Not Thinking About the Children

Two essays — one from Annalee Newitz and one from Lizzie Skurnick — express needless hostility to books that involve the young. The first essay quibbles over YA science fiction with protagonists under 18 being categorized as YA as niche marketing gone horribly awry. As Newitz writes:

When scifi novels with adolescent protagonists are marketed as “just for adolescents,” a curtain of taboo falls between most adults and that novel. In an era where there is so much legal panic around relations between adults and young adults, it’s hard to deny your knee-jerk response that there’s something slightly distasteful and pedophilic about an adult reading stories aimed at people under the age of 18.

Let me try and understand this strange logic. If I, a balding and bearded thirtysomething man, wander into a YA section at a bookstore, I will immediately find my name listed in the Megan’s Law database. I cannot possibly purchase a book and claim it to be “for my son” or “for my niece.” (Not that I would. Because a book purchase is nobody’s goddam business but mine. And besides, I have braved the apparent choppy waters of the kiddie section many times in purchasing several copies of E. Nesbitt and L. Frank Baum for friends to give to their children to read.) To wander into the kiddie section is now apparently equivalent to clumsily divagating through the beads separating the “adult” titles from the regular movies in a video store. Never mind that, when it comes to YA, it is parents who hold the purchasing power.

And, of course, I cannot possibly read a YA book on a subway. Not even if I remove the dust jacket and make the book’s title difficult to identify. Apparently, the minute that I open up a YA book, all eyes will veer to my perverted and demented form. There can be no other judgment. Not even the usual apathy. You may not know this, but every YA book can be easily identified by the government-mandated bleeping yellow light whenever anyone over the age of eighteen starts reading it. The appropriate authorities will be summoned. I will be thrown in jail and sentenced to a chemical castration. For I have transgressed the boundaries.

For what it’s worth, I have read a few YA titles on the subway and have not yet experienced any such problems. Perhaps Ms. Newitz has some legislative evidence with which to support her utterly strange claim. But I seriously doubt this.

Then there is Ms. Skurnick’s essay, which quibbles with Chris Adrian’s short story collection, A Better Angel. She first casts doubt on a 9-year-old narrator’s ability to recite Emily Dickinson’s poems. (Casual YouTube searches suggest otherwise.) The idea that a 9-year-old would consider More Joy of Sex is likewise impossible. (Never mind that kids are quite curious about anatomy. I should point out that I acquired an illicit copy of The Joy of Sex when I was 6. Puritanical households make children curious quite swiftly.)

Both essays have been dutifully responded to by, respectively, Colleen Mondor and John Fox. Fox suggests that Skurnick failed to read one story correctly and used this to paint a needlessly broad stroke against the capacities of children.

But what is really going on here? I have appreciated both Newitz and Skurnick’s work in the past. However, these essays both represent foolhardy and illogical positions. These two idiotic essays read as if they were written to draw traffic to their respective outlets. Forget reason, ratiocination, or even a modicum of common sense. Newitz and Skurnick both decided that they’d throw all that into the incinerator. And in doing so, they have both settled for pernicious and discriminatory positions that threaten the possibilities of literature. If we cannot accept a 9-year-old who likes Emily Dickinson, then I suppose we should disregard the wisdom of Holden Caulfield or the musings of Huckleberry Finn. After all, all dem kids must be dumb! Likewise, it’s worth pointing out that there was once a time in which anyone reading or writing science fiction was considered a pervert or a loon. (For example, consider this 1954 Time article in which a Cleveland psychiatric social worker declared that science fiction plots betrayed “schizophrenic manifestations” in the minds of their authors.) It is extremely disappointing to see the editor of a sizable science fiction website fall into this same fallacious line of reasoning for YA.

Will They Get This Right?

Masters of Science Fiction.

Source material: Robert Sheckley, Harlan Ellison, Walter Mosley, and Robert Heinlein.

Thespians: Sam Waterson, Judy Davis, Malcolm McDowell, James Cromwell, and Brian Dennehy.

