Before this hour, and it's drain a feast,
Thursday had brought us dewlaps,
and played the mellisonant band.
Lets have been guided by invidia,
heads shaken, and I'm thinking of how
the blackguards grow, I'm thinking a
whit of this ringing back through time.
There is no time here, though my bed
is checked for wetness. I am presenile,
hooting from sobbing, and erstwhile, onetime,
prospered in the pleasant flights of apteryxes.
If you listen, the minutes are in me
swift and twisting; they enter so softly,
passing me nights as on blackened stilts—
oh you dark and harmful bits. You frig-years,
bombsighting and aging me from the phantasms.
These minutes take from the bee fuzz,
to the texture of bark upon the cutis,
make faces of cold, rippled philo, or
from among the youngest, the story
going smoothly into comedones and papules,
then doughy into liverspots and ruckles.
Swayed and low among the dodos,
the subsisters, laying in wait and in a row,
I watch the sloping lines.
He told again the story of Bates, and then the one about himself—Jansen — and then about Gerhardie. Stacks just sat as always with his chin resting on the head of his cane, listening, sometimes grunting a bit. He told like beads Bates with that leg and rest of him you could put a knife right into and not feel a thing. He told of himself, Jansen, who had crept up to slit a disloyal throat mostly out of curiosity, damn the risk. And he told Gerhardie, goddam handsome bastard who had done fine, not a flicker of doubt through the whole struggle. The handsome, in Jansen's opinion, tended to be like that.
Fiction by Brian Evenson
Unevenness is a problem endemic to anthologies. With most of them, when I come to each new story, even one by a name I know and enjoy, I often feel like I'm rolling the dice, and I turn the page with my fingers crossed praying I don't get snake eyes. Thankfully, in Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology even the worst of the stories are merely an entertaining sort of mediocre, and the best are truly astonishing. I found myself actually getting excited at the prospect of the next tale, which is, I think, the mark of a really good collection.
I contacted Kelly Link both about my various articles about her work and the first Future of the Fantastic article. Here is the correspondence that followed.
Jonathan Safran Foer is the most commercially and critically successful writer of his generation. Everything Is Illuminated, his first work of fiction, was a hilarious and often touching novel that managed to make even its worst traits somehow endearing. The book was simply great fun to read—though the judgment of Dale Peck, who claimed Illuminated was one of "the best novels I’ve ever been fortunate enough to hold in my hands," was little short of preposterous. Peck's hyperbolic psychosis aside, Everything Is Illuminated was one of the most mature and fully realized books ever published by someone comparably young, which places Foer among the ranks of Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Martin Amis, and John Updike.
A review by Tom Bissell
Coming soon to Wet Asphalt, we've got criticism by Tom Bissell, the man we once called the best critic around, which excites us to no end. Also, fiction by Brian Evenson and Pamela Sargent! Stay tuned.
This is the beginning of December.
Snow covers apartment blocks,
churches and blinking snowmen,
trickling through to the page
where you’re writing a poem
about a woman trudging through
snowstorms, her footprints
slowly disappearing in stanzas
empty on the inside.
You want to follow, but it’s cold
and snow has filled in all the exits
out of your room.
Edited By Harlan Ellison, iBooks, inc, 544pp, $14.95
Note added 2012:
In retrospect, there are two things I'd like to change about this essay. One is the line accusing Ellison of putting Pohl and Knight in there because of sf-family nepotism. This completely ignores the fact that they were much lauded and well established authors at the time, and so might have been included on the strength of their reputations. Which exposes my ignorance: at the time I wrote this, I'd never heard of Pohl or Knight.
Second, I completely ignore Samuel Delany's story "Aye, and Gomorrah". In retrospect, this story is quite good, and it's whole meditation on sexual perversion was really novel and interesting for the time.
One of the things that comes across clearly in the various introductions to the stories in Dangerous Visions, the anthology that defined the "New Wave" of speculative fiction in the 1960's, is that these aren't just writers to Harlan Ellison, but to a large degree they are friends. Even those writers Ellison isn't close to seem part of an extended family, and Ellison admits at one point that he only accepted two stories for the anthology from people he'd never heard of (submissions that were sent to him by agents). On the one hand, this speaks volumes about the sort of collegiality that existed in sf at the time (and in all probability still exists). On the other hand, it makes for an anthology that reads exactly like someone getting stuff from all his friends together whether or not that stuff is actually particularly good.
There's been a recent dust-up in the lit blogs over some criminally stupid things that n+1 printed about literary blogs. This after Keith Gessen's previous inflammatory remarks on the subject. One of the things they're on about lit blogs about is being publicity shills to the publishing industry, which is a bit ironic considering that emails published by the Elegant Variation reveal that Gessen was in fact trying to use the lit blogs for just that same purpose himself. But this hypocrisy is simply one way of underlining the obvious: n+1 is run by a cadre of pretentious, arrogant assholes with strange and insupportable ideas about literature and criticism, with Keith Gessen chief among them.
