A Wrinkle in Time

17 July 2017


Octavia Butler: Writing Herself Into The Story

15 July 2017

From National Public Radio:

Octavia Butler used to say she remembers exactly when she decided to become a science fiction writer. She was 9 years old and saw a 1954 B-movie called Devil Girl from Mars, and two things struck her. First: “Geez, I can write a better story than that!” And second: “Somebody got paid for writing that story!” If they could, she decided, then she could, too.

Eventually she did exactly that. Octavia Estelle Butler became one of the world’s premier science fiction writers, the first black female science fiction writer to reach national prominence, and the only writer in her genre to receive a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. (“You have a Genius Grant,” Charlie Rose said in a 2000 interview. “They don’t call it that,” she corrected him firmly; “somebody probably made that up.”) When she died in 2006, she was lauded as a pioneer, an icon and one of America’s best writers.

. . . .

“Octavia Butler: Telling My Stories” is an exhibit currently at the Huntington Library, in the Pasadena suburb of San Marino, Calif. Curator Natalie Russell went through some “8,000 manuscripts, letters and photographs, and an additional 80 boxes of ephemera” to create an exhibition that shows, in chronological order, how Butler’s career was born and evolved, and what influenced her.

Large glass cases hold early notebooks and drawings, report cards from her days at Pasadena City College and notes to herself about character development. Early copies of her first editions are here. So is the one-page letter from the MacArthur Foundation notifying Butler she’d been chosen as a fellow in 1995.

The walls are hung with blowups of Butler’s childhood drawings and the affirmations she repeated to herself: “I am a best-selling writer, I write best-selling books,” one says. “Every day in every way I am researching and writing my award-winning books and short stories.”

That encouragement was probably essential: Butler faced a lot of challenges. She grew up black and poor in Pasadena, Calif., when legal segregation was dead, but de facto segregation was very much alive. She was also shy, unusually tall for her age, and not particularly social. “I’m an only child,” Butler told Sci Fi Buzz. “I had no idea how to get along with other children. And also, I was a strange kid who learned to stay by herself and make things up.”

She often made them up while sitting on the porch at her grandmother’s chicken farm, in the High Desert town of Victorville, Calif., where she dreamed about animals. The drawings of horses that illustrated one of her early stories are on the walls at the Huntington. After Devil Girl, though, Butler switched to science fiction, determined to make that her career.

. . . .

She went to Pasadena public schools, then got an associate’s degree from Pasadena City College. And she kept writing. She had short stories published here and there while she held what she called “lots of horrible little jobs” —warehouse worker, dishwasher, potato chip inspector. (“The one good thing about all those jobs was they left her mind free to think about her characters,” Russell says.) Butler’s first book, Patternmaster, was published in 1976 and caught people’s attention. It became part of The Patternist series; the stories revolved around a group of elite beings with telepathic superpowers.

Link to the rest at NPR  Here’s a link to Octavia Butler’s books.

PG would note that residents of both San Marino and Pasadena would probably dispute that, while the two communities are adjacent to one another that San Marino is a suburb of Pasadena.


Our 16 Favorite ‘Harry Potter’ Moments

27 June 2017

From The Ringer:

Twenty years ago, Bloomsbury published J.K. Rowling’s debut novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first installment in a saga that would span seven Potter books, eight Potter movies, and numerous spinoffs and extensions, in the process becoming one of the defining stories of a generation. Since Dumbledore isn’t here to help us pull any celebratory crackers, we’re marking the occasion by toasting Rowling’s magical creation — and the two decades of euphoria that it’s brought us.

. . . .

“The Prince’s Tale”

Zach Kram: “The Prince’s Tale,” Deathly Hallows’s 33rd chapter, is a writing masterpiece independent of its connection to the rest of the series. Young versions of Snape, Lily, and Petunia form with defined personality and motivation in mere sentences; relationships blossom and wither over the course of a concisely illustrated arc; the memory vignettes build atop one another with a clear exposition, climax, and emotional denouement.

But of course, “The Prince’s Tale” is not disconnected from the rest of the series. It solves perhaps the books’ greatest mystery and gives a richly complex character the firm definition around which he’d skirted for the previous six and a half books. The one-line callbacks to previous events — “Keep an eye on Quirrell, won’t you?”, Fleur and Roger post–Yule Ball — ground the memories Harry observes in familiar territory, while the new revelations pack a fierce emotive punch. In the most compelling scene, Dumbledore displays shades of cruelty while Snape counters with a gentle, sympathetic approach — a twist that still tracks from a narrative perspective. Rowling plays every note perfectly, and any reader can’t help but cry.

