Steampunk, eh? It’s a funny old subgenre – although the roots of its modern iteration seem to take in Blaylock and Powers (by long, diversionary way of Verne and Wells), its proliferation across internet cultures is producing some unforseen irruptions, like bizarre hothouse hybrids unfurling in humid shadowy corners.
Most obvious is the whole cosplay thing, which I really kinda like. Unlike some of my SF/fantasy compadres (and fellow travellers), I’ve never experienced any contempt or irritation for costuming and masquerades – I’ve been going to conventions since back in 1979, and just love all the gaudy aspects of them, and since steampunk textures have begun to mingle with that overall gallimaufry its made it all feel that much more enjoyable for me.
Other aspects are cropping up on TV, for example – Bruce Boxleitners Lantern City, for example – http://lanterncitytv.com/ – sounds utterly fascinating. Really hope it gets off the ground. Then there’s video games, most recently Dishonoured, which had more of a dieselpunk feel to it, and the upcoming and anticipated Bioshock Infinite, set on a floating balloon city in 1912! – if you’ve not seen any of the promotional vids for this, you really need to go to youtube and give yr eyes a treat.
There is one aspect of steampunk, and the political context of a steampowered culture, at least as far as we can reckon it from our own history – which is that life for the great mass of people throughout most of the 1800s, the Victoria era, was miserable, grinding poverty. Its okay, it really is, to writer a fun, light-in-tone caper story in that kind of setting, but writers should also be aware of political realities, and try not to mislead the reader about the nature of power under such regimes.
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Some of you may recall that I have in the past posted up music/gig reviews from an old callcentre buddy of mine, former drummer with Chasar, Mr Graeme Fleming. We`ll be doing a few more of those in the months ahead, and in the meantime, here’s a word or two from the man hisself;
Progmeister General here; after long & healthy discussions Ziggy Mikey has asked me to contribute a music feel to his blog. As well as our own reviews, we would love to hear any ideas or requests you may have. It does not have to be Prog – if it has a beat we will listen.
I have been a good friend of Mr Cobley for almost 15 years & we both know what makes us click, so please feed back to Mike any ideas or opinions you may have ok … stay tuned coming up LITTLE FEAT review at O2 GLASGOW & the new NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE CD PSYCHEDELIC PILL. Keep Mellotrons on full & set controls for heart of the blog !!
No, friends and neighbours, I’m not talking about me but about someone whose verbal attacks on a writer colleague have reached such an irrational crescendo that I feel that a stand has to be taken.
The writer in question is Lavie Tidhar, who I’ve met a few times (we have the same agents) and with whom I get along pretty well. Yesterday he let it be known on his facebook page that he had received a death threat from a pro-Israeli SF fan (perhaps fan should be in quotes) who has been harangueing him at great length from the bastions of his own blog. Lavie, it should be noted, is from Israel and holds a broadly leftist, critical stance towards Israel’s policies WRT Palestine etc.
So – the pro-Israeli commentator (who has gone by the name Larry) invests a great deal of time in analysis of the comments, posts, tweets and associated opinions of writers like Lavie, China Mieville, Charlie Tan, Charlie Stross, Anna Tambour and several others. It is worth pointing out right away that Larry’s stance is a fundamentalist one in political terms, in that Israeli policies are unimpeachable, that any criticisms are evidence of the most heinous anti-semitism and critics who voice same are to be regarded as vile, obscene, brazen, rabid (and other hyperbolic denigrations which pepper his blog postings like raisin in a fruitcake).
This is the kind of language which the man uses in the to and fro of argument; not that I’m saying that leftist critics stick to high-minded terms that avoid ad hominem abuse, but I must say that I have seldom seen from a leftist critic the kind of unremitting viciousness deployed on a personal level as that which Larry indulges in as a matter of course.
