Ed Wood’s awful cult classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space, is being made into an opera—by none other than Thai composer Somtow Sucharitkul. It’s actually a good fit: Somtow wrote a lot of science fiction, fantasy and horror in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s before returning to composing; he even directed a direct-to-video horror film and is a self-described B-movie fanatic. And while it’s true that Plan 9 is terrible, it’s terrible in a way that might just work as an opera. The Hollywood Reporter: “‘I won’t use a single word in the libretto that wasn’t straight from the pen of Ed Wood,’ says Sucharitkul. ‘Whether the Bela Lugosi character will manage a plaintive, tragic aria, when he was silent (not to mention dead) during the entire production of the film . . . that will be a nice little Easter egg to come.’” (That should be something: here’s the Plan 9 script.)
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Howard Waldrop Cinematic Universe
It turns out that “Night of the Cooters” isn’t the only Howard Waldrop story George R. R. Martin is making into a short film. According to Deadline, George is producing a total of four short films based on Waldrop stories. In addition to “Cooters,” which premiered last July, “Friends Forever” (which I don’t recognize) is in post, “Mary Margaret Road-Grader” is filming now, and “The Ugly Chickens” is about to start shooting with Felicia Day in the lead role. The idea seems to be to collect them into produce an anthology film or series.
George bought the film rights to Waldrop’s stories four years ago, it seems, which probably went some way to ensuring that his oldest friend in sf stays fed (Howard’s talent for making the least amount of money from his work is legendary). As I said last week on social media, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea that a Howard Waldrop short-film anthology is actually a real thing that is actually happening in this benighted timeline.
I bet you’ve been wondering what I thought about Peng Shepherd’s novel The Cartographers (William Morrow/
This piece is a little bit different from the usual review, in that it examines The Cartographers in the context of mysteries and fantasy that deploy similar map tropes, as well as the idées fixes our culture has about maps. As I write in the review, there’s an awful lot for me to unpack:
I have been writing about maps for nearly two decades, and in that time I have encountered many works of fiction that incorporate maps and map tropes into their storytelling, whether as paratexts or as plot elements, and I have never encountered a story, at any length, as thoroughly encompassed by maps as The Cartographers. It’s not just that almost every character in the book works with maps in some fashion, whether as a cartographer, artist, librarian, map dealer, or technician. Nor are maps just a plot point—they are the point. The Cartographers is a Stations of the Map: its pilgrimage follows a path that touches on so many aspects of maps and mapmaking, from academic cartography to fire insurance maps. It spends time on the purpose and meaning of maps: it aspires to an almost Socratic dialogue. It deploys familiar fantasy genre tropes about maps. But it’s structured as a mystery novel, and opens with a murder.
Fantasy Blockbusters and the Failure of the Long Tail
Matthew Claxton sees the recent chartbusting Kickstarter by Brandon Sanderson as evidence of a disconnect between a small group of big names racking up the sales and the rest of the field, which gets critical attention but not much else. Also that Chris Anderson’s Long Tail, as applied today, is deeply broken when it comes to discoverability: “But where we were promised frictionless discovery, we got a series of loops back into the same things, over and over and over again. Rothfuss and Sanderson Jordan and G. R. R. M. and Tolkien and Lynch and Abercrombie, and you’re a couple of levels deep before you start regularly seeing names like Fonda Lee or R. F. Kuang. (And many of their recs will lead you back to guess where?).”
Putting the Fact in Fantasy
Three years ago Tor.com published an essay of mine in which I argued that the classic fantasy map style was not something that would be used by characters in a fantasy world. Provocatively titled “Fantasy Maps Don’t Belong in the Hands of Fantasy Characters,” it proved to be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. The main complaint was that it was wrong for me to think that fantasy should follow the rules of the real world; fantasy was fantasy, and as such it was okay if its maps didn’t follow the rules.1 In fairness, my critics were the wrong audience for what I was trying to say.
They would also be the wrong audience for the book under consideration here: Putting the Fact into Fantasy, a collection of 50 short essays by various writers, edited by Dan Koboldt and published earlier this month by Writer’s Digest Books. The publisher is a hint as to the audience: these pieces are aimed at writers of fantasy and science fiction who want to up their game in terms of adding a touch of realism to their work. Because fantasy is built from recognizable real-world raw materials—horses and castles, archers and peasants, trade routes and languages, weapons and wounds—getting the real-world details right can in fact matter. They can save you from resorting to clichés, and knowledgeable readers from being thrown out of the story by what to them is an obvious error.2Continue reading…
My review of Robert Freeman Wexler’s short story collection, Undiscovered Territories (PS Publishing, 2021), is now online at Strange Horizons. “Wexler’s stories inhabit the same emotional universe. There is a certain similarity to his protagonists and the situations they find themselves in. By and large they are men. More to the point, they are uprooted, unattached, and unhappy men: sensitive, socially and romantically isolated, unhappy in their employment, miserable to varying degrees of desperation, and above all else alone. In many of these stories, it’s into these miasmas of masculine anxieties that the speculative elements intrude, and offer a path out—whether emotionally or literally.” Amazon (UK)
Maps in Science Fiction
My article “Maps in Science Fiction,” which attempts a taxonomy of the maps that appear in science fiction novels, stories and media, has just been published in the February 2022 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction. It took a while for this to see print—I started work on it in the summer of 2014—but I’m glad it finally has: science fiction maps don’t get a fraction of the attention fantasy maps do, and I think I might have come up with some useful frameworks in this piece. The complete text of the article will be posted at some point; in the meantime, I’ve posted a bit of a teaser to The Map Room. But if you really can’t wait, you can buy the NYRSF issue here; it costs just US$2.99 in the usual electronic formats.
Update: Read the article here.
It is an indictment of how writers in other languages are overlooked that I cannot find a single item in English about the passing of Argentine writer Angélica Gorodischer, who died yesterday in her lifelong home city of Rosario at the age of 93. Here’s El País in Spanish. Of the four books of hers translated into English, I’ve read three: Kalpa Imperial, Trafalgar and Prodigies. (A fourth, Jaguars’ Tomb, came out last year.) Kalpa Imperial got the most attention (it was translated by Le Guin) and Prodigies is difficult; as for Trafalgar, a series of mischievous tall space tales from an unreliable narrator, it’s one of my favourites. In 2003, on the occasion of their publishing Kalpa Imperial, Small Beer Press presented 20 Questions with Angélica Gorodischer.
Update: A post from Small Beer Press, On Publishing Angélica Gorodischer, is a behind-the-scenes look at how they came to publish her in translation.
Mermaid Care: Story Notes
My first professionally published story, “Mermaid Care,” a flash piece with a creepy take on anthropomorphism and the exotic animal trade, can be found in the December 2021 issue of Mermaids Monthly—which is now officially available to the general public, both online and in the usual ebook formats.
It’s only 950 words long, so there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t go read it right now. Since I’m going to talk about the story’s origins and inspirations in this post, everything will make more sense if you’ve read the story first.Continue reading…
The Kim Stanley Robinson Moment
A profile of Kim Stanley Robinson in this week’s New Yorker, focusing on his recent novels about the challenges of climate change, and on his most recent, The Ministry for the Future, which has caught particular fire at this critical moment. “‘The Ministry for the Future’ gave me a sense of the space. It shows our prospects to be both imaginable and variable: we can still redraw the plans. Perhaps because the novel fills a vital narrative gap, it achieved an unusually wide readership. Barack Obama included it on his list of the best books of the year; the Times columnist Ezra Klein said that all policymakers should read it. Christiana Figueres, the U.N. diplomat who led the effort to create the Paris agreement, listened to the novel in her garden and wept.”