“In Fantastika, the metaphor tends to move to the literal. In a naturalistic novel, the literal tends to move into a metaphor.”
John Clute, winner of multiple Hugo Awards and World Fantasy Awards, joins the show to talk about the history of science fiction, its market-based ghettoization and eventual superseding of realist fiction, the advantages of reaching one’s 70s and what it means to live after one’s time, his bar-coding model of identity and interaction and the loss of prestige, why the loss of streetcars explains so much about our time, and more! Give it a listen!
“I’m kind of addicted to aftermath as a description of a particular kind of literature, of art, of music. . . . I think Bob Dylan is the greatest aftermath singer-songwriter who ever lived.”
John also talks pretty extensively about Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel, The Buried Giant and how most critics got it wrong, his own obsession with ‘aftermath culture,’ the clash of temporal personalities and atemporal idiots, and the history of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which he co-edited with David Langord (and others). Plus, I get to break the news about the establishment of the Clute Science Fiction Library at Telluride!
“In an age of chaos, in which recognitions are fleeting, it seems to be manifestly interesting to work out how stories are being told so that they stay in the mind long enough to remember them.”
We talk about some books and movies in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):
- The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro
- The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
- Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
- Appleseed – John Clute
- The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
- Seven Samurai (The Criterion Collection)
- Elizabeth Hand
- John Crowley/Scott Edelman
- Michael Dirda 1, 2, and 3
- Theodora Goss, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, and Nancy Hightower
- Paul Di Filippo
About our Guest
Via John Clute’s entry from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:
(1940- ) Canadian novelist and sf critic, in the UK from 1969; married to Judith Clute from 1964. He has been the partner of Elizabeth Hand since 1996. His first professional publication, a long sf-tinged poem called “Carcajou Lament”, appeared in Triquarterly for Winter 1960 (i.e. in 1959), though he only began publishing sf proper with “A Man Must Die” in New Worlds for November 1966, where much of his earlier criticism also appeared. This criticism, despite some studiously flamboyant obscurities, remains essentially practical, and has appeared mostly in the form of reviews, many of which first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Foundation, Washington Post, Omni, Times Literary Supplement, New York Times, New York Review of Science Fiction, Interzone, Los Angeles Times, Observer, Science Fiction Weekly (see Online Magazines), the Independent, Strange Horizons and elsewhere. He has written two regular review columns: Excessive Candour for Science Fiction Weekly between 1997 and 2009; and Scores, intermittently in The Infinite Matrix 2001-2003, regularly in Interzone between 2005 and 2008, and in Strange Horizons from 2010. Selections from this work, almost always revised, have been assembled in Strokes: Essays and Reviews 1966-1986 (coll 1988), Look at the Evidence: Essays and Reviews (coll dated 1995 but 1996), Scores: Reviews 1993-2003 (coll 2003), Canary Fever: Reviews (coll 2009) and Stay (coll 2014). An ongoing project to construct models of story “moves” in the literatures of the fantastic is represented by a set of connected motif entries in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) with John Grant [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] and in The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror (2006), as well as in Fustian (2006 chap) with Jason Van Hollander, a long interview focused on these issues. In later essays – like “Fantastika in the World Storm” (Spring 2008 Foundation) and “Physics for Amnesia” (October 2008 The New York Review of Science Fiction), both assembled in revised form with other essays as Pardon This Intrusion: Fantastika in the World Storm (coll 2011) – he has suggested that a central task for Fantastika in the twenty-first century is to dissolve the cultural Amnesia that has arguably consumed the Western world since World War Two (see Horror in SF; Postmodernism and SF). Primarily for his critical work, he received a Pilgrim Award in 1994, the IAFA Award as Distinguished Guest Scholar in 1999, and a Solstice Award (see SFWA Grand Master Award) in 2012.
