Posted by: Mish | September 5, 2010

Pools of Possibilities

I’m still slogging through Ulysses and chuckling through Don Quixote, but am looking forward to participating in two challenges. After Joyce’s long-winded ramblings, science fiction, dark fantasy, and mystery will be especially welcome and refreshing.

RIP Challenge

My pool of possibilities for this year’s Science Fiction Challenge is:

1. Isaac Asimov, Foundation – Way past due for reading something by Asimov.
2: Robert Silverberg, Lord Valentine’s Castle – Have come to like the Majipoor series.
3. Mira Grant, Feed – Past due for reading; I probably wouldn’t read my first zombie novel if it weren’t by Seanan McGuire. Thinking of her as Mira is just weird.
4. Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers – Remember the movie, heard the book is better and have really liked what I’ve read thus far.
5. Sylvie Bérard, Terre des Autres – Way past due for reading.
6. Anthology, Nebula Award Stories Four – Couldn’t pass up this find from 1969.
7. C.S. Lewis, Perelandra – Liked the Narnia books and Till We Have Faces so would like to give his science fiction a shot.
8. Orson Scott Card, Xenocide – Trying to finish the Ender saga.
9. Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (or one of the others in the series) – Re-read.
10. Rebecca Stead, When You Reach Me – Homage to L’Engle’s book(s) that was recently brought within my radar.

For Readers Imbibing Peril hosted by Carl I’ll be drawing from:

1. Louisa May Alcott, the Mysterious Key and What It Opened – Something different from her more well known classics.
2. Arthur Conan Doyle, Tales of Terror and Mystery – Haven’t read anything by him in ages.
3. Neil Gaiman, Coraline – Finally!
4. Seanan McGuire, A Local Habitation – Way past due for reading the dark fantasy.
5. A.A. Milne, the Red House Mystery – Pooh and Christopher Robin ain’t home.
6. Bram Stoker, Dracula – I realized I never finished the novel 17 years ago.
7. Edgar Allen Poe, Collected Works Vol. 1 – Haven’t read his stuff in awhile either.
8. H.P. Lovecraft, the Call of Cthulhu – Liked his poetry, time to check out one of his classic tales.
9. Weird Tales magazine- A plethora of short stories.

Also on a speculative note, the Hugos came and went. Paolo Bacigalupi’s the Windup Girl and China Miéville’s the City & The City tied for best novel. I’m glad Moon received a Hugo, it was a great indie film. I’m still a bit annoyed that three episodes of Doctor Who made up five of the nominees, but oh well. With those odds, it’s unsurprising that one of them was awarded. I’m really happy Seanan McGuire received the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, but I’m biased.

I just found out the 2012 WorldCon (Chicon 7) will be in Chicago. I really really want to go to the one in Reno next year, especially knowing friends will be there, but a 14 hour drive is so much more doable than a flight out west. Still plenty of time to figure it all out and conspire with friends.

Posted by: Mish | August 28, 2010

Science Fiction Challenge II

One of science fiction’s quirks is that it’s more encompassing than specified genres like mystery so not as clearly defined. That’s one reason why I like it, but also think it’s detrimental and confusing for some. It seems that what turns a lot of people off from the genre is the stigma that it’s all aliens, robots, outer space, scientific terminology, and Star Wars, but it’s so much more than that. In brief, it’s a vast literature of ideas and infinite possibilities that may include the past or future, a completely different timeline, utopias or dystopias, science and technology like time travel, or an invasion of body snatchers. There’s something for everyone, from alternate histories to classics like Frankenstein and H.G. Wells to contemporary literature like the Handmaid’s Tale and then some. I love the genre because of its wide study, commentary, and exploration of humanity and technology. From cyberpunks to super-humans and beyond, it spans tastes and is limited only by the imagination.

