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Dislocated Fictions
by Gabriel Chouinard

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visiting the land of laughs -- crossing over to the mainstream

Jonathan Carroll may be SF's latest, best hope in gaining a toehold in the hallowed halls of the Literati. Which is indubitably a good thing -- good for Jonathan Carroll, good for SF, and most certainly good for mainstream fiction. Here is a wonderful example of the speculative genres spreading their influence beyond what is traditionally considered "SF" or "fantasy-cum-Fantasy" or "Horror."

Already, when you enter a Borders and want to buy a Jonathan Carroll novel, you don't look for it in the Science Fiction section. Rather, you are allowed to approach the literature section; you are given permission to access that corner of the store where the lighting is natural and there are people -- generally well-washed and NOT wearing Star Wars tee-shirts -- browsing about with the intent purpose of Finding Something Good To Read. Which is also a good thing.

Rafal Olbinski
The Wooden Sea
 
The Land Of Laughs
Jonathan Carroll is absolutely a wonderful and meanly-talented author, writing with vim and vigor and cheeky disregard for established tropes. He is a crossover writer, a bit like Shania Twain on a pop radio station, but infinitely more important. And we can all learn something from Jonathan Carroll, a lesson that we would do well to attend to. Jonathan Carroll flies in the face of genre conventions, and by doing so is considered a mainstream writer.

Why is that? And, more importantly, why should we, the SF community, give a shit?

That really is the argument. Why should the SF genre care about whether or not the majority of SF is considered literature? Speculative fiction will always be written, will always be published, will always have a place on the shelves at the bookstore; hell, we even get our OWN section! Our very own set of shelves, neatly labeled for convenience and ease of browsing. How much groovier can you get?

A lot, I think.

Put on your imagination cloaks, people. Because I'm going to require that you do some hardcore mental imaging, and it isn't going to be some easy utopian ideal that you must picture. This is going to be difficult.

in defense of assaulting the mainstream

Frighteningly, most of the industry pundits and fans seem content with being a niche market. At least, they claim to be on their messageboards and editorials and letter columns. I don't believe them, though. I'm a fan of Truth, you know, and I'm not about to pass up the opportunity to point at a massive gathering of frauds.

Actually, I think everyone already sees the truth, but is unwilling to buck the status quo. I mean, don't we all want to fit in? I, however, simply have the irreverence to state the Truth as I see it.

Think of Jonathan Carroll above. Jonathan Carroll, whose novels are in the literature section, with the SF novels downwind. Jonathan Carroll, the mainstream fictioneer! And yet, the SF community has claimed him for their own, simultaneously nudging and winking and pointing and saying; "Hey, look, it's one of ours! Innit KEWL, him sittin' over there, with those guys?"

The Tooth Fairy On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Ditto Iain M. (or not) Banks. Likewise dozens of authors who are producing work that is widely-regarded as literature rather than SF. And by God, we like to point them out! We like to say "Oh, you're reading Graham Joyce's The Tooth Fairy? Because Stephen King recommended it in On Writing? Oh, well, Graham is a spec-fic writer, you know...."

Deep down, there is a vein of status-envy running though the SF industry. Face it. Own up to it. We don't like being disdained by the masses, unless we're all antisocial basement-dwellers. We don't like being marginalized into an overcrowded niche where everyone starts to sweat and stink. I don't care how often you go around blathering to your SF-loving friends how PROUD you are to be a niche, how PROUD you are to be one of the few, the proud, the fanboys! It is an utter load of horseshit, and you all know it. Posturing won't get you very far. So knock it off. You aren't impressing anyone.

There's a fine line between contemplation and navel-gazing. And the SF industry is crossing over, has perhaps already crossed over, into the navel-gazing end of the spectrum. All because we're supposedly PROUD, content to revel in our little niche.

I don't think that's Truth. And I guarantee that many, many, many of you feel the same way. In those murky hours when you're vulnerable to your thoughts, you know that you lie there awake thinking how great it would be to be taken seriously. To be considered cool. To be thought of not as an SF writer or fan, but as a respectable writer or reader. No one wants to be marginalized.

