Moment of lolz

So I’m moving to California, and I just finished my last day of work at Half Price Books, a used bookstore chain in the states. The fact that most of our inventory is used means that now and again you’ll find the oddest imprints of the previous owner stamped on them, or tucked in them. Inside a book called How To Light His Fire I found a note that said “I found your book — thanks for thinking of me ;) -Bill”

In a sci-fi paperback I once found a sad and awkward “Can we at least be friends? :(” letter — I don’t know whether he never sent it and was like, “fuck it, I need a bookmark” or whether she got it and didn’t give a flip, and was like “fuck it, I need a bookmark.”

Or the time we got a whole stack of romance paperbacks that had been marked with sticky notes and key phrases highlighted. Apart from a fondness for the phrase “his mouth claimed hers” there was no rhyme or reason to the highlighting, except that it was all bad. As best we could figure, the previous owner had been studying how NOT to write. (Then again, what do I know, these were Kenyon and Feehan books, so maybe they were taking notes on how to write bestsellers.)

Now with more illustrations!

In which I am grouchy on the subject of science fiction

Recently I was listening to a sci-fi themed podcast in which the hosts were discussing science fiction’s falling book sales, and what might be done to remedy that. One thing they suggested was that common sci-fi tropes, which have been calcifying (my word, not theirs) for decades now, might be making it difficult for new readers, unfamiliar with the jargon, to get into the genre.

Hmm, I thought. Yeah, that might make it difficult for new readers.

This just in: apparently I am new readers.

Click here to find out how!

China Mieville: my adoration knows no bounds

For those of you who may not be familiar with his works, Mieville is a writer in a literary movement termed “The New Weirdists,” utterly brilliant, not even my type but still totally freaking hot, and a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist. I think I fell in love with him when I learned about 50 new words from reading Perdido Street Station, and then went on to discover that he has a PhD in economics, wrote a textbook on theories of international law, and ran for Parliament on the Socialist platform.

(For new readers, Kraken or The City & The City are good ones to start off on, much more immediately accessible than his New Crobuzon books. DO NOT START WITH IRON COUNCIL. I personally preferred Kraken, hands down, but it seems that most other people thought C&tC was better.)

I haven’t read his newest book, Embassytown, yet, but I came across an interview with him in which he articulates a number of opinions about writing in general and fantasy in particular that make me go, YES. THIS.

In particular, his appreciation for nuance and complexity when it comes to world-building:

One of the things about genre fantasy that I loathe is that race becomes a pigeonhole for a character type. Your elf is kind of deft and mysterious, and your dwarf is always grumpy but the salt of the earth, and it becomes a way of defining character rather than actually dealing with culture.

What I wanted to do with Perdido was have a book in which the characters were much more malleable and culturally mediated. And what that meant was that cultures would not be distinct hermetic balloons, they were going to taint each other. And also, very importantly, that individuals of all races, not just humans, could reject their culture, could feel at odds with their culture, but are still going be to defined by it in some way.
One of the things that is dangerous about genre fantasy and science fiction is that ethnic stereotyping is true. It is absolutely the case that trolls are stupid and bad and like to smash things up. What I have tried to do in Perdido is have an idea of culture that is both constraining and enabling, but doesn’t describe you in cold genetic terms.

And despite being political, Ayn Rand he is not:

Just because you are a leftist writer doesn’t mean that you have to be into propaganda. I would never try to convince someone of socialism through my novels. It would probably make a very bad novel, and a very bad case of socialism.

Ending with an observation that lies at the core of my own feelings about literature:

One reason why I don’t like Lord of the Rings or the Narnia books is because they have no sense of narrative as being an organic thing created by the actions of individual people. It is all predetermined.

Batch o’ book reviews, now with 40% more irreverence

I probably should have posted sooner, just to say that no, my plane did not go down over the Pacific, and yes, I got out of Japan (three weeks) before the quake. But mostly I’ve been busy, what with all this READING, HOLY MOLY, there are BOOKS EVERYWHERE and they’re in ENGLISH and if I want to read a particular book I can go to a LIBRARY where they have books in ENGLISH and I can go CHECK IT OUT, RIGHT NOW, oh my GOD.

Oh yeah, and I got a job translating smartphone apps. That means I can work from home, and also I can wear eyeliner and never shave. Happy days!

Back to the books. So there’s a distressing trend I’ve noticed recently, namely that nothing thrills me anymore. When I was a teenager I had terrible and indiscriminate taste in books so I could read anything, all the time, and be perfectly content. These days, the bar is set so high that I find myself not bothering to finish half the crap I pick up, on account of it being crap, crap, mediocre, or offensive and also crap. Oh, to be young and stupid and not know the difference again. ;_;

But hey, everyone likes to hear shitty books get panned!

Giving books away, free to good home

In anticipation of moving back to the states in slightly > 1 month, I’m trying to unload four years’ worth of accumulated stuff — which is not relevant to anyone on LJ, except that I also happen to be in possession of what is probably the most extensive English-language gay fantasy collection in Japan. If you are a slashfan in Japan jonesing for books in English (or if you know someone who is) don’t be shy about asking for them — I want to give them to you. The alternative, I’m afraid, is donating them to the local library, who will probably be like, "Uhm… thank you. For these… books that no one will ever read." ::chucks them as soon as I’m gone::

so many books

Naming Languages, Part III: Putting it all together

Originally I’d intended to break up these two posts in terms of the Sedekevran conlang vs. the Mesenle conlang, because I’d discovered a lot of interesting differences in the way I approached the two. Mesenle was, from the start, intended to sound foreign — it’s not familiar and it’s not supposed to be. It signals to the readers that they can’t necessarily make assumptions about the culture — compared to, say, what a reader can reasonably expect from a fantasy set in a country called Westerleigh and featuring a protagonist named Roland. (If the latter turns out to be about bedouins, I will… I dunno, give you a dollar or something.)

Anyway, let's go finish making a conlang.