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"My hands are full of snow."

Here we go with the higgledy-piggledy again. It's a coolish day here in Providence, but sunny. After the anticlimax of Hurricane Earl, summer collapsed like a leaky balloon. Now it's sweater weather again.

I love that William Gibson tweeted "Johnette Napolitano is my Anne Rice. Seriously. Wonderful writer."

Yesterday, I finished writing my story for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, though it still doesn't have a title. Which, I suppose, means that, technically, it's still not finished. I wrote 1,171 words yesterday. This story has been tedious to write, but I like the end result. It has required the constant consulting of texts, on subjects as diverse as pop culture, bog mummies, Arabian mythology, Irish and French geography, owls, early 20th-Century occultism, X-ray microtomography, the chemical composition of claw sheaths, weird fiction in the 1980s, rogue taxidermy, social constructionism, and Parisian ossuaries.

My new passport came yesterday, so no more worries about photo ID. This new passport is oddly high tech. I know it's being used to track me by satellite. It won't have to be renewed again until I'm fifty-six, and I imagine by then the world will hardly be recognizable.

---

Still reading Kristin Hersh's memoir, Rat Girl. There's a bit I want to quote. She's writing about writing music, but it applies (for me) equally to writing prose:

Music's making me do things, live stories so I can write them into songs. It pushes my brain and my days around. A parasite that kills its host, it doesn't give a shit about what happens to a little rat girl as long as it gets some song bodies out of it. It's a hungry ghost, desperate for physicality.

I'm not writing songs anymore; they're writing
me.

♋ close your eyes

i'm sliding really fast
my hands are full of snow

i don't understand
i don't understand puzzles

And every time a song is done, you can go now...you aren't needed anymore.
-- Kristin Hersh

I like to lie about writing being like this for me. I've often declared that writing fiction is, for me, nothing like this.

---

Still reading Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. And I'm also still thinking about the problem posed by A is for Alien, how it didn't do as well as all my other subpress books (i.e., it hasn't sold out). And between the reading and the pondering, something has occurred to me, and maybe it should have occurred to me before. Stephenson's book is, undoubtedly, marvelous. The worldbuilding is first rate, from the tech to the sociology (even though I think he's slightly too optimistic). And he truly has written a post-cyberpunk pastiche of a Charles Dickens novel. But, I find the book oddly lacking in emotional content and depth. The characters aren't precisely flat. But there's very little insight into how they feel about the world about them or about each other or about themselves. At times, they seem to exist in order to show us the book's technology and history and so forth. They're almost no more than plot and setting delivery devices. I feel like they're all living out a tragedy they're never allowed to recognize as such.

I have often heard it said that science fiction is the literature of ideas. Fair enough. But I don't think it ought to be the literature of ideas to the exclusion of exploring pathos, delight, fear, and so forth. And it certainly didn't used to be. But I haven't read much sf after the cyberpunks of the '80s. So maybe things have changed. Or maybe I'm placing too much weight on a single data point (though that matter of "mundane sf" rears its head). Anyway, my sf is primarily concerned with human emotion, with the characters, and only secondarily concerned with science and technology. Often, the science it is most concerned with is psychology, and I'm just wondering if that's part of what I'm trying to make sense of here. I recognize I may be barking up the wrong tree; but I need to check all of them, all these trees.

---

Good rp in Insilico last night. And an interesting ooc conversation right before I logged of SL, a conversation with Blair (the person I'm mostly rping with these days) about living vicariously through our roleplay characters. We both acknowledge that's what we're doing. Me, I'm exploring various issues of identity by having an android pass through various incarnations, becoming progressively human. Anyway, it's mostly interesting because I've known a lot of people who are very resistant to the idea that rp involves this sort of therapeutic vicariousness. But I think it's where the true value of rp lies, in allowing us to explore secret parts of ourselves. Now, admittedly, it can also allow us to view the world through alien eyes, through minds not our own, and try to become people we aren't. But the best we can ever manage in those situations it to try, because all our characters will always only be splinters of us.

Comments

( 22 comments — Have your say! )
sovay
Sep. 16th, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC)
It has required the constant consulting of texts, on subjects as diverse as pop culture, bog mummies, Arabian mythology, Irish and French geography, owls, early 20th-Century occultism, X-ray microtomography, the chemical composition of claw sheaths, weird fiction in the 1980s, rogue taxidermy, social constructionism, and Parisian ossuaries.

Sounds lovely.

I feel like they're all living out a tragedy they're never allowed to recognize as such.

That's a beautifully worded diagnosis.

I prefer my literature of ideas with people, thank you.
greygirlbeast
Sep. 16th, 2010 05:37 pm (UTC)

I prefer my literature of ideas with people, thank you.

