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Friday, May 30, 2014

Free and reduced ebook lunches

-A Box Set of Suspense Novels 

The Other 
by Matthew Hughes 
for a few hours more

Karl Edward Wagner's 
5-book Kane series 
$2.99 and $3.79

Books of the Change (trilogy) 
by Sean Williams 
$3.99 each

Tricia Sullivan novels 

Brian Stableford 

First Action 
(Starsea Invaders, 1) 
by G. Harry Stine 

Two novels 
by Tim Sullivan 

Artemis Awakening 
by Jane Lindskold 

J.G. Ballard on J.G. Ballard

"[A]s in Dalí’s paintings, there are more elements of collage than might meet the eye at first glance. A large amount of documentary material finds its way into my fiction.... [including] a transcript of a secret tape recording I made of my then-girlfriend in a rage.*"
-- J.G. Ballard in the Paris Review interview 

* Curious. I know a fellow who saved angry phone messages from his girlfriend.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

J. G. Ballard on the Importance of the Story

"[T]he synopsis reflects, for me, a strong belief in the importance of the story, of the objective nature of the invented world I describe, of the complete separation of that world from my own mind. It’s an old-fashioned standpoint (or seems to be, though I would argue vigorously that it isn’t) and one that obviously separates me from the whole postmodernist notion of a reflexive, self-conscious fiction that explicitly acknowledges the inseparability of author and text. I regard that whole postmodernist notion as a tiresome cul-de-sac."
-- J.G. Ballard in the Paris Review interview 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

J.G. Ballard on the Importance of Synopsis and Story

"I’ve never aborted or abandoned anything, perhaps because everything I’ve written has been well-prepared in my mind. I write the complete first draft before returning to the beginning, though of course I’m working from a fairly detailed synopsis, so I’m sure of my overall structure."
-- J.G. Ballard in the Paris Review interview 

Monday, May 26, 2014

J.G. Ballard on the Notes Before the Outline

"[Before the synopsis,] I talk over ideas to myself on the machine,... type out little ideas, let my mind wander. [N]otes [cover] everything from the main themes to the details of the setting, the principal characters, etcetera, all of which I’ve daily speculated upon in the months before I begin."
-- J.G. Ballard in the Paris Review interview 

New and reduced ebooks

Free and 99 cent books 
from Hadley Rille

99 cent romance and Western books

Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited 
by Aldous Huxley 
$1.99 each 

Men Without Bones and Other Haunting Inhabitants 
by Gerald Kersh 

A Mysterious Lost City and a True Story of Deadly Adventure 
by Christopher S. Stewart 

A Velvet of Vampyres 
by Don Webb 
$2.51 (chapbook)

A. Bertram Chandler novels 
($2.99 novels and Baen omnibuses)

Clarkesworld: Year Six 
Authors:  Aliette de Bodard, Robert Reed, Catherynne M. Valente, Kij Johnson, Ken Liu, Carrie Vaughn, 
Editors: Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace

Nebula Awards Showcase 2014 
edited by Kij Johnson 

Shadows & Tall Trees: 6 
Editor: Michael Kelly 

A Translation and Commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien 

The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 6 
edited by Ellen Datlow 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Elliot Rodger's Fairness

Elliot Rodger left us eight minutes of thought before he killed.  They represent eight minutes of his confusion about the world:
"I'm twenty-two years old and I'm still a virgin.  I've never even kissed a girl....  It has been very torturous.  College is the time when everyone experiences those things, such as sex and fun and pleasure."
Is that what college is about? Isn't college about education? Where did he get those ideas?  Why does he think everyone is experiencing this? Is he attending solely for this purpose?  Who said there was anything wrong with being a virgin?
"In those years I've had a rotten loneliness.  It's not fair."
It isn't.  No one should be lonely, but it happens.  Life should be fair, but it isn't.  Why did he return unfairness with more unfairness?  Despite having an idea of fairness, he plans to impose his system of unfairness [death] on others.

Humans are all about unfairness.  Political factions put one group's concerns above another.  We seem unaware of our biases (or justify one group as deserving preference over another).

Where did he get these ideas of fairness?  Probably school.  Yet how else can teachers teach without a system of fairness?  Teachers who preferred one group of students over another were annoying.

"I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me.  But I will punish [points at camera] you all for it.  [Glances off, thinking]  It's an injustice, a crime.  Because... I don't know what you don't see in me [Sexy whimper and smile]  I'm the perfect guy.  And yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men instead of me [thumb pointing to himself], the supreme gentleman."

Five things he was probably unaware of:

  1. As a guy, he's not bad looking.  I suspect women were interested in him.  But he's probably unaware of vibes he gives off.  For instance, he puts his chin on his hand, a photogenic pose.  He clearly is aware of his semi-attractiveness and yet he's been rejected.  Likely, he only looked at those who weren't interested in him.
  2. "Because..."  He doesn't have a because for why it's a crime women haven't shown interest.  He has to think one up, one that doesn't logically follow.  His answer is about him, which may be some of the vibe that turned women off.  
  3. "I don't know..."  Are his first three words are a Freudian slip?  He doesn't know why it should be a crime except that he's emotionally wounded.
  4. "the supreme gentleman"  He wants "sex and fun and pleasure" [and presumably to be with the popular who live in hedonistic pleasure], yet he also wants to be a gentleman (Webster's: "a man who treats other people in a proper and polite way").  He apparently does not see the contradiction.
  5. "injustice" [later "annihilated" and "slay"] -- His uncommon choice of vocabulary likely put off a number of women.  They probably thought he thought he was better than them.  They may have been right.

"All those popular kids who live such lives of hedonistic pleasure while I've had rotten loneliness for all these years.  They've all looked down upon me every time I've tried to go out and join them. They've all treated me like a mouse.  Well, now I will be a god compared to you."
Despite considering himself "the supreme gentleman", he's tried to join the popular to indulge in their "hedonistic pleasure".  He failed.  He appears to have had socialization issues.
"You do deserve it [death]. Just for living a better life than me." 
Oddly, with the chuckling over his decision to mass-murder, he sounds like a B-movie villain.

By coincidence, I was just reading comments from tabloid journalists who said something similar about movie stars. There's a sizable portion of the public that loves to witness the destruction of others. Rodger's retribution video has a lot of likes (more dislikes, but still).


