greygirlbeast: (Walter1)
Caitlín R. Kiernan ([personal profile] greygirlbeast) wrote2012-01-22 02:53 pm

Back to Where You've Never Been

Well, fuck. It's almost 2 p.m. (CaST), and somehow the day is slipping past on filthy little cat feet – fuck you, Carl Sandburg, you sentimental twatwaffle. Okay. Definitely didn't mean to begin this entry that way. But, as Longbaugh reminds me, "I think a plan is just a list of things that don't happen."

Yesterday, I wrote nothing. I sat here and thought about things I should have begun writing two days ago. Finding stories. I also made a flaccid attempt at cleaning my office. I decided that if snow is the dandruff of Ceiling Cat, dust is the dandruff of Basement Cat. I stacked up manuscript boxes that need to go to storage (various incarnations of The Drowning Girl: A Memoir and Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart, typescripts and galleys). I shelved a couple of books, and then I gave up.

I read Jack McDevitt's "The Cassandra Project" (2010) and Vylar Kaftan's "I'm Alive, I Love You, I'll See You in Reno" (also 2010). Both had kernels of magnificence trapped deep inside. Both were far too short, felt like outlines, and were almost entirely devoid of voice. I'm not sure if it's true that "Science fiction is the literature of ideas" (not sure, either, who first said that, and if you can figure it out for me, you get a banana sticker), but I don't think they meant that all you need is an idea*. At least, I hope that's not what he or she meant. I look back to Philip K. Dick, William Gibson's early work, Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance, Robert Silverburg, Ursula K. Le Guin, Frank Herbert, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Michael Moorcock, Harlan Ellison...long, long list...and there is style. Voice. Good writing. Not this no-style style. From recent samplings, I fear that too much of contemporary science fiction has all the flavour of a stale communion wafer, and is just as flat. Sorry. Gratuitous (but true) Catholic reference. Where are our prose poets? Why doesn't the language used to convey the idea matter? It's not entirely true to say it's completely absent from contemporary sf. We have the brilliance of China Miéville, for example. But for fuck's sake, the short fiction I'm reading...communion wafers.**

I only just learned that Etta James has died.

I think my diet is killing me.

The snow is so bright out there, I had to shut the curtain in my office. It's getting better, though, as the wide carnivorous sky is being decently obscured by clouds. I didn't leave the house yesterday, but Spooky did, and she took photos, which you can see behind the cut (below), along with a photo from the day before of a typical Providence grey squirrel, all of which have become absurdly obese of late, in this oddly snow-free winter. Oh. By the way. Yesterday was National Squirrel Appreciation Day. I shit you not. Let’s hear it for Sciuridae.

Last night, we watched last week's episode of Fringe. A marvelously tangled web. And yeah, it's not great science fiction, but it doesn't claim to be, and, even so, it does have a flavour.





Nom.



This would be a beautiful Victorian scene, were it not for the scattered ugliness of modernity (plastic trash and recycling bins, a plastic traffic cone, automobiles, power lines, etc.).



Beautiful.



Spooky is very good at this sort of thing.



An ugly, snowy Providence cityscape, but true.



See my comments regarding the first photo.

All photographs Copyright © 2012 by Kathryn A. Pollnac



I Taste the World,
Aunt Beast

* Possibly, it was Pamela Sargent. Or, possibly, she appropriated it from Isaac Asimov.
** Near as I can tell, this has always been the case with "hard" and "military" sf.

[identity profile] aliceoddcabinet.livejournal.com 2012-01-22 06:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Judging from the photos, I think you guys live next door to my old apt in the West End.

[identity profile] greygirlbeast.livejournal.com 2012-01-22 07:01 pm (UTC)(link)

Judging from the photos, I think you guys live next door to my old apt in the West End.

I shall not hazard a guess.

[identity profile] lachendwolf.blogspot.com (from livejournal.com) 2012-01-22 07:01 pm (UTC)(link)
According to Marg Gilks, Pamela Sargent is the source of that quote. (Yay Ithacans!) However, she also called it "an escapist literature for men and boys" despite the Mary Shelley bit.

