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Dislocated Fictions
by Gabriel Chouinard

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a dislocated love letter

I've been questioning the motivations that spur me on in my one-man battle for revolution (or evolution, depending upon your viewpoint) within speculative fiction. Do I do it because I write non-commercial speculative fiction? Do I do it for attention?

No. I do it out of respect.

One of the greatest aspects of the genre is the way that we not only acknowledge, but also respect and even revere those who have gone before us. I think it is because fantastic fiction as an organized genre is so young that we are still able to hear tales recounted of the great pioneers, from the people who were there. Our forbearers are not stodgy stiffened corpses (for the most part), but rather living, breathing personalities.

So we respect them.

In my own experience, my immediate predecessors are not only still alive -- I've also had the great fortune to correspond with them. The authors who have directly shaped my own writing style are now people I would not hesitate to call friends. And it is out of personal respect and admiration for them (and my contemporaries who were also influenced by them) that I write this column.

Here's a piece of Truth for you to chew on.

Bug Jack Barron Edgeworks 4 When I was eleven or so, I discovered a hoard of New Worlds magazines, tucked away like porn mags in my Dad's closet with the rest of his hippy magazines and comix. For me, it was a treasure trove. I had always been a precocious, voracious reader, and here were stories that were so far over my head, they were an intense struggle to even finish. And struggle I did. What kid, after all, could resist titles like Bug Jack Barron, or A Boy and His Dog, or even that skinny strange man Jerry Cornelius?

I didn't just grow up reading those avant garde authors of bizarre tales. They literally taught me to read with depth, to struggle to find not only the story, but the meanings within and behind the stories. To discover the philosophy and personality and politics. If I had never discovered those New Worlds, if I had instead grown up devouring Dungeons and Dragons one-offs, would I ever be writing Dislocated Fictions?

I have unending respect for the authors who have helped to shape my particular world view of what speculative fiction can be. I owe them much more than the simplistic thanks of allowing me to read such tales. I owe them deep personal thanks, for the burning imprints they have made upon my mind and personality.

Michael Moorcock. M John Harrison. Brian Aldiss. Harlan Ellison. Norman Spinrad. J.G. Ballard. Thomas Disch. So many others, impossible to name them all, because to do so would simply fill the page. But it is for them that I write Dislocated Fictions. It is an ongoing thank-you letter, an evolving expression of love and respect for the writers who have touched my life.

And so I continue to push their followers, their strange literary offspring. Because they, like I, owe everything to those who have gone before us, blazing a trail through the speculation jungle to make OUR journey just a bit easier. And here we follow behind -- China Miéville, Matt Stover, Jeff VanderMeer, Rhys Hughes and all the rest of the motley young pack. And we're laying down asphalt in our wake, to make the next generation's journey just that much easier....

backlashing isn't as good as tongue-lashing...

In my last column, I made a mistake. Yes, yes, I know... completely unforgivable. I dared to make a human error, when everyone knows that we must write with robotic precision. After all, this is the gleaming metropolis of SF, right? Heaven forbid we let something so inconvenient and undesirable as human error slip into our hallowed, hallowed realm!

So I must make amends.

Tangent is NOT a fiction magazine, as I managed to imply by include it in my listing (which, for those who forget, included Asimov's, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog, and Interzone). My vast apologies go out to Dave Truesdale and the rest of the Tangent staff for my grave, grave error.

One mustn't let error enter our lives. Quick, gather 'round, pards, there's a human on the loose!

I hope everyone feels better now.

But, you know, I don't even spellcheck....

as if that weren't frightening enough

Frightening Curves Once upon a time, two young men met over the internet, from different sides of the globe. And from that union came Frightening Curves.

A 128-page illustrated novel, Frightening Curves was written by Antony Johnston, with full-colour illustration by Aman Chaudhary. Originally serialized at the webzine Reactor, and later at www.Opi8.com this edition contains over 40 pages of new illustrations by Chaudhary.

