, anime/manga, THE INVISBLES, kung fu movies, superhero comics/movies and probably a dozen or so other things that I can't think of offhand.
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MJM
Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - 09:25 am:   

Maybe The Matrix is functioning the way 2001
did in its day (or maybe Star Wars, but that
sort of downmarketed sf) or Bladerunner later.
Providing an amalgamation of previous ideas familiar to us but familiarising a broad audience with those ideas (fifty years on, mostly).
Nothing wrong with that, except of course it's a little boring to those already familiar with the influences. I found that with Star Wars, but people younger than me whose first exposure to space opera was SW don't agree at all. Who am I to talk. I just got a new batch of Zenith the Albino stories. First one was written in 1919.
Union Jack Library 1d. All you can absorb for a penny. Not bad. Whenever I need reminding about story I go to Zenith or something similar. Not
that they are wonderfully constructed, but the
elements are usually all there. And, thanks to Al, reading Pound and wondering how you survive while surrounded and engulfed by history. Phew!
A problem quite a few of us are experiencing at the moment as Rumpsfelt and Chainer pull the strings of their particular Mr Punch. Oops. No politics, right ? Who set these parameters anyway ?
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Stu
Posted on Sunday, June 01, 2003 - 01:23 am:   

Mike -- I've been rereading DEATH IS NO OBSTACLE and I'm a little unclear on the relationship between form and message/theme. You say that form develops out of problem-solving (How to keep story moving. How to use characters economically etc) but that when you write a story you look for a form that already exists that can support the ideas that you want to get across. Apart from blending forms together e.g. SF and thrillers how then do you keep the form developing as a problem-solving device so that it can deal with new ideas/scenarios?
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mjm
Posted on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 08:28 am:   

I'm probably being too loose with the term.
I suppose I mean a general type of fiction -- ie I'll frame it as an sf story (as, say) if the
material seems most suitable for that kind of story -- imaginative story might be a better term.
Shape is maybe what I mean by what develops out of problem solving. To be honest I'm slightly
unclear myself at this moment, so maybe I should
shut up until I'm more coherent. But for the
moment let's say Mother London was the shape
made to suit the narrative and that the type
which suited the material best was the social novel. Does that make any sense ? War Amongst the Angels was another shape made to suit narrative but the type which suited the material
best was, if you like, sf. I'm not blending genres or working from an ambition to write in a particular genre, just taking what I need of that genre to suit what I'm trying to do in that particular story. That is, I don't set out with any intention of blending genres, which some critics seem to think I do. I just take what I
need from different genres, except where I'm trying to do something like the current Elric books where I'm trying to do a sort of intervention in an existing genre, part of which I helped create. Elric always was a kind of
intervention, though it became harder to do as
the genre developed into the monster it is today.
So the interventions become harder for me to do.
But generally that's not what I'm doing in anything else -- i.e. I'm not addressing the genre, I'm using elements from a genre, but not
with the intention of blending them per se. I
didn't write The Final Programme, for instance, as
a deliberate mix of thriller and sf. I was just
using various influences to try to write something which seemed to me to be pertinent to my times and what I wanted to write about them.
If this still isn't making sense I won't hammer
on!

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Stu
Posted on Wednesday, June 18, 2003 - 12:21 am:   

Mike -- So it was just a question finding the right tool for the job?

Changing the subject, there seems to be a trend for adding fantasy sequences to films and TV in the last few years. It's almost as if writers want to use SF/Fantasy ideas without actually admitting to using them. As I understand it there tended not to be such a sharp delineation between fantasy stories and just plain old regular stories. I think that the reason for the divide between them may have come about due to the rise of scientific reasoning. And of course publishers' desire to put everything into neat little categories.

