Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Archive for March 2011

‘400 Boys’ by Marc Laidlaw

with 4 comments

An odd one, this. This is how Sterling fingers Laidlaw too, suggesting he stands out even amongst company (the cyberpunks) know for “bizarre concepts and a general allegiance to the strange”. So the story proves; if the setting of ‘400 Boys’ is cyberpunk, the mode is decidedly not. Its gonzo sensibility reminded me strongly of Steve Aylett’s Beerlight novels but without Aylett’s gift for killer one liners. It is also more cartoonish; this is a story that humps your leg rather than mugging you over.

Punkosity: **
Quality: **

Written by Martin

31 March 2011 at 21:02

Posted in sf, short stories

Tagged with ,

‘Tales Of Houdini’ by Rudy Rucker

with 3 comments

Sterling describes this as a “brief but perfectly constructed fantasy”. It certainly isn’t science fiction but it isn’t really fantasy either; it is a trio of fables with Houdini stuck in the middle like a totem pole. And it is very, very brief. If there is any worth to stories of such length then I’m not convinced it is enough to warrant anthologising them.

Punkosity: *
Quality: **

Written by Martin

30 March 2011 at 09:15

Posted in sf, short stories

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A Long But Necessary Response To Athena Andreadis

with 14 comments

Athena Andreadis is infamous within the science fiction community for a couple of things. Firstly, there is her drive-by spamming of magazines and blogs with links to her own blog. For example, she posted a link on my review of The Heroes Joe Abercrombie and then, three days later, posted the exact same link on my summary of the “bankrupt nihilism” debate around Abercrombie’s fiction. The initial comment from her on the review reads, in its entirety: “You must be aware of the recent epic fantasy dustup. My view thereof.” I was indeed aware of the dust up and had written about it at length but Andreadis was clearly unaware of this, despite the summary post being linked from the review. Not only hadn’t she been reading my blog, she hadn’t even read the post she commented on. It is an extremely rude form of discourse and perhaps “discourse” is being to generous: it is barging into a conversation and shouting your point of view. And this is a pattern, not a one of instance.

Secondly, as you would perhaps expect form someone who communicates in this way, Andreadis holds her own words in very high regard and believes everyone else should as well. This translates into the belief that she has a right to a response to everything she writes. Now, I don’t respond to every comment on my blog, I don’t think every comment deserves a response; if you don’t reply to Andreadis she will email you to demand to know why. I fundamentally believe that a conversation begun in the public sphere should stay in the public sphere. Partly this is personal preference (if there is something you will only say to me in private, I probably don’t want to hear it) but it also avoids the problem of communicating in two separate but linked spheres. A good illustration of this problem starts with this comment from Andreadis on the Strange Horizons blog:

I had an exchange recently with a regular contributor to Strange Horizons who was convinced it had gender parity, if not female dominance. I countered that it was actually the usual one-third (which seems to register as “female excess”).

Because there is no attribution, there is no way of knowing if this is true yet it is impossible to rebut. When someone queries whether they are the supposed source comment it is ignored but doesn’t stop the comment being repeated on the Aquaduct Press blog. Andreadis then doubles down by referring to public statements are well but still refusing to attribute them:

“After both private and public interactions with some of the Strange Horizon reviewers, I have come to the sorrowful conclusion that the venue may end up becoming the SF/F version of The Valve.”

Again, no response was forthcoming to requests for clarity on just what those interactions might be. So when Andreadis posted a long piece on her own blog about Strange Horizons yesterday I thought it might contain the answers. Well, sort of. Here is Andreadis’s core complaint:

So I read SH fiction less and less but continued to browse its columns and reviews. Then in the last few years I noticed those shifting – gradually but steadily. They were increasingly by and about Anglosaxon white men and showed the tunnel vision this context denotes and promotes. The coalescent core reviewers were young-ish British men (with token “exotics”) convinced of their righteous enlightenment and “edginess” along the lines of “We discovered/invented X.”