Sam Egan, who wrote many of the better episodes of the Outer Limits revival, is writing two of these. Stephen Hawking is providing introductions to each episode. This augurs well, but given the shaky quality of last year’s Masters of Horror, I still fear the worst.

The Pampering Machine

You know that John W. Campbell series of stories, beginning with “The Machine” and continuing with “The Invaders” and several other stories in The Machine series? In this series, The Machine grants humanity everything it wants. Humanity becomes indolent. Ambition dissipates. And aliens easily conquer the planet Earth. I’ll never forget the way that Campbell describes the sense of horror that kicks in, where humanity, stunned by the fact that it has been coddled for so long and has never known anything in the way of self-sufficiency, lets out a great collective cry as it realizes how naked and vulnerable it is against the invaders.

As it turns out, Campbell may have been right all along. We do seem to be heading that way.

Dave Itzkoff: Well, Crash Courses Are Better Than Glossing Over White Males

It took a little more than three months for Dave Itzkoff to write his second science fiction column (or perhaps the more accurate answer here is that it took that long for Sam Tanenhaus to figure out that the field was a little more substantial than geeks writing stories). This column is slightly better, if only for its mention of the underrated writer Ellen Klages, whose work is often published in the underrated The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (where I first encountered her). But I must inform Mr. Itzkoff of the following realities:

1. Sorry, Dave, but Christopher Rowe is already taken. The marriage, as I understand it, is a healthy one. But what a way to suck up! You even quoted Matt Cheney! So hipster points and a crash course bonus for you! Now if only we can get you lusting after someone who isn’t attached or, better yet, convince you to engage in a dialogue with those who do know something about the subject but who don’t need to flaunt their knowledge like a smug Department of Defense official in the Johnson administration who thinks he knows more about Vietnam than those who are actually there. Who knows, Davie boy? Your column might be worth something more than a man declaring how much he cares about the reactions.

2. Dave, baby, you’re going to have to think outside the pop cultural box. These “intimations of juvenilia” that you think speculative fiction is all about are among the major reasons why we criticized you in the first place. Not only has the genre moved well beyond “juvenilia,” but a “cookie monster” isn’t always what it seems.

3. “Rosenbaum’s imagery will surely embed itself in the invisible architecture of your own memory banks for days after you’ve read it. But when you approach it for the first time, just try to forget that you’ve already been told how it ends.” So this is how Tanenhaus wants you to cover speculative fiction, Dave? Look, I’m nowhere nearly as schooled as my peers, but even I know something about the subject and wouldn’t dare to propose the silly and dismissive phrase “invisible architecture of your own memory banks.” Why, I’d be remiss and downright philistine if I actually declared myself a cultural arbiter on such flimsy pretext. So you read a Nebula anthology and you’re an expert now? Well golly! I mean, can I pin a boutinaire to your lapel, declare myself as your godfather, and send you a gift certificate to Tony Roma’s? There’s some good eatings there, I do declare!

4. Lastly, what can we do to get you and Ron Hogan to kiss and make up? Or does this “I write for the NYTBR now” schtick mean that you won’t talk with the plebs?

Oh, Bus Them Into the Schools Already!

Gwenda Bond on literary fantasy: “To many, this is far from a new development. The blurring of borders signals a return to a broader idea of literature. ‘Great writers have been incorporating fantasy, science fiction and horror in their fiction for a very long time,’ says Tina Pohlman, editorial director of Harcourt’s Harvest imprint. But she concedes, ‘I realize that the contemporary literary world tends to equate literary fiction with narrative realism, so maybe there is something in the air.'”

Fantasy: A Genre Tailor-Made for Political Fiction?

Henry Farrell on China Miéville: “For Miéville, fantasy shouldn’t merely justify what is, in the service of a self-defeating escapism or consolation; to the extent that it does, it’s merely remaking our political world, not Remaking it. Instead, fantasy should become a way of arguing about our social condition, of re-presenting our dilemmas, and creating a space for the imagination in which we can identify new possibilities of action. Fantasy can have a kind of political force that the ‘realistic’ novel can’t, precisely because it doesn’t take the real for granted.”