I decided to start a science fiction reading challenge for several reasons. Firstly, I acquired a few books and a pile of recommended reading at last year’s WorldCon and thought others might be interested in an open read along. Secondly, to scrape off some of the stigma mentioned above. Thirdly, people who generally don’t read sci-fi frequently ask where to start. Fourthly, although I enjoy reading fantasy I feel its growing popularity has pushed sci-fi to the sidelines. Lastly, I’ve discovered that challenges not only stimulate conversation among bibliophiles, but they’re fun as well. Anyway…

Guidelines:

1. Read 4 or 8 science fiction books (or audio books). Some suggestions are below.
2. The challenge runs from August 28, 2010 to August 8, 2011. You may join at any time.
3. Sign up using Mr. Linky below (please link directly to your post). If you don’t have a blog, just enter your name and leave the URL blank.
4. Each time you read a book, please link to your reviews. If you don’t do reviews, no biggie.
5. Overlaps with other challenges are fine.
6. Have fun.

Sign up:


Since it won’t display here, the list of participants is here.

A few icons available for use:

sf_challenge1 sf_challenge3 sf_challenge2

A compilation of possibilities:

Classics:

  • Isaac Asimov: I, Robot
  • Philip K. Dick
  • William Gibson: Neuromancer (Sprawl trilogy)
  • Robert Heinlein: early works, Stranger in a Strange Land
  • Ursula Le Guin: the Lathe of Heaven or the Left Hand of Darkness
  • Judith Merril
  • George Orwell: Animal Farm or Nineteen-Eighty Four
  • Theodore Sturgeon
  • Jack Vance
  • H.G. Wells

Contemporary:

  • Sylvie Bérard
  • Steven Boyett: Ariel
  • Samuel “Chip” Delany
  • Nancy Kress
  • Georges Panchard: Forteresse
  • Ann McCaffrey
  • Colin Robertson: Alan Steel trilogy
  • Michael Swanwick: the Iron Dragon’s Daughter
  • Élisabeth Vonarburg
  • Tesseracts Q (Anthology)

More resources and reading:

Posted by: Mish | August 22, 2010

BTT Fifty-Five

Booking Through Thursday asks this week:

1. Favorite childhood book?
Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle came to mind first.

2. What are you reading right now?
James Joyce’s Ulysses, Catherynne Valente’s Circumnavigated Fairyland, Ursula Le Guin’s Language of the Night, and Year’s Best Fantasy 3 from Eos Books.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
None, I prefer buying books or borrowing from friends.

4. Bad book habit?
Can’t think of any.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Nothing.

6. Do you have an e-reader?
I occasionally use my palm pilot for old books available through Project Gutenberg. Much to my chagrin I left Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at a friend’s so read all but seven chapters on my palm. I finished it the night before returning, go figure.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
Several, I like having something for different mindsets.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Nope.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth was okay.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
Hmm…either Steven Barnes’ Lion’s Blood, Michael Swanwick’s Iron Dragon’s Daughter, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. They’re really phenomenal and so different from each other.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Rarely, I have a hard enough time reading everything I’d like in my zone.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Just about anything: classic lit, general and speculative fiction, nonfiction.

13. Can you read on the bus?
No, I get carsick. But I can read on an airplane or a boat no matter the conditions.

14. Favorite place to read?
On my bed, in my chair, or a friend’s backyard on the river.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
I trust those I’m lending to so don’t feel the need for one.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
Not since I was a kid.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
Sometimes, though mainly in play scripts.

18.  Not even with text books?
Certainly, highlighting and penning in texts.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?
English.

20. What makes you love a book?
Compelling plot, the storytelling and writing, and character development.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
The plot and writing and if I think a person will like something based on their tastes.

22. Favorite genre?
Speculative fiction. I could use a new bookshelf specifically for all the SF/F that’s currently double rowed and stacked.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
I don’t read as much classic literature as I used to, though I’ve been gorging on it this summer.

Favorite biography?
Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman about his father’s experiences during the Holocaust because it reflected those of my relatives and too many others. Read at 14, the graphic novels made a lasting impression.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
Yep.

26. Favorite cookbook?
The binder of recipes I’ve compiled through the years. It started as a copy of my mom’s collection and grew from there.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
The alternate history Lion’s Blood by Steven Barnes for which I still need to do a proper post. It’s spiritual, emotional, psychological, insightful, moving, better the second time around, a long time favourite, and then some.

