Episode 43: Live with Gary K. Wolfe, Karen Burnham, Jeffrey Ford, and Liza Groen Trombi

Convention season is upon us and, on the eve of his birthday, Gary K. Wolfe has ventured out into aligator-infested Florida in search of conversation, con-buddies and, above all else, boat drinks!  In the first of what might just be a series of one podcasts, Gary invited Locus Publications editor-in-chief Liza Groen Trombi, editor and critic Karen Burnham, and award winning author Jeffrey Ford (visiting from the wilds of New Jersey) to sit down and join us in a fairly impromptu and rambling podcast.

Starting without an agenda (or in truth any kind of plan at all) we discuss science fiction criticism and the search for the modern essay, the digital age, Locus online, awards seasons, Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, The Secret Life of Laird Barron, and the forthcoming Key West Literary Seminar (it’s about the literature of the future this time out).

As always, we hope you enjoy the podcast!

ETA: If you’re having difficulty downloading the podcast, please try the player below.

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5 thoughts on “Episode 43: Live with Gary K. Wolfe, Karen Burnham, Jeffrey Ford, and Liza Groen Trombi”

  1. I found your discussion on forums for what we might call literary essays about the field quite interesting. Although it focuses on the weird rather than SF, the Weird Fiction Review recently started by Jerad Walters and S.T. Joshi is a journal including literary (rather than purely academic) essays. The interest in the first issue suggests that a print publication may still be a viable means of distribution for this sort of material.

  2. Regarding locations for essays, you didn’t mention (primarily) fiction anthologies as potential publication places. I have just listened to the 49th episode of the Functional Nerds podcast, with Carrie Cuinn, publisher for Dagan Books & editor of the anthology Cthulhurotica. The anthology includes three essays related to its theme.

    Your weekly chats are something I look forward to listening to, please keep them up!

  3. Regarding locations for essays, you didn’t mention (primarily) fiction anthologies as potential publication places. I have just listened to the 49th episode of the Functional Nerds podcast, with Carrie Cuinn, publisher for Dagan Books & editor of the anthology Cthulhurotica. The anthology includes three essays related to its theme.

    Your weekly chats are something I look forward to listening to, please keep them up!

  4. Sir! (as they wrote to ye olde TIMES)
    I must confess to raising my eyebrows during the course of Episode XLIII of your otherwise estimable series of ruminations on the state of fantastika (to avail myself of Esq. Clute’s term – if somebody would direct his attention to the fact that Coleridge’s usage of “phantasy” predates any Russian deployment of “fantastika”, he might perhaps be persuaded to desist from further unnecessary Nabokovian terminological sleight of hand – it might be deemed poshlost’). What caused my puzzlement, Gentlemen, was the lack of vociferous protest, when Mr. Ford mentioned Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials – with which I was unfamiliar, and for the bringing of it to my attention I am obliged indeed. However, from the Editor of Mr. Leiber’s Selected Tales I would have expected a prompt repartee to Mr. Ford’s limning the theme (or at least one of them) of Mr. Negarestani’s oeuvre (“oil is sentient, and it runs the Middle East”): “But – Fritz Leiber did it first.” (see John J. Miller in the Wall Street Journal of July 14, 2010: “He Tackled the Oil Spill First”, ):
    “We’ve seen the disturbing videos of oil gushing up from aquatic depths, the unsettling maps of our spoiled sea, and the troubling pictures of pelicans covered in crude. It isn’t hard to despair for the Gulf of Mexico.

    Yet things could be much worse, at least in the vivid imagination of the author Fritz Leiber (1910-1992). In his 1964 short story “The Black Gondolier,” petroleum threatens humanity not as a mindless environmental hazard but as a sentient menace. As one character speculates, what if man hadn’t found oil, but “oil had found man”? What if the dark ooze “had thrust up its vicious feelers like some vast blind monster, and finally made contact”?

