Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New Story

I have a new story out in the July issue of F&SF, and Lois Tilton at Locus has given it a good review. Woo! Woo!

(Thanks for the alert, Bill S.)

Ascot Hats and Oscar Dresses

From facebook:
Patrick has been reading articles and letters in The Guardian about Ascot. I got curious and looked at some of the hats. They are quite amazing and (I thought) quite awful. I then looked at Kentucky Derby hats -- also quite awful, but not in the same class. That led to the website of noted British milliner Philip Treacy. The best of his hats (I looked at a bunch) look like abstract sculture. I'm not sure they work atop human heads, but they'd look fine if you made them ten feet tall and hung them from a museum ceiling. My personal favoritie might be a row of brillo boxes that rise like a plume from the head. Treacy is a Warhol fan.

I decided the equivalent fashion event in the US is the Oscars, so I went and looked at Oscar dresses. They are not close to the Ascot hats, though I do have fond memories of Bjork's dead swan Oscar dress.

The thing I was struck by after looking at a bunch of Oscar dresses is how unmemorable -- and boring - almost all are. They also look uncomfortable and unmanageable. Why the heck does anyone want to drag a train around? All that work for something that is boring. The dead swan dress was not boring.
A friend mentioned the Oscar dress made of credit cards, which I had missed. I found it, thanks to a good search engine, and it's quite wonderful, made of linked gold American Express cards. Completely memorable. Not boring. So that is two dresses out of many that I will remember.

I suppose I could try to say something profound about Ascot hats and Oscar dresses, but I won't. A dead swan and credit cards say as much as needs to be said.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


This is from a facebook conversation. I am quoting only my side, since I don't have permission to include the other comments:
I read the Margaret Atwood essay on Bradbury in The Guardian. As usual, Atwood cannot deal with science fiction. I was reading Bradbury in the 1950s, along with all the science fiction and fantasy I could get my hands on. It was pretty clear to me he fit within the category. I will defer to my kid self, rather than Atwood, who has some terrible issue with SF.

I knew she could not write an essay about Bradbury unless she tippytoed around the fact that he is pretty clearly an SF writer.

This gets back to what I was thinking about a few days ago: the shape of current science fiction and fantasy. I would agree that it's a lot different than it used to be, due to importance of media SF in popular culture, and the number of writers who operate back and forth across the border of SF. Atwood's squid in space definition didn't work back in the 1950s, when F&SF and Galaxy published a lot of fiction that had neither squid nor space. She is really out of touch now, when SF images and ideas have flooded world culture and influenced many writers (including her) who do not see themselves as genre.

I happen to like the SF category. I have an absolute rule: if I wrote it, it's science fiction. Always. Even if it's fantasy, alternate history, fable, folk tale, a retelling of a saga incident... Arnason=science fiction. Unless the Arnason in question is not me.

I tend to think SF stands for speculative fiction as well as science fiction and includes fantasy, horror, alternate history and so on. So I use the initials -- pronounced ess eff -- for either or both.

Science fiction a way of life for me. I grew up reading it in the 1950s; it was the only kind of fiction that made sense of the Cold War and McCarthyism. I read other things -- a lot of poetry, since the house was full of it, the plays of Shaw... But in general I am poorly read in mainstream/mundane/literary fiction -- except for writers who write some kind of fantasy. Moby Dick is science fiction. Dickens' metaphors and exaggerations put him in fantasy. (His people turn into buildings or machines. His buildings turn into people. He has a dinosaur crawling up a muddy London street at the start of Bleak House.) Jane Eyre has supernatural elements -- and is damn strange to boot. Jane Austen, alas, is not fantastic in anyway -- except for writing romances with happy endings.
Josh Lukin commented that Delany is going to be publishing an essay arguing that it's useful to read Jane Austen as science fiction. I replied:
I love the idea of reading Austen as science fiction. It almost makes sense to me. I loved her novels and the plays of Shaw as a kid. They were similar in the play of ideas. I've always thought of SF as bright and flat. I think what I'm responding to is the ideas and the exaggeration. I love a fiction that slaps a concept down, dressed in a superhero costume. You want truth and justice? Here!

There are -- most likely -- career reasons for getting out of science fiction. Vonnegut started in SF and got out. I read somewhere that this was his publisher's decision and Vonnegut didn't care either way. I guess is Gibson is out now, because he writes very near future or present. I haven't been able to read Letham, so have no opinion of him.

My identifying with SF is partly loyalty. The field has helped keep me sane in a fairly awful world.

I also suspect, though I am not sure, that something happened to high art in the 1960s. I can remember my father saying, "I know there is good art out there somewhere, but I can't find it." In visual arts, the problem was probably the creation of a huge market for contemporary art. To make the money, you have to create something that rich people like; and -- as my father told me another time -- "the bourgeoisie have terrible taste."

Did something comparable happen to literature? It has a different funding stream, though it certainly helps if you write something that does not offend those in control of universities and publishing houses.

I guess in the end I like SF because it does offend. It may be a pillar of Hollywood, but it isn't a pillar of respectable capitalism.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Lady Poetesses

I should mention the Lady Poetessses from Hell collection. It is now out, after years of procrastination. It contains poems by Jane Yolen, Laural Winter, Cathy Tenzo, John Calvin Rezmerski, K.C. O'Malley, Elise Matthesen, Rebecca Marjesdatter, Ellen Klages, Jane R. Hansen, Terry A. Garey, Ruth Berman and Eleanor Arnason. The book costs $10 plus $3.50 shipping and handling and can be ordered from Bag Person Press, 3149 Park Avenue South, Minneapolis 55407. It's good.

