Monday, October 27, 2008


The novel is proceeding albeit at a slower pace than I’d like. I had set a deadline for a complete first draft for Halloween. Since that’s this Friday and I’m nowhere near close to anything that could be called a complete first draft, I will have to accept an extension of that deadline.

Some background: People who know me may be aware of an ongoing, very much unfinished novel that I have been working on collaboratively with my friend Pat. This project (which bears the working title of The Domain War within my files) has ground to a near-halt in recent months. Neither of us has done any serious work on it since the summer, though I believe we will pick it up again soon. So, for the moment, when I refer to “the novel,” I am not talking about Domain War but rather another book entirely. It currently has no title—even a decent working title—and is known within my file directory simply as Current Project. At a current length of about forty thousand words plus an outline that will guide about another sixty thousand, it is much further along and closer to completion than the other book, so I have shifted my focus to it and set aside Domain War for the moment. Perhaps my most major contribution to the Domain collaboration was the creation of a future history for the human race involving long-time inhabitation of the planet Mars and that planets eventual re-location to another star system. That imaginary Mars was in turn lifted from a much earlier attempt at a novel that I never finished but I thought my vision of it was still interesting enough to recycle. Skip ahead about a year and a half—deep into the writing of Domain but also in the period of its slow-down—I had an exciting and scary dream early one morning involving me and some other people I know fleeing aboard a ship into a stormy sea carrying with us a corpse (or possibly a vampire) that we had stolen from an entity that was trying to halt our escape by attacking us with a machine gun-toting zombie horde. I immediately decided to try to write a short story based on this but, of course, substituting decent characters in place of myself and Jeff and our friends. A page or two into the short story, which I called “The Stowaway”, I hit on the idea of using for characters some soldiers much like those from my version of future Mars. Then I decided that it made sense to set this new story in my future history somewhere well before the events of Domain but also well after the events of the old story from where these Mars ideas were first salvaged. And the thing started getting way too elaborate to be confined to a short story, so I was like “What the hell? Let me try to make this a whole new novel.” So now I have three novels all in various states of incompletion, none of them having any direct tie one to the other aside from having in common the existence of this vision of a future human-ruled Mars. Even though progress is slower than I’d hoped it would be, I still think that Current Project will reach complete draft stage a lot sooner than anything else, so I will continue to concentrate on it and let Domain simmer on the back burner until we are ready for a major new effort on that.


The magazine could be going better. I am still determined to make the January launch date, but I am getting somewhat concerned about the lack of content. While much of it is ready to go, I still want probably four or five more pieces of fiction and at least one solid piece of criticism now that I have decided that the zine should include some solid scholarly writing rather than simple, shallow book reviews. I know that once it appears and has gone a couple of issues, it will get easier to attract quality content. I really do not want to sound a flat note on issue one, however, by either putting out a thin issue or by releasing a lot of fluff. I am also strongly resisting any impulse to fill some of the pages with any of my own fiction—I don’t have anything ready anyway and I don’t want to the M-Brane mag to ever look like it’s merely a tool for my own self-promotion.


The only thing going on with my current reading and probably my future reading for a few months to come is the amazing Samuel Delany. That it took me thirty-seven years to find out about how great this writer is and start reading his books just makes me tremble. What else am I missing? A lot, I’m sure. I’ve always, of course, been a fan of sf and other genre fiction and had certainly heard of Delany as a well-regarded author, but I had never happened to read him until one day, when I was in between other reads (probably waiting for my friend Pat to pass off to me another of the Dan Simmons tomes that we spent much of the past year reading), I grabbed The Einstein Intersection off of my own shelves. I had never read it, though I had owned it for years—I think it came home in a bag of paperbacks from a thrift store. I needed a quick read, the book was short and I sort of remembered the author’s name. I read it in two sittings and liked it well enough with its weird milieu and strange degraded future culture and its hints of radical sexuality. I read the Wikipedia article about Delany and learned that he is an African American, dyslexic and gay. I learned that he is the author of plenty of other books whose titles I had heard but had never read. Intrigued, I added some Delany titles to my list of things to read, but didn’t get to them immediately: Pat and I were still in the Simmons phase and I had a couple of other things on deck anyway. Also, I didn’t own copies of anymore Delany books, could not consider for money reasons purchasing any of them and had not yet gotten a library card here in OKC.

A few weeks ago I did get the library card and one of the first things that I checked out was the thick, dense, astounding and confounding Dhalgren. I will write later in more detail about this novel, but for the moment I will just paraphrase one of the blurbs on the cover of the Vintage edition and say the it is a city/novel/labyrinth that swallows astonished readers (like me) whole. Utterly shaken and thrilled by Dhalgren, I went back to the library and picked up Empire Star and Babel-17 (published in a beautiful edition by Vintage in the manner of an Ace double with both novels in one back, back to back and flipped) and Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand. I finished the first two mostly while in airports and on planes during a recent trip to visit my parents in Wisconsin. I am deep into Stars right now. I love these books and I hope no one else makes the mistake I did and wait their entire lives before discovering them.

When I read Delany I am reminded of something that I heard writer China Mieville say in an interview on Agony Column. I don’t remember the exact quotation, but he described two ways of writing—the writing itself, the language used—that have their adherents. One of them is the idea that the language used to tell the tale should be a clear pane of glass through which the story is seen. Another way of thinking about it is that the language is more of a stained-glass window and the story is perceived through its colors and refractions and by peering deeply into it. Delany is definitely a stained-glass kind of writer and he asks a lot of the reader but the reward is huge.


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