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February 24, 2014

This Friday! Electric Velocipede Issue 27 Release Party & Memorial Service

According to John Klima, he and I first met at the SFWA Authors & Editors Reception in 2001, perhaps introduced by Cory Doctorow. I have no memory of that. The first time I remember meeting John was at a party at a convention around that same time (I forget which one) where he was handing out free copies of his new zine, Electric Velocipede. I was dubious, eyeing the cheap, stapled covers, but everyone else around was acting like they'd just been given a gift of gold.

Electric Velocipede, Issue 1
Before I started reading that first issue, I had never given much thought to sending any of my stories to fanzine markets, or even really to the semipros. Electric Velocipede changed my mind. The fiction was good, really good, and John had a keen, idiosyncratic editorial eye. And an air of unlikely coolness somehow clung to the roster of names on the cover. I wanted to be a part of it.

And by Issue 4, I was, with a weird little horror story called "Mrs. Janokowski Hits One out of the Park," a story I believed in but that no pro editor seemed interested in. That was the first of five EV stories over the years (including one under my Perry Slaughter byline). Along the way another story appeared on the EV blog, and John also published my chapbook An Alternate History of the 21st Century, which contained two more original stories that no one else seemed to want to touch. (One of those, "Objective Impermeability in a Closed System," ended up reprinted in Hartwell & Cramer's Year's Best SF 13.)

All this is by way of saying that Electric Velocipede has played a crucial role in my short fiction career, and I owe John Klima a deep debt of gratitude. Now, after a Hugo Award win and something like four World Fantasy Award nominations, EV is publishing its 27th and final issue. It's a sad occasion, but I hope you'll join me and a boatload of other contributors on Friday, February 28th, at Bluestockings Bookstore, for a reading, release party, and memorial service. It'll be great fun, and besides me you'll get to hear from writers like Robert J. Howe, K. Tempest Bradford, Nancy Hightower, Matthew Kressel, Barbara Krasnoff, Richard Bowes, Mercurio D. Rivera, Jonathan Wood, and Sam J. Miller. There'll be raffles and snacks, and a chance to purchase an EV sampler with stories by all the participants.

Please join us in sending a great magazine off in a big way!

Electric Velocipede Issue 27 Release Party & Memorial Service
hosted by Sam J. Miller & Nancy Hightower
Friday, February 28, 2014, 7:00 pm
Bluestockings Bookstore
172 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002
facebook event listing | more info

Bill Shunn & John Klima, by Ellen Datlow on Flickr

electric velocipede | events | manhattan | new york city | readings | science fiction

January 31, 2014

See surreal sci-fi on stage this weekend -- see "The Summoners"

New York's Hook & Eye Theater company is nearing the end of its run of its new play "The Summoners." A surreal, mindbending blend of Groundhog Day and Synecdoche, New York, "The Summoners" tells the thought-provoking story of what happens when the blanket of clouds that has shrouded America for three years parts for five blissful minutes over one Indiana town—and the chilling media circus that ensues.

Our friend Cynthia Babak is part of the terrific cast that together devised the story of this play, which was then turned into a script by Gavin Broady. But it's only running two more nights! See it tonight or Saturday at The C.O.W. Theater, 21 Clinton Street in Manhattan. Tickets are a mere $18! Don't miss it!

The Summoners

manhattan | new york city | science fiction | theater

September 6, 2013

Because you probably didn't hear me on WBAI

When I showed up to attend the KGB Fantastic Fiction reading on August 21st, the last thing I expected was to end the night in front of a radio mike. But that's what happened.

Rather than greeting me in a traditional fashion when I wandered up to say hello, Jim Freund said to me, "You're on the air at one-thirty."

"Tonight?" I said. "One-thirty A.M.?"

It seems he'd had a guest for his long-running WBAI program "Hour of the Wolf" drop out on him, and he needed a substitute. Well, fair enough. I'd done the show at least five times before, and I'd enjoyed it, so what the hell.

That's how I found myself in Harlem in the wee hours of Thursday morning, smack-dab in the middle of the beautiful City College of New York campus. Thanks to its highly publicized financial problems, WBAI is sharing studio space with WHCR until it either moves into a new space in Brooklyn or collapses altogether.

Jim and I discussed my recent move back to New York, Tuesday Funk, Orson Scott Card, and what I've been working on lately. I also read a couple of chapters from my recently completed novel Root. Here's what it all sounded like:

appearances | media | new york city | radio | science fiction | writing

September 4, 2013

Paul Cook doesn't want "girly" stuff in his science fiction

In case my comment on Paul Cook's ridiculous post at Amazing Stories does not pass moderation, let me reproduce it here.


Mr. Cook, you tip your hand early on, with your risibly shallow reading of Wolfe, that the insights to follow will be, at best, ill-informed.  Romance and intrigue have no place in science fiction?  I suppose Heinlein never included a bit of romance or military dress in his work, nor Asimov any palace intrigue.