1987. Sacramento. I was in eighth grade and my best friend was African-American. And he was a handful of African-Americans in a school comprised almost entirely of whites. This made no difference to me. I was simply relieved to meet someone who dug Full Metal Jacket and Doctor Who as much as I did and who liked to contemplate some of the strange observations around us. The girls we blushed over at recess. (Embarassingly, I still blush around women to this very day and I can’t help thinking of my old friend every time I do.) We’d go crawdad fishing and ride away long weekends on our bikes. We exchanged rap tapes. Kool Moe Dee, Too Short (before the $ sign), Ice-T. He introduced me to his friends and I’d hang out with the posse contemplating Arsenio Hall’s appearance in Amazon Women on the Moon and trying to figure out which girls had the best booties. His mother, who raised my friend on her own, was kind enough to let me stay over and she somehow knew that things weren’t exactly scintillating at home. But no matter.

What I had no way of knowing back then, what indeed was a horrible mystery to me, was when I came home with black eyes and bruises and horrible aches in my pale and skinny limbs simply because this boy was my best friend. I was called “Nigger Lover.” I was punched and beaten, thrown into trash cans and mercilessly taunted between periods. For what crime? Partly because I was poor, but mostly because I hung out with a kid who was not of my race. This was not the South, but suburban California. How could this be? I asked myself. Hadn’t these days passed?

Eventually, my friend had to move away to St. Louis. His mother had found a better-paying job. And I lost track of him. I’ve made several attempts over the years typing his name into search engines, aching to know what happened to him, wanting to make sure that he made out all right. But I’m pretty sure he made out okay. He was a good kid.

Back in those days, I was a heavy reader of science fiction. Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert Sheckley, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, Robert Bloch, and Douglas Adams were all names that graced the covers of the books I read. Fantastic worlds reflecting the phantsmagorical awaited me in the library. But when I checked out a mass-market paperback of Kindred from the library, I had no way of knowing that it would be Octavia E. Butler who would tell me, perhaps more substantially than the others, just what speculative fiction was all about and why my schoolmates had beaten the shit out of me more than a century after emancipation. For in Butler’s hands, speculative fiction wasn’t just “speculative.” It was fiction that stood on its own, going well beyond what even my English teachers often dismissed as “flying saucers and bug-eyed monsters.” It unearthed human ambiguity. In one glance from a character, Butler revealed untold decades of subconscioius behavior that our contemporary society had failed to discuss, much less address. And she did so with a clearly written and utterly compelling tale involving time travel and years waiting for one’s lost love to return. It was Kindred which explained to me why I had been hurt and taunted and abused.

That was no small task.

To me, Kindred was one of those key books that told me that literature was about something. Years later, in my late twenties, I reread the book and was astonished by how well it had held up. And with more than decade of life experience accumulated, the chasm between Kevin and Dana hurt even more.

It’s difficult to sum into words just what Octavia E. Butler did for fiction. At the risk of coming across as a jejune generalist, Butler didn’t just demonstrate that science fiction wasn’t the exclusive territory of white male writers, but she proved more adeptly than most writers that issues of race, environment, ideals in a dystopic state, and the like were the stuff of Fiction. Period.

So when Tayari Jones tipped me off this morning with the possibility that Butler had died, before Butler had even had the chance to celebrate her sixtieth birthday, I couldn’t believe it. I had to find out for sure. Surely, the woman who had planned to be an “80-year-old writer” and who had, with Kindred, rediscovered the great joy of writing after the dystopic Parables wasn’t gone. And when I confirmed the news this morning, I was numb and more than a little dumbstruck and really couldn’t do much of damn anything all day.

