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Dislocated Fictions
by Gabriel Chouinard

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Activism isn't just a right, or a trend. It's a necessity. Even when it comes to reading a book.

As such, I have been composing a trilogy. Not a trilogy of fat fantasy novels, mind you. This trilogy is an open letter to the speculative fiction community. Its aim is to encourage the entire community to open their minds, to open their eyes, and to pay attention. Everyone, from readers to writers to publishers to booksellers. After all, this is a community -- which means we should all work together as a community to ensure the survival of all that is good in speculative fiction.

I realize that this trilogy will be cutting into my promotion of specific writers; but then, I never set out to be a critic or reviewer (two wholly separate things). I set out to raise the awareness of readers and writers and publishers, to bring your attention to the important issues regarding speculative fiction. Along the way, we've discovered some of the Next Wave authors, and I'm definitely here to promote them. However, just naming off a few writers and telling you about their books isn't enough. That isn't activism of any sort. That's more chaff in the wind; everyone has an opinion, and my opinions aren't necessarily so spectacular that they'll rise above the opinions of anyone else. Opinions are easy. But taking on popular opinion, taking a stance on quality, educating... that's hard. That's activism.

open letter, part one

I've never been a big fan of manifestoes and mission statements and statements of purpose, To me, they always seem to read like the empty words of empty people that feel they've been slighted by society at large. Occasionally, someone with wit and talent comes up with something worthwhile (notably Bruce Sterling and the Viridian manifesto), but the vast majority of people that churn out soulless ranting diatribes against this or that need to just... simmer down. Slow up on the methamphetemines, folks.

No, I'm not a fan of manifestoes and mission statements and statements of purpose. I am, however, a fan of the Truth. Not 'truth', which is spoon-fed to society in small doses disguised in applesauce or jelly. Rather, Truth, capital-T Truth. The kind of Truth that you don't find on TV, or in magazines or websites or (shudder) advertising. The kind of Truth that doesn't show up in the newspapers or on CNN. See, answers are easy; True answers are hard.

Take, for example, all these disgruntled kids that are going around shooting up schoolyards. People are calling it an "epidemic", blaming it on music and movies and video games (but not books! Never books!). That isn't Truth. That's an excuse, a politically correct response to a problem, a sound byte on a news clip. I say, fuck that.

What about the real Truth? What about the fact that murder has become commercialized? What about the fact that these kids are responding not to music and such, but to the fact that taking a gun to school and popping off a few fellow students or (even better) a teacher or two, has become the "cool" thing to do? It's a trend, like Pokémon, shoveled down the throats of every teenage kid in America by media and parents alike. And everyone contributes to that perception of coolness, no matter how hard we wish to deny it, pretend it isn't true. We're a commercialized society; everything is commercial. Even murder.

This column isn't about kids killing kids though, is it? It's about speculative fiction on the edge; literate and literary writings from the blurred borders of reality. So what am I getting at?

In case you hadn't noticed, publishing is commercial. Not on purpose, and I don't fault them for it (notice that at no point do I call any publishers "assfucks"). Unsurprisingly, they're simply responding to our consumerist society. We, the consumers, have drawn the line in the sand that says "This is what we'll buy. Give us more, and we will continue to buy. Fuck with us, and we'll take you down faster than a 700-pound marathon runner having a coronary. Because we have all the power."

It's True. Everyone likes to blame publishers for producing books that are derivative and watered-down versions of what has gone before. "Oh, I don't read fantasy anymore. It's all just the same, over and over." Well, who told the publishers to produce books that were the same over and over? YOU did. You bought the things. You supported it. You dug your own grave, because you have all the power.

Perdido Street Station Publishers are looking for profit. That's the bottom line. I'm not saying that's how it should work, but that's how it does work. We cannot fault the publishers on this one; they're a business, and they're out to make money, just like Henry Bob Thornwild, owner of Henry Bob's Alabama Landscaping Company. And don't go blaming editors either. THEY all know that generic crap is still generic crap, no matter how dressed up in frilly undergarments it is. The editors over at Del Rey are fully aware of the fact that not every bestseller that they produce is an example of literary excellence; but who do you think pays the bills for China Miéville's novels? Without the moneymakers, there is NOTHING.

So here's a glaring dose of Truth: You determine what gets published. Simple as that. There is no mystic formula that determines whether a book is going to be a bestseller or not. There are no special ingredients that go into a Robin Cook novel that makes it sell better than, say, a John Shirley novel. It all boils down to what the readers want to read.

In the speculative fiction realm, we're in a special position. We don't have to worry about the mainstream authors and the mainstream bestsellers just yet. We are a select group of people, elitists of the highest order. We read and write sf and fantasy and horror. Grandma Blow down the street in Pedunk, Oklahoma doesn't care about us. She might read two hundred Harlequin Romance novels a year, but that doesn't even affect us. We have a comparatively small readership; therefore, we have a much stronger say in what gets published. If that makes any sense. It will, if you think about it for a while....

