Inhuman Swill : February 2013
            

An Evening of Speculative Fiction, Open Books Bookstory, Thursday, February 28, 2013
Just a reminder that I'll be hosting a special evening of speculative fiction readings tonight at Open Books in Chicago. It's the first in the Chicago Writers Conference's new quarterly readings series, and it's free. Arrive early if you want a cupcake. I hope to see you there!

Chicago Writers Conference Presents
An Evening of Speculative Fiction

Date: Thursday, February 28, 2013

Time: 6:30 - 9:00 pm

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Here's the last of the excerpts I'll bring you from the book I've just finished reading, 1904's The Making of English by Henry Bradley. This is the passage that closes the book, and I found it particularly hopeful in light of the increased focus on written communication in this Digital Age of ours:

It is not unlikely that the future historian of the English language may find that its development in the nineteenth century has been less powerfully affected by the really great writers of the period than by authors of inferior rank, both British and American, who have had the knack of inventing new turns of expression which commended themselves to general imitation. There never was a time when a clever novelty in combination of words, or an ingenious perversion of the accepted meaning of a word, had so good a chance of becoming a permanent possession of the language, as now. In no former age was there such an abundance of writing of a designedly ephemeral character, intended merely for the amusement of an idle moment. The modern taste in style demands incessant variety of expression; the same thing must never, if it can be avoided, be denoted in consecutive sentences by the same word: and so those who are engaged in supplying the popular demand for 'reading matter' eagerly adopt from each other their new devices for escaping monotony of diction. When we consider that the literature which is for all time is read by comparatively few, while the literature which is for the passing moment is read by all, we may easily be tempted to think that the future of literary English is in the hands of writers of defective culture and little seriousness of purpose, and that the language must suffer grave injury in the loss of its laboriously won capacities for precision, and in the debasement of words of noble import by unworthy use. While these apprehensions are not wholly unfounded, there is much to be said on the other side. Even the much-decried 'newspaper English' has, in its better forms, some merits of its own. Writers whose work must be read rapidly if it is to be read at all have a strong motive for endeavouring not to be obscure; and the results of this endeavour may be seen in the recent development of many subtle contrivances of sentence-structure, serving to prevent the reader from feeling even a momentary hesitation in apprehending the intended construction. We may rest assured that wherever worthy thought and feeling exist, they will somehow fashion for themselves a worthy medium of expression; and unless the English-speaking peoples have entered on a course of intellectual decline, there is no reason to fear that their language will on the whole suffer deterioration. In the daily increasing multitude of new forms of expression, even though it may be largely due to the unwholesome appetite for novelty, there must be not a little that will be found to answer to real needs, and will survive and be developed, while what is valueless will perish as it deserves. It is therefore perhaps not an unfounded hope that the future history of the language will be a history of progress, and that our posterity will speak a better English—better in its greater fitness for the uses for which language exists—than the English of to-day.

Backhandedly hopeful, but hopeful nonetheless.

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How the prediction transpired

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Last week I told you a bit about my recent bedtime reading, The Making of English by Henry Bradley. The book was published in 1904, and one of the peculiar delights of reading it more than a century later is seeing Bradley hold forth about "modern" words that now either seem archaic or have slipped out of usage altogether.

He will also occasionally express some hope about the future development of the language that we, as his future readers, can experience in a way that his contemporary readers could not. For instance, this passage:

It is worth while to remark that in some instances words have undergone changes of meaning because in their literary use they have been popularly misunderstood....

In bad modern 'newspaper English' the verb transpire is used for 'to happen or take place,' and this sense has even found its way into recent dictionaries. Literally, to transpire is 'to breathe through'; and a circumstance may correctly and expressively be said 'to have transpired,' in the sense of having become known in spite of efforts made to keep it secret. It is through ignorant misapprehension of sentences in which the word was thus correctly used that it has come to bear a perverted meaning. As this blunder, unlike some others of the kind, does not supply any need of the language, it may be hoped that the misapplication of the word will not be permanent.

Oh, the grave-spinning which must have transpired!

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An Evening of Speculative Fiction, Open Books Bookstory, Thursday, February 28, 2013
Hey, I'll be hosting a special evening of speculative fiction readings on Thursday, February 28th, at Open Books Bookstore in Chicago! It's the first in the Chicago Writers Conference's new quarterly readings series, and I'm delighted that they asked me to put together this program.

Please share the Facebook invitation with all your Chicagoland friends:

http://www.facebook.com/events/148595008632051/

And here's all the info, straight from the CWC itself:

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Riddle me this

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My light bedtime reading lately has been from a fascinating little book called The Making of English, by Henry Bradley. Bradley was a mostly self-taught linguist and lexicographer who would eventually become editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. The Making of English, published in 1904, is a compact, elegant distillation of everything he had learned about the development of the English language.