I’m extremely grateful that I had the chance to talk with her and to thank her. What I can tell you about Octavia Butler from the hour I shared with her is this: I had taken her to a cafe that I thought would be relatively depopulated, but to my great surprise, it was extremely noisy and crowded. I remember buying her a bottle of mineral water, which I had initially misheard as “water.” I remember Butler wincing and raising an eyebrow every time the report of the espresso machine went off. But I also recall her being extremely relaxed and diligent with her answers, even though she didn’t really care much for doing press, much less being in public. Because I knew Ms. Butler had a heart condition, I offered to walk her back from the hotel. But she was a self-sufficient woman and she preceded the walk back to her hotel with an unexpected “It was nice meeting you” and a disappearing act that was so rapid that I rushed out the doors to find no trace of her. I had horrible nightmares that she wouldn’t make it to her City Lights reading that night. But thankfully she did.

In the end, Butler’s work will live on. But there is nobody who can replace her. I can’t imagine any other author who could have helped me understand that I wasn’t alone when the preteen thugs tried to dissuade me from my friendship but completely failed in the process.

[UPDATE: Tayari has more words, as does On the Verge of Dating White Girls and Cory Doctorow.]

[UPDATE 2: And, thanks to Gwenda, more from Jenny D, Scott Westerfeld and Known Forms.]

[UPDATE 3: Still more. Cyborg Demoracy, L. David Wheeler, Earthseed poetry, Kelly Sear Smith, and Pantry Slut, who remembers Butler as a Clarion instructor.]

Octavia Butler Dead

Octavia Butler died on Saturday as a result of a fall from her home in Seattle. I talked with the King County Medical Examiner’s office. They have confirmed that they have an Octavia Butler there. Damn.

This is a major loss to American letters and I’m a bit shaken up by this. I’ll have more to say about Octavia Butler’s importance as soon as I collect myself. But I was extremely fortunate enough to talk with Octavia just before she passed away. You can listen to the podcast here.

The email currently making the rounds:

“Yesterday Octavia Butler fell outside her house during what neighbors thought was a stroke. A neighbor kid found her outside her house. They rushed her to the hospital, and found blood had pooled in her brain, they operated but she passed away today.”

(Source: Steven Barnes’ blog.)

Write Ghettoized Fiction or Die Tryin’

In the latest edition of Emerald City, Matthew Cheney offers us “Literary Fiction for People Who Hate Literary Fiction.” Cheney writes, “A reader only interested in a narrow type of writing (hard SF, for instance) is not going to find much pleasure from any literary fiction, but a reader who is interested in experiencing new realities, strange visions, visceral horror, and supernatural events has plenty to choose from,” and proceeds to offer a helpful list of authors for those who’d like to experience some of these alternative visions.

I think, however, it goes without saying that there’s a similar stigma working in reverse. I’m talking about a certain type of literary person who simply will not pick up a book penned by Arturo Perez-Reverte, Octavia Butler, China Mieville, Rupert Thompson, Gene Wolfe or Donald Westlake, precisely because the book is categorized in the mystery or science fiction sections of the bookstore. Sure, the literary person will pick up Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and go nuts over it because it is categorized in the fiction section or in some sense crowned by the tastemakers as “literary,” little realizing that Philip K. Dick explored similar ethical questions about cloning in his 1968 novella, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (later turned into Blade Runner), as did Kate Wilhelm in Where Late the Sweet Birds Sing and David Brin in Glory Season. The list goes on.

In fact, when we examine the rave reviews given to Ishiguro, we find a profound misunderstanding, if not an outright belittling, of science fiction:

Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times: “So subtle is Mr. Ishiguro’s depiction of this alternate world that it never feels like a cheesy set from ”The Twilight Zone,” but rather a warped but recognizable version of our own.”

Louis Menand, The New Yorker, on the book’s ending: “It’s a little Hollywood, and the elucidation is purchased at too high a price. The scene pushes the novel over into science fiction, and this is not, at heart, where it seems to want to be.”

Siddhartha Deb, The New Statesman: “This unusual premise, emerging through Kathy’s memories, does not lead us into the realm of speculative science fiction. Unlike Margaret Atwood in Oryx and Crake (2003), Ishiguro is not interested in using the idea of cloning to conjure up a panoramic dystopia.”

