It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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I like me some meme

I found this on Larry’s blog here, where he says the following list is the results of a recent online poll on Lit Net. Whatever that might be. Still, a meme. A book meme. Bold those you’ve read, italicise the ones sitting on the TBR…

1 The Bible (I bought a copy of this last year, the first time I’ve ever owned one. It’s for reference, of course. And yes, I have the Qur’an and the Talmud as well)
2 Hamlet by William Shakespeare
3 The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
4 The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
5 The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
6 Ulysses by James Joyce
7 Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
8 Don Quixote by Cervantes
9 War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
10 Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
11 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
12 The Odyssey by Homer (I have the illustrated version of this somewhere)
13 Paradise Lost by John Milton
14 In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (I really must tackle these one day)
15 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
16 Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire
17 The Illiad by Homer
18 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez
19 Essays by Montaigne
20 The Stranger by Albert Camus
21 The Oresteia by Aeschylus
22 Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
23 Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
24 The Story of the Stone by Cao Xueqin
25 Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
26 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
27 The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
28 Emma by Jane Austen (the one Austen I haven’t read)
29 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
30 The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
31 Eugene Onegin by Pushkin
32 Watership Down by Richard Adams
33 The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (my copy is one of my father’s Penguin classics)
34 Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
35 Walden by Henry David Thoreau
36 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
37 Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
38 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
39 Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
40 The Trial by Franz Kafka
41 Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
42 Shahnameh by Ferdowsi
43 The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
44 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
45 Fictions by JL Borges
46 El Aleph by JL Borges
47 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
48 Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald
49 The Magus by John Fowles
50 Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
51 Testament by RC Hutchinson
52 Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
53 A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin (WTF? Certainly doesn’t belong on this list. Read the first three, gave up…)
54 Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
55 Oedipus the King by Sophocles
56 The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
57 Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
58 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
59 The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake
60 Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs
61 Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
62 Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
63 Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
64 No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
65 Othello by William Shakespeare (have seen the BBC adaptation; you don’t read a play, you see it performed)
66 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
67 Vanity Fair by William Thackerey
68 Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy
69 Voss by Patrick White
70 Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
71 Manfred by Lord Byron
72 A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
73 Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
74 The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
75 Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy
76 Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty
77 1984 by George Orwell
78 Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (an even less deserving entry than GRRM’s)
79 The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Jose Saramagos
80 Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
81 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
82 Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne
83 The Tree of Man by Patrick White
84 The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
85 Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
86 2666 by Robert Bolano
87 Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
88 If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
89 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
90 The Arrow of Gold by Joseph Conrad
91 The Recognitions by William Gaddis
92 The Castle by Franz Kafka
93 I Canti by Giacomo Leopardi
94 Man’s Fate by André Malraux
95 Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
96 Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell (have read the first, have a few more on the TBR)
97 Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
98 Confessions by Rousseau
99 The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer
100 Julius Caesar by Shakespeare (have seen the BBC adaptation)

Well, it’s a very traditional list. The odd pre-19th century book can’t disguise all the obvious choices made for 19th and 20th century fiction. Not to mention a couple of frankly bizarre ones: A Song of Ice and Fire? Really? Atlas Shrugged? You think so? As for my “score”… Not so good: fourteen read (mostly), and a further eight on the TBR. I also count a mere  six women (Austen appears twice), which is appalling. This is literature as the province of Dead White Men, and pretty much what the entire field has been fighting against for the past two decades or more. And, of course, it’s woefully US/UK-centric, with a handful of other nationalities. So, not a very good list at all, then.

Lit Net, must do better.

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Locus All-Centuries Poll short fiction results

Locus posted the short fiction results to its poll a couple of days ago and the results are… not entirely unexpected. Americocentric. A little more diverse in terms of race and gender than the novel results, but not by that much. And yes, pretty much exclusively Anglophone. But let’s see how my choices did…

20th Century SF/F Novella
22 – 1 ‘Great Work of Time’, John Crowley (1989)
6 – 2 ‘The Fifth Head of Cerberus’, Gene Wolfe (1972)
51 – 3 ‘Forgiveness Day’, Ursula K Le Guin (1994)
0 – 4 ‘Equator’, Brian W Aldiss (1958)
72 – 5 ‘Green Mars’, Kim Stanley Robinson (1985)
83 – 6 ‘Marrow’, Robert Reed (1997)
0 – 7 ‘Secrets’, Ian Watson (1997)
1 – 8 ‘Story of Your Life’, Ted Chiang (1998)
71 – 9 ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, Richard Cowper (1976)
10

Well, I picked the number one novella, although I had it down at number eight. A single Aldiss novella barely made the top fifty – so much for his sixty-year career (though I will admit ‘Equator’ is not generally seen as one of his career highlights; I still love it, however.) A single Ian Watson novelette made it to number 117 – so there’s another British author who has been cruelly neglected.