What this video tells me is that young men need to be educated in the ways of women, and in the ways of socializing in general.  If what you seek does not exist in one quarter, look elsewhere.  As Stephen Stills told us, "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with."  Not really a gentleman's song, but I suspect that wasn't Rodger's inner desire.

J.G. Ballard on his writing process

"I do a first draft in longhand, then do a very careful longhand revision of the text, then type out the final manuscript.... The word processor lends itself to a text that has great polish and clarity on a sentence-by-sentence and paragraph level, but has haywire overall chapter-by-chapter construction, because it’s almost impossible to rifle through and do a quick scan of, say, twenty pages."
-- J.G. Ballard in the Paris Review interview 

Comment:  Has the word processor changed the way writers write?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"The Rule of Names" by Ursula K. Le Guin

First appeared in Fantastic.  Reprinted by The Most Thrilling Science Fiction Ever Told, Andrew Porter, Jane Mobley, Robert H. Boyer, Kenneth J. Zahorski, Cary Wilkins, Jack Dann, Gardner Dozois, Martin H. Greenberg, Patrick L. Price, David G. Hartwell, Kathryn Cramer, Keith R. A. DeCandido, John Betancourt, Byron Preiss, Peter Haining, Jonathan Strahan, Marianne S. Jablon.


This is one of Ursula Le Guin's more cleverly plotted tales.  Mr. Underhill, a fifty-ish bumbling wizard, serves a small village.  His spells don't often work and he hides under his hill when strangers arrive, but he's the best they have.

A new man, Blackbeard the Sealord of Pendor, comes to town and tells his tale:  A dragon had his people's treasure, and seven mages arrived to destroy him.  However, he's fled.  They track him again to find dragon bones, presumably killed by an unknown wizard, who has made off with the treasure.

Blackbeard had followed the green glow of his oaken staff to this island and wishes to reclaim his treasure. Via black magic, he knows Mr. Underhill's true name, which gives him power over Mr. Underhill.  They battle, and he forces Mr. Underhill to assume his true form.


Mr. Underhill's true form is foreshadowed in the opening:
"Mr. Underhill came out from under his hill, smiling and breathing hard.  Each breath shot out of his nostrils as a double puff of steam, snow-white in the morning sunshine...."
and after he's revealed the controlling nature of truenames:
"Somehow the minute spent watching Palani and the children had made him very hungry."
Mr. Underhill's a dragon.  Readers might guess, but guessing doesn't rob the story of its pleasure since it is well constructed.

The idea of truenames is curious:
"When you children are through school and go through the Passage, you'll leave your child-names behind and keep only your truenames, which you must never ask for and never give away.  Why is that the rule?"
"To speak the name is to control the thing." 
Where is this true?  I didn't buy it the first time I read this, eons ago.  As an idealistic youth, I thought we could understand and deal with each other better if we knew one another's true nature.

But there is truth behind Le Guin's truenames.  Young people leave the nest to discover themselves, but often if we allow labels, peoples will flatten the label, flatten labeled people into strawmen to knock down.  Hand people your label and people can knock down straw-man likeness of yourself, which pleases observers that they've won.  It doesn't matter if they're no where near the target.  It's a triumph.

You'll see this in any tried-and-true political faction.  "X is a democrat/republican/communist, etc, and all such love [insert vile crime or often a misconstrued event that the audience is sure to hate].  Therefore, X is to be loathed."  Often this construction involves logical fallacies, which no one pays attention to.

Because Blackbeard did not understand Mr. Underhill's true nature, the true name failed.  So Le Guin flouts the idea of labels we slap on people.  Labels are not enough.  Mr. Underhill seems a mysterious and secretive yet bumbling, talentless old fool. This conceals his true, devouring/greedy nature.  I don't think readers are meant to despise Mr. Underhill.  Rather, we've been made to sympathize as he's invited people over for dinner, helped people, socialized, and he's only defending himself.  On the other hand, he does devour the village (which he probably would have done whether they highly esteemed him or not).

The POV of this tale is also curious.  It seems to be omniscient.

J.G. Ballard on Novel Outlines

"In the case of the novels, the synopsis is much longer. For High-Rise, it was about twenty-five thousand words, written in the form of a social worker’s report on the strange events that had taken place in this apartment block, an extended case history.... By synopsis I... mean... a running narrative in the perfect tense with the dialogue in reported speech, and with an absence of reflective passages and editorializing."
-- J.G. Ballard in the Paris Review interview 

Friday, May 23, 2014

"The Word of Unbinding" by Ursula K. Le Guin

First appeared in Fantastic.  Reprinted (in a few genre retrospectives) by Strange Fantasy, Damon Knight, Ellen Kushner, Jack Dann, Gardner Dozois, Margaret Weis, John Joseph Adams.


Festin, an unoffensive wizard who desires to learn patience, is knocked from behind by a rival wizard, left without his staff, guarded by magic and a troll.  He escapes as a gas, liquid, an eagle, and fish, but only gets caught and more battered and bruised than before. His enemy is Voll, an undead wizard.


Festin only escapes when he "unbinds" himself from himself (perhaps needing to lose the sense of himself he had) and drives Voll back into his own, dead, old-man body.  Festin means "banquet and "Voll" means "full"--likely intended ironically in this barren land where they end up together.

This is an early work by Le Guin.  From my research, her work hadn't been anthologized until the 1970s, after The Left Hand of Darkness and her two award-nominated stories the same year.  This work brought her earlier work attention, even though some of it was when she was still learning her craft.

Usually her Earthsea works are a kind of subtle wisdom literature, imparting life lessons for youth.  This story's unique strength is its ending and its plot--various attempts to escape a magic prison.  It has little characterization or development.

However, the final moment/image is potent, poignant, where the protagonist is left, alone in a desert land, trying to guard his undead enemy from ever arising and attacking the wizard again.  The remainder of his existence is this defensive yet lifeless position.  Is he better off?  In a sense, yes, he is not the prisoner and has learned the patience he desired; but as the jailer, he's living a miserable, dry existence.  As his rival is never named and the protagonist himself is not characterized and he has no enemies, there's a pervading sense that Festin is guarding himself against some aspect of his own self, perhaps his own future, his mortality which haunts his present.

