The Key, 14 January 2011

This week we’re bringing you intriguing history, thoughts about realism, analysis of IF storytelling and techniques, a novel review, and an interrogation of what makes a ‘good’ story.

  • Africans in Ancient China & Vice Versa, Part 1: Chinese Explorations–Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba
    Eccentric Yoruba
    Beyond Victoriana: A multicultural perspective on steampunk
    Fascinating history! Novels should come from this (thinking of Guy Gavriel Kay, among others). I would read them, for one.

    Du Huan’s story is so amazing! I had lots of fun imagining the Chinese official turned prisoner of war to Arabs and being sent on odd jobs by the caliphate such as escorting a Nubian prince home to his kingdom, a place called Dongola in Sudan (the most likely reason Du Huan reached Molin in the first place). Imagine what more we could have know if the other parts of Du Huan’s memoirs were not lost!

  • Some Realisms are Realer than Others
    Brooks Sterritt
    Ok, this isn’t strictly about genre, but it is quite applicable:

    Similarly, there is no actual distortion in Writer X. What s/he does may appear distorted only if you think of one particular way of writing . . .

  • Interacting with Andrew Plotkin
    Byron Alexander Campbell
    Black Clock
    An interview exploring IF storytelling and techniques, as well as Plotkin’s influences, many of which are genre:

    When I look at prose I try to remember the textures that Patricia McKillip writes. Dave Duncan, and more recently Brandon Sanderson, are great at constructing fictional tools (devices, magics) that interact in subtle, systematic, and surprising ways. C. J. Cherryh can portray a setting, universe and all, just by framing a character’s point of view. Diana Wynne Jones describes the fantastical by grounding it in the reader’s unconscious knowledge of the real world. I try to do all these things.

  • Seven Views of Michael Cisco’s The Narrator
    Jeff VanderMeer
    Ecstatic Days
    I like the structure of this review, and It really makes me want to read this novel . . . although I couldn’t decide if his inclusion of photographs was silly or inspired:

    4—As a Series of Experiments in Narration, Eel-Slippery.
    The narrator of The Narrator may not be the narrator of the entire novel. Where does his narration really begin and end? What to make of the asides between chapters? Of meeting another narrator, who in a sense begins to narrate the tale in a different way. What of the accounts of others, which the narrator narrates by adding notes like “an unhurried, slow inhalation” and “Her voice dropped there.” And “She caressed the air by her knees with stiff old hands, seeming to coax the guillotine blade out of the sparkling air so that I for a moment saw it.” Should we be worried? Should we care?

  • Monday Original Content: “On Good Stories”, an Essay by Aliette de Bodard
    Aliette de Bodard
    World Sf Blog
    You know those moments when you see a picture, or a film, or hear someone say something, and you want to jump up and shout “Yes! That!” This article gave me one of those moments:

    I don’t believe in good stories.
    I believe in stories that are well-written in terms of craft, that form a coherent whole.
    I also believe in stories that resonate with me.
    . . . .
    What I don’t like is the fallacy that stories are selected just because they were “good”. They aren’t. They are selected because they are good for those editors. And that, by necessity, includes a bias.

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