Notes from New Sodom

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In Other News...

You want to be reading N.K. Jemison's open letter to Hollywood, if you haven't already. The truth be spoken.

But, hey, if yer fed up with all my kvetching about segregaton, on the plus side, in terms of international cinema, we have this news:

Malaysia’s first ever gay themed movie has hit the ground running, becoming a box office hit in its homeland and earning back its production costs in less than a week on release...

...In 2010 the Malaysian Film Censorship Board relaxed its rules to allow for gay representation on screen, just so long as the characters turn straight or die by the end. Nice.

Of course, it's a mark of the problem we're dealing with when it's a (massive crowd-drawing) success just to get a seat on the bus -- at the front of it even! -- on the proviso that one is straight or dead by the end.

Still, one thing I'll say for Hollywood is that at least it's advanced from that, right? I mean, we were all wowed when Hollywood gave us the (massive crowd-drawing) success of Brokeback Mountain where Jack... um... dies and the surviving Ennis is... um... "a bit more toward the straight side of being bisexual."

So... um...



Shortlists and Shouting

Awesomeness! I am, it seems, up for the Tähtivaeltaja award again this year! I feel almost guilty about keeping my fingers crossed for this one, cause it's just being greedy. But, hey, I'm not really known for my self-control, am I? Anyways, congrats to the other nominees:

  • Herran tarhurit (The Year of the Flood) by Margaret Atwood (Otava)
    Description of an apocalypse of biblical proportions that preaches against humankind’s endless greed and immorality
  • Mielenpeli (Mindplayers) by Pat Cadigan (Avain)
    Self and personality are written anew in a book that looks deep into the foundation of identity
  • Tohtori Veriraha (Dr. Bloodmoney) by Philip K. Dick (Like)
    Little people look for their place in a post–nuclear war described in a surprisingly warm and humane way
  • Muste (Ink) by Hal Duncan (Like)
    A metaphorical novel dives vigorously into a breathtaking network of myth and reality
  • Kirkkaan selkeää by Maarit Verronen (Tammi)
    A protagonist, fallen outside the society, witnesses the rising class distinction and destruction of nature in a wrenching vision of the near future

In other news, I'll be performing at the upcoming Initial Itch. That'd be at the 13th Note, Monday 4th April, 7:30 to 10:30. No idea where I'll be in the line-up, so come early to get yer seat and make sure ye don't miss me.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Over on his blog, Neil Williamson confesses that he just doesn't get steampunk, invites people to explain what he's missing. My own glib response when the GSFWC email list was chatting about this was that it all comes from too many viewings of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in childhood. Glib as that is though, there's a serious point, so I ended up going into it a bit more on his post. Figured I'd stick it up here too. So...

I nominate Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as the true taproot of steampunk.

Also, Around the World in Eighty Days (Disney version,) Wacky Races, Dastardly & Mutley, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Mouse on the Moon, and so on. Cinema and TV have been giving us adaptations of classic Romance, Scientific & Ruritanian, from the 1950s… and pastiches of such.

But particularly Chitty is the quintessential “numina (ex) novum arcana,” as I hereby dub it.

It’s marvellous, “le merveilleux” in poncy French lit crit terms, a numina in me own system, injecting a boulomaic modality of “should happen.” In short, it’s *cooooool*! Want one!

(Hell, the title song is all about just how cool Chitty *is*!)

Like many such marvels, it’s the (real world) novum of old — automaton, car, zeppelin, plane, steam train, submarine — no longer novel but retaining its wonder. Arguably, with those ex-novae now familiar, we take them for granted, but when we look to prototypes & originals, they’re defamiliarised. We consider the technical impossibilities (for a mere human) made possible by them, and that reinvests them with wonder; the mundane is made marvellous once again. Over and above the simple numinosity of beauty and empowerment, I suspect this is why enthusiasts oooh over the wonder of classic cars, trains, etc..

Anyways, hence numina (ex) novum.

But more, Chitty belongs to a bygone era conceptually dislocated from our own, categorically severed from our present. If the past is another country, our era and that era don’t even share a border; World War One is the English Channel between them. When we look back, I mean, we’re not seeing the Victorian era at all, so much as we’re seeing Ruritania as a discrete elsewhen rather than elsewhere. So the movie sets itself just on the edge of that (England in 1910 or so) and springboards from there into a full-blown Ruritanian fantastication.

The point is, objects *of* that other era — like objects of the future, outer space or unexplored corners of the globe back in the day — are not expected to play by our rules; indeed, that can be turned around so they’re expected to *not* play by our rules, so we have no idea what rules they *do* play by. They become arcana.

Basically, casting yer doohickey as paradigmatically *of* that era (making it clockwork, steam-powered, even just aesthetically styled as Victorian Baroque) conceptually unlimits its potential even though we know those technologies were actually more limited than what we have now. Give the car running boards and we’ll more likely buy it flying; it ain’t rational, but it’s how we think. (Mostly.) So you end up with Chitty — the numina (ex) novum of a classic automobile, now a black box ancient artefact with unknown capacities, an arcanum.

And that’s what Steampunk is all about, I’d say. Steampunk as a genre or subculture is an aesthetic based on quirks in the mold of Chitty — numina (ex) novum arcana.

Why is it so appealing? A numina like Chitty becomes even *more* wondrous with the additional “should *still* happen” of nostalgia, the desire for things to be now as they were then. The Ruritanian era is a construct of such desires. Doesn’t matter if it *never* actually happened that way, if we’re nostalgic for a Ruritania that never was; the desire is still there. And actually because it’s a setting for adventure we can even be nostalgic for the *bad shit* of that other era, because it would be awesome to overcome the wicked Childcatcher, it would be cool if the villainy we had to deal with was as straightforward as moustache-twirling fiends in top hats.

(A side-effect: steampunk doesn’t have to irresponsibly elide those iniquities; there’s no reason it can’t subvert reactionary nostalgia, critique the phony construct, the actual period *and* iniquities of our world that might be figuratively represented in a twat of a Ruritanian monarch.)

But in the arcanum there’s also a more complex yearning, a sort of “should *still be able to* happen” desire, where it’s less about wanting the lost wonders of then, (ah, that teddy I had as a kiddywink!) more about *not* wanting the added constraints of now (oh, if only I could be that kid with the teddy, so my teen and adult life was pure potential again.) Like, basically, those classic/antique marvels are playing on a desire for the past as an *unbinding* of the present, I’d say.

It maybe even gets into the territory of C.S. Lewis’s “sehnsucht” — an inconsolable longing for we know not what. Like there’s a positive anticipation for something that should & *shall* happen, like a kid on Christmas Eve. And then there’s the melancholic yearning for the return to that state — almost a yearning for yearning itself. And that’s what Chitty taps into.