J.G. Ballard on Short Story Outlines

"With short stories I do a brief synopsis of about a page, and only if I feel the story works as a story, as a dramatic narrative with the right shape and balance to grip the reader’s imagination, do I begin to write it."
-- J.G. Ballard in the Paris Review interview 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Memorable Dialogue

Warning:  Much offensive language:

100 Greatest Action Movie Punchlines 

The 100 Greatest Movie Insults of All Time 

The 100 Greatest Movie Compliments 

The 100 Greatest Movie Insults of All Time  

The 100 Greatest Movie Threats of All Time 

100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time 

I watched these, curious.  What makes memorable dialogue?  Largely, it appears that context or story does.  Most of the dialogue is rather bland, full of expletives or sentimental mush.  There are exceptions, but most require the surprise of an expletive, delivered at a key moment.

The last "movie quotes" category do offer some interesting tidbits--metaphors, non-sequitors, surprise, wisdom, irony, toughness,  etc.--delivered at the right moment dramatic moment.  The punchlines are the second best of the lot, full of puns, followed by the compliments--a few of which are good.

J.G. Ballard on Violence in Literary Art

"[W]e should immerse ourselves in the destructive element. Far better to do so consciously than find ourselves tossed into the pool when we’re not looking."
-- J.G. Ballard in the Paris Review interview 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Analysis of “Billenium” by J. G. Ballard

First appeared in New Worlds. Reprinted a dozen and a half times (some major retrospectives) by Amabel Williams-Ellis, Mably Owen, Edmund Crispin, Damon Knight, Edmund Crispin, Richard Curtis, Rob Sauer, Robert Silverberg, Martin H. Greenberg, John W. Milstead, Joseph D. Olander, Patricia S. Warrick, Bernard C. Hollister, Ralph S. Clem, Sheila Schwartz, V. S. Muravyev, Malcolm Edwards, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Tom Shippey, Edel Brosnan, and John Joseph Adams.

Rather ingeniously if dismally plotted.  In a world overpopulated--well over 20 billion--a pair of friends luckily live in a 4.5 square meter cubicle, if understairs. Minimum is four.  However, they hear it will soon be 3.5.  They debate this but the trump argument was that people could not live in four.  Soon they and girlfriends lose apartments.  The boys move into a broom closet.  At this nadir, they discover an unoccupied room of fifteen square meters!  Soon they invite the girls to live with them, who in turn invite family, etc. until...

Beautiful story construction:  crush protagonists, reprieve, and crush again.  Misery compounded until... they have a secret room all to their own, we breathe a sigh of relief for these gentlemen.  An average room invokes a sense of wonder for the reader as we boggle at its comparative enormousness.  Then their generosity puts them in the same fix they started off with.  There's a note of optimism at the end, but is it intended ironically?  I suspect so.  Ballard may have seen this as frogs accustoming themselves to life in a slowly cooking pot.  It's little wonder that Ballard was disliked by those who prefer the triumph of human spirit.

"Lookback" by George Zebrowski

Appeared in Nature. Online.


A man goes back in time to see his wife (presumably to see her before she dies) before his then-self arrives from work.  Moving little piece.

J.G. Ballard on Writing the Novel (pretty mystical)

"Recurrent ideas assemble themselves, obsessions solidify themselves, one generates a set of working mythologies, like tales of gold invented to inspire a crew. I assume one is dealing with a process very close to that of dreams, a set of scenarios devised to make sense of apparently irreconcilable ideas. Just as the optical centers of the brain construct a wholly artificial three-dimensional universe through which we can move effectively, so the mind as a whole creates an imaginary world that satisfactorily explains everything, as long as it is constantly updated."
-- J.G. Ballard in the Paris Review interview 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"The Word Sweep" by George Zebrowski

First appeared in F&SFOnline. Reprinted by James E. Gunn in a major genre retrospective.


What would happen in words materialized?  They'd clutter homes and businesses.  You'd need a policeman to stop their overuse, Felix.

Felix botches his relationship with his wife, June, whom he believes is being too extravagant with words.  He finds Bruno who has discovered a place where the words don't manifest.  They believe they've found the machine that's caused all the trouble....


...but they're mistaken.  Their attempt to destroy it only makes things worse.  Words no longer even communicate.

This also works as a metaphor for relationships--the need to risk extravagance to communicate (or the desire to play word games mucks up everything)--or for trash--the need to come up with an ingenious uses and reuses--but also for the need to be brief.  Words can help but also mess life up.

Interestingly, June suggests Bruno and Felix's relationship is part of the problem.  What is that relationship?  The two men do work together towards a project that not only makes the world stranger, but also they can no longer understand each other afterwards.

I failed to uncover the possible anagram in Bruno's garbled talk (second).  Let me know if you uncover what it might be.  Of course, it may not be an anagram but a puzzle or nothing at all.

A common Zebrowski motif is that wish or desire can become literally manifest, as seen in "Once We Were Dragons" or "Solidarity".  One might say it's implied in others.

Felix and Bruno appeared in another story, "Sticky" and in "Gödel’s Doom", albeit probably in a different universe.

"This Life and Later Ones" by George Zebrowski

First appeared in Analog. Reprinted by Karie Jacobson, James Frenkel.


A man's father chose electronic immortality, but it's boring.  It doesn't feel real. Other residents agree.

The son tries to work it out for the father that he gets a new body....


They agree, but the solution doesn't change anything:  Part of the father remains in the computer still, still complaining, forcing son to continue visits.

One of Zebrowski's best--a good marriage of idea and emotive storytelling.

J.G. Ballard on the Influence of Surrealist Art

"[T]he surrealists have been a tremendous influence on me, though, strictly speaking, corroboration is the right word. The surrealists show how the world can be remade by the mind.... 
"[I]n all my fiction, I’ve used the techniques of surrealism to remake the present into something at least consonant with the past."

-- J.G. Ballard in the Paris Review interview 

(Image: Max Ernst, 1921)

Monday, May 19, 2014

"The Cambrian" by George Zebrowski

Appeared in NatureOnline.


Hinkle, a paleobiologist, receives math equations from crabs.  The protagonist does not believe him.


Hinkle patents new equations and related items.  He walks as though he had something on his back.

Humorous science fantasy.  The final image clinches it.

Play on words?  Cambrian could mean the period of life single-celled organisms to multiple with arthropods a Welshman, but apparently Hinkle is from Leicestershire.  Hinkle comes from Germany, through variant forms to Heinrich or "Henry" apparently--which means ruler of house--possibly useful in interpretation.

Arthropods were the dominant lifeform during the Cambrian period, which includes crabs.