These all come from non-academic publications which might be considered “of value” to the literary enthusiast. And yet note the way that Kakutani is relieved that Ishiguro’s book doesn’t inhabit the realm of science fiction (indeed, failing to cite a specific science fiction book in her comparison). Or the way that Menand suggests that the novel’s ending is “pushed over into science fiction.” (Never mind that, by way of its story, Never Let You Go, with its premise of engineered clones, its near-future setting, and its shadowy governments, is indisputably a science fiction novel. So the idea that it would be pushed into a genre it already inhabits is absurd and contradictory.) Meanwhile Deb praises the novel’s “unusual premise” but, despite Ishiguro’s science fiction elements, it somehow does not fall into the redundant term of “speculative science fiction.”

What we have here is a strange reviewing climate transmitting a clear and resounding message to the literary enthusiasts who read the reviews. If a novel manages to convince a sophisticate or a literary enthusiast that it does not inhabit a genre, then it is, in fact, literature. If, however, there is a single experiential passage reminiscent of or explicitly describing bug-eyed monsters or aliens or clones, then sorry, but you’re taking a gritty stroll in the ghetto and you should be ashamed of yourself for taking off your evening gown and putting on some old sweats. Is this really so different from the backlash Dan Green recently identified against experimental fiction?

Of course, M. John Harrison, himself a fantastic science fiction writer, was one of the few to observe, “[Y]ou’re thrown back on the obvious explanation: the novel is about its own moral position on cloning. But that position has been visited before (one thinks immediately of Michael Marshall Smith’s savage 1996 offering, Spares). There’s nothing new here; there’s nothing all that startling; and there certainly isn’t anything to argue with.”

The fact that the literary climate refuses to examine, much less acknowledge, Ishiguro’s antecedents suggests not only that the genre stigma holds true, but that today’s reviewers operate with a deliberate myopia towards those authors who would innovate along similar lines in other genres. For the genre-snubbing literary enthusiast, there is something new in Ishiguro. The new realities, the visceral horror — all presented in a seemingly fresh way. But the very lack of inclusiveness in this approach is not only unfair, but critically unsound.

RIP Robert Sheckley

The great satirical science fiction author Robert Sheckley passed away on December 9, 2005. He was 77.

Before Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett (and perhaps Connie Willis), there was Robert Sheckley. Far from a mere wiseacre (although he was that and much more), Sheckley was one of the first authors to fuse satire with science fiction. Years before Stephen King ripped off the idea for The Running Man and decades before the crazed spate of reality television shows, Sheckley had written a short story, “The Seventh Victim,” in 1953, devising a futuristic world in which game show contestants were designated Hunters and Victims and competed for cash by murdering contestants. A film and a novel followed: The Tenth Victim (1965). Here is an excerpt that shows Sheckley in top goofball form:

Long legs flashing, sable coat clutched beneath one arm, Caroline ran past the tawdry splendors of Lexington Avenue and fought her way through a crowd gathered to watch the public impalement of a litterbug on the great granite stake at 69th and Park. No one even reamrked on Caroline’s progress; their eyes were intent on the wretched criminal, a lout from Hoboken with a telltale Hershey paper crumpled at his feet and with chocolate smeared miserably on his hands. Stony-faced they listened to his specious excuses, his pathetic pleas; and they saw his face turn a mottled gray as two public executioners lifted him by the arms and legs and lifted him high in the air, positioned for the final plunge onto Malefactor’s Stake. There was a good deal of interest just then in the newly instituted policy of open-air executions (“What have we got to be ashamed of?”) and not much current interest in the predictably murderous antics of Hunters and Victims.

Note the specific details nestled within these lengthy sentences. We have here a ridiculously picayune offense attracting a mob, complete with the attention given to the “telltale Hershey paper crumpled at his feet.” Not only is this “criminal” being executed for a trivial offense, but this is no mere hanging, but a more atavistic “impalement.” There is an enduring rivalry between New Jersey vs. New York, as if the crowd completely expected some lout from Hoboken to sully their neighborhood. Further, murder, by way of being televised, has been marginalized and is now devoid of the appropriate horrific response.

