After the leisurely lunch, he put on his top-coat as protection against the increasing chill of the afternoon, and took a long walk through the relative emptiness of the West End on a Sunday afternoon, Piccadilly, Bond Street, St. James's Square, Regent Street. London gave him a feeling of pleasant anonymity, of a measured and timeless courtesy, a feeling that if he had been able to walk on his hands, he would attract very little additional attention. It is, he thought, an older and more complex culture, larded with a certain smugness, shot through with little social nuances and distinctions we never catch, vastly more tolerant of eccentricity. A society of contradictions as strange as our own. They bowdlerise their novels, yet print daily papers exploiting the more feral and rancid aspects of sex with a smirking boldness unknown in the all the rest of the western world.
From John D. MacDonald's I Could Go On Singing (Fawcett: 1963)
Speculative Fiction 2012 picked up the British Fantasy Award for 'Best Non-Fiction' yesterday, which is... pretty awesome. The credit goes to the contributors - all 50-odd of 'em (including artist Sarah Anne Langton, introducer Mur Lafferty and afterworders Thea James and Ana Grilo) - who were willing to donate their work to the grand experiment.
I can't find the first email in the chain, but I'm pretty sure SpecFic was entirely co-editor Justin Landon's idea (and, frankly, it was a great one), and I'm glad glad he roped me into it. We set out to create a deliberate anachronism: we're taking articles that exist online, with vast reach, and slapping them into a bound document. Individually, the 50-odd articles inside were read by, conservatively, tens of thousands of people - if not hundreds of thousands. As a collection, if it reaches 10% of that number, it would be considered an impressive success. Yet, arguably, it wasn't until we 'curated' these blog posts into a book that they became culturally significant, as defined by a sizable portion of the population.
I think public and critical impressions of blogging have changed even since 2013. Within the 'industry', think of how many blogger blurbs we're starting to see on books - they're now the default, not the exception. For bloggers, it seems that we're fumbling our way towards a new style of non-fiction: a combination of the personal and the critical. The balance between the two is still uncertain, but there's something there that's both new and meaningful - even if it is (so far) only the death of the 'death of the reviewer'.
And things will continue to change. The lines between amateur and professional have blurred, the number (and accessibility) of speaking platforms has proliferated and all the old traditions of criticism are out the window. Not to mention those time-honoured precepts of marketing, creator/consumer interaction, concepts of authority, and, and, and... all of which are being entirely rewritten.
This week(ish), the articles and stories on Pornokitsch are all focused around a particular theme: the action hero. The men and women of big guns, cunning stratagems and intense stares. The men and women, they say, of iron.
But are they?
In my compulsive need to generate pithy diagrams, I wanted to tackle the classification of action heroes. Be they cowboys, sleuths, spies or superhumans, what sort of consistent spectrum could we generate for these characters?
Before I get into the classification process, it is important to note the base assumption for all these action heroes: they need to be characters with agency. Fundamentally, what makes an action hero isn't what they can do, but what they choose to do. These are people that have extraordinary lives and adventures, because, above and beyond their capabilities, they have a mission. They have chosen to prioritise that 'thing they do' (revenge, vigilantism, assassination, general world-saving) over the other aspects of their lives; over normalcy; over fitting in. Action heroes have escapist appeal because they've made the conscious choice to follow a higher (or lower) calling, and disobey the strictures that confine the rest of us.
When it comes to classifying the results of their agency, I've selected two axes.
Note: this post was written before news of Robin Williams' death broke. The same perspective that lends itself to a jokey essay about good-looking actors also functions to remind us why Williams' death feels so strange. For decades, Williams was a ubiquitous feature of the pop culture landscape. We'll miss him.
As Jared and I watched the first episode of The Good Wife, we realized that we recognized, but did not know the name of, this guy.
We had to look him up on IMDB to figure it out, but of course the moment we did it all came flooding back: Josh Charles (who plays Will Gardner) played Knox Overstreet in Dead Poets Society.
Which came out in 1989.
Cue instant mid-life crisis.
Dead Poets Society was a film I really liked twenty years ago. Here’s why: I was, at fifteen, a poetry-reading weirdo who felt deeply misunderstood and undervalued. And Dead Poets Society features sensitive, poetry-reading souls (in the 16-18 age range) who feel misunderstood and undervalued. It also features some really good looking guys.
What struck me as I stared at Josh Charles’ IMDB profile is that I’ve now got a very privileged, very weird perspective on pop culture. I haven’t just grown up with pop culture – pop culture has grown up with me. I’ve got a perspective on it now – thanks to twenty years of hearty consumption of it – that I never had before. And perspective is a double-edged sword.
Jotting notes for the panel at Nine Worlds... this is not a proper post, just a collection of possible moderation 'pokes'.
I'm fascinated by Westerns - especially the way that the tropes and tricks of the genre have been appropriated and/or assimilated into other styles of literature. Playing with the idea that Westerns now exist everywhere (...except as Westerns), what are the hooks for discussion?
The Western genre peaked in the 1960s. Why?
Changes in format? (death the pulp format meant death of a genre; what's that mean with the format changes in today's publishing industry?)
Reliance on other media? (Wikipedia cites 1960s rise and fall of Westerns as a result of volume of Western TV shows, and viewer burnout) [interesting parallel to modern fantasy]
Change in reader interest? (no more frontiers? Cuban Missile Crisis/Vietnam leads to public discouragement in jingoism? less romance of America within America?)