I think about this stuff *way* too much.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Of Ginger Kids and Straw Men

Thought I'd link the SFWA blog thing again, since the last few days I've been responding (at my usual length) to a few comments there. So here's a wee quote, a parable of sorts, then some further thoughts:

Imagine a kindergarten teacher telling the children in her care a story every afternoon, a story of fabulous adventures by a group of kids in some wonderful Neverland. For characters in this tale there’s a little blond girl, just like one kid in the class, a pigtailed brunette just like another; across all these stories, in fact, the kindergarten teacher cunningly slips in a character based on each of the kids — except for one, the ginger kid.

In story after story, the blond, the brunette, this kid or that, takes charge in some adventure, plays the hero. In story after story, there’s not even a ginger kid present. Well, except when they’re there as a villain, all het up in unreason with that fiery redhead temper and all. This is because gingers, in this scenario, are an abject social group. This may well be how the ginger kid learns that gingers are an abject social group.

Initially, the kindergarten teacher excludes the ginger kid from hero status because she herself is prejudiced. Over time, she realises her attitude is unjust, but continues to exclude because the non-ginger kids are, she thinks, not ready for a ginger hero. Still, soon enough, she realises she’s being an apologist for prejudice at best, and so begins telling stories in which the ginger kid plays fiesty sidekick to the protagonist of the hour; that fiery redhead temper is quite useful for comic relief even. Her stories have “diversity” now — via a token ginger kid in a subsidiary role.

Finally one day, a substitute kindergarten teacher fills in; a redhead herself, she spots the kid at the back looking miserable and tells a story with a ginger kid as the actual hero. The redhead substitute starts filling in regularly, indeed, so eventually we get to the situation where the ginger kid is getting the odd story that speaks to them. Some stories are about the trials and tribulations of being a ginger kid, because the redhead substitute wants to reach out to the ginger kid and maybe give the others a sense of what it’s like. Other stories are not. Why not? Because there’s no reason a story with a ginger kid as protagonist can’t just be a fabulous adventure in some wonderful Neverland, no reason it can’t be about… the importance of honesty, say, or the folly of greed.

Either way, the ginger kid is only getting stories that speak to them from someone of the same abject group, someone equally Other. This doesn’t change the exclusion, simply compensates for it. The ginger kid is acutely aware that every story not told by the substitute is not for them. The more enjoyable those stories are, the deeper the rub. So when the redheaded substitute suggests the kindergarten teacher tell a story with a ginger kid playing hero, all she’s asking for is the reversal of that exclusion. It doesn’t mean more stories all about the trials and tribulations of being a ginger kid, just the odd story in which the ginger kid is protagonist rather than villain or sidekick.

Yes, if the kindergarten teacher then tells a story about how this ginger kid learned to overcome their fiery redhead temper, that may not go down well. Clichés are egregious at the best of times, and those that spring up as stereotypes born of abjection will downright infuriate some. It’s up to the kindergarten teacher whether she has the skills to avoid that, the gumption to try, or simply a stubborn integrity that refuses to carry on the exclusion.


Anyways, looking at that thread, it's particularly interesting (to me, at least) to see a statement that's fairly easy to boil down by paragraph to its three components -- 1) fiction is segregated; 2) this profoundly affects the abject among the readership; 3) their desire for that to be rectified is not to be confused with a demand for coerced thematics or coerced inclusion, or taken as a plea for cursory gestures of acceptance -- and to see how this is taken by some as an articulation of precisely what it's explicitly negating in that third point. One of the earliest comments is how misguided it is to try and shame people into changing the subject matter. Later on, it's guilt and checklists of character types that are my folly. Coerced thematics. Coerced inclusion.

Just more of the same old same old to many, I'm sure -- the automatic defenses of the non-abject kicking in with Straw Men at any challenge to privilege. But it strikes me that the non-abject quite often throw up such obfuscations specifically because they're imputing a particular spurious import to... a certain identity politics rhetoric they're not equipped to parse. If you're not conceptually equipped to parse a rhetoric, it is only an inchoate pile of bone-dry terms being dumped on you; chaff in your eyes, you can only impute spurious import, build these Straw Men from the itching tangle, and end up sabotaging the very discourse that would conceptually equip you, as the whole thing goes up in flames.

That third point becomes the most important, in a way. A statement like, "There’s no requirement on an author... an author’s thematics is their choice," is about as straight-to-the-point of as a fucking bullet in the forehead, but still the spurious import is imputed, proving that point. Demands for coerced thematics or for coerced inclusion are held up as Straw Men by readers who cannot comprehend a few basic sentences saying the desire for integration is not that and all because... those Straw Men are standing in the way, blocking the segregationist's view of the real agenda and the real situation it's born of.

Or at least they're set there to do that. Thing is, those Straw Men are built to deal with the identity politics rhetoric of prejudice and privilege, to invert calls for affirmative action -- more stories about X, more stories including X -- into calls for reverse discrimination. This simply does not work when one is speaking only of an end to segregation.

Part of my hope in advocating the segregation model* is that it might bypass that identity politics rhetoric then, identifying the problem and solution (which are, I think, segregation and integration, plain and simple) in a description as graspable as it is brutally blunt, graspable because it is brutally blunt. Not being sent to the back of the bus, motherfucker. It's not hard to get your head round.

Even where spurious import is imputed (as it is on that SFWA blog thread and undoubtedly will be elsewhere) the model offers simple responses to this and to the various common "But why?" and "But how?" and "But what?" protestations, responses that are themselves graspable and brutally blunt.

"But why is this even an issue?"

To identify the problem as segregation is to articulate it as a problem demonstrable in the cold hard facts of Hollywood's past and present treatment of the abject, in examples of films segregated by supply channel ("Falling for Grace",) films absent abject protagonists (see the Imdb list of 50 Top-Rated Sci-Fi movies,) films whitewashed in adaptations ("The Last Airbender",) and so on. Historical practice in SF can be pointed to, vis-a-vis Campbell's rejection of Delany's Nova, and current practice can be pointed to in the Romance genre. Flat denial based on arguments of "over-sensitivity" to proportions and flavours of representations is simply unsustainable.

"But how can I do all you ask?"

To identify the situation as segregation is to replace the rhetoric of prejudice and privilege, from which the non-abject will always infer personalised moral vilification for not doing things they deem impossible, with a model of systemic abjection that's graspable in its concrete symbols (buses and water fountains) and thereby so much harder to reject as "blaming and shaming." Where such inferences are offered as excuses for inaction (i.e. in a refusal to even try lest one suffer castigation,) the model automatically negates this risk, positing wholly aesthetic failure where the writer has not adequately counteracted the systemic abjection.**

"But what am I supposed to do?"

Answer: This is your choice.

