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Dislocated Fictions
by Gabriel Chouinard

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drumbeats beyond the horizon

Have you noticed a strange vibe in the air? A tension, a knotted-bowel silent pause before the thunderclaps begin? That's what I've been feeling lately.

At first, I attributed it to eating too many green peppers in my pasta. But then I realized... it wasn't going away.

It was vaguely familiar. And then someone told me; "Hey, Gabe. That's fear."

Fear. Yes. I've heard of that....

Now, I'm generally the fearless sort. I don't go running and screaming like a little schoolgirl when confronted by obstacles set out to deter me like so many land mines in Serbia. I don't back down from confrontation, I don't sit idly by while the bullies kick sand into the faces of all the skinny pasty guys. I speak up, brandish myself like a living weapon, display myself like an undulating cobra -- I'm an easy target, by god, because I can puff up with the best of them!

So why am I afraid?

Because, like anyone, I am hardwired to feel fear when my loved ones are threatened.

Ah... but the flipside! Like anyone, I am also hardwired to be protective when my loved ones are threatened! And therein lies strength.

the splintering of the earth, the sundering of the universe

Recently, I've begun corresponding with a well-regarded fantasy author, whom I will not name here. Instead, I shall call him "John" for the sake of this column, and that will have to do.

John sent me an email last night, and his message contained a short passage that, while taken in the context of the entire mail, was really an insignificant little thing. And yet, it made me pause. And then it made me STOP. And then it made me think.

John's little passage was:

"I'm pleased to hear that you're not looking for stories that are all of one style. You sound like someone who truly enjoys the genre, and that alone is refreshing, because you see it with new eyes and I find your perspective fascinating."
That, my friends, scares the living piss out of me.

New eyes?

I have been reading and writing fantastic fiction for twenty of the past twenty-seven years. Granted, I'm no venerable sage when it comes to fantastic fiction. But I'd like to think that my particular brand of viewpoint is common, rather than exceptionally strange or fascinating. If my thoughts on the industry are indeed strange... then we're in deeper trouble than I had thought.

And then, hot on the heels of John's email came this message, posted on the SFFWorld forum:

I love your Dislocated Fictions column!! After I read your second column, I remember saying to myself "Hoo Boy, this guy is dead on target -- telling it like it is and not holding back." The column remind me of Bruce Sterling's fiery Cheap Truth zine from back in the early 80s -- and I mean that as a terrific compliment."
To be perfectly honest, I nearly shit my pants.

Are my views really so far out there? Am I really in the minority?

where do you go to get the best sesame chicken in this town?

Here's another one of those crazy, left-field thoughts of mine which seem to cause so much fascination.

The Wild Shore How do you know where to get good fantastic fiction?

In the past, I have defended publishers as money-making entities that cannot be blamed for being concerned with the bottom line, aka money. I have lain the burden of consumerism upon you, the readers/consumers. And I'm still right.

But now we need to look at the other side of the story.

Neuromancer Does anyone remember the Ace Specials with the same fondness that I do? Edited primarily by Terry Carr, this line produced some of the best (bar none!) speculative fiction EVER. Titles like Isle of the Dead by Roger Zelazny, After Things Fell Apart by R.A. Lafferty, Neuromancer by William Gibson, Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin... the list is long and impressive. It was a highly eclectic, highly original line of novels.

And it is sadly missed.

These days, there is no such thing as branding among the major publishers (save, perhaps, for Baen Books; one always knows what to expect from Baen Books!). And let's face it -- we all know how wonderful a job the so-called 'small press' is doing amongst the various niche markets. The truth is, the small press doesn't drive the market. Though their efforts are praiseworthy (and I do intend to do a column focused solely upon the small press in the near future), they do not have the visibility to appeal to the average reader. That is the sole property of the Big Houses.

And the Big Houses are doing a shitty job. In the Drift

Sure, good books are being produced by almost all of the Big House publishers. Sure, they're even doing a relatively decent job of marketing and packaging those good books (see China Miéville's Perdido Street Station for all the proof that you need...). They're still failing across the board.

When you boil it down, every book that is published is basically the same as a dot-com start-up company. The publisher is a venture capitalist, shelling out the cash in the hopes that the stock (novel) will do well, and earn high returns. In some cases, they're doing it right; there are plenty of fantasy and science fiction bestsellers that can attest to that.

In the majority of cases, they're doing miserably, horribly and criminally wrong.

do it right, or don't do it at all...

I've been thinking long and hard on these things. It seems to be something that's in my blood, something that forces me to consider the industry in all its ugly glory. I can't even make myself stop. And by bloody Christ, I have opinions on how to do things right.