Also, yum, word flavor.

[identity profile] greygirlbeast.livejournal.com 2012-01-22 07:04 pm (UTC)(link)

According to Marg Gilks, Pamela Sargent is the source of that quote. (Yay Ithacans!) However, she also called it "an escapist literature for men and boys" despite the Mary Shelley bit.

Well, thanks, here's your banana sticker, thanks, and food for thought. One cannot deny that only in the last few decades have women made inroads into what was, for the few decades before that, a literature dominated by men.

[identity profile] lachendwolf.blogspot.com (from livejournal.com) 2012-01-22 07:14 pm (UTC)(link)
One cannot deny that only in the last few decades have women made inroads into what was, for the few decades before that, a literature dominated by men.

Absolutely, and with shifting mileposts of what the subgenres (e.g. hard science fiction) mean depending on whether or not the writer is male or female. At the same time, I have a strong tendency to assert that, as a genre created by a woman, it is an appropriated literature genre rather than a genre *for.* Small distinction, but one I care about very much.

[identity profile] greygirlbeast.livejournal.com 2012-01-22 07:19 pm (UTC)(link)

At the same time, I have a strong tendency to assert that, as a genre created by a woman, it is an appropriated literature genre rather than a genre *for.* Small distinction, but one I care about very much.

Interesting.

[identity profile] mastadge.livejournal.com 2012-01-22 07:11 pm (UTC)(link)
SF as "the literature of ideas" is widely attributed to Pamela Sargent but rarely citing a specific source. It seems to be from her editorial introduction (http://books.google.com/books?ei=d10cT7P5E4Hn0QHo8qTJCw&id=ba8yAAAAMAAJ&dq=more+women+of+wonder&q=%22literature+of+ideas%22#search_anchor) to More Women of Wonder (1976). But Asimov seems to have beaten her to the bunch with his essay "When Aristotle Fails, Try Science Fiction" (1971) retitled "The Literature of Ideas" a couple years later for inclusion in a collection. And the phrase "literature of ideas" was used multiple times with no reference to science fiction, often in the study of French literature if Google Books is any guide. And now I've already spent more minutes than I really intended to looking for a source for the quotation so I'll leave it at that.

[identity profile] greygirlbeast.livejournal.com 2012-01-22 07:21 pm (UTC)(link)

Thank you!

[identity profile] akaten.livejournal.com 2012-01-22 07:20 pm (UTC)(link)
I cite the work of Paolo Bacigalupi as tonic for the lack of literary craft in modern SF.

[identity profile] greygirlbeast.livejournal.com 2012-01-22 07:24 pm (UTC)(link)

I cite the work of Paolo Bacigalupi as tonic for the lack of literary craft in modern SF.

I should have mentioned him.

However, I think that believing writing to be a "craft," rather than an "art," lies very much at the heart of this problem. This is more than a semantic difference. Art cannot arise from craft. It requires talent.

[identity profile] martianmooncrab.livejournal.com 2012-01-22 09:20 pm (UTC)(link)
being in suburbia, our powerlines and such are all buried. The squirrels here have to work harder at staying ahead of what is chasing them.

[identity profile] greygirlbeast.livejournal.com 2012-01-22 09:38 pm (UTC)(link)

The squirrels here have to work harder at staying ahead of what is chasing them.

I like that sentence.

[identity profile] martianmooncrab.livejournal.com 2012-01-23 09:24 pm (UTC)(link)
watching them run for their lives is very entertaining too.

[identity profile] thimbleofrain.livejournal.com 2012-01-22 10:13 pm (UTC)(link)
Something you blogged the other day got me thinking:

It’s anti-natural being potentially recorded all the time. It’s as if everyone I speak with is wearing a wire. Any of them could (potentially) provide concrete evidence of the things I’ve said. It’s like I’m the President all of the sudden, accountable for every word, every gesture and expression.

