Saturday, November 22, 2008

Things, Also More Things

Thing Number One: Chinua Achebe, author of the generally considered masterpiece, Things Fall Part, stops by Harvard and proceeds to be wise and funny and name drop Queen Elizabeth II.

Thing Number Two: Proof that, however awesome you thought Nathan Fillion was, you underestimated. He took part in an all-star read-a-thon celebrating the release of Andrew Porter's The Theory of Light and Matter.

Thing Number Three: Jonathan Lethem reads from Whitman and The Fortress of Solitude, then does some Q&A. All part of his being the inaugural speaker for the Walt Whitman series at St. Francis College.

Thing Number Four: Somewhat depressing quotes from high schoolers discussing the non-literatureness of graphic novels.

Thing Number Last: Over at the New Scientist they've got an article on the old: is science fiction dying/dead/evolved into a bird from it's previous dinosaur incarnation question. It's a tiresome question, true, one equivalent to asking if romance is dead, but the article includes good stuff about the nature of science and fiction in the past two centuries, and it puts the question itself in perspective by bringing up Lord Kelvin's bold, if somewhat ill-considered, statement in 1900 that, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Zombies Versus Unicorns, Part Deux

In an earlier post, we reported on the ongoing feud between zombies and unicorns, but recently things have gotten out of hand. What was once a small skirmish restrained within the civilized and intangible discourse of blog posts and YouTube videos, has now escalated into book form with the announcement of the upcoming anthology, Zombies Versus Unicorns, edited by Justine Larbalestier (pro-zombie) and Holly Black (pro-unicorn). The collection will be published in 2010 and feature about half zombie stories and half unicorn stories, plus one story in which the supernatural competitors battle it out AVP style***. According to Ms. Larbalestier, the line-up of writers is composed of "more best-sellers, award winners, and all-round geniuses than you can poke a stick at."

It's all enough to make one wonder if, perhaps, this long-running feud on the interweb wasn't a very clever bit of advertising. But then again, it's not all that hard to imagine such arguments taking place as I know my friends and I have argued over similar matters, such as the great Ninja Vs. Robot feud of '98 which resulted in the loss of a good friend's ear. In any case, I'm excited about this anthology. Despite i09's concerns over the difficulty of "keep[ing] zombies fresh" (oh, the beauty of unintentional puns) or the lack of unicorns in contemporary science fiction or urban fantasy, it seems to me that there are plenty of cool metaphorical and narrative possibilities out there for aspiring writers. Nazi snow zombies in Norway, anyone?

***Two things of note. One, I've never actually seen AVP. Two, I have no idea if such a story exists, or will ever exist. But wouldn't it be cool?

National Book Awards Announced

I've been busy, the blog's been somewhat abandoned, but now that's all behind us, and we can celebrate by reporting that the winners have been announced for the National Book Award.

Fiction: Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen

Nonfiction: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed

Poetry: Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems by Mark Doty

Young People's Literature: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

If by some chance you missed the ceremony, you can wait for the videos to be uploaded here, or you can read the National Book Award's twitter feed and use your imagination.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hello Weekend

How was your week, readers? Mine was fine except for that brief moment where I was terrified that my life had no purpose. I should know better than to watch Heroes after midnight.

Here's things:

The always enlightening and entertaining Sarah Vowell, possible imp and definite author of such books as Assasination Vacation and The Wordy Shipmates, has written a wonderful introduction for Nick Hornby's latest and last collection of Believer essays. Everyone who doesn't hate laughing should read it.

Smart advice for writers from Mathew Cheney. Included: the secret that there is no secret plus several good quotes, including, "Read. Find out what you truly believe. Distance yourself from the familiar."

Seth and Chester Brown have sent an open letter to the Governor General's Literary Award regarding the shortlisting of the graphic novel Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. While happy to see the work on the list, Seth and Chester wonder why only the writer, Mariko Tamaki, is recognized, considering that one of the defining characteristics of graphic novels is that the "words and pictures together are the TEXT."

Finally, in one of the more inspired bits of literary lunacy I've seen in a long while, Stephen Colbert mashes up Jane Austen and baseball in his latest segment of Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger (Austen shenanigans begin around the 1:40 mark). Be advised, though, this video contains strong punnage.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Of China Rabbits and Adventurous Chickens...

Kate DiCamillo writes children's books, and she writes them well. For example, The Tale of Desperaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, not only has an unstoppably whimsical title, but it also won for DiCamillo the 2004 Newberry Medal. Other of her books include Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tiger Rising, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which as it turns out, from my experience anyway, just so happens to be one of the very best presents you can give to someone if you desire them to spend an entire Saturday in bed, crying. Her latest is Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken, and the Canadian Press has a very nice article about Kate and the "terrible dark decade" of her twenties, relocating to Florida from Minneapolis, and the importance of simple, yet profound language.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Poetry Instead

Readers, the deadline for us Yalobushers to go to press approaches. November 20th. Ten days, and then it's out of our hands, quite literally. Funny how close literally comes to literarily. Almost makes one want to check the epistemology, but we'll leave such matters to another time.

Yesterday, on To the Best of Our Knowledge, many poets who write poems, along with at least one who, along with poeting, spends a great deal of time writing about poetry, stopped by. Guests included Patricia Smith, author of Blood Dazzler, nominee for the 2008 National Book Award. She read a poem or two, one of which took on the persona of a skinhead and did dazzle with it's brutal sort of empathy. She's a four-time champion of the National Poetry Slam, and there's something of the way she becomes the skinhead as she reads that's unsettling in the best of ways. And by the power of YouTube, you can watch her perform "Skinhead" live. Be warned, there be offensive language here.

