Spent the weekend at a bed and breakfast on Galveston. With everything that's going to happen this month and next, both Alicia and I needed a weekend away. Wonderful weather, and now I've been out on the water in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico. Good food, too. Shame about the bed and breakfast, though--let's just say that the Lost Bayou Guesthouse shan't be getting any of my money again, nor can I recommend it to anyone. A Motel 6 would have been preferable, even.
The proposal for Secret Project One is away. The proposal for Secret Project Two will go out tomorrow. The proposal for Secret Project Three...well, not until next week, I think--I've got World Fantasy this week, which will eat up my spare time. And Secret Project Four will go out a week or two after that. And then the Black Dossier comes out, and I begin the note-taking process for that. And I've got the Finnish dime novel bibliography to go through--I've finally figured out how the author describes series characters, so now I can cherry-pick what I need and not spend hours translating the Finnish, which, let me tell you, is not pleasant.
So good to be busy, and have projects to throw myself into. And on Saturday I got a note from...well, never mind. Let's just say it was a fan note from someone whose work I admire a great deal. Always nice to get those.
wickedthought tabbed me for the "Seven Interests" meme a while back, and while I didn't have the time or energy then to respond, I do now. So:
John Crowley. I assume that most of you, Dear Readers, are at least familiar with Crowley's work in passing, if not first-hand. If not...get thee hence to Amazon and buy Little, Big. Read it. It is gentle, contemplative, subtle in the power of its ideas, and at times quite moving. It's a masterpiece. I confess with some shame that I haven't read his Aegypt series, something Alicia nudges me to do. (Crowley is her favorite writer). But I have at least one trip by plane coming up, so that's as good an opportunity as any to begin.
The Jam. As someone who isn't a particularly gifted critic (I read grahamsleight's criticism, or rozk's, and feel distinctly third-rate) I'm always tempted to steal phrases and thoughts from other writers, especially when writing about music and art. For The Jam, I'd likely be better off nicking from what Robert Christgau had to say about them. Instead, I'll just say that Paul Weller had a gift for lyrics, the band had a gift for melody, and that Snap! is one of the few cds that I haven't grown tired of after listening to it repeatedly during the writing of Victoriana. I have no emotional attachment to The Jam the way I do with Jane Siberry's music. I simply like their songs a lot, and "English Rose" never fails to affect me.
Zenith the Albino. Ah, Zenith. I've written elsewhere about my affection for Zenith, and even, I think, plugged the novel. I'm a sucker for masterful, witty, melancholy, dangerous arch-villains, and he is a superb example of them. As with most of the dime novel and story paper detectives, Sexton Blake wasn't nearly as interesting as his villains, and Zenith is the most interesting, aesthetically, critically, and structurally (i.e., from the reader's perspective) of Blake's enemies. Honestly, Zenith is wasted on Blake, and it's a shame that Zenith can't be brought back, either as a comic book character or as the center of a series of novels. More than most characters from 20th century popular culture, Zenith does not deserve his current obscurity. (Which is to say: Marvel or DC! Call me! *makes call-me gesture* I can write you a kick-ass Zenith the Albino comic!)
Iain Banks. Brilliant writer, both of science fiction and mainstream work. I love his ideas. I love the way his plots develop. I love the little bits, like the snarky names of his ships. I love the undercurrent of moral outrage in works like Complicity and Player of Games--Banks is essentially a moral writer, which is what sets him apart, I think, from folks like Stross and Asher. (Whose work I enjoy a great deal, as well, but the bad guys in Banks' work, and the evil things they do, are more relevant to the modern era, and to contemporary issues, than Stross' and Asher's). Most of all, I love that Banks' work moves me. In our uber-ironic, more-cynical-than-thou age it can be embarassing to admit that something moves you, especially because the admission opens one up to mockery, or the response "I didn't find it moving at all," with the implicit "...and you're simple for being moved by something like that." Nonetheless, a few of Banks' novels move me greatly. The life-weariness of the Orbital veteran in Look to Windward, for example, and his final discussion with the Major...I no longer tear up in reading that scene, as I've read it too many times to be so moved now. Nonetheless, it evokes a powerful sadness in me--a not unenjoyable feeling, either, almost a tendresse.
I tend to get hugely self-conscious and insecure around most authors, but I don't think I could bear even to speak to Banks. Some mortals aren't meant to meet some gods. The light is just too bright.
Lord Bulwer-Lytton. Well, I've done the Defending Bulwer-Lytton dance before, on No Fear and here, and I don't really think I need to repeat myself. His style isn't for everyone, and much of what he writes is tough sledding. But the man accomplished a great deal, and deserves our respect for that, and in musical terms, while he couldn't hit every or even many keys, he still had a greater range than Dickens did.
Matt Howarth. He has a web site, and so he won't be as completely (and undeservedly) forgotten as someone like Gene Day. But he languishes in a twilight area now, where a few of us diehards remember and he has slipped from the consciousness of everyone else. Comics, more than most media, are cruel on older creators. The young are over-hyped, and the old, no matter how inspired or competent, are forgotten. Critics focus on the new and ignore everyone else. For some older creators, this is as it should be. John Byrne may have fanatical fans, but he hasn't done good work in a decade, and he deserves to be where he is today: isolated and limited to his message board, where he routinely embarasses himself. But Matt Howarth...well, Matt Howarth did the best science fiction comics ever. The Post Brothers and Savage Henry were dark, funny, marvels of plot construction and page composition, violent in the best way, and sui generis. There was and is nothing else like them. That forgettable-ten-seconds-after-they-die mediocrities like Rob Lielfeld have more of a fanbase than Howarth says a lot both about the comics market and the degraded intellect of most comics fans.