Pretty much, yeah. And it's weird. I am enjoying The Diamond Age, but I can't escape the feeling that something's missing.
(Deleted comment)
greygirlbeast
Sep. 16th, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC)

Harlan has said that science fiction is about how the future affects people.

Which I think is a good and functional definition.
octopuspoop
Sep. 16th, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
In response to your worries about 'A is for Alien', I have to say it was some of the best SF I have read, and I feel it is because you put emotion first. I found your work in that book to be some of your best, and I hope you see a future in writing a novel, or at least most short stores similar. "Riding the White Bull", "Zero Summer", and "Bradbury Weather" were my favorites, but all of the stories were beyond excellent in both the world development and emotional development.

Sometimes I feel you have started to make your own genre and I hope you feel encouraged enough to continue exploring because it is such a breath of fresh air.

My thoughts as to why it isn't selling as well may be because you are not known for your SF and it doesn't seem like something most of your readers, ones that I have had contact with, are interested in. You have done Dark Fantasy/ Horror so well that some may be scared to venture into something they aren't familiar with. I could be completely wrong, but it is my observation from my cave.
greygirlbeast
Sep. 16th, 2010 06:27 pm (UTC)

In response to your worries about 'A is for Alien', I have to say it was some of the best SF I have read, and I feel it is because you put emotion first. I found your work in that book to be some of your best, and I hope you see a future in writing a novel, or at least most short stores similar. "Riding the White Bull", "Zero Summer", and "Bradbury Weather" were my favorites, but all of the stories were beyond excellent in both the world development and emotional development.

Thank you, and I probably already have enough sf for a second sf collection. Just not sure how much enthusiasm I have for such a volume right now.

Sometimes I feel you have started to make your own genre

That's about the best compliment I can imagine getting.

My thoughts as to why it isn't selling as well may be because you are not known for your SF and it doesn't seem like something most of your readers, ones that I have had contact with, are interested in. You have done Dark Fantasy/ Horror so well that some may be scared to venture into something they aren't familiar with. I could be completely wrong, but it is my observation from my cave.

You're not the first to make this suggestion. It may have some validity.
(Deleted comment)
greygirlbeast
Sep. 16th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC)

Often when I read Stephenson, I feel the omission you describe, that his characters are indifferent toward their mindless drudgery of existence, and they follow their paths as pawns lacking anything better to do, their lives predestined.

I think that pretty close to what I'm trying to describe. And it's weird, because I genuinely am enjoying the narrative. I just feel the book missed a chance to be a far better novel by not allowing its characters to be people.

Many of your own characters also experience the drudgery and recognize the futility of fighting their fates, but you seize that oppression and wring from it every emotion and metaphor. You mop the floor with the tears and self-pity of those who surrender. Meanwhile, your strong characters rally themselves with the adage "I can fuck plenty with the future," and then they act, win or lose.

Wow. Gotta ponder this (not a bad thing).

This is progressively more so in his later novels, whereas you got the manipulative plot tropes worked out of your system early, and now for example, although the reader may know your main character will commit suicide, the paths leading to that eventuality will have many branches of uncertainty.

More to ponder! Sometimes, I'm pretty sure there are people who spend more time thinking about what I write than I do. I just write it.
(Deleted comment)
greygirlbeast
Sep. 17th, 2010 12:02 am (UTC)
Think of the great writers from the days before even the typewriter, putting quill to paper. The economics of their situation forced them to think through each sentence, each clause and every phrase. Such deliberation cannot help but improve the quality of the resultant writing.

I see your point here, though, ironically, the method I employ is peculiarly dependent on using a word processing programme. I'm not sure I can explain. But think of Scrabble tiles...

Perhaps here is the 'problem' in selling your SF. Dark fantasy has a long and respected history of literate writing that SF lacks. Connoisseurs of fantasy and horror stop just short of demanding lyrical prose steeped in the metaphysical. The same cannot be said of SF fandom through the 20th century.

Something else to ponder.

There are sf writers I adore: Harlan Ellison, Frank Herbert, Ursula K. LeGuin, William Gibson, Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury...it's really a long list. And generally I do consider them artists. I'm just not sure. I can point to a strong current of anti-intellectualism and art-artistic sentiments in "horror," as well.

Edited at 2010-09-17 12:02 am (UTC)
miakodadreams
Sep. 16th, 2010 07:10 pm (UTC)
...it's mostly interesting because I've known a lot of people who are very resistant to the idea that rp involves this sort of therapeutic vicariousness. But I think it's where the true value of rp lies, in allowing us to explore secret parts of ourselves. Now, admittedly, it can also allow us to view the world through alien eyes, through minds not our own, and try to become people we aren't. But the best we can ever manage in those situations it to try, because all our characters will always only be splinters of us.

