Look. I like Conan. If stories let us play out our secret fantasies in widescreen technicolor, then clearly there’s a part of me that longs to be a muscular barbarian, crushing my enemies and hearing the lamentation of their women. While Robert E Howard’s original Conan stories aren’t quite as good as the epic John Milius/Oliver Stone movie that launched Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstardom, they are still gems of pulp fiction well worth reading.
Conan’s rippling pectorals have proved a suitable fantasy vehicle for generations of geek boys, but the macho white male is only the fantasy ideal for a minority. As Lisa Cron argues in her excellent Wired For Story, the power of story reaches far further than mere entertainment. Our brain thinks in stories, but when stories don’t reflect our lived experience and our sense of identity, our brain will often reject them.
Is SF becoming cool? If it is, as China Miéville claims, then the award-winning author, whose new novel Embassytown hit the shelves yesterday, may have something to do with it. In our current era of austerity, with the largest-ever protest march on the nation’s capital and a previously apathetic youth culture rallying to the UK Uncut banner, Miéville’s homebrew of weird fiction and radical politics seems ever more relevant. Despite the current slew of mindless SF-flavoured Hollywood blockbusters, Miéville reminds us that beneath SF’s skin-deep popular appeal beats a radical heart.
China Miéville has a passion for London. The multi-award winning author has reflected the city’s surreal side in Un Lun Dun, set it to a drum’n’bass beat in King Rat, and inundated it with vampire imagoes in The Tain. Now, in his new novel, Miéville threatens to destroy the nation’s capital entirely in the tentacled embrace of a giant squid. And while Miéville is far from the first novelist to threaten to obliterate London, he may win the prize for having the most fun along the way.
I’m on the Guardian book podcast again this week, discussing literature of the apocalypse as the Angry Volcano God put us all in that frame of mind. At the end I call Kraken ‘H.P.Lovecraft via J.G.Ballard’. Not sure if that will make it into the final review, but it certainly has a ring to it!
Just because fantasy is everywhere doesn’t mean it has to appeal to the lowest common denominator. We must keep sight of its roots in ancient storytelling and its power to transform.
There are few things people love more then a well-told tale. We’ve been gathering around the fire (or that 20th-century equivalent, the television set) and telling each other stories for as long as we’ve had language. And to judge by the narratives that have filtered down to us through oral traditions and early written records, fantasy has always been essential to those stories
The future. If our television screens are to be believed, it’s not a place you’d want to go. Dwindling resources will continue to fuel national rivalries, pitching the world into a state of endless war. Our environment will become ever more chaotic and unpredictable. Our economic system will collapse under its own weight, plunging the first world back into a pre-industrial state. And of course nuclear armageddon, so narrowly avoided during the cold war, may yet come back to bite us on the rear.
I have the pleasure of being a guest on this week’s Guardian Books Podcast. This was my second time on the show, but this time around the whole episode is dedicated to speculative fiction. Hurrah! We discuss the new John Wyndham novel (yes, you heard that right) and the reasons why there are so many sub-genres in SF. Michelle Pauli interviews China Mieville, and I give my SF picks for 2010.
Sigh. The Hundredth Master of Ninja Assassin is malingering. You know that moment when a living malleable story turns into a dull lump of hard, dried up clay in your hands? Yup, thats where I am.
One of the joys of writing is observing your own development. If Clarion was about cracking my writing open, the almost year and half since has been about reconstructing the pieces to be better, faster, stronger. In the last few years I’ve tried my hand at every style of writing I could think of, and along the way I’ve stumbled into some ideas that would make good novels. But my writing seems to be finding its centre down in the dark depths of the human subconscious – I seem to be most comfortable and confident dealing with the internal state of my characters, and less and less interested in the external conflicts surrounding them. It’s an interesting transition to observe.
A couple of things I’ve been liking today:
The Guardian continue the neverending debate on the new paradigm of digital publishing. The term ‘seal of approval’ is thrown up to describe the power of a publisher to define what writing is valued and what is discarded. I like the term, it seems somehow central to the future direction of publishing. The major publishers are still clinging to the ‘seal of approval’, just, but it is quickly slipping from their fingers.
I’ve just discovered the new Realms of Fantasy website. Realm’s was the first short fiction magazine I ever read (discovered in a Martins newsagent ion Reading train station when I was 15, back when newsagents sold really good things like RoF and Eagle!)
I was nicely surprised to get an email from the eds. at The Guardian this week telling me that my blog post on ‘Are we now Post Sci-Fi?‘ is being reprinted in the The Review, The Guardian’s media supplement this Saturday. Nicely excited in that I did the Dance of Joy, although not for three moons. Go and buy a copy on Saturday from any nearby newsagent (if you are in the UK). And I also mange to put in an appearance on this weeks Guardian book podcast, talking about Eoin Colfer and Hitchhiker’s.
Writer. Columnist for The Guardian. Writing teacher.