The Literati and the Science Fiction Ghetto

I’m reading King of Shards (Book One of the Worldmender Trilogy), by Matthew Kressel, now. If this saga ends anywhere near as good as it has begun, I will have found my new favorite 21st century spec fic author. But, more on that later…

For now, I’ll leave you with a quote, from Mr. Kessel, about how the literature establishment looks down on speculative fiction:

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The ‘First Paragraph Test’

When critiquing or beta-reading, my “first paragraph test” runs at about a 80% to 95% positivity rate. It goes like this: 80-95% of the time, the start of the story I’m reading would be better if the first paragraph were deleted entirely and the story started with the second.

For published works? It clocks in at about a 50/50 clip. I’ve found this is also is true when editing my own works…especially short stories that I think I’ve ‘finished’.

I haven’t had the chance to fully think through why this is—but, once I noticed it, there was no denying it.

What Makes A Thriller A Thriller?

What makes a “Thriller” a Thriller, besides Michael Jackson?

Some time ago, I had a long discussion with the most prolific consumer of both fantasy and horror books (and movies) that I know, my oldest son, about just what makes “horror” horror? Or, what makes a “thriller” a thriller, and not “suspense”? And so forth.

For example, what was “Alien”? What was “Aliens”? The same? If so, why do they feel so different?

Afterwards, I decided that I needed, for own sanity, to come up with a topology. Here’s what I developed:

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21st Century Jerks

Webster-Merriam defines “jerk” (the personality-type) as:
a) an annoyingly stupid or foolish person (eg, “was acting like a jerk”), or
b) an unlikable person, esp. one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded

But, look at the second definition. It is based on a social norm (“unlikable”). So, if, in the first place, the group norm is that of being cruel, rude, or small-minded, then what?

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Herzog on Cruise

Director/Actor Werner Herzog, age 78, regarding Tom Cruise:

“It struck me to see the relentless professionalism with which he worked. I wish I would never have a life like him. He would have his nutritionist on the set and nibble a few things every two hours. A very precisely balanced sort of diet — and working out physically. Not a life that I would like to live.”

From this interview.

Remembering the Pain

Even more so than kidney stones twelve years later, my peritonsillar abscess was the worst pain I’d ever experienced.

About twenty-five years ago, one of my tonsils died.

It became a lump of dead tissue, joined with the other, still living, tonsil only by their shared infection in and around my throat. In the middle of a Friday night, I looked in the mirror and they were touching. My airway was completely closed off.

My wife drove me to the emergency room, where I sat for the next six hours or so, until their ENT specialist could be reached (and, I speculate, sobered out, but I digress). When he arrived, that Saturday morning (looking a little bedraggled), he settled in and looked at my tonsils. He then told me it was an abscess and brought out a tool by which he intended to drain the puss out of the infected tonsils. For all the world, it looked like Toilet-Aid Tongs for Self-Wiping.

Tongs for the memories.

This was to be the first of those three surgeries that the doctor’s note mentioned. He was sitting on a little stool with wheels, while I was seated in one of those wide-metal based dentist’s chairs with the attached armature and lamp overhead. After warning me that it ‘might hurt a bit’, he then proceeded to reach into my throat with the tongs.

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NFTs: Assemblage for the 21st Century?

Once, when I was in my early adulthood, my girlfriend and I were in an artist’s gallery (that is to say, her dining room—she worked from home). And, in her gallery, what she displayed was something like nothing I’d ever seen before.

Hanging from her ceiling, at various heights, were mobiles of…well, let’s just say disparate objects. Okay, to describe it: For all the world, each of them looked roughly like the contents of someone’s kitchen junk drawer, super-glued together.

When we asked her how she got the idea for her ‘mobiles’, she corrected us. These weren’t “mobiles”, they were “Assemblage” (pronounced: ah-sem-BLAJ’).

Later, we, of course, had a lot of fun with that word. It became a shorthand for anything remotely pretentious. But, don’t get me wrong: as a former art major, I know that assemblage is a vital and important art form, with a lineage that goes back directly to Picasso.

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