"Sticky" by George Zebrowski

Appeared in NatureOnline.


Two friends--Felix, a physicist, and Bruno, a plumber--keep reuniting over plumbing invoices that neither remembers occurring.  Maybe, Felix proposes, it's already happened in another universe.  At different places, the universe pages are "sticky" (not stated, but presumably something can happen in another universe and cause it to happen in the one you exist in).


Bruno finally arrives to fix plumbing.  However, if it's already fixed in this one, what will Bruno do?  Fix a different universe's plumbing?  How?   Or was Felix using the bathroom of a different universe and this universe returned to normal?

Felix and Bruno appeared in other story, "The Word Sweep" and in "Gödel’s Doom", albeit probably in a different universe.

J. G. Ballard on his Inspiration: The Perverse Desire to Invert and Pursue the Guilty Pleasure

"I’m never happier than when I can write about drained swimming pools and abandoned hotels. But I’m not sure if that’s decadence or simply an attempt to invert and reverse the commonplace, to turn the sock inside out. I’ve always been intrigued by inversions of that kind, or any kind.... 
"The guilty-pleasure notion isn’t to be discounted either, the idea of pursuing an obsession, like the black theme in Joris-Karl Huysmans’s A Rebours, to a point where it is held together and justified only by aesthetic or notional considerations, beyond any moral restraints. A large part of life takes place in that zone."
-- J.G. Ballard in the Paris Review interview 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"The Water Sculptor" by George Zebrowski

First appeared in Infinity One.  Reprinted by Ellen Datlow and Robert Reginald.


Christian Praeger orbits Earth on a space station, dropping canisters to rebuild the ozone layer.  He watches natural disasters, like hurricanes, hit Pacific shores.  Julian is a water sculptor, freezing water in space and removing the plastic that held it in place.  Both are former astronaut heroes.


...his friend and companion, Julian dies.  Christian performs a fitting outer space burial.


This is Zebrowski's first story.  It shows.  Compare this to the next year's Nebula-finalist story, "Heathen God", and you'll see an immediate difference.  This one throws two interesting space-career men together, espouses common SF sentiments, and then kills one of them.  It's a kind of throw-all-the-noodles-against-the-wall-and-see-if-anything-sticks methodology.  You can tell by looking at the summary--one event has little do with the other.  The smaller, line-by-line SF details and imagery are superior in this tale, but "Heathen God" gives you something to think about.  Still, that's quite a learning curve: from pseudo-SF to Nebula finalist in one year.

I recall another famous author talking about an early story of hers where she didn't know how to end it, so she killed people off.  There you go:  the secret to ending SF stories...  Not really.  But maybe that will help make you a sale.

"Gödel’s Doom" by George Zebrowski

First appeared in Popular Computing.  Reprinted by F&SF and Rudy Rucker.


Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem

Zebrowski's explanation:
"no machine-like entity that proceeds by clearly defined mechanical steps can complete any system that is rich enough to generate simple arithmetic--that is, make it a consistent system in which we could not come up with new, true, and still unproven propositions.  In fact, ones that would be unprovable in the system yet clearly true."


Can a fast A.I. refute Gödel's theorem?  Felix and Bruno set to work to see if hard-deterministic universe or if free will is possible....

Spoiler / Commentary:

The A.I. achieves its aim, so they start it again.  In so doing, the A.I. erases its work and has launched them into a different universe--a free one, one that continually changes.

Felix and Bruno appeared in another story, "Sticky" and in "The Word Sweep", albeit probably in a different universe.

J.G. Ballard on the Necessary Connection of Writers and the Exercise of Their Imaginations -- (also sales on Delany, Murphy and Hand)

"[F]or the imaginative writer, the exercise of the imagination is part of the basic process of coping with reality, just as actors need to act all the time to make up for some deficiency in their sense of themselves.... [I]f I don’t write, say on holiday, I begin to feel unsettled and uneasy, as I gather people do who are not allowed to dream."
-- J.G. Ballard in the Paris Review interview 

Today's sales:
Award-winning Grand Master Samuel Delany, Nebula Winners Pat Murphy and Elizabeth Hand (as well as Kurt Vonnegut) for $1.99

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"Starcrossed" by George Zebrowski

First appeared in Eros in Orbit. Reprinted by Thomas N. Scortia, George Zebrowski, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Patricia S. Warrick, and Richard Glyn Jones.

What happens if you became machine?  Would you still be interested in sexual relations?  Zebrowski suggests yes, but because you'd be made for a purpose, it could create painful situations--even for machines.

"Once We Were Dragons" by George Zebrowski

First appeared in World Literature Today.  Reprinted by Elton Elliott, Bruce Taylor.


Humans become dragons and try to get back to being dragons.  They suspect delusion or simple desire to become dragons.  Or maybe they always were dragons.  Or maybe they became dragons to stop war.  They attempt breaking an engine of illusion.  They have only one place to turn...

Commentary (spoiler hint):

Odd if symbolic ending, foreshadowed by an early humorous aside:
"[T]his... delusion.... gives itself away as such, too much so.  Much too much like a literary conceit."
A bit too much exposition.

A common Zebrowski motif is that wish or desire can become literally manifest, as seen in "The Word Sweep" or "Solidarity".  One might say it's implied in others.

Free, New, and Reduced Ebook Lunches

Scenes Along the Zombie Highway 
by G.O. Clark 
Interview Part 1
Interview Part 2

The Trial 
by Franz Kafka 

Bless Your Mechanical Heart 
by Seanan McGuire, Fiona Patton, Lucy A. Snyder, M. Todd Gallowglas, Ken Scholes, Jody Lynn Nye, Peter Clines, Mae Empson, Jean Rabe, 
Jennifer Brozek (Editor) 

The Dresden Files, 
by Jim Butcher 
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Exile and The Kingdom 
by Albert Camus 

by Clive Barker 

The Aethers of Mars 
by Eric Flint, Charles E. Gannon 

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Eight 
by Neil Gaiman, Joe Abercrombie, KJ Parker, 
Jonathan Strahan (Editor) 

1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies 
(Ring of Fire) 
by Eric Flint and Charles E. Gannon 

Friday, May 16, 2014

"The Eichmann Variations" by George Zebrowski

First appeared in Michael Bishop's Light Years and Dark.  Reprinted by John Gregory Betancourt George Zebrowski.  Up for Nebula and Locus awards.