This may just be the existentialist in me talking, but I think this is crucial. Protestations of this variety are something to be supremely wary of with segregationists. What presents itself as a cry for guidance is, in effect, an abrogation of ethical judgement. It is a surrender of ground that may come from a sincere feeling of helplessness, but it also gestures at that ground, asking, "What are we to build here?" As a request for moral wisdom, it is an invitation to the integrationist to assist in the building of Straw Men, to propose an agenda of affirmative action(s) that will almost certainly be inverted to an agenda of reverse discrimination. Why? The whole point of the Straw Men is to cast integration as moral coercion, an imposition of strictures.

This is where the Straw Men crumble though, if we articulate the situation as segregation and continue to do so, even in the face of such pleas.

To identify the agenda as integration is to identify it as ipso facto not an imposition of strictures but a removal of such. No action is required but the cessation of segregation, the end of the existing quotas. Yes, quotas. Articulating it as segregation turns that "quotas" argument on its head. The Rule of Three is a quota of two. Tokenism is a quota of one. And segregation in its purest form is a quota of zero -- zero members of an abject group allowed to sit at the front of the bus. Integration is the absence of these.

To sample from that comment thread again:

“It’s a state of segregation in which black, queer and members of other abject groups are not deemed to belong as main characters.”

So, we have a limitation on traits of main characters. And integration would be where black, queer and members of other abject groups do belong as main characters. So main characters could have those traits under integration, where segregation says they can’t. So we’re expanding the range of available traits for main characters.

“They may be allowed in as an exception if it “serves the plot” (c.f. your reviewer’s expectation of a reason for the character’s gayness.)”

So, we have a limitation on how traits are used if they are allowed in as exceptions. So integration would be where no such limitation is imposed. So traits don’t have to “serve the plot.” So plot doesn’t have to be defined by traits. So we’re expanding the range of plots available whenever traits are allowed in.

“They may be allowed in as Gay Best Friends or Magic Negros in service of the straight, white protagonist.”

So, we have a limitation of characters with certain traits to insulting clichés. So integration would be where no such limitation is imposed. So we’re expanding the range of character types available for characters with particular traits.

“There’s no requirement on an author to engage with the issues of race or sexuality or whatever as subjects; an author’s thematics is their choice.”

So, authors still get to write about anything they damn well please. In terms of subject matter, thematics, I explicitly reject any notion that I want a greater focus on X, Y or Z.

Again, not being sent to the back of the bus. It's hard to not get your head around, if you know what I mean.


* By "model" I mean that I see this as a wholly accurate and literal description of the situation, not a comparison or analogy to the "actual" segregation of the US -- the buses and water fountains -- as if the situation has never existed elsewhere and elsewhen. Such a conceit is profoundly myopic in its US-centric view of historical abjection(s), and expediently so for those who would add a rose tint to their plain glass spectacles with a conceit that by taking down the signs over the water fountains we have solved the problem, abolished segregation. No, that was only one legally enforced form of segregation, and it is complacent to pretend that segregation perpetuated by non-legal mechanisms is somehow not segregation. The buses and water fountains of my description are figurative, for sure, but the model itself is not metaphoric. The positioning of characters is segregated. The supply channels of narrative are segregated. This is a state of segregation as actual as a bus in 1960s Alabama or a Jewish ghetto in the 1800s.

** Specific aesthetic failures of writers: basic segregation, where abject characters are excluded from the back of the bus; tokenism, where one (and only one) abject character has been allowed to sit at the front of the bus and is notably behind non-abject characters; subordinate stereotypes, where token abject characters are allowed into a non-abject neighbourhood only to work as servants; cipherism, where abject characters are automatically relegated to a ghetto of stereotypical plot & thematics -- i.e. the story has been constructed around their abjection but constitutes an act of abjection. (This does not include systemic failures or reader failures such as the Rule of Three, where segregation by supply channel is enacted or called for on a product containing more than two abject characters of token status.)


Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Rule of Three

I found this via N.K. Jemisin's blog, which you should go read for her own comments on it. What Dwayne McDuffie says is striking to me in a number of ways. Listen:

So what's this Rule of Three? McDuffie: "In popular entertainment, if there are three black people in it, it is a black product."

This points to an interesting reality that flies in the face of the rhetoric of the segregationists -- inverts it even. It turns the whole “quota” argument on its head. Where the segregationists faced with arguments for integration will automatically complain about the imposition of "quotas," the reality is that they are the ones applying such quotas. That's what the Rule of Three is: a quota of two black characters max being allowable in a mainstream product before it is perceived as essentially for-the-abject. Which is to say, it no longer belongs in the main supply channel that exists for-the-non-abject.

Tokenism can be understood in the same way. In the segregated medium, when the absenting of the abject becomes unsustainable, a quota system becomes a way of maintaining the essential abjection but masking it with an exception. One character is allowed in as "proof" that the abject is not excluded. Of course, the limitation in number and in nature -- as the token is most often a B character in service to the non-abject A character(s) -- is actually a demonstration that the segregation is still in force. If they make it to full A character status in an ensemble cast -- as a superhero in the Justice League, say -- the non-abject can declare "job done" and maintain the general exclusion.

Where that quota is raised from one to two but no more is revealing, I think. It strikes me that the threshold makes sense as a “one, two, many” way of thinking. Two’s company, three’s a crowd, after all. Two can be collapsed into a pair, a duality. Two black or queer characters can be cast as a couple, a bipartite unity where relationships are either internal (abject #1 : abject #2) or external (abjects #1 + #2 : non-abject.) At one level , it's functionally identical to having one character. Three on the other hand… with three full characters you have the full complexity of inter-relationships -- 1:2, 1:3, 2:3, 1+2:3, 2+3:1, 1+3:2. Three always already represents a community.

So the white reader who abjects blacks is going to see a black group identity in there — a Black Justice League within the Justice League — because the three abject characters can’t by definition simply be part of the larger community. Add the third character and you no longer have a doubled token of the abject within the non-abject community; you have a whole sub-community of the abject within that non-abject community. I'd posit that this is where the spurious notions of an agenda come from. The segregationist reader can't help but see a real threat to the state of segregation. It's not even surprising -- pathetic but not surprising -- that they project a threat of takeover. They simply can't look at an integrated system without seeing an invasion of the abject, imagining themselves as "victims" of a move to usurp their privilege.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Savagery With the Sequins

Had fun last night at a Glasgow cabaret night, The Not So Secret Society, held in the rather swanky surroundings of the Art Club, a private member's club for artists -- posh! Even apart from showing support for some friends, in the shape of San Fran & the Siscos and Miss Leggy Pee & Charlie, I was most up for it. On the bill were The Creative Martyrs (awesome, as I knew already,) and a Tom Waits tribute act called Frank's Wild Band I was well curious to see. (They didn't disappoint -- also awesome.)

