Episode 69: Live with Gary K. Wolfe!

As a continuation of our discussion on finding the best books of the year and understanding how buzz is generated, this week Gary and I turned to our reader’s comments (both here and over at my blog) about buzz;  the New Wave and women in SF, and much more.  We also repeat our call for reader’s to tell us about their best books of the year, which we hope to continue to discuss in coming months.  Listener Tansy Rayner Roberts has posted her terrific ‘Best of the Year so far‘ list, and we’d like to see yours!


9 thoughts on “Episode 69: Live with Gary K. Wolfe!”

  1. Thank you. You picked up the gauntlet and talked about works by women without changing the subject (too much) for the bulk of a podcast, which was all I was trying to achieve. Last time, Jonathan kept trying to introduce a conversation about The Highest Frontier, and each time it morphed into a conversation entirely about Greg Egan in the space of three sentences. (I probably like Greg Egan’s two most recent novels more than you do, so I have no issues with conversations about Greg Egan, unless they replace conversations about Joan Slonczewski.)

    Of course, it’s impossible ever to get out of trouble fully once you get in. When I read that copy of Again, Dangerous Visions, I was sitting in Iowa City, Iowa. (Just joking, guys. You’re not really in trouble. Not for the Iowa comment.)

    As to the Ellison (TM) quotation that I threw down, because it was combustible (and which is in the intro to the story “When It Changed”, not in the intro to the anthology), I don’t think “best” means either “most representative” or “that which numerically dominates,” so, while Jonathan’s count of the very few stories by women actually present in the Dangerous Visions volumes provides excellent context, I don’t think it quite makes the very bold generalization dissolve. I salute the statement, because it accorded with my experience, as did very few general statements that I encountered in the course of a standard Liberal Arts education in the early 70s.

    The rhetoric that surrounds that statement would, in any contemporary conversation, be seen to undercut it, as would the low numeric representation of women writers. I don’t think it was “aspirational,” however. I think it was as defensibly true as any generalization can be. As most generalizations are, it was designed to be combustible.

    Matt’s comment about the novelists winning is an excellent one. As Jonathan remarks, it doesn’t explain the curious case of Kate Wilhelm. (If you want the subject of a bar conversation to morph in three sentences, bring up Kate Wilhelm.) Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is amazing, but I’d say that Welcome Chaos, Huysman’s Pets, and Juniper Time are as good and as interesting for discussion, yet they seem to have fallen out of the conversation almost at once. The “science” in her “science fiction” was always biology and psychology, as Le Guin’s “science” was primarily anthropology. There was certainly a period when the “winner” science in SF was the love child of physics and engineering: the space exploration side of astronomy. In the current era, when that is less true, a rediscovery of Kate Wilhelm might prove both timely and inspiring. (The story I remember best from Again, Dangerous Visions, after “When It Changed” was Wilhelm’s “The Funeral.”)

    John Crowley has written an excellent article about the way the future changes to accord with the present, btw, linked from locusmag or at this url: http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/essays/the-next-future.php

    I think Gary rather misinterpreted my use of the term “winners,” I hope not willfully. It comes from the expression “History is written by the winners.” It does not imply that I think of writers as a bunch of warriors in a melee, each trying to emerge victorious by knocking the blocks off all the others. Culturally and conversationally, though, a core position tends to emerge from chaos and hold sway, such that our collective memory of a period, a subject, a movement spins on that axis. (The creation of canon is such a process.) Valuable work is always thrown to the periphery in that process and then needs to be reclaimed. If not reclaimed, it tends to disappear. So there is a competition for a place in the ongoing conversation, a competition for the attention of critics, such as yourselves, who are likely to contribute to articulating the core position that gives shape to the chaos. You may, if you like, be uncomfortable about having that power, but your discomfort won’t make the power go away. Your public invites you to read responsibly.

  2. I loved the Julian May Many Colored Land books as well, and the Terra Nova link was pretty obvious from the trailers, but I think the stories go very much away from what May did. I met her briefly at Eastercon in 1984. What you didn’t mention is that she is also a master costumer, and the first woman ever to chair a Worldcon.

