Archive for September 2009
Oh, those New York hipsters:
Their first act of Awareness Terrorism – as they called it – had been to alter some dozen or so billboards throughout Manhattan, turning cigarette ads to GOT CANCER? After that, they’d placed OUT OF DISORDER stickers on hundreds of vending machines all over the island.
Woah. For their next act of mindblowing cultural subversion they decide to patch a live feed of them having sex into a giant screen in Times Square. But they chicken out. But in the course of chickening out they get turned on so have sex anyway. But what’s this? They accidently switched the camera on!
This story is as lame as its characters.
This is the first story in the anthology that actually reads like a piece of erotica rather than a just story with some sex in it. This overdetermines the story but in a pretty successful manner. The program rewires men to make them better lovers. There is not a great deal of plausibility here but that is not the point and Bonhomme wrings a lot out of not very promising material.
I did make the mistake of flicking to the back to find out more about Bonhomme though. As an artist it is of course your prerogative to turn in a bio like this:
G. Bonhomme is a thorny rose.
G. Bonhomme dreams of world where all men are sisters.
G. Bonhomme disbelieves in heavier-than-air flight.
G. Bonhomme watches it snow.
G. Bonhomme hopes you are not too totally abandoned.
However, people are likely to think you are a bit of a nob.
It was always going to be unlikely that a story named after a Joy Division song was going to be particularly erotic. And so it proves. James has a Godzilla fetish; not in the sense he wants to fuck Godzilla, in the sense he wants to be Godzilla and lay waste to Toyko. Enter stage left an ex-girlfriend with a preposterous business model who allows him to realise his desire.
Everything Is Nice is one today! Hooray! Actually, it was some time last week but I didn’t notice. The year has gone very quickly.
In hindsight I should probably have picked a unique name for this blog rather than one that throws up loads of other references but fuck it, it felt right at the time. And it still does, I’m still beating the nice nice thing to death with fluffy pillows.
The greatest hits of this blog so far as voted for by you, the public:
1) Taking An Ethical Stand
2) Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology
3) Lists, Beautiful Lists
5) Dying Earth
6) ‘Hell Is The Absence Of God’ by Ted Chiang
7) ‘Sea Oak’ by George Saunders
8) ‘The God Of Dark Laughter’ by Michael Chabon
9) 2008 Everything Is Nice Book Awards
10) Top Dog
So there obviously is a demand out there for writing about short fiction. I’m not sure that it was a demand that was especially met by those pieces though…
This is a story by Scott Westerfeld, the most significant writer in science fiction, but it is a long way from the young adult novels he is best known for these days.
There was something vulnerable in the sound, and Paul stopped. He’d feel foolish if he let this opportunity pass.
“Look, Eurisa,” he sais to the door. “After work. Do you want to have a drink?”
When you read a passage like this in a contemporary SF story you expect it do be subverted, you expect the predator to become the prey. In fact, with its overtones of horror I wouldn’t have been surprised if the object of desire to turn out to be a vampire (Westerfeld has form). Eurisa isn’t a vampire though, she is just undead; resurrected using future tech following a fatal car crash. Westerfeld subverts the expectation of the standard subversion and instead produces a queasy psychological profile of a man undone by his own issues.
The other day Kim Stanley Robinson said several things, one of which was: “Science fiction. Yay! Historical fiction. Boo!” Why can’t we all get just get along? Well, we almost can:
Why stop there though? There is a more fundamental synthesis: prehistoric fiction! Dan Hartland reviews The Fire In The Stone by Nicolas Ruddick:
The Fire in the Stone is the first comprehensive study, in English, of its subject (though see Angenot and Kouri’s bibliography of the genre). Nevertheless, on the relatively minor planet of his topic, Ruddick places himself between two poles: between on the one hand Charles DePaolo’s position that prehistoric fiction should be judged on the extent to which it properly adheres to the paleoanthropology of its time, and on the other Joseph Carroll’s that emphasises quality of characterisation and the rigorous attainment of empathy. Ruddick is by his own admission closer to Carroll in this debate, but he neither holds that scientific accuracy, or a thorough simulation of consciousness, is necessary if prehistoric fiction (or “pf” as he calls it) is to succeed. Ruddick simply holds that pf must use the basic concepts of paleoanthropology to enlighten the reader: “Good pf [. . . ] tells us about ourselves today [. . . ] by reminding us of the great journey in time that we have travelled to get here” (p. 3).
