Tag Archives: British Fantasy Society

Writing Mind, Big Mind, Judging Mind

My friend Amy Sundberg talks about the Writing Mind, in response to Jeff VanderMeer’s missive that forcing your concentration to meet a fixed daily word count isn’t a universally good idea. Even when you aren’t writing, you can still be writing. The imagination is always busy, and sometimes it does its best work when we give it space and time. I know that for me a daily word count is not all that helpful. The words will come when they come. I might get other words to come, but the chances are that if I force it, they won’t be the words I need.

Amy’s idea of the Writing Mind reminds me of what zen buddhists call the Big Mind. Most of us, most of the time, live in our Small Mind. If you’re worried, stressed, anxious, uptight, angry, being needlessly aggressive or competitive, that’s your Small Mind doing what it thinks it needs to do to keep you alive. I say ‘what it thinks’ because when you look back at the sum total of time your Small Mind spends worrying about things, you can be fairly sure that 90% wasn’t worth worrying about, and the other 10% wasn’t improved by worrying about it anyway. Your small mind is about you. What you need. What you want. Your survival in this big bad world.

The Big Mind is all about We and all about Us. It understands that the world is made up of 7 billion interdependent human beings and that in anything but the short term acting selfishly for your own interests alone doesn’t get us very far. And because the Big Mind understands the interconnectedness of all things, it understands that there is really no need to worry. When you are relaxed, happy, calm, blissful, joyful and at peace, that is your Big Mind being in charge.

(If your internal voices are shouting ‘This is all nonsense! I have to look out for number one first and foremost!’, well…that’s your Small Mind talking.)

The other thing that your Big Mind does is create. Whether it’s a work of art, or an essay, or a business, anything humans create has to come from our Big Mind. Small Mind isn’t good at creating. Creativity is risky. That book might not sell. That essay might get a bad grade. The whole business might go bust. It’s better to do things that are routine. Where the outcome is assured. Keep the money coming in. Pay off that mortgage. Get that pension scheme built up. Don’t, whatever you do, decide to become a writer. If Small Mind has one ultimate commandment, that’s probably it.

A daily word count can be a way of dealing with Small Mind, by powering past it. But it can also be capitulation to the Small Mind. Because you are turning the creative act of writing in to a routine act that Small Mind can control. Get those two thousand words written. Sell a book a year. Earn enough from writing to…pay off that mortgage. Get that pension scheme built up. Not that you shouldn’t have these things. But the part of you that wants them isn’t often the part that creates anything splendid and beautiful.

AND A LITTLE BIT OF NEWS…

British Fantasy Society logo (circa 2008)
Image via Wikipedia

I’ll be exercising my Judging Mind as a judge for this years British Fantasy Awards. Which is…quite cool and exciting. I can already feel the power going to my head. If you are a member of the British Fantasy Society or attended / attending the 2011 / 2012 FantasyCon you can vote for the shortlist, from which we judges will be selecting winners. So go and vote, and give me some good stuff to read.

 

 

 

And a little bit more on Big Mind…

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Why we must reward intelligent fantastic literature

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to direct your attention to the shortlist for the Kitschies, the annual awards organised by the folks at the Pornokitsch blog, which is quickly establishing itself as one of the two or three most relevant awards in fantastic literature. And the nominated novels are:

  • The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington (Orbit)
  • Embassytown by China Miéville (Tor)
  • A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd (Walker Books)
  • The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers (Sandstone)
  • Osama: A Novel by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

There are two additional categories for best debut and best cover, information here, both strong shortlists but I want to focus attention here on the best novel category. Because not only is this a strong shortlist, but an important one for fantastic literature, because it really asks the question of how seriously we take ourselves, or expect to be taken by others.

This has not been a good year for SF awards. The Hugo and Nebulas both came under criticism for shortlists primarily determined by partisan fan factions rather than quality writing, and the British Fantasy Society awards literally collapsed under the weight of their own nepotism. Earlier comments on this issue lead me in to a protracted argument with John Scalzi through the medium of Twitter. John didn’t seem to think having awards shortlists full of bad books was a problem because, you know, quality is just a subjective issue and people have different tastes and any suggestion that more than a few of these books were were incredibly lightweight was ‘kvetching’.

So the Kitschies shortlist leaps out as actually doing that thing that awards should do, which is awarding the best work in their field. And in those terms I doubt there will be a stronger shortlist in any award for fantastic literature this year.

Jesse Bullington’s work came to prominence after an unusual call for attention through Jeff Vandermeer, and his two novels to date have established him as one of the most talented prose writers out there, shaping incredibly dark worlds of deep moral uncertainty. The Testament of Jessie Lamb became one of the few works of science fiction ever to pick up a Booker prize longlist nomination in 2011. Embassytown is a novel I’ve already heaped praise upon in The Guardian for its treatment of radical political themes through the lens of SF metaphor. Osama : A Novel has placed Lavie Tidhar in the top rank of todays SF writers for its intelligent and complex examination of post-911 politics, filtered through a Philip K Dick influenced alternative reality. But much as I like these books, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd is quite simply a masterpiece, continuing Ness’s powerful exploration of themes of violence and male identity, and probably deserves to win any award shortlist it finds itself on this year.

In different ways all of the books on this shortlist demonstrate what it is that is truly great in fantastic literature. They are all great books by any definition. Books with heart and soul, and also with meaning. Books we can find insight in, and learn about what it is to be human, even in a world as weird and strange as our own, and which use the metaphors of fantastic literature to create that insight. They are intelligent works of fantastic literature, that deserve to be recognised and rewarded as such.

Fantastic literature is a broad church. Many of the congregation are there for a bit zombie apocalypse or steampunk adventure. And that’s OK. Really it is. A world where every novel had the intellectual heft of Mieville would be a hard one to enjoy. Absolutely true. But when it comes to awards, are we really doing ourselves justice by lauding popcorn novels with major prizes? I’m going to fully enjoy John Carter of Mars when it hits our screens, but I would be profoundly disappointed if it took the Oscar for best movie or the Palm d’Or. And I would start to take those awards less seriously, then ignore them all together, if films without any substance won them often. Awards stand or fall on the basis of the quality they reward. Some of SFs major awards may be falling by that measure. But it seems new awards are there to replace them.

We need a unified spec-fic award in the UK

The United Kingdom has one credible award for speculative fiction. It’s called the Clarke Award, and it is decided by a panel of experts each year.

In addition we have a splintered field of popular voted awards including those organised by the British Fantasy Society and British Science Fiction Association. These awards carry little weight even within the British SF community, little or none internationally, and absolutely none at all in the big wide world of literature and culture more generally.

Worse yet, the scandalous outcome of this years British Fantasy Awards shows how, at their worst, these awards have become a positive embarrassment to British speculative fiction.

The UK awards began as fan awards. However, as those fan communities have matured, and the internet has mad it much easier to publish and promote new work, those fan communities have become communities of amateur writers and publishers. It’s no surprise then that the awards are now dominated by amateur writers and publishers voting for their own work.

Speculative fiction writing is incredibly rich in the UK, but a splintered field of amateur awards is failing to reflect this richness to the outside world. We need a unified award for spec-fic in the UK, that many fan groups contribute to, which is taken seriously by the SF profession, and the larger world of publishing and culture. British SF is fantastic and creative, and we deserve an award that truly reflects that.

Can this be achieved? What are the barriers and challenges? How can they be overcome? Please let me know your thoughts.