'Out of ideas'? Can a genre expire?
Age of the genre means that it has had many more stages of growth/descent/evolution [fantasy equivalent]:
'traditional Westerns' - Zane Grey [high fantasy]
pulp/commercial Westerns - Clifton Adam, JT Edson [sword & sorcery]
revisionist Westerns - George Gilman [grimdark]
post-revisionist Westerns - Larry McMurtry, Justified [?!]
Western fusions - David Towsey, Firefly [New Weird]
literary Westerns - Cormac McCarthy, Peter Carey, Patrick DeWitt [?!]
What does this mean for the progression of a genre? (Other examples of contemporary but well-developed genres: romance) Are genres teleological? What does this mean for fantasy and SF?
A few years ago I was on a Game of Thones fan panel. The moderator started by asking a pretty standard question – our favourite character.
The answers were pretty standard, too: Tyrion, Arya, Arya, Jon… and then I opened my mouth and I said it. My favourite character is Sansa Stark.
In my memory the room drew back with a collective hiss, but I know it wasn’t that bad. A couple did, definitely, but a few others nodded. I wasn’t surprised. Sansa’s not enormously popular and, at the time, only the first series had aired in the UK; although Sansa had evolved into a much more nuanced and interesting character in the books, many people still only knew her as stuck-up Series 1 Sansa. (And Sansa in the first book/series is awful; that’s part of what makes her interesting. But we’ll get back to that.)
Things took a turn for the worse later, when we were discussing why we like the characters we’d chosen. I argued that Sansa is strong, interesting and well-characterized. The rest of the panel, and some of the audience, took issue with my claim. ‘She’s bitchy! She’s spoiled! She just sits around and waits for stuff to happen! She’s scared! She’s a coward!’, came the responses.
‘She’s thirteen years old,’ I said. ‘What would you have been like in her situation, when you were thirteen?’
Someone in the audience bit back. ‘Arya’s only eight and shedoesn’t act like that.’
And there it is. Fiery independent Arya does the right thing, the heroic thing, the expected thing (for a main character in a fantasy series): she escapes, she vows revenge, she fights back. She does the thing we like to think we’d do, in the same situation. We want to be Arya.
The Hugo voter packet is out. This means that if you're in the Hugo Voting Electorate, you can have free access to, uh, Pornokitsch. Or a 'best of 2013', compendium, I guess.
Anyway, we wanted to share a couple things.
First, in case you aren't a member of the Hugo Voting Electorate and want to see what we selected, we've set up download links below. The only new material, of course, is the introduction - in which we thank you, the amazing readers of Pornokitsch (round of applause) - which is all the more reason you should have access to the (um, already accessible?) material.
I'm halfway through reading and reviewing the shortlists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards. That seems to be going well (and thanks to everyone who's joining in with comments and thoughts). What I wanted to do was create a separate space to discuss the award itself. What do you think works about the Gemmell Awards? What could other awards learn from it? If (when) appointed Supreme Leader of Earth, what would you do to improve on it?
As far as discussing awards goes, this seems a relatively straight-forward one - if this works, we'll move our collective gaze onto other awards.
We are starting with the assumption that awards are Good Things. If your stance is that awards suck and accomplish nothing, no matter what, your input isn't all that useful.
I'm in no way associated with the DGLA. Nor am I advising it, consulting for it or anything else. I vote, that's it! This is, like the other posts in the 'Poking at Awards' series, simply a discussion around these strange and wonderful institutions in genre fiction.
Don't be a dick. As with all things, let's review the content, not the 'author'. The nice people who run the DGLA - or any award - work their asses off, and they do it for love of literature, and they do it knowing full well that they're exposing themselves to criticism. Let's talk about the award and let's do it with empathy for our fellow book-lovers.
Background and criteria
The David Gemmell Awards seek out the best epic fantasy book of the calendar year. The exact definition of 'epic fantasy' is 'epic fantasy, high fantasy and/or in the tradition of David Gemmell'. The books are submitted by publishers. There's a fee and several copies are required, to be distributed to reviewers. The books all need to have been traditionally published [I believe], but digital-only books are accepted. Although the book must be published in English, publishers and voters come from around the world.
There's a little vetting based on genre, but generally speaking, all the submissions that fit the physical criteria become the 'longlist'. This is then voted on by the public - first down to a shortlist of 5, and finally to a winner.
There are three categories: best book, best debut and best cover.
I think that covers all the salient points. After the jump - what other awards could learn from the Gemmells and a few crazy (and not so crazy) suggestions...
In the last installment of this increasingly bonkers blog series, we looked at audiences - who are awards for, anyway? That's the first half of the story - the second half, what is an award supposed to accomplish?
In the world of marketing, we chuck around a lot of esoteric vocabularity - things like 'awareness', 'market share', 'salience', etc - when it comes to establishing objectives. But the easiest way of getting to the heart of the matter is simply asking this: "What does success look like?"
Does it look like every child in America eating your brand of delicious cookie? Does it look like your type of toothpaste shelved in a special rack, at the end of the aisle? Does it look like a long line on opening night? Or does it look like your boss being happy?
This particular blog post speaks about two things - what success looks like (objectives) and how we see it (measurement).