It got me thinking of a blather I had with Neil Williamson though, a couple of weeks back. What I love about the Martyrs' act, see, is the way it really nails the dark and edgy bite of proper '30s Berlin cabaret (or at least how I imagine it.) In black suits, whiteface and bowlers, they come across as some twisted Laurel & Hardy turned fugitives from the Third Reich... by way of the People's Independent Soviet Republic of Ruritania, I'd say. And it's not cheesy pastiche; with songs touching on CCTV an the surveillance state, it's an act that draws on that past but as a way to speak to the present.

Anyway, in the full show they did at the Fringe last year, a narrative is woven between and through their songs, of a cabaret being clamped down on as a repressive regime kicks in, so Neil and I ended up talking of how that sort of frame could easily be opened up, how they'd essentially make perfect compéres for an evening that stepped away from the lighter vibe of Glasgow's DIY variety scene and went full-on disturbing. Cause the cabaret nights I've seen here are all cool (e.g. Spangled Cabaret) but they tend to remind me of the old easy listening night I used to frequent, Casino Royale. I loved that night, don't get me wrong, but we're talking... camp fun rather than creepy undercurrents. What I want to see is... you know that song in Cabaret with the gorilla in a dress, "If You Could See Her Through My Eyes"? With its punchline ending, "She doesn't look Jewish at all"? I want to see the act that does to Islamophobia what that song does to anti-Semitism.

"Without an element of cruelty at the root of every spectacle," Antonin Artaud wrote, "the theatre is not possible." Damn straight. I want savagery with the sequins.

So, I ended up, in that chat, trying to think of the sort of act I'd do, in my limited capacities for live performance, and came up with a vague notion of "The Magnificent Mister Fox." With his top hat and tails, moustache and goatee, with a sidekick in a monkey costume and a barrel-organ/hurdy-gurdy that plays something like... you know the theme from Carousel? Dee dee dee DEE, Dadada, dee dee dee DEE, Dadada, dee dee dee, dee dee dee, DEE!

Yes, see the Magnificent Mister Fox make his monkey dance!

"Immigrants!" he shouts.

Dee dee dee DEE, Dadada, dee dee dee DEE, Dadada, dee dee dee, dee dee dee, DEE!

"Al Qaida!"

Dee dee dee DEE, Dadada, dee dee dee DEE, Dadada, dee dee dee, dee dee dee, DEE!

"Gay marriage!"

Dee dee dee DEE, Dadada, dee dee dee DEE, Dadada, dee dee dee, dee dee dee, DEE!

And so on. You know where I'm coming from, right? We all know the Magnificent Mister Fox all too well, I'd say, master puppeteer in the Society of the Spectacle. (Hmmmm, he thinks. A monkey marionette, perhaps?)

It'd be something of a one-trick pony at just that, right enough, but I did end up musing on it a bit further in the last few weeks, even working up a sort of theme song for the bastard. After last night I got to thinking: given that there's more than a whiff of the Proprietor to Nowhere Town here, might the Magnificent Mister Fox work best as an MC rather than an act in his own right? We're pretty much talking Evil Impresario, after all. "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls... bastards and bitches! Welcome to the End of the World Club!" If I wasn't such a lazy and disorganised motherfucker, I'd be sorely tempted to go scouting for a venue and just go for it. Sadly, I'm far from the right person to be actually arranging an evening like this.

But still, I thought I'd air my thoughts just cause it's on my mind, and chuck up the lyrics just for the hell of it. You might well imagine it being sung to kick off proceedings, the Magnificent Mister Fox dancing his way through the audience to the stage, with the spry skip of a Childcatcher in his step, and a twirl of cane most useful for bashing heads in. Can't describe the tune, of course, but if you imagine the style of "Big Spender" with maybe a hint of "After the Fox"...

The Magnificent Mister Fox

The Magnificent Mister Fox,
He's just too delicious,
Walks head up high,
Fell out of Heaven,
Straight-up kinda guy.

The Magnificent Mister Fox,
He's a vulpine, vicious
Vox Populi,
A twenty-four / seven
Nine / eleven,
Twinkle in his eye.

Oh what a spectacle!
Oh what a show!
As the Magnificent Mister Fox
Brings the news you need to know,
That the streets are overrun
With drugs and immigrants and guns!
So stay glued to your box,
Says Magnificent Mister Fox.

Cause it's murder, mayhem, monsters out there,
We got movie stars in meltdown live on the air!
Which celebrity's a junky?
Is the president a monkey?
Can we cure all the gays?
Let the people have their say!


The Magnificent Mister Fox,
He's so family-friendly,
Talks eye-to-eye,
Balanced and fair,
Never swears,
Sweet as apple pie.

The Magnificent Mister Fox,
He's so fuck-you-gently,
Stalks softly by,
Then hand in your hair, he's
Suddenly scary --
Babe, you gonna die!

Oh what a carnival!
What a cavalcade!
As the Magnificent Mister Fox
Calls us to his black parade,
Full of terrorists, insurgents
Gonna kill for twenty virgins!
So stay glued to your box,
Says Magnificent Mister Fox.

Cause it's murder, mayhem, monsters out there,
We got movie stars in meltdown live on the air!
Which celebrity's a junky?
Is the president a monkey?
Can we cure all the gays?
Let the people have their say!

The Magnificent Mister Fox!
He's a spectacular
Magnificent Mister Fox
In the vernacular
Magnificently malevolent,
He's malevolently magnificent!
He's the cock of the walk,
The Magnificent Mis-ter Fo-o-o-o-o-ox!

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My Mind, Melded

I have been mindmelded. They asked me, "If you had the power, what would your ideal SF television show look like?" After my initial thought, "Just bring back Stargate Universe," I figured I might as well have fun with my imaginary empowerment:

OK, here's the series I'd be showrunner for if anyone was crazy enough to let me: Hellhound, I call it. Think The Littlest Hobo meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Think Supernatural meets Highway to Heaven, only nobody told Michael Landon they'd finished shooting I Was a Teenage Werewolf -- no, scratch that, they didn't get Michael Landon for either role at all; they got Vincent Gallo and gave him all of Charlie Sheen's drugs...


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wilde Stories 2011

Apparently blog posts are like buses. Ye wait all of February for one to come along and then March turns into a blogstravaganza! But this is just a wee quickie to give you the Table of Contents for Wilde Stories 2011, which is a bumper edition this year, it seems, to celebrate Lethe Press's 10th Anniversary. Many happy returns, I say, and all the best for the next ten years!

