Friday, March 19, 2010

Peter Watts: International Felon

I don't have much to say that hasn't already been said by plenty of people. Even if he wasn't a friend, this sucks, and all I can think of to do now is to look to other locations for family vacations for now on. Especially regarding Michigan (which is a shame, since I loved Ann Arbor the one time I visited. Although I totally hated Saginaw: remind me to tell you all that story some time).

Anyhow, here's a news piece, Peter's take (very calm, I might add), and an article from the local Michigan rag that includes the most appalling comment thread you could possibly imagine. Although this one commenter does put certain "thoughts" and ideas to rest:

"As a member of the jury that convicted Mr. Watts today, I have a few comments to make. The jury's task was not to decide who we liked better. The job of the jury was to decide whether Mr. Watts "obstructed/resisted" the custom officials. Assault was not one of the charges. What it boiled down to was Mr. Watts did not follow the instructions of the customs agents. Period. He was not violent, he was not intimidating, he was not stopping them from searching his car. He did, however, refuse to follow the commands by his non compliance. He's not a bad man by any stretch of the imagination. The customs agents escalted the situation with sarcasm and miscommunication. Unfortunately, we were not asked to convict those agents with a crime, although, in my opinion, they did commit offenses against Mr. Watts. Two wrongs don't make a right, so we had to follow the instructions as set forth to us by the judge."

The law is sometimes indeed an ass.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cast a Cold Eye Reviews

The novella that Bill Shunn and I wrote, Cast a Cold Eye, has been out for a few months now and the reviews are finally starting to trickle in. I figured this would be a good place to point to all the ones that have shown up online, followed by a portion of a great review that is not online, as well as my reaction to it.

So first off, there are reviews in Tangent Online (as well as a pick for their Recommended Reading List for 2009), Black Static (not an online mag, but scroll down to read an excerpt), and Mass Movement (well, not really a review, but positive).

In the March issue of Locus (the major review and news mag for the SF/F field), there are two reviews of our book. One is a short notice from Rich Horton, who calls it "an involving and moving story," and the other, the one I'll talk about here, is a much longer review by Paul Witcover.

And I do mean much longer. Paul gives it as much attention as he does the new Gene Wolfe novel, and the whole thing is a rave. Here are a few quotes:

These are all nice things to say, but he real hit for Bill and for me is when Paul draws direct comparisons between our book and one of the most famous texts of American fantasy: "Any fantasy of a certain ambition set in the American Midwest in the late 19th through early 20th centuries must reckon with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, book and movie both, and Shunn & Murphy do so squarely, not only in the situation of their main character Luke Bryant, an orphan living with his aunt Maura (Auntie Em, indeed!) and uncle Roy, but in his perceptions - as the title, drawn from Yeats's epitaph, implies, perceptions, or ways of seeing, matter in this novel."

Heady words, and he draws more connections between our story and Oz as the review continues.

Did we intend this? Heck no. While I've written stories where I have had all sorts of deep and hidden meanings in place, in this case Bill and I did nothing to link Cast a Cold Eye directly (or indirectly) to Baum's universe. But that doesn't mean anything.

In Annie Hall, Woody Allen drags Marshall McLuhan out from behind a sign to refute and obnoxious person who is completely misinterpreting what McLuhan has said. And I have heard (possibly apocryphal) stories of people bringing authors to their university English classes to tell the profs that their critical analysis of the author's book is way off the beaten track. There is, for some people, some divine sense of satisfaction to be derived from this sort of one-up-manship, especially when we so strongly disagree with the interpretation offered us. After all, why should so ludicrous an interpretation be accepted when all the author wanted was the give us a good and fun story?

Me, I don't buy all that at all. Reading a novel (or story) is another part of the process that only starts when the writer spews out the words. Whatever the author has to say, that's all well and good, but I believe you should think of the creation of consumption of the story and two sides of a coin, separate parts of a complicated process. And the beauty of it is, the writing is only one small part, since each reader bring his or her own baggage to the station. Think of it as the many-worlds theory of fiction, in which the book gains a new life with each reading, a new interpretation that is every bit as valid as the last.

And the beauty of Paul's interpretation is that it works for us. In fact, its validity stands quite nicely when I think about it, since Bill and I brought our own baggage to the writing of the story, and since we're both familiar with the Wizard of Oz, it's entirely possible that this was an unconscious decision on our part. And now, as we contemplate a sequel and/or expansion, it's something new for us to keep in mind.

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