Mostly my writing doesn’t get read by anyone. Writing so publicly in The Daily Communiqué is challenging on more levels than just publishing something, anything, on a daily basis.
There will be a discernible variance in quality as I find my public voice. Critical reviews are one thing, I can hide behind the intellectual and LitCrit when writing those.
Getting more personal, staying away from the diary like posts requires a willingness to be vulnerable to a buncha “I don’t know who might be reading this types.” To be clear, I chose this and I welcome the challenge it brings. I want it to elevate my writing.
Reading M. Todd Gallowglas’Stopwatch Chronicles recently shook something loose. I’m not sure what yet, but it definitely changed my visceral thoughts about my writing. Some of my daily communiqués will be working through these new ideas.
And since writing this in November, I’ve been thinking about memoir. River Queens is a great example. This needs more research, and careful study, but I think there’s some things I could write that wouldn’t be too cringe inducing right now.
Aside from the work with my mentor on metamodernism (yes, it’s a thing and yes, I dig nerding out about it), I have no other “assignments.” What we’re reading is challenging, and will take some time to get through them thoughtfully.
There are memoir-ish ideas for very short pieces floating around. I want to weigh where the boundaries are for what I want to say. Stopwatch Chronicles will have a fundamental impact on how I approach these pieces.
How I’ve evolved as a writer since October leaves me a little befuddled some times. More than ever I claim “writer” as a part of my self and I’m becoming even more dedicated to pursing the craft. Bette Davis said it best, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy [ride].”
2019 Hugo nominations have been announced. I’m so pleased to see at least one book I’ve read, and a fanzine I know well, nominated.
WorldCon 76 was almost literally in my backyard, someone helped me decide I HAD to go, and it’s the only time (so far) I’ve been able to vote for the Hugos.
One of my favorite authors Mary Robinette Kowal, and astronaut Kjell Lindberg hosted a “Koffee Klatch” to talk about their work, and answer questions. There were ten of us, and we were enthused about meeting them. We learned some pretty interesting stuff about writing and being in space, and carried out a good amount of signed swag. (Kjell even signed the inside of the Canadarm hatch door on my model shuttle.)
Since I don’t anticipate going to WorldCon 77 in Dublin, sad doesn’t begin to cover how I feel about not being able to vote for at least these two nominees.
There’s such good stuff which has been nominated, and good lord how do people read it all? I’m still working on last year’s packet!
Being a list making/keeping type of person, it’s tempting to download the list of all Hugo winners/nominees and see how many I can read, but that way lies madness. There are two many other books to read, my apartment would explode with that large an influx of books.
Speaking of which, Marlon James‘ Black Leopard, Red Wolf just arrived. Here’s a great long read from The New Yorker published just before the book was published.
Part of my assigned reading for LitCrit involves N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy, Toni Morrison’sBeloved, and James’ book. To bring it back to the Hugos, Jemisin won three years in a row for Broken Earth, and with as much hype as there is about Black Leopard, Red Wolf, I won’t be surprised to see it nominated for a Hugo next year.
Title: Literary Theory: A Complete Introduction
Author: Sara Upstone
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publisher’s Blurb: Literary theory has now become integral to how we produce literary criticism. When critics write about a text, they no longer think just about the biographical or historical contexts of the work, but also about the different approaches that literary theory offers. By making use of these, they create new interpretations of the text that would not otherwise be possible. In your own reading and writing, literary theory fosters new avenues into the text. It allows you to make informed comments about the language and form of literature, but also about the core themes – concepts such as gender, sexuality, the self, race, and class – which a text might explore.
“… criticism, then, is where we find the interpretation of literature. Theory, in contrast, is where we find the tools to facilitate that interpretation.” (p. xii)
This little book is packed with literary theory goodness. In 260 pages, Sara Upstone covers 19 different schools of theory. And while I don’t always agree with her assessments, or placement of movements within theories, Upstone’s overview is a great place for anyone to start learning about Literary Theory.
Having this at my fingertips has helped me figure out how Modernism and/or Post Modernism might apply to N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy, an exercise assigned by my mentor. If Modernism is trying to make sense of the chaotic changes in a book, then The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate offer a lot to be interpreted through that lens. People of the Stillness must make sense of their new world as the rift and the coming of a Fifth Season wreak havoc.
Further, if Post Modernism is the questioning of reality itself, The Broken Earth Trilogy again offers an opportunity for that interpretation. Is Alabaster turning into a Stone Eater a reality? How it it possible he was taken into the middle of the planet by a Stone Eater and lived to come out the other side?
Mind you, these are just notions I’m playing with as I explore what both Modernism and Post Modernism mean to a critical reviewer and whatever book she happens to be reading.
My biggest quibbles with Literary Theory: A Complete Guide have to do with the dates used to place each school in a context. I will grant that cultural anchors must exist in order for events to have a context within the greater stories. However, as a person with a background in history, I also know that dates aren’t hard and fast. World War I may be marked as beginning the day Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, but that’s not really what started it all.