28. Favorite reading snack?
I occasionally treat myself to the Chinese buffet and nosh while I read.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
Paulo Coehlo’s the Alchemist was raved about by a lot of people, including the friend who highly recommended it, and it wasn’t that great.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I don’t pay attention to them so don’t know.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
Honesty is a good policy and if I didn’t like something I’ll say so.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
Yiddish. I know some of the basics, but if I were fluent then reading Isaac Bashevis Singer’s and other Yiddish writers’ works would be more enjoyable and colourful. A lazy, good for nothing just doesn’t have the same ring as schlimazel nor does clumsy jerk instead of schlimiel.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
If I can survive James Joyce’s Ulysses I can read anything. I finally made the 300 page benchmark, only 450 pages to go.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
It was Ulysses, but the runner up would be Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

35. Favorite Poet?
Robert Frost who wrote my favourite poem, “the Road Not Taken”:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

I had the unexpected pleasure of visiting his house turned museum and grave site in southern Vermont last summer.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
Nil.

37. How often have you returned books to the library unread?
I don’t think ever.

38. Favorite fictional character?
Kai from Lion’s Blood. He’s a bit self-serving at times, but he questions, struggles, and grows.

39. Favorite fictional villain?
Count Fosco from the Woman in White is the epitome of evil brilliance, plus he’s quite the character.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
One or three from the Dread Pile o’Reads that’s been waiting in the queue.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
Maybe 48 hours.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Gone With the Wind when I was about 16. I got distracted by school and assigned reading and never finished the last two or three hundred pages.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
MysTic when she walks in front of the pages.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
Frankenstein directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh with Robert DeNiro, Helena Bonham Carter, and Aidan Quinn. Seeing it again recently reminded me I hadn’t read the book. Aside from omitting a few minor scenes and characters, it stays true to the book. Plus it has a great cast.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Wizard of Earthsea was a butchering of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
Probably $100 once or twice.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
Once in awhile if it’s a book that just happens to catch my eye while browsing and I’m not familiar with the author.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
An apocalypse, I usually finish what I started.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?

Yes, it makes it easier to find something. Bookshelf 1: General fiction, Mercedes Lackey, speculative fiction, esoteric books by subject. Bookshelf 2: Classic literature, plays, art, non-fiction, reference, college texts by subject, theatre texts by subject on the bottom because they’re the heaviest. Cookbooks are basically sorted by cuisine on the baker’s rack in the kitchen.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
Keep them for my personal library, but I’ve gotten better at getting rid of books I don’t really feel the need to keep.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
Harry Potter because of all the hype and having several other books/series that take priority. After an interesting conversation with a friend who forced me to take them I have the first four books on my shelves. When I’ll actually get to them, I dunno.

52. Name a book that made you angry.
The Treasure Box by the preachy bigot Orson Scott Card. I’d never been so tempted to throw a book against the wall as with “Soap Box”.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
I had a vague idea that I would like Moby Dick, but was surprised at how much I did.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
Until “Soap Box” I thoroughly liked what I’d read by Card, a couple of his works are among my favourites, so it was a huge disappointment that pissed me off- still does.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
I never feel guilty when reading and it’s always for pleasure.

Posted by: Mish | August 14, 2010

District 9, Moon, Up and Beyond

If it weren’t for the Hugo Awards I probably wouldn’t have heard of Moon or rented District 9 one night. Both are so fantastic and compelling I can’t say which I liked more. Star Trek and Avatar were entertaining in their own way. Up was cute and comical.

Moon: Sam Bell is an astronaut miner contracted to extract a lunar gas that would end Earth’s energy crisis. Towards the end of his three-years, Sam (Sam Rockwell) starts feeling like he’s losing his mind and can’t wait to return to his wife and daughter. His only companionship is a computer named Gerty (Kevin Spacey), whose job is to keep Sam safe, among other things. After an accident, Sam makes a few ominous discoveries- starting with the identity of his replacement who looks all too familiar and realizes his life may not be entirely his own. Written and directed by Duncan Jones.

I really liked the thought provoking, psychological thriller. The slow buildup works to its benefit, though some may find it too slow. Gerty is reminiscent of Space Odyssey‘s Hal, but with smileys :).  Saying more would give everything away.

