Daily Archives: February 24, 2009

The Speech Comment Thread

Here you go. Have fun talking about it.

My thoughts, briefly: Good speech, done well. But then, I’m a sucker for a president who says, in essence, “You know all that crap everyone else kept putting off? Yeah, now we’ll be dealing with it.” Jesus Christ amen, man. I wouldn’t complain if I got to be part of a responsible generation, one that didn’t sucker punch our children as we made our way out the door.

Charlie Stross Offers You a Frosty Tumbler Full of Ice-Cold Perspective

Relating specifically to the trouble authors have with multi-volume epic series, and the finishing thereof. Will you quaff this heady elixr? If you’re one of those pulling a long face about GRRM being “late” on his next book, you should. And everyone else will get a nice POV on a specific writing issue. Go now.

The Big Idea: Catherynne Valente

Today begins a very busy week of Big Ideas here at Whatever – I’ll be dropping in a new Big Idea every day between now and Friday, because, you know what, I don’t think you’re reading quite enough these days, do you? Yeah, see, that’s what I thought. And to start us off, here’s one of my favorite young writers, Catherynne Valente, to talk about her latest lush novel of fantasy, Palimpsest. Valente has always brought something different and special to the fantasy game (which may be why she was graced with a Tiptree Award for the first volume of The Orphan’s Tales), and so it stands to reason that Palimpsest has something special as well. And as Valente explains, what is special about it — with its Big Idea is — is not a thing, but a place. How do you get there? Well. Time to find out.

CATHERYNNE VALENTE

Palimpsest is a sexually-transmitted city.

It is a virus, an addiction, a heaven and a hell. It is a city that lives within the body: those who visit it find their flesh marked with black lines like a streetmap, a tattoo that cannot be removed. The virus is spread through sexual contact–sleep with the bearer of the mark and wake with one of your own, and a lifetime of dreams of a sentient city ruled by a robber-baroness with an army of clockwork insects at her command, a city that has just survived a terrible war that no one wants to remember, a city full of terrible wonders, that creates itself over and over to answer every possible desire. The novel follows four people, each damaged and lost in their own ways, as they become infected with Palimpsest, and then addicted to it, and then push further than addiction, into an obsession with the power to punch a hole between worlds.

A couple of years ago, Ekaterina Sedia was putting together this anthology called Paper Cities. It was an anthology of urban fantasy, not the vampire boyfriend kind, but the decadent alternate-world cities kind. She asked me to make her a city. At the time I had just finished writing In the Cities of Coin and Spice and as that title might suggest, I was a bit burned out on making up fantasy cities–I’d spent a year knocking out a couple of new fairy tale citadels a week. I just felt like I was done. But I love Ekaterina and wanted to be a part of her project. Turns out I wasn’t done. Instead of creating cities as settings, however, I created one as a protagonist. Palimpsest is as living and breathing a character as and I’ve ever written. It progresses through its own narrative arc, coming to a kind of closure with its complex history and personal issues. It is, possibly, my favorite of my characters. In the early days of editing it, there was talk of marketing it as a vampire boyfriend-style urban fantasy; an early cover even featured a woman with her back turned to the camera, a tattoo on her lower back, a cityscape before her. Palimpsest is urban fantasy in the purest sense- is a sneaky kind of urban fantasy.

The idea of a viral city isn’t really fantastic; cities have always been memes and meme-carriers. Living in New York fundamentally changes who you are as a human and your orientation towards the world–and so does living in Sacramento, or Bangor, or Fargo. All cities are Sapier-Wolff viruses. Palimpsest is just a little more literal about the whole business. And for a child of the 1980s, the era of AIDS, the minute you say the word virus and start thinking about transmission vectors, the spectre of STDs rises pretty quickly. And because I am that child, because I grew up so afraid of sex and what it could create–namely death or a child–I wanted something else, something beautiful to be passed between sexual partners, something that wouldn’t kill you or maim you or make you sterile or make you a mother at 14. Yet still, something you couldn’t hide, something that would leave you marked, branded, even. And once that was decided, that little story of sex and the city formed itself nicely in my head.

The second birth came when I was about halfway through writing the book. Because sexually-transmitted cities are all well and good, but fantasy has to say something about our world or it just sort of slips by, a pretty but shallow thing. It’s something science fiction has always had on us, that ability to shine a light on the real world, and why science fiction gets taken marginally more seriously in the Houses of Real Literature. With The Orphan’s Tales, that was easy; fairy tales are always and forever about the real world at their core. But suddenly I wasn’t writing fairy tales anymore, I was cutting whole cloth, and the story stayed unanchored, pretty and shallow, as long as I didn’t know what I was really writing about.