Oh Gabe, oh Gabe, bless you for showing us the truth! We admit it, we want to be cool! But we want to know... how do we get there?

The same way that Jonathan Carroll got there. By being honest. By letting your individual tastes and world views spring forth into the great wide open, without concern for the rest of the flock. Consumers are sheep, remember? But there need to be more black sheep. More people who aren't willing to be squashed by genre conventions. More people who are willing to stand up and say: "Look! There's Jonathan Carroll, and he's FUCKING ONE OF US!!! LOOK!!! HE'S AN SF WRITER, YOU BASTARDS!!! SIT ON THAT ONE AND SPIN, YOU BLOATED LITERATI PUNKS!!!!!"

A secret. If we don't think of ourselves as a niche, if we don't relegate ourselves to those tiny pigeonholes, neither will they.

Truly. Look at movies. Movies were originally a curiosity, definitely marginalized under the mighty powers, and reviled as a meaningless medium not even worthy of being termed an 'art'. Yet movies are now considered a fine art form, and have been used as commentary on countless themes and ideals. At its best, film is one of the best mediums for telling certain tales. No longer are movies a niche. They are universally accepted as a means of entertainment and thought-provoking art. Movies have grown up; have matured.

SF needs to do the same.

It's amazing that we don't trust our inherent goodness. It's amazing how we continue to allow speculative fiction to be given the shaft when it comes to being taken seriously on a global level. And I will argue this point until I'm blue in the face and gasping up hairballs: fantastic fiction is deadly serious, as serious as a heart attack. It has purpose, it has REASON, and it is quite worthy of being accepted as commonplace and GOOD. People seem to either forget that, or not want to admit it. We're too concerned with our image. We're too concerned with not being labeled a 'fanboy', or 'geekish'. We are still in the proverbial closet.

That's why we need to assault the mainstream. That's why we have to champion our speculative literature beyond the halls of fandom, to the world at large. That's why we need to take ourselves seriously, and promote that seriousness to everyone we know. We owe it to ourselves and our medium to flaunt our best and brightest. Without people like Michael Moorcock and his genre-bending and straight mainstream fiction, without Jonathan Carroll and his twisting depiction of speculative ideals, without Graham Joyce and his blurry not-quite-any-genre novels, we'd be lost and doomed to a niche forever. A niche that we'd inhabit until we all died of complications from inbreeding, drowning in the sweat of desperate fanboys.

Consider what it would be like if we all thought above the curve. Consider the possibilities if we all stopped whining and navel-gazing, and instead promoted SF as cool and worthy of outside attention. Consider what it would be like to be taken seriously by the masses, rather than scorned or ignored or looked-over in favour of the new Dean Koontz or Danielle Steele.

Heady thoughts, n'est ce pas?

more alternatives, divided by thirds...

I may have mentioned before that there are plenty of works out there that have managed to slip beneath my radar. Unsurprising, considering some of the best speculative fiction is being produced in England and other points of the globe, where consumerism isn't quite so rampant and out-of-control. (Although, to be fair, they are catching up to the States...) And so I have a trio of recommendations this time -- and not a single one is American.

The 3rd Alternative The 3rd Alternative Most prominent is a magazine, The 3rd Alternative. Published by TTA Press and edited by Andy Cox (ttapress@aol.com), The Third Alternative is an A4-format, slickly-produced magazine that blends speculative fiction, art, commentary, book and film reviews. Produced (seemingly) bi-monthly (though I must admit, I don't think they're quite at that schedule, though they offer six issue subscriptions per year), TTA is considered a semiprozine; but I think that will soon change. TTA is going to be a major player in the speculative fiction arena -- I have no doubts about it.

I recently received issue #27 in the mail. I was a bit apprehensive; I've seen too many magazines that have been touted as cutting-edge and literate and all the other adjectives that get slung around with reckless abandon. So I was a bit surprised to learn that The 3rd Alternative lives up to its hype.

Here indeed is a magazine that is Doing It Right. Not perfectly, by any means, but at least Right. Like its kindred spirit, The Edge (also a UK-based magazine, which unfortunately seems to have quietly died...), The 3rd Alternative approaches speculative fiction with dead seriousness. No pulpy, gaudy artwork; no self-stroking editorials; no bland and lifeless articles. Instead, we are treated to stellar design, worthy fiction (though #27 had no Name authors, TTA has published stories by people like M John Harrison, Graham Joyce, China Miéville, Peter Straub, etc. in previous issues) and good, in-depth articles and reviews.