In 1960 Clute was Associate Editor of Collage, an ill fated Chicago-based Slick magazine which in its two issues did manage to publish early work by Harlan Ellison and R A Lafferty. He served as Reviews Editor of Foundation 1980-1990, and was a founder of Interzone in 1982; he remained Advisory Editor of that magazine until 2004, and then contributed the column mentioned above. He was the Associate Editor of the first edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1979; vt The Science Fiction Encyclopedia 1979), which won a Hugo award, and was co-editor of the much-expanded second edition The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993; rev 1995; further rev vt Grolier Science Fiction: The Multimedia Encyclopedia of Science Fiction 1995 CD-ROM; further rev 1999), for which he shared 1994 Hugo and Locus awards with Peter Nicholls. Though Clute and Nicholls were listed as editors, the book was in fact written mostly by them and Associate Editor Brian Stableford. The current third edition, again much expanded as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (online from 2011) edited by John Clute and David Langford with Peter Nicholls serving as Editor Emeritus and Graham Sleight as Managing Editor, has similarly been written in the main by its editors and Contributing Editors; it won a Hugo as Best Related Work in 2012. Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia (1995), which he wrote solo and for which he also received a Hugo in 1996, is a companion to sf, not in any way connected to the encyclopedias listed above. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) with John Grant, for which both editors shared a 1998 Hugo, deals with fantasy within a frame broadly compatible with that governing this Encyclopedia, which is its elder sibling.
Over his career, Clute has published several sf stories and two novels: The Disinheriting Party (in New Worlds Quarterly 5, anth 1973, ed Michael Moorcock; exp 1977), which is Equipoisal with the fantastic, but demurs into rationalizations at the end; and Appleseed (2001), which is a Space Opera with an anti-Religion bias. The Made Minds (AIs) who dominate much of the action manifest themselves throughout as Avatars allied to a Forerunner mentor in support of all surviving humans, who are shunned because of the sexual (see Sex) odour they emit; but as they are genetically deaf to god (see Communications; Gods and Demons), the galaxy-wide diaspora of Homo sapiens has created a Pariah Elite destined to become central combatants in the coming universal War against the Entropy-generating deity, as proclaimed for the first time in the book’s Slingshot Ending. [JC]
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald. The conversation was recorded at the Boston Marriott Burlington during Readercon 2015 on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Bio photo of Mr. Clute by me; no credit for the upper photo.
“The emotions are what interest me in writing erotica, rather than the hydraulics. . . . Essex House showed me that you could write erotica without pandering to the lowest common denominator”
Maxim Jakubowski has had an amazing multi-decade, multi-genre career as a writer, editor, translator and publisher. During Book Expo America in New York, we sat down to talk about how he feels about being The King of the Erotic Thriller, the silliness of genre labels, the perils of having a bad book habit (but not a “bad-book habit”), the story of publishing the first The Mammoth Book of Erotica, how e-books have amplified Sturgeon’s Law, how he managed to make a killing off the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon, and more!
“As a publisher, you have to accept that it’s a business. And genre was always accepted as solid, an area where you don’t lose money: crime, fantasy, science fiction, horror, thrillers.”
- Michael Dirda
- Phillip Lopate
- David Rothenberg/Clive Bennett
- Theodora Goss/Valya Lupescu/Nancy Hightower
- Jesse Sheidlower
About our Guest
Maxim Jakubowski worked for many years in book publishing as an editor (including titles by William Golding, Peter Ackroyd, Oliver Stone, Michael Moorcock, Peter Ustinov, Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Paul Ableman, Sophie Grigson, Marc Behm, and Cornell Woolrich) and launched the Murder One Bookshop, which he owned and ran for over 20 years. He now writes, edits and translates full-time in London. He was born in London and educated in France, and his books have been translated into many languages. From an early age, he was always fascinated by popular culture and his writing and editing has criss-crossed all areas, from science fiction & fantasy to thrillers and, inevitably, erotica.
He conceived one of the genre’s first major contemporary anthologies, The Mammoth Book of Erotica, which has been followed by 18 more volumes, as well as four books devoted to erotic photography. In addition to more than 80 collections in other genres, Maxim has also edited the Sex in the City series, and run the Eros Plus and Neon lists, alongside such crime imprints as Black Box Thrillers, Blue Murder and Maxcrime.
Credits: This episode’s music is Song for Bob by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The conversation was recorded in Mr. Jakubowski’s hotel room in Manhattan on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded at home on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photos of Maxim Jakubowski by me.