When Sheckley came along in the 1950s, speculative fiction needed a swift kick in the ass. While early innovators such as Alfred Bester and Fritz Leiber were just beginning to expand the genre’s limits (all to come full circle in the so-called “Golden Age” of the 1960s) beyond alien empires, robots and humanity’s skirmishes with extraterrestrials, Sheckley had a decidedly more mischevious purpose.

Immortality, Inc. (1958) imagined a world in which science had proven that an afterlife existed, but corporations charged exorbitant fees to get there. Dimension of Miracles (1968) concerns a man who wins the lottery, but must return to Earth to get his prize. And getting to Earth, much less the right Earth in the right time, proves a greater struggle than expected.

But Sheckley was far from a mere funnyman. He wasn’t afraid to experiment. His novel, Options (1975), was composed of seventy-seven brief chapters, resulting in a Flann O’Brien style collection of phantasmagorical imagery which may or may not be real.

It’s really too bad that Sheckley spent much of his latter years writing novels for Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 (sadly, among the few of his works still in print) and never received the full credit he deserved. His work will be truly missed. However, if you’d like to sample, Nesfa Press has issued The Masque of Mañana, which contains Sheckley’s major short stories. They’ve also published Dimensions of Sheckley, an omnibus collection that contains five of his novels.

Failing that, the Robert Sheckley website has preserved a television appearance which was recorded in Romania last year.

Prescient Remarks on the Swinging Pendulum

From a 1975 interview with William Tenn (aka Philip Klass): “I think we live in the freeest goddamn time in the history of Man. Insanely free time. There are freedoms now that I never thought would have been available. Just the kind of language I can use, and I wish — the things I could write about. And this — of all the criticisms of our society, so far as I’m concerned — is the ultimate freedom to date. We are the only society that is examining itself in an open way, that is constantly trying to improve itself. I feel very strongly about America, but the point I’m making does not relate directly to science fiction…but in a way it does. I think back to when Man developed such freedoms, and it seems he just can’t stand them, and they’ve got to be ditched. And they’ll probably be ditched in your lifetimes. I think the pendulum swings, and in very few and very short periods of history has Man been free….

“You find you get used to it, but what the hell do you think it was like when the Germans said ‘No more war?!’ Man has been through the first World War, and has built a social democratic republic. Those older people especially, to whom their children said in the 1930’s, ‘You’re so old fashioned, you don’t believe in war. War is the natural state of Man…’, to them their parents said, ‘You’ll get adjusted to it.’ And I don’t know how or exactly when, but you kids won’t spend the last part of your lives in as much freedom as you had, or have, right now.”

Hugo Award Winners Announced

This year’s Hugo Awards Winners are up. Here are the literary-related winners:

Best Novel: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (*sigh*)
Best Novella: “The Concrete Jungle” by Charles Stross
Best Novelette: “The Faery Handbag” by Kelly Link (Hurray!)
Best Short Story: “Travels with My Cats” by Mike Resnick
Best Related Book: The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, Edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn
Best Professional Editor: Ellen Datlow
Best Professional Artist: Jim Burns
Best Semiprozine: Ansible
Best Fanzine: Plokta
Best Fan Writer: David Langford
Best Fan Artist: Sue Mason
Best Web Site: SciFiction
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo Award): Elizabeth Bear
Special Interaction Committee Award (not a Hugo Award): David Pringle

Naked Dentists Dog Markson & Marquez’s Potential Movies?

Nudity in Science Fiction Books (via Quiddity)

Only in John Updike’s universe could a person be prim about dental procedure:

?Let?s have lunch,? he begged. ?Or is your mouth too full of Novocain??

?He didn?t use Novocain today,? she primly told him. ?It was just the fitting of a crown, with temporary cement.?

