Friday, March 30, 2007

Faust on writing or "Does this novel make me look fat?"

Back in the comments on an earlier post, I asked Joe Clifford Faust whether he started out writing shorter works or novels when he was getting started writing. He turned this into an interesting blog post and I promptly forgot to mention it here. So I'm correcting that now. Check out Faust's post called Size Matters. He talks not only about his start in writing, but also the advantages and disadvantages to the different sizes of story. Here's a quote:

I know this belies all of our notions of bigger is better, but bigger is also harder, but that's the way it works with writing. Bigger is easier because the smaller you get, the more important each word becomes. It has to bear a greater weight, a greater burden, and must be sufficiently powerful to contribute in the most efficient way possible.

Therefore, at one end of the spectrum you have the novel, which allows you to stretch out with words, with story, with subplots and characters and place and theme. It's a leisurely walk in the park. Wordwise, then, a novel is easier to write than a play, which is easier than a short story, which is easier than poetry, which I suppose is easier to write than something like a tombstone epitaph. And note that by the time you get down to writing poems, you're the watchmaker, sweating over every word with a pair of tweezers and a jeweler's loupe, praying that what you're assembling will keep time and have the desired impact.

As for me, I'm still trying to work on short stories, though maybe I should go back and read my three Nanowrimo "novels" and see if there's anything salvageable from any of them. I'm thinking probably not, but it never hurts to look.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Call of the Weird by Louis Theroux

I hadn't heard of Louis Theroux when I was sent this book. Subtitled "Travels in American Subcultures," the book is actually a followup to Theroux's work on documentaries and TV series like "Louis' Weird Weekends" and "When Louis Met..." I've since found a few things on YouTube. Theroux is charismatic and funny. In his shows, he seems to let the people he meets just be their odd selves without trying to force funny into the situation.

And apparently, Theroux likes a lot of the people he meets. That is the inspiration behind the book. He decides to take a "Reunion Tour" of people he met on his documentaries. He travels around the country trying to find the people he once talked to and see where they are now. He looks for Thor Templar, the UFO believer who claims he's killed 20 aliens. He looks for porn star J.J. Michaels. He talks to Ike Turner and pimp/rapper Mello T.

In many cases, these people have moved on. J.J. Michaels is working for Boeing and no longer does movies, though he still keeps a box of his films in the basement and says he'd like to do it again. Thor Templar has changed his name, dropped UFO business and is now selling items for "technoshamans." Theroux reunites with an Aryan Nations member he had bonded with over "Are You Being Served." The racist had been kicked out of the club for some obscure reasons. He meets with a former prostitute who's now found god, but still considers going back to the business.

In all his stories, there seems to be a theme of fantasy meeting reality. People seek out a fantasy, or follow the fantasies in their head, and later find out that the world is not always accepting or tolerant of their views. Many of these people find their worldviews don't hold up to the test, yet they blithely continue believing.

In the foreword to the American edition, Theroux says his aim is different from those authors who seek to follow, in Garrison Keillor's words, "the classic Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics & Faux Culture Excursion beloved of European journalists." He hopes to go more in depth, to see how people's lives turned out. I'm afraid he didn't entirely succeed. The book still seems like a tourist's view of typical American crazies and loudmouths. But what does save it is Theroux's actual interest in these people. He might think they are funny or crazy, but from his words you can see that he actually feels for them. He wants them to do well, to make a little corner of the world for themselves.

The book is a charming travelogue of unusual people encountering a more bland world. It doesn't offer profound insights, but it does offer a good time.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Houdini's greatest escape!

The only proper way this news event should end is with an empty casket.

And just to make this worthwhile, this page has pictures of Houdini's water torture chamber, the one everyone thinks he died in.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A great film about fungus

ScifiJapan takes a close look at Matango (aka Attack of the Mushroom People). As they point out, the film can be looked at as an allegory for drugs or capitalism, but it's much more than that. It's a good movie that cares about its characters, even though most of them are unlikeable, and makes the situation feel real, despite the rubber mushroom suits.

It's one of my favorite movies. With this film and Gojira, one can see that Ishiro Honda is a great, and criminally underrated, director.

Also at the link is the full text of William Hope Hodgson's "The Voice in the Night," which was the inspiration for the film. I would also recommend picking up the Matango DVD, which has some great extras including a story read by the screenwriter.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont

I wish I hadn't waited so long to read this book. Professor Hex pointed it out to me way back in April of last year. Just from the description alone it has all kinds of things I like: pulp writers, Chinatown, rip-roaring adventure and fun. Now that I've read it, I can say it lives up to the hype.

The book concerns a moment during the pulp era -- the late 1930s, I believe -- when Walter Gibson had shown the Shadow not to be Lamont Cranston, when Lester Dent and his wife were desperately trying to have a child, when L. Ron Hubbard was head of a New York pulp writer's association, when H.P. Lovecraft was on his deathbed and when Chester Himes, Louis L'Amour and Robert Heinlein were working odd jobs and travelling the country. Slowly, all these pulp writers, and many more, are brought together to face the peril of the title.