It is ironic that Andreadis used Niall Harrison’s The SF Count post as the starting point for her own; Harrison’s post is all about building an evidence base, her post is all about throwing around accusations with an almost total lack of evidence. I only count two pieces of actual evidence in the post. Unsurprisingly, neither of these are attributed, nor are they directly relevant to her core complaint. Abigail Nussbaum, reviews editor for Strange Horizons, has responded but I would like to specifically address one of those pieces of supposed evidence. This is because it is about me, although, of course, you can’t tell that from the post.

I should start by saying that this is a conversation I should be having over on Andreadis’s blog, where the accusation was made and where people who read her side are more likely to read my side. I can’t do this, however, because she has refused to moderate my comment and instead delete it. As justification for this, she has added a note to the end of her post:

Note to readers: I am aware this will lead to polarizing and polarized views. I will not engage in lengthy back-and-forths, although I made an exception for the expected response by Abigail Nussbaum. People are welcome to hold forth at whatever length and pitch they like elsewhere.

This is incredibly bad form but not unexpected from someone who values her words above everyone else’s. So I will just have to hold forth at my own length and pitch here. The reason I need to hold forth is because paragraphs five and six of Andreadis’s posts are devoted to me and my review of Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding. As I said, you wouldn’t know this from her post; it neither names me or links to the review. Andreadis’s justification for this is that: “I didn’t name names because I’m discussing general trends.” This is such transparent bullshit that it is hard to know how to respond. Suffice to say, I am unsure what possible general trend about Strange Horizons one could derive from a single review on my blog. Rather, I suspect the real reason for not name names is that actual evidence would undo her argument. With that in mind I am going to go through each paragraph line by line and respond to Andreadis:

I caught a whiff of the embedded assumptions that surface when these self-proclaimed progressives relax,

I don’t think I’ve ever proclaimed myself a progressive. Indeed, I’d consider it a primarily American identification so why would I? As for “relaxing”, I find the idea of writing a blog post as well earned breather from toiling in the SH salt mines hilarious. And you never get round to saying what the “embedded assumptions” actually are.

safe from prying eyes.

That’s right, safe from prying eyes on the bloody internet. On a blog linked from my SH bio, no less.

One of them recently reviewed a story on his site and characterized its protagonist by the term “cunt”.

Well, a novel but yes. However, whilst this sentence is factually accurate, I am amazed you would devote two paragraphs to attacking me without naming me or providing a link to the actual words that you are paraphrasing. Doing so also elides the sex of the protagonist which is surely of relevance here. I also fail to see any direct – or, to be honest, indirect – connection to Strange Horizons.

He used the word repeatedly, as a synonym for “empathy-lacking sociopath”.

Why are you using quote marks here when I didn’t say that? In fact, I don’t use it as a synonym, rather that is your characterisation.

Having accidentally read the entry,

WTF? I am truly fascinated to hear how you managed this.

I remarked that, feminism bona fides aside,

I still have no idea what this actually means.

the term doesn’t ring friendly to female ears

You can tell me it does ring friendly to your ears, you don’t get to speak on behalf of every woman in every country. There is a well known and long established difference between the reception of the word cunt in America and other Anglophone countries. In your comments to my review, you claimed to accept this.

and even the canon definition of the term (“extremely unpleasant person, object or experience”) is not equivalent to psychopath.

Again, this characterisation of equivalence is your’s, not mine. Also I’m not sure why I have to accept your definition of the word cunt but, as it happens, that is exactly how I am using it.

Perhaps not so incidentally, I was the only woman on the discussion thread.

Apart from the second commenter, Nic Clarke, who says “I came to much the same conclusion”. (The fact Nic agrees with me doesn’t mean I am right but it does mean you are factually wrong.)

The reviewer’s first response was that only Amurrican barbarians “misunderstand” the term.

Again, why are you using quote marks here when I said no such thing? Nor did I suggest any of the things outside the quote marks. I merely suggested that this is only an issue for Americans.

I replied (in part) that I’m not American,

It is true you are not American, you just live in America and speak American. I think I can be forgiven on this point since I was clearly correctly that this is the reason it was an issue for you.

and presumably he wishes to be read by people beyond Britain and its ex-colonies.

