Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Scorched Earth, Folded Time

Sorry, it's been quiet here in the last week or so, as I've been working away, partly on rewrites for INK for Peter Lavery at Macmillan (pretty much done now) , partly on a post on culture which went all poncy and fragmentary, so far up its own arse without a flashlight, in fact, that even I'm not sure about posting it, and partly because I've been gathering me thoughts for a novella that Chris Roberson at MonkeyBrain Books has bought from me. Too early yet to give much detail, but the kicking-off point is this Sumerian text, Erra and Ishum, and the working title at the moment is SCORCHED EARTH.

So what's the story? Well, if you read the poem (and fill in all the [...] in the [text?...] by the powers of your mighty imagination), you'll see that it's a simple tale of a homocidal deity, Erra, who runs rampage through ancient Iraq, proclaiming his manifest destiny and asserting his divine right to slaughter, brutalise and generally make life hell for the people of the region. One discredited translation of his name is "Scorched Earth". Erra's unrepretentant attitude, even at the end, always makes me think of the response of Michael Herr, the Vietnam War reporter, when he was accused of glorifying war with his work. You can't glorify war, he records in his memoirs, Dispatches (though I'm paraphrasing here.) It's already glorious. I had a discussion once with someone who reacted against this idea, said, no, no, no, killing innocent people is not glorious. It's never glorious. Horror and glory, the logic seems to be, are incompatible. But I think Herr is right; and it's the glory of war that makes it truly fucking horrific. Person X bashing out person Y's brains is horrific. But person X bashing out person Y's brains and exulting in it... now, that's truly fucking horrific.

Anyway, so, I'm going to adapt this Sumerian poem and palimpsest it with a narrative set in the Middle East in 2017-19, as the war between the Covenant and Sovereigns (which serves as background in VELLUM and INK but which is outside the scope plotwise) really kicks off. And there's a third mimetic and historic thread I'll be weaving in, set during the Phillippine-American War. Really, I've been wanting to write this story for a while, ever since coming across an article on the origin of the term "gook", but I knew there was too much for a short story, too little for a novel. And at the time the 3D time idea that underpins VELLUM hadn't really cohered, and without the 400,000 words spent turning that idea into technique, I didn't really have a clear handle on how to tell that kind of multi-threaded story. Now just seems the perfect time to do it. It should be more structured -- or rather, much simpler in structure -- than VELLUM & INK, and being limited to three threads like FUR it should give me the opportunity to really get to grips with that narrower scope before applying it at the novel length.

It's funny, though. With this novella and FUR both falling into that structure, I'm realising that, more and more, this is the way I want to write, that there's something about this folded time idea that just intuitively makes sense to me. It's a way of offering different narratives in modes that kick against each other -- epic/poetic, sf/fantastic, mimetic/historic -- without going all metafictional and thereby risking the dreaded Pomo Disease of irony, arch knowingness.

Anyhoo, that's what I've been mostly thinking about, in between fixing punctuation and pruning superfluity in INK.

Oh, and it might be quite quiet here for the next week or so. Tuesday I'm off to Berlin, to spend a few days with Hannes Riffel, my most excellent German translator. Looks like there'll be a reading on Wednesday evening at the UFO-Bookstore in Berlin, so anyone in the area who wants to see me trying vainly to make myself at least moderately comprehensible, please come along. I'm bolding Wednesday here, because it was originally scheduled for Thursday due to my ineptness with calendars. It's been rescheduled after Jakob Schmidt, Superstar, noticed that actually, no, on Thursday night I'm in Bremen, doing a panel/reading thing at the On Rules And Monsters Horror Festival/Conference (at the Kommunikationszentrum paradox, Bernhardstrasse 12). Again, of course, anyone in the area, please come by and see me make a fool of meself.


Blogger Paul F Cockburn said...

It's queer time, boy, queer time. Probably.

8:18 pm  
Blogger Cora said...

I'm sorry to have missed your talk at Bremen, especially as we get very few SFF people here. However, I didn't find out about this event until it was over. Too bad.

2:06 am  

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