A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick

Philip K Dick’s partially autobiographical chronicle of 70s hippie drug culture takes place under the eternal sunshine of southern California. Even the book’s nighttime is saturated with the electric glare of strip mall lighting and the glow of the television screen. And in a society that never switches off the lights, the dark has become internal. A Scanner Darkly is about a descent into the deep fears of our 24-hour consumer society: the twilight of intellectual and emotional collapse. The darkness of insanity.

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Alif the Unseen

It is significant that all of our great religions were born in the face of oppression. Moses led the Israelites from slavery under the Egyptians. Jesus challenged the power of Rome. The Islamic calendar begins with the migration of Muhammad and his followers to escape the persecution of Meccan tribes. Even the awakening of Gautama Buddha came in the midst of unremitting tribalism and warfare. Whatever we feel about religions today, we’ve often found them preferable to the oppression and violence without them in the past.

Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson is in part a novel about the need for faith, belief and religion in a technological age. It is also a passionate romance and a delirious urban fantasy. Alif is a hacker who specialises in providing anonymity to clients who might have reason to fear the authorities, from political activists to pornographers. He is “not an ideologue, as far as he was concerned anyone who could pay for his protection was entitled.” He conducts his business in the fantasy precincts of The City, a place like but unlike contemporary Cairo, which author G Willow Wilson has made her home.

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Why Standard Manuscript Format matters more than ever

For the last few days I’ve been following the editorial pains of friend and fellow British Fantasy Award judge Hal Duncan on Twitter. I don’t know what it is Hall is editing, I’m just glad its not me having to do it!

It’s amazing how many writers can plaster their manuscript in copyright warnings, but can’t format it worth a damn. This says all the wrong things about how you see your own work. Because what it says is, “I don’t believe in myself as a writer.” If you really believed in yourself as a writer, you would know that no reputable editor would ever rip your work off (if you’re sending to disreputable editors then no amount of copyright warnings will protect the work). Editors and publishers need great writers, not just great writing. If they like what they see, they don’t just want what the book they are reading, they want the next dozen books that follow it as well.

I’ve seen two discussions recently about Standard Manuscript Format basically saying, why bother? Sure, there are editors who aren’t concerned about manuscript format, mostly at small presses and fanzines because they haven’t heard of it. But there are also many, many editors who won’t even read a manuscript that isn’t in SMF. Why? Because if the writer doesn’t even have enough respect for their work to place it in the professional format, how can you trust them to be professional in the thousands of other ways a writer needs to be if you’re going to invest in publishing their manuscript? Also, they get a bazillion scripts a week so it’s an easy way to just get rid of some.

SMF was once essential because the manuscript had to go through many processes that depended on standard format. Now word processors make those processes easier. But they also mean there are more writers, submitting more manuscripts than ever before. If you really want to stand out from the crowd, don’t hand scrawl your manuscript on mauve paper scented with truffle oil. Put it in Standard Manuscript Format. Make it look like nearly every great, soon-to-be-published book that has ever hit the desk of any editor anywhere. These days, that kind of professionalism and confidence stands out a mile.

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Do you know why you write fantasy?

In his 1916 essay (not published until 1956) The Transcendent Function the psychologist Carl Jung describes his system of ‘active imagination’, the technique at the heart of the psychological process he named individuation. Put very simply, active imagination means to dive down in to our imagination and to bring back from it visions, dreams and stories.

Among the products of Jung’s own experiments with active imagination is the Liber Novus or Red Book. Jung produced this work as part of a period of intense introspection following his break from his mentor Sigmund Freud. In 205 pages of hand scripted calligraphy and intensely beautiful illustrations Jung recorded his own visions, dreams and stories.


Most writers of fantasy can probably recognise themselves in Jung’s creation of the Red Book. Many writers come to writing fantasy in periods of change, following trauma as as part of a process of recuperation. I have a box of fragmentary short stories labeled Titan that I produced in the years after I lost my mother to cancer. I put them aside for many years, but ideas from them make up part of my work-in-progress novel Lost Things.

Goals like publication and perhaps becoming a professional writer can be important parts of a creative practice. But it’s easy to lose sight of the truth that your writing is probably there to play a much more important part in your life than generating revenue from unit sales. It’s taking you on a journey…where to only you know…and the visions, dreams and stories from which great novels are made will only come if you stay on the right path.

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