Let us not forget that n+1 is the organ that thinks normal people go on $130 dinner dates, get paid $40 an hour for copy-editing, and sleep with 10 people on a "busy but not extravagant Spring Break." But then n+1's essays always seem to follow a similar pattern: a mildly valid critical thought is blown up into Iraq proportions, and then addressed with a rapidly escalating series of inane and insupportable conclusions. This is true of the dating article (the notion that dating can be a pain in the ass is valid enough, but n+1 shines that through a perverse and distorted lens, projecting something alien and somewhat nauseating). Likewise with the Elif Batuman's article on the short story, which takes the problem of workshop fiction and somehow deduces that the problem with these stories involves too many proper names and implied familiarity—again, a perplexing, weird conclusion. And, of course, this is true with their criticisms of lit blogs.
People might have used their blogs to post the best they could think or say. They could have posted 5,000 word critiques of their favorite books and records. Some polymath might even have shown, online, how an acute and well-stocked sensibility responds to the streaming world in real time. But those things didn't happen, at least not often enough.
The language is supposed to mimic the way people speak on the street or the college quad, the phatic emotive growl and purr of exhibitionistic consumer satifsfaction - "The Divine Comedy is SOOO GOOOD!" - or displeasure - "I shit on Dante!" So man hands on information to man.
Why should publishers pay publicists and advertise in book supplements when a community of native agents exist [sic][pointed out by The Millions] who will perform the same service for nothing and with an aura of indie-cred? In addition to free advance copies, the blogger gets some recognition: from the big houses, and from fellow bloggers. Recognition is also measured in the number of hits - by their clicks you shall know them - and by the people who bother to respond to your posts with subposts of their own. The lit-bloggers become a self-sustaining community, minutemen ready to rise up in defense of their niches. So it is when people have only their precarious self-respect. But responses - fillips of contempt, wet kisses - aren't criticism.
Now, it's one thing to say that a lot of lit bloggers write shallow things, and certainly we see enough of "This book is SO great, you have to read it right now!" from certain quarters I won't name. But to then imply that the lit bloggers are somehow in the pocket of the publishing houses just because those publishing houses send them review copies, and give them recognition simply doesn't follow. In fact, that argument is better applied to profession newspaper and magazine reviewrs, such as n+1 editor Marco Roth. After all, they not only get free books, they get paid to write about them by giant corporations, who themselves get advertising money from the publishing houses. Blogs aren't on the payroll of publishing companies, and there is no more incentive for a lit blogger to print a positive review of The DaVinci Code than there is for printing one of Everyman, Black Swan Green, or the kind of small press books that blogs are known for championing like Stranger Things Happen or Home Land. Indeed n+1's attitude, including and especially the statement "responses aren't criticism," strikes one as a kind of petulant childishness, like a little girl sneering at a more popular girl and saying, "what a bitch!" Not just because there's plenty of good criticism in the blogosphere if you care to look, that's entirely beside the point. Blogs are not always meant to be literary magazines, and bloggers don't have to be critics. Bloggers are bloggers, and one of the things that separates a blog from a literary review is that in the medium of the blog a blogger can chat informally about books if she wants to. Complaining that blog posts aren't long and rigorous enough is kind of like complaining that some motorcycles don't have four wheel drive. It's not just stupid, it's bizarre.
Like The Elegant Variation, I too had an email correspondence with Keith Gessen, though I'm too much of a gentleman to print it. But I will report that among the things he said was that I was somehow "freeloading"* off his content by reading it when he put it up on his own website instead of buying the magazine. Keith Gessen is a weird little man and n+1 is a weird little magazine, and not a very good one at that. Frankly, you shouldn't buy it or read it or otherwise bother with it, and we'll all be better off when it (inevitably) goes under.
I’d taken an apartment on the wrong side of the park. This was pre-gentrification, before community empowerment, when the neighborhood’s leading commercial enterprise was No-Eyed Jack, a blind barber who cut hair for tourists. My acquaintances were quick to note other local resources: “a wide array of pawn shops”; “check cashing on every corner”; “national leadership in tire irons per capita.” Their warnings didn’t faze me. I was a born-and-bred New Yorker, after all, city-savvy as a street urchin, and I looked forward to the cachet that my address—on an avenue named for an obscure president and then renamed for an obscure civil rights leader—might carry with left-wing coeds at Greenwich Village parties. Besides, it was all I could afford.
Fiction by Jacob M. Appel