. . . .

Shopping in Diagon Alley

Kate Knibbs: As a middle schooler discovering Harry Potter, I cherished the scenes in Diagon Alley where Harry, flush with magical orphan gold, has his pick of the finest broomsticks, robes, and assorted wizard paraphernalia. Going on a school-supply shopping spree with unlimited funds in an enchanted British alley sounded like heaven, and the gulf between my reality (rifling through college-ruled notebooks) and the “barrels of bat spleens and eels’ eyes, tottering piles of spell books, quills, and rolls of parchment, potion bottles, globes of the moon” that Harry encounters sums up the wish-fulfilling appeal of the franchise, which offers a more exciting, dangerous parallel school life tucked just beyond Muggle sight.

Link to the rest at The Ringer


Is It Possible to Misread Octavia Butler?

22 June 2017

From Book Riot:

“Bloodchild” is one of Octavia Butler’s most haunting, disturbing, and memorable stories, and is also one of the greatest things she ever wrote. And I know that I am not alone in having completely misread the story and entirely missed what Butler had accomplished.

The titular tale in Butler’s one and only short story collection, “Bloodchild” describes a future where humanity has developed a complicated relationship with a race of insect-like creatures known as the Tlic. The Tlic chooses one child from every family to be impregnated and “host” Tlic eggs inside their body. In exchange for this service, the Tlic “allow” the humans to live inside a special compound and ingest sterile Tlic eggs, which work as a kind of opiate, keeping the humans calm and happy. Oh, and the humans are banned from possessing any weapons, for fear of an uprising.

In this world, a boy named Gan has been chosen to host the eggs of T’Gatoi, the Tlic in charge of relations with humans in the compound. T’Gatoi lives with Gan’s family, sedating them with her sterile eggs and repeating how lucky they all are to have her living with them. When an injured and impregnated man is found outside their house, Gan watches in horror as T’Gatoi surgically removes the Tlic eggs from the man’s body to prevent them from eating him alive from the inside out. Gan realizes the danger he will be in if he lets T’Gatoi lay her eggs inside of him, but she declares that if he won’t be her host, then she’ll just use his sister instead. Gan chooses to be a host on the condition that T’Gatoi doesn’t report the illegal firearm Gan has been hiding.

The first time I read this story, I assumed Butler has written “Bloodchild” as an allegory for slavery in North America. It seemed so obvious: the Tlic are the white enslavers and their controlling humans’ bodies for their own benefit, all while insisting the humans are fortunate to be subjugated.

But Butler had heard this interpretation many, many times before, and wrote in her afterward to “Bloodchild” that she was “amazed” people kept viewing her story through this lens. And although the story does includes a group of humans that are, in a literal sense, enslaved, this reading is a vast oversimplification of what Butler was doing with the characters and their motivations.

Link to the rest at Book Riot 

PG has lead a sheltered life and was unfamiliar with Octavia Butler prior to reading several essays about her on Book Riot.




How George Orwell’s 1984 Almost Didn’t Happen

8 June 2017

From Signature:

June 8, 2017, marks the sixty-eighth anniversary of the publication of 1984, a book that George Orwell almost didn’t manage to write. And when he did, it practically killed him.

As Bernard Crick wrote in the first complete biography of Orwell, at the time Orwell started to write about Winston Smith, Big Brother, and Ingsoc, Animal Farm was becoming an international sensation, and Orwell was having to learn to be more judicious with his time. A career journalist devoted to liberal causes, a new level of fame brought requests from publications that paid better than his regular work at the Observer. Orwell had just adopted his son, Richard, and his wife Eileen had died unexpectedly, so keeping the bank balance up made sense. And even if that hadn’t been the case, Orwell’s liberal-minded passion compelled him to broadcast his work to a bigger audience.

Still, he wanted to write a novel, one about a possible future inspired in part by the Tehran Conference of 1944. There, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill met to agree to a commitment to fight Nazi Germany. But Orwell saw something more sinister, believing that the world leaders actually met to agree on how to divide the world up among the superpowers, providing a blueprint for global totalitarianism.

. . . .

So even though he was already sick with the illness that would eventually become the tuberculosis that killed him, Orwell left London to live on the Scottish island of Jura (off and on) for the next few years, where he could try to focus on writing fiction instead of journalism. A steady stream of visitors and continued requests for journalistic work slowed the process, as did an extended stay in the hospital. Of course, when he finally did publish 1984, he reached his widest audience yet.

