Posts from the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Angry genre writers strike back (with a strongly worded letter)

In response to the BBC’s under-representation of sf, fantasy and horror in their recent World Book Night coverage, author and founder of SF Crowsnest Stephen Hunt, has organised a letter signed by 85 genre luminaries, including Iain M Banks, Steven Erikson, Ramsey Campbell, Neil Asher and Charles Stross.

See this Guardian piece for more, or the Telegraph has a full list of the signatories. (Both articles carry photos of Iain Banks – who the hell knows what Stephen Hunt looks like?)

Stephen Hunt’s blog has his original rant on the subject, which contains a link to and an exhortation to join the Facebook page Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror is not a corrupting foreign influence.

And if you wish to read about this further, there’s an extensive post on SF Crowsnest showing a BBC response and the full text of Hunt’s letter.

From Guardian Books

There are three articles of interest to fantasy readers on the Guardian Books website: an interview with George R R Martin, another interview with GRRM and a piece about an upcoming documentary on assisted suicide by Terry Pratchett.

Martin talks about his experiences in the last few years writing A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, commenting on the anger of fans who want him to spend every waking moment working on A Song of Ice and Fire.

The Pratchett documentary will show an assisted suicide, and was made as an exploration of something that the Discworld author (and Alzheimer’s sufferer) may choose for the end of his own life.

My future income

Science fiction author Tobias S Buckell has conducted a survey to find out what advance sf and fantasy authors receive for their first novel. Result: $5,000 – $6000 on average.

Anyone who, like me, wants to one day make a living in this field had better be sure they’re doing it for love and not money.

The figures remind me of when I did a work placement at a publishing company in London as part of my creative writing degree. I won’t name names, but I had the opportunity to look through files of contracts, and an established fantasy writer whose work I like and respect, and who has now sadly died, received – if I remember rightly – £10,000 split into two £5,000 payments for his latest novel. A world-famous musician who was publishing his autobiography, on the other hand, got £1 million, divided into three equal payments.

George R R Martin’s Top Ten Fantasy Films

A Song of Ice and Fire author, George R R Martin has compiled a list of his favourite fantasy films along with comments on each on news website The Daily Beast. It’s an interesting list and contains several movies I haven’t seen and should check out – also at least one that I’d like to watch again (I saw Pan’s Labyrinth in Korea without the benefit of English subtitles).

The Lord of the Rings trilogy comes top of the list. Commenting on Peter Jackson’s magnum opus GRRM says, ‘If you don’t like these films, you don’t like fantasy.’

Best sffh films of the last decade

Just read this on Locus Online: Lawrence Person’s Top Ten Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films of 2000-2010. Seems like a solid list and I agree with pretty much all of his comments on the films listed. I think District 9 could have been mentioned. At the bottom, there’s a run down of some turkeys of the decade – Anyone seen Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter?

What movies would you add to the list?

The real never-ending story

There’s a blog post up for the non-fiction prize of the British Science Fiction Association Awards about Robert Jordan’s now legendary The Wheel of Time. In it, the writer talks about how terrible the series became after a moderately good start. I love TWoT, but it’s not an unconditional love – the books are full of cheesy details about the patterns on the women’s skirts, the female character tugging their braids and so on.

The degradation of the series – which in some ways was a masterpiece of world-building and epic high fantasy tropes – highlights that all too common phenomenon of the fantasy series – the law of diminishing returns. Too many series start off extremely promising, but don’t quite live up to that promise. In a trilogy, such as Robin Hobb’s Farseer books or Sean Russell’s The Swans’ War, maybe this isn’t such a terrible thing, but when a series drags on for fourteen books, even beyond the author’s death, the returns get smaller and smaller and smaller.

None of which is going to stop me reading Towers of Midnight in the near future, or A Memory of Light in a year’s time.

Docx versus Bakker

I just read an interesting couple of articles. Firstly was a piece on the Guardian website by Edward Docx (possibly named after a Microsoft Word document) decrying the state of literature today and basically saying that genre fiction (fantasy, thriller etc) is bad and literary fiction is good – actually, he doesn’t quite say that, but he does say that good genre fiction cannot be as good as the best literary fiction.

R Scott Bakker, author of The Darkness that Comes Before and other excellent fantasy books as well as a pair of techno-thrillers, posted a response on his Three Pound Brain blog, in which he expounds his view that critics and writers subscribe to the Myth of the Vulgar Cage, which basically amounts to a specious justification literary snobbery towards genre fiction.

To be honest, the Docx article struck a chord for me. It’s great that people are reading, but is it not a problem that people are reading the easy stuff like Harry Potter and Dan Brown in such huge numbers and not reading the challenging stuff, whatever the genre, by authors such as (picking a name completely at random) R Scott Bakker?

Most stuff is crap. I love fantasy, but I wouldn’t touch a Feist or a Goodkind novel with a barge pole. I’m sure most literary fiction is crap, too (I don’t read enough to pick some bad authors). But I think it’s true that it’s easier for publishers to put out badly written genre fiction because it ticks all the boxes or it cashes in on a current fad (Harry Potter rip-off, The Name of the Wind comes to mind). Literary fiction sells so little, that I would guess publishers have to really make sure it’s worth it before risking publishing a new literary author.