Instead, the actual top twenty had Chiang, old favourites like Heinlein and Simak and John W Campbell and Sturgeon and Lovecraft, and six women (including US middle-aged fan favourite Connie Willis). Most, surprisingly, are science fiction, rather than fantasy.

20th Century SF/F Novelette
108 – 1 ‘The Barbie Murders’, John Varley (1978)
170 – 2 ‘Beauty and the Opéra or the Phantom Beast’, Suzy McKee Charnas (1996)
0 – 3 ‘The Time-Tombs’, JG Ballard (1963)
73 – 4 ‘A Little Something For Us Tempunauts’, Philip K Dick (1974)
157 – 5 ‘Black Air’, Kim Stanley Robinson (1983)
0 – 6 ‘The Last Days of Shandakor’, Leigh Brackett (1952)
100 – 7 ‘No Woman Born’, CL Moore (1944)
0 – 8 ‘FOAM’, Brian W Aldiss (1991)
44 – 9 ‘Swarm’, Bruce Sterling (1982)
0 – 10 ‘Housecall’, Terry Dowling (1986)

A few more zeros here, meaning no one selected those choices as their number one. My highest placer is Bruce Sterling at 44, and I thought that was my most commercial pick. I should have instead listed ‘The View From Venus: A Case Study’ by Karen Joy Fowler, which, er, no one picked at all.

The actual top twenty has the execrable ‘Nightfall’ at number two. Kill it with fire. And another Asimov at number four. Plus Harlan Ellison (it’s harder to know which to despise more, the man or his fiction). Three women, although Tiptree is selected twice. Samuel Delany sneaks in at number sixteen. All twenty novelettes are by Americans (the first Brit appears at 41).

20th Century SF/F Short Story
56 – 1 ‘And I Awoke And Found Me Here On The Cold Hill Side’, James Tiptree Jr. (1972)
25 – 2 ‘Air Raid’, John Varley (1977)
0 – 3 ‘Forward Echoes (AKA Identifying the Object)’, Gwyneth Jones (1990)
213 – 4 ‘The Lake of Tuonela’, Keith Roberts (1973)
0 – 5 ‘The Road To Jerusalem’, Mary Gentle (1991)
0 – 6 ‘A Map of the Mines of Barnath’, Sean Williams (1995)
0 – 7 ‘The Brains Of Rats’, Michael Blumlein (1986)
22 – 8 ‘Aye, And Gomorrah’, Samuel R Delany (1967)
276 – 9 ‘A Gift From The Culture’, Iain M Banks (1987)
101 – 10 ‘The Gernsback Continuum’, William Gibson (1981)

I wasn’t expecting to have many popular choices in this category, but not a single one of mine made it into the top twenty. Delany came highest at 22, and then Varley at 25. And they’re popular works of sf. I got four zeroes.

The actual results featured Ellison (3), Heinlein (2), Clarke (3), Asimov, Bradbury (2)… It’s Dead White Male time. (Except Ellison isn’t dead, of course.) Four women. JG Ballard’s highest placing is 47, which is dismaying. Looking at the results, I see a lot of stories that are repeatedly anthologised. Well, there you go…

21st Century SF/F Novella
59 – 1 ‘Arkfall’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2008)
0 – 2 ‘My Death’, Lisa Tuttle (2004)
6 – 3 ‘Diamond Dogs’, Alastair Reynolds (2001)
0 – 4 ‘Dangerous Space’, Kelley Eskridge (2007)
0 – 5 ‘A Writer’s Life’, Eric Brown (2001)

I’ve read two of the novellas which made the top ten in this category. One of them was the Reynolds. I was surprised Carolyn Ives Gilman didn’t get zero, but then it was originally published in Asimov’s. Two of the others were original novellas from PS Publishing, so no surprise with the zeroes there…

21st Century SF/F Novelette
2 – 1 ‘The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate’, Ted Chiang (2007)
66 – 2 ‘Divining Light’, Ted Kosmatka (2008)
3
4
5

I freely admit to being crap at this category. Not only is the novelette a completely useless category and should be roundly expunged from, well, everything, but I’ve not read enough long short fiction published this century. Still, my number one choice made number two. Still, Chiang… (On the other hand, he also made the number one spot.)