I think I love pulp writers as much as I do their characters and stories. I've read a biography of Dent, a collection of essays on the "Pulp Masters," and Gruber's "The Pulp Jungle." It's all exciting stuff. From reading all these stories and essays (as well as other reading from the time), I think I have a pretty good sense of the era and the characters involved. And Paul Malmont let me feel like I was right there in it. I could smell the cigarette smoke and taste the beer at the White Horse Tavern as Emile Tepperman and E.E. "Doc" Smith talked in one corner and Hubbard harangued Gibson for advice. He hits the spots that are legendary in pulp history: the Automat, the Street & Smith offices, Astounding magazine and John Campbell.

In capturing the time period, the book reminded me of Jeffrey Ford's "The Girl in The Glass," which is set in in the 1930s, though it is mainly focused on Long Island. It also reminded me of the pulps themselves, especially in the later "episodes" when Dent and Gibson subtly take on the characteristics of their famed characters, the Shadow and Doc Savage.

And it's not just the feel of the era. Malmont uses history throughout the story both as background for the events and as plot points. The beginnings of the Japanese invasion of China affect both the story and Chinatown. A huge unity parade plays an integral role, and though I haven't looked it up, I'm sure that parade happened almost exactly as Malmont describes it.

I can't wait to see what Malmont does in the future. For now, I think I'll go read some Doc Savage.

Black Gate and Sword-and-Sorcery

Black Gate magazine now has a blog and Howard Andrew Jones opens it up with a post on Sword-and-Sorcery. Of course, the genre interests me. I wrote up an entry about it at Encyclopedia Fantastica recently. In that entry I said:

Too often, the term Sword and Sorcery is used to describe epic or high fantasy,
those stories more influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien's work. Sword and Sorcery's root
texts are the work of Robert E. Howard, especially those stories about the
characters Conan and Kull. (In fact, some consider the Kull story "The Shadow
Kingdoms" as the first example of true Sword and Sorcery.) Unlike Tolkien's
work, Howard's stories are tied to single characters and rarely feature a
clear-cut morality. In fact, Conan's tales stem from Howard's belief that
barbarism will triumph over civilization, which is inherently decadent. Conan,
himself, often does things that are less than heroic (see The Tao of Conan for
more details on that.)
It could be argued that the gray morality of much
Sword and Sorcery is a defining feature of the subgenre. It also puts the lie to
the phrase "heroic fantasy," often used as a synonym for Sword and Sorcery.

Jones offers a different view on how S&S differs from epic fantasy. He puts it down to pace. He sees epic fantasy as fantastical travelogues, while S&S is more about a "somber, headlong drive."
It's an interesting take and I think pace is certainly among the defining characteristics of S&S. I think, however, it's only one aspect of what makes up S&S. But Jones isn't advocating a one-note genre either. His whole post -- which also talks about the influence of role-playing games and offers some recommendations of S&S authors -- is a thoughtful take on the genre. I'm looking forward to what else he has to say. (Jones has also had a few things to say in the past at, where he used to be editor.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A new Weird Tales

Weird Tales is getting a redesign and has a new editor. They're making an effort to buy fiction more on the cutting edge, more truly weird stuff. They want to be in the spirit of the original magazine, not a rehash. To get people to try it out, they making a special subscription offer of 6 issues for $12.

I've had a subscription to "The Unique Magazine" for several years now. I've enjoyed it, but I can't say any of the criticisms of it are wrong. Its pages have been filled with stories meant to duplicate the original magazine rather than follow its spirit. Even its covers were most often reprints of pulp covers. There's nothing wrong with this, necessarily. They often got some good stories and in some cases managed to get more surreal writers like Thomas Ligotti. But it wasn't the first magazine I looked to if I wanted to find something truly "unique." I'd be more likely to look online or read the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

I've never read the Silver Web, the magazine the new editor, Ann Vandermeer, published. From what I know of it, it focused on horrific and surreal stories. Should be interesting to see how that outlook translates to Weird Tales. I'm already interested in some of the stories in this next issue, stuff by Caitlin Kiernan, Richard Parks, and apparently seven new writers. I can't wait to get the new issue and see where it leads.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Escape from Remakes

Why in the hell does anyone need to remake Escape from New York? (Link found at Gamera_Spinning) The movie still works great on DVD, it has a sequel made, what?, 10 years ago. For god sakes, Kurt Russell could still play Snake Plissken if they wanted to make a third one. Just check out the clips from Grindhouse and tell me it's not true. When will Hollywood give up all these remakes? Original ideas are good, use them!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Encyclopedia Fantastica and Sword and Sorcery

Paul Jessup has started a new wiki, Encyclopedia Fantastica. Here's what he says about it on the homepage:

A literary resource for Fantastic Literature in all its guises. This wiki-based Encyclopedia is meant to create discussion and arguments of intellectual merit within the fantasy community. Inside you will see ideas explode, terms implode, and criticisms argued and debated.

The purpose is debate and knowledge. Consider this a community resource, a scholarly adventure.