Anyways, here's this year's contents, with yours truly present as ye'll see:

"Love Will Tear us Apart" by
Alaya Dawn Johnson

"Map of Seventeen" by Chris Barzak

"How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade" by Nick Poniatowski

"Mortis Persona" by Barbara A. Barnett

"Mysterium Tremendum" by Laird Barron

"Oneirica" by Hal Duncan

"Lifeblood" by Jeffrey Ricker

"Waiting for the Phone to Ring" by Richard Bowes

"Blazon" by Peter Dubé

"All the Shadows" by Joel Lane

"The Noise" by Richard Larson

"How to Make a Clown" by Jeremy C. Shipp

"Beach Blanket Spaceship" by Sandra McDonald

"Hothouse Flowers: or The Discreet Boys of Dr. Barnabas" by Chaz Brenchley

So, yeah, looking forward to reading it all.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Piffle and Balderdash

You know that Guardian article I tore into the other week? The flipside of Mullan's abjection of "genre fiction" is, of course, our tendency to project balderdash and piffle at the drop of a hat. For instance, a quote from this Sunday Herald interview with Kazuo Ishiguro has apparently been doing the rounds. Speaking about a younger generation's attitude to science fiction, he says:

“It’s almost like they’ve given us older writers licence to use it. Before, it was ghettoised and stigmatised. For years there has been a prejudice towards sci-fi writing, which I think has been to the loss of the literary world, and not vice versa. But with things like graphic novels now, people are taking it seriously.”

When writers say things like this it's probably a fair indication that they are... well, recognising an abjection of sf, acknowledging that the field of general fiction suffers in terms of quality because of this abjection, and acknowledging that the field of sf, actually, does not suffer. Because, you know, that's what they're saying. Explicitly. When writers say things like this, I'm really not sure what the point is in pointing accusingly at other writers and insisting that they obviously wouldn't be so unbiased, vis-a-vis Marty Halpern's response:

Though the quote speaks positively about SF, I would suggest that were you to ask authors Alex Garland and David Mitchell, whose work is specifically acknowledged in this article as examples of this "science fiction in lit" trend, both would vehemently deny that their stories have anything to do with "sci-fi." Rather, they would argue that their stories are about people, and real emotions, and the human condition in a setting that is different from our own reality. Heaven forbid these authors -- and their publishers -- should be associated with science fiction.

Which is all very well except that Ishiguro is talking about Garland's generation being the ones who opened his eyes. Immediately before that quote in the Herald:

He credits Garland’s generation for inadvertently assisting in writing the book. By the time Ishiguro returned to the novel for a third time in 2001, Garland and writers such as David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) had begun to experiment with science fiction.

Indeed, interviewed by the BBC about sci-fi and the Oscars, Ishiguro casts Garland as the direct influence who got the old dog to learn new tricks:

"If you're a novelist of my generation, we grew up with a prejudice against sci-fi - we felt slightly snobbish about it, whereas people of Alex Garland's generation embrace computer games, manga, and graphic novels. They mix all these things with highbrow ideas... I've learnt a lot from them, and being friends with those guys helped me lose my prejudices and a whole exciting world opens up. In cinema it's never been like that. Some of the greatest highbrow films like Metropolis, 2001 or Solaris have been sci-fi movies."

I would suggest that were you to ask Alex Garland, he might well be miffed at being painted as a gutless apologist for the sort of prejudice he has, it rather seems, actively done something about. Cause, yeah, the guy who's currently working on the screenplay for Dredd... I'm sure he's going to be real chuffed at being Edward Woodwarded into someone's Straw Man: Wait, what? You're sure I'd do what? Gee, thanks for the arrant presumption, not.

As for David Mitchell, here's an interview where he's asked about breaking with the sort of... standards of propriety I rant about in my response to Mullan, about the perception of impropriety in writing "genre fiction," about "this barrier between science fiction and ‘literary’ fiction. Is this barrier for real?" What he says is:

"I’ve never entirely made up my mind about this. There obviously is a barrier and some prejudice. I guess that’s where I’d start. I remember a while back a newspaper asked the question ‘What is Science Fiction?’ and they’d get 20 different answers from 20 different people. And the best answer I can recall is ‘Whatever is published as science fiction’. It sounds like a neat, pat answer but it’s actually saying something quite worthwhile, which is that genre is largely created by the industry. So approaching genre fiction, I think, the only question that really matters is, is it any good? I think, for example, James Ellroy is good, Margaret Atwood’s good, Ursula Le Guin is good. And whatever the semiotics of the cover are saying to me in terms of what genre this book is a member of, that’s almost a distraction that you have to make an effort to ignore”.

So, let's see? Acknowledges prejudice: check. Characterises the genre as essentially eclectic rather than formulaic: check. Offers the classic anti-definition of SF a la Damon Knight: check. Asserts that quality is all that counts: check. Names specific writers sold as category fiction who demonstrate that quality: check. Suggests it may well be necessary to willfully disregard the packaging which punts a book as pure commercial product, as this is insignificant/misleading: check. This seems a far cry from a vehement denial that his work has anything to do with sci-fi.

But, wait! Ishiguro doesn't actually slap on the geek chic t-shirt, run the flag up the mast and proclaim to all and sundry his absolute uncritical devotion to the glory of SF. Instead, in that article he's paraphrased (note: not quoted, paraphrased) as considering the label "sci-fi" misleading. We don't have any idea whether he actually said "sci-fi" or "science fiction" or "sf." We don't have any idea if, for example, he said that "science fiction would be a wholly accurate descriptor, but to call it 'sci-fi' conjures up associations that are totally misleading." But he expresses... reticence, damn him. He recognises that such a label invokes preconceived notions that are inaccurate. Shame on him! How dare he be worried that the term "sci-fi" will mislead the general public about the nature of the film because of the prejudices loaded into it!

Um... really? I mean, seriously, is this a heinous sin? To be uncomfortable with the film of NEVER LET ME GO being labeled "sci-fi" for the exact same reasons a writer published in the category of science fiction would be?

But, wait. No, he's not worried about alienating discriminating audiences. Rather, he's "wary like everybody else that it'll bring in the wrong audience with the wrong expectations." No fucking shit. It's a Hollywood movie. As far as Hollywood movies go, "sci-fi" is Total Recall, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Avatar, and so on, and so on -- the bloated bollocks of the spectaculist schlockbuster. Oh, for Ishiguro it also means Metropolis, 2001 and Solaris, but in the Hollywood marketing machine we all know, for fuck's sake, that this is not what "sci-fi" means. In the Hollywood marketing machine, "sci-fi" has a brand image of action/adventure which makes it Big Fucking Money. It's aimed at a mass audience -- not self-identifying SF afficionados, but people looking for popcorn flicks with eyeball kicks. This is the mass audience in cinema terms.

There is zero need to project into this some sneering, snobbish worry that "the theatre attendees will be nothing but freaks and geeks -- Spock-eared, light-sabre-wielding, loin-cloth attired -- expecting onscreen space ships and/or dinosaurs." This is wholly unfounded, as presumptuous as damning Garland and Mitchell for views they patently don't hold. Might it not just be, in stark fucking contrast, that the "wrong audience with the wrong expectations" Ishiguro is talking about is the great sodding mob of people -- people who've never picked up an SF book in their puff -- who'll think, "this is from the guy who did 28 Days Later and Sunshine; it's a sci-fi movie about clones; I guess it must be like that Ewan Macgregor film, The Island, or something"?

