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"This slum of literature"

TheJobI've been reading some of the 'best books', which has been surprisingly fun. Perhaps slightly less educational than I had assumed it would be, but there's a virtuous buzz that comes from reading anything with <10 downloads on Gutenberg. 

Although not one of Sinclair Lewis' best works, The Job has a lot going for it. This is a sort of Babbitt for the working woman, and Lewis tries to balance warm-hearted (and progressive) feminist thinking with a thinly-veiled disgust for, well, everyone, including its own protagonist.

It is a tricky line to walk, and the book occasionally stumbles a little too far into one camp or another: either with full-on preaching monologues or vast swathes of parenthetical scorn. 

Still, mean is funny. And this lengthy, abusive aside about the 'literary itch' was particularly entertaining:

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Four Fantasies: Fire Boy, The Brazen Gambit, The Never King and A Stranger at the Wedding

Fire BoyFantasy time! Not, like 'the Royals come back to win the division and the Series' fantasy, we're talking about the more realistic stuff - with jinn, dragons, and, er, weddings.

Four recent reads, showing the breadth, depth and wonderful weirdness that can be found on the fantasy shelves.

Sami Shah's Fire Boy (2017). An early - or not so early - book of the year pick. To slap some labels on it, Fire Boy is a YA, edgy American Gods, but then, none of that is particularly accurate. Wahid is a weird kid, growing up in Karachi. He was a sick child and now he's a gormless teenage. But he's got some fun friends, a loving family, and a future that's more or less bright.

Then things go horribly, terribly wrong. Wahid starts seeing things that aren't there. There's crazy assassin is after him. Oh, and he's in a horrible car wreck. Suddenly he's gone from secure and self-absorbed to a life on the run, with everything taken from him. His search for answers takes him to some very strange, and not entirely earthly, places. Fire Boy has all the classic elements of Chosen One-ness and Portal Fantasy: Wahid's a gawky, geeky everyman with a good heart and a lot of potential. But there's also a shockingly edgy overlay - this isn't a book that pulls its punches, and manages to be truly shocking and surprising as the one twist leads to another. Karachi itself comes to life, as Shah brings its sprawl and the splendour to the page, effortlessly weaving in the city's mythology.

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The Official Pornokitsch Taxonomy of Villains

Diagramming villainy

So we’ve been at this Villain of the Month thing for a while now – since August 2016, to be precise – and by this point we’ve accumulated an interesting roster of villains. There have been 8 in total (we lost a month in there somewhere due to shifting schedules), which break down along the following lines:

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Review Round-up: A Queue, Two Devils, Some Magicians and an Empty City

9781612195162_custom-9dcd78cb1494554fe2ead2adb48ab8c65e917d12-s400-c85I'm way behind on writing reviews - a combination of life, SPFBO reading, sekrit projects and watching Ariana Grande and Chris Martin sing "Don't Look Back In Anger" on continuous loop. But whilst we all wait for me to get my act together, here's a quick catch-up on recent reading:

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz (2016, first 2012). In an unnamed country, the people are ruled by a faceless bureaucracy. All paperwork challenging the state must be notarised by officials at the 'Gate', the accepted nomenclature of the 'powers that be' that work at entrance of the government building, but the Gate never opens...

Over time, a huge queue forms, and with it, a new society. People come and go, trade gossip, form a new, grey economy. The Gate seems to know everything and be everywhere, but its actions are nonsensical and baffling. Set against this... a mystery, of sorts. A man, shot in an uprising that never happened by soldiers that weren't there using guns that don't exist, is standing, wounded, in the queue. The maze of paperwork around him, if he exists, captures a handful of others, as they make extremely difficult choices in the face of overwhelming indifference. 

The Queue isn't quite as abstract as I'm making it sound. It is a good Orwellian thriller, with compelling, heart-breaking characters. Although inspired by Egypt, The Queue is one of the great fictional dystopias, with horrifying relevance to, well, everywhere. If you read one book on this list, make it this one.

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SPFBO: Some Unwanted Writing Advice

Publishing your book

In 1921 - this has a point, bear with me - the compilers of What Editors Want interviewed a lot of the prominent editors (both magazine and publishing house) of the day. They all responded with pages of stuff: formatting advice, genre preference, commercial details, you name it. Very specific.

The best response was a single line from Atlantic's Ellery Sedgewick: "My selection is made according to the whim of one individual."

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SPFBO2017 - The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off

Hello there

Pornokitsch will be participating the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off again this year, the third year of the competition.

You can learn more about SPFBO and its storied (if brief) history here

I'm reading 30 books, with the ultimate goal of choosing one finalist for the next round (the best part). I'll then read the other 9 finalists, score them (the worst part) and then there's an ultimate winner.

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Are genre readers more likely to separate the author from the work?

Unjustly Condemned

Discussion around separating 'art' from 'artist' is something that springs quite a bit - especially in the SF/F community. I have a lot of theories on why that's so:

  • we've got an academic fan tradition, and like to overanalyse context;
  • we're a tight-knit community and live in one another's pockets;
  • social media makes it so dirty laundry is everyone; 
  • our particular blend of escapism often stems from creative people outside of traditional social norms;
  • we sure have an awful lot of assholes writing in our genres

Take your pick. But whatever the underlying context, the ultimate question is still the same for each reader: if you don't like the author - personally or politically - do you still read them? Can you separate the author from the work? Should you? Discuss, ad infinitum.

I'm interested in how people answer this question quantitatively. Are readers more likely to separate art and artist than everyone else? And what about genre readers? Are we more or less likely to read books by people we disagree with?

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The art of publishing - who has form?

Fawcett Gold Medal

In Robert Calasso's The Art of the Publisher, the author distills to art of publishing to form - the "capacity to give form to a plurality of books as though they were the chapters of a single book".

This is a fascinating concept, particularly applicable in a world where branding is both understood as an art... and almost entirely ignored in the publishing industry. The most overt demonstration of form is, of course, the art and design of covers - and Calasso dedicates many thoughtful pages to the role of cover(s) across a publisher's list. 

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Confessions of a lifelong collector

Photo by SA Partridge

As a child, I was an avid collector of My Little Pony and Care Bears, despite the fact that my only regular source of income was the occasional envelope on birthdays and Christmas. Even then I couldn't just have one. I needed them all. It fell to my parents to bankroll this craze. I remember my father driving from one toy store to another to find the elusive Birthday Bear (a mustardy-coloured Care Bear with a cupcake on its chest). It was the only one I didn't have. If the Internet had been around we would have found one instantly, but my father’s dedication to the task was admirable. Father of the Decade, I say.

Advertising played a part.

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