Well said. Do you do tabletop RP, as well? I've not tried anything like Insilico, but I'm curious how the two forms compare, in your opinion. The closest I've come to online RP was a short stint in WoW and Ultima Online -- both good venues for cracking skulls with friends, but a joke as far as RP goes (at least on our servers).

We occasionally do collaborative written stories/conversations between players or a player and the GM for a few of our tabletop games, and honestly I find those even more absorbing than the face-to-face interactions. There's something about being able to take the time to think and respond in your own time that makes those pieces more satisfying, to me. I find it easier to add more detail and depth to the responses, and a couple of the characters have become immensely more interesting to me -- especially the one that is essentially my polar opposite in most ways. (Which has been an interesting exercise in itself.)
greygirlbeast
Sep. 16th, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)

Well said. Do you do tabletop RP, as well? I've not tried anything like Insilico, but I'm curious how the two forms compare, in your opinion. The closest I've come to online RP was a short stint in WoW and Ultima Online -- both good venues for cracking skulls with friends, but a joke as far as RP goes (at least on our servers).

It's hard to write a short reply to a question I feel like deserves an essay.

Yes, WoW is not a fit venue for rp. And it took me a while to learn that and make peace with it, and let the game be just a game.

I started out with tabletop D&D in about 1978 (there was no other sort!), and did old-fashioned D&D as recently as 2005 But I never really thought of any of that as genuine rp. To me, roleplay is impromtu, improvisational theatre (I have some theatre background), and Second Life, in theory, is ideal for that form. In practice, there is very little good rp to be had in SL. You can find it in Insilico, though even there it can be tricky. This is freeform rp, and while there are GMs, they stay out of things unless there's trouble. Most of the stories are created by players, and many are only lived out by two or three players. At it's best, it's wonderfully organic and cathartic.

Having begun doing SL rp in May 2007, it's hard to ever imagine rp without a "visual interface." But then, I was always a sucker for LARP, and dice (while pretty, and attractive to me in a magpie shiny sort of way) are ponderous and annoying.
miakodadreams
Sep. 17th, 2010 03:42 am (UTC)
Hm, Insilico sounds intriguing. I have too many offline games grasping for my attention at the moment, or I'd be tempted to look into it. It does sound like an excellent method if you can find the right players, though.

We've been lucky with our groups over the last decade or so, in that the games have been fairly high-trust between players and driven by narrative rather than mechanics. We tend to play more urban fantasy and horror than traditional fantasy, and honestly we end up building as much of the world and setting as the GM, these days. It's an interesting exercise when the whole session feels like good improv -- we use customized character-quirk cards as our resolution tool, so you have to narrate the results. It doesn't feel like you're breaking the story to look up stats and roll your shiny magpie dice, which is nice. Especially compared to good old D&D.
spank_an_elf
Sep. 16th, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson's books leave me cold for the reason you describe; his characters are bloodless. He builds these fantastic, ornate creations and by the time he's finished placing the last speck of paint on the windowsills, he realizes he forgot to breathe life into the rooms. Characters feel secondary to the jammed-packed, elaborate bells and whistles worlds he spins. I swear the critics fawn over him (especially Anathem) since they have no fucking idea what he's talking about therefore he must be amazing. Pfffth.
greygirlbeast
Sep. 16th, 2010 09:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Neal Stephenson

I can't disagree with this. In a way, I'm just glad it's not only me seeing it. I almost feel like, the worldbuilding in The Diamond Age is so good, I wish I could go back through and introduce actual characters into the mix.

Edited at 2010-09-16 09:46 pm (UTC)
andsaca369
Sep. 16th, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC)
RP has been my therapy. I know there are legions out there who would decry it, but it's been amazing, the bits of me I've had to examine, face, face down, pass over and through and finally be okay with, all through pretending to be someone else dealing with those darknesses.

I'm glad I'm not alone.

*edit*

Also- I nearly forgot to say this, but I'm incredibly pleased and proud to have the opportunity to have something I've scribbled appear in a book with your story (Lambshead). Granted, I only contributed about seventy words of microfic, but still. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Edited at 2010-09-16 10:36 pm (UTC)
greygirlbeast
Sep. 16th, 2010 10:49 pm (UTC)

RP has been my therapy.

It's been part of mine for years, well before I found SL.
miakodadreams
Sep. 17th, 2010 03:56 am (UTC)
it's been amazing, the bits of me I've had to examine, face, face down, pass over and through and finally be okay with, all through pretending to be someone else dealing with those darknesses

So very true...

