Inhuman Swill : Page 16
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.
            

Iain 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 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.

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20x2: What Changed? Saturday, March 9, 2013
Tonight I'm participating in a long-running SXSW tradition called 20x2. Twenty people are given two minutes apiece to answer the same question any way they like. This year the question is "What Changed?", and if you come out tonight to Elysium (705 Red River St.) you'll be treated to twenty different answers in the form of essays, poems, slideshows, songs, videos, and more.

How will I answer? You'll have to be there to find out. Doors at Elysium open at 6 pm, show starts at 7. Admission is $10, or free with any SXSW badge. I hope to see you there.

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I've been playing around quite a bit with the new Vine app, which lets you post six-second looping videos to your Twitter stream or other social media service. You can create animations or employ other goofy effects, but everything must be shot in order. No after-the-fact editing is possible.

Something else that doesn't seem to be possible, as many disgruntled users are discovering, is reuploading a Vine that fails to upload in the first place. If your upload fails, it looks like you're shit out of luck. I found this out on Saturday morning when a Vine I'd been planning in my head for days failed to upload. If I could have taken the Vine app out of my iPhone and smashed the code on the sidewalk, that's just what I would have done.

Rather than trying to reshoot my video, though, I found a workaround. Vine does save your little square video to your phone, and from there it can of course be uploaded to other video-sharing services. YouTube doesn't seem to allow embedded videos to loop, but Vimeo does, so that's where my lost Vine now lives:

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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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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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