Link to the rest at Signature


Science fiction’s new golden age in China, what it says about social evolution and the future, and the stories writers want world to see

25 May 2017

From the South China Morning Post:

The science-fiction genre in China was little known before Liu Cixin was honoured with the Hugo Award for best novel in 2015 for The Three-Body Problem. The first book in Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, it tells of an alien invasion during the Cultural Revolution and has sold more than a million copies in China alone. The English translation was recommended by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to members of his book club, and praised by former US president Barack Obama as “wildly imaginative, really interesting”.

Last year, Liu’s compatriot Hao Jingfang earned a Hugo Award for Folding Beijing, in which the city is divided into zones, each with a different number of hours in the day.

Liu has been nominated for another Hugo Award this year, for the final episode in his trilogy, Death’s End.

. . . .

The two winning books are now being adapted for the big screen in China, marking a turning point for Chinese sci-fi and potentially expanding the genre’s exposure globally.

Some 104 original sci-fi titles were published in China in 2016, compared to 75 the previous year, and 461 novelettes were released last year.

Author Regina Wang Kanyu, 27, a long-time sci-fi fan, has witnessed its growth in recent years. “It’s the golden age of Chinese science fiction,” she says.

. . . .

Last month, writers Regina Wang, Wang Yao and Hao Jingfang attended Melon Hong Kong, the city’s first science-fiction conference to bring together Chinese and Western writers.

“It’s a market miracle,” says Wang Yao, who goes by the pen name Xia Jia. “Ten years ago [when I started writing], we could never have imagined that these opportunities would be available,” she says, referring to the translation of Chinese sci-fi books and film adaptions.

It’s not the first golden age of sci-fi in China, though. Wang Yao says that was between 1978 and 1983 during reforms initiated by late Deng Xiaoping. “It was thought that science fiction could cultivate a scientific spirit, and the authorities assigned authors to write books in the genre,” says Wang.

. . . .

 Although investors are eyeing sci-fi’s entertainment industry potential, the literature itself is not so highly valued. “The payment writers receive for fiction writing is very small. I also write for fashion magazines, which pay a lot more,” says Regina Wang. Since it is impossible to make ends meet writing sci-fi, most authors do it simply as a hobby.

Link to the rest at South China Morning Post


Star Trek: Discovery Proves That TV Is the Best Final Frontier of All

22 May 2017

From Wired:

BETWEEN 1967 AND 2005, 684 hour-long episodes of live-action Star Trek and 22 half-hour episodes of the animated series aired on TV. Allowing for commercial breaks, that gives us 521 hours of Star Trek, give or take. Add in the 13 movies, from 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture to Star Trek Beyond in 2016, and you wind up with more than 48 full days of Star Trek—not counting books and comics, which, if you want to argue about canonicity and amount of content, my DMs are open. (Not really.)

. . . .

And now the first real look at the long-delayed new show Star Trek: Discovery has finally frontiered. I’m gonna watch that show, too. All 15 hours of it, set to air on the subscription streaming service CBS All Access in the autumn. (When I showed my editor the new trailer, he said, “Sure, but who’s gonna get CBS All Access?” “Me,” I meeped. “For that.”) As a lifelong, devout Trekkie, I hear your concerns about the new show—why did they keep pushing the release? Why did showrunner Bryan Fuller bail for American Gods? What is up with that awful typeface on the intertitle cards?—but like Star Trek itself, I remain hopeful.

In fact, I am fuller of hope now than I have been about any of the movies since the whale one (which I liked). Because Trek’s serialized self, its television self? That’s Trek’s best self.

. . . .

The trailer’s visuals combine the shiny, lens-flaring, camera-tilting modes of the JJ Abrams and Justin Lin reboot movies. But that slickness is a sop to non-fans. Give me bulkheads that wobble and actors pretending to fall over when the camera shakes to simulate the loss of inertial dampers after a phaser takes the forward shields down to 30 percent. I mean, I get it: The structural rigidity of epic-sci-fi movies turns pretty much every Trek film (except the good ones) into a quest adventure with a third-act reveal and a finale of VFX and explosions. But audiences get enough of that these days from Star Wars and Marvel movies. A television show, with more time for story and presumably way less money in the budget, let Star Trek get back to its authentic guts.

Link to the rest at Wired



Bladerunner 2049

9 May 2017


Remembering The Host, a Scifi Book That Barely Wanted to be Scifi

7 May 2017

From i09:

Hey, remember when Stephenie Meyer wrote a scifi novel? Not just any scifi novel, but “science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction” (that’s a direct quote). Nine years ago today, The Host hit bookstands, becoming one of scifi’s strangest and most unwelcome additions.