    In May, San Francisco’s Night Shade Books issued “Selected Stories,” a greatest-hits anthology of Leiber’s work that skips over “The Black Gondolier” but does include an admiring introduction by Neil Gaiman, one of today’s leading fantasists. In October, Subterranean Press, a Michigan imprint, will put out “Strange Wonders,” a compilation of previously unreleased material. Leiber was one of the most versatile writers of the 20th century and he left behind an impressive body of work—one that’s now enjoying a miniature renaissance among independent publishers in his centennial year.”
    However, even Fritz Leiber was not the first to use the theme – it was used as the central conceit in a tales by Gustav Meyrink in 1915, “Die vier Mondbrüder” (The Four Brothers of the Moon, ‘brothers’ in the same way that Shakespeare, or rather Falstaff, talks of the “minions of the moon”). This appeared in a German anthology, Der Gespensterkrieg (The War of the Spectres), edited (or at least prefaced – there is no editor listed, and it was issued without giving the year of publication) by Herbert Eulenberg. As can be expected, it is poisonously pro-Teutonic, trying to give an “occult justification” for the Great War. One wonders how it must have struck those “on the home front” or even soldiers in the trenches, living under ceaseless shelling, to read about the “Lords of the Dark Face” having unleashed a little bit of Armageddon in this material sphere (that was the stance of the Theosophists – Annie Besant – and Anthroposophists – Rudolf Steiner -, which did not win THEM any converts). At least Meyrink derives his ideas from these quarters. The relevant passage runs:
    “The nitrogen of the air is converted into new, horrible explosives. Nature itself hastens at topmost speed to give up her best treasures, to exterminate utterly the white pestilence that has carved scars into her face” [= not nationalistic so much as misanhropic] “Metal twine with sharp thorns grows out of the ground, catches the legs and tears open the bodies, and the telegraphs wink at each other in silent triumph: another hundred thousand of the odious spawn are done in.” “Behind trees and hills the giant mortars are hiding, their necks reared up to the sky, clumps of ore between their teeth, until tracherous windmills give them signs with their arms to spew forth death and destruction.” [no, no noun left witthout an epitheton ornans] “Electric vipers twist beneath the ground – a tiny green spark and a landscape turns into an abbattoir.” “With glowing eyes the searchlights pierce the dark: More! More! More! Give us more! And here they come, in gray coats for shrouds – countless numbers of them – with bloody feet, dead eyes, swaying with tiredness, half asleep, with gasping lungs and twisting knees – but the drums whip them up again with the ryhthmic barking of fakirs, whipping berserker fury into the numb brains, until the madness of blind rampage breaks free and the shower of lead hits only into corpses.”
    “From West and East, from America and Asia they gather for the war dance, the iron monsters, the lust for killing filling their round snouts.” [That he does not mention the Germans may be due to strict censorship - it does not quite sound, barring the style, like Germania-uber-alles] “Sharks of steel sneak around the coasts, suffocating those who gave them life in their bellies.” — Then Dr. Zagreaus continued with a vivid gesture: “And isn’t it a ghastly resurrection? That which had rotted to petroleum in deep caverns – the blood and fat of the antediluvian dragons – stirs again and seeks life. Boiled and distilled in fat cauldrons, it flows again – as ‘gasoline’ in the hearts of new, fantastic flying monsters and sets them to trembling. Gasoline and dragons’ blood! Where is the difference? It’s like a prelude to the day of judgement.”
    (..and you were wondering when I – or Meyrink – would come to the point.)
    Hmm, let’s call it “Expressionism” instead of torrid verbiage…

    [“Der Stickstoff der Luft ballt sich zu neuen furchtbaren Sprengmitteln: die Natur selbst drängt sich in atemloser Hast, freiwillig ihre besten Schätze zu geben, um das weiße Scheusal, [227] das seit Jahrmilliarden Narben in ihr Gesicht gegraben, auszurotten mit Haut und Haar.

    Metallene Ranken mit spitzigen, gräßlichen Dornen wachsen aus dem Boden, fangen die Beine und zerreißen die Leiber, und mit stummem Jubel zwinkern die Telegraphen einander zu: Wieder sind Hunderttausend der verhaßten Brut dahin.

    Hinter Bäumen und Hügeln verborgen lauern die Mörserriesen, die Hälse gen Himmel gereckt, Erzklumpen zwischen den Zähnen, bis ihnen verräterische Windmühlen mit den Armen tückische Zeichen winken, Tod und Vernichtung zu speien.

    Elektrische Vipern zucken unter dem Boden hin – da!: ein winziger grünlicher Funken und aufbrüllt ein Erdbeben und verwandelt die Landschaft in ein Massengrab!

    Mit glühenden Raubtieraugen spähen die Scheinwerfer durch die Finsternis! Mehr! Mehr! Mehr! Wo sind noch mehr! Und schon kommt’s wankend gezogen in grauen Sterbemänteln – unabsehbare Scharen, – die Füße blutig, die Augen erloschen, taumelnd vor Müdigkeit, halb [228] im Schlaf, mit keuchenden Lungen und brechenden Knien, – doch schnell kläffen die Trommeln dazwischen mit rhythmisch-fanatischem Fakirgebell und peitschen die Furien der Berserkerwut hinein ins betäubte Gehirn, daß der Wahnwitz des Amoklaufs heulend losbricht unaufhaltsam, bis der Schauer des Bleiregens nur mehr auf Leichen trifft.

    Aus Westen und Osten, aus Amerika und Asien strömen sie herbei zum Kriegstanz, die erzenen Ungeheuer, voll Mordlust die runden Mäuler.

    Haie aus Stahl umschleichen die Küsten, in ihrem Bauch erstickend, die ihnen einst das Leben gegeben.

    Dann fuhr Doktor Zagräus mit eindringlicher Gebärde fort: »Und ist es nicht eine gespenstische Auferstehung? Was längst zu Petroleum verwest in Erdenhöhlen geruht hat: – das Blut und Fett der vorsintflutlichen Drachen – regt sich und will wieder lebendig sein. In dickbäuchigen Kesseln gebrodelt und destilliert, fließt es jetzt als ‘Benzin’ in die Herzkammern neuer phantastischer Luftungeheuer und bringt sie zum Stampfen. Benzin und Drachenblut! – wer sieht da noch einen Unterschied? Es ist wie das dämonische Präludium zum Jüngsten Tag.«
    (quoted after: Gustav Meyrink, Fledermaeuse – the numbers refer to the page counts in the Project Gutenberg text – yes, the perenial problem of quoting e-texts without giving academics conniptions.)]

    There may be other examples – it is one of those ideas that seems obvious (if a bit awkward to handle) – and come to think of it, the “black cancer” – the nasty oozy stuff in THE X FILES, might be thought of as a kissing cousin of our stuff here.

  5. If you go back and listen to the podcast, I never said, “Oil is sentient and it runs the Middle East.” And no one claimed it was the first story to have sentient oil in it. I was merely pointing out it was an interesting book I’d not seen many reviews of.

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