I mention this only because I want to caution readers not to get stuck on the dates Upstone uses as absolutes. Surrealism, sequestered in the Modernism school of theory, had its precursors in authors like Arthur Rimbaud and André Breton.
And while I’m at it, if anything, Surrealism belongs with Post Modernism if we are to take the definition of Post Modernism at face value.
But, those are of little import when it comes to the actual information contained within this small volume. It’s best to consider the essence of the overviews of each school of theory. And by all means, we should give consideration to our own thoughts about what we’re reading.
Sara Upstone’s Literary Theory: A Complete Introduction has earned itself a permanent place on my reference shelf. If, that is, I can ever get it to leave my desk.
They by Janet Mason – Read The Art of Fiction by John Gardner ~ #LitCrit Darkness Visible by William Styron The Annotated Alice – annotated by Martin Gardner Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Title: Projections: Science Fiction in Literature & Film
Editor: Lou Anders
Publisher: Monkeybrain Books
Publisher’s Blurb: From Lord of the Rings—called the greatest novel of the 20th Century—to The Matrix—one of the highest grossing films of all time … science fiction and fantasy have proved to be one of cinema and literature’s most enduring and popular genres. PROJECTIONS examines the history and the people, the science and the society, the lives, times and themes, the cultural impact and the critical response of the dynamic genre that is speculative fiction, as seen through the eyes of some of today’s most recognized writers.
There are many thoughtful essays in Projections from great authors including Michael Moorcock, Robert Silverberg, and Mike Resnick. These are authors who love SF/F with the care of a tender lover and who are not unafraid to point out the flaws. They, like so many I have encountered, want better for, and from, genre fiction.
Here’s a look at some of what caught my attention:
John Clute‘s “In Defense of Science Fiction,” still stands well as a demand for better, less bloated, less predictable, SF/F writing. This is a discussion I’ve had a few times with other readers. M. Todd Gallowglas has a wonderful essay called “Why Isn’t Fantasy More Fantastical?” in his book My Journey in Creative Reading. Michael Moorcock, in his famous essay “Epic Pooh,” also writes about demanding better from our genre.
Basically, without getting too much into the weeds about this, for far too long fans have been bullied by others who think of SF/F as an outlying type of literature. In a small-town high school, I was bullied for a lot of reasons, but reading something no one else had heard of was right up there near the top of the list.
Many have had the experience of being shamed by educators for reading SF/F, or even writing it. So as a community, we clung to what we knew and what was available. Which perpetuated this unfortunate Catch-22 of publishers publishing only what’s selling and fans buying it because that’s what’s available.
Clute’s essay is powerful because he delves into many of the reasons genre isn’t better. Some of which have to do with publishers and reviewers and categorizing, and other things which have led us to believe we belong in the far corner of reading and writing in all flavors.
I am here to tell you we do NOT belong in that corner. We belong wherever the hell we want, but we need better writing, better storytelling.
“… we’re going to need all the help we can get to see our way through. We cannot exclude any visions – any way to look at the world – that we humans have invented for ourselves. We are going to need all the ways to look.”
This is the way Clute ends his essay, and he’s right, no one can afford to exclude any vision which will help us survive the madness that is the world as we know it.
David Brin’s essay, “Achilles, Superman, and Darth Vader,” is a beautiful look at how movies have become more about the fancy effects than about story-telling. And he lays this directly at George Lucas‘ and Joseph Campbell‘s doors.
What Joseph Campbell did was point out all the positive themes and rhythms used in every ancient hero tale. George Lucas took all these predictable traits and turned them into Star Wars. Unfortunately, what both Campbell and Lucas did was make good and bad clear cut. By not considering the flawed and dark parts of any protagonist (and opposite for the antagonist), Brin maintains that what we cheer for in these triumphal stories is uniformity.
Know what? He’s right. Further, he’s right in pointing out that elitism gets a pass. Luke Skywalker starts as a humble small-town boy on an out of the way planet, and works himself into the ruling elite (both Jedi and royalty). Anything he does which could have negative consequences gets a pass, because he’s now a part of the elite ruling class, who are the same and believe they know what’s best/right for the rest of the galaxy. No one in the Star Wars universe is allowed to question the status quo.
Star Wars isn’t the only franchise he takes aim at. Star Trek gets a critical look, as do many of the other tropes in SF/F.
This is not to say that neither Brin nor I recognize the importance of these franchises in getting SF/F accepted by a broader audience and to take a crack at elevating story-telling. But I believe that we can both love something and be critical of it without diminishing the thing we love. Critical thinking enhances the way we read, and look, at SF/F, and gives us the tools to demand better from the creators.
My favorite essay in Projections is “The Matrix Trilogy” by Adam Roberts in which he applies multiple literature criticism lens to all three Matrix movies. It’s a thought provoking read. And while I loved the movies, especially the first one, there’s not a lot I disagree with in Roberts’ essay.