Yes, Ishiguro baulks at the term "sci-fi" because it carries a lot of bullshit baggage -- i.e. wrong expectations. This would be the term that is widely reviled by SF afficionados for the bullshit baggage it carries. The term that was coined by fans, worn proudly as a badge of identity and slowly became synonymous with schlockbuster shite because self-identifying sci-fi fans vocally and vehemently expressed uncritical loyalty to all things sci-fi. It's the term that many SF writer/readers never liked precisely because it signified the puerile rapture of devotees who reveled in the cheesy B movies, the shoddy TV shows, the masquerades at conventions, the schlockbuster cinema. It signified the cringe-inducing geekthink of those who somehow thought that coinage was cool, damn them. It's a term I've heard used within the field precisely to carve out the formulaic pandering (and/or specifically televisual/cinematic product) as "sci-fi" rather than "proper science fiction."

Me, I think this is disingenuous bullshit that insults the field's pulp roots in the attempt to distance oneself from the dreck. Before we cringe and kvetch automatically every time we hear it from the lips of someone not in the granfalloon of the sf community, we'd do well to remember that we invented the term. We gave it the meaning it has today, every single ounce of its significance. We made it conjure up freaks and geeks dressed in funny costumes, expecting spaceships and/or dinosaurs by engaging in a whole crazy carnival community of conventions celebrating it all with wild abandon, even the dodgiest drivel. Accept that crass side of it all, own the schlockiness of sci-fi... or don't. Abjure all that is sci-fi and decry this scum of pabulum as a pox on all that is sf, a false mockery of true science fiction that only contributes to the ghettoization and stigmatisation. Hell, if you want to deny the "sci-fi" label even this amount of legitimacy go right ahead; declare it an invalid label, ruined beyond utility by the decades of dross-engendered preconceptions it is now inextricable from.

I'm just not sure, if that's where we're coming from, why the fuck we'd slam Ishiguro for worrying that classing his science fiction movie as "sci-fi" might mislead a general populace with deep preconceptions about what "sci-fi" is. For the love of Cock, we spend enough time complaining about those preconceptions: No, Total Recall is not really a good example of "sci-fi" -- and we call it sf, by the way; no, Minority Report is not really a good example of sf either -- and please stop calling it "sci-fi"; no, the Tom Cruise War of the Worlds is really not a good example; look, have you seen Gattaca...? no, of course not, forget it. So Ishiguro thinks an audience expecting "another sci-fi movie from the 29 Days Later / Sunshine guy, but with clones" might be a tad disappointed? How the fuck is this a dealio?

When a writer from outside the field actually acknowledges those preconceptions as a problem, do we really have to throw up a monstrous straw flimflam of a bogeyman on the basis of one sentence, corralling not just that writer into it but every potential Enemy who comes to hand, damning them with our own preconceptions? Ishiguro says something respectful of sf, and what? We pick on Garland and Mitchell who're so obviously going to be sneery snootcockers, then zero in one tiny thing Ishiguro says that we can twist to a sneeringly disdainful stereotype?

Piffle and fucking balderdash, I say. And the sort that's only going to make us look, in its indignant fantasising, like the very freaks and geeks Ishiguro so vehemently -- in this utter projection -- wants naught to do with.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Who's at the Front of the Bus?

As well as the SFWA front page and LiveJournal, I'm told, that post was also mirrored over at the SFWA Facebook page. I had a quick look and saw some valiant efforts to explain the very simple argument to commenters not getting it big time. I don't know if I can comment myself as a non-user, but to be honest, my dislike for Facebook means I'm not even going to check. But, there was one somewhat random call to support my argument with the last ten [I assume that's what they meant to type] novels made into movies that won awards or were nominated to them. Hmmm.

Cross-media adaptation and critical recognition have, as far as I can see, zero relevance to the issue -- which is the absence of the abject from protagonist status in popular narratives -- but just for shits and giggles, I thought we might take a cursory look at, say, a benchmark "Top 50 Sci-Fi Movies" list. Cause, as I say in comments over on the SFWA blog, segregation is a whole lot more obvious in Hollywood. So a lazy Google of "top sci-fi movies" brings up a list of top-rated Sci-Fi on Imdb. Let's have a little looky as to who's riding at the front of the bus in those movies:

1. Inception (2010) -- white, straight lead
2. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980 -- white straight lead (+ Black Buddy B character)
3. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) -- white, straight lead
4. The Matrix (1999) -- white, straight lead (+ Magic Negro)
5. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) -- white, straight lead (+ "Go on without me" black B character)
6. Alien (1979) -- white, straight [?]* lead (+ "meat for the grinder" black B character)
7. WALL·E (2008) -- N/A
8. A Clockwork Orange (1971) -- white, straight lead
9. Aliens (1986) -- white, straight lead
10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) -- white, straight lead
11. Metropolis (1927) -- white, straight lead
12. Back to the Future (1985) -- white, straight lead
13. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) -- white, straight lead
14. Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983) -- white, straight lead (+ Black Buddy B character**)
15. Blade Runner (1982) -- white, straight lead
16. Donnie Darko (2001) -- white, straight lead
17. District 9 (2009) -- white, straight lead
18. Avatar (2009) -- white, straight lead
19. The Thing (1982) -- white, straight lead (+ Black Buddy B character)
20. The War Game (1965) -- N/A
21. The Terminator (1984) -- white, straight lead
22. Twelve Monkeys (1995) -- white, straight lead
23. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) -- [***], straight lead
24. V for Vendetta (2006) -- white, straight lead
25. Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future (1973) -- white, straight lead
26. Stalker (1979) -- white, straight lead
27. Star Trek (2009) -- white, straight lead
28. Frankenstein (1931) -- white, straight lead
29. Children of Men (2006) -- white, straight lead
30. Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (1997) -- [***], straight lead
31. Bride of Frankenstein (1935) -- white, straight lead
32. Planet of the Apes (1968) -- white, straight lead
33. Young Frankenstein (1974) -- white, straight lead
34. Brazil (1985) -- white, straight lead
35. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) -- white, straight lead
36. Solaris (1972) -- white, straight lead
37. The Man from Earth (2007) -- white, straight lead (+ black B character)
38. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) -- white, straight lead
39. Moon (2009) -- white, straight lead
40. The Face of Another (1966) -- [***], straight lead
41. Kin-Dza-Dza (1989) -- white, straight lead
42. The Iron Giant (1999) -- white, straight lead
43. Jurassic Park (1993) -- white, straight lead
44. Iron Man (2008) -- white, straight lead (+ Black Buddy B character)
45. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) -- white, straight lead
46. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) -- [***], straight lead
47. Serenity (2005) -- white, straight lead
48. Akira (1988) -- [***], straight lead
49. Open Your Eyes (1997) -- white, straight lead
50. Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (2009) -- white, straight lead

* -- I've heard vaguely that Scott told the actors to play it as if the Nostromo crew have gone through all possible permutations of potential relationships, creating all manner of subtextual sexual tensions. This is however wholly subtextual.
** -- Arguably, with Jedi, Lando is promoted to A character status; the attack on the Death Star could be said to constitute a third narrative thread along with the mission on Endor and Luke's showdown with the Emperor. It is however, ultimately dependent on the white, straight leads carrying out the lynchpin action of bringing the shields down.
*** -- With the one Japanese live-action movie and a few animes on the list, we're stepping outside the Hollywood system, of course, to a culture where we'd expect a different default ethnicity. Even here though, I'd say there's a subtly Westernised look to some of the protagonists. YMMV.

