March 2011


Not exactly “To a Skylark,” but you have to take your inspiration where you find it.  A slug poem:

Trail of Tears

Hope is frail
and I am frail
and both are surely dying.
The slug leaves a glistening trail
as evidence of his trying
to get somewhere,
somewhere over there,
where the way’s not slick with crying.
There’s salt in tears,
no hope in fears—of this
there’s no denying,
until finally bliss
is one last kiss—
death-defying!
After that, who knows?
The going slows
for a sluggish rhymer crying.
The meter pumps a salty sea
like the one that pumps inside,
further proof, should it be needed,
I haven’t quite yet died.

I will be teaching a new literature course this summer at VCU, May 23-June 23. The class meets Monday through Thursday 10:30 am-12:45 pm. It is listed as English 215-004 Textual Analysis. As with previous summer classes we’ll read a book (or the equivalent) a week, paired with a movie. In previous years, I’ve taught a survey of science fiction from the fifties to the present, as well as an urban fantasy class organized along genre lines with pairings of similar books and films.  This time out, I want to tour the fantastic as it is now.  I’ve gone about this as a working professional in the field, selecting texts that have made the most significant impact in recent years.  They are all also wonderful works of art.

We’ll start with Pan’s Labyrinth (film) and Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord.  Of the many interesting first novels in the fantastic of late, hers most charmed me.  The film has been a favorite in the urban fantasy class.  Both works use traditional mythologies in modern settings to great effect.  Their narrative techniques are an artful blend of myth and metafiction.  Both feature delightful heroines who reinvent the myth they inhabit.

Next will be Children of Men (film) and The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.  Both are buried under awards.  Future England, future Thailand—the dystopian future is alive and as scary as ever.  The loving attention to both world-building and character in both works belies the notion that there’s somehow a conflict between the two.  What didn’t occur to me before I chose the pair is the eerie resonance of their final scenes.

It used to be in sf that space was the place, but in the twenty-first century, place is a more complicated concept, and those ftl drives get harder and harder to spin up (or swallow).  The next pair— Inception (film) and The City & The City—tell stories in worlds of their own devising, worlds the inhabitants themselves help create, worlds that then shape them into who they are.  Or something like that.  I’ve gushed about the Miéville novel before.  It too is buried under awards.  I’m less sure of Inception, but it was the most noticed sf film of late (available on DVD).

Those of you who had the pleasure of hearing Kelly Link read at VCU recently know that one of the most exciting developments in the recent fantastic is the emergence of exceptional short fiction writers.  For this class we’ll read Kelly’s Pretty Monsters collection, paired with the Swedish film Let the Right One In. Both stories and film do marvelous things with monsters and children who love and fear them.  Meanwhile they play compelling narrative hell with genre expectations and perspective.

Finally, we’ll go online.  Not only is the short form enjoying a renaissance, it’s increasingly doing so online.  Awards nominees and recommended reading lists are now filled with titles from publications such as Clarkesworld and Strange Horizons.  I’m still working on a final list—there are so many to choose from.  (Suggestions are welcome).  I’m pairing these stories with what I’ll call the Netflix film, the film that gets a wide distribution because it’s streamable.  I’ll show Sleep Dealer, the timely Mexican sf film about immigrant labor.  We’ll see what effects this digital migration is having on the emerging fantastic.

I’m totally psyched.  Registration starts Monday.  Love to have you.

Atheist

I’m not supposed to tell you I’m an atheist.
You might be concerned I have no moral compass,
no certainty concerning the finer points of the universe.
Better to dress it up and affect Taoist,
Plump it up and claim agnostic—gush
Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to know?
Make of God such a windy abstraction
one might as well pray to the wind,
but please don’t say that word.
Sorry. I love life, Earth
its glorious habitat, sailing
through space, teeming with intelligent
faithful killing each other to confirm
which speaks for God. In silence I am
still mindful of our course,
our vessel,
the frailty of the crew,
its rare and precious cargo.

While researching the Minotaur, I came across this touching scene before the troubled days with the maze and the sacrificial virgins and Theseus and all the rest of it.  Don’t they look happy?

I just read Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo, and I was completely enchanted.  At first I was reminded of Amos Tutuola, but Lord brings much more to the narrative table than reworked folktale.  Funny, wise, and cleverly constructed, this novel is a delightful antidote to the excess of urban fantasies whose heroines possess the ethical sensibilities of paid assassins.  Karen Lord packs more skilled storytelling in this 188 page novel than most wheezy trilogies can crank out in a 1000.  I loved it!