Mark reviews The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. And he also points out that David Markson has a new book coming out.

Perry Anderson tackles Living to Tell the Tale, comparing Garcia Marquez’s life against Mario Vargas Llosas.

David Edelstein and A.O. Scott square off over the Biskind book, comparing it against J. Hoberman’s The Dream Life.

Anne Tyler: Unwavering Instigator of Irritation

Michiko on Joe Ezterhas: “As for the rest of this ridiculously padded, absurdly self-indulgent book, the reader can only cry: T.M.I.! Too Much Information! And: Get an editor A.S.A.P.!” What the F.U.C.K. is up with the A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.S.?

A new book will explain the seven most important unsolved math problems. One of them involves working out the probability ratio for the Democrats in November.

How the hell did the Washington Times snag a review copy of the $3,000 Ali book? Did the reviewer have to fill out a loan application and submit a credit report?

The new issue of the resurrected Argosy is out. It’s the first issue since 1943, with work by Jeffrey Ford, Michael Moorcock, Ann Cummins and Benjamin Rosenbaum. Each issue will be packaged in two volumes: one the main magazine, the other a novella. The magazine is printed bimonthly and has an affordable subsciption rate. The Moorcock story is the return of metatemporal detective Sir Seaton Begg.

The Age weighs in on the legacy of long novels, but cites Tolkien and Patrick O’Brian instead of David Foster Wallace and Rising Up and Rising Down.

Bookslut has posted the standard response the Times is issuing.

Christopher Paolini: the next J.W. Rowling?

A.S. Byatt weighs in on the Grossman translation.

The Globe and Mail reports that Tyler “hasn’t a boring or irritating word in her vocabulary.” Of course. You can find the boredom and the irritation in the Caucasian malaise and the treacle.

And Radosh and Slate are looking into the reliability of that Times sex slave story.

Disappearing Books & Some People Just Don’t Understand

In Singapore, Starbucks cafes have initiated a used-book program to get people reading. Read a book, drop it off at a Starbucks, and get $1 off a drink. Of course, there’s one chief problem with the plan beyond this failure to encourage people to read it. (Hypothetically, you can just move a book from the National Library to one of the 17 Starbucks outlets participating.) If the book is bad and likely to put you to sleep, shouldn’t the coffee discount apply before you read the book, rather than after?

At the Three Creeks Community Library, books on the occult are the most likely titles to be stolen. More so than tomes on test preparation or sex. I leave the conspiracy theorists to figure out if the occult books are hexed or not.

Publishers looking for a quick way to pulp their overstock may wish to contact Ed Charon, who holds the Guinness world record for tearing phone books into shreds. Or not. Ed Charon, you see, was just unseated by a thirtysomething. This young upstart can tear 12 1,000-page phone books apart in 12 minutes. “There’s no age or race barriers,” Charon said. “Everybody enjoys this.”

A.S. Byatt writes on the enduring power of the fairy tale and concludes that its legacy can be found on the Web.

The Sunday New York Times reviews Wolves of the Calla and refers to Oy as “the talking dog-badger companion,” while also comparing a conversational exchange involving stew to Widow Douglas’s cooking in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Highbrow attempts to understand popular fiction don’t get any funnier than this. Or maybe they do. Also in the Times: Heinlein’s “first novel,” For Us, the Living is unearthed. No real conclusions about the quality. More of an undergraduate-style summary than anything else. But it does include the blurb-whoring revelation that “the belated publication of this early work is a major contribution to the history of the genre.” Thankfully, John Chute has also taken on the book. He notes that For Us, the Living “promulgates the kind of arguments about sex, religion, politics and economics that normally gain publication through fringe presses, not the trade publishers Heinlein submitted his manuscript to.”

The Green Man Review asks a few spec-fic names (including Charles de Lint, Gwyneth Jones and Ellen Kushner) to spill their favorite books.

And, just as Gene Wolfe’s new book, The Knight, has escaped the floodgates, the folks over at Infinity Plus have an interview up with the maestro.