    I met Josephine Saxton at the Gollancz party last week. She’s still very sharp, but these days she mostly does painting, not writing. I’m planning to get some of her books from the Gateway and review them.

  3. A great podcast with none of the avoidance issues of 68 (see Susan’s comments above as well). I even heard a few female names I didn’t know.

  4. I think the issue with Coode St. #68 is a very specific one that has entirely to do with perception. And I’m not sure many people would have seen it coming—I certainly wouldn’t.

    Ian Mond, of The Writer and The Critic, as I understand it has a podcast on which he discusses one or two authors or books per month. He was very keen to talk about Tom Disch next.

    But the topic of Coode St. #68 was presented, informally, to the audience as the set “undeservedly forgotten writers,” which one might expect would include women. Disch was mentioned. Russ was mentioned. Then the conversation was guided back to Disch repeatedly (by Gary Wolfe) because the podcasters still thought they were discussing the set of one, Tom Disch, because that’s what Mond suggested the topic be—but that’s not necessarily what the audience thought.

    But Coode Street’s record speaks pretty well for itself. Of their past 9 guests, 7 have been women, 2 have been men. Of the names mentioned, more seem to be women than seem to be men. While I have not used a stopwatch to time how much attention is devoted to each author, at least three or four special topic podcasts have been largely devoted to female writers, and significant portions of other shows as well.

    Over the past 20-ish podcasts, here’s what I’ve heard:

    Podcast 68: Guest, Ian Mond
    Main Topic: Tom Disch
    Other topics: Joan Slonczewski, Joanna Russ, Michael Bishop

    Podcast 67: Jo Walton (Among Others), Nedi Okorafor, Karen Lord, Lisa Goldstein, R. A. MacAvoy, Daryl Gregory, Kathleen Ann Goonan, China Mieville, Stina Liecht (Blood and Honey), Nnedi Okorafor (Akata Witch), Rae Carson, Joan Aiken, Andy Duncan, Peter Beagle, Carol Emshwiller, Tim Powers, Gwynneth Jones, Caitlyn Kiernan, Margot Lanagan, Geoff Ryman, Tansy Roberts, Lucy Sussex, Bruce Sterling

    Podcast 65: Guest: Jo Walton
    Topic: Among Others, Jo Walton’s Hugo records

    Podcast 64: Topic Caitlin R. Kiernan

    Podcast 63: Christopher Priest, modernists, Stan Robinson, John Brunner (has featured in a few podcasts), New Wave, Ellison/Dangerous Visions, Shawna McCarthy/Asimov’s

    Podcast 62:

    Podcast 61: Conventions
    Pat Cadigan, Mary Gentle, Damon Knight, Karen MacLean, Cecelia Holland, Neal Stephenson (emphasized)

    Podcast 60: Guest John Clute
    Topic: SF Encyclopedia

    Podcast 59: Major topic: Marion Zimmer Bradley (spent a lot of time on her)

    major female fantasy writers Nora Jemison, ThinkGalacticon & WisCon, ideologies of conventions and fandoms, Heinlein & feminism, Ken McLeod, more Nora Jemison, bias, politics, Tim Powers, Chip Delaney (gay issues), Joanna Russ, , Anne McCaffrey, more Russ, Le Guin,

    58: conferences & awards, Cheryl M., gender balance, race,

    57: LOCUS Awards

    Podcast 54: Guest: Eileen Gunn

    Podcast 53: Guest: Karen Lord

    Podcast 52: Nebulas

    Podcast 51: Embassytown (Mieville), Akata Witch (Okorafor), Clockwork Rocket (Egan), Dancing With Bears (Swanwick)

    Podcast 49: Joanna Russ

    Podcast 46: Guests: Farah Mendlesohn & Tansy Rayner, Topic Diana Wynne Jones Pt. 2

    Podcast 45: Diana Wynne Jones, Pt. 1

    Podcast 43: Guests: Liza Trombi & Karen Burnham

  5. I’ve been commenting on JS’s facebook page instead of here, but I’ll paste them here, too:

    1. I’m finding it very hard to come up with a “best novels of the year so far” list. I’ve never read more books in a year than this one (30-50 so far? Though probably only 10-20 first published in 2011), but there’s so many I haven’t read (Jo Walton’s Among Others for example, which is on a lot of these lists) that I still feel too uninformed to try it.