Buy! Buy! Buy! So we have the money for another collection.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Contemporary Actually Existing SF

This started as a facebook post:
I'm trying to sort through actually existing SF. There is vast amounts of fantasy, much of it generic. There is military SF. New Weird. New Space Opera. Slipstream. Feminist SF. Lots of vampires and zombies, way too many of both, though I suppose they represent late stage capitalism... Romantic SF and fantasy. Noir fantasy.
Other people added Urban Fantasy, Steampunk, Heroic or Epic fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, Hard SF.

And I added another comment:
What I'm calling Romantic SF slips between romance and fantasy. Noir fantasy slips between fantasy and noir detective fiction, I think. I wonder if the best way to think of all this is as a braided river, streams running side by side, then joining, then dividing. I forgot alternative history, which slips between historical fiction and SF or fantasy. Classic slipstream (of course) slips between SF and literary fiction, whatever that may be. I wonder if the New Wave led to slipstream. It doesn't seem likely. New Wave was edgy and closer to Pop Art than to literary fiction.
The writers of the 40s and 50s, the people I grew up reading, shifted among many kinds of SF. But I don't remember having the sense of separate streams...

Inside the International Space Station

This is real, but it looks like the cover of an SF novel.


Obviously I am discouraged by the results in Wisconsin. I have read people who said the unions made a mistake in putting everything into the recall effort; and I just read a piece by Doug Henwood that argued the unions failed in Wisconsin, because people see them as caring only for their own members. They need to show that they care about Americans in general.

I don't have an answer. In the end, in spite of my fascination with politics and economics, I don't understand enough about people, especially Americans.

So here is a poem. I wrote it after another political setback, I think the 2010 elections. But it works for Wisconsin.

After A Political Setback

The thing to do
is take a hot shower,
dress carefully,
put on a fancy necklace
and amethyst earrings,
smile at the mirror and say:
“I remain.
Those I love remain.
The poor,
the workers and farmers remain.
Those who fight remain,
those who lose
as well as those who win.”

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


Wiscon was fine, as usual. I was a bit hyper, I think because I was doing a writers' retreat after the con. My first ever. It added up to nine days of interacting with people I don't know well. Usually, I plan two or three social interactions a week, mostly with people I do know well. Fewer and I get squirrely from solitude. More, and I feel I'm not getting enough quiet time.

I see Patrick every day, of course. But we have to plan our lives so we both get enough solitude. I go out to write in coffee shops. Patrick takes walks.

The best meeting in many ways was Pat Murphy's midcareer writers gathering. (This is an annual gathering of people who have at least a few books out and are dealing with the problems of being midlist.) Toward the end, the question was asked, why do we write? We went around the room, and everyone said why he or she wrote. To express oneself. To understand the world. To change the world. To get attention. My answer was, "All of the above."

The one place my introversion does not seem to bother me is on panels. It took years of work and much help from Patrick to gain the confidence I now have. Pat used to sit in the audience at my panels and critique me afterward. "Look out at the audience. Speak into the mike. Don't cover your mouth when you are speaking. Don't fidget." And so on.

Patrick said I was really relaxed at the Aqueduct Press group reading. I didn't even introduce myself. Pat said it looked as if I assumed everyone knew me. Actually, I forgot. In any case, I said I'd be reading poems from the new Lady Poetessses from Hell collection, and I did. It's a good collection.

I was on a panel on anarchism and a panel on class issues. Neither really worked, but I think these are worthwhile issues, which need to be discussed. Class is really hard to talk about in the US, though it's getting easier, thanks to Occupy and the rich.

I realized in the course of the anarchism panel than many movements in the world today would not call themselves anarchist, though they share qualities with historic anarchism. The Native peoples of Bolivia and Equador overthrew their governments through mass demonstrations and strikes. Both countries then wrote new constitutions. They both still have governmental organizations, but they are working to reshape them.

Iceland did much the same.

From facebook today

I woke up this morning stiff, due to exercise, and happy, due to exercise and being home from Wiscon and a writers' retreat. East or west, home is best.

What follows is comments on a video of a flashmob performing an excerpt from the Carmina Burana in a train station in Germany.

We need more flashmobs, more demonstrations, more Occupys...

More self-organized, nonviolent, fun things happening in public places...

More public places...

Also from facebook today

You can tell I am happy and chatty:

I am thinking about two topics right now. (Actually, I am avoiding getting dressed and going to the library, but that will happen soon.) One is, what's happening to publishing?
The other is, what's happening to science fiction? I'm not sure I understand SF these days.

I saw a collection of Sheckley short stories and Ubik in the new SF books section of Barnes and Noble and had an attack of nostalgia. I almost bought the books, because I knew they would be good, and I'd understand and like them.

More from facebook

Venus transit this evening. I did the last solar eclipse with paper and a pinhole. If Patrick has a tripod, I may try binoculars this time. The afternoon sun shines into our living room, so if there aren't a lot of clouds, we should have a good view.

Yet again still more from facebook

The flowers I bought at the Farmers' Market on Sunday are doing well: pink and purple-red peonies, red lilies and a pink flower that I think is a dahlia. So, all shades of pink and red, still opening up, on a window sill in sunlight.