Nancy Kress at Hugo House

I've just discovered that scifi author Nancy Kress will be teaching a short fiction class at Seattle's incredible literary center, the Richard Hugo House. It starts on March 19, right around the corner.

It's tempting. One of the first recommendations we received upon moving to Seattle was to a.) find Hugo House, and b.) take a class with Nancy Kress. But I'm not the fiction writer in the family; maybe I can talk the hubby into going. Vicarious Nancy Kress is better than no Nancy Kress at all.

I was happy to find one of her stories-- "The Common Good" -- in a recent issue of Asimov's, and I also hear that she contributed a story to the Gene Wolfe tribute anthology, Shadows of the New Sun. For some unfathomable reason, I haven't read it yet.

Here's an excerpt from a recent interview with Kress prior to her appearance at the 2013 ICON 38 in Iowa. (The interviewer is Alvaro Zinos-Amaro for Locus. The JS is Jack Skillingstead. The three are discussing their dream panel.)

[JS] If she has Maugham, I’d like Guy de Maupassant.
[NK] You can have him!
[JS] He was a great short story writer. And unlike your guy, he actually wrote something that could be classified if not as SF then at least horror, “The Horla”. A very famous story, in fact.
[NK] I thought we said we didn’t have to stick to sf or fantasy or horror writers.
[JS] We don’t have to, but I was just trying to make my dream panel interesting for the con audience.
[NK] Then I want Shakespeare on my panel!
[AZA] I’m surprised you didn’t pick him already. Or Jesus, or Buddha, or, say, Galileo.
[JS] Okay, I’ll have God on my panel.
[AZA] But you already have Theodore Sturgeon.

Me, I'd take Sturgeon any day.

Gene Wolfe

Did you know that Gene Wolfe was an industrial engineer who helped design the machine that makes Pringles potato chips? He's also one of my favorite authors, even though I am not particularly fond of potato chips.

I've read quite a bit of his work-- short fiction, long fiction, series, etc., even some poetry-- but not all of it. At the recommendation of a friend, I'm currently reading Peace. It's reminding me a bit of the Wizard Knight series, maybe, at least in its frame. Gene Wolfe likes using the frame tale as a device, and he's very good at it.

[*Edit: Oh wow...I finished Peace last night and immediately started rereading it. What a book. It wasn't at all what I thought it was going to be; in fact, I'm not sure what it is at all, aside from very good and very very unsettling.]

Here are a few images I've found.

These three are all by Bruce Pennington (top to bottom: Citidel of the Autarch, Shadow of the Torturer, and Claw of the Conciliator.) I found them in an article on Black Gate, an excellent magazine and general speculative fiction/art website.

This is Richard Bober's 1994 cover for the Tor release of Calde of the Long Sun.

Gene Wolfe also writes a bit of poetry, one of which won a Rhysling Award in 1978. It's called "A Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps" and can be found in Alchemy of Stars, an anthology of Rhysling winners. Here's part of it....

Trump (20)
The L6a6s6t Judgement, and my creed betrays,
Unlearnt foreknowledge of these coming days.
The angels come to smite the sea and land,
The anti-Christ for us-- and slays.
Trump (19)
The Sun the dancing children love,
Casts down this radiance from above.
Fusion, fission, no remission;
So small a house, so large a stove....

Now this is interesting: Chaosium, Inc. has released an rpg called The Chronicles of Future Earth, written by Sarah Newton and based largely on Wolfe's Urth. I have no idea what to say about the rpg itself-- I've never played it-- but it has some interesting maps. Here's another article at Akratic Wizardry and a review

This is my favorite cover image for Shadow of the Torturer. It was done by Don Maitz for the original Simon & Schuster edition of 1980. 

Wiki gods say, "...The Shadow of the Torturer won the annual World Fantasy Award and British Science Fiction Association Award as the year's best novel. Among other annual awards for fantasy or science fiction novels, it placed second for the Locus (fantasy), third for the Campbell Memorial (SF), and was a finalist for the Nebula...."

Wolfe's fiction has received quite a lot of critical attention, from within the genre world and from the literary world at large. In one particularly good review, "Mapping a Masterwork" by Peter Wright at Ultan's Library, The Book of the New Sun is compared to James Joyce's Ulysses:

It could be argued that The Book of the New Sun is science fiction’s Ulysses. Like James Joyce, Wolfe has ‘put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep professors busy for centuries over what I meant, and that’s the only way of ensuring one’s immortality.’ 13 However, to do so would be to deny Wolfe’s determination to wed the reading process with his particular conception of existence through his games playing. From his other fiction, it apparent that Wolfe perceives the world as an ambiguous round of perceptions and misperceptions in which the individual struggles, and ultimately fails, to apprehend the precise nature of existence.

 The three images above of from Japanese editions; artwork is by Takeshi Obata.

Artist Richard Vass did this cover for the Hungarian Delta Vision edition.

Of Song and Story

Recently-- and by 'recently' I mean in the last few decades-- the trend in popular music has veered away from using the narrative mode. Listen to almost any genre station you like and take a count; the percent of songs that tell stories is quite low.

Most of songs that get airtime are focused on how rotten or happy somebody feels, how badly they want this or that or the other thing, and so on. That's primarily the lyric mode, and it gets a little tedious. 

I find myself craving story. And of course, I like science fiction and fantasy stories.

Uriah Heep's "Traveller in Time" from the 1972 release, Demons & Wizards. In a decade when narrative  fantasy and scif-themed songs were enjoying a small resurgence, Uriah Heep was one of the most prolific producers.

Robots! Rock opera! Styx!

America is another 70's band that was somewhat prone to lapsing into narrative mode. This song is from the movie, The Last Unicorn, which much impressed seven-year-old me. 

In 1970, Led Zeppelin gave us the original Viking rock song. (Well, probably not the original, since the Vikings presumably had plenty of their own rock songs...Beowulf, for one.)

Another classic, "Children of the Sun" by Australian Billy Thorpe

And one more scifi tune from Bill Nelson, "Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus."