Yesterday, I read a tiny collection by J.M. Coetzee called Three Stories. It was put out by an independent press in Australia, Text, who also did his last novel, The Childhood of Jesus, in 2013.
I have a weakness of nice looking books, books that are objects, and Three Stories is a cute little hardcover, about eighty pages in length. My girlfriend picked it up in Hobart last year, because she’s a bit of a Coetzee fan. I like him as well, though I have only read his novel, Disgrace. But I thought that was an excellent novel, truly. Three Stories was quite good as well, and once again, I was reminded of the lightness of Coetzee’s prose, the ease by which it conveys itself, the seemingly effortless way it moves you across the page. Prose like that is something to be admired, I believe. My girlfriend told me (as we did our grocery shopping this morning) that Coetzee writes multiple drafts of all his work. He reportedly wrote fourteen for Disgrace. If you take anything away from that, you should take away the idea that light, effortless prose is anything but effortless.
My favourite story in Three Stories was ‘He and His Man’, which was the speech that Coetzee gave when he received a Nobel for his work. It is about Robinson Crusoe after he has returned from his island, and the world about him.
It appears that Australia has paid people smugglers to take their refugees back to Indonesia.
I say appears, because it has not been admitted yet, and will not likely be so, but I suspect that we can all simply accept that Australia has done so. What are we to do about this, really? It’s appalling, of course: but it is another appalling moment in a litany of shameful acts by Australia to asylum seekers, from sexual abuse to self harm to the denial of basic treatment to men and women for hygiene and simple injuries. Australia has even sent a five month old child to Naura. But what are we do to? What can we do? I have stopped saying that it is the Australian Government that does this, and now I say that Australia does this, that we do this, because after all that we have heard, all that we been told, we as a nation continue to allow this to happen, we as a people accept it and allow it. But the question remains, how do we stop it?
And the answer is, I do not know.
Lastly, I watched Snowpiercer last week. It was decent enough, if predictable, and with an ending that was, perhaps, a little strange. I know the film wants us all to think that there is life outside the train when it shows us the survivors before a polar bear, but I wonder, does it realise just exactly what kind of animal a polar bear is?
I suppose that can be applied to my point, earlier, about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, as well.
Last week on facebook I posted a small excerpt from the Eternal Kingdom on it:
‘How long have you been a soldier?’ he asked.
‘A few months?’ Isaap offer a wry smile. ‘Just over a year, I guess. I was given a posting last spring. First Talon.’
‘What were you before?’
‘And you gave that up, did you?’
‘No, sir. My parents said I could be rich and respectful in the lord’s army.’ He ran a hand through his hair, fidgeting, embarrassed by what he said. ‘My parents did not want the family to stay in Maosa. They said that there was no fortune here, beyond what they had. No prestige. They said I should distinguish myself to bring the attention of the other lords to me. You know how parents are, sir.’
‘Mine have been dead for a long time.’ They had, at any rate, not been like that. ‘But I know what you mean. Not so long ago, I had a sergeant whose father was rich. He was a very rich man in Yeflam. His son lived in the shadow of it for a long time. He tried to step out of it for years. I thought that there could be something in him if he managed to do so.’
‘Did he? Step out of it, that is.’
‘No,’ Heast said. ‘In the end, he was nothing more than his father’s son.’
It may not survive various edits. It may, but it may look different. It may look the same. But I was pleased with it, and because it does not spoil anything in the second book, I put it up.
And yes, the Eternal Kingdom is the current title of the third book. I’m not a hundred percent sold on it, but it fits, and I have nothing no one likes enough as a substitute. Titles remind me a bit of a Fiona Apple album, her second album, which was called When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ‘fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might so When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right. It was commonly shortened to When the Pawn… because everyone likes short titles. It’s part of the art of a title, really. Short, snappish, easily remembered. It’s something I struggle with entirely, and at times, I imagine Apple titled her album that just because she was tired of being told that small titles, phrases, would be better. She probably didn’t. But every now and then, I think, I’ll write a poem, and I’ll use it as the title of my next book.
(It’s probably more likely that I’ll do what Beat Takashi once said, in relation to the titles of his films, in which he just wished he could call them, Film 14, Film 15, and so forth. Give me enough fame and enough money and my books will have blank covers and no titles and I’ll be happy. And, you know, not selling. At all.)
On the weekend, one of my students asked me how many hours a week I work. I told him I work seven days and I work at least eight hours a day. He laughed. I didn’t tell him that it wasn’t uncommon for me to work three jobs, which put more hours on top of it. But I did tell him that I sat and wrote every day because that’s how work got finished. You can have word counts, you can have chapter goals, and I often do (I like a thousand new words a day) but for me, I sit down and I write regularly. More and more, I am convinced this is the key to it. For me, at least.
I read P. Craig Russell’s the Ring of Nibelung over the weekend. It is his graphic novel adaption of the Wagner opera from 2000 and 2001. Dark Horse released a nice hardcover of the complete thing last year, and I picked it up on Russell’s name without really much idea about it – even though it won a bunch of awards – and have to say, it’s pretty sweet. Well worth the price of admission.
While I was reading it, I thought, at times, about Lord of the Rings. Both the Tolkien novels and the Jackson films (and the Hobbit, as well). There has been a long debate about how much Tolkien was influenced by Wagner for his work. For his part, Tolkien is reported to have flatly denied it. The famous quote goes something like, ‘It is true that both rings are round.’ But he didn’t like Wagner’s opera, and it was perhaps more difficult to admit at his time that he did like it, given the connection that Wagner’s work had with Nazi Germany (Hitler was reportedly a great admirer, and saw much of his world view in Wagner’s work). For my part, I think Tolkien was influenced somewhat. Not hugely – but I think there’s enough there in the rings to make the argument and make it stick. Of course, I like these little debates about influence and inspiration and theft, in part because the lines are never clear, and because I’m just kinda nerd for shit like that.
It was in that air that I found myself thinking of Wagner and Tolkien and, after, Russell and Jackson. Russell has scenes in his graphic novel that appear almost like early sketches for scenes in Lord of the Rings. In particular, he appears to be mapping scenes with Gollum before an audience sees him. Russell’s scenes with Alberich and Mime are wonderful, but his design of them, the way they move, the shadows that they exist in… it really is as if you have seen early sketches of the CGI Gollum from the films. There are other things, as well. The ring of the Ring of Nibelung continues to present itself before the ring from the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in design and influence on some characters (mostly Gollum). And Russell’s Votan, as the Wanderer, looks like Ian McKellen as Gandalf, though this, I suspect, is simply more about the generic nature of an old man in grey robes with some crows about him. But still, with the other aspects of it, I had at times an odd feeling of being cast into that debate about the influences of Wagner and Tolkien again and seeing it play out with a new generation of artists.
Regardless, Russell’s the Ring of Nibelung it is an excellent graphic novel. You would not buy it or read it for these little discussion I like to have, but for Russell’s excellent adaption, which is its own, unique creature, and speaks well of his talents entirely.
Went and saw George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road last week. A film, really, that is deserving to see in a cinema. It’s a big, beautiful spectacle.
It has a few flaws, the primarily being what I consider a sin of plot, in which the characters go one way, only to decide at the mid point to turn around and go back the way they came. Still, if by that point you’re into the film, you’re into it. If you’re not, well, the film wasn’t going to suddenly become a film you’d like. The film isn’t spoiled by the choice. It’s simply that a more interesting choice could have been made. Others will disagree, though. Still, it’s a flaw in a film that otherwise looks excellent, and has some fine performances, most notably from Charlize Theron. Tom Hardy isn’t too bad as Max, and I enjoyed his version, but in many ways, Max isn’t a very sympathetic character. He’s merely the vessel by which the audience is delivered into the narrative. His role, within that, is simply one of survival – Theron’s character has one with more depth, and therefor, more resonance for the audience.
Before the film was released, there was a lot of noise about the film being a feminist film, and how horrifying that was. I’ll not link the article because it was beyond stupid, but sufficient to say that a) the writer of that article had never seen one of Miller’s films before, apparently and b) for a feminist film, Mad Max: Fury Road walks a pretty tame line. It’s much fairer to say that Theron’s Imperator Furiosa and Hardy’s Max treat each other as equals. I’m not sure why that makes it such a radical, feminist text, but men’s rights activists are largely an embarrassment, so I’m not terribly surprised. The are some themes made about slavery, and in particular sexual slavery, but again, I’m not sure why it got some guys riled up. Y’know, slavery is bad. We all learnt that when we were little kids and discovered the endless, endless horrors that people who are enslaved experience. Maybe that’s become a radical notion, now. I don’t know: whatever the complaint was, originally, all I can say is that I’ve seen a lot more films that push a lot more of a feminist angle.
