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Dislocated Fictions
by Gabriel Chouinard

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Note: The opinions expressed herein are the sole responsibility and property of Gabe Chouinard, and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the editors and staff of SF Site; any writers, editors or publishers; most human beings; or any other creatures on the planet. If you disagree with the opinions expressed, and are not familiar with the phrase 'tongue-in-cheek', please take it up with Gabe, who is available for public beatings Monday-Wednesday, 7-9 PM CST. Thank you for your consideration.

Look -- if you want to be cool, you have to roll with the in crowd. That's the way it works. So if you want to be a part of the Next Wave, you gotta know the movers and the shakers, the people who matter.

For the uninitiated, I've decided to put together a primer. You need it. Without knowing the Who's Who, you'll soon find yourself lost, adrift on the proverbial Sea of Dreams without a map or a compass, struggling to return to your mundane life...

The rules are simple. Read these books. Know these authors. Keep your eyes on these publishers. And buy everything you possibly can to support these people. While libraries are wonderful things, one copy of a book passing through the hands of hundreds of readers until it has become a tattered and stained misery barely deserving the title of "book"... is still only one copy sold (and at a discount!). You wanna roll with the in crowd, you gotta pay your dues.

And now, the Primer Proper. Or, as I like to call it, The Shit You Need To Know And Buy.

the new wave

Say you've been hiding beneath a rock (or living in your parents' basement) for the last forty years. You've never even HEARD of the New Wave authors -- AKA the Saviours of SF -- much less read them.

Well, if that's the case, you're hopelessly out of your league. You're in over your head. Best to turn around and swim back to another Xanth novel.

interjection of anecdote

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? To Your Scattered Bodies Go "Son," my father once said (he always called me Son, and I always called him Pops), "you need to stop reading that fantasy crap and read something with substance."

He pointed me to Heinlein. So I read Stranger in a Strange Land, Glory Road, The Number of the Beast. I didn't get it. I was young.

(mini-interjection: My father was the only person I've ever heard use the word 'grok' in a conversation that had nothing to do with books...)
So I asked for something a little more adventurous, a little more up my alley. He showed me Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series. I dove in.

And loved it. Those, I GOT. Adventure! A big fucking river! Sir Richard Francis Burton!

Still being young, though, I once got messed up at the bookshelves, and grabbed a book called The Man in the High Castle, thinking it was another Riverworld title. What can I say? Philip Jose Farmer, Philip K. Dick... close enough!

I soon realized that I was wrong. Dead wrong. But... well, fuck me if this wasn't a cool ass book! When I finished it, I went back for more. And found out that PKD was the guy who wrote BLADE RUNNER! (At least, that's what MY copy said... other folks know it as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which is a far better title.) To my young, undeveloped, impressionable mind, it was a coup.

So my descent began. I never looked back.

end of anecdote

It's hard to classify the Next Wave as a specific generation of writers. There is a lot of overlap; there are writers that came in between the New Wave and the present, who are well-established within the field. I like to think of them as the Torchbearers. Not really part of the Next Wave, but definitely kindred spirits, and venerable enough that I can't think of them as the "young punks" that embody the spirit of the Next Wave. I will include them as Essentials, though, since many of them are still producing brilliant work today.

And now... the list

Well, OK. I'm lying. But did you really think it would be that easy? That I had one huge master list of all the writers, all the books and short stories that comprise the Next Wave of writers? Yeah, riiiight.

It doesn't work that way.

Perdido Street Station Perdido Street Station If you must know, if you cannot live without being handed the keys to the kingdom... good fantasy is a lot like pornography. You'll know it when you see it. I can't sit here and tell you what you'll like. I can only tell you what I like, and even that is woefully inadequate when it comes to stories. By its very nature, writing is coloured by the perceptions of the reader. I can tell you that Matt Stover writes some of the best fantasy I've read in years... but you might hate his work, even if you LOVE China Miéville, M. John Harrison, and Mary Gentle. As in life, in fiction there are no easy answers. No matter how hard reviewers try to convince you otherwise.

All that I can do is to guide, to direct your attention to the places where you are likely to find the sorts of stories that you wish to read. I'm like you. A reader, struggling to find books that are worthy of my time, and worth the effort of turning pages.

That, I can do.

the real list

So, you want to know what you'll find in this column in the weeks to come? Do you want a glimpse into my mind and tastes, to see if we're going to be compatible? (I'm married, though, so don't try to get TOO compatible!) Come, let's take a peek.....