So, in the email in question, after several paragraphs of abuse, he writes this, in hebrew characters -
מת ונקבר לביא
Lavie took this to mean ‘Lavie dead and buried’, and pointed out that the email ended with the words ‘I’m serious’. This led to a good number of writers (myself included) posting support on his facebook page and at his blog. A response from Larry has appeared today, and it is just as self-serving, who-struck-john, and I’m-the-victim-here as could be expected; his defence for the language he used is along the lines of oh, it was just a figurative phrase – how could you be so shamelessly obtuse as not to see it as such – and how dare pursue me with this outrageous libel, whine, whine, whine…
And that’s the core of it – the man uses the most inflammatory and vicious invective against Lavie and others, then is self-righteously obtuse enough to use the words ‘dead and buried’ in his diatribe, then when he’s called on it claims that it was all just figurative and how dare anyone make him suffer by insinuating that he made any kind of threat. “Hey, man, I was just joking – chuh, lighten up, dude!”
If Larry had been in the habit of using language which displayed even a scintilla of human compassion and/or a sense of wit/humour, the phrase ‘dead and buried’ might have been taken as sarcastic hyperbole. But the truth is that he sees himself as some warrior blogger out on the battlements, warring against the lefty-goy horde and their inability to see the shining goodness of Israel in everything it does. And nothing that anyone else can say or write will change that. But as the saying goes, writers are the unacknowledge legislators of the world; Lavie Tidhar, China Mieville and others have talent and insight, and eager audiences, and it is a source of comfort to know that that must really get under his skin.
ps – Lavie Tidhar’s blog is at – http://lavietidhar.wordpress.com/
and Lar’s is – http://seasonoftheredwolf.wordpress.com/ - read it and weep
Yes, I did it. I made the mistake a few months ago of actually responding to reader comments to a couple of my books on Amazon. I suppose I felt so appalled at being doled out a 1-star review that I let my natural combativeness get the better of me and…off I went, bringing to bear a modicum of wit (though not malice) in defence of the book which I had worked very hard over, and which I knew with the certainty of past experience (of truly bad writing) that Seeds Of Earth is not a 1-star book.
Three sentences were what I wrote in framing a mild rebuttal of the review’s wholesale condemnation of SOE. And wow! – the responses it provoked.
“Tell you what Mr Cobley, I’ve been using Amazon since it started and never felt the need to post before either. You appear to have created an exceptional case.” – was one, followed by;
“His recommendation to avoid it has been taken up by me – you’re sheer arrogance and pig-headedness is clearly hiding a lot of insecurities about your writing. What a spectacular way to alienate your once and potential future audience.
If you had never replied you might have earned more respect and income from this. Because you’ve been a fool, you’ve lost both.”
Now, I have to keep reminding myself that, as other writer colleagues have impressed upon me, that the reading experience is very personal, with personal taste playing a large role. Which is fair enough. But I’m surprised by the anger I provoked – as if it somehow goes against some kind of cultural taboo for a writer to respond in defence of his own work. And the second comment’s conclusion begs the question – why would I earn respect by keeping my mouth shut? In what other field of human endeavour is respect earned by the gagging of the artist?
Going back to the original review, I think that if it bestowed 2-stars I would have gritted my teeth and got past it. But to be consigned to the bottom of the heap, along with the John Normans and the Lin Carters and other scarcely workmanlike writers, just stuck in my craw. Getting 1 star and a dismissive review did not needle any insecurities about my writing, rather it felt like bullying, it felt unnecessarily crushing (particularly in the context of a lack of other reviews by the same commentator). And if there is one thing that makes me take up the cudgels its an unfair, unjust judgement.
Hindsight is always 20-20 and I can see now that I should have just averted my eyes and moved on down the road. But I thought I would share this experience with you, partly to lay bare the oddness of the resentment some people clearly feel when a writer disagrees with criticism, but mainly as a rueful warning to my writer buddies – just don’t go there, guys, okay?