As it is, the top ten are all genre darlings – Chiang, Link, Gaiman, Stross, Miéville, Bacigalupi…

21st Century SF/F Short Story

I was so rubbish at this one, I couldn’t think of a single story to nominate. If I had chosen the story I remembered after the deadline, ‘The Avatar of Background Noise’, Toiya Kristen Finley, it would have come… nowhere. No one picked it. Instead, we got ten relatively recent award winners, with a couple of outliers – Le Guin and Swanwick.

We can thus conclude that all worthwhile science fiction and fantasy short fiction is written by a group of about thirty people, over half of whom are dead. Of course, this is a consequence of the small number of voters, most of whom probably fit a fairly similar profile. I’m not sure how useful an exercise that makes the poll, though as a guideline for changing a reader’s approach to the genre it offers a possible blueprint. You know, don’t read the writers in the top twenties for each category, read other ones instead, ones you may not have come across before. Diversify your diet of genre fiction. Add some diversity to it.

And finally, I just have to say something about the amazingly stupid remark made in the comment thread on the results page:

“If there was more women and minorities that cared enough to vote in this poll, then there would have been more females and minorities on the list. you cannot blame others for it.”

Poor grammar aside, it’s a remarkably dumb thing to say. Because of course only women and minorities nominate women and minorities. And women only vote for women, just as minorities only vote for minorities. Someone take away Maddog’s computer, he’s clearly too stupid to use it properly.


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2012 is dead, long live 2013

This happens every year at this time – you look back at the year just ended, remember the good bits and try to forget the bad bits; you look ahead to the year just begun, and try to convince yourself it will be better than even last year’s best bits, or that you have any control over how it will turn out… Shit happens, the road to hell, etc, etc.

Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort, of course. You may not, for example, be able to land yourself a book contract, no matter how wonderful your novel is, but if you don’t write the damn thing you stand even less chance. (Though debut novelists have been offered contracts before writing their novels.)

Likewise, the most reliable method of getting short fiction into print seems to be the Shotgun Method. Write as many stories as you can, submit them as many times as you can… Someone somewhere will usually buy them. Then you too can be ubiquitous, and subsequent sales will get easier.

In other words, Hard Work helps. But there are no guarantees. Certainly short cuts don’t always do the trick. There are stories of self-published authors selling phenomenally well, and subsequently being picked up by big publishing houses. They are in a very tiny minority. Most books published by anyone other than major publishing houses or long-established small presses are ignored. For instance, Rocket Science, published by Mutation Press, received plenty of positive reviews when it appeared back in April 2012. But it is also notably absent from lists of “best anthologies of the year”. I didn’t expect Adrift on the Sea of Rains to make it onto any lists – around 300 people, at a guess, have read it, and none of them were commentators with a large footprint within the genre. New small press… self-published… A not-unexpected result.

I worked quite hard during 2012 promoting those two books, but I suspect my message didn’t travel much beyond my own circle of friends, acquaintances and those I talk to within the genre. That’s as far as my “platform” reaches at present. It grew during 2012 – a little – but that sort of organic growth is too small and too slow to bounce my work to the next level. Because I made a tactical error in 2012: I spent so much time promoting Rocket Science and Adrift on the Sea of Rains, and writing The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself, that I didn’t write any short fiction. And I need to do that in order to get my name out there…

So that’s one resolution for 2013. (I suspect it may have also been a resolution for each of the past few years.) I will write more short stories in 2013, I will submit more short stories in 2013. I have a bunch sort of started but far from finished, and I’ll  focus initially on them. Unfortunately, my desire to not write the sort of science fiction currently appearing in genre mags and on genre websites may somewhat limit my chances of success. Take my current work in progress: I was hoping to have it done for 31 December 2012, the deadline for Eibonvale Press’s new railway-themed genre anthology, Rustblind and Silverbright. Have yet to actually finish it. And it’s going to be a hard one to sell. ‘The Incurable Irony of the Man Who Rode the Rocket Sled’ is barely science fiction, and barely has a plot. It’s sort of “magical realism with astronauts” (as my story ‘Faith’ was once described), except it has no astronauts in it.

I do have other stories to work on. Sorry, no exploding spaceships. No spaceships at all, in fact. I have two novellas I’d like to complete – one of them is an expanded version of ‘The Contributors’. There’s also book three of the Apollo Quartet, Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above; and possibly book four, All That Outer Space Allows. I have three novel ideas for which I need to write the first three chapters. I’d also like to see if I can do anything with my Nanowrimo effort from 2011.