I first stumbled upon Frightening Curves while it was still running at Reactor, and instantly fell in love with Antony's hard-hitting, groovy prose stylings. Mixing and melding pulp-style noir with modern sensibility and surreal magic, here is a story that catapults the old Weird Tales-style pulp fiction into the present. It's the tale of Phil London, ex-Government agent and psychic, and all the wildness of the London Underground. It's exciting, it's intense, it's brutal... here at last is good pulp fiction that will leave you casting about in vain for more....

If you have a fond corner in your heart for the old pulp magazines, you can do no better than to read Frightening Curves. And if you like lush, gorgeous artwork, you can do no better than Aman Chaudhary. His palate is intense, moody. His design is sometimes stark and bold, at others soft and creepy. I can picture no one else bringing Antony's story to life; Aman does some of the best work I've seen in art all year.

Get Frightening Curves. Available from Cyberosia Publishing at www.cyberosia.com.

20 Questions with Kuo-Yu Liang

Because I've been doing some blathering about publishers and what they've been doing, I decided that it would only be fair to give a publisher the chance to respond. So I went ahead and threw myself at Kuo-Yu Liang, the Associate Publisher of Del Rey. All in the spirit of offering equal time to both sides.

Ku was very nice and very accommodating. He answered all twenty of my questions. Whatta guy!


Photo © Kuo-Yu Liang Kuo-Yu Liang

Ku, you're the Associate Publisher of Del Rey books, which pretty much means you're top dog on the publishing side. I think most people are at least aware of the fact that publishers are ultimately at the mercy of stockholders and parent companies [Del Rey's parent is Random House, which is, I believe, owned by German company Bertelsmann...], even if they don't care to admit it. Just how influential is your personal vision in Del Rey's publishing direction?
My job is closer to a conductor in an orchestra than anything else. The author is the composer, book the music, and editors and other publishing professionals the individual musicians. Everyone is brilliant in his or her own way, but if it's not coordinated, well, you get the idea. It's not about how much influence I have; this world is full of people who can say no to ideas. It's about how I go about getting projects through. Often the people you need to convince is not your boss.

[Cover]

Del Rey has a unique position in the field of speculative fiction. On the one hand, endless Star Wars novels. On the other, people like China Miéville, Matt Stover, J. Gregory Keyes doing the Age of Unreason... how do you manage to maintain this bizarre dichotomy, when everyone else is 'specializing'?
We are proud of our heritage of diversity. This is the imprint that has published Clifford Simak and Star Trek Logs in the same year. This is because each of our editors has a broad range of taste and we understand readers do, too. Stephen Pagel (publisher of Meisha Merlin) once compared reading habits to eating. He explains that sometimes you want a lobster with butter sauce, sometime you want eggs with muffins, and sometime you want ice cream -- no one person only reads in one genre.

Perdido Street Station

Marketing departments have been hit hard in publishing over the past few years, with some cuts in staff, less active marketing. What has Del Rey been doing to promote newer writers? Does China Miéville receive as much dedicated marketing as, say, the new David Eddings novel?
I'll answer this in two parts. First of all because I came from a sales & marketing background, Del Rey spends a lot of focus in this area; after all it doesn't help a good book if nobody knows about it. Our marketing effort has actually been growing. Our new publicity manager, Colleen Lindsay, has been terrific and she just hired a new full-time assistant, so for the first time in the history of Del Rey we'll have two full-time people doing publicity for Del Rey's books. Our key marketing person also just got promoted and she will be hiring a manager soon. We have been very fortunate in this regard.

As far as your second question. At the beginning of each list (we have three per year), I meet with our marketing, publicity and sales department and put together a positioning and strategic planning list that will determine how much effort we put into each book. Our goals and the type of work that will be associated with a particular project purely determine this. To use your example. Our goal for an Eddings book may be to position it as a mainstream bestseller; while for China Miéville it is far more complex. For China, we had to map out a comprehensive plan because he is new to everyone -- the readers, the sales reps, the reviewers. Also we had to envision where he will be several years down and keep that in mind. So in essence often a book like Perdido Street Station receives far more marketing attention because it's more difficult.