Science fiction is one of those fields that’s both inclusive and exclusive… depending on who you ask, and what you’re asking them about. As someone who didn’t start seriously reading science fiction until I was in my 20s, I’ll admit it was a genre that took some getting used to. So, when the writer of the hyper-successful Twilight series decided to take her interpretation of horror fantasy and apply it to science fiction, it honestly didn’t seem like a terrible idea. It was like training wheels for readers curious about scifi— especially for fans of her earlier work (I wasn’t, but I gave The Host a try anyway).

On the surface, I’ll admit The Host had an interesting premise: It’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but from the perspective of the body snatchers. By the time the book starts, most of the planet’s been taken over, leaving a glorious utopia in its wake. The main character is a Soul named Wanderer (later Wanda), a parasitic alien who’s traveled from planet to planet looking for a place to belong, only to end up on Earth in the body of Melanie, a human host who’s resisting control. Sweet, two female characters in constant contact with each other… this will surely pass the Bechdel Test! Side note, it doesn’t.

In theory, this plot raises some excellent questions. What happens when a benevolent and altruistic species needs hosts in order to survive? They’re technically conquerers, erasing a civilization for their own benefit— but since they’re improving the world, do the ends justify the means? Do we as readers end up rooting for this parasitic species, since they’ve created a better world out of the one we’ve abused, or is it too hard for us to empathize with creatures that are taking our world from us? Most of all: Is this something we would do ourselves, given the opportunity?

Link to the rest at i09


The Field of Dreams Approach: On Writing About Video Games

15 April 2017

From Electric Lit:

Every year, more and more great essays are published on literary sites concerning video games. In the past year I’ve especially loved entries like Janet Frishberg’s “On Playing Games, Productivity, and Right Livelihood,”Joseph Spece’s “A Harvest of Ice,” and Adam Fleming Petty’s “The Spatial Poetics of Nintendo: Architecture, Dennis Cooper, and Video Games.” But for each great essay there are a handful of others written like apologies, seemingly perennial pleas to take video games seriously as a form of meaningful narrative.

I hoped to have a conversation with a writer about games that went a little deeper. There were two main reasons I turned to the Whiting Award-winning writer Tony Tulathimutte. The first was because of his response in an interview with Playboy, in which he said that his interest in gaming probably “had something to do with my desire to bend or break formal conventions in fiction.” The second was his three thousand word essay about Clash of Clans, “Clash Rules Everything Around Me,” which was exactly the type of essay about gaming I wanted to see more of. Tulathimutte is the author of Private Citizens, which we listed as one of the 25 best novels of 2016.

. . . .

Graham Oliver: Can we have this conversation without getting stuck trying to legitimize video games as a medium?

Tony Tulathimutte: “Are video games art?” “Have we had the video game Citizen Kane yet?”

. . . .

GO: What is the difference between video game-related essays showing up on a literary site, versus a site where the primary purpose is the intersection of video games and literature? What could that site do that can’t be done (or isn’t being done) otherwise?

TT: Part of it is just volume. You can’t have a general interest magazine like the New Yorker covering video games to the same depth or degree as it does film or music or even theater. Every big magazine at this point covers video games occasionally — I know the New Yorker has written about Minecraft and No Man’s Sky, for instance. New York Magazine just did a big essay on gaming more broadly.

But for some reason, there’s no video game editor at the New Yorker, no dedicated departments or verticals, except at newer places like VICE, Vox, The Verge. Unlike music or movies, video games aren’t equally distributed through the culture; it’s more compartmentalized. This owes in part to a marketing apparatus around games that caters to and fosters a specific audience, and because the audience for certain genres — responding to these pressures — became self-selecting, especially with respect to gender. Video games may be art, but they are also a STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] industry, which makes them no different from any other STEM field in that regard.

. . . .

 GO: I suppose I was thinking more about the effect on your mental state. For instance, I have to save video games for the end of the day, because I have a hard time going from the almost meditative state of game-playing into writing. How does it fit in, not in the sense of time but in how it interacts with your ability to produce writing afterwards?

TT: If a visual narrative enters my head before I start writing, it’s enormously difficult to pull myself back into writing. A huge amount of psychic inertia has to be overcome to transition from consuming a narrative to assembling one. I have a lot of wacko bird theories as to why. Perhaps language is such an information-poor medium that it demands a sparseness of input, so that you can have room to envision or create new stuff in your head. Maybe the act of viewing, which puts you in the posture of evaluation and judgment, beefs up the inner critic that makes it hard to write. That’s all pure superstition, I have nothing to base that on.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

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