While issue #27 was no real standout, it was nonetheless competent at least, and in places defined a sense of brilliance that made me grin deliriously. I see great things in store for The Third Alternative. So much so that I've actually added my name as a subscriber... and begged off for a messageboard at their website to devote to Dislocated Fictions. Right there, alongside people like Ellen Datlow, China Miéville, Graham Joyce, M John Harrison, Peter Straub and twenty-nine other writers and commentators and luminaries. Go there and say hello to everyone: www.ttapress.com/message.html

I certainly look forward to future issues, and I urge everyone to visit their website and subscribe. There are too few magazines offering the kind of fiction that TTA provides.

My only beefs are thus: I wish I knew what their schedule is! If they're bi-monthly, I'd like to see bi-monthly issues. And I would like to see more attitude in their presentation. While TTA has a definable sense of editorial direction, they tend to be a bit quiet about it. I hope that they find their agenda, and then broadcast it. I think the folks at TTA Press are entirely too quiet about their presence!

My second recommendation goes to a fairly new comic publisher located in the UK as well. Com.X is an upstart publishing company that has set out to revolutionize a stagnant British comics scene with their edgy, off-beat tales. They have a funky, very cool website at www.comxcomics.com that is well-designed and offers loads of information on their titles.

So far, there are three regular series: Bazooka Jules, Razorjack, and my personal favourite, Puncture. The website also lists upcoming projects, including work done by my pal Antony Johnston, whose Frightening Curves I reviewed last issue. The art and writing for all of these comics are above-average, and at times border on the brilliant. Irreverent, hip, full of satire and energy, the comics produced by Com.X are funky additions to the comic canon. And, if I may be so bold, they seem to have taken the early days of 2000A.D. and twisted them on their ears, producing work that completely blows away current 2000A.D. work.

Finally, the Mighty Troika.

There are three British writers who have consistently changed the face of speculative fiction. Three intrinsically-linked, yet wholly separate authors who display such pure creativity and stark individualist vision as to mark them above-and-beyond the constraints of genre.

You know the names: Moorcock, Harrison, Aldiss.

All three have either new or forthcoming novels or collections coming out soon. All three exemplify the cross-over potential inherent in literate fantasy. All three require your rapt attention and strict study.

Michael Moorcock has been a pillar of strength within speculative fiction, seemingly forever. (Not really; it just seems like he's been writing for a thousand years or so...) From his rebellious sword-and-sorcery to the heights of his literary tour-de-force, the Colonel Pyat sequence, Mike Moorcock has been redefining the genre for decades. And he will continue to do so, I'm sure, until he finally expires thirty or forty years from now.

Mike's vast range is his strength, along with his stunning intellectual musings on the nature of reality, the possibilities that exist at the outer-most edges of meta-fictional exploration, and his spot-on probing into the nature of culture. Over a career that spans more than seventy novels and impossible-to-count short stories, Mike has been doing more than writing fantastic fiction; he has been mapping the territories at the edges of what has been deemed real, and the depths of the human condition. With his juxtapositions of reality and un-reality, Mike has been able to do much more than simply add to the canon of speculative fiction; he has managed to create a vast interlinked sequence of writings that are not only connected to one another, but also connected to OUR reality. For this, he deserves his place as one of the greatest fantasists of all time; he is one of the original originals.

[Cover] If you have not read The Dreamthief's Daughter, I firmly suggest that you rush out to purchase it. The latest in the highly-popular Elric tales, The Dreamthief's Daughter is an epic tale without the 'Epic' trappings of most Fantasy. It is also the best of the Elric tales, as it brings Elric's sword-and-sorcery cycle ever closer to the depth of Mike's other works. Be forewarned: if you are expecting a 'quick read', or 'something light', you must avoid this novel. While on the surface it reads quick, with plenty of adventurous doings, there are waters below that are dark and treacherous. And if you're looking to REALLY stretch those mental muscles, I recommend King of the City, which is arguably Mike's best 'novel' so far... which will surely change once The Vengeance of Rome is finally published... (I should mention that you need to read Mother London and London Bone before delving into King of the City!)