Inspired, I went over and created an entry on Sword and Sorcery. I've been reading a lot of S&S lately and thinking about what makes it work. I'm sure I've written something in there that will make me groan later, but I'm hoping it can get some people talking about the genre and thinking about what makes it work. I'd love to see a revival of S&S that created more interesting settings and characters.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Gruesome legends read in my childhood

I'm so excited. I think I've just found something from my childhood that I've been seeking for years. When I was in my early teens (maybe 13), I went to a Polish festival and picked up a book filled with the folk tales of Poland. I remembered they were a little gruesome, but fascinating. I have no idea what happened to the book over the years.

In one of my Google searches for this book, I finally think I've stumbled on one of the tales from it. In fact, I may have found the book. It's called "Legends of Poland: The Legend of Popiel and the Mice." The book is part of a series of "Legends of Poland." The art looks somewhat similar to my memories and the tale was definitely one I read. I remember the book being a collection of stories, but it's quite possible my memories are faulty and it was a series of books instead.

The story is about King Popiel, a Polish king who is incompetent. His own family tries to have him killed. Afterward, Popiel is convinced by his German wife to kill his uncles and dump their bodies in a lake. It was done, but the people revolted and Popiel and his wife escaped to their tower on a lake. But Popiel couldn't escape. Rats and mice rose up from the lake and ate through the tower to devour the royal couple.

You can find out about the legend at the Wikipedia entry. Here's a Czeslaw Milosz poem called "King Popiel." There's a film from Poland called "When the Sun Was God" that features Popiel as a main character.

Apparently, there is an old ruin in Poland that is called the Mouse Tower and is supposed to be the very tower Popiel was killed in (though historians doubt it.) For more on that structure see The World According to Google and here's a Polish flicker photo of the tower.

During my searches I found this other tale of a Mouse Tower. This time it's a Bishop Hatto on the Rhine who is devoured by rats and mice. Here's the horrible climax to this version:

They were in at last, and sprang at him fiercely.... He beat them off by the score; he trampled them under his feet; he tore at them savagely with his hands–all to no purpose; he might just as well have tried to beat back the ocean. The rats surged against him like waves breaking on a cliff, and very soon the Bishop was overwhelmed in the horrid flood. Little was left to tell of the tragedy when his servants plucked up courage to enter the building some days later.

Here's a Wikipedia entry on that version of the legend.

I tell you, I love this stuff. Half-remembered things from childhood lead down interesting pathways.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Enter the Groovy Age

The Groovy Age of Horror is a fun blog I found a while back and have been enjoying immensely ever since. Curt is reading through tons of trashy paperbacks from the late '60s and early '70s that are helping him create his own aesthetic. He's using that knowledge to write a novel (potentially a series of novels in the best trashy paperback tradition) and has blogged a draft of it at Night Falls on a Fairy Tale.

Anyway, this week Curt started his first contest. He wants people to write a Nazisploitation nanofiction. This sounded like a ton of fun, so I submitted a story that has been posted as Entry 9. My little scene isn't nearly as lurid (or NSFW) as some of the entries, but I hope it's fun. It was to write! Give it a try. Curt's also looking for fan art entries. Chip in and do your best nasty, sleazy Nazi fiction (or art) for the Groovy Age.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Bigfoot vs. Steve Austin!

No Fear of the Future has posted a YouTube video of the Six Million Dollar Man vs. Bigfoot! It's brilliant and everything I remembered from childhood. Sasquatch is a big hairy, fanged monster! Bigfoot pulls a tree out of the ground to fight Steve Austin! Steve pulls Bigfoot's arm off! And, while it's not explained in the video, Bigfoot is controlled by aliens! Go watch it, it's great!

Clueless reviewers, plus Girl in the Glass

I'm rather astounded. This reviewer at 3AM magazine seems to believe that Jeff Lint was a real person. That's just hilarious. I mean, the cover of the book at the site says "Steve Aylett's newest novel" right on the cover. Even if it didn't, how would anyone believe half this stuff really happened? A series of books about a belly? Later rewritten as about jelly? A man who delivers all his manuscripts in a dress? I mean, yeah, I suppose they could happen. But you might think to question it if you kept getting so implausible no?

It got to a point where I thought the reviewer was playing her own metafictional game. Then she says: "The life and times of Lint are communicated, in a round about sort of way, and the book is educational and, in parts, mildly funny." Educational?

Lint is a good book, by the way. I laughed out loud through most of it, though I must admit it does get a little tiresome before the end. The chapters on Star Trek, comics and animation are all classics.

I found the link on Jeffrey Ford's blog. Which reminds me, the Nebula awards have been announced and Ford's "The Girl in the Glass" is among the novel nominees. Now, I love the book, absolutely, and I would like to see it win all the awards it can (it's already won an Edgar Award for best paperback original), however, doesn't it slip past the Nebula awards' reason for being? The rules state: "Works must be in either the Science Fiction or the Fantasy genres. The Nebula Awards® Report (NAR) Editor will decide the eligibility of a questionable work, subject to appeal to the SFWA Awards Rules Committee." I don't think you can really say this book is science fiction or fantasy. Well, maybe a little fantasy, if read in a certain light. But having said that, I love the book, it deserves awards and attention, so go "Girl in the Glass"!