And, finally, Alan Moore. Better writers than I have written about Moore's brilliance--and that's brilliance for a writer, not just in the limited confines of comics. I just say this: the man can do comedy as well as, or better than, any other comics writer, something that doesn't get played up much in writing about his work. Top 10 had some moments that made me laugh out loud, and the Black Dossier has one scabrously hilarious moment which I'm dying to spoil for everyone but won't.
Excellent choice on the Matt Howarth: not only did he make my little head go explodey half my life ago when he was still doing the Sonic Curiosity strips, but he's still putting out material at the top of his range. You're absolutely right about the situation with Howarth and the comics industry, which probably helps explain why he's given up on standard distribution and gone directly for PDF comics. (I've heard stories, and stories I have yet to verify, about how he got screwed blind by Aeon and Rip Off Press, and there's still that title that was supposed to be published by Brave New Words right about the time BNW went kablooie in 1992.)
Speaking of letters, I have freebies to send, and I can't find your Snail Mail address. Any possibility of sending you a bit of horticultural fun?
Yeah. Unlike a lot of pro writers and artists, Howarth has lost none of the speed on his fastball.
I hadn't heard about him getting screwed, but it's the comics industry. I'm sure he was.
I'd love some horticultural fun--thanks! I'm at:
320 FM 1696 RD W
Huntsville TX 77320
On October 30th, 2007 04:50 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
Really? Some time around his tenure with Vortex I started to feel that he was repeating himself, and that his stories were getting less complex ... and I was also unhappy with the increasing simplification of his art style.
I haven't kept up with his work since he's gone all-electronic, however.
I'd say Stross definitely has a social conscience, but that his activist interests are less explicit in his fiction. Banks' fiction is left libertarianism writ large... but he doesn't have any idea of how to get there, and doesn't seem to do much "in the real world" to promote it.
Stross' position on "I.P." (to pick one example), in contrast, has a measurable impact on peoples lives... consider prescription drugs, for instance.
I'm less concerned with the relationship between a novel's morality and its relationship to the real world than you are, I think. I can appreciate Stross' position on I.P., among others, but I don't sense moral outrage in his work the way I do in Banks'.
Hmm. I hadn't meant to sound like I was critiquing Libertarian TH.
That said, I will be happy to see Democratic Transhumanism arrive, and I certainly agree with most of its propositions. I'd be happy to live in a DTH future.
short-short version: Verner Vinge doesn't care about starving/sick kids in Africa.
(It was a sound argument, fellow readers, and you shouldn't let my postage stamp turn you off from it should Our Fine Host wish to expound on it at length at a later date.)
Ahhh, right, I remember now.
Okay. Yes, DTH is a good response to my criticism. And I'm somewhat hoist on my own petard, in that I'm critical about the Singularity for its lack of real world relevance while giving Banks a pass for same.
But I think I'm critical of proponents of the Singularity-as-historical-destination rather than writers of Singularity fiction.
More on that in another post, I think.
Actually, let me rephrase: I think Stross has moral outrage, as Banks does. But I think Banks is more emotional about it, and that's what resonates with me. I like Stross' work a lot, but it's always struck me as cooler in tone than Banks' work.
I honor Stross for his real-life activism on behalf of I.P., among others. But Banks' fiction affects me more strongly than Stross'.
"...and you're simple for being moved by something like that."
Oh, I managed to embarrass myself entirely last week by getting weepy over a reading of Russian poets in translation. And John Denver's 'Sunshine on my Shoulders' _always_ makes me cry. Every damn time.
If I can admit that, you've got nothing to fear over being honest about Iain Banks. :)
Everclear's "Father of Mine" does that to me as well.
But I always try to remember a line from the forgotten Vietnam War movie The Boys in Company C, when the best-loved member of the company dies, and his friend tells another company member, a hard-bitten Chicago gang member, "Don't let them see me cry!" The gang member's response: "You a man--you cry any time you goddamned ready to."
Superhero comics are horrible for how they discard old pros. Don Heck, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe, George Tuska -- maybe they weren't suited to any and all strips (with the exception of Marie Severin...) -- who is? -- but they were put out to pasture before they should've been. (In the case of Heck and Trimpe, I suspect that part of their downfall was the unfortunate choice of inkers they had to work with towards the end of their careers at Marvel, but isn't that partly the editors' fault?)
Byrne -- I might be the only one who'll admit to liking X-Men: The Hidden Years (even if I had to grit my teeth at the whole "bringing the stories forward by 25+ years because ALL Marvel Comics happen RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!" thing...) and being sorry that it was canceled before he'd at least worked his way up to the Captain America/Viper #1/Secret Empire/Moonstone/C.R.A.P. ("Committee to Restore America's Principles," a take-off of Nixon's own "C.R.E.E.P.": "Committee to Re-Elect the President") multi-parter (if not to Giant-Sized X-Men #1), but I have to admit that yeah, even what I thought was his good stuff as a writer-artist brings less and less joy as I age. (I was gobsmacked when I found out a few years ago how blatantly he'd ripped off a Frederik Pohl story -- "Tunnel Under the World," IIRC -- for the plot of the giant-sized Fantastic Four Vol. 1, #236, without so much as an acknowledgment...)
And I've always thought that Gene Day's untimely death was a crying shame.
The way comics treats the older professionals really makes me love the medium less. That's publishing, to a certain extent, and even in sf the older pros often have a hard time finding publishers, but comics are so much worse.
I haven't minded or even mildly enjoyed some of what Byrne has done in the past ten years, but it pales in comparison to his earlier work. And I didn't know that at all about the Pohl story. Shame on Byrne!