District 9: The South African government setup a district for extraterrestrial refugees 28 years ago. As the humans grow wary of the aliens, Multi-National United is assigned the task of controlling them. But MNU is more interested in understanding their advanced weaponry, which requires alien DNA. When MNU agent Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is exposed to biotechnology that causes his DNA to mutate, tensions intensify. Wanted by MNU and locals, Wikus retreats to District 9 in desperation. Directed and written by Neill Blomkamp, written by Terry Tatchell, and produced by Peter Jackson.

It’s the best action film I’ve seen in a long time, mainly because of its intriguingly deep plot. It took about ten minutes to get into it and understand the documentary style beginning, but then I was hooked for the rest of the emotional and psychological wild ride.

Star Trek: James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is a sharp but aimless young man prodded by captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to enlist in Starfleet. At the Academy, Kirk  and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are off to a bad start. Starfleet’s new Enterprise and crew respond to an emergency call from Vulcan. Meanwhile, a vengeful Romulan (Eric Bana) has particular interest in Spock. Undergoing trial by fire are the Enterprise‘s crew: McCoy (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), Chekhov (Anton Yelchin), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and Scotty (Simon Pegg). Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock, also makes an appearance. Directed by J.J. Abrams and written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.

It was a good, entertaining prequel and homage to Gene Roddenberry’s classic TV series. There’s action, humor, good ole fun, and even some insider references. I’m not a Trekker, but I enjoy watching the old and newer series once in awhile.

Avatar: Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic veteran continues his dead brother’s job for a corporation wanting to mine on the planet Pandora. Unfortunately, the ore’s biggest deposit lies beneath the home of the indigenous Na’vi, who have been at war with the company’s security led by Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). Through the use of DNA and host bodies called avatars, humans can experience Pandora, the scientific team led by Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore) can work and research, and Jake can use his limbs. Jake’s avatar is rescued by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who brings him to her tribe to give the humans a second chance. As Jake becomes familiar with the Na’vi and Pandora, he’s torn between worlds and battle lines are drawn. Written and directed by James Cameron.

The graphics were absolutely stunning, but it didn’t offer much more than 3-D eye candy in my humble opinion. I was really looking forward to the film because the premise sounded good and Cameron hadn’t done a film since Titanic in ’97 and that was good. However, the subplots of boy meets girl, destruction of one for the benefit of another, and new ways vs old were too transparent and stale for me so the movie fell flat. On the upside, it’s the first film where a friend’s 16-year old didn’t talk except for a whispered “cool!” and it helped make a memorable Christmas Eve. I also got a kick out of his mom asking if she could tag along.

Up: Carl Fredricksen, a retired balloon salesman, sets out for the paradise of his childhood dreams by tying balloons to his house. After lift off, an eight year old Wilderness Explorer named Russell pleads to come in. During their adventure, the unlikely duo befriend a talking dog named Dug and a large rare bird dubbed Kevin. They discover things aren’t always what they seem and that sometimes the biggest adventures are those not sought. Written and directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson.

As with most Pixar films, Up was cute and funny. It was also touching with a few “aww” moments. Ed Asner giving voice to crotchety Mr. Fredricksen was a pleasant surprise. When I was young I thought I could be carried away by balloons so it was fun to see. It’s a good film for explorers of all ages.

I was inspired this year to start watching the films nominated for the Hugo Awards. A friend annually watches Academy Award nominees, but five films of the science fiction and fantasy variety are more my style and doable. It took eight months just to watch the handful, Up was last night. I don’t know why I didn’t do this previously, but better late than never. I’m curious to see which film the WorldCon community selects to receive a Hugo on September 5th. Actually, I’m looking forward to hearing the outcome for all the awesome writers and artists recognized.

If you’ve seen any of these, what did you think?

Posted by: Mish | August 10, 2010

Brave New Words

“We live in a world shaped in large measure by the images and ideas of science fiction—and the language we speak has been shaped the same way.”