Here is where you realise that your attempt to impose American cultural assumptions on me is not going to have any traction so you instead have the massive presumption to lecture me about who I am writing for. It should have been obvious by this point that I certainly wasn’t writing for you and I had zero interest in who you thought I should write for or, indeed, what I should write.

At that point he essentially told me to fuck off.

Fair call.

His friends, several of them SH reviewers or editors, fell all over themselves to show they aren’t PC killjoys.

Here is where you finally try to tie an old, irrelevant fight you had into a new argument about SH. There were three further responses: one from Jonathan McCalmont (reviewer for SH) agreeing with me, one from Patrick Hudson (no connection to SH) disagreeing with me and one from Niall Harrison (editor for SH) linking to a feminist discussion of the word cunt.

They informed me that US cultural hegemony is finally over (if only),

Jonathan, in fact, said the opposite.

that “cunt” is often used as an endearment (in which case his review was a paean?)

Patrick did note this in passing but it was hardly his main point nor was it made in relation to the review.

and that women themselves have reclaimed the term (that makes it copacetic then!)

Niall presented the link without comment, presumably because he thought this fact was relevant to the discussion. Since you make the blanket declaration above that “the term doesn’t ring friendly to female ears” I would suggest he was right. As for the word copacetic, unless you want only Americans to read this as intended, you may think about word choice.

You seem to have wanted the conversation to be entirely on your terms. It didn’t go. Being unable to continue the conversation on somebody else’s terms you decided to pointlessly get the last word by saying: “Heh heh. Love it when the boyz get feisty.” The fact you didn’t get your way – and perhaps the fact I generally haven’t engaged with your heavy-handed comments on my blog – has obviously festered. However, our discussion about the word cunt in the margins to a review on my blog has nothing to do with a discussion about the supposed increasing “tunnel-vision” of Strange Horizons.

Written by Martin

27 March 2011 at 11:38

‘Rock On’ by Pat Cadigan

with 2 comments

Cadigan was a core part of the cyberpunk movement and is the only woman in the Mirrorshades anthology. She was also the first person to win the Arthur C Clarke Award twice. However, both these novels – Synners (1992) and Fools (1995) – are out of print and, as far as I know, hasn’t published anything in the last ten years apart from novelisations for shit films. I know Cadigan is still active in fandom but did she just decide to stop writing or was it a market imposed decision?

Anyway, ‘Rock On’ is something of a prelude to Synners and that is its downfall. I love the delirous tone but it is just too scant; there is space to evoke a time and a place and a state of mind but nothing further.

Punkosity: ***
Quality: **

Written by Martin

26 March 2011 at 14:53

Posted in sf, short stories

Tagged with ,

‘Snake-Eyes’ by Tom Maddox

with 4 comments

Like most people these days, when I come across an unfamiliar name I Google it. Tom Maddox is notable enough to have a Wikipedia page but the last notable thing he did in terms of science fiction was co-write a couple of episodes of The X-Files with William Gibson.

If Gibson’s ‘The Gernsback Continuum’ is a dream of the past’s future, ‘Snakes-Eyes’ the past’s dream of the future. I take Marco’s point that the signature tropes of cyberpunk have only been agreed retrospectively but just five years after Gibson’s story they were already clearly pretty codified.

George Jordan is an ex-pilot being driven slowly crazy by the technology the USAF have implanted in his head. Finding no support from government, he turns to a shady corporation (who have their headquarters in orbit, natch). I’m sure the combat veteran with tech in his head pre-dates cyberpunk and it remains extremely popular – for example, Gavin Smith actually published a book called Veteran last year – but I certainly associate it with cyberpunk. All the set dressing you might anticipate is here: that floating corporate castle; an inscrutable AI (encased in a five metre sphere “filled with inert liquid fluorocarbon”); technology as double-edged sword leading to a lack of bodily integrity; at the same time, a fetishisation of that technology (Jordan flew a “black fiber-bodied General Dynamics A-230”).

