Archive for November, 2009


Monday notes

November 23, 2009

In case your Monday passing slowly, and you need something to help pass the time:

  • Kim Stanley Robinson explains why dystopia is easy.
  • James White offers insights into the films of Terry Gilliam.
  • Ben Schott‘s readers had fun with drunks.
  • Stephen King on Raymond Carver.
  • David Jolly brings us a morbid moment from France.
  • WNYC’s Studio 360 brings us Darwin in verse, Denis Dutton on The Art Instinct, murder and drama among chimpanzees, and original fiction from Lydia Millet (read by Martha Plimpton).

And as I’m having a hard time coming up with anything else, how about a Totoro bus?


National Book Awards

November 19, 2009

Motoko Rich brings us the winners of the National Book Awards:

Colum McCann won the National Book Award for fiction on Wednesday night for “Let the Great World Spin,” a novel featuring a sprawling cast of characters in 1970s New York City whose lives are ineluctably touched by the mysterious tightrope walker who traverses a wire suspended between the Twin Towers one morning.

In accepting the award, the Irish-born Mr. McCann, now a teacher of creative writing at Hunter College, said, “As fiction writers and people who believe in the word, we have to enter the anonymous corners of human experience to make that little corner right.” The book was published by Random House.

In the nonfiction category, T. J. Stiles won for “The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt,” a biography of the man who fathered a dynasty, presided over a railroad empire and, in the words of the judging panel, “all but invented unbridled American capitalism” ….

…. Perhaps the most moving moment of the night came with the presentation of the award for Young People’s Literature, which went to Phillip Hoose for “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice,” a biography of Ms. Colvin, who as an African-American teenager in 1950s Montgomery, Ala., refused to give up her seat on a bus nine months before Rosa Parks took the same stand.

Mr. Hoose brought Ms. Colvin onto the stage to accept the award. “My job was to pull someone who was about to disappear under history’s rug,” he said. The book was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Additionally, Keith Waldrop snagged the poetry award for Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (Univ. of California Press); Dave Eggers took home the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, which recognized his efforts for 826 National, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping young writers. Gore Vidal received the award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and apparently gave a cryptic acceptance speech.



Hard Times

November 17, 2009

Take it from the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist without a newspaper:, David Horsey, November 16, 2009

David Horsey,, November 16, 2009



For the love of the words?

November 16, 2009

Sometimes you look at something and the first thing to strike you simply isn’t the obvious. Or maybe it is. To wit. Or witless. Folks who actually enjoy words might be aware of Ben Schott, over at The New York Times with the Schott’s Vocab blog.

Anyway, Schott’s Almanac 2010 is apparently available now. Call it a plug if you want, but here is what struck me:

Described by The Sunday Times as “a social barometer of genuine historical value,” “Schott’s Almanac” explores high art and pop culture, geopolitics and gossip, scientific discovery and sporting achievement. Above all, Schott’s is an almanac written to be read.

(Sadly, there is no U.S. version of the almanac this year ….

First thing to mind is that the market just doesn’t warrant an American printing of SA 2010. Really, how many copies could a publisher hope to sell?

Second thing to mind: Isn’t that kind of sad?



(Insert Title Here)

November 11, 2009

Fun stuff from around:

  • Short fiction online: Rebecca Lee’s “Bobcat.
  • Book reviews: Ted Wilson on The Bible.
  • Emanuel Faye drags Martin Heidegger back into the news.
  • Lemony Snicket finds a new home.
  • Breakfast serial: Del Rey will publish King/Straub novel The Talisman as a serial comic book.
  • Book review: Speaking of Stephen King, Paul Constant has a few things to say about the newly released behemoth, The Dome.
  • And speaking of Paul Constant … actually, no. You know what? I’m out.

And now, for absolutely no reason at all:

Short story cartoon

(I have no proper attribution for the above frame. If I discover the artist’s name, I’ll definitely include it here.)



What was the last book you loved?

November 11, 2009

Here’s an interesting notion: A book review contest.

Well, it’s not much of a contest, but:

We’d like to know the last book you loved. Send us a writeup of the last book you truly loved, along with a short bio. We’ll publish our favorites in The Rumpus blog. No length requirements.

And no deadline, either. At least, none that I can see in the appeal to readers from Stephen Elliott.

Contact information available through that last link. Dust off your favorites. I have no guesses on the deadline; Elliott ran one of these last month, too.

Maybe in the long run we can organize some SCWC reviews penned by any of our unconventional conventionists. No promises yet; I’ll have to figure out how to work that. In the meantime, if your review of the last book you loved makes The Rumpus, let us know.



Science Fiction: Looking forward back

November 11, 2009

So what is the state of science fiction in the twenty-first century?

Unfortunately, the newly-reimagined V series for ABC television is meeting an unenthusiastic response from pretty much everyone I know who watched the premiere. So, hey, let’s hop in that magic time machine known as YouTube and check back some twenty-six years to encounter a thoughtful-looking Charlie Rose interviewing Faye Grant about the 1983 miniseries:

An interesting quote:

    Rose: Does this somehow represent—because of the ratings success of the miniseries, and now they’re making it into a regular series—a comeback for science fiction?