Del Rey has a new writers' online workshop. Can you tell us about that? What's the purpose of sponsoring a workshop? Have you had any discoveries through the workshop?
A few years ago an editor at Del Rey named Ellen Key Harris had this idea to create an online writers' workshop. She thought it would be fun and also a good way to contribute to the SF writing community. So she did it for a while and it was extremely successful (we had close to 10,000 members at one point). When Ellen left Del Rey to start her own company we both wanted the project to continue, so we decided to 'sponsor' the workshop by paying Ellen's company to run it. No, finding new writers is not one of our priorities, although the workshop itself has already generated many book sales for its members to other publishers! The way it works is simple. It's free to become a member; you just have to agree to review other people's work. In additional to editors from Del Rey and freelance editors (including award-winning author Nalo Hopkinson) who also read selected materials and give feedback, we also approach other writers to be special guest editors from time to time. Anne McCaffrey just agreed to do a session.

What about your personal reading habits? Are there any new writers that you're particularly excited about?
Gee, I'm all over the map. I like everything from Latin fiction (e.g., Jose Saramago) to narrative/science/history (e.g., The Professor and the Madman). Within the SF genre, my favourite authors are Harlan Ellison and Philip K. Dick; I am also a big fan of David Gemmell, Orson Scott Card, George R.R. Martin and Neal Stephenson. I just read the new novel by Greg Bear called Vitals, which we will publish in January, and it's one of the smartest thrillers I have ever read. We are publishing a new Elizabeth Moon next May called The Darkness Beyond The Light. It's a total departure for her; it's about autism. It may be one of the most important books we will publish next year.

Recently, Del Rey has stopped accepting unagented submissions. As one of the last major publishers to accept unagented submissions, Del Rey was one of the widest-open markets. Why the change in policy? Do you think that less over-the-transom submissions will raise the quality level of new writers? Could it be that you're hampering the ability of new writers to be discovered?
Del Rey was receiving over 5,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year. I have been with this company for 12 years -- which is over 60,000 submissions. We didn't find a single book we like. It's pure math; there is so much good stuff coming from the agents, it's better off for our editors to concentrate on those submissions.

I'm particularly curious about Del Rey and the Internet. You're one of the publishers that actually has a decent website (though it isn't updated enough!), along with the sponsorship of the writers' workshop. How do you view the online market? Does Del Rey consider sales to a webzine as a professional sale? Why?
We don't care about prior professional sales -- for new writers we are just interested in good books and the writer's ability to actually finish a book. To me, the Internet is the best thing that has happened to publishing in a long time. It decreased the distance between publishers, authors and the readers. Just recently, we put our very popular online newsletter (DRIN to those in the know) on the AvantGo Channel for Palm and PDA users -- couldn't have done that just a few years ago. When Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear won the Nebula Award we emailed the news to 40,000 fans immediately. That's cool.

I've talked a bit in my column on branding and imprints for speculative fiction. Del Rey, in particular seems to be all over the map, from Tolkien-esque fantasy to Star Wars, from hard SF to cutting-edge category-defying spec fic. Have you considered defining Del Rey's output with various imprints? Right now, if someone reads Matt Stover and likes him, how do they know where to go next? I don't think following Matt with David Eddings is, honestly, going to work...
I go back and forth on this one myself. My belief is that overall readers don't care about imprints. Quick -- name the paperback imprint that publishes Stephen King... Who cares? Imprints, however, serve a professional focus; they give the agents and authors a destination for certain works and the sales rep & booksellers can group it easily. Right now I don't think imprints are useful, but I may change my mind in six months.

I know that Del Rey is out to make money. After all, that's the purpose of ANY business! Still, what about the fact that fantastic fiction has been marginalized for so long? Isn't there at least some obligation on the part of the publishers to find and promote literary speculative fiction? After all, everyone wants a healthy market....
I don't think SF is marginalized at all. True the East Coast literati do not accept it, but who needs them? Publishers have four obligations: to make money so it survives as a business, to do its authors' works justice, to give its readers good books, and to give its editors/employees fun books to work on. The fact that Del Rey is successful I believe is contributing to the general health of SF.