“Okay. Here we go. Let’s say female orgasm is a fixed value, but the travel, the distance required to move from position one to orgasm, is variable. That’s our first unknown.”
Maths makes everything sexier. The story is told entirely in dialogue as a couple attempt to unravel the mystery of the female orgasm using an extended mathematical metaphor. Rather the disappointingly the answer turns out simply to be cunnilingus.
It’s not actually a science fiction story, it is instead one of those stories that creep in to SF anthologies from time to time purely on the strength of the fact they are likely to appeal. to science fiction readers. I also lied about maths making everything sexier so slightly marked down on that score but it is good, clean fun.
Slaves, female are of three kinds, probably:
2 Beautiful young women. You will find these in droves in the FANATIC CALIPHATES and sometimes in the PALACES of bad KINGS. Their duties are light and pleasant and are: looking beautiful, bathing and massaging visitors, singing and dancing and, for male Tourists, providing company in bed. None of them seem unhappy in their work and they show no desire to escape. It is not usually possible to discover their life stories, but sometimes one will tell you her father was a MERCHANT and that she was kidnapped by BANDITS somewhere many hundreds of miles away and was forced to watch her father being killed before she was carried off.
Often male Tourists will sympathise with the plight of such Slaves, nobly reject their offer of free, no-holds-barred SEX, insist on assisting them to escape from the exploitative tyranny under which they have been existing, and then, having obviously done them a Good Turn, have free, no-holds-barred SEX before stranding them in the middle of nowhere to make their way thousands of miles back to their own COUNTRY.
Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide To Fantasyland, 1996
Another very short story and one dealing with a subject I thought I would be more common in the anthology: better living through technology. After her partner is severely burnt in an accident, Jessamine smuggles the small, telepathically controlled doll they have been working on into the hospital. With sexy results. It is essentially a warm-hearted teledildonics story that explicitly thinks about the implications for the disabled. Aww.
Consider these two extracts from conversations between strangers from the prologue to The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod. The first takes place on a transcontinental flight:
‘I believe the Bible,’ said Campbell. ‘Which means I believe it about the Creation and the Flood, and the dates when these happened. I just think it presumptuous to look for evidence. We should take God’s word for it.’
‘And how do you explain the stars, millions of light years away?’
‘How do you know they’re millions of light years away?’
‘By measuring the parallax,’ the woman said.
‘Good,’ said Campbell. ‘Most people don’t even know that, they just believe it because they were told.’
The second takes place in a nightclub in Edinburgh:
‘Well, I don’t have a problem with it, as such,’ said Campbell. ‘Like I said, it’s nothing personal. But I’m certain God wouldn’t have forbidden it if it wasn’t somehow against nature. I don’t know why you have these impulses, but I’m sure you weren’t born with them.’ He frowned. ‘Were you ever made to wear girls’ clothes in childhood, or something like that?’
‘All right,’ said Jessica. ‘Don’t bother telling us about cross-dressing being an abomination, which is what you’d come down to at the end of all your rationalisations, and which I’d take seriously as a sincere motivation if you were just as down on prawn cocktails and cheese-and-ham sandwiches and you weren’t wearing polyester-mix socks. You told me earlier that you weren’t against queers specifically, you were just as much against everything that goes on here.’
This is simply painful. The conversations are unlikely enough but the locations make them even more ludicrous. MacLeod has often given the impression that as far as he is concerned every nexus of human interaction is, in fact a student common room or newsgroup waiting to happen but this is surely the nadir. It is not just the rejection of realism but the intellectual smugness of playing Devil’s advocate in this way – the solipsism of a contrarian – which so rankles.
There was much discussion after the release of this year’s Hugo shortlist and the possible impact that blogging had had on the Best Novel category. The finger was pointed at Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross and John Scalzi; MacLeod and this novel had less than a third of the nominations needed to secure a place on the shortlist but he does share some characteristics with Stross and Doctorow (if not Scalzi). Like Stross he has more ideas than he knows what to do with, like Doctorow his concerns overpower his prose. You might hope that his blog would allow him some outlet to safely bleed off this excess. Instead the opposite seems to have happened.
The structure of MacLeod’s novels has been fundamentally broken for some time now and is one of the reasons I promised myself The Execution Channel would be the last book of his that I read. He is an incredibly compelling writer but narrative has been replaced by a mere aggregation of ideas and opinions. I failed to keep that promise and I will persevere with this book but it is clear that he doesn’t have any interest in such basic niceties, the prologue of The Night Sessions suggests that the book is not a novel at all but simply the continuation of blogging by other means.