In many ways, I found it kind of sad, in the days after I saw the film, that some guys had gotten riled up over it. I saw a lot of women who liked Mad Max: Fury Road. A lot of women (and a lot of men) who enjoyed it, who felt that there were characters that they could engage with, and enjoy. Is this not a good thing? Is it not cool that a film that is essentially one giant car chase, set in a post apocalyptic landscape is able to speak to women? Isn’t it, like, a huge positive that everyone has something they can enjoy as all the stunts roll out, the cars blow up, the people are shot, and the diseased, broken figures of the landscape emerge? There seemed to be this whole argument that underlined the opposition to Mad Max that somehow women ought not enjoy such things. Maybe their place is in front of female friendly comedies, or Disney films, and maybe all the diesel stains, big engines, gun shots and deformities are for men. Maybe that’s the natural order of the world. Maybe, maybe (but mostly I think it’s not). But regardless, I thought it was kinda cool that the film could appeal to everyone. The old Mad Max films are sorta grungy, low budget things (well, not the third one, I guess – that had a budget at the time) and they don’t largely have this kind of mass appeal, and I thought it was pretty cool that this forth film had something for everyone, while still maintaining its integrity to what came before.
(Well, it could have been a little more diverse, that said. For a film set in Australia, a lot of Australia was stripped out of it, and aside from the brief image of an indigenous man, which constitutes the whole of Australia in it, it could have been set in any desert in the world. Also, Zoe Kravitz, who I quite liked in the film, was a bit of a token representation.)
At any rate, this post sort of twisted into something other than what it was originally meant to be, but no matter. It’s a cool film – and it is a film to see in a cinema. Those films, I feel, are so rare these days – but Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that is a big and bold on the screen, and worth that experience, no matter what else is said about it.
When I was eighteen, I stopped reading epic fantasy for a while. It was Robert Jordan’s fault, if you must know.
I had just finished my final exams at High School in my own, lackluster fashion, and I had planned to sit around and read a few books over the following months, before the marks came back. It wasn’t the only thing I’d planned to do – fucking round with my friends was going to occupy most of it – but you know, it was a plan. It seemed like a thing. I’d gotten a few of the Jordan books as gifts earlier, and I thought I’d spend a few weeks reading through The Eye of the World and the couple others I had. I made it half way through before I gave up on. I put it down simply because I’d seen it before. It wasn’t until years later that I realised that Jordan had used Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as a template, and had in fact, lifted pretty heavily from it. At the time, I just put it down, put it away, and went and did other things. I don’t know that I read much of anything, then, but I remember that when I started buying books again, I was buying things other than epic fantasy.
I didn’t read it again for a while. Mostly, I had read a lot of it growing up, the books ranging from bad to good, and I was ready for something different. I still liked the genre, but I was itching for something a bit new. I also wanted to be a writer and I figured I had to be wider read. It is a big world out there and I hadn’t read much of it. So I read different things. It’s not a terribly unusual story. In fact, it isn’t even a controversial one (unless you decide to look at this as ‘Robert Jordan Made Me Leave Fantasy’, which is funny, but I can’t even tell you if those are good or bad books nowadays). But I came back, first with a few authors I had always liked, and then, about a decade and some later, after I had handed in my doctorate, I sat around and read the first four books of A Song of Ice and Fire. I remember sitting in my backyard in the last bits of sun and reading it and totally enjoying the fact that it had nothing to do with my thesis. I could probably have read menus with the same enjoyment, but after I finished them, I decided I’d try to find a few more that I’d like. If I remember right, I ended up reading Steve Erickson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen.