First off, publishers need to remember that producing a book is a partnership. The author, AND the novel, are integral parts of the partnership. Too too often, authors are expected to mold themselves to the strengths of the publisher, when publishers should be, in reality, marketing to the strengths of the writers. But then, that's so glaringly obvious that it can't be seen; glass people looking out over a glass landscape, unaware that they're seeing their own reflections because those reflections are invisible.

Them Bones Publishers also need to think about branding, which is a powerful marketing tool, even in these days of brand disloyalty. Marketing to readers isn't the same as marketing to people buying sneakers, folks! Readers are, in general, discerning. Some follow fads, to be sure; but the majority of readers buy what they believe they will enjoy. How often have you bought a book that you THOUGHT would be good, and were disappointed? Why were you disappointed? Because it wasn't what you thought it would be?

The Ace Specials were a brand. When you picked up an Ace Special, you knew that it would be a quality piece of speculative fiction, even if you'd never heard of the author before. They had that reputation going for them. And people DID buy the Ace Specials. And weren't disappointed.

Where is that today? Where is the knowledge, in this attention-deficit world with thousands of distractions and choices, of picking out a book and KNOWING that you'll enjoy it? Why would publishers, who want to compete with all the myriad entertainment choices that surround us every day, ignore the idea of a consumer being pleased with a purchase?

Palimpsests So let's talk about the Next Wave.

Niche marketing is fine. Love it. But what about the ideal that we want this sort of fantastic literature that I'm encouraging to become the NORM, rather than the exception? Especially considering that the Next Wave is about a group of very individualist writers, all with their own styles and methods? How do we go about marketing such work to the vast masses?

If I were in charge of marketing the Next Wave, I'd aim it in several directions. I'd have a bit of cursory coverage within the genre field; but the majority of my marketing would be aimed at the young hipsters; college-educated, with plenty of disposable income and a penchant for intelligent, thought-provoking, and (above all) rebellious creative works. The people that made Fight Club such a successful movie. I'd throw it in the faces of everyone that likes techno music, and watches foreign films. Advertisements in non-literary magazines. You catch my drift? Aim high, but low at the same time; make it a part of popular culture! Use the powers of branding and commercialism to our advantage; after all, the IDEAS and the WRITING will stand up to the stress of being looked at as commercial if they're good. Call it "pretend branding." All a plan to coerce the system.

Green Eyes There are other, equally good and legitimate things that can be done to market this work, of course. I'm not going to give away ALL my plots! But the thing to remember here is that quality fiction needs to be recognized, and needs to be read. It's a part of our culture, and I don't even want to get into a dissertation on the decline of culture over the last century. That would take approximately 1,743,328.5546 columns; I really don't think I have the time. But keep in mind that, in order to work, a partnership needs to rely on both sides doing their utmost to ensure the survival of the business.

Publishers and writers aren't enemies. Especially in this day of e-books, e-mail, e-commerce, e-everything e-else. In order for books to rise above the morass of poppy, flashy bullshit, they need to stand out. They need to be special. And that means encouraging the special books. And the special publishers.

And the Ace Specials.

But then, those are just my thoughts. What do I know? I'm just some guy with fascinating viewpoints.

back to the old bump and grind

You know the song and dance. Time to discuss what you should be reading.

First off, you really owe it to yourself to pick up the work of Steven Brust. While not necessarily a Next Wave author, Brust comes startlingly close at times, and I would say that he is definitely this generation's Alexandre Dumas. He has a new novel, Issola, coming out in hardcover from Tor in July. I recommend that everyone read his backlist, and then pick up Issola. I guarantee, a good time will be had by all.

The Gift Other Voices, Other Doors Another author that I do consider a Next Wave author is Patrick O'Leary. Author of The Gift, a brilliantly strange fantasy novel, as well as the equally brilliant Door Number Three, Patrick has released a collection of short stories through Fairwood Press ( entitled Other Voices, Other Doors. I recently tracked this down (OK, I ordered it from Amazon... sue me!), and was not surprised to find that Patrick is one of the true genius short story writers left in speculative fiction. His tales range all over the place... but each is finely-crafted, and displays his talented wordsmithing. If you have read and enjoyed Gene Wolfe, Patrick O'Leary is your man -- there is even an introduction by Wolfe in Other Voices, Other Doors.

Now, I'm not big on promoting online works. That isn't my forté, nor is it a huge interest of mine. However, I would like to point you to Spicy Green Iguana (, which bills itself as "the Speculative Fiction Magazine Resource Site For Writers, Readers and Artists". While it isn't exactly the best site on the web, it is quite interesting. If nothing else, please read the columns of Paul T. Riddell; Paul is one of the best essayists working in the speculative fiction arena. Be forewarned; you may piss yourself.

Lastly, I'd like to thank Matt Stover, Michael Moorcock, and China Miéville for indirectly influencing this particular column. These are all gentlemen of the highest order. Buy their books. All of them.

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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