War criminal Otto Adolf Eichmann is cloned, each given the original's memories.  Each are guilty in thought, but innocent in deed.  Ten Eichmanns are killed every hour, watched by the original.  They will kill up to six million or until ...

Commentary/Analysis (spoiler hint):

This story suggests one does repent except the story keeps going.  Is the story asynchronous? or does that mean he didn't really repent? or does that mean his tormentors didn't actually hold true to their word that they'd stop?

"The Eichmann Variations" is likely to make you uncomfortable.  Even one clone points out that his tormentors/executioners are similar to the Nazi SS Germans themselves, albeit each clone bears the guilt of thought crime if not actual crime. Is this a story of vengeance? justice?  Or just a story to make you question your ethics?

The story suggests that all relatives are guilty, so all Germans are guilty of the Holocaust.  New scenario:  A grandfather (with ten kids who had ten kids themselves and a few great grandkids, so 100+ direct relatives) kills a man.  Therefore, every child down to the infants are guilty and deserve death?  While some may feel this way, I am not aware of any current justice system that operates under this belief, so the majority of humans may not agree.

Moreover, identical twins are not the same--no matter how closely they resemble one another.  They start with the same genetic material but the process of cell maturation and how those cells tell each other what to become makes each twin different.  Most of us have met identical twins who get angry when they're confused with their twin.  Even with the same memories inside, they are technically different.  Furthermore, they could not have been raised identically in the same family or in the same country or even in the same historical time frame.  Is there a twin study that shows 100% correlation between twins that some trait has to be inherited?  Usually, it's a large or small percentage showing the influences of nature vs. nurture.

Likely, most victims were satisfied with the death of those actually responsible.

I'd have liked to have seen the experiment attempt to see what it takes to make a unrepentant man repent.  Perhaps that went on behind the scenes, outside of Eichmann's interest as a POV character, having rejected every overture of peace.  But that'd be a different story.

I'm not sure what to conclude although it has spurred me think more deeply about biological guilt.  No wonder every magazine rejected it, yet readers and writers nominated it for awards.  It's the kind of story that sticks in your craw or your cud, so that you have to chew and chew on it.

"Heathen God" by George Zebrowski

First appeared in F&SF.  Reprinted by Lloyd Biggle, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, George Zebrowski, Josh Pachter.  It was up for a Nebula.


A gnome, who has been held as prisoner for years on Antares IV, turns out to have created Earth.  The gnome has three visitors:  Father Chavez, Sister Guinivere and the politician Benedict Compton, who plans an overthrow on Earth by setting himself up as God with the gnome's help--but his enemies know this plan.  The gnome reveals a time is coming when he will be reunited via hive mind with his people and he will create other creations.  Chavez questions the gnome about a supreme being...


...and the gnome is unaware of any.  Benedict is caught and fried along with the gnome "co-conspirator".  Chavez is given an instant to spare the gnome's life but does not.  He cannot think.  But since the gnome should have access to the supreme being and did not Chavez doubts.  He decides to get everyone on Earth in touch with their godhood.


The gnome's death and his last profession of love for his creation are potent, moving.  Like Sister Guinivere, you want Chavez to act, but he does not.

Does Chavez not act to kill the gnome indirectly, subconsciously--either for the death of God or for the creation of other creatures?  The text does not say.

His intellectual leap is a long one, from Christianity to ubiquitous godhood--not that it couldn't happen, but he'd need a lot of time to realign his former thinking.  More likely it would happen if Chavez had doubted previously, which would make sense for his going to visit the gnome in the first place, although I'd think the church would send someone with especially strong faith to confront the gnome creationist.

Other Notes:
A) There are three Heathen gods:

  1. The gnome
  2. Benedict Compton--at least he desires to be
  3. Father Chavez desires to create all men into one

B) Earth's creator is a gnome--smaller than expected.

C) Lots of thought fodder, which is Zebrowski's forté.  Notably, this is one of Zebrowski's first works.

Five Ways Not to Start Your Story (and Other Ways to Do So)

David Farland/Wolverton discusses several ways how not to start a story and what should go in.

  1. What’s wrong with Your Story? Part 1 (three things to put in immediately--don't warm up)
  2. What’s wrong with Your Story? Part 2 (emotional and intellectual distancing)
  3. What’s wrong with Your Story? Part 3 (clichés)
  4. What’s wrong with Your Story? Part 4 (ancient history)
  5. What’s wrong with Your Story? Part 5 (three strikes)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

"Solidarity" by George Zebrowski

Appeared in NatureOnline.


Leo Wilson watches ants walk through solid-looking glass.  They die when he's not watching.  He tries it himself and succeeds.


Play on words necessary for understanding ending or you'll be befuddled:  Solidity/Solidarity -- that is, state of matter and the state of politics are related.

Government officials call Leo to advise on how to get their officials out of walls.  Leo shrugs.  Ants do it better (work together, walk through walls).

A common Zebrowski motif is that wish or desire can become literally manifest, as seen in "Once We Were Dragons" or "The Word Sweep".  One might say it's implied in others.

"One-Shot" by Lawrence Watt-Evans

First appeared in Asimov's.  Reprinted by Charles Ardai, Cynthia Manson.

A man travels through time to save Kennedy's life.  He kills the criminal.  

*spoiler*  Comment to help keep you from accidentally reading spoiler:  A lot of stories from this era about Kennedy (a few about his killer as well).  The surprise ending:  The criminal turns out to Kennedy's famed lover.

Frank Herbert on what makes enduring literary art

"Look back on the Artists and Critics whose work endured....
  1. They tested limits, their own and yours.
  2. They produced something new.
  3. They tested you.
  4. They entertained you.
  5. They often addressed very large questions, sometimes in miniature.
  6. They ringed a chord which we still call truth.
  7. They took you beyond yourself to something you recognized as better.  They reminded you of the best in your own humanity."

--Frank Herbert, Nebula Winners Fifteen 

[Note: points numbered, mine. Some lines I erased which I felt implied in the above.]

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"New Worlds" by Lawrence Watt-Evans

First appeared in Asimov's.

The probably plays into readers' affections for New Worlds, a British magazine with multiple reincarnations--most famously with Michael Moorcock at the helm, captain of the New Wave.  Unfortunately, the current zine appears to be in its death-throes with no submissions, registration required to view anything, and difficult to retrieve lost passwords.  Ah, technology.  So wonderful yet such a pain.