Just a leetle update on my activities at the Olympus eastercon; in addition to the 2 panels mentioned below I`ll also be taking part in Andrew J Wilson’s Last Man In Space extravaganza at 9.30pm, also on the Friday. And there is every chance that I shall be reading an excerpt from The Ascendant Stars, the concluding volume of the Humanity’s Fire trilogy,
Not only but also I shall be taking part in the multi-author signing melee-fest which is slated for 8pm on the Sunday evening. I shall, most probably, sign almost anything, and I will have some goodies to give away as well.
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Just an addendum to the previous, tipping the wink to those who take notice of what I actually scribble on this here blog, that I shall have a handful or two of exclusive Humanity’s Fire-associated items to dispose of, limited edition trinkets to be presented to those who do bring me books to sign.
That is, copies of my own books to sign, sonny jim!
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Some of you reading this may well have been to one of the previous SFX Weekender jamborees, but this will be my first. Catching the train on the morning of Friday February 3rd down to Prestatyn on the north Wales coast (not so very far southwest of Liverpool), and to the Pontins holiday resort there which the mighty SFX organisation has taken over for several days of unbridled SF-flavoured knees-up. There will be panels, talks, exclusive previews, films, retro-TV screenings, and celebs, celebs, celebs out the yingyang.
Er, amongs whom will be my good self. And I have things to do, to whit an autograph session at 10am on the Saturday morning, in conjunction with the immensely agreeable Jaine Fenn, after which I`ll be on a panel about space opera at 12 noon. Much relaxation and chinwagging shall ensue, have no doubt about this!
For more info on the Weekender schedule, see the following link:
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Back in the day, waaaay back, when I was the youngest and turkiest of them all (cyberpunkily speaking), I used to pore over and reread such groundbreaking publications (thats hardcopy publications) as Science Fiction Eye and Journal Wired. I actually wrote a coupla pieces for SF Eye, as well as interviews with Iain Banks and David Wingrove; Journal Wired I didnt have an in on, but it was a great and chunky book-mag which ran for only 3 issues back in 1990/91. One of its highlights was a column called Stark Raving, written by Lucius Shepard, written with a passion and evocatory skill that ran from the confessional to the polemical and all points inbetween.
The first of them was called ‘Remedial Reading For The Generation Of Swine’ in which he exoriated the blinkered narrow-mindedness of certain sectors of SF fandom and SF pro-dom (?), while Reaganoid politics were tearing the heart out of Latin America. I won’t go to the extent of reprinting the piece (I dont have the permish) but just to give you a hint of the flavour, here’s a wee extract or two:
“More pertinently, though, this aint the ‘Sixties, it’s the ‘Nineties, and things are a lot more grim and entrenched than they once were, because even though we’ve got glasnost and perestroika, and a kinder, gentler America, and a few other auspicious signs, what we’ve got as relates to the process of world peace is just another Bad Breath Committee on Armchair Disarmament, and along with that, we’ve got the Greenhouse Effect, acid rain, war in the east, war in the west, everywhere is war, and famine, pestilence, plague, earthquakes, and a whole lot of serious inanition as regards doing anything consequential about these problems….”
“…I remember being so fucking terrified, chased by this little gray Ford full of men in white shirts along a dirt road after searching for a friend at El Playon, where the death squads dumped the bodies of their victims. I remember dust was flying up around the car, the green world disappearing in whirlwinds of dust….”
“…the whole country like that, the whole raped, cratered, widowed, amputated, military-advisored place no more than a filthy, fly-swarmed lunch counter of Death in the diocese of the Devil…Ah, Christ, have a little pity on El Salvador…”
Lucius S wrote another two essays, both just as sharp and untrammelled, with a hint of brimstone too. I don’t think they’re available online, but the 3 editions of Journal Wired can still be found on Amazon and Ebay – I recommend that you do.
Just a wee heads-up on forthcoming prize opportunities – YES, you got it, I will indeed be running a competition to get hold of sundry gewgaws and items of Humanity’s Fire goodness! There will be books, bookmarks, keyrings, posters…and such.
Just stay tuned, ma people!