The second guest, Jay Parini, is a poet who sometimes is a scholar that publishes books like, Why Poetry Matters. In his segment, he paraphrased, I believe, Robert Frost as saying that if you don't know how to live in a metaphor, then you're not prepared for life. Chew on that one for a while, readers. Let it stick between your teeth. Be surprised when a few days later, after you've forgotten about it, something bitter and true pops out on your tongue. But seriously, such a sentiment struck a deep chord for me, one who tends to believe in metaphors the way some people believe in Tuesday.

Les Murray rounded out the guests yesterday. An Australian considered by many critics to be the greatest living English poet. In the interview, he talks about writing through depression and reads many of his poems with one of those voices that sounds like what you think a bear would sound like if it could talk and also had an Australian accent.

See you next time, true believers.

Friday, November 7, 2008

For the Weekend

Dear readers, it's Friday and it's a new world, but people still seem to die a lot.

Here's some stuff to look at this weekend.

John Leonard: editor, critic, sentence exploder, and person I've never read but may now become obsessed with, has died. Matthew Cheney at the Mumpsimus, along with Edward Champion and Salon, have written wonderful tributes.

In the young adult world, few feuds engender more passion and lost friendships than the one between zombies and unicorns. John Green has more.

Amazon has announced it's Best Books of 2008, which is funny considering, you know, there's still a couple months left, but I guess the "best of" year is kind of like the "fiscal" year in that it ends somewhere around October. Top ten lists include: Fiction and Literature, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Comic Books and Graphic Novels, Mysteries and Thrillers, and Romance, among others. It occurred to me to comment on the fact that there's one category called, "Fiction and Literature," and then a bunch of other categories, a demarcation that seems to imply that the other categories are neither fiction nor literature, but then I got lazy and decided just to comment on the thought of commenting.

Sometimes women writers choose, or are asked, to hide the fact that they don't have man parts. It's a topic this blog mentioned once before. Io9 has a list of "Women Who Pretended to be Men to Publish SciFi Books", a list which includes the likes of JK Rowling and the ever-present James Tiptree, JR. who, as it turned out, was neither a James, a Tiptree, or a Jr.

Enjoy the weekend. Say hello to a squirrel.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Book is Always Better

My sister and I read a lot growing up, and sometimes those books got made into movies, or sometimes we read the books after we saw the movies. Things like Neverending Story. Princess Bride. Dune. No matter the order in which we encountered a story, though, we had an axiom that never seemed to fail.

The book is always better.

Even if the movie adaptation has Robin Wright or Sting. Even if it's directed by Steven Spielberg, as was the case for Jurassic Park, one of those movies that gets watched almost every time I stumble across it. And yet I remember, after seeing the movie in theaters, my sister and I finishing the book by Michael Crichton, fascinated by the fractal designs at the start of each chapter and the story's discussion of the science of chaos. Our conclusion was, as always, that the book was better.

Michael Crichton died Tuesday at the age of 66. He wrote many sorts of books: historical adventures, like The Great Train Robbery or Eaters of the Dead, international thrillers, like Rising Sun, and of course, many science-y type novels in which the science inevitably seems to go awry. Books like Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain, or Sphere (talk about a book being better than the movie). Sometimes people wondered a bit at the accuracy of the science in his fiction. He wrote a book in 2004, for example, called State of Fear, in which a group of eco-terrorists attempt to create a state of fear in order to advance their agenda regarding global warming. Scientists took offense at this for some reason.

Many of Crichton's novels very often got adapted into movies, sometimes with Crichton himself directing, such as on The Great Train Robbery, and many more where he didn't. Occasionally, he directed movies he didn't write, things like Coma or Runaway, or wrote movies he didn't direct, like Twister. During Jurassic Park, on which he was a producer, he dreamed up ER with Steven Spielberg, so if you're a fan of George Clooney being awesome, you owe Mr. Crichton a thank you.

I'll start. Thank you Michael Crichton, and I promise if I ever discover the secret to reanimating the dead or cloning myself into ever-more cool iterations, I'll stop and wonder about whether maybe sometimes just because you can do something, doesn't mean that you should.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Not Totally Depressing Thing Concerning Politics

So tomorrow we do the thing where we elect a president and nobody knows what's going to happen. Will it be Obama? McCain? Alien invasion? Rogue Palin and the Alaskan revolution? For these, and other more unlikely but somewhat possible scenarios, check out Five Dials No. 4, in which writers imagine what happens on the day after the U.S. presidential election. Imagineers include, among others, Michael Martone, Lydia Millet, and Kevin Brockmeier--who puts his money on, of all people, Tom Hanks. [via Guardian]

Sunday, November 2, 2008

World Fantasy Award Winners

The World Fantasy Awards have been announced over at Science Fiction Awards Watch. Winners are as follows:

: Ysabel, Guy Gavriel Kay (Viking Canada/Penguin Roc)
: Illyria, Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing)
Short Story
: “Singing of Mount Abora”, Theodora Goss (Logorrhea, Bantam Spectra)
: Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, Ellen Datlow, Editor (Tor)
: Tiny Deaths, Robert Shearman (Comma Press)
Artist: Edward Miller
Special Award—Professional: Peter Crowther for PS Publishing
Special Award—Non-professional: Midori Snyder and Terri Windling for Endicott Studios Website

Random notes about some of the winners: Robert Shearman has written for Dr. Who and penned the surprisingly touching and reinventy episode, "Dalek," in which we got to see what sort of creature lives inside a Dalek's metal casing. Guy Gavriel Kay is Canadian. And Elizabeth Hand, winner of Best Novella, will be teaching at Clarion this summer--Clarion being a six-week science fiction and fantasy writer's workshop/boot camp that has been known to change people's lives and sometimes even their anatomies.

Check out Adventures in Reading for some commentary and thoughts on the winners and other nominees.