Sunday, October 30, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
You can’t define art.
You can’t define storytelling.
You can’t define writing except in the most trivial and reductionist way: “words strung together.”
There are no rules. We tell young writers there are rules, because it helps limit the size of the problem they’re wrestling with, but really there are not. There’s technique, and that’s helpful and important: a command of technique is the difference between hit and miss and the ability to reliably produce competent work. But techniques are not rules.
There are no rules of writing I’ve ever seen that do not have exceptions – and let’s not waste our time with “the exception that proves the rule,” since this is merely a phrase misused by people who don’t understand it – it merely meant, in its original use, that the rule had been proven false.
Rules that have exceptions are guidelines, not rules. Orwell’s five rules famously contain a sixth that effectively says, “Except when the rule makes no goddamn sense for what you’re trying to do.” Elmore Leonard has ten rules that should be required reading for young writers – but which some great writers violate repeatedly to good effect. (Leonard, being a great writer, is as aware as Orwell that his rules are merely guidelines: his essay on his rules of writing finishes with an example of Steinbeck breaking these rules to good effect.)
Some rules I’ve had thrown at me over the years – once by Damon Knight, who said I’d convinced him, when we were done:
“A story must not be boring.” Says you. I’ve been bored by lots of stories.
OK, how about: “A story must not be intentionally boring?” Well, Waiting for Godot certainly appears to be.
“A story is a person with a problem.” It can be. But not always: sometimes a story is about something unambiguously good happening to a person.
Maybe even just: “A story must be about a person?” No? One of my favorite pieces of my own writing is a story about a tree, On Sequoia Time.
Stories are just a subset of all the kinds of art out there.
Recently a screenwriter I otherwise respect argued that the television show Dexter, far from being one of the best things on television, wasn’t even art: it was pornography, an exercise in pandering to the base instincts of its audience.
I am not writing to defend or even to praise Dexter. I don’t care if you like it, if you think it’s bad trash or good trash or simply brilliant. (I’ll go with “simply brilliant.”) Practically nobody likes George A. Romero’s Knightriders as well as I do, and that’s fine; I’m long past requiring external validation for my tastes, and I still watch Knightriders every year around my birthday, regardless of the opinions of others. (It is one of the best independent American movies ever made, by the way, despite being too long and having a few lapses of tone here and there.)
But the bright line used to consign Dexter to “porn” was this: that art must challenge us (and thatDexter did not, in this writer’s opinion.) That it must take our expectations and confound them, must make us reconsider what we know or believe to be true –
– and absolutely: this is one of the real functions of art, a vital and important function. But it’s not the most important function and it’s not the place where we divide work into “art” on one side and “porn” on another. Art, to borrow a terrible cliché (and Orwell would tell me not to do this) … is an elephant. We see the parts of it that we respond to, we become aware of art because it moves us. The parts that we don’t respond to are not art … for our purposes: but they may be art for the purposes of our neighbors, who are of different ages and genders and backgrounds, who have different life experiences and skills and lovers and friends and family.
Should art challenge us? Yes.
Should it uplift us? Yes.
Warn us? Yes.
Scare us? Yes.
Teach us new things? Yes.
Reinforce what we know to be true? Yes.
Entertain us? Hell yes.
Connect us to one another? Yes.
Let us see through someone else’s eyes? Yes.
Remind us of our common humanity? Yes.
Remind us of the ways in which we’re unusual, or even unique?
Art is whatever you experience as art: all that’s required is that some person or persons, in an intentional act, created something that, when you encountered it, caused an emotional or even spiritual reaction in you.
… and there are no rules. There’s technique, and mastery of technique is one of the differences between mediocre and good artists; though probably it is not as important as conviction.
There is a language of art that we’ve learned and taught to one another, and that language changes by art form and by time and by culture and by person. But there are no rules, none, not a one: just people traveling down their personal roads: and for all of us, wherever we are this year, the horizon is the same distance away.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
"This is the best science fiction story I have ever read. I'm not going to describe how wonderful this book is because I do not have the time to do it properly."