But there is about a decade of epic fantasy books that I’ve missed. I went out into the wilderness. I saw what I saw, and when I came back, a whole lotta shit had changed. It didn’t really bother me – I mean, the amount of books I haven’t read is amazingly huge – but then, somewhere a few years back, I wrote an epic fantasy novel. I’ve said before that it was at a bad time in my career (a word that deserves quote marks, I assure you) and I didn’t really think much beyond that I’d write a book for the kid in me and the adult in me and see what came out. Now, here I am, a guy with epic fantasy novels to his name, each one bigger than the next, and each one big enough to be used as a weapon against a poor and unsuspecting person… and I figure, well, I ought to keep up with what’s what in the genre. I like it, after all. In fact, I tell myself it’s work (truthfully, I tell myself that all reading is work related, which it is) and it makes me chuckle to think that reading epic fantasy is a work related task.
(It’s a good job, in case you’re wondering.)
So, I’ve been reading bits and pieces here and there. I read Robin Hobb’s first Fitz book, Assassin’s Apprentice, last week, and was struck by how old school it felt, twenty years after it first appeared. In the sea of dark, gritty, sardonic, whatever books, Hobb’s first book, which has a melancholy voice throughout it, felt downright innocent. It’s not a bad book, mind you, though I thought the pacing was off a bit – but it wasn’t Hobb’s first novel, and it felt quite accomplished, really. But it is strange to look at it, and then to look at some of the fantasy books being published now, and to see it very much as an older school of book, even though it was published around the same time as Martin’s A Game of Thrones. You could argue that Martin’s book is the harbinger of the new fantasy, in which no one is safe, and a darker, more adult world can be found. It isn’t like either book is the first, or the last, to do what they do, but I found them to be an interesting counterbalance to each other (and who knows, maybe Hobb’s books become like that as they go on).
At any rate, it’s interesting to go back, to read these things I missed. Some that I haven’t liked I think the younger me would have, but the older me, who likes fine prose and ambition – to touch upon that stupid argument still going on in the scene as a whole – in either themes, world building, or just plain craft, hasn’t. It’s interesting, also, to see how the authors of my youth have held onto their place, or their audience, or how they have slipped away. Some moved to different genres, different names, and some stopped writing (or being published). There’s no real reason, either, for some of it. It’s simply that new generations of readers came along for new authors, and some took the old ones as well, and some don’t. Oh, sure, buried within that is a lot to unpack about the support of certain authors, and the demographic of readers, and all of that is important, but it’s not necessarily what I am about right now. I’m simply looking and finding and reading and it’s good and bad and all of that in between and outside.
It’s an interesting journey. It’s an interesting gig. It makes you reflect on what you’re doing, where you think you’re going, and what you think it will all look like a decade from now.
At the end of the Hugo debate – should there be an end – one thing will be true: and that is that speculative fiction will have failed in a truly spectacular way in regards to equality.
As a genre, what has emerged in the wake of Sad Puppies has reflected very poorly on us, authors and fans alike. At the centre of it is the claim that Affirmative Action has ruined awards, because a) minority groups can only get awards through movements and b) white, straight, able bodied guilt is what is soothed by that debate. I have seen people agree with that. I have seen people claim that that is not a bigoted statement. I have seen people claim that one person cannot be Native American because he’s white looking. I have seen it said about others. I have seen people rant about gender, about race, about… well, about everything, and it’s been ugly and appalling.
I suspect that this shit will follow us all around for a while. When the ballot was first released, I thought that it would not do much to the diversity of speculative fiction, the ever growing diversity, and the embracing of difference that I believe is at the part of the genre, but now… Now I am not so convinced. Now I think this shit is going to drive people away. I think this is going to silence voices. I still hold out hope that I’ll be wrong, and that my earlier belief will be right, but… well, we’ll see.
The Godless on the recommended reading list for the first and the long list ballot for the second. A vote for either would help give a signal to noise boost for me, but you could also use the list to vote for work that you think deserves a bit of a signal boost that is not mine. I wouldn’t be bothered by that because that’s what I think awards are good for. I know, I know: I just said awards can be good for something.
