January 18th, 2006


Paid to Educate, That's Me.

This week has become my off week: no thesis thoughts, just everything else.

Of course, one of those everything else things is that tomorrow and Friday I'm running a workshop for gifted and talented (which I think means 'Teenagers Who Don't Hate Learning') high schoolers as part of the GERRIC program. My workshop is, basically, a two day introduction to speculative fiction which shows fifteen people a spec fic that they're not familiar with. It's something I can do standing on my head, and just aims to bring the work out, toss it round, and have fun. It's pretty cool as the two day workshop goes, and from the start I've been told to treat them like adults, so I've pretty much pushed that boundary with the literature I've chosen. None of it is that easy to identify with Harry Potter shit when you're in my workshop, no. Instead we go in with a broad range of speculative fiction that draws its inspiration from the world that all of us people live in.

I open the workshop with Koushun Takami's Battle Royale, where high school students kill each other for survival, and end with Michael Moorcock's Behold the Man, where Jesus is a mentally disabled child. There is, of course, more to both these works, and we discuss that, and they get that discussion and they all jump in and over each other with ideas when it works, which is the point, but reducing the books to those little statements at the start helps me sell it to them, and Battle Royale especially is an easy book to sell, which is why I start with it. Firstly, it inspired the film that none of them are legally allowed to see, and the manga, which comes wrapped in plastic, and they are likewise unable to see. The book itself is ultra violent, full of energy, and just absolutely not what their parents want them to read. Which is why, of course, they should, and who is going to stop them from reading a book? Book banning in Australia is low, and the book banning of 'science fiction'... well, who can be bothered banning the trash genre when there is Dan Browne to argue over? I always figured that if ultra conservatives took a good look at all of the speculative fiction genre, they'd shit, and begin banning left right and centre. It doesn't matter when it comes from, fiction is one of the most dangerous art forms because it's so personal, so subjectively subversive, so influential in ways that the individual can never fully articulate after the idea has taken root, and I tend to think that we, as authors, as readers, as just plain old people, tend to forget that. Battle Royale is, of course, not a very subversive book. You can read things into it, but it is mostly just a fun, violent thing where teenagers run round killing each other at breakneck pace and, in case we've all forgotten our teenage years, that's kinda fun.

The strange thing about this workshop is what is popular and what isn't. Joe Haldeman's Forever War is, I kid you not, more popular with girls than boys, and is probably the most third most popular of the works I offer. It makes me wonder if Haldeman has a large female readership for work that I had always considered as boys club fiction. Battle Royale is, of course, the most popular of the books, and by the end of the workshop half the class have convinced their parents to buy them the damn thing after a handful of photocopied pages.

The work that gives Battle Royale a run, however, is that of Jeffrey Ford (14theditch). The students get two short stories: the first, in the pre-reading, is 'The Beautiful Gelreesh' and then, around the time of Moorcock's Behold the Man, they read 'Creation'. The response to the first piece is pretty much, "That was weird shit, man," but they all like the weird shit quota of it, that much is clear. 'The Beautiful Gelreesh' isn't, actually, a story that belongs in the workshop, which is why I send it as the prereading, along with two other stories, each of them radically different to the next, just to see which ones everyone connects with. 'Gelreesh' is always the most popular. Always. 'Creation' however, is always a surprise for me, because it is, for a story that has a giant tree-man walking around, a very understated, very quiet coming of age story that circles the question of where we all come from. Yet, just as the students love the ultra violence of Battle Royale, where toes go flying and machine guns rip the life out of guys and girls, they also dig Ford's 'Creation'. It really disappoints me that his collection, The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories isn't available off a bookshelf here, since I think, assuming that students could buy a cheap paperback, that it'd be bought. I know I've pointed them towards his novels, or at least The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, which is the only one you can find on the shelf of a mainstream bookstore here, but I tend to think it isn't going to appeal to them. Maybe I'm wrong, and I hope so, but you ask me, there's more chance with Ford's short fiction, especially if you give them a collection with 'Ex-Skeleton Town', where Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz shoots herself in the head and everyone dresses up as old movie stars to score bug shit. I mean, what's not to love about that?

But that's just me.

Anyhow, workshop is tomorrow, and I get a fresh batch. A bunch of them usually make it towards this blog afterward, and if that is the case, and you, my recently minted student, are here, say hi and know that I know that you all hated the Leiber, but I don't care, because you're all wrong. That's right. You heard me. Wrong. Now, go steal your parents credit card and buy the Ford collection from Amazon.com. When your parents find out that you stole their credit card to buy books they won't know how to react. They'll still beat you, of course, but you can always dob them into child welfare for that and live on the fat of the Government (which is actually pretty shitty but you won't know that until much too late, ha ha).
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