Just before Diwali, security at an IT company I was visiting in India tried to take my camera from me. I pointed out that I was carrying a laptop with a built-in camera, a secondary (higher-quality) USB camera for the laptop, and two smart phones, both with built-in cameras. And unlike the plain old camera, those devices have the native ability to upload pictures and video to the Internet via a mobile network. This didn’t trouble them. They had been told to confiscate cameras - not phones, laptops, etc. The idea that you could actually stop people from documenting, from being connected, even in India, is seldom even contemplated. It reduces non-physical security to little more than a token gesture. (Every sizeable IT company in India has a plethora of armed guards and barbwire-trimmed fences, so they have the physical security thing covered.)

Akshardham in Delhi (which is kind of like the Disneyland version of a great temple, including a narrated boat ride with animatronic characters) does not allow electronics inside. When I visited there, I had to leave the line twice to return items to the car, a lengthy jaunt away. (The second time, I’d forgotten I had a battery for my camera in my pocket; damn that thing.) Security at Indira Gandhi International isn’t as tight. And still it would have been easy to smuggle a device inside - if I’d had a mind to. So again, the process seemed mostly for show.

Each time I have an honest conversation with anyone I work with, I’m acutely aware that a lot of trust has gone into it, even before it begins. (Being honest in the corporate world usually involves saying things that could potentially get you fired. Yet, without honest conversation, positive change is pretty unlikely.) It’s unnerving, oppressive, and relentless. With apologies to Kelly and Orwell: We have met Big Brother, and he is us.
sovay: (Default)

[personal profile] sovay 2012-01-23 12:43 am (UTC)(link)
Beautiful.

Yes.

See my comments regarding the first photo.

Snow is an eraser of time. I don't know why there aren't more time-travel stories in which it figures, like rain or anything else which obscures the vision until you can see you are no longer when you last looked through the window. On the other hand, if it became a common trope, it would probably annoy me.

[identity profile] ashlyme.livejournal.com 2012-01-23 05:29 pm (UTC)(link)
'Snow is an eraser of time.'

Yes! I love the thought of time-travel and weather.

No snow has fallen here this year, sadly. There is something about the hush that comes with it that I enjoy.

[identity profile] opalblack.livejournal.com 2012-01-23 12:53 am (UTC)(link)
Twat... waffle...

Poetry <3
mithriltabby: Sleeping tabby (Zonk)

[personal profile] mithriltabby 2012-01-23 01:48 am (UTC)(link)
I have great big Maine Coon cats and “little cat feet” is only used ironically in this household; as kittens, they inspired me to mythologize that lightning is the result of giant, storm-grey kittens knocking something over in the heavens and thunder is the sound of them running away across the cloud deck. I’m glad they have the snowshoe paws; even with them, we refer to Yeti’s way of walking on us at bedtime as his acupressure treatment.

[identity profile] mizliz13.livejournal.com 2012-01-23 02:07 am (UTC)(link)
That is one chunky squirrel. Good for her/him/it.

[identity profile] lilith-333.livejournal.com 2012-01-25 05:28 am (UTC)(link)
A bit of a belated comment...however, reading your post about the sad state of/lack of style in sci-fi, something John D. MacDonald wrote in the intro to Stephen King's "Night Shift" comes to mind: he said that to be a writer, "You have to have a taste for words. Gluttony. You have to want to roll in them. You have to read millions of them by other people. You read everything with grinding envy or weary contempt."

I am trying very hard to not come off as sycophantic here, but it seems to me that your justifiable "weary contempt" when reading sci-fi is because you are one of the writers who produce "good writing." Contempt because you are a talented writer with a firm and unique grasp of style, voice, and language as well as plot and mechanics (not to mention legitimate scientific expertise!). Thus it is much easier for you to recognize and be irked by the mediocre or the inadequate.

You mentioned a bunch of great writers who, to you, embodied what is missing in much current sci-fi literature. I'd add your name to theirs in a flash.