I love science fiction and learning about languages so Robert Silverberg’s article in Asimov’s last month was really interesting. I knew some commonly used words today come from science fiction, like “cyberspace” thanks to William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), but only a handful and not the particulars. Now aware of its existence, I may have to get a copy of Brave New Words aka Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction from which Silverberg drew examples:

Robot- Karel Capek’s 1923 play, R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots), about the advent of quasi-intelligent mechanical laborers. The word’s Slavic variations mean hard, boring work. Silverberg mentions seeing the sign “UWAGA! ROBOTY BUDOWLANE!” in Poland, “Were we being warned against berserk robots in the vicinity? Not quite.” More like “Danger! Construction work!”.

Android- Popularized in the thirties, but originally used centuries ago to describe artificial beings created by alchemists. Droid- George Lucas’s Star Wars.

Viruses (computer)- David Gerrold’s 1972 novel When Harlie Was One. Similarly, worm was used in John Brunner’s 1975 novel Shockwave Rider.

Flash crash- A quickly assembled group called together by Internet or cellphone. Larry Liven used the term in his 1973 novel of the same name.

ET- Not of this earth. Traced back as far as C.M. Kornbluth’s pulp story in 1941. Stephen Spielberg reintroduced the term in 1982 with his movie E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

“Science fiction movies and television shows have much greater audiences than even the most popular SF novel, which is why their coinages pass so readily into the language. Beam me up, Scotty…  in its sense of ‘Get me out of here fast.’ It originated, of course, on Star Trek, as did many another phrase now in colloquial use.”

Outer space- From another film, It Came From Outer Space in 1953, that was adapted from a story by Ray Bradbury.

“Let us hope Bradbury had nothing to do with coining that silly locution. Where is ‘outer space’? How far out there do we have to go to reach it?.  The movie did lead British novelist J.B. Priestley to urge writers, a year later, to devote themselves instead to the literary exploration of inner space, ‘the hidden life of the psyche’, and ‘inner space’, too, has passed into our language as the antithesis of the place where the dumb sci-fi movies are set.”

Orwellian- George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four coined numerous words such as Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, etc. It also honored the author.

Sci-fi- Used by Robert Heinlein in 1949 to describe one of his short stories.

“Another hateful term that will never be eradicated from our language. It was coined, apparently, by analogy with ‘hi-fi’, a twentieth-century term short for ‘high fidelity’, referring to superior reproduction of musical sound. It’s reasonable enough to collapse… ‘science’ into ‘sci-‘, but abbreviating ‘fiction’ as ‘fi’ has always struck me as barbarous.”

Science fiction-A literature of ideas was found in 1851 explaining it about “a knowledge of the Poetry of Science, clothed in the Poetry of Life”. It set the forerunner for Hugo Gersback’s Amazing Stories, the first scientifiction magazine about 75-years later. It also gave us numerous terminology like alien, time machine, spacesuit, and a slew of others.

Anyway, there’s a lot of good food for thought. I look forward to reading some more insights, examples, Silverberg, and then some.

Posted by: Mish | August 8, 2010

Sci-Fi Challenge Landing

SF Challenge In wrapping up the Sci-Fi Reading Challenge, thank you to all the participants. I figured maybe a dozen would be interested, so 37 sign-ups was a welcome surprise. I hope your explorations of science fiction were a success- you liked what you read and had fun. I enjoyed looking at the wide array of selections, from Margaret Atwood to Robert Heinlein to Mary Shelley and a slew of others. Thank you all for making me feel like my first hosted challenge was a success. For those inclined, please feel free to share your wrap-up posts on the roster.

For those who were new to and/or wary of SF, what were your impressions and would you possibly be interested in reading more? I guess now is a good time to announce that the challenge relaunches on August 28th.

“There’s a great fear of the imagination. It’s a dangerous thing. It’s out of control, it’s subversive.” ~Ursula Le Guin

My original, tentative selections were:

1. Anthology: Worlds Apart
2. Michael Swanwick: the Iron Dragon’s Daughter
3. something by Isaac Asimov
4. something by Robert Heinlein
5. Sylvie Bérard: Terre des Autres and/or Of Wind and Sand
6. Robert Silverberg: Majipoor Chronicles
7. C.S. Lewis: Perelandra
8. C.S. Lewis: Out of the Silent Planet

The outcome was:

1. Robert Heinlein: Tunnel in the Sky
2. Robert Silverberg: Majipoor Chronicles
3. Anthology: Worlds Apart
4. Robert Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land
5. Steven Barnes: Lion’s Blood
6. Steven Barnes: Zulu Heart
7. Jules Verne: Journey to the Center of the Earth
8. Michael Swanwick: the Iron Dragon’s Daughter

I’d only read some short stories by Heinlein before so it was good to read a couple of his novels and I’ll be reading more. I liked Worlds Apart more for it’s GLBT reason to be, but overall it was pretty good. The rest of Silverberg’s Majipoor series is in the reading queue. Lion’s Blood and Zulu Heart are long-time favourites that were better the second time around. Verne’s book was okay, but I’m wondering if part of it was due to the translation- that’s what I’m telling myself. I’m really glad I finally got around to reading Swanwick’s dark fairytale and will be reading it again.

I’m looking forward to exploring more new authors, books, and worlds with this year’s upcoming SF challenge.

Posted by: Mish | August 6, 2010

SF and Predictions

In the introduction to the Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin writes:

Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.

Predictions are uttered by prophets (free of charge); by clairvoyants (who usually charge a fee, and are therefore more honored in their day than prophets); and by futurologists (salaried). Prediction is the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurologists. It is not the business of novelists. A novelist’s business is lying.

The weather bureau will tell you what next Tuesday will be like, and the Rand Corporation will tell you what the twenty-first century will be like. I don’t recommend that you turn to the writers of fiction for such information. It’s none of their business. All they’re trying to do is tell you what they’re like, and what you’re like – what’s going on – what the weather is now, today, this moment, the rain, the sunlight, look! Open your eyes; listen, listen. That is what the novelists say. But they don’t tell you what you will see and hear. All they can tell you is what they have seen and heard, in their time in this world, a third of it spent in sleep and dreaming, another third of it spent in telling lies.

“The truth against the world!” – Yes. Certainly. Fiction writers, at least in their braver moments, do desire the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it. But they go about it in a peculiar and devious way, which consists in inventing persons, places, and events which never did and never will exist or occur, and telling about these fictions in detail and at length and with a great deal of emotion, and then when they are done writing down this pack of lies, they say, There! That’s the truth!

Lying sounds harshly extreme. I prefer thinking of speculative fiction writers as aware and speculating on society’s and technology’s possibilities.

After Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1869, submarines were popularized and improved. They had been used for exploration and warfare since the 17th century with varying degrees of success. Verne named his submarine after the Nautilus built in 1800. Ironically, Verne was ambivalent towards technological advances.

Closer to home is William Gibson’s Neuromancer in which a cyber-thief is hired to hack into a computer network. It was published in 1984, before computers became commonly used and popular. Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” and began what would become a SF subgenre, cyberpunk. Published in 1992, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash includes virtual reality, viruses, hackers, and avatars. In the acknowledgments section of a more recent edition, Stephenson writes:

The idea of a virtual reality such as the Metaverse is by now widespread in the computer graphics community and is being implemented in a number of different ways…

In thinking about how the Metaverse might be constructed I was influenced by the Apple Human Interface Guidelines which is a book that explains the philosophy behind the Macintosh. Again, this point is made only to acknowledge the beneficial influence of the people who compiled said document, not to link these poor innocents with its results.

Finally, after the first publication of Snow Crash I learned that the term “avatar” had actually been in use for a number of years as part of a virtual reality system called Habitat…(which) runs on Commodore 64 computers.

Connected to computer technology, Stephenson had a few ideas about their possibilities. Nowadays there’s Second Life and way too many hackers inserting viruses and thieving. There’s currently a massive virus camouflaged as an anti program with seven in its name. Beware, it’s one of the worst out there and is an extremely delicate, lengthy, and pain in the ass operation to remove.

———————————————————————————

Tired of searching through my SF notebook, I’m finally posting an index. It’s a collection of notes taken during panel discussions, reading lists, and other bits of randomness about speculative fiction that caught my interest.

With the SF reading challenge and WorldCon approaching, my brain is shifting towards science fiction. Australia is sadly too far for me to participate in this year’s fascinating discussions and con fun, but I am considering attending next year when it’s in Nevada. It’s a slight possibility, but a possibility none the less.