In the new issue of GQ (April 2013), there’s a feature called The New Canon: The 21 Books from the 21st Century Every Man Should Read. It’s not something that I take too seriously, since this is the same magazine that decided last year to promote bucket hats as a spring/summer accessory. Still, I’m compulsive about literary lists, especially when they provide the opportunity for me to see how far I’ve journeyed off the contemporary literature track.
The list, as the introduction puts it, is “numbered but not ranked,” which is to say that it provides no guidance at all, except perhaps how to fit these entries in for space. It’s also exclusively fiction, which is fine, since I don’t read poetry and that issue already has a column on “this season’s best memoirs,” a genre that really could take a break.
So here’s the numbered but not ranked list:
- The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
- The Human Stain – Philip Roth
- The Road – Cormac McCarthy
- White Teeth – Zadie Smith
- True History of the Kelly Gang – Peter Carey
- 2666 – Robert Bolano
- Tree of Smoke – Denis Johnson
- Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned – Wells Tower
- The Fortress of Solitude – Jonathan Lethem
- Pastoralia – George Saunders
- Runaway – Alice Munro
- Austerlitz – W.G. Sebald
- Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
- Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
- The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach
- Netherland – Joseph O’Neill
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
- The Line of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst
- Saturday – Ian McEwan
- The Yellow Birds – Kevin Powers
- The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri
Not bad! I was expecting more knuckle-headed bro-prose, a fiction equivalent of Tucker Max or Timothy Ferriss out there. Lucky for me, I’m so outside the loop on contemporary writers that I don’t even know who would qualify for that category.
So how do I measure up to GQ‘s literary bar? I’m amazed to see that I’ve read eight of the 21 books on their list. I thought I was far more esoteric than that:
The Corrections • Back when it came out, before I worked out my belief that life is too short for shitty novels. I read it in the month after 9/11, so I wasn’t thinking straight. Cut me some goddamned slack, alright?
The Human Stain • Maybe my least favorite of Roth’s American Pastoral books. The GQ writeup cites it as “the best book on sex, scandal . . . and political correctness in the Lewinsky Moment.” It’s also about a black guy passing for white, but that’s part of what makes it my least favorite of those books, and probably why GQ doesn’t include that in the “best” part. Also, they write, “Roth coined the famous phrase ‘ecstasy of sanctimony’,” which I swear to God I have never heard/read until this weekend.
Austerlitz • Hands-down best book on this list. You need to read all of Sebald’s books. I was going to write “novels” there, but Sebald’s writing defies the fiction/non-fiction categories in a much more interesting way than the spate of writers who spice up their memoirs by creating utterly false events. Stop wasting your time reading silly blogs and go read Sebald!
Cloud Atlas • I’m a fan of Mitchell’s work and loved the Pynchon/Calvino meta-structuring, where the novel is built like a series of nested narratives in a symbolic logic sequence (not, as GQ writes, “six rollicking story lines connecting disparate-seeming characters through reincarnation”). It jumps genres and offers plenty of thrills, along with profound thoughts on various modes of art. Give it a read.
Gilead • I’m hoping to get Marilynne Robinson on my podcast someday, once I’ve read some of her essays. She’s able to write about quietness, earnest faith and day-to-day life much better than her contemporaries. I want to reread this one before I start on her followup to it, Home.
Netherland • One of the first novels I read on a Kindle, so I’m thinking maybe I need to cut it some slack, because I wasn’t used to the reading experience and not knowing how far along I was in a book. I enjoyed the first chapter, but felt it dragged on pretty interminably after that. Enough people I respect dig it enough that I think I need to give it a reread.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao • I’ve gone on record saying that it’s a good novel that feels like a prose-adaptation of the Hernandez Brothers’ Love & Rockets comics, with the Dominican Republic standing in for the Palomar parts. I mean that pretty much as a good thing, but I also mean, “Those characters feel like they were lifted from Beto and Jaime’s strips in ways that feel really obvious to me but might not occur to critics and readers who aren’t familiar with the source matter.” That said, I consider my recommendation to be far better than GQ‘s: “Because we’ve heard heard a book talk like this one: ‘Dude, you don’t want to be dead. Take it from me. No-pussy is bad. But dead is like no-pussy times ten.'” Seriously: that’s the entirety of their recommendation. Nothing about the history of the Dominican Republic, nothing about nerd culture, nothing about the female punker characters.