M John Harrison is the second of the Troika. Like Moorcock, Harrison has been writing for decades. Like Moorcock, Harrison is considered as one of the 'new wave' writers who helped to redefine SF in the 50s and 60s. And that's where the similarity ends. Sort of.

Travel Arrangements M John Harrison is one of the world's best writers of short fiction. He is a master of the form, and an equally talented novelist. If you need convincing, rush out RIGHT NOW and grab a copy of Signs of Life. This is one of the best novels that I've read in a few years -- funky SF at its thought-provoking best. Harrison's deft mastery of language is a wonder; I often find myself re-reading passages for the sheer joy of the language, which isn't something I can say about most SF writers.

If, however, you wish to witness Harrison at his stellar, over-the-top-of-the-heap best, you need to read Travel Arrangements, his most recent collection of brilliant short stories. Spanning tales from the 80s to 2000, we see a perpetual evolution of style in Harrison's work. These stories run the gamut from romanticized lushness to stark, barren, staccato tales that bring to mind the works of Charles Bukowski. Again, here is a writer who displays a vast range of styles and techniques; this is a collection that will leave you wondering what you're going to read next as you traipse across genres with unholy abandon. Truly an impressive illustration of M John Harrison at his best.

Viriconium I cannot even explain the effect of Viriconium, Harrison's sprawling fantastical masterpiece, which I recently re-read for what could only be the tenth time. Many people have tried to review the Viriconium sequence; and all have, I think, failed miserably. This is a work that defies description, defies criticism. I refuse to even make the attempt. Rather, I will simply state that no other work has coloured my own writings quite like Harrison's Viriconium. This dream-like entity has consistently re-shaped my own views of fantastic fiction every time that I read it -- it has, I'm convinced, a life of its own. I am certain that I will continue to re-read the entire collection for decades, and it will continue to affect my outlook on fiction.

The Moment of Eclipse Lastly, we come to Brian Aldiss, SFWA Grand Master and one of fantastic fiction's greatest living legends. I will not go into too much detail for Brian; any in-depth probing into the works of Aldiss would take a year to write, as he possesses a HUGE list of works. However, I recently wrote a review of his collection The Moment of Eclipse, which can be read here at SF Site, where I at least explain why I like Brian Aldiss so much.

These three, this Mighty Troika, have left a lasting imprint upon speculative fiction. Sadly, in this decade of Big Fat Fantasy and Sweeping Epics, they are too often overlooked in favour of people like Tad Williams (who owes much to these authors as well, as he is quick to point out!) and Robert Jordan and Kevin J. Anderson. If you truly want to see the possibilities of speculative fiction, I urge you to check these three authors out. They are supreme individuals, creating supreme individualist fiction. Read them. Study them. And praise them as they deserve.

deep breaths, final thoughts

This is the eighth Dislocated Fictions that I've written -- four solid months of opinionated ranting and promotion. My goal of introducing people to newer, edgier works and older, perhaps forgotten friends has been, I think, fairly successful. Though there have been plenty of people who have disagreed with my views, my ultimate goal has been to provide one view of the industry and one view on how we can better the industry. I think I've been succeeding, for the most part, and judging by the strong reactions (positive and negative) that I've received. Really, I enjoy getting your email, whether you want to bitch me out for something I've said or to praise me! So keep them coming, as I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Since a bi-weekly column just wasn't enough (yeeeeaaahhhhhh....), I've also begun writing for a new site called Revolution SF. A thoroughly entertaining site devoted to SF, Revolution SF may seem like a new kid on the block; however, it was created by Shane Ivey, one of the folks responsible for the much-lamented Zealot.com. I hope you all go and check out their new 'zine, as they deserve your attention. They're funny, they're entertaining, and they have a wonderful outlook on the future of SF. Go there. Thank all of the writers. And become a Revolutionary.

Copyright © 2001 Gabriel Chouinard

Gabe Chouinard is a reader, writer and editor who 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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