And that’s just on the writing side. (You do realise, of course, that most of this will go undone, because… things.)

Oh, and I also experimented in 2012 with publishing a limited edition chapbook. It started out as a bit of a joke, but the twelve copies of Wunderwaffe I produced all sold. I then put it up on Kindle, where it has also sold (thought not in huge numbers). I’m planning to do something similar to another of my previously-published short stories, but I haven’t decided which one yet. I might do it to more than one…

On the reading side, I’ll be continuing to review books for SF Mistressworks. In the absence of other regular reviewers – I do have some irregular reviewers, however – I’ll have to read at least one suitable a book a week. That’s going to be a tough schedule to meet. I will need help. Please.

There’s also the TBR, which reached epic proportions several years ago. Over Christmas just gone, for example, I read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, and realised afterwards with some embarrassment that I’d bought the book in November 2010. That’s actually not too bad – it’s taken me ten years to read some of the books I own. And that’s despite reading 153 books during 2012 – twelve down on the previous year’s total; in fact, the number has been steadily dropping since 2008. I suspect the number of books I’ve bought each year, however, has been steadily rising…

So, in 2013, I want to read more sf by women writers, more Malcolm Lowry, more Paul Scott, more recent genre books that interest me, more literary fiction… more good books. I also want to read much more genre short fiction. That’s going to be another resolution – to read genre short fiction regularly. But only if it interests me. I’ll happily bail on a story if it’s not working for me. But by the end of the year, I should at least be able to make some informed choices for the BSFA Award. I’ll also be including a top five of short fiction in my end of the year round-up post.

I’ll not bother with resolutions for films or music. Each year, I try to get to at least one gig a month. I don’t always make it, but by year’s end I’m usually not far off. For the record, it was 11 gigs in 2012, including Bloodstock. The best one should have been Anathema and Opeth in Leeds in November, but the venue was awful – over-packed and over-heated – and ruined the experience. Insomnium and Paradise Lost back in April might be the best, or perhaps it was local bands Setsudan and Northern Oak supporting Evil Scarecrow in October.

There’s no point in resolving to go to the cinema more often, because I only go if there are films I really want to see being shown. There were three in 2012, which is something of a record for me – at least since I left the UAE, where I lived just around the corner from an excellent cinema. There might be one or two movies I’d be willing to shell out £13 to see in IMAX 3D in 2013, but we’ll have to see. I will, however, continue to watch DVDs by my favourite directors, as well as trying new ones – mostly foreign-language, of course. And the really good films, I will write about here…

…Because I will continue to blog. I don’t think I could stop, to tell the truth. Posting once or twice a week is a good schedule to keep, but I suspect I won’t be able to maintain that level. I didn’t in 2012. This year, I’ll retire the Rocket Science News blog, since it’s served its purpose. It’ll stay up, but I won’t post to it anymore. Besides I have enough on with this blog, SF Mistressworks, the Whippleshield Books blog, and my Space Books blog (which I really must post to more often). I’ll remove the sf poetry blog – and perhaps work on some of the poems from it and start submitting them. I’ve only had two poems published to date, I really should start sending out more.

2012 was a bit of a convention-going year for me, although more by accident than design. Lavie Tidhar persuaded me to attend the SFX Weekender in February in Prestatyn. Much fun was had. Then there was the Eastercon in Heathrow, where I launched Rocket Science and Adrift on the Sea of Rains and nearly won the BSFA Non-Fiction Award for SF Mistressworks (it’s still eligible, by the way). Shortly after that, it was alt.fiction in Leicester, then Edge-Lit in Derby, and in November, Novacon in Nottingham. I’m not planning to attend as many cons in 2013.

Outside of genre and literature and music and cinema, 2012 was a bit meh. Some family issues were resolved. I spent Christmas in Denmark yet again, and saw some snow on the first day – but it rapidly disappeared and the weather remained wet and drizzly and dull. Santa brought me some books I want to read and some DVDs I want to watch. Oh, and some socks. The food was good, the visit to Louisiana, a modern art museum, was fascinating, and much as I hate Christmas it was a pleasant way to spend it…

And there you have it. 2012 is dead, long live 2013. I’m hoping it’ll be a good year, but it’ll be what it’ll be. That’s the way it works, you know. Life. Huh.