I found myself agreeing with both critiques – any worthwhile area of human endeavour or thought is complex enough that it allows multiple contradictory viewpoints, all of which have some validity. All genres have their conventions and limitations, including literary fiction. The job of a conscientious reader is to be aware of them and to read the best, whatever shelf of the bookshop it’s stocked on. The job of a good writer is to work within genre conventions and to transcend them at the same time.

The Ten Best 100 Best Novel Lists List

In this post I’m going to reveal how many of the books on each list I’ve read and then, by averaging them, come up with a figure for how well read I am.

1. Time – 10

2. The Modern Library – 6

3. The Modern Library – Reader’s List – 19

4. The Modern Library – Radcliffe Rival 100 Best Novels – 14

5. The Best 100 Lists – 28

6. BBC – The Big Read – 24

7. The Guardian/Observer – 11

8. Goodreads – 28

9. The Telegraph – 100 novels everyone should read – 17

10. This Recording – Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels – 29

Total: 186. Divide by 10: 18.6

Therefore I am 18.6% well read. What about you?

Conclusions: I actually own a lot more of the books on these lists than I have actually read – so I need to get around to reading them (Moby Dick, for instance). There’s plenty of others that I don’t own and haven’t read. But I can take some comfort from the fact that I don’t appear to be a complete ignoramus. My score on the sf and fantasy list is a little low – so there’s work there to be done, for sure.

The ‘Jewish Jane Austen’ wins Booker

Howard Jacobson just won the Man Booker Prize with his novel, The Finkler Question. The main talking point of this event is the fact that it’s the first comic novel to win the prize in its 42-year history.

When I think of comedy fiction, three writers come to mind – Robert Rankin, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. For me the first two – and I love Robert Rankin, and am on the positive side of indifferent to Terry Pratchett (it’s just been announced that Pratchett is a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award winner) – are fairly self-indulgent reads. People read Rankin and Pratchett because there’s something comforting about the worlds they’ve created and sustained in the five million novels they’ve written between them (five million is an approximate figure). They are full of wordplay, silliness and running gags. Douglas Adams, for me, is a much more serious writer. When I read the Hitchhiker books I get a sense of existential melancholy; that series explores the fundamental pointlessness of human existence. The answer to the question – the question, about life, the universe and things of that nature generally – is 42 – which is about as meaningful as any other answer people have come up with.

Jacobson’s thesis, from what I’ve read and heard in the past day, is that comic novels are not or should not be a minor sub-genre, but the totality of literature – all novels should make you laugh, he says.

Well, I would say that humour is a useful tool in any writer’s kit – any novel can have flashes of humour that arise from the characters or the situations. But comic writers also use a certain voice – an authorial voice that is itself humorous, witty, punning, observational – that doesn’t often sit well with literary quality. Of the three writers I mentioned, I would say Adams achieves it, but Rankin and Pratchett do not.

It would be nice to think that all writing and writers are published simply for their literary merits, but it seems like the reality is that many books are published because they fulfil(publishing companies’ perception of) market demand. Fantasy novels have to be about 8,000 pages long and tell the story of a young hero, or group of young heroes, in excrucating detail from childhood to confrontation with the ultimate evil that killed their parents. And comedy novels, clearly, can’t be serious literature – it would confuse people.

My favourite series of books is Stephen R Donaldson’s Gap series. It’s a gripping, brutal space opera – but it has one joke (if that’s the right word) that stood out for me. Introducing one character, Godsen Frik, the book says something along the lines of, ‘He had the fleshy smile of a pederast who’d just been made the head of a boys reform school.’ Appropriately dark, but in as much as it is funny (opinions may differ), it’s somehow out of keeping with the tone of the rest of the story.

I think, ultimately, that each book should just be good at was it does, whether it’s a comedy, a funny book with serious bits, a serious book with funny bits or a work of unleavened humourlessness.

I’ve never read any Howard Jacobson, although I’ve seen him in the media over the years and he’s always seemed plain-speaking and likeable. I should get a copy of one of his books at some point – maybe even The Finkler Question. You can read more about him and his shiny new 50,000 pound prize on the Independent website or over at the Telegraph – or any other news site (but you’ll have to search for them yourself).

The Page 99 Test

Apparently, the author Ford Maddox Ford favoured the idea of judging a book that one might read by reading page 99 first. The logic being that it won’t that it will be a good example of the general standard of writing in the book. An article in the Guardian says that there is a web site starting up on which authors and readers will submit page 99s of novels for public perusal.

Page 99 is a completely arbitrary point at which to test the literary waters, but it is an easy number to remember (if choosing a number is too difficult for the prospective reader). It’s also not too far into most books. The Guardian piece says it will be a quarter to a third of the way through most books – make that a fifth to a tenth of the way through a fantasy novel.