Posted by: Mish | August 2, 2010

An Ideal Husband and Being Earnest

In Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, Sir Robert Chiltern is perfect in every way, or so his wife believes. Unbeknown to her, he shared inside government information to advance his young political career. Mrs Cheveley comes along threatening to expose and ruin him politically and socially. But if one’s going to blackmail, one should have a clean record as well. There is also Lord Goring, who although a close friend of the Chilterns is declined permission to wed Mabel, Robert’s sister.

Lady Chiltern: Robert is as incapable of doing a foolish thing as he is of doing a wrong thing.

Lord Goring: Nobody is incapable of doing a foolish thing. Nobody is incapable of doing a wrong thing.

The Importance of Being Earnest is a Wilde take on what’s in a name. Jack and Algernon use false names to escape Society and obligations. Jack is known as Ernest by his ward Cecily in the countryside, but Jack when he’s in London. Jack’s intention to wed Gwendolyn is impeded because his name isn’t Ernest nor is he earnest. Her mother, Lady Bracknell, is also opposed because Jack was found in a handbag and his unknown pedigree won’t help her rise in Society. In order to meet Cecily, Algernon disguises himself as Ernest’s made-up misbehaving brother Jack.

Jack: As a high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to either one’s health or one’s happiness, in order to get up to town I have always pretended to have a younger brother of the name of Ernest, who lives in the Albany, and gets into the most dreadful scrapes.

Wilde believed in art for art’s sake and didn’t pull any punches. His stylish and often humorous commentary makes his works memorable. Opened in 1895, the farces’ satirical stages are set by marriage, money, and morality- the holy mantra during Victorian England’s “Naughty Nineties”. Pro-aesthetic Wilde rebelled against the conforming social standards, preferring individual freedom, beauty over morality, and flair. Wilde’s and Society’s clashing values are predominately dramatized through the dandies against more respectable characters, such as Ideal‘s Lord Goring who says:

Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear… Vulgarity is the conduct of other people… Falsehoods the truths of other people… Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible society is oneself… To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.

It’s also shown through Ideal’s lines and “escaping” in Earnest. While threatening Sir Robert Chiltern, Mrs Cheveley says:

Remember to what a point your Puritanism in England has brought you. In old days nobody pretended to be a bit better than his neighbours. In fact, to be a bit better than one’s neighbours was considered excessively vulgar and middle-class. Nowadays, with our modern mania for morality, everyone has to pose as a paragon of purity, incorruptibility, and all the other seven deadly virtues- and what is the result? You all go over like ninepins-one after the other.

Wilde’s artistic genius lies in using familiar styles to blatantly mock Society. Ideal is similar to the melodramas and farces of the Victorian era. It has stock characters of the virtuous wife, the husband with a secret past, and the “other woman” in a stock storyline with love, sacrifice, forgiveness, and a happy ending. In the earnest comedy of manners, Jack and Algernon are stock characters who are immoral and use disguises. As per the genre, the scandal around them is upstaged by the witty dialogue. One thing I’ve noticed is that the best and most quoted lines seem to come from supporting characters.

Mrs Cheveley: Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike. .. Questions are never indiscreet. Answers sometimes are. .. As a rule, everybody turns out to be somebody else.

Lord Goring: Life cannot be lived without much charity. It is love, and not German philosophy, that is the true explanation of this world, whatever may be the explanation of the next.

Algernon: It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read. .. All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.

One thing that stands out in Ideal is the character descriptions by correlating them with artists and styles. Lady Chiltern is a “grave Greek beauty” and Sir Robert Chiltern’s head could be painted by Vandyck while Mrs Cheveley is “a work of art, on the whole, but showing the influence of too many schools”.

During Earnest‘s premiere, Wilde was brought to court by the Marquess of Queensberry for indecent relations. He was prosecuted and served two years with hard labor. I saw a fantastic production of Gross Indecency: the Three Trials of Oscar Wilde by Moises Kaufman a few years ago, but still needfully want to read it.

I liked the plays, but enjoyed An Ideal Husband more than the Importance of Being Earnest. I found it funnier and more interesting, partially because of Lord Goring and Mrs Cheveley. I really like Wilde’s writing and will be reading the four plays I haven’t yet read, along with some poetry, essays, and possibly children’s fiction.

