For all y’all in Albuquerque, Ty and I will be signing and talking about Leviathan Wakes at Alamosa Books this afternoon at 2.
Come hang out if you can.
by Daniel Abraham
by Ty Franck
So about year ago, a good friend of mine named Victor Milan tried his very best to die of a raging infection in the lungs. I’m happy to report he failed in this endeavor. In fact, because he now is healthier than he was for probably a decade prior to the incident, I can call his failure utter and all encompassing. He did the exact opposite of die: he got much, much healthier instead.
But enough of Mr. Milan’s failures. Let’s talk about me instead.
While Vic was still in the throws of his lung related woes, I was called into the office by my boss, George. The editor of the Wild Cards series. He said (I paraphrase), “Vic is supposed to write a story for Fort Freak, but is instead trying to die. He delivered a first draft of the story before going into the hospital to have his chest hacked open, but it will require some rewriting to fit into the book. Since the doctors won’t let us drag a laptop into Vic’s oxygen tent, what would you think of helping out?”
I was pretty hesitant at first. I had thought my contribution to Wild Cards had ended with my creation of the character Tinkerbill. I was satisfied with the mark I had left. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to join the madhouse that writing an actual Wild Cards story was rumored to be. In addition, Vic was a friend of mine. And you don’t just jump in and rewrite your friend’s story willy nilly. Stories are like children. I wouldn’t just take it on myself to rewrite the DNA of a friend’s child. Unless it gave them superpowers. But it’s still something you have to think carefully about.
George, and his trusty sidekick Melinda Snodgrass were pretty insistent that it be me. They flattered me by saying that I write fast, and they needed it post haste. They said that I was a good collaborator, so they didn’t worry that I’d be able to work with Vic’s first draft. Melinda went so far as to visit Vic and ask if it was ok if I did the rewrites. He said yes, though he was probably high as a kite on morphine at the time, so I think he had diminished capacity. Mostly though, all of this flattery boiled down to, “We need this right now, and you’re sitting here, so you should do it.”
They finally wore me down.
by Daniel Abraham
For those of you who haven’t heard about it already, Amazon has put up its opinion of the best (F&SF) books of 2011 (so far)
While I haven’t read anywhere near as many of these as I’d like, I agree profoundly with their selection for #1.
And yeah, between us, me & Ty made the list twice. So that was very pleasant.
by Daniel Abraham
I just came across this, and it reminds my why I love and hate my language.
New York bison whom other New York bison bully, themselves bully New York bison.
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
With thanks to William J Rapaport, Steven Pinker, and Pharyngula.
[NOTE: Edited for capitalization]
by Daniel Abraham
by Daniel Abraham
There’s always a problem for men advocating for women’s equality that we come across as something less than manly while doing so. A woman I used to date had the solution of advocating for women in derogatory terms, as in “Ah, I say give the bitches equal pay.”
Though I rarely work blue, it seems to me that this is the occasion for it. If you are offended by rude language or are a woman, you may stop reading now. I’ll get back to a more genteel, open, and civil conversation next time.
by Daniel Abraham
(At this point, Daniel goes on a foaming-at-the-mouth rant about that one part of Cryptonomicon despite the fact that it’s in many ways a fine book and his friends assure him that Neal Stephenson is a perfectly decent human being.)
There have been several requests to hear the actual rant, and I can see why folks would be interested. But more than that, I can see how it might actually be useful and interesting. So okay.
First off, I’m going to put in some caveats: Neal Stephenson is a damn good writer. I have gone back and re-read Snow Crash and In the Beginning … was the Command Line more than once. I admire his intelligence and his ambition, and that he lost me as a reader isn’t a reflection on his skill or the result of any kind of failure on his part. It’s about his project as a writer and mine as a reader.
Another caveat: I’m about to spoil the hell out of part of Cryptonomicon. Really. Stephenson did something in the book that was clearly an intentional choice and (I think) clearly signaled what he intended to do, and it’s the issue at hand. If I don’t talk about it in concrete detail, it won’t make much sense.
