Other People's Stories

6 December 2001

Ahhh, I am young and naive. I thought that when you send a story to an anthology called Why I Hate Aliens, you'd make sure there were aliens in the story. They can be artificial aliens, as I told Trey. Neither race has to be human. They can be aliens that humans engineered into sentience -- or they can be non-sentient. You can come up with all kinds of permutations. I might even buy a story with an unreliable narrator who thought there were aliens (although that'd be a really tough sell, and I don't recommend it). But there have to be aliens.

I was baffled when Mary Anne was reading for Wet and people sent her stuff that was totally outside her guidelines, but I didn't realize it happened all the time. This is basically just the first day of submissions! Ack! Ah well. At least they've been boldfaced about it, and nobody has tried to BS me in a letter with anything like, "Well, aren't all of us aliens, really?" Because, actually, no. We're not.

(I'm not always relentlessly practical, but when people start asking really stupid rhetorical questions, I have no problem with rejecting their premise outright, with no hint of poetry in the soul. All aliens? You can get away with that point in a story that does other things, but in a conversation or letter, get off the pretentiousness train. Sheesh.)

By the way, in case you were wondering, Why I Hate Aliens has acquired a nickname: WIHA! Pronounced, of course, "Whee-hah!" I wouldn't be reading the slush for it so very early, except that I want to keep up at least a bit early on, so I'm not swamped later. It took us awhile to settle on this theme for the anthology; so, of course, now that I have the guides out and am getting stories, I can come up with more anthologies I'd like to do. So we shall see what next year brings.

Aside from that, I worked on the Not The Moose Book yesterday. You know you're too steeped in Finlandica when a typo like "saaid" looks like a totally reasonable word. But it progresses, a bit at a time. The Morphism Question of the Week is: what was written in Britain between about 1948 and 1960 that was good? What should I read from that country and time period? Actually, we could even extend it back to 1940 or so. There had to be somebody besides the Inklings. Tell me who, and I'll happily wander off and read them. It does need to be Brits, though, and not just anybody writing in English.

Although if you have things that you think I just have to read, please let me know. Really. This is one of the only areas in my life in which I take orders well. Go read this! you can say, and I will dutifully scribble it down on my library list, and off I will go, and if it isn't there, I may transfer it to my purchase list. I love book recommendations.

Tim directed me (and several other people) to this article. He hoped it would set me off. He knew it would set me off. And, oh, he was right. Okay, first of all, how can you have a total ordering of writers? Some things are apples and oranges! And, following right after that, how can you put Lucius Shepard at the top of a total ordering? Um. Just, no. I read his tribute issue in F&SF. I read Aztechs. I have read enough Lucius Shepard to last me a lifetime, thank you very much. Even the authors who seem like reasonably good choices make me want to quibble with the man -- for example, he says, "An inspired concept writer, Chiang may achieve fuller recognition when his collection, Stories of Your Life, appears in 2002." Ted Chiang is good. Very good. But -- who is not giving him full recognition? Who is not, in fact, enthusing their brains out about the very small handful of short stories he has published? They're good stories, they deserve it, but -- how could Ted Chiang possibly get fuller recognition? I have not met a single person who reads short speculative fiction with enthusiasm and doesn't think Ted Chiang is, at the very least, good. Does the author believe that a short story collection is going to make Chiang into a Name, the type of name that people who barely touch the genre will recognize? A short story collection. Sorry, but no. I don't see any sign that short stories are going to gain that much widespread popularity, with or without the Collected Chiang.

His other choices just left me cold. There were some I hadn't read much from, and there were some -- like Ursula LeGuin -- who were arguably good choices. But -- how on earth could you leave Octavia Butler off this list? Blood Child is one of the best books I've ever read, ever ever ever, and I read a lot. Nancy Kress and Charles Sheffield -- if I had enough money, I'd pay them to just write short stories for ever and ever. Brad Denton is brilliant. Spider Robinson is joyfully unique, but he's not writing much that's short lately. Robert Reed and Joe Haldeman are two writers who will always write a good story, even if I don't like it, and even if it's not a great story. Kate Wilhelm needs to write more. And so on.

There are others -- I think my problem is that I'm more entranced with short stories than with short story writers. I read Scifiction and Strange Horizons every single week, Analog and F&SF every month, Speculon every six weeks, and other speculative magazines and webzines on a regular basis. We have a subscription to Future Orbits, now, too, and I'll start reading that. And I get entranced by stories. But unless I've been really taken with an author's story three or four times in a row, I'll recognize the name but not spontaneously generate it. It's better with webzines, I think, when there's the ability to link to a webpage, because then I can keep an eye on what cool writers are doing. Sometimes I seek out webpages for writers I've enjoyed. If I can't find one, though, I'm likely to forget about it until at least half a collection worth of stories has somehow drilled its way into my brain from a given author. But I will pick up a collection of short stories on the strength of one story, or even without having heard of the writer at all, and then I get converted. I'm just more easily converted by books than by magazines.

You know what I wish? I wish you could search for books by feel or emotion rather than by genre or title or author. "Horror" is the only genre that really tries to classify that way, and even that doesn't always work. And even if it did, it's not a feel for which I'd be looking. I want books that are "gentle" for my grandmother. None of the bookstores have "gentle" cross-referencing. I have several other emotional categorizations for other people for whom I'm shopping, but Grandma safely doesn't read this journal, so I can talk about her. Come to think of it, why don't online clothing stores have categorizations, too? Why can't I look for men's clothes that are interesting, for example?

Oh yeah. Because there are no men's clothes that are interesting. Silly me.

This Ginger thing -- is anyone impressed? I probably would have been, if they hadn't hyped it so much. But they did. Silly people.

I am also unimpressed that Wrangler has joined the ranks of people using vastly inappropriate songs in their commercials. Sigh. They started with the guitar chords, and I looked at Mark and Timprov: they aren't really using this song, are they? But they were. They were using the guitar chords and the first line: "Some folks were born, made to wave the flag, ooh, the red, white, and blue." Somehow, they managed to cut off the next line: "But when the band plays 'Hail to the Chief,' ooh, they point the cannon at you." Yeah. Not exactly the same message, is it? Let's see if we can make a song that opposes warmongering and thoughtless patriotism into a commercial that exploits the current surge in patriotism! Yay! It's right up there with whatever airline it was (Northwest, I think) using the first bit of "Rocket Man": "I packed my bags last night, pre-flight. Zero hour, nine a.m." Showing the pilot, of course, but not continuing into the line where Elton John sings, "And I'm gonna be hiiiiigh as a kite by then." But a lot of people know the song anyway. Oops.

You don't even want to get me started on how inappropriate "Thick As a Brick" is for a car commercial. You really don't. Next thing we know, they're going to try to use "Aqualung" to advertise for the local park and rec, with only the guitar riff and, "Sitting on the park bench...." (Do I need to tell you what the rest of the line is?) I'm going to listen to the rest of that album until I'm not so grumpy, actually. I mean, who can stay cranky while howling along with "Cross-Eyed Mary?" Not I, at least. And then Timprov will wake up and get cleaned up, and we'll go up to Berkeley and drink pleasant beverages and write at Au Coquelet. If you're in the area, say hi.

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