Virconium Blade of Tyshalle Right now, I'm reading a few books. I've recently begun re-reading M. John Harrison's Viriconium series, so I'll most likely be doing a review of that soon, for all the foolish mortals who have yet to read it. Next up on my list (as soon as it arrives at my house!) is Jeff VanderMeer's collection of stories entitled City of Saints and Madmen.

I'm trying to fit an interview with China Miéville into both of our busy schedules.

And, of course, my favourite part: more ranting and raving and waving my arms about in my best Al Pacino fashion while I try to convince EVERYONE IN THE WORLD that there's more to life than Tolkien-Lite. Publishers, editors, writers take note: I am out to get you, to thump you on your collective asses and force you to remember that speculative fiction is about language and art, imagination and commentary, beauty and horror all wrapped into a shiny package called New and Different. It isn't really about tying a bow around yet another retread of Middle-earth and calling it "brilliant" and "satisfying" just because it pays the bills. I'll praise you when you remember that. If you don't, I won't scream about it... I'll ignore it. And I'll urge everyone else to do the same.

new times, new worlds

I'm putting my ass where my mouth is.

I am currently editing the latest in a long and venerable line of creations to bear the title New Worlds. Yes, you heard right. New Worlds.

With Michael Moorcock acting as Consulting Editor, I have taken it upon myself to gather together all of the writers who are proving their worth in the arena of speculative fiction. I have a dream list of contributors, and so far, many of them have already agreed to or expressed interest in contributing to this latest version of New Worlds. The list expands almost every day. And do you know why? Do you understand why people like Michael Swanwick, Tad Williams, Matthew Stover, China Miéville, Paul Witcover, Daniel Keys Moran, Jeff VanderMeer, James Sallis, Warren Ellis and Michael Moorcock himself would consider doing this anthology on spec?

Because they, like I, believe in the project.

It is far past time to take the reins back from the drunken charioteer that has been guiding us along this path. We're all tired of running around in circles, watching the same crowds cheer for the same race winners. It's a blasted shame when a novel as brilliantly beautiful and haunting as Waking Beauty, by Paul Witcover, is hard to find. Where is the justification there? And yet, I think I can find every bloody book Anne McCaffrey has ever written. That, my friends, is a true horror.

As Michael said, it's time for another New Worlds, because the talent is there to support it. You just don't realize it yet; if you did, the bestseller lists would look a hell of a lot different.

michael moorcock's official statement

"There is a myth, promoted mostly by those who always felt threatened by us, that New Worlds was a failure. It's a word frequently used in a triumphalist way by the people we did oppose and whom we continue to oppose. New Worlds was never a financial failure. As a monthly magazine New Worlds was killed by censorship, by monopolist determination of what the public should or shouldn't read. With the press behind us, we helped win a battle against attempted censorship, but the reaction of the distributors was simply not to send newsstand copies out to their branches. By the time we discovered what was happening (we were a monthly) we had, of course, run up massive debts. I paid the debts myself, through writing fast fantasy novels, as I had earlier funded the magazine in order to get the production and layout standards I wanted, but New Worlds, in its large 'glossy' format, had a very healthy circulation, which had grown considerably by the time the UK retail-wholesale chains of W.H. Smiths and John Menzies decided to ban us. That story is told on the New Worlds Magazine website.

"As a professional, commercial periodical editor, I had no wish to run a subscription-only or 'little' magazine, so I came up with different strategies to keep the most innovative work of writers I admired (like J.G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Gene Wolfe, Norman Spinrad, Thomas M. Disch, John Sladek, Harlan Ellison, James Sallis, Samuel R. Delany, M.J. Harrison and many others) available to the general public. Our criticism attempted to define our relationship not to the world of genre publishing, but to general fiction. We emerged at about the same time as the 'pop art' movement, which sought to incorporate commercial innovations into 'high' art. This was the ambiance in which we worked and, of course, we worked with those artists as well -- people like Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton -- and with certain innovative scientists. Our interest was not in promoting or improving genre but creating a mix of fiction, art and features for the intelligent modern reader. What we did was later described as postmodernism or magic realism.

"After the distributors sabotaged us, I ran New Worlds as a paperback anthology (cheerfully distributed by the same chains but not as 'visible') though I still used illustrations and features. We still showcased new writers, many of whom became well-known, but developed a rather consistent, familiar quality and ceased to function, in my view, as a showcase for much new talent (though the genre is full of well- known names we first published during that paperback phase). I turned it over to other hands whom, I felt, had a better finger on the current pulse. For a while Hilary Bailey and Charles Platt were editors and also found good, new writers.