So. Yeah. All right.
There I was, back in ’99, and I was an utter Neal Stephenson fanboy. I’d read Snow Crash and shared it through with all my friends. I’d reviewed The Diamond Age for my college newspaper. And then here was Cryptonomicon, and it was built out of everything awesome. High drama, cryptography, H. P. Lovecraft references, economics, Godel’s theorem, philosophy, Nazis. I was aching to get my fingers on this book, and I dove into it like it was a swimming pool. I engaged.
If you haven’t read it, the book has an alternating timeline. One story is going on in the present day, the other in 1940s. The 1940s timeline follows a group of people whose job it is to stage plausible events that would explain how the Allies could have found information even if they hadn’t broken Enigma (because if they knew things that they could *only* know by having broken Enigma, then the Nazis would know they’d broken Enigma). It was tense and fascinating and it turned all my dials up to 11.
And then there was this one part.
I haven’t gone back to look at this in over a decade now. I don’t really know how much of this is supported by the text and how much is my own fallible memory. But here’s what I recall. If you’ve read it more recently, you can correct me where I’ve strayed.
So we have a character — Bobby Shaftoe — who knows that Enigma’s been compromised. He’s been captured, and is in a Nazi U-boat. And he’s a morphine addict in the early stages of withdrawal. And the whole Allied fleet is trying to sink the U-boat to keep him from spilling the beans about Enigma. And the Allies have convinced the Nazis that the U-boat has actually been seized and the crew replaced by Allied submariners, so the *Nazis* are trying to sink the U-boat too. And Bobby Shaftoe’s in the brig with the Nazi captain — the fate of the world in the balance — when the chapter ends.
Now you have to imagine me reading this, right? I’m hunched over the book. I’m blowing off my assignments for class. I’m taking it with me to work to sneak in a few pages in the slow times. The next chapter is the present-day one, and I’m going through page by page, knotted with suspense until I get to the next Bobby Shaftoe chapter.
Where he’s in Holland, in bed with this blonde woman we’ve never met before, and the resolution of all that narrative tension I was feeling? Yeah, we covered that with an expository flashback.
Neal Stephenson isn’t a stupid man. I believe he knew what he was doing when he built up those — very standard, very genre, naive even — narrative expectations and then didn’t follow the traditional path that they led down. I understood that this was a signal that the novel wasn’t a standard narrative — not even a wildly baroque and powerfully intelligent one. I got the point. Intellectually.
How I felt was stupid. And yeah, a little humiliated.
Because, y’see, I was that naive genre reader. I was the sucker who’d actually taken it seriously. I’d gotten excited by this silly, over-the-top scenario. I hadn’t seen the wink, and so I was exposed as the silly, unsophisticated reader who’d actually thought he was reading that kind of book.
I don’t think Stephenson set out to cultivate contempt for his reader — by which I mean me — but that was my experience. After that, I appreciated his writing and his intelligence, but I wasn’t going to be so silly and gauche as to actually *care* anymore. And I haven’t.
I want to like Neal Stephenson’s books. I really do admire his ambition and the depth of commitment he has for his projects. He’s hellishly smart, and the work he’s doing is made of everything I want to read. But I haven’t picked up anything after Cryptonomicon because we have different opinions about story and about sentiment.
The project he’s engaged with isn’t — or at least wasn’t — something that had room for emotional engagement, and I have emotionally disengaged from his body of work. I feel that Cryptonomicon is a Fuzzy Bunny book where we’re all supposed to be laughing, albeit with a very intellectual and sophisticated kind of laughter. What I thought was a story was conceptual humor. Or not humor. Wit.
When I want a story, I go places where I feel safe caring about the characters. When I want intellectual stimulation, I read non-fiction. And, honestly, it’s a freaking shame, because I ought to love this guy.
by Daniel Abraham
I had two books due on the first of the month, and then a little grace period to tweak one of them while the inimitable DongWon Song started on the other. After that, I gave myself a few days to decompress, sit in the hammock, read a book (The Lock Artist), and watch the post-apocalyptic smoke of Arizona burning to death roll in from the west like a stormcloud.