For instance, one of the themes he writes about is how limiting some of those interpretations could be. One of particular interest makes the trilogy into a Christian allegory. “Emphasising [sic] perceived mythic underpinnings in fact takes us away from the specificity of the films themselves.”
And so it goes for other schools of thought and criticism, all of which can be a valid critical view of the movies. But because I like poking holes in religious tropes as applied to non-religious movies and literature, this is what resonated the most with me, “…what if the messiah comes and nothing changes as a result? [sic] If the messiah comes more than once, why only twice?”
::shocked gasp:: I can hear Christians all across the world clutching their pearls and crying “blasphemy!” Roberts has a point, and his explanation for this particular line of thought is one I hadn’t pursued before. Even if you completely disagree with his interpretation, at least admit that’s a thought-provoking theme to explore.
And to all those determined to seek deeper meaning in The Matrix Trilogy, Roberts ends his essay by saying this, “The point is not to see beneath the surface.”
In the interest of brevity (because, trust me I could go on and on), here are a few quotes I liked:
“This is True” by Tim Lebbon
“[the dark will tell someone not to get out of bed but they will have to for some reason] … then a hand will close around their ankle, tug, and they will be dragged beneath the bed to a grisly doom.
“This will happen. I firmly believe it.
“I believe it because the human imagination is a powerful, potent force.”
“Something About Harry” by Mark Finn
In which Finn explains how ludicrous the book selling business is in terms of profit.
“The book industry is the most inept, retarded, backwater, ill-conceived industry in the world.”
“Scientists in SF Films” by Robert A. Metzger
In which Metzger examines the portrayal of science and scientists in film, which always makes them out to be the reason things go wrong in the movies.
“Science is a soul-sucking mistress.”
“The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction” by Jonathan Lethem
Beating my favorite drum about demanding better from the genre.
“Among the factors arrayed against acceptance of SF as serious writing, none is more plain to outsiders than this: the books are so fucking ugly. Worse, they’re all ugly in the same way, so you can’t distinguish those meant for grown-ups from those meant for twelve-year-olds.”
For the first time in so many years, I’m not in utter misery looking into the New Year. 2019 holds great promise and hope for me. As unexpected as that is to say, it comes as a great relief. Books and lists are the great constant. The great coping mechanism of all time, making lists. It was like the sun shone only on me the day I realized I could combine the two and keep my sanity.
One blissful weekend in August when I was hanging out with other geeks and nerds who loved what I did my vague dissatisfaction was temporarily banished. I went to panels about writing, met authors (and a real live astronaut), sat in lines with others and talked about writing. Frequently amused that wherever there was a line, we all had some kind of device out in order to read. My device was dead tree style.
Exhaustion was my companion the entire con, but gods I was happy. Happy? How could that possibly be? When WorldCon 76 San Jose was over, the sticky film of vague unrest returned. Barf, I thought (or words to that effect, anyway). Inklings filtered through my overtaxed, hyperalert brain.
When great ideas hit it can feel like a jolt of lightning, adrenaline flowing through my spine. This idea was quieter. An author I met at WorldCon started posting about teaching writing. And so I asked, “do you have something for me?” His probing questions finally got me to the bottom of my unrest. “I want to learn to read and write about books better.”
And that’s how I found a mentor, and made the last quarter of 2018 happy. Best decision of my life ever. It’s not just the reading and writing which have evolved. Unexpected personal growth came at me like sunshine filtered through open doors. Even on the hardest of hard days when I think I can’t even get out of bed, and the writing is like carving bricks of granite with my bare hands, I know I’ll be good. Discovering the weird joys of LitCrit have given me a new dimension of meaning.
It is nearly impossible to pick just a few great books from 2018, but here’s my attempt at defining the seminal books for me.
Even more relevant today than when first published, Atwood’s description of a dystopian, Puritanical society with no agency for women chills. My review focuses on the use of Scripture as justification.
Speaking of feminism … Elma’s a wonderful example of all any human could be; blind spots and social anxiety and all. Mary Robinette Kowal is as kind and generous as I had hoped. An hour with her and real live astronaut, Kjell Lindgren was more than I’d expected. Excitedly waiting for two more Lady Astronaut books.
Because I am stubborn and refuse to read what “everyone” else is reading, it took an essay in The Methods of Breaking Bad, and some serious prodding from a trusted friend to read Toni Morrison’s classic. Best opening line ever, “124 was spiteful.”
Alexander Watson’s writing is elegant as he tells the tale of refurbishing a wooden boat and sailing her from Texas to Ohio. His is the most polished debut I’ve read and I’m forever grateful he asked me to review it.
Every writer, every critic, every anyone interested in reading and writing needs to read How Fiction Works. My review focuses on why critical reviewers should know about craft in order to write better themselves.