Beings from a different universe arrives via crosstime gate to investigate a spaceport and other technologies.  However, they are immediately arrested.  The different Earth beings discuss trading technologies, but not their most valuable.  Stalemate.

*spoiler* The crosstime people exit and blow up the gate, thinking the other more powerful with access to alien technologies.  The faster-than-light crowd is jealous of the zero-time travel....

It's hard to tell how much this tale is a tribute to that magazine, but there is a nice contrast between high technologies--both deathly afraid of the other's technology thinking the other superior.  The grass is always greener.  But they both decide to pursue technologies they now know is possible

"Windwagon Smith and the Martians" by Lawrence Watt-Evans

First appeared in Asimov's.  It won the Asimov's readers' award.  Reprinted by Gardner Dozois, Sheila Williams, and Orson Scott Card.

From Ray Bradbury, Lawrence Watt-Evans received permission and approval of this story.  It combines Bradbury's Martian Chronicles with a little Burroughsian overtones, told from a tall-tale voice of one nineteenth-century Thomas Smith.  Because of his fine windwagon on Earth, Thomas Smith is whisked off to Mars to race against the fastest racer on Mars.

Watt-Evans does a good job increasing tension and stakes of the race.  Nice narrative voice, as well.  This appears to be Watt-Evans' second-most popular tale.

Another Watt-Evans story mash-up is "Real Time", which mixes time travel and paradoxes with the unreliable first-person.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Dead Babies" by Lawrence Watt-Evans

First appeared in South From Midnight.  Reprinted by Stephen Jones, John Betancourt, including a Year's Best.

Bill Sellers, the narrator, takes his wife to have her baby.  Their baby died, says Doc Everett, on its cord.  Somehow they died get their child right away, so they want their child's body back.  Bill and his wife insist that the funeral director open the coffin  immediately.  It's empty.  Has the doc been stealing babies?

*Half-spoiler* Doc Everett has been saving dead babies for his sister.  To replace the old ones.  Watt-Evans takes it a couple of more strangenesses beyond that.

"Pickman's Modem" by Lawrence Watt-Evans

First appeared in Asimov's.  Reprinted (perhaps the most frequent) by Gardner Dozois, Jim Turner, Sheila Williams, John Gregory Betancourt, and Colin Azariah-Kribbs.

The title indicates it is a play off of H.P. Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model" where the narrator learns that a talented artist on the outs with his artist community because of his grotesque drawing has truly been seeing such visions.

Although the story states it explicitly, Watt-Evans' Pickman is anything but talented.  He'd bought a second-hand Miskatonic Data System modem and it changed his poor grammar/spelling into something more elegant if archaic.  Whereas Pickman tells a person to do something crude, the modem phrases it in a less direct manner.  Pickman is disturbed but not enough to get a new modem....

Maybe you can guess what happens next.  How else can a Cthulhu story end?  This tale gains humor/power when compared to its original.

J.G. Ballard on literary obsessions, motifs

INTERVIEWER: You seem to have an obsessive way of repeatedly playing out permutations of a certain set of emblems and concerns. Things like the winding down of time, car crashes, birds and flying, drained swimming pools, airports, abandoned buildings, Ronald Reagan . . . 
BALLARD ...I quite consciously rely on my obsessions in all my work, that I deliberately set up an obsessional frame of mind. In a paradoxical way, this leaves one free of the subject of the obsession.
-- J.G. Ballard in the Paris Review interview 

Monday, May 12, 2014

reduced ebook lunches

Jamais Vu (Year One) 
Authors: Harlan Ellison, Gary A. Braunbeck, Bruce Boston, Marge Simon, 
Editors: Paul Anderson, Eric Beebe 

Whom the Gods Would Destroy 
by Brian Hodge 

The Skull Ring 
by Scott Nicholson 

Rosemary's Baby 
by Ira Levin 

The Chain of Chance 
by Stanislaw Lem 

The Plurality of Worlds: 
A Sixteenth-Century Space Opera 
by Brian Stableford 
Four novellas up for Asimov's Readers' Poll, Sidewise, Locus awards (one reprinted by Rich Horton)

Modern Masters of Science Fiction 
  1. Gregory Benford
  2. John Brunner
  3. Greg Egan
  4. William Gibson

"Real Time" by Lawrence Watt-Evans

First appeared in Asimov's.  Reprinted by Charles Ardai and Mike Ashley.

Protagonist stops time paradoxes from occurring.  He feels something in his telling him who/what will cause the disturbance and takes them out himself, vigilante style.  The question is "How reliable is our protagonist?"  It's a smooth transition from one style to another.

Another Watt-Evans story mash-up is "Windwagon Smith and the Martians", which mixes Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the American tall tale.

Awards list

2013 Bram Stoker Awards

Sturgeon Award Finalists

Leckie Wins 2014 Clarke Award

2013 Shirley Jackson Award Nominees

2014 Locus Awards Finalists

2013 Philip K. Dick Nominees Announced

2013 BSFA Shortlist

Vinge to Receive Special Prometheus Award

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Storm Trooper" by Lawrence Watt-Evans

First appeared in Asimov's.  Up for an Asimov's Reader's Poll award.

If you like your SF wild and wooly, here's one for you.  In this time stream, time storms strike and carry, drop off items from one universe into another--such as sky whales.  Mitsopoulas and two partners, storm troopers, investigate changes in an area, but they find a brand new building that wasn't there.  This is before they arrive at the supposed time anomaly.  They investigate.

The building is called New York City Internal Security.  They treat it cautiously, as police--as this sounds like another police organization.  When they break out a megaphone to tell the police to come out, the police inside do likewise.  It's a standoff.  So Mitsopoulas decides to go inside and investigate, without his firearms.  Both parties are convinced that the other is living in a different time stream.  But it's worse than Mitsopoulas imagined.  The organization's name indicates they have a slightly different agenda.

Worth checking out.

"The Drifter" by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Appeared in Amazing.

Man volunteers to hope aboard a time-travel experiment.  He and the scientist take a trip across universes where small changes accummulate every second--changes that add up over time.  Eventually, the worlds he occupies look little like the one he left.

Pretty fair fare of a time-travel yarn.  It reminded me of A.E. Van Vogt's classic "The See-Saw".  Title has an interesting play--the protagonist is a kind of drifter before, during, and after the story.

