Movement

22 September 2010

What’s the next likely movement in speculative fiction? According to Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., one of nine writers asked by SF Signal, it’s neo-oriental cyber-imperialism:

Take a near future post-colonial setting — best in Asia, but even the Balkans will do –, place it in a future dominated by natural environmental catastrophe and the global manipulations of Euro-American corporations allied with native elites, include AIs with retro-national qualities (this makes them seem “neo-indigenous”), simulations of archaic beliefs, neo-Ruritarian political intrigues — add a dash of feralized GM animals (cyber-beasts will do) — and a plotline with no possible realistic political resolution, since neither nature nor technology has any redeeming value any more. Good stuff and diversity — from Air to River of Gods to Wind-Up Girl, maybe even City and the City fits here (ironically).

And that’s four of my favourite books right there…

Ethnografiction

23 July 2010

Ian McDonald’s interview with the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography makes me realise what fascinates me so much about the worldbuilding in his near-future India, Brazil and Turkey (River of Gods, Brasyl and The Dervish House): he sees himself as an ethnographer, to all intents and purposes:

It takes years. I read a lot. I travel a lot — and as much as I can afford. I talk to people, I read the papers. I cook the food. I buy the music, I follow the sports teams. I try to second-guess what the government will do in international politics. I learn a bit of the language. I study the religion. I study the etiquette. I try and work out what the day-to-day details are like. I watch people. I have a very strong visual memory and I can recreate an entire scene in my head and observe details. I cultivate an eye for detail. I take thousands of photographs of boring everyday things. I look at what’s on sale in gas stations and what that tells you about a culture. I study the ads. I talk to more people. I get hammered on the local booze. I try to take the country’s political position in the world news. I watch television. I read books for those tiny details. Is this like Method Acting? WTF are you doing with those lights?!?

Teaser Tuesday 19

13 July 2010

This is how it works:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) ‘teaser’ sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your ‘teaser’ from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

A quick one from The Red Tree by Caitlín R Kiernan – a diary-format horror novel about a writer having an even less productive summer than I am. (At least I’m not being haunted by a dead lover or an old oak tree.)

Anyway, I’m left to conclude that the late Dr. Harvey’s unfinished book, in all likelihood, went to the local landfill or a bonfire or whatever, if it’s true that the daughter in Maine claimed none of his effects. I can’t imagine why Blanchard would have lied about something like that. All that survives is that one peculiar page, incomplete reflections on ‘bloody apples’ from a tree that died seventy years ago. (p. 67)

Teaser Tuesday 18

22 June 2010

This is how it works:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) ‘teaser’ sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your ‘teaser’ from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

The Standing Pool by Adam Thorpe. Two left-wing English academics rent an intimidating country house in the South of France for a six-month sabbatical… and so far it’s an exceptionally well set up thriller, or ghost story, or whatever it’s going to be. (They’ve moved there with their three children: I wonder whether it’s going to go all Don’t Look Now.)

The couple are both historians of the western exploitation of Africa, and Thorpe knows how to use their characters to deliver a large amount of exposition (our communication culture’s bloody dependence on coltan mining, for just one thing) while playing out clashes of class, politics and transatlantic ways-of-being with their expat landlords from the USA. The narrative bristles with foreshadowing, from an estate agent warning of torrential rains to a mother who can’t see her children playing beside a pool without wondering which one, if there were to be an accident, she would save first. I may want to read this all again straight afterwards to see what I can learn from how he does it.

‘Mend him, Mummy,’ she ordered, tearfully, after an account had been given to their mother in the kitchen: a din of overlapping narrative chords obliterating the earnest voices on the radio.

‘There are certain things you can’t ever mend,’ said Sarah, with an air of significance. She felt more disappointed than shocked, partly because the girls tended to embellish. ‘Are you sure it was going that fast? I can’t believe anyone would go that fast with kids around.’ (p. 57)

Saramago

19 June 2010

José Saramago died yesterday, aged 87. He was born the same year as my grandmother, and a village registrar in the Ribatejo gave him – according to the Nobel laureate’s autobiography he wrote in 1998 – a start in life worthy of any of his characters:

José de Sousa would have been my own name had not the Registrar, on his own inititiave added the nickname by which my father’s family was known in the village: Saramago. I should add that saramago is a wild herbaceous plant, whose leaves in those times served at need as nourishment for the poor.

Saramago published his first novel at 25, fifteen uncomfortable years into the Salazar dictatorship; returned to fiction in his fifties, after Portugal’s democratic revolution. All The Names: an archive containing records on every inhabitant of a city who had ever lived. The History of the Siege of Lisbon: a proofreader rewrites national myth. Blindness (or An Essay about Blindness, as he’d rather the title had gone): the world loses its sight. Seeing: the voters in an election all hand in blank papers. (The British public nearly pulled that one this year.)

It’s alienating, reading his books in English. How much in the narration comes from him, and how much from his translators, Giovanni Pontiero and Margaret Jull Costa? You hope that he’d appreciate the extra layer of ambiguity on top of all the rest that he put in.

In my late teens and early twenties, Saramago was one of the most important writers in my reading life. (As these things often went ten years ago, I first picked up one of his books after an electrifying weekend involving a girl from Portugal who probably didn’t realise half of what was going on. I’ve no idea what happened to her after that. The most important thing was that, long after I’d even forgotten how to spell her surname, I kept reading the books.)

Learning to navigate their style – these weren’t books for the bus stop – opened up a worldview dominated by history, bureaucracy, fragile individuality and even more fragile social order. I learned more things stories could be about.

I first read The Stone Raft not long after the last humanitarian crisis had spun out of former Yugoslavia’s systemic collapse. The Iberian peninsula drifts into the sea, a crisis met with public outbursts of emotion and governmental indifference in the rest of Europe; most of the 1990s had seemed to be like that. I was amazed to turn to the copyright page and discover he had written it in 1986.

Eyjafjallajökull was one for Saramago. He held on long enough to see it by two months. And ultimately – with the surveillance state andthe digital trails we leave and a bloody great hole in the world underneath the sea – we all turned out to be living inside his books.

Teaser Tuesday 17

15 June 2010

This is how it works:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) ‘teaser’ sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your ‘teaser’ from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

The Double by José Saramago this week. It’s difficult to excerpt Saramago’s unique style for a teaser of a few lines long, so this sentence is possibly quite an imperfect pick…

The headmaster’s glasses were now safely in his top jacket pocket and he was saying, smiling, Off we go then, and Tertuliano Máximo Afonso will be unable to explain now or ever why the air seems to have thickened, as if impregnated with an invisible presence, as intense and powerful as the one that roused him brusquely from his bed after watching that first video.  (p. 69)

Teaser Tuesday 16

8 June 2010

This is how it works:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) ‘teaser’ sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your ‘teaser’ from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

Dracula Cha Cha Cha by Kim Newman. It’s with vampires… but this is from ’98, well before the Pride-and-Prejudice-Jane-Slayre-and-zombies-and-there-must-be-one-about-werewolves-too-and-I’m-sure-I-heard-about-one-where-the-hero-was-Abe-Lincoln madness began. (It’s also the third volume of a trilogy where the other volumes are senselessly out of print, but works perfectly well as a stand-alone…)

James Bond, Tom Ripley and… Marcello Mastroianni…? all show up. To name but three.

Nevertheless, Tom admired Dracula, for his Van Gogh craze if nothing else. That taste, once daringly radical, suggested an openness to the new uncharacteristic of the dead. Also, that – whatever his current circumstance – he could still be a dangerous man, a predator. (p. 47)