One thing that concerns me it the decline of readers across the board. Too many distractions to keep people from reading! In this age of super-information and the glut of entertainment mediums, do you think that publishers will need to evolve? Most publishing companies are still approaching the industry as they were in past decades. I don't think this is working. Shouldn't publishers be thinking outside the proverbial box, to encourage more readership? Do you have any ideas how such changes could be approached?
Thank you for asking this question! It is my biggest concern that we are not gaining new readers. If I had a brilliant idea I would have already used it. My three basic [pieces of] advice are: 1) Don't concede the fight to games & movies -- we must believe that books are just as interesting and say so; 2) Invest in reading habits, particularly to teens; 3) Be creative. For example, if we have 50,000 unsold books at the warehouse that were going to be pulped, why not give them away to get people reading?

One thing that bothers me about publishers is that many refuse to take chances. Most would rather bank on the sure thing. Yes, smaller niche publishers are more willing to take chances, but they often can't afford it. I'd like to see one of the Big House publishers do some risky business for once, because they can eat a loss. Sure, no one likes it... but they CAN. So, what's the riskiest thing Del Rey has done, or will do? Beyond you subjecting yourself to my questions, anyway....
I think the truth is actually the reverse. Niche publishers know their markets well and have very low overhead, so what they publish is actually very conservative. Big publishers take chances on every book because we are going after a mainstream audience (whatever that means) and carrying a lot of financial risk. Also there is no such thing as a sure thing. Publishing China Miéville was not risky at all. It was a terrific book and we had realistic expectations. More crazy was committing to five new Shannara books by Terry Brooks after a five-year layoff from that series. We had no idea how the fans would respond. Lucky for us it was a big success.

Do you think that we're entering a new era of speculative fiction? Have we come full-circle from the 50s and 60s, and re-entered a time where quality overshadows product? Or do you think we're doomed to the commercial masses, where product becomes mass-produced and homogeneous?
I think in science fiction we may be entering the romantic era again, with authors like Stephen Baxter taking us to places we have never been before. I don't buy the argument that we are more commercial now than before. What was Valley of the Dolls and Love Story? I think we have settled into a good marketplace where one can find books by Gene Wolfe as well as the latest Star Wars adventure. The entertainment industry has always been dominated by a few ideas that the masses appreciate. This was true of Shakespeare and Dickens, and it is true today.

How about this submittal. I think that the odds of the 'casual reader' controlling the marketplace is declining. The era of the blockbuster novels is doomed. So, what the hell... why not stop going for the big sales, and focus on promoting a healthy industry, and focus on marketing to the dedicated readers? If books are going to have to compete with flashy movies, flashier video games... why not put books back in the position of being for the élite? Not completely, of course! But shouldn't the major thrust of publishing be aimed at the people who will continue to read, even as we move further and further into the info age...? Be crazy, ignore the people who are preoccupied with trends, and go for the intellectuals? What do you think? Unrealistic? Foolish? Possible?
There are different ways to answer your question. The easy way is to say of course we can only market books to people who read books, but it's more complicated than that. You have used Star Wars as an example of "mass product" several times, so let's take that for example. A young man of say 10 years old is not yet a reader. I would argue that it's inappropriate to entice him with Samuel Delany or James Blish. Perhaps an exciting Star Wars or X-Men novel, one that will extend his interest from the films. Through this medium he discovers reading can be fun. As he matures he will develop his own reading tastes, whatever they may be. As a publisher my preferred audience is the middle class, people who treat reading as fun, not studies or cocktail party topics.

On a groovier, happier note... you have some good stuff coming out. There's The Scar by China, which I'm highly anticipating... some other things... Can you tell us what has you excited about Del Rey for this year? Any good scoops you can share?
Earlier I mentioned the new Greg Bear and Elizabeth Moon. Within the next six months we will have new books coming from David Gemmell, Harry Turtledove, Stephen Baxter, Terry Brooks and James Clemens. All good stuff. Just today we signed the rights to do books based on the TV series Dark Angel, which is created by James Cameron and I think one of the best new series on TV right now. We will have a lot of fun working on that project.

What is going *well* with the industry? What keeps you chugging along? What keeps you excited about the speculative fiction field?
This field is incredibly vibrant, diverse, and relevant. Why would anyone want to read another family drama by Anne Tyler or courtroom thriller? The SF genre always challenges and entertains. The industry is going very well right now with a combination of bestsellers and literary successes. Harry Potter has helped to spur interest among young readers and parents alike. I think we need to keep focusing on getting new readers and also getting more new blood into the industry itself (new writers and new editors with new perspectives).