    Grant: I think so. Not only is it a comeback for science fiction, it’s a new kind of science fiction. What— The science fiction that was portrayed in the past on television and so forth was something that was beyond what our technology could even fathom. And what we’re doing now is combining what we know does exist, or is possible, with the reality of the human aspect—how human beings would respond to this actually happening.

Read the rest of this entry ?


Zombies amok?

November 11, 2009

Okay, so the problem with zombie stories …. Well, fine. I really couldn’t tell you because I’m just not hip to the current zombie rage. I mean, I can tell you why I am not a big fan of the genre, but that’s just one person’s aesthetics. Still, though, I would think the Resident Evil films should explain the problem well enough.

But if they don’t, Josh Bearman explains the case a little better:

More than forty years after George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead made critics question the future of a culture that could produce such a thing, that future is here – and it is full of zombies.

There are zombie comics, zombie conventions, Rob Zombie Inc., and a Simpsons episode in which Bart informs Lisa that the zombies prefer to be called “living impaired.” There is even a growing movement of participatory fan-fueled performance-art “zombie walks” — BYOB (Bring Your Own Brains!) — where people don elaborately shredded clothing, powder themselves into a pall with makeup, add lots of blood, and spontaneously shamble together in public places.

Let’s see … what else is in there? 28 Days Later, the Dawn of the Dead remake, Shaun of the Dead, Romero’s Land of the Dead, Mel Brooks’ novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies … and a host of video games.

Oh, and Zombieland, which I hear is actually pretty good.

And, of course, anyone who suffered through the recent I Am Legend might understand.

Of course, I noticed that zombies don’t shamble as much these days, which helps. They’re demonically fast, now, and can bust through windows and walls. This isn’t so much a betrayal as, say, vampires running around in broad daylight so it’s easier to con a bunch of young girls into spending their babysitting money on a ticket, but face it, aside from the jaw-dropping cinematography and a soundtrack laden with Bob Marley tunes, I’m glad I saw I Am Legend for free.

Zombies have a lot of potential, but my personal critique is that the genre lacks any real human appeal. You know, kind of like slasher films: Why is there always the one idiotic couple so sexually alight that they can’t help but tread out on their own to some dark, scary place to experience coitus interruptus at the edge of a machete?

(cue scream)

Which, of course, brings us to the reason I’ve bored you with a useless critique of the zombie genre. Go read Bearman’s overview. After all, it points to what Bearman calls, with much credibility, “the best zombie story of the year”. You simply aren’t going to see a movie, or play a video game, that matches Mischa Berlinski‘s article for Men’s Journal:

About a month after I arrived in Jérémie, a rumor swept through town that a deadly zombie was on the loose. This zombie, it was said, could kill by touch alone. The story had enough authority that schools closed. The head of the local secret society responsible for the management of the zombie population was asked to investigate. Later that week, Monsieur Roswald Val, having conducted a presumably thorough inquiry, made an announcement on Radio Lambi: There was nothing to fear; all his zombies were accounted for.

Shortly after that incident, I started taking Creole lessons from a motorcycle-taxi driver named Lucner Delzor. Delzor was married with four children, but he kept a mistress on the other side of town. He told me that he had never so much as drunk a glass of water at his mistress’s house for fear she might lace his food with love powder. He loved his wife and children far too much to risk that.

One of my first complete sentences in Creole was “Gen vréman vre zonbi an Ayiti?” Or: “Are there really, truly zombies in Haiti?”

Bien sûr,” Delzor said. He had even seen them: affectless men and women with a deathlike pallor, high nasal voices, and the characteristic drooping at the chin — men and women who he knew for a fact had died and been buried.

Ayiti, se repiblik zonbi,” Delzor added. Haiti is the republic of zombies.

Read the rest of this entry ?


Read (#1)

November 11, 2009

Chip Brown for The New York Times Magazine:

“And he showed me. He put his hand down near his groin and said, ‘You circumscribe the thigh with a knife here like this until you hit hard tissue you can’t cut, and then you twist it back and tear it off like a turkey leg.’ Now when I’m hearing this, I can’t jump up and say, ‘Jesus Christ, Robert, how could you do that?’ I have to say ‘O.K.’ like it’s something everybody does. I have to put the horror of it out of my mind. And when I walk out of the prison, by the time I get to the front gate, I’m not thinking about it, I’m thinking about getting some Mexican food. I never missed a night of sleep because of something Robert Browne told me.”

Anything else I say would only spoil it.



Lesson from an editor who really edits

November 10, 2009

“Journalism is a collaborative effort, the product of a team of reporters, photographers and editors working in concert to produce the kind of activist agenda that has served Star readers and our community so well for so long…” says union chief Maureen Dawson, in response to Toronto Star publisher John Cruickshank’s internal memo announcing the layoff and outsourcing of some one-hundred in-house, union editing jobs. One such editor responded appropriately here.