Science fiction as you paint it, its precious bodily fluids uncontaminated by any less virile genre, would be a dreary, boring place indeed.  To truly be a literature of humanity and human potential, SF must address human concerns, and the human experience encompasses far more than just racing through space and blasting BEMs.  Tor editor Moshe Feder once passed a useful analogy along to me, that of science fiction as the "universal recipient" of literature, able to take in and incorporate elements from any other genre of fiction.  If science fiction is to represent more than one tiny, narrow slice of human experience, it must be able to represent any aspect of the human experience.  It must, at the highest level, be able to do anything that can be done in any other genre, whether romance, mystery, or mainstream literary.

But that's all pretty much beside the point.  You try to cloak your opinion in fancy justifications, but your argument basically boils down to this: "I don't like girly stuff in my science fiction."  That's fine, if close-minded, as far as personal preferences go, but when you attempt to justify closing science fiction off (incorrectly) to elements that "only women would find attractive," you expose yourself as a sexist of the rankest stripe.  Science fiction is infinitely bigger and more inclusive that you would allow it to be, and that's a damn good thing.

controversy | science fiction | sexism

April 11, 2013

Speculative fiction: the superset of all possible literature

Novelist J. Robert Lennon wrote recently on Salon.com that young writers should avoid reading much contemporary literary fiction because most of it is terrible. (The essay, in fact, is headlined: "Most Contemporary Literary Fiction Is Terrible.") It's a well-argued piece, worth reading, but what really caught my attention was this passage:

But a fiction writer ought to engage with other parts of the culture, too. This includes reading outside one's genre — I happen to favor sci-fi and mystery, but I think it's fine for literary writers to read YA, romance, fantasy or whatever they please. Literary writers are in the privileged position of being permitted to raid any genre for tools to subvert and repurpose.
The emphasis there is mine, on a sentence I find troubling. I certainly support Lennon's contention that writers—all writers—should read widely, and read what they enjoy. What's problematic to me is that word privileged, as if writers of "literary" fiction inhabit in some class superior to writers of other genres, and they're the only ones permitted to reach down and rummage through the toolboxes of their inferiors, and then only for purposes of upending genre conventions.

This is a limited, and limiting, view of genre. It implies that no genre but literary fiction can amount to more than the sum of its tropes, and that the tropes of genre fiction are only useful to the literary writer insofar as they can be employed to ironic or postmodernist ends.

Both those implications are false. Central to Lennon's essay is the proposition that most of contemporary literary fiction is stuck in an insular, navel-gazing loop—in other words, that it continues to reinforce and perpetuate its own tropes. A few works might break out of that cycle and transcend it,

Luminarium by Alex Shakar
but if we accept that most works in the category are stuck inside a constraining boundary of accepted elements, then we are defining literary fiction as a genre. And if any works in that genre are capable of transcending its limitations, then why can't works in any other genre do the same?

Editor Moshe Feder once described the processing of borrowing and lending between genres to me in terms of blood types. (He in turn had borrowed the metaphor from someone else, and I'm sorry I don't recall from whom.) He said that genres all have different capacities for giving and getting. At one end of the spectrum is the mystery genre, the Type O or universal donor of literature, which can lend its tropes to any other genre. At the other end is speculative fiction*, the Type AB or universal recipient, which can take in tools and techniques from all other genres. Arrayed between are all other genres, including romance, western, spy, crime, and, yes, literary, each of which can give and receive to a greater or lesser extent.

China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
This is a useful and pleasing metaphor in some ways, but things are really more slippery and complicated than all that. I've always thought of the universe of fiction as a multidimensional spectrum, with all genres free to commingle and exchange their DNA. For every literary novel like Time's Arrow by Martin Amis that borrows fantasy tropes to ironic ends, there's one like Luminarium by Alex Shakar (last year's L.A. Times Book Prize winner for fiction) that imports science fictional tropes and treats them seriously and realistically. Likewise we have The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe, China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh, When We Were Real by William Barton, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, and any number of other works of speculative fiction that borrow liberally from what we might call literary techniques to varied and stunning effect. (And need I even mention George Saunders these days?)

In fact, I like to take my spectrum one step further imagine something along the lines of Jorge Luis Borges's Library of Babel or Neil Gaiman's Dream Library—an infinite library containing all possible works of fiction. The portion of this library containing works set entirely within the world of our consensual reality would be vast, of course—but relative to the size of the library as a whole, it would be vanishingly tiny. A smaller portion of that tiny portion of the library would correspond roughly to what we think of as literary fiction. Everything outside of that? That would be what we think of as speculative fiction.

Viewed this way, speculative fiction becomes the superset of all possible fiction. What this implies is that for a writer of speculative fiction to work at the absolute top of his or her game, that writer must be able to employ all the tools, tropes, and techniques of all other genres of fiction. Far from inhabiting a literary ghetto, we really inhabit the outer sphere of all possible genres, encompassing everything else—or so we should aspire.