It’s true, though. One of the things the Hugo debate has addressed poorly is this idea that popular books don’t win awards. That’s not a true statement in relation to the Hugos, I want you to understand, but it is true for others, so lets for a moment take it at face value. Lets not unpack all the things that make a popular book, all the demographics, all the statistics, and so forth. Lets just focus on the quality of the book. Firstly, I think we can all agree that popular doesn’t mean good, just as unpopular doesn’t mean bad. No book is worthy of an award in and of itself based on its readers. After all, if you hang around in any art form long enough, you’ll find an endless parade of talented people who were ignored, and hacks for made millions. It works both ways, as well. Sometimes you’re a hack who made nothing, and an artist who made something. Sometimes you’re ignored for real reasons. Other times you’re popular and enduring for the right reasons. But being popular and on an award ballot does… what, exactly? Get you readers? Truthfully, if you’re popular, people have made their choice about you already. They’ve read you, or read about you. Maybe a few will take a chance on a book if you win because they’ve always meant to, or because you deserve a second chance. But not much’ll change. If you’re popular you’re still gonna be popular. Now, on the other hand, an author who is struggling to raise a profile gets a lot from an award win. They get a leg up. They get seen. They get to escape the wasteland of good authors who never found an audience. It’s a good thing to see. It’s something to rejoice. It ensures that a lot of other things are happening, as well, from the inclusion of new authors, to new ideas, to new concepts… but mostly, it’s just nice to see an author get a leg up. Now, how high that leg up is a thing we can debate, but it’s not the focus here. I’m just saying some awareness is nice for the author who doesn’t have it. And I’m saying an award can help that.
That, by the by, is not an endorsement to vote for me. I’m doing fine. Sure, I’m not INSERT NAME OF HUGELY POPULAR AUTHOR YOU LIKE but last year the Godless was in airports. It was given nice position in bookstores. I’ve been around long enough to know that those are pretty nice things and that other authors would offer your first child for it (not their own child, but someone else’s). So, by all means, vote for me if you wish, and thank you if you do, but if you find other authors whose book you liked like mine, and you think they can do with a bit more signal than me, then go for it.
It’s a hard business, make no mistake. You’re here one day and gone the next. But it’s important for us to all to make sure that the authors who have talent don’t disappear without being read.
May I call you Bill, now? Now that I have defeated you and your fine fanzine, may I be allowed this sense of informality between us? I sit here with cognac and I toast to you, sir, for I have done it. I have defeated you.
Last night, in Perth, The Godless did not win a Ditmar. I have now become the most nominated person without a win.
I say this in all modesty. I say this even though my crown has yet to arrive. I say it even though my Wikipedia page my never be updated. I say this because you and I know how important it is.
It was, I admit, a bit touch and go. Friends told me that they were going to vote for me. There are always Judas men and women at Easter. It is even moreso during the award season. My friends had not read the book, but they were going to vote for me, regardless. To be honest, I think they like you more than me. But they were weak. Most are, of course, no good, and are constantly laid low by their own addictions, and in the end, that saved me. But then there was the double winner of the award. Glenda Larke and Trudi Canavan shared it and for a moment, for a moment between it being read out of one and the other, I could feel my chance slipping away. But fortunately, I did not prevail. Or I did. It depends on how you look at it, I suppose.
I must say, last night has allowed for me a moment of introspection, as that larger game, that larger award, the Hugos had its own drama play out. Ah. Dear me. Have you seen that? Can you imagine trying to play our game there? Amid all that American partisan politics? It would be a nightmare. But I suppose, in truth, you could not have our game there, not now. There is no room for it, not as the other games are played. The two, one a generation culture war and another an attempt to give legitimacy to those who cannot obtain it otherwise, is in full throttle. I suppose the culture war is one I find less reprehensible of the two – after all, humans have fought for years to be able to define what speculative fiction is and what it is not, and who it is for, and who it is not. It has always struck me as strange to be so angered about it, especially given that the long held belief that speculative fiction was for everyone, that it was a home for whoever you were, is what has allowed such diversity to find its footing within the genre’s own boundaries. Why you would wish to stamp your foot to assert one true definition and claim it to be the most legitimate of them all… I shake my head at it. To even take sides is to be tainted by it. To be one like you and I and allow our work to be caught up in it? I fear it would be a taint we would never escape.
But it is the other that bothers me more. The Castalia House nominations are about bringing a sense of legitimacy to people who are racists, sexists, and worse. Why, the things that have been said about martial rape, about female genital mutilation, about the right for women to make a choice about their bodies in all the ways that you can imagine… I think you’ll agree with me that it is reprehensible. And it is at the centre of the nomination! The stains it spreads to everything it is associated with. It simply boggles the mind. I cannot, I admit it, I–
Oh, a moment. My cognac is empty.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes. The Americans.
