Some thoughts triggered by the Nightshade Books edition of the collected letters/correspondence between H.P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei, and something aside from HPL’s questionable attitudes for the moment. Rather, this is about something we share as writers. Now, it’s true that modern sf/f/mystery writers sometimes lament the passing of the old “glory days” of the pulps. We imagine a sort of golden age when people read instead of playing video games or zoning in front of the television, and there were literally hundreds of potential markets. We conjure by those ancient tomes: Weird Tales, Argosy, Amazing Stories, Black Cat, et many a cetera. While the pay wasn’t great except in the slicks, a person with a good work ethic could make a decent living writing short stories and novel serials and little else. And, I admit it, I’ve been guilty of looking backward with rose-tinted glasses myself, even though I know making that living required soul-crushing hackdom and turning out product by the ream. It’s nostalgia for a time I never knew and thus tends to ignore all the horrific truths of living in that time; it’s not supposed to be accurate.
Still, sometimes a little reality is a good thing, and while reading these letters now the thing that strikes me most–at least so far as it concerns the writing life–is how little short story publishing has really changed since 1927. Back then they were wondering why the editor bought this story instead of that one, bemoaning the absence of editorial judgment, bitching about late payments and the lack of good markets, and wondering if that last rejected story really did get all the way to the editor or was bounced by some nameless and clueless summer intern. Heck, I see the same conversation on writers forums every week. If anything is different it’s the ease and ubiquity of self-publishing, and the fact that doing it yourself sometimes even makes sense. Not always, no, but sometimes. Yet back then there were likewise arguments for it, but it was a lot harder to do and a great deal more expensive. So in that way, perhaps, things really have changed. Everything else? Not so much.
Continuing with the purge and pack up, and in the process of cleaning out the closet in the library, I came across an unmarked box. Inside were several things I thought I’d thought gone forever, namely my accumulation (I wouldn’t dignify it as a collection) of digest magazines from the late 1970’s. It was originally much larger, but I’d reluctantly purged it during one lack of space or other. In my faulty memory I thought I’d purged them all. There are several AMAZING STORIES from the period, and even a COVEN 13, but I was especially glad to see the FANTASTIC STORIES from Ted White’s editorship. FANTASTIC was the first fantasy magazine I ever discovered. More to the point, I soon realized that there were such things as writers who sent them stories. I soon became one of them. I never did sell to Ted White, and by the time I sold one to his successor, Elinor Mavor, FANTASTIC had been folded into its sister magazine, AMAZING. Yes, I know. Just a second tier digest back in the days of ANALOG/ASTOUNDING and GALAXY, but there was something about the stories there that appealed to me more. I still regret that I wasn’t good enough soon enough for FANTASTIC, but I remember what I was shooting for.
No sooner had I turned in the final manuscript of THE WAR GOD’S SON to Paula at Prime than I got an email from Audible.com telling me that the audiobook version is already going into production. I don’t know yet who’s doing the narration, but it should be out at the same time the print and ebook versions are available, still officially set for October. Which should happen on time, since the book is being typeset even as I write this. Not much longer now, people. If/when there’s a link for pre-orders, I’ll post it here.
Continuing the purge of my old writing files after a hiatus to paint the master bath. Not only am I finding stories I never published (no surprise there, not every story is a winner), I’m finding stories and articles I’d forgotten I’d written. One of which was a fairly detailed review of Parke Godwin’s The Last Rainbow. I was reviewing for the long gone Fantasy Review at the time, and as I was going through my old file I found a letter from the editor telling me they already had a review of the book, so my review was never published and I’m including it here. There are a couple of spoilers, for those among you who believe that what happens in a book is what the book is really about, so fair warning.
Parke Godwin’s The Last Rainbow is subtitled “A Novel of Saint Patrick” and that’s certainly true—in the same sense that Firelord was about King Arthur and Beloved Exile, Guenivere. As in it’s true so far as it goes, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Novels about legendary figures are nothing new—the bare bones of fact and myth always beg for the flesh of the storyteller’s art, but to say that the vein has been mined before is to completely miss the point. What sets our best writers apart is not chosen genre, social consciousness, or even prose style. It is their ability to look at a subject, any subject, from their own unique perspective and let the rest of us see what they see. Communication is the heart and soul of any good story. Anything less is just ‘connect the dots’ and word games. T.H. White used “The Matter of Britain” in his The Once and Future King to reflect his own society, and if the images in his mirror are cloaked in fancy they’re never hidden. John Gardner took the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf and turned it on its head, telling the story from the monster’s point of view in the masterful Grendel, and suddenly we’ll never again be quite so righteously complacent in the hero’s triumph. Agree or not, we will look again, and wonder.
All of which is a roundabout way to point out that Godwin works a kindred magic in The Last Rainbow. He takes the stone statue life of Saint Patrick, and with a superb artist’s eye, patiently chips away the gilt of time and dogma to reveal the living flesh beneath. Continue reading →
Friday’s mail brought my contributor’s copies of Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015. I’m in there with “The Manor of Lost Time,” which originally appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The book also has stories by Robert Reed and Kelly Link and Jo Walton and Elizabeth Bear and Yoon Ha Lee and Ken Liu and Cory Doctorow and…well, you get the idea. Lots of people. It also includes a summary of the year and a recommended reading list, in all 575 pages packed. You could do worse.
I heard back from Paula Guran at Prime Books that the revisions to The War God’s Son are good and therefore complete, and it’s off for a final copyedit and typeset, so we’re on schedule for the October release. I’ve also been admonished to get started on the next one which, assuming I can get myself together, will be out in 2016. The revisions to Power’s Shadow have run into the same delay that’s put pretty much everything on hold, but I’m hoping it won’t be too much longer.
The downed tree has been removed and we’re still getting our house ready to sell. Besides boxing up our lives we’ve been painting for the past week. Also sniffing a lot of paint fumes, though not by choice. It’s all part of the process.
Note and Disclaimer: This review originally appeared in SF AGE back around 1998, and I’m not changing a word of it. I think of these as much as time capsules as reviews. Speculations that panned out or didn’t, hopes dashed, whatever, are par for the course of time.
LEGENDS edited by Robert Silverberg, Tor Books, September 1998,
hc, 703 pp, $27.95, ISBN: 0-312-86787-5
In LEGENDS, Robert Silverberg has brought together eleven of
the most currently famous and best-selling authors in sf&f, each
telling a new story set in their own chosen milieu. It’s a great
idea in theory, and couldn’t have been easy to manage, yet manage
he has. Let’s see if the fox was worth the chase.
Stephen King leads with a new tale of Roland of Gilead and
his quest for the Dark Tower. In “Little Sisters of Eluria,”
Roland arrives at a dead town on a dying horse. Eluria is empty,
save for one dead body and an oddly marked dog. Or rather,
seemingly empty. After an attack my mutant monsters, Roland
awakens to find himself in the tender care of the Little Sisters
of Eluria, an order of hospitalers. Such care as would soon make
the tender mercies of the monsters look good by comparison.
King can always work the horror element, that’s a given, but
sometimes I don’t think he gets enough credit for the range he
shows, with more or less mainstream work like The Body or his
idiosyncratic take on a fantasy world with The Dark Tower
stories. Those tired of generic fantasy, who sometimes think
that’s all fantasy is, or can be, should really give this
series a try. Continue reading →