I was, at the time, going through a pretty bad break-up, and had been divorced for less than a year. There were pieces of me all over the place, torn up by all the consequences of sexuality and long-term relationships and short-term relationships and being in my late twenties trying to navigate it, really navigate a mapless, fraught world for which I had almost no tools. I didn’t speak the language; I didn’t know not to drink the water. And there I was, writing about this clockpunk, sex-fueled city where everyone was a tourist, everyone was an immigrant, a stranger.

There’s a line from Neruda, something to the effect of the world being nothing but a metaphor for something else entirely. Palimpsest is also a metaphor–maybe all fantasy worlds are. But the grounding metaphor of Palimpsest is this: when humans come together, they create worlds. When sexual partners couple, they begin to learn how to live, one in the other. The local lingua franca of the art student, the programmer, the compulsive knitter. You pass through customs, the arcane rituals of mating, of proving yourself worthy to enter, and then ensconce yourself in the local culture, the food, the laws, the boundless dangers and pitfalls you could never have seen coming. You get your wallet stolen; you get lost on your way to the biblioteca. Every human is a country unto themselves, and when humans mate, their countries renegotiate borders and annex territory, even if only for a little while.

The hybrid nation you create with any one person is never quite the same as the one you create with any other–eventually the two (or three, or four) of you will have a dialect all your own, quaint ways and means, allocations of resources, small wars and large ones, such that outsiders cannot ever fully penetrate your communal interior. This is what we do: we constantly combine and recombine until our networks of alliances become so nested and tangled that we cannot extricate ourselves without at least one dead Duke.

Palimpsest is the secret space between lovers made manifest, made real–and like many secret things between lovers, it is both monstrous and beautiful.

—-

Palimpsest: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt of Palimpsest here. See a trailer for the book here. Visit Catherynne Valente’s blog here.

No, I Won’t Get You a Job on Stargate: Universe

This is one of those “put up now to refer people to later” pieces:

Dear random people sending me mail on this particular subject:

Yes, I work on Stargate: Universe as its Creative Consultant. No, that does not mean that I will help get you a job on the show. Here are some of the reasons why:

1. I wouldn’t know how. I work on the show, from home, about 2,000 miles away from the studio, and have contact with just a few people on the show, none of whom are the correct people to ask for jobs. I don’t know who you would ask for a job on the show — any job — and I don’t grok it’s my responsibility to find out. Hell, I barely know how I got my job on the show.

2. I suspect me asking people there to find jobs for others would annoy them. I’m pretty sure they’ve got a system set up for intake of writers/actors/crew, although per point one I have no idea what it is. Despite what people might think, generally speaking the best way to get a gig there (or anywhere) is to go through the official channels. Why? Because the official channels are designed to bring people in. Every other way of bringing people in is just extra hassle. And I ask you: Why would I want to be the person to bring extra hassle to the mix? I’m some dude giving notes from half a continent away. I’m not under the impression my job is so secure I can annoy whole bunch of people at SG:U headquarters.

3. Dude, do I know you? I understand why some of you might ask me if I know how to get on the show, since I’m hanging around out here and seem reasonably personable. And that’s fine; I don’t mind that at all (although — see 1 & 2 — in fact I haven’t the slightest idea). But asking me to actually get you in touch with people there, as a couple of you have, seems a bit much:

ME:
Hey, Stargate people! I’ve got this random person
I don’t know sending me e-mail saying I should
introduce you to them! So here he is!
He’s your problem now!

STARGATE PEOPLE
Errrr…

Look, it’s nothing personal, but if I can’t get people I know in real life jobs on SG:U, what’s the thinking that suggests I’m going to secure a job for someone who just trundles into my e-mail queue? I’m not that nice, people. Please think these things through a little. The only way I would suggest anyone at all for any job on SG:U is if the producers specifically asked me to (which they have not, nor seem inclined to do), and then I would suggest people I know whose skills I know are in line, not some dude from my inbox.

Also, while we’re on the topic, no, I won’t read your script for the series (or any Stargate series, or any series, or any script) and no, I won’t forward on your script/resume/headshot/whatever. Indeed, I’m sorry to say that whatever it is that you want me to do in reference to Stargate: Universe and making you a part of it (aside from an interested audience member), the answer is going to have to be “no.” It’s not just you — I’m saying “no” to everybody. My job on the show doesn’t include being talent scout.