Lost & found

May 25, 2019

Rilke warned young poets against large sweeping topics, since those are the most difficult and demand great artistic maturity. He counselled them to write about what they see around them, how they live each day, what’s been lost, what’s been found. He encouraged them to bring the things that surround us into their art, images from dreams, remembered objects. ‘If daily life seems impoverished to you,’ he wrote, ‘don’t blame life. You yourself are to blame. You’re just not enough of a poet to perceive its wealth.’ This advice may seem mundane and dim-witted to you. This is why we called to our defence one of the most esoteric poets in world literature — and just see how he praised so-called ordinary things!

Wislawa Szymborska
Letter to Michal in Nowy Targ
Literary Life
Trans. Clare Cavanagh

Horror writers just write about what they’re afraid of! I have a moderately debilitating chronic illness and a long standing, deeply ingrained fear of diseases like cancer and the such inborn from the usual childhood experiences with relatives who die quickly and traumatically from things usually portrayed in the media as slow moving. It’s difficult for me to conceive of any story concept without a healthy dollop of body horror and this particular flavour of powerlessness creeps into most of my writing. I also — as someone who studied modern war history in their academic life — have put a lot of thought into the issue of hierarchical violence. I’m not interested in revenge fantasies, but I am just as interested in the psychological effect of committing violence as I am in how it feels to experience it. Because, you know, I am a very small woman and I am sometimes terrified of violence and inhabiting its skin makes for powerful, honest writing I’ve found.

I’m interested in the stories of “powers” as a burden, or something monstrous, absent of all the asinine (and often belittling to real life marginalized groups) trappings of “people with powers as an oppressed minority”, and I’m interested in how transformation and transgression affect people who are more like me. In other words, every tortured white male anti-hero would be much better as someone who actually experience systemic oppression and violence. Privileged versions of these narratives tend to focus on re-affirming lofty virtues, social structure and responsibility and there are very good versions of that narrative, but I’m more interested in what these stories look like from the bottom, and what they do to characters on an intimate, psychological and philosophical level. No moralizing: just fragile, messy human emotions.

Jennifer Giesbrecht
Interviewed by Andrea Johnson
Apex Magazine 6tth July 2016

Naked

May 25, 2019

I will strip you bare.

And I won’t stop at skin.
You can still hide a lot beneath skin.

And what about
this thin layer of muscle,
quivering and flexing
beneath my gaze?
That, too, must go.

And what of this strange cage
made of bones, curved
like sideways teeth
around your reality?
It must be opened.

And this nest of organs
covering you up —
what of them?
Surely you know
they must go as well.

It all must go.

I will keep removing layers
until the heart of you is exposed —
naked, bare —
pulsing out your truth
two fleshy beats at a time.

Annie Neugebauer

Sinister motives

May 25, 2019

So if an alien child crash landed on Earth (shades of Kal-El from Krypton: aka Superman) with apparent ‘superpowers’ whose sole motivation isn’t to benefit mankind but to dominate and destroy – what then?

Barrington J Bayley begun publishing science-fiction stories as early as 1954, and had met Michael Moorcock in 1957. The two collaborated prolifically on stories and other work in that decade; and Bayley became a central contributor to Moorcock’s New Worlds magazine in the 1960s; his stories seemed simultaneously estranged and metropolitan, appearing instinctively to confirm that journal’s aggressive disregard of the local or the provincial.

Bayley never became as well-known outside Britain as New Worlds writers like Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, or Thomas M. Disch; but he shared their intense early devotion to certain literary models, from William Burroughs to Borges and Albert Jarry and later French Surrealists. Bayley never abandoned this heritage; by the early 21st century he had published nearly 100 tales whose deadpan playfulness with the most abstruse of scientific speculations, and whose surreal adventurousness about time and place, made him seem almost more European than English.

At the same time, Bayley was beginning to write the exorbitant but chilly space operas for Ace Books that made him, for a while, a recognisable and respected figure in the American scene, where any science-fiction writer – certainly one like Bayley, who was ambitious to support a family through his work – needed to flourish. Early novels like Star Virus (1970) or Empire of Two Worlds (1972) were popular with American readers, especially those who found intoxicating the sometimes ungovernable flourishing of his speculative constructs and the gorgeous intricacies of his storylines.

But it was a risky course to take. Later novels – like Collision with Chronos (1973) or The Fall of Chronopolis (1974), both of which played far more deliriously with the Time theories of J.W. Dunne (who contended that past, present and future exist simultaneously) than J.B. Priestley ever imagined possible – combine intellectual joy with a redoubtable grimness about the ability of his human protagonists fully to benefit from the worlds of his imagination.

In these books, and in later virtuoso tales like The Garments of Caean (1976) or The Pillars of Eternity (1982), there is much travel, time paradoxes galore, and storylines whose complications resist synopsis.

But his American career did not flourish; it is almost certain he had begun to travel too far for readers looking for adventures, however spiced with thought, conducted by kinetic heroes with whom they might identify.

The closest to such a figure was in fact not human at all. In The Soul of the Robot (1974) and The Rod of Light (1985) – two tales featuring the Candide-like adventures and disasters of a robot named Jasperodus – Bayley created a touching creature more human than any human he had been able to write about, a monster-like-us afflicted with torments of consciousness, ethical dilemmas and catastrophes of obsolescence. Bayley’s satires on the human condition may not have the hilarity of the robot stories of John T. Sladek,  a colleague from the New Worlds days; but they focus, if possible, even more unrelentingly on the human condition.

John Clute
Barrington J. Bayley: Science-fiction writer who treated the human condition as a puzzle that must be solved
The Independent 27th October 2008

required to do wrong

May 25, 2019

You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.

Philip K. Dick
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?