SF fans are a powerful group. Of all the different kinds of readers, we are the most directly involved in the business. (Now, I could be wrong, but I don't think so. I can't remember ever hearing about a 'mainstream fiction' convention... BoredomCon? Or westerns... L'AmourCon?) Our writers are the most accessible and approachable writers on the planet; most likely, they remember being fans themselves. We have the massive fandom support network. And, face it; we're the smartest.

Elitist? If the shoe fits....

So here's another bit of Truth for you to chew and salivate over.


Think for a moment. When was the last time you read a book and were excited? Really, deep-down, gut-clenching excited.

Once, science fiction and fantasy existed as the language of ideas. Speculative fiction represented the pinnacle of individualist creative achievement -- everything was once full of sheer, unadulterated, wide-eyed Newness of the worthiest sort, when vision and style determined creation....

Not so long ago, everyone was clambering about bringing speculative fiction kicking and screaming from the self-imposed ghetto and into the heady, neon-lit heights of real Literature. Do you remember? Do you remember when the best and brightest creators came forth and said; "We can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of literature. No longer will we languish in this marginalized land of genre. We will be respected!"

What happened?


Take a moment to look around. Examine your book collection, whether you've published them, written them, or bought and read them. Browse through the bookstore, and take a look at the speculative fiction. It should be fairly easy to find; every bookstore has a special section signed and cordoned off specifically for your viewing pleasure. Head toward the back of the store, and you can't miss it.

Are you happy with what you see? Proud? Content? Complacent?


Once upon a time, publishers realized that bestsellers were not birthed -- rather, they were grown in sterile vats and incubated in reviews written by people that didn't care about criticism or literary standards. What began as a few highly individual creators pouring out innovative worlds and thoughts has instead become a stunted parody of what once was.

That is wrong.

And YOU let it happen.

Think about that.

recommendations, or what you need to do Ash A Secret History City of Saints and Madmen

You thought I'd run off without telling you what happens next, right? You thought I'd forget all about books this time around.


There are tons of good books out there. You just need to know where to find them. Unfortunately, there isn't a specific publisher that is producing literary sf and fantasy, or a single imprint that is known for possessing the best stuff. You have to hunt, and it's a long and arduous hunt. There is a lot of crap that you need to wade through, as you'll know from your browsing of the bookstore.

I don't have all the answers. I don't know all the books that you need to read. One strength of the Next Wave authors is that they are diverse. Liking one doesn't necessarily mean you'll like the next one. And you know what? That is all right. We aren't out to gain all your love and devotion. The SOLE, SINGULAR, SOLITARY goal of the Next Wave writers is to produce work of speculative fiction that is done WELL. That's it. No major coups, no plans to burn the universe down, no spectacular images of God coming to visit and tell you to read Heroes Die.

Heroes Die On that note, here are some books that I recommend. Read them. Then, if you like them, tell everyone. That's part of activism, folks. You like these books? Tell your mom, tell your friends, tell the publishers and the guy that runs the camcorder for that cable-access show. Everyone. Because the word is all that we have.

Recently, Jeff VanderMeer was kind enough to send me a copy of his forthcoming book, City of Saints and Madmen from Cosmos Books (trade paperback edition) and Imaginary Worlds Press (limited edition hardcover). I read it in a white-hot glare of gorgeous, lush prose. This is one of the best books I've read in recent years, and I recommend it to everyone. Jeff is, without a doubt, this generation's Conrad, but with a lot of nifty little twisted parts of other writers added into the mix, while still retaining his own definite sense of identity. To sum this book up would be a foolish waste of time, and I won't do it. But read it, if you want to read a distinctive and memorable account of another world.

I also highly, highly recommend Mary Gentle's Ash: A Secret History. If you haven't read this yet, you're either insane or don't give a flying fuck about the world of fantasy. Check out this website's Best of the Year listings. There's a reason for Gentle being there.

Transmetropolitan Transmetropolitan And then, when you're finished with these big books, go out and pick up the trade editions of Warren Ellis's highly acclaimed series Transmetropolitan from DC Comics. For more on this, check out Scott Tilson's Sequential Art column here at SF Site. I'll just say that this is, bar none, the best sf novel that I've read in years.

Finally, if you just can't quite give yourself over to the dark side, and need to read some space opera, check out The Metabarons from Humanoids Publishing. Written by Alexandro Jodorowsky, with art by Juan Gimenez, this is space opera with a twist. Strangeness abounds... but it's also one of the best comics being produced these days. Pick it up, flip through it, and bring it home. Read it. At that point, I suggest that you go clean out your pants and check into a hospital to have that sudden case of puddingbrain taken care of.

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, and is editing the latest in a line of New Worlds anthologies. Still, he isn't making any money...

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