It is there in the characters too. The first major character Jordan meets is “lying back in a chrome and brown leatherette chair”:

“He was a thin figure in a worn gray obi, his black hair pulled back from sharp features into a waist-length ponytail, his face taut and a little wild-eyed.”

Japanese fashion and an amphetamine aesthetic – cyberpunk to the bone. The first woman he meets is an Eighties femme fatale: black skirt, red stocking, tattoo on her breast, tongue down his throat. For me, the story was never able to overcome this list of images and influences though. Jordan’s central dilemma, the battle for his soul, doesn’t manage to stand out from the brightly coloured building blocks of the consensual cyberpunk future.

Punkosity: ****
Quality: ***

Written by Martin

25 March 2011 at 10:08

Posted in sf, short stories

Tagged with ,

‘The Gernsback Continuum’ by William Gibson

with 5 comments

But this story led the way. It was a cooly accurate perception of the wrongheaded elements of the past – and a clarion call for a new SF estethtic of the Eighties.

That from the Sterling’s brief introduction to ‘The Gernsback Continuum’ which also notes that it is Gibson’s first professional publication. This is surprising not just for its immediate quality and Gibson’s already distinctive sensibility but because it much more closely resembles his current work, rather than what I think of when I think of his early cyberpunk period. It is set in the present (which is to say the Eighties), can be read as entirely mimetic and features none of the trappings we would usually associate with cyberpunk. Gibson may have become stylistically more oblique but the protagonist of this story wouldn’t seem out of place in Pattern Recognition:

I’d gone over to shoot a series of shoe ads; California girls with tanned legs and frisky Day-Glo jogging shoes had capered for me down the escalators of St. John’s Wood and across the platforms of Tooting Bec.

The photographer is commissioned to gather images for a coffee table book of “American Streamlined Moderne”, real world examples of the sort of architecture Paul R Frank drew for Hugo Gernsback. Gradually this never was world of fluted chrome and aluminium starts to impinge on his reality.

In terms of linking the story to anything Sterling identifies in his preface, that internationality is there from the beginning but otherwise it is hard to spot the nascent germ of cyberpunk. Rather this seems like an instinctively Ballardian story, albeit seen through the lens of a fresh generation. It is all there: architecture, 20th Century American history, invisible literature, commodity fetishism, alienation. As I said though, Gibson’s own sensibility shines through. To start with, he is a rather more open writer (although this has changed as his career has progress); a Ballard protagonist would never come out and refer to “my little bundle of condensed catastrophe”. There is more to it than that though. A line like “really bad media can exorcise your semiotic ghosts” makes you sit up and take notice. It is distinctly Ballardian but already distinctly Gibsonian. Really quite wonderful.

Punkosity: *
Quality: *****

Written by Martin

19 March 2011 at 13:21

Posted in sf, short stories

Tagged with ,

Lewis’s Revelation

with 10 comments

Today I saw someone on the internet say that 90% of everything is crud. Now, I have complained about Sturgeon’s Revelation before. It is, in a word, balls. I know, I know, someone is wrong on the internet, so what? But the thoughtlessness of the statement still offends me and its persistence depresses me.

Then I remembered that I love evidence. I could, in fact, test Sturgeon’s Revelation against the 54 novels submitted for the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award, a selection of novels that we’ve agreed form a pretty good proxy for British science fiction as a whole. So, was 90% of everything crud?

Taking a liberal approach to the word “crud”, you could perhaps claim that 72% of science fiction published in Britain in 2010 was crud. So now we can obviously extrapolate from this that 72% of everything is crud. I call this Lewis’s Revelation. But wait! What if I asked one of my fellow judges to provide their own percentages? Or I repeated this exercise again for the 2012 Arthur C Clarke Award? Or I took it upon myself to read every science fiction novel published in the US in 2010? Or every thriller? Wouldn’t the percentages change? Why, it is almost as if Lewis’s Revelation is meaningless. Funny that.

Written by Martin

17 March 2011 at 20:44