Dream writer. Who is it? That one person you've ALWAYS wanted to work with?
Two answers. I'd love to publish Harlan Ellison, my favourite author, except he is impossible to work with. Neal Stephenson. Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. Wow, I worship that man.

I'm guessing that you have a grand plan, an overarching plot for the direction of Del Rey under your leadership. Care to clue us in on some of your thoughts and philosophies on where you'd like to take Del Rey? How will you make Del Rey THE force in SF publishing? Or are you there already?
You mean besides keep doing what we are doing? I'd like to see Del Rey go "younger." There are a ton of good books published for adults and kids, but not enough for teenagers. More books like The Golden Compass would be ideal. Ebooks is another key component of our future. It'll offer the reader another choice to enjoy reading. I'd also like to expand internationally someday. Being an immigrant from Taiwan I am very aware of the fact of how American-centric we are. People read all over the world, and someday I'd love to see a Chinese or German version of Del Rey, or whatever.

What is your estimation of the state of the industry? Are you happy where we're at? Will SF grow in the next few years? Or will we collapse into something that has yet to be defined? Is the novel dead? Is the book archaic?
The book industry overall is not doing so well in my opinion. Retail is extremely soft, and publishers are often poorly run from an operational side. Since we don't face huge swings like the automobile or the financial industry, there is no reason for publishers not to be profitable. Going forward I believe publishers need to focus on investing in its people and in discovering new readers, realize that we are not insulated and must compete against other entertainment options, and constantly explore new options (format, price point, distribution channel). Where is our DVD? Nothing has changed since the paperback revolution; I'm hoping one will come soon (such as ebooks or the end of returns).

On your second question allow me to quote Andy Groves, the ex-Chairman of Intel: "Only the paranoid survive." I take the position that if we don't pay attention the book could die. I'd hate to be a part of the publishing generation that "killed reading."

SF journalism. Do you pay attention to fandom? For instance, do you read things like Locus? SF Site? My own column? (hint hint!)
I do, but only to keep up. To me most SF fandom and journalism are too self-serving and inclusive, I rarely learn something I don't already know, or, more important, [that will] inspire me.

Final question, and a tough one. Let's see. No more unagented submissions. An online workshop. People like Matt Stover and J. Gregory Keyes writing Star Wars novels... to be perfectly honest, it looks as though Del Rey may be doing some farming. Are you concerned that you may end up with that stigma? After all, an in-bred crop of writers isn't exactly fair... at least, not to fostering the growth and health and diversity of the field. Can you assure everyone that Del Rey isn't growing its own writers?
You found our secret; Matt Stover was grown in my backyard, next to a chili plant. Seriously, our lists of writers are ever increasing. Last I checked we have added over 12 new writers to the Del Rey list with this past year (that's a lot considering we publish less than 40 new books a year). Getting people like Stover and Keyes and Bear to write Star Wars and Babylon 5 books was just for fun -- let's see what these people who are not normally associated with tie-ins can do with another person's world and make it their own.

and finally, as if you are still reading...

I really liked Ku's sentiments about kids and teenagers being abandoned. Too many parents overlook reading as an integral part of growing up. Don't do this. Nothing pisses me off more than seeing a ten-year-old sitting in front of a TV playing video games for hours on end. Pay attention to what your kids are doing! Pull down a battered old copy of A Wizard of Earthsea and explain to your kids exactly what reading this novel did for you. Foster the growth of your childrens' minds. If we let the next generation grow up on junk food and games, we're going to be in trouble. They'll all be too corpulent to take care of us when we're senile!

Teenagers: Read SF. Become cool. Get dates. It's all a part of the master plan, you know...

Copyright © 2001 Gabriel Chouinard

Gabe Chouinard is a reader, writer and editor that is very vocal in his support of cutting-edge speculative fiction. He detests skiffy, deplores Fat Fantasy... but is a good guy to have a drink with. Expecting his second child, Mr. Chouinard is now writing with much more frantic vigor, in the hopes of getting published before he has NO time...


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