But all that’s done now, and it’s time to get back to work. I’m finishing up another issue of the Game of Thrones comic book (which, by the way, looks freaking cool — I’ve seen the colored art and lettering for the first issue, and I am quite pleased), working on a fresh Wild Cards story, catching up on email, composing a little essay on one of my favorite genre writers, hunting typos in the submitted manuscripts for Caliban’s War and The King’s Blood and reading proofs for a couple of short stories coming out in anthologies shortly. Should keep me off the street.
I am waiting for notes back on King’s Blood, which sound like they’re coming shortly with Caliban’s War fast on their heels. Plus which I’ve turned in the proposal for the next two MLN Hanover books and am now in the tenterhooks phase of that project. I really enjoy writing the Black Sun’s Daughter books, and I’m always nervous in that gap between turning in the proposal and having them say yes, I get to do more of ’em. I am, however, optimistic.
And I’m trying to stick with the read a book in a non-professional context every week. Last week, as I mentioned, was The Lock Artist. Next week, Painful Yarns: Metaphors and Stories to Help Understand the Biology of Pain.
by Daniel Abraham
I was going to make this just a comment in Ty’s post, but I think it deserves it’s own headline.
In a comment, “TheTick” said:
Your typical player of sports who the mainstream media says is having such a slump is almost always facing stiffer competition with less help and more responsibility.
My take on the “sophomore slump” for writers — and especially for those of us writing series — has more to do with reader’s expectations than the actual quality of the books. When the first book of a series comes out (or the first episode of a television series, or — memorably — the first chapter of a book like Lucius Shepherd’s A Handbook of American Prayer), I get all excited. I start preparing myself for the ride that I’m on. The thing is, my idea of where things should go and author’s idea are wildly unlikely to match up perfectly.
I remember watching the first season of Life on Mars — the real one with John Simm — and actively rewriting the show as I watched it to the point that I don’t remember the *actual* show as much as my self-built private version. The creative forces on it didn’t go where I wanted to, and so I was disappointed. After the first episode, I had already pointed myself in a direction similar to, but not precisely aligned with where they were actually going.
The books are the same. Just to take an example, in The Dragon’s Path, I introduce a minor character — Clara — who gets to be the center of a couple of chapters. If her role expands in the second book, some folks will feel disappointed. If it doesn’t, there will be some folks who are disappointed. Over in Carrie Vaughn‘s Kitty Norville series, Kitty forms a serious romantic attachment with one character rather than another, and the partisans of the guy what didn’t get the girl are always going to feel that discomfort.
It’s a fine line, and some ways it’s not fair. As an author, I’m asking readers to invest in the world I create, believe in and care about the people in it (oh, and pay me while they’re at it), but I don’t want them to take any control.
I think the sophomore slump is all about reacting to the real necessity of making narrative decisions, and wrestling with the fact that they can’t all be the decisions that all the readers would have made. Readers aren’t monolithic, and there are going to be some who would prefer I’d done it the other way. No matter which way I go, there will *always* be folks who would have preferred the other way.
Which, I think, is why we have fan fiction.
Fan fiction is where the readers can appropriate the world and characters and tell the story they way it is in their heads. When I was talking about re-editing Life on Mars, I was basically making a little fan fiction version of the show for an audience of just me. It was a freaking good show not because it was better than the real one, but because it was tailor-made to push my buttons. I know. I was the tailor.
So I’m worried about Caliban’s War and The King’s Blood, but not because I don’t think they’re cracking good books. I think they’re better in some ways than Dragon’s Path and Leviathan Wakes. But part of what makes them good books is that they make decisions. They change their respective stories. Things happen, and there will always be readers who would have made a different choice. There’s literally nothing I can do about that except tell the story I’ve got as well as I can, accept that there will be a few grim reviews of the second books, and start writing The Poison Sword and Dandelion Sky.