January, 2006

I was thinking this morning, about something Patrick Nielsen Hayden said at VP (also said in this entry by Elizabeth Bear which I’m linking again because it’s that good): what matters in your writing beyond basic competency is not so much what you do wrong when you write, but what you do right. Often when I review (or just think about) a book, even by an author I love dearly, I take the time to try and be evenhanded, and I spend a lot of time analyzing the bits that don’t work for me, since those are the bits that serve to caution me in my own work. Today, however, I was considering certain author’s gifts (or what I consider their gifts, at any rate), and I thought I would just lay them out here. So, things I admire about currently living, working authors:

  • About Caitlin R. Kiernan: how everything she writes is processed to the nth degree. Nothing is direct or straightforward. Every idea is simmered and touched by other ideas. Chronology and event description are often beneath her, incidental to the inner lives of the characters she writes about. She’s never written a line that was only about one thing, or only had one meaning.
  • About Elizabeth Bear: How she’s not afraid to maim (and sometimes kill) her characters, even the very best ones. Unflinching.
  • About Neil Gaiman: how thoroughly convincing and deft his voices are (both narrative and character voices). Even when plots are thin or reprocessed, when events seem disjointed, when references are more like wholesale reappropriations, the voices of the characters are always pitch perfect.
  • About J.K. Rowling: narrative drive and forward plot momentum. There’s never a good moment to put the book down, until its over.
  • About Gene Wolfe: how he never, ever even for a second lets you get away with being a stupid reader, and rewards you so well for paying attention.
  • About Jeff VanderMeer: the unstinting courage to take huge risks, to do unconventional and strange things with form and structure and narrative, without worrying about whether they’ll work or not. Maybe he does worry (far be it from me to claim knowledge of the author’s emotional state), but that sure doesn’t come across on the page. Also, the richness of his worlds, the depth and breadth of places like Ambergris and Veniss.
  • About Lois McMaster Bujold: Her complete mastery of third person limited POV. It looks effortless and elegant when you read her words, which is the true sign of super proficiency.
  • About Ursula K. LeGuin: How her books speak to you long after you put them down. The density of ideas in each. I read The Dispossessed over two years ago and, as recently as last week, I was still ruminating over some of the political philosophy she wrote about in it. Her ideas remain relevant.
  • About Haruki Murakami: I’ve often seen critics describe prose as luminous, which tends to make me roll my eyes, but Murakami’s actually is. I can’t even describe it, and the fact that I read a translated and therefore lesser version of his words and still feel the glow astonishes me.
  • About Ray Bradbury: His mastery of setting. I know what Mars looks like, what the 1950’s look like, what the veldt looks like, what the carnival looks like, what October looks like, and I know them all because he told me. Also, the way he can go back to the story well, again and again, and keep drawing things up. He still has things to say.
  • About Bruce Sterling: Complexity and extrapolation perfectly intertwined. It’s not layering (which I also admire in authors when I recognize it) so much as imbrication and even though he’s not an author I love, he’s certainly an author I admire.

Doubtless I could go on, and perhaps I shall revisit this at some later date, but for now, that’s a pretty good list.

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27 Jan 2006, by

Crafty Fox

I neglected to mention this sooner but the other day when I was walking with my dad, we saw a fox.
Red Fox
It trotted across the street about half a block ahead of us, paused, checked us out, then ambled into someone’s yard. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a live, roaming-free fox. I’m not even sure I’ve ever seen one in the zoo, though certainly I must have at some point whether I recall having done so or not. It’s the first notable non-avian predator I’ve seen around here, and I was thrilled to get a chance to observe the bushy-tailed, red-faced, black-eared thing of fairy tales. I love where I live. My dad said he’d seen it the week before across the street from our house, but had convinced himself it was a cat or small dog. Sergei went crazy, too, and nearly wrenched my arm off trying to get at the little guy.

P.S. I think this is the 400th post I’ve made to the blog. Not bad, eh?

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25 Jan 2006, by

Turnaround time

Awww, thanks for your comments and suggestions, folks! Either you really missed me, or you really like TV and have a lot to say about it. I’ll start recording BG as soon as I can and maybe rent the miniseries and first season and give it a try. I don’t suppose there’s a marathon coming up anytime soon where they’ll show the prior season so I could tape it all in one go?

In other areas of technological wonder, the new printer has arrived. It is heavy. But soon there will be printouts. Laser! Color! Networked! The future is now.

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I don’t really know where to start. It looks like I’ve gotten out of the habit of blogging. Well, that’s not totally true. I compose blog entries in my head all the time. They just rarely seem to make it to the site. Something falls through between my thoughts and the execution. It never quite gets done. That says something to me, but I don’t know what. Maybe it’s try harder, or maybe it’s your dedication to this is not sufficient just let it go. I’ve got a lot to say, and I’ve got a lot on my mind, and it would probably be good to run through some things on paper, so to speak, which is one of the things I use this blog for.

Mostly I have a thousand tabs open, jumping off points for conversations that I’m less and less likely to engage in as time wears on. Stuff like how cool I think it is that Bolivia has an indigenous elected leader, and how I hope Evo Morales will succeed in dragging his country out of poverty. Everything I read about him makes me hopeful and happy. Or how much this Shakespearean version of the Hokey Pokey made me laugh. I could tell you how long I spent thinking about Federico Garcia Lorca after I was given a book of his poems by a poet and friend who thought I would appreciate them. I translated one, as an exercise. That always makes me think about the differences between Spanish and English. Like how aletear is a better word than flutter. It says more. I could explain how frustrating it is to reach for the better word in composition and find that it’s not in the language you are writing. Or I might give you a month late warning about dog food that’s been recalled and that has killed over a hundred dogs. Maybe I could point you to this thoughtful and succint summary, by the always wise slacktivist, of the book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. You won’t bring up that it was written over a month ago, will you? Or we could get into a personal account of how one of my all time favorite comics, Animal Man, turned one person into a vegetarian.

Links is a weak way to get back into it, though, isn’t it? Would it be better if I told you something personal? Like how I’m starting to recover from the dark of midwinter? Each day brings a little more daylight and a little more energy into my life. ObserveGreek Sunrise By Season. Not that I live in Greece or have a view like this one or anything, but more daylight makes me feel like I might. Perhaps you’d like to hear about my printer, the one that died the final death in that last two weeks. I thought it was aged, but it turns out the thing is downright ancient. Close investigation by my husband uncovered an archived email about this selfsame printer in 1996. We may have gotten it in 1995. I thought the thing was six or seven years old which would have been sufficient. Turns out the poor thing has been working for a decade. True, it was not at its best the last six or so months. It will be nice not to have to cajole printouts. This lovely (you know, if by lovely you mean sappy) eulogy for our printer was written by my friend Legomancer. The new printer has not yet arrived but is on its way. Lack of printing ability has put a small (but temporary) kink in my plan to print and send things out (which is one of the things I want to do better this year than last). There’s also TV in our house again. As in, a service that gives channels which I can tune in to and watch things on. No longer is the television a mere vehicle to show DVD’s and display Gamecube games. Does anyone want to tell me what show I ought to be watching on this thing? I haven’t any idea where to even start, and the channel guide is overwhelming and mysterious. Only recommend the best possible thing I could be watching, please, as I haven’t the patience for more than one show.

Oh yeah, and have I mentioned my entire family is here from Argentina? All of them! There’s ten of us, can you believe it?

So. Is it too late for New Year’s Resolutions?

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