    2. And I’m only a third or so into Greg Egan’s “The Clockwork Rocket” (which I got tuned into via the podcast) and it’s definitely one of the few most original and interesting science fiction novels of 2011 I read this year. It’s getting muddy for me to judge the fantasy novels, of which I’ve read quite a few more. On the SF front, though: Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief, China Mieville’s Embassytown, Tc McCarthy’s Germline, and Egan’s “Rocket” are the ones in sf that I’ve kept thinking about. (I didn’t get to many of the other “big” sf release though: Robopocalypse, Leviathan Wakes (though the opening chapter has me hoping to get to it soon), Max Barry’s Machine Man, Heaven’s Shadow, Steven Gould’s 7th Sigma, Charles Stross’s Rule 34, Simon Morden’s series, Will McIntosh’s Soft Apocalypse, Robert Charles Wilson’s Vortex, Dan Simmons’s Flashback, etc. And there are some new ones this month (Vinge, Joan S., don’t know how to classify Stephenson’s REAMDE yet though not “clearly” sf, don’t know how to classify Murakami’s 1Q84 or the new Stephen King book… how do you read ’em all…) One thing is that I do want to say while I’m mind-dumping anyway: while enjoyable, neither Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation nor Cline’s Ready Player One are among the best sf novels of the year so far. In that category for fantasy would be Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Jacobs’s Southern Gods, The Wise Man’s Fear, and A Dance with Dragons. I really, really liked Journal of a UFO Investigator but it’s one where “is it sf? probably not” applies.

    3. One recommendation for a fantasy novel in that “best of the year” conversation would be: Lev Grossman’s The Magician King. Just so many I haven’t read yet: JM McDermott’s Never Knew Another, Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, Teresa Frohock’s Miserere, Low Town, Genevieve Valentine’s Mechanique, Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes, …

    So, in terms of buzzing books: I’m a bit afraid of being so blunt, and while all three have much to recommend (some more than others): Fuzzy Nation, The Night Circus, and Ready Player One are not among my best books of the year. I had problems with Embassytown and The Quantum Thief as well, but overall they remain in my own private conversation about the year’s best novels.

  6. Other books that I want to think about more: Nick Mamatas’s SENSATION, Lavie Tidhar’s OSAMA, Vanessa Veselka’s ZAZEN, Jesse Bullington’s THE ENTERPRISE OF DEATH, Ekaterina Sedia’s HEART OF IRON, …

    A few more to vote as good but not best of the year: Card’s THE LOST GATE, Gail Z. Martin’s THE SWORN, and Erin Hoffman’s SWORD OF FIRE AND SEA.

    And again, so many books coming in October/November/December that I’m looking forward to.

  7. Thank you guys for addressing some of my comments from Episodes 67 and 68. Regarding the early parts of this episode: I definitely consider the extemporaneous quality of the podcast to be a feature more than it is a bug. Digging deeper into the reasons for things, giving a fuller picture of the shape of things, these are always good–there’s a happy medium to be found–but a big part of the pleasure of Coode St. is precisely the chance to listen to people converse about SF&F in a casual manner. It says something important about SF&F to hear it publicly discussed that way. So if I make a comment that’s somewhat critical of an episode, it’s with the intention of trying to contribute to the conversation, not meant as an attack on the nature of the conversation itself. Cheers,

  8. Hm. I think what crystallizes for me after sitting on these episodes for a bit is that there are two things:

    1. discussing what books are likely candidates for the major awards
    2. discussing what books JS and GKW felt were the best books of the year

    These might be different things, and the difference is one of the things which most intrigues me.

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