There is little to love about what the Americans are doing. They even take the outing of a young author, an outing that revealed her to be both damaged and damaging, and ask to receive a statue for it? By itself it would be worthy of comment, Bill, but with all this other anger, it makes me wonder if there is any decency, any kindness left in the heart of America? It feels as if it has become so shrill and so fragile. I think of how we have been in our battle, in our support of each other, of our constant reminders of each other’s fine work, and the necessity for it. I think also of that time you bailed me out of jail, after I, yes, I admit it now, after I was caught bringing those corpses to bury under your house. I appreciated that you understood that I was not trying to frame you for murder, but that I was only hoping to delay you once the bodies were found a few years later. You had such a start on me in terms of nominations. I had to catch up, somehow.
But none of that is available in America, it seems. You scream, you taint, you blacken, and those who are left standing at the end are like rats that grew strong in the fire.
Still, I shall end this Bill, to you.
I lift my glass.
You were the finest of enemies and it has been an honour to defeat you,
The Most Nominated Without a Win Ditmar Nominee.
(PS, You know, Bill, perhaps we could take control over America. Perhaps… no, no, you are right, I can see you shake your head. I shall leave it alone. There is, after all, the old Empire to take first.)
A few weeks ago, maybe a month, I read John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for the first time. I have read other le Carre and liked them, but it had been a while, and we had this in the house, and I had always meant to read it. I’d seen both the movie and the TV series and so I’d always put it off a bit easily under the pretext of knowing it and being too strongly influenced by one or the other. And, truthfully, when I read it, I did hear Alec Guiness as Smiley, and saw his portrayal of the character in the book more than Garry Oldman’s. The latter was excellent, mind you, but I think, in relation to the book, Guiness’ portrayal was more faithful.
Still, I greatly enjoyed the book. The adaptations of it were different enough that there was a lot of interest in looking at the difference between the two. Not all books and films are like that, of course, but when both the film and the book are successful, it’s interesting to see how different both are. In relation to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the film and TV series are, I think, a touch more linear, and they drop the hint of a sexual relationship between Haydon and Prideaux, and perhaps wisely, for it comes across in the book as a way to characterise Haydon as being without morals, and part of a personality make up that allows for him to be a mole. However, the film and series also drop some of the politics, which I found surprisingly, mostly the meditations of the left and right, and their place within the spy networks. As you might surmise, there are no progressives running spy networks. Smiley’s wife, seen only in the final scenes of the mini series out of all three, is also much more effective in the book as well. However, this because of the internal nature of Smiley’s relationship with his absent wife, and not because of any real change of her throughout the text. Interestingly, there is a scene from the book that is dropped in both adaptions – from memory – that gives away the mole early on in the book, making le Carre’s book much more about how to trap the mole, rather than figure out who it is.
Anyhow, it’s interesting to see the differences.
In other news, I have no real news, because I am working through my edits for Leviathan’s Blood.
A few days ago, I was talking about how I worked as a writer, and then again, later, and I thought about how different it is now to how it was when I began.
I mostly like quiet, now. Maybe I can have a bit of music on in the background – lately I have, but all of last year I couldn’t stand it – but it can’t really rise beyond a murmur. When I was young, I’d wear headphones, but it just drags me out, now. Same with the TV. If I leave something on as a murmur, the conversations draw me away and break my concentration. I used to write during the nights, as well, but that was before I began teaching in the nights and evenings, and had to change to the day. The sunlight is a nice change, I have to to tell you. Not that I sit out in it or anything. But it looks good out of a window. I also like to have a window. Why is a window important? I couldn’t tell you.
But the quiet?
I think the quiet is most important now. Until, of course, it isn’t, and I like something different.
Before last year ended, before this year began, before it became March, of all things, my girlfriend and I sat around and talked about the number of books you could read in your life.
Yes, we’re that kind of people. Anyhow: it was a simple proposition. First, you work out how many books on average you read in a year. It’ll be different for everyone, but I would say that I read around fifty. Occasionally it is more, occasionally less. I read at what I consider a reasonable pace, but I know it’s nothing flashy, not like others. I had my fill of speed reading during University and, to be truthful, I kind of dislike the practice. A lot of bad and simple writing gets a pass because people want to read quickly. Because people don’t want to sit in the language of a book and enjoy it for simply being language. But, anyhow: Fifty could be improved upon. I could bring that average up more. I plan to do so, actually, because if you read fifty books a year, in ten years, you read five hundred. Now, if you accept that you will read five hundred books in a decade, the question that remains is, how many decades do you have left?
