science fiction

Kazuo Ishiguro and Neil Gaiman. Illustration: Tim McDonagh (via New Statesman)

This conversation between Kazuo Ishiguro and Neil Gaiman at is just brilliant. It's a dissection of "genre" as walled gardens and the things that happen when writers choose either to wander at will or simply to stand atop the wall and draw from both sides. They touch on two particular points that I've long believed. One is that genre is primarily only useful as a marketing tool and that "literary" and "genre" are in no way mutually exclusive terms. The other is that "genre", the way it's been used, has created certain reader expectations beyond those dictated by mere story telling. Ishiguro uses the example of westerns and the good guy/bad guy showdown.

My question, then, is this. Aren't those tropes a learned expectation? Have writers or, more precisely, editors and marketing teams taught readers that certain genres must have certain elements--that noir must have a femme fatale--that westerns must have a showdown? Does it just make the books easier to sell, because tagging it [GENRE X] somehow lets potential buyers know that it's going to be inside their comfort zone? That they won't be jolted out of the safe coccoon that's been spun just for them? Is that why publishers are so fond of series fiction? Because it's the ultimate sub-sub-sub-genre?

Following on the second point, Ishiguro points out that there is a difference between a story with cowboys in it and a cowboy story. That leads right into the discussions I've read (and had) many times about whether or not there is a difference between literary science fiction and literary fiction with science fiction tropes in it. I'm of the opinion that there isn't. In my view, "speculative fiction in a literary style" and "literary fiction using speculative elements" are two ways of saying the same thing. Give me a good story, with good characters, and something for my brain to chew on long after I've finished the book and I'll be a happy camper.

"You're Not Alone" Anthology

You're Not Alone cover image

Damien Broderick has put together an anthology of short fiction originally published in Cosmos Magazine, when he was the fiction editor there. That means it includes my short story FOR THE LOVE OF JAZZ. In fact, it was my first pro-level sale, so it means a great deal to me. The book is nicely done, too, with a great cover by Anders Sandberg.

As a bonus, I get to share the TOC with names like Jay Lake, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Joe Haldeman.

Since I know you're going to click right out and buy a copy, here's a handy link to Amazon.

Clarkesworld: Year Four

For the print readers out there, here's a "heads up". The Clarkesworld: Year Four anthology, including my short story BRIEF CANDLE, should be available some time in the next week or so. Also, I just noticed that all of the back issues on Amazon are also available as POD chapbooks. I don't know if that's new or if I've just been extraordinarily inattentive.

So two Simon and Garfunkel tunes slammed into a song by Bread at a bad intersection in the left half of my brain. The result was a story called "The Long Happy Death of Oxford Brown" which, I just found out, is going to be appearing in a future issue of Asimov's. I know I'm only like the zillionth writer to mentioning drawing inspiration from music, but so far The Alan Parsons Project, Kansas, and Yes, in addition to the two mentioned above, have contributed inspiration to my stories.

Clarkesworld Magazine just keeps getting better and better. Neil just announced that the legendary Gardner Dozois is going to be heading up the magazine's new reprint department. It looks like two stories an issue chosen by one of the best of the "best of"ers. You can read the original press release on Neil's site.

I just got word from Neil over at Clarkesworld Magazine that my short story "The Architect of Heaven" will be appearing in the May issue. Once again, I'll be ToC-mates with Cat Rambo. Neat, huh? Last time, my story "Brief Candle" appeared with her story "The Mermaids Singing Each to Each" back in the November 2009 issue.

I should mention that, if you prefer to read on a reader device (as do I), instead of the Web, Clarkesworld is available by subscription from Weightless Books, along with Bullspec, Lightspeed, and others. Weightless appears to be filling the void left when Fictionwise stopped doing magazine subscriptions, signing up small press and Web-based magazines and handling e-fulfillment. It's not quite as convenient as a nook or Kindle sub, in that it doesn't just appear on your device, but neither did Fictionwise subs, and I did those for years.

I have no idea how successful Weightless is for the publishers, or what the deal is on sharing subscriber information, but more outlets are better. Period. Also, Weightless is using the standard "buy it all at once" subscription model, as opposed to the "pay per issue" model. So I'll add that more business models are better, too. Choice and diversity are the only real way to see what the market wants.