But even that view is too limiting and elitist. What I really want to say is that all writers should feel free to employ the most expansive palette they want. Artificial bookstore distinctions aside, good writing is good writing, and that should be the pursuit above all else for any writer. It's what the writers I like and admire the most have been doing all along.

Ultimately, we are all writers of speculative fiction.


*A more inclusive and descriptive term for what you might know better as the science fiction and fantasy genres.

#SFWApro

literature | reading | science fiction | writing

April 5, 2013

On two of my idols: Iain [M.] Banks

Amid the staggering news of other losses this week, I want to remember to say a few words about Iain Banks, one my literary idols. (Two of my literary idols, really, if you care to think of his Iain M. Banks byline separately.)

I, like many of you, I'm sure, was stunned to tears on Wednesday morning by the news that Mr. Banks is suffering from late-stage cancer and probably doesn't have long to live. He broke the news in typically straightforward and mordant fashion, but that didn't make it any easier to take.

Iain Banks
Iain Banks is an important writer. I can't think of another writer who so consciously, so prolifically, and so successfully divided his output between serious mainstream fiction and rigorous hard science fiction. He proved, at least in the U.K., that one need not confine oneself to a single genre or style of fiction in order to maintain a brilliant career. It would have been impossible to guess from his twisted 1984 debut, The Wasp Factory, that just three years later he would affix a giant M to his chest like some superhero of letters, fly into space, and bring Consider Phlebas back to Earth, introducing us to what may at the time have been the most mind-expanding and humane future society ever invented, The Culture.

And Iain Banks is an important writer to me. His books can be found all over our house—on the science fiction shelves, on the mainstream shelves, almost always in the to-be-read pile on my nightstand, and even, in the case of his whisky travelogue Raw Spirit, on the alcohol shelf. He's a model of professional productivity, putting out a book nearly every year, and he's as fearless in his contemporary novels as he is visionary in his science fiction. (In 2002's Dead Air, he was already riffing on the meaning of 9/11 before other writers dared even think about it.) And his work is a constant inspiration to those of us who find ourselves attracted writing in more than one world.

I had always hoped to meet him, and never moreso than when I was bumming around Edinburgh drinking whisky with some of his friends. The news that I probably never will, and that the forthcoming The Quarry will likely be his last novel, is heartbreaking. I hope it's not true, but even if it is, Mr. Banks, you've already accomplished more than most of us ever will, and in doing so have always made the implausible look more than possible. Thank you.

cancer | death | literature | science fiction | writers | writing

February 28, 2013

"An Evening of Speculative Fiction" is tonight!

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

Place: Open Books Bookstore
213 W. Institute Place
Chicago, IL 60610
(1 block north of Chicago & Franklin el stop.)

Featuring:

Jody Lynn Nye
Mary Anne Mohanraj
Matt Darst
Holly McDowell
Wesley Chu
Richard Chwedyk
William Shunn

An Evening of Speculative Fiction, Open Books Bookstory, Thursday, February 28, 2013

appearances | events | readings | science fiction

February 18, 2013

I'm hosting "An Evening of Speculative Fiction," February 28th

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:


This month, we're excited to kick off our quarterly events at Open Books Bookstore! Join us on Thursday, February 28 for an evening of short readings hosted by Hugo and Nebula Award–nominated author William Shunn. This evening will feature science fiction, fantasy, and horror readings by local authors. This free event gets underway at 6:30 p.m.

Featuring:
Jody Lynn Nye
Mary Anne Mohanraj
Matt Darst
Holly McDowell
Wesley Chu
Richard Chwedyk
William Shunn

For more information, visit our website.

The Basics
Date: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Time: 6:30 - 9:00 pm
Place: Open Books Bookstore
213 W. Institute Place
Chicago, IL 60610
(1 block north of Chicago & Franklin el stop.)

Mark your calendar. We'll see you there!

An Evening of Speculative Fiction, Open Books Bookstory, Thursday, February 28, 2013

appearances | events | readings | science fiction

February 14, 2013

The clock is ticking for "Glitter & Madness"!

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?

Also, there are plenty of perks available to funders, including Tuckerizations from any of a dozen different contributors at the $250 contribution level. That's right! You could be a character in my story, or Diana Rowland's, or David J. Schwartz's, or Jennifer Pelland's, or on and on and on!

But all this glittery goodness can't happen without you! We still have over $4,000 to raise, and only 48 more hours in which to do it. So please, look into your glamorous heart and dig deep to support the party anthology of the year!

clubs | conventions | donate | fantasy | markets | music | publications | science fiction | writing

February 13, 2013

ShunnCast #56

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

books | crowdfunding | donate | piano | podcasts | publications | science fiction | short fiction | shunncast

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William Shunn

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