I’m thirty-eight (sadly, in this particular instance; in other instances I have no problem being thirty-eight, since it seems to be fine and offer little downside). My father died when he was forty. My mother, who is still alive, saw her parents die in their nineties last year. My father’s parents died – if I remember right – in the early and mid eighties. So you could argue that I have anywhere between forty and fifty years of life ahead of me (or, y’know, two – but my father died from smoking related cancer, so we’ll push that to the side and focus on the fact that his brothers and sisters are all still alive and approaching their seventies). Of course, in the last ten years of my life, my eyes could go, my mind could fade, or I could suffer an illness, or something else, which will get in the way of my ability to read. In many ways, I’ll have to take care of myself to keep that average and improve on it. But despite all these, lets take the best case scenario and suggest that I will live easily for another fifty years and therefor have five decades of reading ahead of me.
By the time I am eighty-eight, I will have read two and a half thousand books.
I currently own more than two and a half thousand books. I imagine I will own much more than that by the time I’m eighty-eight. As my partner said at the time, we could spend the next two decades reading the books each of us bought into our combined library when she moved in and maybe be ready to read new work at the end. Which means, to anyone who plans to write and publish a book in the next two decades that you’ll have to wait, cause I’m not ready. I haven’t even gotten through those Russian classics yet. So, like, wait… Well, okay, you don’t have to do that. I mean, I’ll buy your book anyway. Lets be honest: I’m not going to stop buying books and writers aren’t going to stop writing them and the publishing industry isn’t going to stop publishing them.
Two and a half thousand books.
Its just not that much. Maybe you read seventy five books a year. Maybe a hundred. Maybe you read five. Whatever you read, it’s not enough, not even slightly.
The thought returned to me last week, when I had lunch with a friend. He reckoned he had only forty years on his life, but agreed with me on the average of fifty books in a year. Maybe at earlier times in our lives, we read more. Maybe less. But we both agreed that it was a bit of a dim outlook, and kinda made you think about what you were reading, and what you were spending time with, and if it was truly worth it, given the limited amount of time you had. Not, of course, that this is an endorsement not to read widely or diversely: if anything, it is an argument that you shouldn’t put off reading diversely, both in terms of the genres and types of literature, as well as the authors who are responsible for producing it.
I’ve been reading more, lately. I suspect it is because of this conversation, or at the very least, this realisation. It’s a bit like realising your mortality in books – a somewhat shocking realisation not that you’ll be dead one day, but that upon that day, you will leave a huge amount of work in the world behind you, unread.
And you will not, sadly, be able to pick it up later.
To My Most Trusted Enemy, Bill Wright.
It has been some time since I last wrote you. In that time, dynasties have fallen and empires have begun to crumble. Even in our own small country, so isolated in the world, we have not been immune to such a violent global mood. We have been on the brink of revolution more than once. We have seen our leaders come and go (and come again). But yet, through all of this, I have not forgotten you, and I have no forgotten our rivalry. It pleases me to see that you have been busy, as I have, as well. It pleases me, as the eve of our deadlock being resolved looms, that we have been both competing to see the deadlock broken and a winner finally declared after these long years of stalemate.
Yes, the 2015 Ditmar nominations are out.
I am on it, but despite your fine work, you are not. Such a canny move on your part. Yet, I acknowledge the challenge placed before me and I accept it. If I can stand another round and emerge without an unfortunate award then the crown will be one that I will place on my head.
That the deadlock cannot continue is something that I agree with entirely. Over the last few years, we have tried many tactics. That news crew that followed you around because they thought you owned and operated a drug empire was, I admit, because of me. But how I was meant to react after I found my bathtub full of kidneys and no people? It was dirty work, sir. The smell lingered. I had to take showers for months. Yet, I suppose it was but our own idle hands that took us to that state. We could have addressed our impasse like adults, abusing a science fiction ballot system in the way that men and women have done for generations, but we went with common threats of violence and defamation like children. But it could not last. We would find ourselves here. We could not do otherwise. It is only here that it can be settled.