Saturday • I was on a bit of a McEwan kick a few years ago, but wound up feeling like he was a writer who was working almost completely to match E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. This one, about a London surgeon whose life gets uprooted when he’s stuck in traffic because of an anti-war (Iraq) march, didn’t feel as formulaic as Amsterdam, but still felt somehow . . . modeled. It gets points for having a House-like medical diagnosis play a major role in the plot.
That wasn’t so bad. The only one I regret spending time on was Franzen.
What about the ones I haven’t read? I’ve got that Cormac McCarthy book on my Kindle, but never started it. Never saw the movie, either.
I feel like I would’ve been compelled to read Zadie Smith if she’d been around when I was a student at Hampshire, and that notion has totally repulsed me from even giving her a shot. Which is to say, I’m quite cognizant of my irrational biases. I try to overcome them, but there are only so many hours in a day. I went to a college that had no course requirements but did have a “third-world expectation”.
I was intrigued by the PR for 2666, but I lay down and it passed.
I thought about reading Tree of Smoke several times over the years and even considered buying it this morning when I saw it on bookcloseouts.com, but I opted to buy some John Hodgman books and the Complete Poems of Philip Larkin instead.
I’ll likely get around to that George Saunders collection; I really dug CivilWarLand in Bad Decline when I read it (c. 1996), but I haven’t been much of a short-story guy in recent decades. Now that he’s in vogue again, I’ll put off reading him for a while.
I know I really need to get to Alice Munro, and will.
I think I have a copy of that Lethem novel in my library, but I may have traded it in when I went through The Mid-Life Culling.
I heard that The Art of Fielding is utterly mediocre. That’s another one that got a huge PR push from literary venues, and apparently left some readers feeling like they’d been swindled. B.R. Myers tore up the publicity machine behind it, which was fun.
I don’t know anything about the other ones. Let me know if you think I’m missing anything there.
What would I have swapped onto that list? I don’t have a ton of post-2000 novels on under my belt, but I’d make a place for Gould’s Book of Fish by Ricahrd Flanagan. I’d also replace The Human Stain with Everyman, Roth’s book about an old Jew who dies. Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil is more compulsively entertaining than any book on the list. I’d put Max Brooks’ World War Z on, as well as Richard Price’s Lush Life and Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity. Maybe Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists is better than one of the books I didn’t read. I bet it is. Walter Kirn’s Up in the Air? Probably that, too. Which kinda makes the point that there’s no way to establish a “canon” nowadays, especially not an instant one like this. I still wonder what books from, say, 1980 onwards will be read in 25 years, but that’s the sorta thing that occupies my otherwise idle cycles.
I have to give the GQ editors some credit, even if some of their actual recommendations/precis were laughably bad. Unless these selections were just bought by publishers’ PR departments, they seem to have some interest in relatively intelligent contemporary fiction. Their recommendations certainly weren’t as horrific as I feared it’d be.
Still, doesn’t mean I’m going to buy a bucket hat any time soon. Nor these.
[More literary ramblings await at my podcast, The Virtual Memories Show.]
What I’m reading: Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad, and the first 8 issues of the new Omega the Unknown miniseries, sorta written by Jonathan Lethem, whose prose I’ve never tried out. I oughtta sample some of his stuff on my Kindle, because I’m that awesome.
What I’m listening to: A new Mad Mix. More to come.
What I’m watching: Game 7 of Cavs/Celts, and wondering if the LeBron/Pierce matchup was going to live up to the ‘Nique/Bird shootout in 1988. It was pretty awesome.
What I’m drinking: Wet by Beefeater.
Where I’m going: Nowhere, not even for Memorial Day weekend. Sigh.
What I’m happy about: Getting out for a fantastic meal at Saddle River Inn on Saturday night, even if Dad raised the stakes on inappropriate conversation by launching into a discourse on the method used by my mohel. Seriously.
What I’m REALLY happy about: My pal Tina got married!
What I’m sad about: The Celtics won.
What I’m pondering: Microsoft’s strategy. Post to come.