So there you go -- not one protagonist of an abject social group. If we want another sampling, we might just look at this list of top-grossing movies. The situation here looks a tad better in terms of colour -- thank fuck for Will Smith, it seems -- but I'm looking for Teh Gayz in that list, and all I'm seeing is the lesbian aspect of Black Swan.


Thursday, March 10, 2011


In a post over on March Charan Newton's blog the other week, I posted a comment on segregation in the media. Most gratifyingly, the SFWA Blog asked if I'd let them run it as a guest post. Naturally, I was delighted to do so. So, it's up now on the main SFWA site and on the SFWA community LiveJournal. The former seems to have accrued more comments, so I'll point you there with the excerpt:

“Does it matter that more books don’t address minorities or gender equality?”


The status quo is segregation. It’s a state of segregation in which black, queer and members of other abject groups are not deemed to belong as main characters. This is the segregation of not being able to sit at the front of the bus. They may be allowed in as an exception if it “serves the plot” (c.f. your reviewer’s expectation of a reason for the character’s gayness.) This is the segregation of being stopped in a white neighborhood and challenged on your purpose in being there. They may be allowed in as Gay Best Friends or Magic Negros in service of the straight, white protagonist. This is the segregation of travelling into a white neighbourhood to work as a cleaner in someone’s house.


Tuesday, March 08, 2011


In case you're a reader of the pertinent language, Czech portal, has my story, "Styx Water and a Sippy Cup," up for you to read, along with an interview in 2 parts:

Part One
Part Two

Those of you who don't read Czech though... fear not! My latest Notes from New Sodom column is up at BSC Review. And touches on some of the themes most recently addressed in the last couple of entries here:

It’s night in the city of Writing. A librarian sits in the SF Café, looking out on the ghetto of Genre. The whole place has become a little chi-chi over the years, beatnik artists moving in above the brothels and the crack dens. Might almost forget it’s the ghetto, if that avant garde street theatre troupe out on Mass Market Square didn’t blend in with the hookers and hustlers, make it all look like just one big sensual experience for sale. And whenever she swings by the Bistro de Critique, friends shudder at where she hangs: that dive? The librarian takes this in her stride. There’s no point whining about your area being badmouthed when your next door neighbour runs a crack house and, well, you do like a bit of a puff on the old hash pipe now and then.


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Words Are the Only Substance

Or as Jeff VanderMeer puts it, Style is Story is Style

Meanwhile, over on that Guardian piece I carry on the argument about the political import of those words. To some, it seems, the racism analogy is "cheap, in poor taste and absurdly self-regarding." Not wrong, just improper. But then why bother arguing when you can just Edward Woodward the Geek Show freakshow into that motherfuckingly massive ole Straw Man of "Why do these SF-fanatic commenters think everything outside their little world is part of a conspiracy to put them down?"

To which I say:

["Words are the only substance"? In a way. What I say is, with some parenthetical interjections here:]

Why do all you pharmacologists think the earth is flat? What? You're not a pharmacologist and you don't think the earth is flat? Ah, well, Foolish question then, I guess.

Me, I'm more of a pomo boho homo hobo who writes strange fiction and critique, literary and cultural -- though that's entirely irrelevant to the point unless you're going straight to the ad hominem. And that point itself is naught to do with a "conspiracy," entirely to do with the rhetoric of abjection at play in the culture -- i.e. institutionalised prejudice. The classism is focused on all the commercial categories born of the pulp boom in the early 20th century.

[Note the "conspiracy." Words are the only substance.]

My "little world" perspective looks back even beyond that. This "literary fiction" / "genre fiction" bollocks is just the latest iteration of the petit-bourgeois mindset that focused on the penny dreadfuls and dime novels before the pulps, and on the sensation novels and Gothic fictions before them, the latter being rather doubly maligned as not just vulgar pandering to the proles but as -- and you must imagine a middle-aged straight white Victorian gent here, looking down his nose with snootcocking snipewankery -- women's fiction. So throw in a bit of sexism while you're at it. No, this is very much not about some kneejerk SF fan defensiveness. It's about the lamentable follies of a discourse that we're all caught up in.

[Words are the only substance: "little world"; "women's fiction." This is discourse.]

As for the crass and uncouth comparison with racism, yes, I suppose it's quite tasteless, quite improper, not to mince my words. But that doesn't speak to the substance: that the usage of "genre" has been warped in a precise parallel with the usage of "colour" such that an empty property requiring a value inserted (like "DOB" on a questionnaire,) now signifies a specific subset of all which has that property; and that this is patently a rhetorical action born of, and feeding back into, political forces.

[Words are the only substance. Import is the action of that substance upon us. Rhetorical = political.]


But no, the fact of prejudice doesn't mean the victims don't deserve disdain in this argument. To the snootcocker they do, because being "genre fiction" is what makes "genre fiction" shitty.

It's about being derivative, really: "there's something genuinely valuable in a piece's un-genre-ness; its resistance to easy definition. Great fiction of all kinds transcends category - or forces the creation of a new one."

So, derivative dirty realism and magical realism -- which fall under the "literary fiction" umbrella -- can be judged on those grounds. The latter becomes "this odd whimsical form and is divorced from its original postcolonial significance" (I quite agree) as the conversation is distorted by its shortsightedness, by the focus on English language works, by the failure to see "the seminal works in other languages." (Again I agree.)

But is the twisted meaning of "genre" really important? We're all misusing it, since it "should properly be used to distinguish basic types like drama, poetry, epic, novel, etc.."

[Words are the only substance. Here are some more, my next response:]

I agree we're all misusing the term "genre". That's a large part of my point. But classification of idiom applies at different levels, so the war novel is a genre just as much as the novel is. So too are genres like absurdist satire, epic fantasy, contemporary realism, magical realism, Naturalism. These idioms are often only delimited by constraints if one is approaching them from the offset with a view to creating a derivative work that offers more of the same. This is where the shittiness comes in with derivative magical realism or dirty realism, genres of so-called 'lit-fic' -- formulation.