Mind you my knowledge of the history of literature is pretty much non-existent so if anyone knows any different I'm ready to be corrected.
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mjm
Posted on Wednesday, June 18, 2003 - 10:41 pm:   

By and large fantasy sequences have tended to turn up in generic series because the writers are getting desperate for story lines. I don't think it's much to do with slipping in anything different, given that half the series on TV appear to be fantasy. Used to be 'but it was just a dream' in the old days. The commercial divisions seemed to come from publishers looking for marketing methods. The snobbery tends to come from the period when Leavis and his disciplines began to politicise Englit, not long after it was accepted as a discipline by Oxford and Cambridge. You don't find it in the founders of those schools (Raleigh and Quiller-Couch respectively), which could be why I tend to enjoy reading them rather than some of the post-modernists up this end. I find Raleigh in particular a very practical professor. A shame
their influence didn't last. But Leavis was already bent on discrediting Q before the poor old bugger was even dead. I love Leavis's sense of discipline, but that wasn't really his inheritance, sadly. There again, you're talking to someone who generally prefers social fiction,
especially the likes of Henry Green, Elizabeth Bowen, Angus Wilson and, among contemporaries, Alan Wall. I loved T.H.White's and Peake's fantasies but came very late to Wilson's one sf novel and am still not sure I've actually read a Bowen fantasy story. So I'm sympathetic to people who get uneasy with fantasy, though generally it's lack of familiarity as much as it is a question of taste. The Gothic became so sensational, of course, that it tended to make fantasy unrespectable for a while, but I think that's less and less the case nowadays when it seems most literary novelists are prepared to add at least a touch of what they might call 'magic realism' or even full-scale science fiction.
Could be the barriers are breaking down at last.
Literary fiction usually follows were popular fiction leads.
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Stu
Posted on Sunday, June 22, 2003 - 09:44 am:   

Mike -- Good point about fantasy sequences being a sign of desperation on the part of writers. Although I think some TV/film writers use fantasy sequences because it’s a way of expressing a character’s more complex thoughts and emotions in a visual manner. And although the idea’s been around for ages it hasn’t filtered through into cliché territory yet so it still manages to look fresh and exciting to the average viewer. For the moment anyway.
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mjm
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 08:58 am:   

Whatever adds to the narrative tool box can't be bad, I agree. I suppose in the end it's how the tools are used that matters.
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Kit Reed
Posted on Sunday, July 06, 2003 - 09:54 am:   

Keith Brooke says you watch this space, so in place of a functional e-addy, will say, hey, it's
Kit
storyfirst@wesleyan.edu
and I need to be in touch
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mm
Posted on Sunday, July 06, 2003 - 05:05 pm:   

Hope to see you there, Kit! You never know.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 01:35 pm:   

Am I the only one on the boards here that thinks Kit Reed is a horribly underrated writer? I get excited every time I see her name of the cover of F&SF. Please keep up the good work, Ms. Reed! And thanks for stopping in at these message boards, if only to get in touch with mm.

-JL
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MM
Posted on Saturday, July 19, 2003 - 08:24 am:   

Not in my book, JL! I'd recommend everyone to visit her site and check her work out. It has always been highly individualistic and very smart and funny.
M
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Kit Reed
Posted on Tuesday, August 12, 2003 - 11:19 am:   

How cool! Thanks Jeremy, thanks Mike. :-) :-) :-) We didn't connect in London, MM, but somewhere again... soon!
k
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MM
Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2003 - 08:47 am:   

Please note -- anyone writing to my old email address can now send as normal. The mail has fried and I have no addresses or files, so if I owe you a letter please resend.
Best,
Mike M
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MJM
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 12:57 pm:   

Francois Gallix:
As people know, my email crashed and took a lot of my files away forever.
I also can't access the multiverse Q&A site at the moment.
Therefore I'm taking this step to ask if anyone has Francois Gallix's current email to let me have it or let him know I'm trying to contact him from my usual email address.
If you're out there, Francois, I'd be grateful if you'd contact me.
Mike Moorcock
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Berry Sizemore
Posted on Sunday, December 07, 2003 - 10:11 pm:   

Dear friends,

I am happy to announce the latest iteration of multiverse.org. To mark the occasion we've renamed multiverse.org to Moorcock's Weekly Miscellany. You'll instantly recognize it as the publication it was meant to be. Response to the new site has been very positive and I am sure if you visit the site, you'll be more than a little surprised. Come join us for a real treat. Your old bookmarks won't work, so just head over to MWM and register today!

Berry Sizemore

bls@multiverse.org
http://www.multiverse.org/

P.S. This is a one time only mailing.
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mikemunsil
Posted on Monday, February 13, 2006 - 12:56 pm:   

Michael

This is Geno's brother-in-law. Wanted to say thanks for those autographed copies of your books in Spanish.

Thanks!

Hope you and Linda are doing well.

Mike Munsil

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