And congratulations on having your microfic published! You're entitled to feel both warm and fuzzy, I'm pretty sure.
kurtmulgrew
Sep. 16th, 2010 11:07 pm (UTC)
I read a sf book in high school called "Otherland" that I thought was such a great story. Some people didn't like it because it was so drawn out or too detailed or whatever. But it had such developed, unique characters that played so well with or against each other that it made them seem so real and that their course through the story could actully be something to care about. It's sorta like how Star Trek: Voyager did so well due to it's amazing cast but then the next series bombed cause all the characters were so similar and boring and one dimensional. Anyway, I just got "To Charles Fort, with Love" in the mail. Many thanks again. Now I can die happily.
ulffriend
Sep. 16th, 2010 11:39 pm (UTC)
The last sci fi that I made it all the way through was Stephen Donaldson's Gap cycle. Everything that I've attempted other than that has left me with feelings similiar to what you describe re: Stephenson's work. If someone asked me to describe it, I'd say that it was technically proficient (both in the science and the writing) but emotionally distant.

I have A is for Alien, but had already read a lot of the work in the original anthologies. I agree with you, the science isn't the heart of the work, it's the characters.

Perhaps, as others have suggested you are bridging a gap that many readers don't even realize is there - those who are more fantasy-oriented are afraid of "hard sci fi" (and you are a scientist by training, so it's not unreasonable to expect real science in your work) versus "real" sci fi fans who are afraid that your work will be too "soft" for their tastes.

For my part, I often choose my books by author - as long as that author doesn't violate my trust that the work will be there. If something is well written and makes emotional sense, I'll hang with it. Some names - yours, Peter Straub's, Jeffrey Ford's, Margaret Atwood's - will guarantee my purchase of a book. Genre is just the outfit your work wears, right?
greygirlbeast
Sep. 16th, 2010 11:54 pm (UTC)

Genre is just the outfit your work wears, right?

Well said, I think.

Everything that I've attempted other than that has left me with feelings similar to what you describe re: Stephenson's work. If someone asked me to describe it, I'd say that it was technically proficient (both in the science and the writing) but emotionally distant.

And, here, in part, we come back to that which is labeled "mundane sf" (which, by my understanding, is waning as an sf school in vogue, perhaps because the practitioners realized that "mundane" was a polite word for "dull," and dull is the last thing sf should be). Also, far too many sf writers are wannabe scientists, or, more commonly, engineers. And it shows.

Perhaps, as others have suggested you are bridging a gap that many readers don't even realize is there - those who are more fantasy-oriented are afraid of "hard sci fi" (and you are a scientist by training, so it's not unreasonable to expect real science in your work) versus "real" sci fi fans who are afraid that your work will be too "soft" for their tastes.

Ironically, some of the most serious criticism (from an actual critic I respect) was that the science isn't hard enough...

For my part, I often choose my books by author

Mostly, same here.
lady_theadora
Sep. 17th, 2010 12:07 am (UTC)
If sf is supposed to be devoid of human emotion, then Ray Bradbury is not an sf writer.

Also, the curiosity sounds wonderful!
greygirlbeast
Sep. 17th, 2010 12:09 am (UTC)

If sf is supposed to be devoid of human emotion, then Ray Bradbury is not an sf writer.

I fear many, many contemporary sf writers would tell you Ray Bradbury never was a science-fiction writer.
alumiere
Sep. 17th, 2010 01:47 am (UTC)
A lot of the conversation above discusses this as well, but I may have something to add that's useful...

Stephenson is a particularly apt example of popular science fiction that feels soulless. His world-building skills are often astounding, but I haven't felt a strong connection to any of his characters since Snowcrash.

It's not that I don't enjoy his work or that of other authors who seem to sacrifice character in favor of "science". But the books that survive my periodic and often ruthless culling, and those that I go out of my way to purchase on release as opposed to picking up used or borrowing, are the ones where I can identify emotionally with the people (human or otherwise) in the stories.

And there are tons of non-science fiction authors who fail to impress me with their characters; there are well-loved authors of fantasy, literature, horror - almost any genre - who get lost in their worlds, their stylistic concepts, their plot or "message" and just don't connect for me. Which is probably why I've been re-reading Neuromancer and Count Zero this week as I needed "comfort food" books, and they have a continuing resonance in spite of their age.
songsofautumn
Sep. 17th, 2010 08:07 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately there is a great deal of SF that ends up being little more than idea wank. Great world building, great concepts, even an interesting plot, none of which matters because one doesn't care about the characters enough to become emotionally invested in the world.

There are a number of quality authors working in the SF field though that do present us with strong characterization. Richard K Morgan, particularly his Takeshi Kovacs novels, and the recent works (The Dervish House, River of Gods, and Brazyl) of Ian MacDonald come to mind as prime authors who have entered into the field in the last decade or so who are very good at letting us see the implications their technological and social world building has on characters we an care about.
( 22 comments — Have your say! )