That's a review. :-)
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
A while back I posted my top 50 favorite novels to my Facebook profile -- I'll repost it here -- and yep, two Mcdonald novels make the top 30:
Mentioned to a friend he'd written one of my 20 favorite novels recently; a couple weeks ago I got That Email, the one where someone wants your list of Every Good Book Ever Written. So, here it is. The only ground rules were that no book I'd only read once could make the list, and nothing I hadn't read within the last ~15 years could make it -- my memory's not that good. There are several novels that got dropped because I hadn't read them recently enough -- David Gerrold's third Chtorran novel, Spinrad's Bug Jack Baron, Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. Wallace's "Infinite Jest" dropped because I only read it once. OTOH, Gerrold's "Man Who Folded Himself" made it in because I just reread it about a month ago and it was vastly better than I'd recalled....
The first two novels are my favorite novels, the clear #1 and #2. After that, a different day would get you a different order -- though the broad bands (I broke them up into 5 groups of 10) wouldn't change that much, I think.
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
USA Trilogy, John Dos Passos
The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
The Dispossessed, Ursula K. LeGuin
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Great Sky River, Gregory Benford
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein
The Green Ripper, John D. MacDonald
100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Great Sky Woman, Steve Barnes
Merlin Trilogy, Mary Stewart
The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammet
Confess, Fletch, Gregory Mcdonald
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis
Citizen of the Galaxy, Robert A. Heinlein
Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
Protector, Larry Niven
Streets of Laredo, Larry McMurtry
Carpe Jugulum, Terry Pratchett
Pale Gray for Guilt, John D. MacDonald
Life, the Universe, and Everything, Douglass Adams
Fletch, Gregory McDonald
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles
Heroes Die, Matt Stover
A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, Poul Anderson
Second Foundation, Isaac Asimov
Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
“The Sacketts,” as a body of work, Louis L’Amour
Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, Frederik Pohl
The Perfect Thief, Ronald J. Bass
The Man Who Folded Himself, David Gerrold
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
Flynn’s In, Gregory Mcdonald
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milo Kundera
L.A. Confidential, James Ellroy
Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
Hyperion, Dan Simmons
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Tom Robbins
Ringworld Engineers, Larry Niven
Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammet
I cheated a bit. There’s no Sackett novel that would make this list by itself, but I have gone back to it repeatedly over the years. (I might have snuck in Steve Perry's Matador books under the same theory, but I only read most of them recently and I've only read most of them once -- but they do for me very much what L'Amour does.) I also cheated by throwing the entire Merlin trilogy in there as a single book – fuck it, it’s my list, and I never read that a book at a time; I start off with “The Crystal Cave” and read through “The Last Enchantment.” (And hardly ever bother with the fourth, “The Wicked Day,” which Merlin’s not in.)
Two “Great Sky” titled novels in the top 20. You know what to do now, authors, if *you* want to get onto this very exclusive list.
If I were including children’s novels, Susan Cooper’s “Dark Is Rising,” Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Series, various Patricia McKillip novels, and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia would certainly make it in.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
And the sun was beating
On the soldiers by the side of the road
There was a bright light
A shattering of shop windows
The bomb in the baby carriage
Was wired to the radio
"Boy in the Bubble." A line from this song has appeared in every CT novel to date -- "Lasers in the junble," "bomb in the baby carriage," "age of miracles and wonders," and in AI War, "Don't cry, baby."
Monday, April 11, 2011
Sunday, April 10, 2011
“You look like Adam Selstrom,” the girl said in English that was better than Trent’s Portuguese and no worse than his French. “With blond hair. And younger, of course. Did anyone ever tell you that? Melon.”
The girl’s name was Allison. She was Brazilian, of apparently Asian background despite the blonde hair and blue eyes, neither obviously from a makeup key. Trent didn’t know how old she was – above 21, he was pretty sure, despite the presence of her parents on the atoll. In any event her father hadn’t said anything to him yet.
“Melon,” Trent told the waitbot, which bobbed its head at him and trundled off. “Yeah,” Trent told Allison, “I get that sometimes. Don’t see it myself.”
“What made you decide to come here?”
Trent thought about Mohammed Vance, who by now was tearing apart the seams of the world looking for him.
“Did you know,” he said to Allison, “that there are twenty thousand islands in the South Seas?”
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Monday, April 4, 2011
Sunday, April 3, 2011
"The Last Dancer" is available for sale at fsand.com. An omnibus edition of all four Continuing Time novels will be available later tonight -- I'll update the front page of FSAnd when that happens with a graphic & link.