"An Infinity of Karen" by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Appeared in Amazing.

A man lost his wife, so he hunts her down through various parallel universes.  He finds her, but she's already married to him (uncomfortable shenanigans ensue).  He seeks her in a universe where she's lost him.  He does, but she's gone to look for him.

Despite the brevity of description above, I found the tale quite emotionally compelling, wrenching.  In fact, I'd intended only to read a few stories from the collection, but the [expletive deleted] writer sucked me into his other stories as well.

Since Watt-Evans plays a variety of emotion chords, I'm surprised this one hasn't been reprinted or received an award nod.  Maybe fewer people read it, or it only seems stronger next to other stories of its kind.  But worth checking out if you like time-travel stories.  Crosstime Traffic is rather strong collection for such fare.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

"A Flying Saucer With Minnesota Plates" by Lawrence Watt-Evans

First appeared in Asimov's.  Up for the Asimov's Reader's Poll award.  Reprinted by Cynthia Manson and Charles Ardai. A sequel to "Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers".

This time Harry is the main character.  A traveler's UFO has broken down in  the early hours of the shop's parking lot, and it can't be repaired.  What can they do to keep from having Harry's discovered?  *spoiler*  Use it as a publicity stunt.

Charming tale with a great title, but not an especially strong addition to the series, probably because it does not appear to challenge the protagonist especially.  Watt-Evans had the right idea as the series needs expansion.  It is strengthened, though, being next to its prequel in his Crosstime Traffic collection.  I love the clever MN plates in the book cover to the right.

"Paranoid Fantasy #1" by Lawrence Watt-Evans

First appeared in The American Atheist.  Reprinted by Isaac Asimov, Terry Carr, and Martin H. Greenberg.

For a one-page story, this has remarkable sophistication--not only that, it was Lawrence Watt-Evans's first story.  I don't know if he had Joseph Heller's quote from Catch-22 in mind when Watt-Evans scribbled this down, but it smells like it:
“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Nathan has a number of superstitious habits:  wearing crosses, spreading garlic, avoiding sidewalk cracks.  His friend Eddie harasses him for his superstitions and then... *spoiler* gets carried off by monsters.

What makes this sophisticated is the question:  What is the paranoid fantasy?  The monsters that come out at night?  The whole thing (constructed by protagonist)?  Or the reality of those that think that paranoid fantasies cannot be real?  It could as equally apply for or against any religious or anti-religious affiliation.

If the above description intrigues you, it's worth checking out.  It opens Watt-Evans' collection, Crosstime Traffic, so you can read it as a sample.

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Friday, May 9, 2014

"Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers" by Lawrence Watt-Evans

First appeared in Asimov's.  Reprinted in a few major retrospectives (even one named after this title) by Sheila Williams, Charles Ardai, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Bruce Coville, John Gregory Betancourt, Norm Sherman and others uncredited.  It won a Hugo and Asimov's Reader Poll awards, was up for the Nebula and Locus awards.  Audio and online.

I've read this story I don't know how many times.  I thought it was interesting enough, but why was it a classic?

Sometimes stories break rules successfully.  This is one of them.

First, we have an ordinary joe, the narrator, who needs a job while in high school.  He doesn't even really like school except to see friends and girls.  He's rootless, wandering through life, doesn't know where he belongs, but the money's good.  This should fit a large majority of readers who went to high school bored, not seeing it as a ticket to somewhere better.  Typical.

Next, we have the diner, Harry's.  He's got stringent rules, but they can be broken without consequence.  What's cool about this ordinary, off-the-beaten-path joint, is that it has weirdness.  Who doesn't want a little spice and adventure in their everyday, humdrum existence?  People come in April dressed as if it were mid-winter, others as if it were a muggy July or August.  Some don't even look that human.  But they are--just from different universes.  People, the unmoored, pass through, knowing they can get stuff at this diner without questions.  In other words, it's a kind of Cheers except nobody knows your name.

(Side note:  Three women walk in shirtless--having come from a vastly different society.  Having been written near the hippy generation when it was cool to be so liberated, this probably struck a chord with those readers.  The newer generation may have pulled up short, thinking it gratuitous.  I prefer my magazine covers not to flash gratuitous boobs myself, but I understand where the earlier generation is coming from.)

Next, we have what lies beyond the diner, what it represents:  other possibilities.  There's a world out there, just for you, the wanderer.  It's just what you've been looking for, but it will take some looking.  But... you might not ever find your way home again.

Read in this way, while it doesn't have the supposed necessary ingredients of a good story, it's a kind of wish fulfillment, but not just starry-eyed wonder.  There's a cost.  Will you pay it?

"Become a Warrior" by Jane Yolen

First appeared in Warrior Princesses.  Reprinted in a few major genre retrospectives by Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling, Jacob Weisman, David G. Hartwell.


The father of a princess is killed in battle.  She promises the god in the moon that she will avenge.  People are amazed she does not cry.

To protect her maid, she forces the maid to have her hair cut like a boy.  Then when the maid turns, the princess kills the maid:
"It was a mercy, really, for she was old and ugly and would be used brutally by the soldiers before being slaughtered, probably in a slow and terrible manner."
For three years, she works as a serving lad, building strength.  For three years, she lives in the forest, gaining more strength, skills, and beauty.

"If anyone had asked her if she was content, she would have nodded.  
"Not happy. Not satisfied. Not done with her life's work.
She is found by the lord who is immediately smitten and saves her for himself.


She kills the son and then the king.  Her mother who is now the wife of this new king, tries to stop her, but the princess doesn't listen.  She later has a child.


The story's subtitle reads, "Both the hunted and hunter pray to God."

This sets us up for dramatic irony, but the tale does not focus on religion as one might expect from such a subtitle.  Rather, it plays against the anthology title it first appeared in.  Often in sword and sorcery there's the revenge that must be avenged.  War is not seen with its psychological consequence.  Yolen grapples with war and its effects on a person, the way it may poison a personality.  The character doesn't even have a name.  She kills people she loves, in her way--her maid, the prince and king--because it's part of the path to successful revenge.  The victory, to the reader, rings hollow, but the oblivious, anonymous character has won.

"When the cat wants to eat her kittens, she says they look like mice."