I read Ideal and Earnest back to back in July for the GLBT Challenge hosted by Amanda, which is also why I read some of Wilde’s works last year. It was good incentive to read what’s been waiting on my shelves for far too long while getting more familiar with Wilde’s artistic genius.

If you’ve read or seen anything by Wilde, what did you think?

Sir Robert Chiltern: Do you really think, Arthur, that it is weakness that yields to temptation? I tell you that there are terrible temptations that it requires strength, strength and courage, to yield to. To stake all one’s life on a single moment, to risk everything on one throw, whether the stake be power or pleasure, I care not- there is no weakness in that. There is a horrible, a terrible courage.

Algernon: It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I”ll certainly try to forget the fact.

Jack: I have no doubt about that, dear Algy. The Divorce Court was specially invented for people whose memories are so curiously constituted.

Posted by: Mish | July 31, 2010

Spec Fic Tidbits

Ursula Le Guin may say no to Hollywood giants when asked about rights for movies, but she said yes to a couple film students interested in her short story “the Field of Vision”. Not only that, but for free as well. The 20-minute film of the same name is about a mission to Mars gone awry that leaves astronauts psychologically damaged and premieres in February in England. I guess Le Guin figures Rob Watson and Siri Rodnes with a £12,000 budget and numerous volunteers can’t do any worse than the Sci Fi/Syfy Channel’s butchering of the Earthsea series, about which an angry Le Guin wrote:

“All they intended was to use the name Earthsea, and some of the scenes from the books, in a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence…That’s the beauty of science fiction and fantasy—freedom of invention. But with all freedom comes responsibility. Which is something these filmmakers seem not to understand.”

Le Guin’s generous assistance to the young filmmakers adds to the pile why she is one of my favourites.

Speaking of film adaptations, Neil Gaiman handed in a script for Anansi Boys. What Hollywood does with the prequel to American Gods, time will tell. I may have to watch the episode of Doctor Who Gaiman wrote. I’ve only seen a handful of episodes with David Tennant, but it’s hard to resist a plug like this:

“(I wrote a Very Expensive Episode. I didn’t mean to. It just happened that way, and there was not enough money left in the Season 5 budget to make it).”

Joss Whedon will be directing the Avengers. It’s official and awesome.

The hunters and werewolves movie Red with Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible, BtVS) will be released soon. I may not agree with everything the Syfy Channel does (like changing their spelling or butchering great books), but I’ll be taking advantage of a friend’s cable to see Day. That reminds me I need to catch up on the Guild, a webseries she created. It’s funny and full of inside jokes, if you’re into WoW or D&D.

Renee O’Connor (Xena) is working on a “reinvented Moby Dick” with the makers of Transmorphers and Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid. She plays Ishmael while  Barry Bostwick (Brad from Rocky Horror Picture Show) is the monomaniac Captain Ahab.

“At the end, I’m rowing in the coffin. It’s fun, we’re having fun.”

I’m cringing but amused at the same time. But as Le Guin said, speculative fiction is about freedom of invention…

Posted by: Mish | July 30, 2010

Ulysses: Shite and Onions

Don’t know whether it’s a compliment, an insult, or a mix of both, but apparently I write like James Joyce. I’m currently on page 90 of 750 of Ulysses. Took a suggestion to read it as a stream of consciousness. Makes it slightly easier, but it’s still a slogger. Too early to say how I feel about it. Could be better, could be worse. Busy schedule that leaves me tuckered doesn’t help. Caught quite a few allusions, mainly about Oscar Wilde and art. Really like Wilde’s writing. Coworker said A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a better introduction to Joyce. It’s a helluva lot shorter that’s for sure. He’s currently reading Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, we get along handsomely. Why am I participating in the read-along hosted by Infinite Zombies? Because misery loves company. Besides, the posts make a good study guide. Also for the Book of the Century Challenge and my inclination to read banned books. Interesting tidbits about Joyce’s “pornographic” novel at some point.

Shite and onions. I’m no way near where that expression appears, but thanks to Sarah for bringing it, the analyzer, and the read-along to my attention. Pfffft…

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

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