Episode 235 – Liz Hand and John Clute

Virtual Memories Show 235:
Liz Hand and John Clute

“I think of a collector as a gardener, rather than someone who just buys books. Like gardeners, they do a lot of murdering. They cull books.”

It’s another Readercon episode! First, Liz Hand rejoins the show for a little conversation about what she’s been reading lately (it’s some creepy stuff, of course), the regenerative aspects of Readercon, why the novella is ideal for dark/spooky fiction, and whether the attendee wearing an ASIA t-shirt is doing so ironically. Then John Clute talks about the ruins of futurity and the launch of the Clute Science Fiction Library at Telluride Institute. We get into the need for visual presentation and accessibility of original books in their context (including dust jackets), his transition from book accumulator to collector, the externalization of one’s mind into one’s library, why he doesn’t write fiction, the Easter eggs he sneaks into the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, why Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek movie (except for Wrath of Khan), reaching a uniform degree of incompletion, generational shifts in SF/F, and the sneaky adoption of Fantastika. Give it a listen! And go buy Liz Hand’s new collection, Fire., and her Cass Neary novels: Generation Loss, Available Dark, and Hard Light!

“Most scholars, academic institutions, libraries are not interested in context. In that sense, the Science Fiction Library at Telluride is transgressive.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guests

Elizabeth Hand flunked out of college a couple of years after seeing Patti Smith perform and became involved in the nascent punk scenes in DC and New York. From 1979 to 1986 she worked at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. She was eventually readmitted to university to study cultural anthropology and received her BA. She is the author of many novels, including The Winterlong Trilogy, Waking the Moon, Glimmering, Mortal Love, Illyria, and Radiant Days, and the Cass Neary novels, Generation Loss, Available Dark, and Hard Light, as well as three collections of stories, including Saffron and Brimstone. Her fiction has received the Nebula, World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, Tiptree, and International Horror Guild Awards, and her novels have been chosen as notable books by both The New York Times and The Washington Post. She has also been awarded a Maine Arts Commission Fellowship. A regular contributor to The Washington Post Book World and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, she lives with her family on the coast of Maine.

John Clute is a multiple Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award winner and Visiting Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England. He is perhaps best known for his editorship, with David Langford, and others, of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (sf-encyclopedia.com). As an illustrious and prolific reviewer and essayist, he has profoundly influenced science fiction writing in his time.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Marriott in Quincy, MA during Readercon on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Liz Hand and John Clute in the Soundcloud by Scott Edelman; not sure who the other/younger one is by. Either way, they’re not on my instagram.

Podcast: War is a Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone

Major Zachary D. Martin, USMC (ret'd.) on the Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 29 –
War is a Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone

“There is a great tradition of very brilliant, outside-the-box, non-traditional, dynamic thinkers in the Marine Corps. . . . At the same time, our totem animal is the bulldog, not an animal known for its finesse.”

Zach Martin recently retired from the U.S. Marine Corps after 16 years in the service. But 25 years ago, he and your host were hyperliterate misfit high-school pals, trading Thomas Pynchon, Thomas Disch and Robert Anton Wilson novels. So how did he end up commanding Marine Recon forces in Iraq and Afghanistan as Maj. Zachary D. Martin?

“We greatly misunderstand the young men who go overseas and fight for us. We make them idols. They’re heroes, but we misunderstand what that means.”

We have a wide-ranging conversation about Zach’s career, the military’s risk-averse culture, the rise (and fall) of counterinsurgency strategy, what it’s like to give a kill order, how it felt to lose troops under his command, what it’s like to clear, hold and build a city in Afghanistan (and how it felt to see it all fall apart), how he fought all his best battles in Afghanistan wearing shorts and t-shirt, and more!

“The police we were training [in Afghanistan] were effective. I mean, they were gangsters, but provided you were willing to overlook their criminal activities, they were certainly maintaining order.”

We also discuss Virginia Postrel’s The Power of Glamour and how it reflects the nation’s perception of the military, how he was inspired by Bill Clinton (but didn’t reckon with survivor bias), why he’d like to write a novel about his experiences at war, what books meant the most to him during his years in the service, the difference between motivation and volition, and why war is like a self-licking ice cream cone.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

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About our Guest

Major Zachary D. Martin (ret.) was most recently a member of Afghan National Police Advisor Team, and previously served as the Commanding Officer, Force Reconnaissance Company, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. His most recent deployment in that role was to Afghanistan in command of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines. He keeps a blog about his reading and writing at booksandmovement.net, where you can also find some of the articles he wrote during his career in the Marines.

Credits: This episode’s music is Life During Wartime by Talking Heads. The conversation was recorded at the home of a friend of Maj. Martin 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. Photo of Zach Martin by me.

Podcast: Readercon 2013 – Fairies and Zombies

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 15 –
Readercon – Fairies and Zombies

It’s time for a two-part mega-podcast! I visited the 24th annual Readercon, conference on literary fantasy & science fiction (or “imaginative literature,” as it’s known) in Burlington, MA in July, and came back with a ton of interviews! Readercon is a fantastic (ha-ha) event, with great programming, a good booksellers’ hall, and lots of fun conversation; you should make a point of attending it if your tastes run toward the authors who come up in this and the following episode.

I (not-so-wisely) conducted five interviews in one day so, rather than make a 3-hour episode, I decided to split them up between boys and girls. This time around you get interviews with authors John Crowley and Scott Edelman!

“The big books I’ve written have never had a genre at all. They were certain kinds of fictional possibilities that interested and intrigued me and that I wanted to try to achieve. I wouldn’t say there’s an awful lot in Little, Big that’s realistic, but there’s plenty that was based on my daily experiences of life in New York City.”