When the anonymous character has a "warrior", we know this is where the emotionless breed comes from.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"A Dozen of Everything" by Marion Zimmer Bradley (or cliches can characterize)

First appeared in Fantastic.  Reprinted (one, a genre retrospective) by Martin H. Greenberg, Terry Carr, Isaac Asimov, Margaret Weis, and Tracy Hickman.  Online.

Charming short.

Marcie finds a djinn, frees it and gets a wish.  She wants to get herself a wedding gift, a trousseau (apparently, a hope chest is intended although it could mean other things)--a term the djinn is unfamiliar--so she rattles of a number of items she'd like inside.  She gives up and says, oh, just get me a dozen of everything and enlarge the house so it fits.


You can probably guess that she got a dozen of everything in the world.  You may not have guessed she'd also have a dozen copies of her fiancé....

* * *

To back up what I said earlier about Jonathan Franzen's negation of the cliché, I offer up this story.  Bradley uses clichés to characterize Marcie and her aunt.  However, as a few clichés may be dated, I'll go out on a limb and guess what they're meant to indicate.

"Aunt Hepsibah was, as the vulgar expression puts it, rolling in dough."
Marcie is at least middle class with aspirations of higher.  She is "a normal child of her generation" and went to the movies often, so her parents weren't poor.  She's aware of the informal cliché, "rolling in dough", but feels she should be above it and call it "vulgar."

She is at work (likely clothed) and says the cliché "without a rag to wear" (in use since at least the late 1800s and used by writers like Penelope Fitzgerald, Booker Prize winner, and Garry Wills, Pulitzer and National Book Critics Circle winner).  Moreover, Marcie is probably not arriving at work wearing rags, either.  Again, we're looking at middle class with higher aspiration.  She also uses the French term, chichi, so once more she's preoccupied with matters of taste and using terminology from other cultures, which backs up my earlier speculations.  That she uses these phrases shows she is somewhat fashionable (which you may take as positive or negative).

Finally, she orders a "dozen of everything".  That's probably a middle class trait to stock up on stuff that you can, hoarding for a later date that will probably never come.  Why would you need a dozen of everything?  If the story has a deeper meaning, that's probably it.  Why ask for more than what you've got?

On Reading part 2: Reading Protocols, or I can't believe you don't read / think / see the world like I do

Will Self's interest in the serious novel and Chuck Windig's retort also sparked this half of the essay--from a different slant of light.

Upon request, I collected links to my online writings, often experimental back then (some good, some so-so), and bumped into old reviews of earlier stories.  I found one review angrily (why angry?) slammed me regarding a story whose style/structure I borrowed from Paul Auster and Charles Dickens.  Mostly the insinuated complaint was that I made them think in ways they weren't accustomed to.  I've since realized SF isn't a genre for difficult stories and books.  Look at Philip K. Dick's and Harlan Ellison's reaction to Samuel Delany's Dhalgren (Wikipedia):
"By contrast, fellow writers such as Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison hated the novel. When the book appeared, Ellison in the L. A. Times (Sunday, February 23, 1975, p. 64) wrote: 'I must be honest. I gave up after 361 pages. I could not permit myself to be gulled or bored any further.' In an interview 27 years later, he said: 'When Dhalgren came out, I thought it was awful, still do ... I ... threw it against a wall.' Dick called Dhalgren 'a terrible book' that 'should have been marketed as trash. ... I just started reading it and said this is the worst trash I've ever read. And I threw it away.' "
Why did they react angrily?  It wasn't a game they wanted to play.  Unfortunately, that's what people do.  They trash things they don't like reading.  Some people dislike SF.  I quit dating someone who said, "So you like reading SF?" and laughed (not that that was the only reason, but a constellation of similar symptoms*).

Each book, each genre plays its own games.  You have to be versed in the game, familiarize yourself to the rules.  Delany speaks of SF reading protocols [summarized here--Heloise Merlin, very sharp gal whoever she is].  So, too, do James Gunn and Jo Walton.

But it confuses people as well.   H. P. Lovecraft's 1927 essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” trashes Henry James because he doesn't focus on what Lovecraft does--the singular lens of fear.  I find James a more rewarding experience in terms of style, character, and thought, but your mileage may be different.  Maybe fear is your only criterion for evaluating literature.

Here's the Scratch Interview with Jonathan Franzen by Manjula Martin [registration required].  Not a Franzen hater myself (I don't know why people hate him and don't care), I found this curious:
"MM: Define 'serious novel.' 
"JF: Read the first five pages. Count clichés. If you find one, the buzzer goes off: it’s not a serious novel. A serious novelist notices clichés and eliminates them. The serious novelist doesn’t write 'quiet as a mouse' or paint the world in clichéd moral terms. You could almost just substitute the adjective 'cliché-free' for 'serious.' "
So Franzen's singular lens is the cliché.  Clichés are not admirable, of course, but literary artists have used them, sometimes purposefully.**  Here's Aaron Sorkin, Academy and Emmy-award winning American screenwriter, producer, and playwright who reused a few lines.  (Even better is this Slate parody with Josh Charles and Amy Schumer .)

Here's Junot Diaz's complaint of his MFA experience and Karin Gillespie, a self-professed Chick-Lit writer, on hers.  Again they both seek people who write what they're interested in.  No shame in that.  But neither should what they do be the only reading/writing protocol that exists.  It surprises me why more readers and writers haven't glommed on to this.  Anyway, I am glad Diaz has created an MFA program for what he sees as the proper lens for literature.  The more lenses, the merrier.  Find what fits for you, but do try on different lenses.  See what it looks like inside someone else's spectacles.

Side notes on the cliché:

* a cliché from medicine applied to different circumstances.

**Like word choice, clichés can lend a character a certain voice, depending on the type deployed.  No character or person is cliché-free unless you were able to write and revise everything you said before you said it.  Not that a cliché  should be any writer's first choice, but that there may be legitimate reason to use one, sparingly.  However, I can imagine some writers/readers where this is the only point of writing--being cliché-free.  Someday, technology will uncover just how many phrases writers have borrowed from other writers.  It may be higher than we suppose.  Maybe we'll be able to quantify the tolerable number of cliches--or the uses of a phrase which makes it a cliché, or how those clichés are deployed.***

*** I'll give examples of how clichés used well in the article, " 'A Dozen of Everything' by Marion Zimmer Bradley (or cliches can characterize)" clichés also used by Penelope Fitzgerald, Booker Prize winner, and Garry Wills, Pulitzer and National Book Critics Circle winner, who probably consider themselves serious).