A crown is being made for one of us. I do not think I have told you this, but it is true. Tansy Rayner Roberts, who bowed out years ago in our battle, has taken it upon herself to make one. After April, one of us will wear it.
However, in our most genial of wars, I feel I should alert you to the upstarts that threaten us. I know, I know, you must think it is quite rich of me to call others upstarts, especially after you have spent thirty years carefully carving out your position and seeing out a generation of enemies and I have spent a little over a decade marking mine. But it is true: a new wave of upstarts are upon us. Perhaps the most dangerous of them are the Twins – Angela Slatter and Lisa Hannett – a pair of women who are related only through a family marriage according to my spies, but who nevertheless work together and have begun to amass as a small amount of nominations without, as far as I can tell, any wins. Yet, while the speed of their nominations is a threat to us, I believe that they will ultimately prove no real threat. Toppling one will, in all likelihood, topple the other. Duos are always at risk like that. In addition, they appear to enjoy some popularity. As you and I both know, personal popularity is always the Achilles heel of many of our competitors. And there is Mr. Kung Fu. Alan Baxter is not the first Mr. Kung Fu, but he is perhaps the strongest of all those who have come before him, and his chosen place of residence, in the wilds of Wollongong, near the Haunted Man and the Devourer of Souls (Rob Hood and Cat Sparks) has allowed him to use them as a shield, letting them soak up awards for years while he makes an entrance to our battle. A fiendishly clever plan, I think you will agree. Until recently, I had thought that he had fallen out of contention years ago, but such is the strength of his award magnet shields, it appears I was mistake, and it is not true. Still, I believe he may actually want to win one of the awards. There are sometimes very real reasons to fall upon your sword, I am sad to say, but it leaves him but a tourist in our one and true war, and thus, we can probably wait for him to do himself in.
The true threat, I must report, is an elusive one. By the way that she lurks in our corners, the way she performs without raising our ire, I have dubbed her the Silent One. (I know, I persist with this names as if we are in a gaudy American comic, but it is a weakness of mine.) Her real name is Glenda Larke. Ah, but I hear you now, pointing out her three nominations, and I agree, it is not much. We still have the Dead Comedian (Chuck McKenzie) and the Marine Artist (Rosaleen Love) who are much more pertinent threats – but as as measure of her danger, see the seven Aurealis Award nominations that she accumulated! Such success! Such stamina! And now she comes to our field! To threaten us! Oh make no doubt she wishes to play for what we have! What we have for so long fought for! Oh, it is easy to secure your safety with judges, she knows that, but to work the great unwashed masses, to have them do your bidding as is what we do – that is where the true game lies and her arrival after such a strong showing in the minor leagues of judged awards is but a threat to us, my old, faithful enemy.
Work will have to be done, I know. I do not expect you to allow me an easy passage to the crown, but I expect you to acknowledge those who are a danger to us as well. We cannot rest easy. We cannot ignore their threats. In this round of nominations I know that you, like I, will be working towards more than one end.
As always, I wish you the best.
Yours Unto Death,
Yesterday afternoon, a UPS van rolled up outside my place, and a box of boxes was delivered to me. Inside it was the paperback of the Godless.
Of course, the question is, what do I need with all those copies of the book? The answer is: I don’t. They’ll sit in a box in the corner of my office, where they will take up space, and become part of the cat’s late night sprinting course through the house (we have young cats). It’s not the fate that shiny new books should be subjected to.
So, it’s time for a giveaway.
I have fifteen copies I’m going to send around to various people from various parts of the world. The box had twenty, but I’ll keep five for friends, family, and vague strangers that you have to thrust copies upon at random intervals (you’d be surprised), but the rest, I’m going to give to the people who drop me a line first or some other completely random reason like I liked the sound of their address. It appears the old livejournal redirect I was using has died – or at least isn’t working at the moment – so drop me a line at benjaminmichaelpeek at gmail dot com if you’re wanting one.
I’m not fussed where you live, or anything like that, so don’t stress it if you’re in Iceland or Mexico or wherever. However, once you have one, what you can do for me is, after you have read it, if you liked it, tell a friend about the book, or even buy one for them as a gift.