Friday, November 25, 2005

A Thought on the Word "Cinematic"

at my writing group last week i read from a story i am working on, currently titled "Thunderbird Refugee". one woman said how cinematic my description was. this was a compliment, of course, so i was surprised that i felt a little uncomfortable. it took a couple of days for the reason to rise into my consciousness.

when i wrote the piece, i was doing what i normally do, which is to envision the place and characters i was describing. much of that draws on memory, times when i have walked along a forest trail, or seen spaceships crash in the wilderness. (okay, maybe not that.) it had nothing to do with movies--although i can also remember times when i have been writing that i absolutely was envisioning a scene from a film--real or created at that moment in my mind. i suppose to a reader there might not be a difference, but when i am writing, there is--a difference in what i am seeing in my mind's eye, and also a difference in how i am relating to the story and it's characters. it is generally a more remote relationship, more interested in outward form than inward reality.

a film is something i watch and respond to, which, however wonderful, is artificial and intentional. as i watch it, i know that i'm seeing the scene before me for a reason. it is meant to tell me something, to set up a particular reaction, to drive the tale forward in some way.

when i am walking in the woods, sitting with a friend, or otherwise just going through life, i am seeing and observing (more or less attentively) but there is no particular "reason" for all that unfolds before me, and to me, it's meaningful in a very different way. it is simply the life i live and the world i respond to.

what disturbed me when she used the word "cinematic" was that it gave me the distressing image of us only really seeing vividly what is before us when it's put up on a screen and we know it's our job now to look. that otherwise we are wandering through the much richer world of actual life without really looking at it. that, in a way, we need movies to remind us to open our eyes--but what we are opening them onto isn't what is real, and necessary for our lives. a frightening thing.

it surprises me, actually, how much i remember of what i've seen, for all the days i have spent with my attention more firmly fixed on the inside of my head or the thing i am intending to do than on what is around me. it's a real gift to have the chance in writing, or in some other pursuit, to cast my mind back over a situation, no matter how mundane, and see any of the details of it in absolute clarity. it has taught me to keep my eyes peeled much more carefully, much more of the time, to see what there is right now and respond to it--or him or her--rather than only to the plan i have roiling in my head. (i've learned to do this more of the time, but far from all of it.)

i suppose the discomfort is simply loyalty to that gift of goal-lessness, of seeing whatever is, without purpose or intent. later, we can make stories of it if we like. but now, the joy is simply in getting to look. and the greater joy is in getting to learn from all that is offered, rather than having it neatly packaged before we open our eyes.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Stories of Our Life

i feel like a dope when i claim to like--and even write--speculative fiction, and then i am asked, "which authors do you like?" and i stumble a bit.

the problem is that i read more short fiction than long, generally in magazines, though sometimes in anthologies, very seldom single author collections, and unless i have met the person or have read several stories by them--which can take a while using this random method--then both the authors' and the stories' names tend to dribble out my brain, despite my trying to keep them in. it's frustrating because when i come across a story that i just love, and i want to remember so that i can catch that author again, and so i can let people know about them.

so i am going to jot down a couple of the stories from that last couple of years of reading that i have liked and which i still have on my shelf (problem two--i pass on my magazines when i am done with them, thus giving each writer several more readers to a piece--which means i can't thumb through and remind myself of their names), as well as a couple that have lodged themselves in my head long term.

one of the best stories i have ever read is by the very amazingly NOT prolific
ted chiang(yay ted!)--"The Story of Your Life"--which i first read in a hartwell "best" anthology, nestled in a chilly cabin in rural b.c. a year or two back. ted has gathered together several other of his peculiar and fascinating stories in his collection The Stories of Your Life and Others. a couple of those stand out, too, in particular the one about building the tower of babylon.

a story i got a kick out of in one of those "best" anthologies in that (by then hopefully warmed up) room was "Craphound", by
cory doctorow. this one still brings a smile.

barth anderson's Magnifico the Crimson won my heart in "Lark Till Dawn, Princess", from Mojo: Conjure Stories, ed. nalo hopkinson.

F & SF in 2004, i most enjoyed daryl gregory's "The Continuing Adventures of Rocket Boy", george guthridge's "Nine Whispered Opinions Regarding the Alaskan Succession, robert reed's "The Condor's Green-Eyed Child", and most especially alex irvine's "A Peacable Man". (i know because i kept the 2004 index when i passed on the magazines. good plan, that.) although i have to say that my interest in F & SF is flagging, as the bulk of its stories don't hugely grab me and i miss there being more women's voices in the mix.

Tesseracts 9, which i read with great interest, for obvious reasons, had a number of stories i liked. the two that really stand out are dan rubin's "The Singing" and
alette willis' "Thought & Memory".

two examples of stories in
Neo-Opsis that i have enjoyed: "Thirty-Three", by tom brennan & "The Rain Queen", by barbara davies.

a story in Asimov's september issue that i really liked was another by daryl gregory--"Second Person, Present Tense." so i am glad i wrote this list. it lets me know that of the stories i have read in the last year or so, two favourites are by the same guy. A Name To Watch For.

finally, the story i just finished reading that inspired me to write this posting today is from an old issue of On Spec (spring 1997), and is "Chad", by kate riedel. just lovely.

so now i know what to say when asked who i like. "well, in addition to certain novelists i enjoy, eileen kernaghan, mike coney, nalo hopkinson, to name a few, there is some great short work by writers like daryl gregory and ted chiang, kate riedel and robert reed, dan rubin and alette willis... why, i could just go on and on..."



Friday, November 04, 2005

Hello, Mike--Goodbye...

Mike Coney died this morning at about 4 a.m.. Thankfully, it was not as painful and difficult a process as had been feared. Science Fiction has lost an intelligent and lively writer.

A few weeks before he died, I interviewed Mike--that interview is currently with a publisher awaiting acceptance. For the moment I will offer this small excerpt here.

Mike: The whole matter of the Celestial Steam Locomotive arose out of boredom with standard SF, which up to that point, I had written. It was an attempt to write a story in which absolutely anything could and did happen, driven only by the mentalities of the people involved. I felt it succeeded in these terms but I don’t consider it an easy book to read and I have had a few adverse comments on it from people who simply don’t know what I was getting at. This was why I went on to write Fang, which I knew would be much easier for the reader to follow. I think it’s very easy for a writer to get too clever for his own damn good and to forget that his business is to entertain his readers. I’ve seen it happen to many other writers and now I could see it happening to myself. It was not what I wanted. The subsequent story on the website, The Flower of Goronwy is an attempt to return to the style and characters of my earlier books including Susanna and adding a touch of spice by the use of a truly horrifying heroine, Mistrale.

Casey: If you were to write a novel now, what would it look like? What theme, what setting, what mood would it strike?

Mike: If I wrote a novel now I think it would turn out to be like Flower of Goronwy. In fact, I think it has done.