"Responding to various banal developments in the literary world, a number of special issues of New Worlds were done in the 1970s, including the Crimes Against Literature issues which featured the work of the singular R.G. Meadley. Various incarnations were published intermittently until it flourished again in the 90s under David Garnett's editorship as a paperback series. William Gibson, Storm Constantine, Pat Cadigan, Graham Charnock and others brought their best to Garnett. He showcased a whole group of good writers, many of them unfamiliar to a wide public, and several critics remarked that any one of Garnett's issues was like someone else's Best of the Year.

"Good editing is an exhausting and time consuming business. Eventually David Garnett needed time to write his own entertaining SF comedies, begging out of his contract to do further issues. He also felt that he had done most of what he could do as a vital editor. My policy is never to 'keep New Worlds alive' at all costs, but to wait until a new time comes when it seems its particular policies and reputation can be useful to writers feeling frustrations we first felt when I began editing New Worlds. At that point, I will hand over the reins of New Worlds to an editor or editors who seem to me to have that necessary mixture of frustration, ambition, self-interest, professionalism and half-crazed enthusiasm to recognise the best of the new talent and even encourage some established talent to stretch and show what it can really do.

"In an exchange of correspondence with Gabe Chouinard, he mentioned his ambition to present a showcase of cutting edge and idiosyncratic imaginative writers he called 'the Next Wave' in reference to the New Wave with which New Worlds was associated. Of course, we never called it that (Chris Priest gave it the name originally) but I knew what he meant. This seemed a perfect occasion to offer him New Worlds in which to show off the writers and the kind of writing he and I both admired. These are mostly writers who have rejected the fantasy traditions which have grown up out of Tolkien and look, for instance, to Mervyn Peake as a model.

"This struck a chord in me because when I first started writing fantasy there was no Lord of the Rings. The two best fantastic epics most recently published were Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books and T.H.White's Once and Future King. In America there was Cabell, Howard, Leiber. I knew and liked Tolkien, who was very encouraging to me as a boy. But I was disappointed when his trilogy appeared. However, at that time, all fantasy fiction was marginalised, including Tolkien.

"What I did not foresee, any more than poor Tolkien himself, was a mass-producing industry with its characteristic orthodoxy and caution, developing out of what had been an extremely individualistic kind of writing. Fiction published by corporations with stock holders who demand regular and increasing profits means that the stock holders' interest always comes before that of reader or writer. This makes for the current situation. If I were young again I would not even be tempted to venture amongst those groaning shelves of clones and bad xeroxes offered to a public that no longer realises it could have a wider choice. Consumerism, like feudalism, has to permeate the culture to work at its best. It acts effectively to discourage ambitious and original work. Its nature is ruthlessly self-preserving. It might note a minor twist or two in the formal structures and announce them as brilliantly innovative, but that is an illustration of its bankruptcy. I'm not interested in pumping a bit of life into an exhausted, thumb-sucking genre.

"Fantasy is not a genre. It is an attitude. And it is writers with highly individual attitudes whom we hope to encourage in this latest incarnation of New Worlds: The Next Wave."

-- Michael Moorcock, Lost Pines, Texas, April 2001.

endnotes

Jack Faust Here's what you need to do.

Go and find yourself some good books. Buy them. Read them. My personal recommendations for the bi-week are;

The aforementioned Waking Beauty by Paul Witcover
The Wraeththu Trilogy by Storm Constantine
Mindkiller by Spider Robinson
Jack Faust by Michael Swanwick
Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

When you've finished those, send me an email to show your support for New Worlds. Or, hell, just send me an email! I want to hear from you all, whether you agree with me (you're the smart ones) or disagree with me (go back to reading David Drake, cretin!). And I promise, I'll spotlight at least one good email in the next column. Especially if it can totally, utterly destroy me.

Copyright © 2001 Gabriel Chouinard

Gabe Chouinard is a writer and editor living in obscurity, struggling to get published by chucking rocks at the windows of the publishing industry and hoping someone will notice. He runs a Fantastic Metropolis Forum, semi-maintains a pathetic webpage at www.geocities.com/gabe_chouinard, and is editing the latest in a line of New Worlds anthologies. Still, he isn't making any money...


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