It's not a quick read, but it's often quite delightful. Here's a prime example from the chapter on how the meanings of words change over time:

A word was needed to describe the action of interpreting the meaning of written characters; and our ancestors supplied the want by using the verb read (in Old English rǣdan), which meant, like its modern German equivalent rathen, to guess a riddle. The noun riddle (in Old English rǣdels) is a derivative of this word. To the early English a piece of writing was, we see, a mystery which only the wise could solve.

The Making of English is available as a free download at Archive.org. Happy riddling.

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Twitter & badness

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Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
I have an apology to make. It's been called to my attention that for the past several days I've been splashing a word around my blog, podcast, Facebook page, and Twitter stream that many people find offensive.

No affront nor slur was intended, yet I have come to realize that in the 21st century such hurtful relics of a benighted past have no place amongst us—not in civil discourse, not in right-thinking minds, and certainly not in popular culture.

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First things first. You look fabulous. Happy Valentine's Day, you sexy thing, you!

Second—look, I don't know how many more ways to say this. It's time for you to help support our Kickstarter campaign for the Glitter & Madness anthology. There's less than two days left to hit our funding goal and get it done.

If you don't recall, Glitter & Madness is the new anthology edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas and John Klima, chock full of speculative stories about the secret history of 20th century nightlife and party culture. The book will be published by Apex Publications and will feature a standalone novella from New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire set in her InCryptid universe. There will also be stories by Alan DeNiro, Amal El-Mohtar, Daryl Gregory, Damien Walters Grintalis, Maria Dahvana Headley, Kat Howard, Jennifer Pelland, Tim Pratt, Cat Rambo, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Diana Rowland, Sofia Samatar, David J. Schwartz, Rachel Swirsky, and yours truly.

What's more, there are plenty of exciting recent developments. For instance, Amber Benson of Buffy fame, an accomplished writer and director in her own right, is going to write the introduction to the anthology. How cool is that?

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ShunnCast #56

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Epidode #56 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill urges you with all urgency to support the Glitter & Madness Kickstarter campaign, then rewards you with a reading of his story "Care and Feeding of Your Piano."

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?id=56

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The following story is an outtake from my memoir The Accidental Terrorist. The names of most of the other participants, including relatives, have been changed to offer some small measure of concealment.

When I was eighteen, my father and I drove from northern Utah to Los Angeles for my cousin Delia's wedding. I had recently put in my application to become a Mormon missionary, and I had yet to learn where I'd be spending the next two years of my life. It wasn't for the sake of one last road trip with my father, though, that I agreed to tag along. I was hoping to meet Danny Elfman.

After the wedding—a brief affair in a tiny chapel like a sugar-frosted cake—the entire gathering moved down the road to the Arcadia Women's Club, a large banquet hall for rent, where a shaggy trio played jazz on a spare proscenium. A dozen long tables were set up in ranks across the room, and we enjoyed an abundant feast of cold cuts, casseroles, and cakes as the music played. "Hey," I said to my aunt Deborah, who sat across from my father and me, "I thought Oingo Boingo was supposed to play."

"All Delia and Sammy's friends are musicians," she said, "so lots of different people are playing. I don't think they're on until later."

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My "Glitter & Madness" Q&A

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William Shunn gets glittery at Icebar Tokyo
It feels like we Glitter & Madness participants are, like, in NPR Fund Drive mode. I've already told you all about this anthology project, and if you still want to know more about it, you can head on over to the project on Kickstarter. What I'm here for now is to answer a quick Q&A designed by the editors of the anthology:

  1. What about the theme drew you to the anthology?
  2. Who doesn't love rollerskating and nightclubs and drugs and sex and debauchery? Who didn't enjoy copious amounts of them all in those gloden days of youth? Well, um, I guess I didn't. I was a Mormon. Okay, I did rollerskate, but I felt guilty about it.

  3. We're often told to write what we know. Did you draw your G&M story from your own nightlife experiences?
  4. I love to write things that I don't actually know. My clubbing experience was pretty much limited to once seeing Gene Loves Jezebel play at Club DV8 in Salt Lake City, and I was terrified for my soul the whole time. My story is actually about slippery souls in Chicago clubs of the '80s, which is why I'm writing it with my wife Laura Chavoen. She's the one who knows exactly what that scene was like.

  5. What's your favorite way to make life more glittery?
  6. I go to a comfortable bar with my wife and friends and drink classic-style cocktails until a glittery haze drapes everyone and everything in sight. Templeton Rye is involved.

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
that even a
missionary
could afford.

Order yours now!

William Shunn

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