[Words are the only substance. The only constraint on that substance is selection and structure. I select the words "absurdist" and "satire," structure them into a descriptive phrase. Behold, the genre!]

These are genres as well as sub-genres, by the way, because a sub-class of a class is itself a class, whether we're talking Platonic forms, Object Oriented Programming or literary idioms.

[Words are the only substance. Platonic forms do not have substance. How do we constrain them then? Like this: "the sonnet has fourteen lines and a volta." But what have we constrained except the word "sonnet"?]

Some genres are delimited by formal constraints -- like the sonnet -- but this need not equate to formulation any more than Oulipo constraints do. Having fourteen lines and a volta is not what causes a sonnet to be shitty "genre poetry." Nor does it only become great by "transcending" such constraints and becoming -- gosh wow -- a shmonneting rather than a sonnet. That would be a vacuous valorisation of novelty over substance. There is a genuine value to the eschewing of trite and pandering formulation, but to collapse this to "resisting easy definition" is a crude reductionism that would damn Shakespeare's sonnets and probably the bulk of literature with it. "Blake? God, look at the rhythm and rhyme schemes. These are mere nursery rhymes!"

[Words are the only substance. If your only constraint is that they come in fourteen lines and a violent jab of blade in eyeball & twist, fuck you, what is that substance but a tyger jaunting furious, afire, anywhen?]

In fact, more often than not, to understand what's actually going on in any idiom, we need to turn the model inside out, view those technical features as core components, conceits around which individual works develop an entirely original articulation, not boundaries on what that articulation can be. We do better to understand the works of Aeschylus and Euripedes as Greek Tragedy than to extol them as transcending category by achieving some spurious quality of "un-genre-ness" (posited, presumably, on the idea that to write a Greek Tragedy back in the day would obviously be derivative hackwork because it was an identifiable idiom.)

[Words are the only substance. We should not merely hack off a lump of it.]

I absolutely agree that one of the things that distorts this conversation is the narrow scope, but it's not just cultural blinkers, it's temporal too. We're applying a notion of "genre" wrought in a specifically Western discourse of the last few hundred years, contemporaneous with the construction of "race" and bound to it where it becomes a way of establishing a dichotomy between "sophisticated" and "primitive" modes of narrative.

[Words are the only substance. Words are always already sophisticated
and primitive. All of them.]

First that discourse sets apart European "primitive" stories -- Romances in the chivalric sense, folklore and suchlike -- in a contradistinction to the basically Rationalist narrative form of the novel, as "proper" literature. The fiction of other cultures goes with a swift colonialist flip of dismissal into the other category of non-literature -- mere "storytelling". Which speaks directly to this commenter's point about rendering magical realism "a mere whimsical form divorced from its original post-colonial significance." This is how the privileged continue the infantilisation and orientalism.

[Words are the only substance. Rhetorics is politics. The word "mere" is the most important word in the previous paragraph because of the politics in the difference between "mere" and "simply."]

literature, says the white, middle-class Victorian male, isn't those "primitive" sort of stories which are recogniseably Other in their use of specific conceits of form or figurae. Those are the sort of works appreciated only by those who lack the nous to require more -- women, proles and colonial subjects. I talk of Gothic, sensation novels, penny dreadfuls and dime novels, but the "fanciful folklore" of colonised cultures is equally abjected, delegitimised. Unless it's being appropriated by Kipling, say, or expurgated so it can be (re)presented as children's fiction a la the Arabian Nights.

[Words are the only substance. To control how the word "literature" may be legitimately selected with other words and structured into sentences is the true constraint on that substance.]

Then with the impact of mass-production in the 20th century, you get the pulp boom. This is indeed heavily characterised by formulation, but it is simultaneously a substrate that nurtures writers simply unwilling to kowtow to a High Art / Low Art discourse that is a product of privilege
reinforcing privilege. Fact. All of the genres commercialised do become heavily codified with constraints of form by which more of the same can be churned out, but most demand ongoing detournement even there, and most publishers piggy-back off the formula fare to support the demand for works which treat a technique as core component, as mere conceit around which the developed articulation is prized precisely for its originality. To deny this is simply ignorance of the historical reality and of the underlying mechanisms by which literature evolves.

[Words are the only substance. Petrol in glass bottles handed out to the mob.]

It doesn't matter about the Chandlers or Besters though; now a name can be given to that which is not literature: pulp. Now we can use the formulation to redefine the very nature of fiction. Those genres around which marketing categories form can become the
only genres, can become "genre fiction." The same mechanisms of evolution -- including formulation -- take place within general fiction but hey, now the very language denies that those white, middle-class, men writing shitty derivative magic/dirty realism are guilty of that. They're not writing "genre fiction."

[Words are the only substance. To control how the words "genre fiction" may
not be legitimately selected with other words and structured into sentences is the true constraint on that substance.]

Oh, but the post-colonial Indian writer, Rushdie, who rejects the discourse, takes the idioms of his native culture and the idioms of the vulgar masses, treats them as core components, conceits around which he can develop a wholly original articulation -- he slams into that discourse with his first novel. It carries the stench of "genre fiction" in the conceits that are perceived as science fiction. Maybe it's a ropey first novel, but if you're throwing SF into the mix, we're certainly not dealing with formulaic magic realism, right? But regardless, this book is slammed.

[Words are the only substance. Make that a virgin Molotov, with a champagne chaser, please, and hold the rag; I'm on Atkins.]

Again, Grimus was touted for an SF award. Again, Delany's Dhalgren is canonical SF (with its black protagonist and explicit gay sex, by the way.) That's not to defend the genre but to point up the reality in which innovation is valorised within the cultures focused on idioms. "Transcends the genre" is the ultimate plaudit, so much so it's a cliché. Trust me, I've been scabrous in attacks on formulation within the genre I've ended up hanging out in. But I can write fiction as queer as I want it to be there, queer in all respects, rather than the "coming-of-age as a gay kid in suburban Scotland under Thatcher" novel that
would be formulation... but "literary" as opposed to "genre fiction."

[Words are the only substance. We do not
transcend the genre with words; we make it.]

Consider it in terms of sexuality rather than colour -- c.f. my masculinity analogy. "Genre fiction" is queer fiction. This means only that it identifies by orientations not the normative. These fall into distinct classes but there is nothing about being in one class that constrains behaviour beyond having the core component. Still all of those classes are subject to rampant stereotyping and a valorisation of the normative founded on it.

[Words are the only substance. I will not be painted in lies because of the words I kiss.]

You say "un-genre-ness," I hear "not queer." Great fiction "transcends" category? Like great people "transcend" their sexuality.

[Words. Are. The. Only. Substance.]

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