–John Crowley

John Crowley is the author of Little, Big (or, The Fairies’ Parliament), which I consider one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. I’d known about it for a long time, but only read it a few years ago, after learning that my wife has been re-reading it every year or two since it came out in paperback in 1983 or thereabouts. You should go read it now or wait for the deluxe edition from Incunabula Press! (He’s also written other amazing books, like the Aegypt cycle, Engine Summer, and more.)

I talked with Mr. Crowley about readers’ devotion Little, Big, the problems he faced in writing it and how surmounting them opened the doors to his subsequent books, how the fantasy genre developed during the course of his career, what his favorite imaginary books are, why I felt unprepared for our conversation despite having read six of his novels, and what it was like to write copy for Maidenform bras when he was starting out.

“One of the most amazing things about writing to me is that, even though you’ve read, and heard, and seen thousands of stories, when you sit down to write one, you have no idea how to begin!”

–John Crowley

Even if you haven’t read Little, Big, you’ll find this a fascinating conversation about the writing process, literary reputation, and what it means to tell a story!

Scott Edelman on The Virtual Memories Show

“You have to write the things you love. They have to be extremely important to you, to give you that tingle when you read them. Because if you’re not moved by it, I don’t see how anyone else is going to be moved by it. . . .”

–Scott Edelman

Then I talk with Scott Edelman, a longtime writer, editor and Con-goer, about his zombie-fiction, being an editor at Marvel Comics in the 1970s, his storytelling tips and his pros and cons of workshops, whether he pays attention to literary markets, what Readercon means to him, and what it was like to move from one side of the convention table to the other.

“Why zombies? Because zombies are the closest we’ll ever see to what we’ll really become. Because there’ll be that day when we’re all walking husks without memory.”

–Scott Edelman

Enjoy the conversations! Then listen to part 2 of our Readercon conversations with Theodora Goss, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, and Nancy Hightower. Meanwhile, check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guests

John Crowley lives in the hills above the Connecticut River in northern Massachusetts with his wife and twin daughters. He is the author of Little, Big, the four-volume Aegypt cycle, The Translator, Novelties & Souvenirs, Lord Byron’s Novel, and Four Freedoms. You can find out more about the special anniversary edition of Little, Big here.

Scott Edelman has published more than 75 short stories in magazines such as Postscripts, The Twilight Zone, Absolute Magnitude, Science Fiction Review and Fantasy Book, and in anthologies such as The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Crossroads, MetaHorror, Once Upon a Galaxy, Moon Shots, Mars Probes, Forbidden Planets. His poetry has appeared in Asimov’s, Amazing, Dreams and Nightmares, and others. What Will Come After, a collection of his zombie fiction, and What We Still Talk About, a collection of his science fiction stories, were both published in 2010. He has been a Stoker Award finalist five times, in the categories of both Short Story and Long Fiction. He is the editor of Blastr at the Syfy Channel. You can find more about him at his site.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fairy Tales by Style Council. Both conversations were recorded in a room at the Burlington Marriott on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti into my Mac Mini, at my Ikeahack standing desk. File-splitting is done on a Mac Mini using Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photos by me.

I think in circles and circles are hard to break

After dropping Amy off at the bus stop this morning, I came home and realized I was on the precipice of nausea and that a 20- or 25-minute drive to the office likely would’ve pushed me over the edge. So I wrote in sick, went back to bed for 3+ hours, and found myself feeling better.

Then I spent the afternoon rereading Camp Concentration, which made me feel worse.

It’s a short, frightening novel about a drug that unlocks genius (at a price). With its unending state of war and secret prison camps, the book has plenty of contemporary resonance (published in 1968). I wasn’t thinking about its political issues when I picked it up; my reason for rereading it was the author’s recent suicide.

Beyond the horrifying vision of America, I was captivated by the romance of art and mortality as portrayed by narrator-poet Louis Sacchetti. I doubt I was too aware of the sheer Germanness of this worldview back when I first read it at the age 18, but 37 is a different story.

After I finished, I decided to sprawl out on a different sofa, so I went downstairs to my library and stared at the wall of books. I picked up Ahead of All Parting, a collection of poetry and prose by Rilke (tr. Stephen Mitchell), and flipped it open. The poet-narrator of the novel refers to Rilke and quotes him in the novel.

I like Mitchell’s translation of my favorite Rilke poem, Archaic Torso of Apollo, but I was disappointed to find that this collection is set in a font that’s remarkably similar to that of the Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read as a kid. I found myself looking for breaks like

If you ignore Lou Andreas-Salome’s Freudian analysis of how your mother dressed you in girls’ clothes as a child, turn to page 32

Anyway, I decided to look at the Duino Elegies, which I’ve never read. As it turns out, one of the key passages in Camp Concentration comes from the first elegy:

For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.

It sends me back 16 years to my Attic Greek class, where I was first exposed to the word deinos, that which is both beautiful and dreadful (or wondrous and terrible, depending on what my brother offers up by way of translation).

So that’s what I do on my sick days. I’m gonna go get more rest, then embarrass myself or others at our company picnic tomorrow.

The Week that Was

Sorry I didn’t write more last week, dear readers. Last Sunday evening, I had to pick up my dad at Newark Airport, but his flight was delayed an hour or so, and my ensuing late arrival at home led to a short night of sleep heading into Monday (we get up at 5am to start the day). That sequence left me off-kilter for the rest of the week. Since most of my work-days were spent working on my conference and trying to write code for the web-edition of our Top Companies ish, I never got settled enough to start a-writin’.

If you’re interested in the highlights — brunch with a semi-famous author, a shoot-from-the-hip panel discussion at a media relations class, and a fancy dinner that led to the final-straw decision to buy a GPS unit — then click “More”!

Continue reading “The Week that Was”