Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 20:22 on 10-05-2012, Wardog
I personally am reacting against the heternormativity of the original with 50 Shades of Gay...

Seriously. It is AWFUL. And not even funny awful. I genuinely don't understand who the book is supposed be for except a a nebulous audience that, I suspect, doesn't exist of "stupid women who are stupid and like that stupid stuff."

The heroine spends literally all her time thinking about her hair. ALL HER TIME. And I am not exaggerating. The book opens with her looking at her hair in the mirror. And it continues to a play major role. In fact, it's probably one of the best developed characters in there.

I probably should review it ... but that would mean I have to keep reading it.

at 20:15 on 10-05-2012, Alasdair Czyrnyj
I'm not sure The Etched City necessarily qualifies as New Weird, but then again I'm not quite sure what New Weird is exactly, beyond "stuff like Mieville writes." Official definitions seem pretty vague. Like I said, it reminded me a lot more of The Malacia Tapestry, which I loved.

The boilerplate heurestic definition I've started using is the one I nicked from Jeff Vandermeer big collection. In short, "New Weird" stories are urban secondary-world fantasies that use realistic, complex real-world models as jumping-off points for settings that may use some combination of sf and f mixed together. The writing is visceral, drawing inspiration from surreal and transgressive horror for tone, effect, and style, as well from the New Wave and their inspirations (Mervyn Peake, the decadents). It also seems to be aware of the modern world, and it has to shove its weirdness out in the open.

Any help?
at 20:06 on 10-05-2012, Alasdair Czyrnyj
I'm way ahead of you, there, Arthur. I'm already 400 pages into my new pony play trilogy, 50 Shades of Neigh.

Fluttershy: <whimpers>
at 20:00 on 10-05-2012, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Anyway, thanks for sharing, Alasdair.

Always glad to.

I can't figure out what the author is trying to say about Houellebecq, though. The tone of the piece seems to imply that his approach is superior, but when I parse out the arguments the article author seems to be saying that both he and the writers of the Male Loser archetype are jerks - the difference being that the Loser writers are passive-aggressive jerks whereas Houellebecq is upfront about being a jerk.

I think the key argument of the piece is the sentence "The American authors, they want to be liked." From an artistic standpoint, the Americans are engaging in an act of bad faith: they want to write certain types of stories, but there is always a sense that they are holding back. However, this reserve is not borne out of ideological disagreement with the contents of their stories (which doesn't entirely make sense, really), but out of fear that they will be attacked by readers, the press, their friends, etc. The end result is a product that trades whatever power it might have possessed for the desire to please, a desire that comes across as obvious to a reader and gives the work a mealymouthed feel. By this reasoning, Houellebecq is superior because he simply doesn't give a shit whether people love or hate him. He's gonna write the book he wants to write and the world can take it or leave it.

That's a lot of words just to say that Houllebecq is using a slightly different technique to achieve more or less the same ends, without much analysis of the technique.
I don't think Houellebecq and the Americans have the same ends in mind. With the American stuff there's often a sense that a lot of it was written to show how fine and clever they are, or to provide some sort of half-arsed "perspective" on modern life. Houellebecq is more interested in satire, and while the Americans dabble in it too, it's not of the same order as Houellebecq. At heart, the Americans are accommodating fellows who, despite their personal anxieties, are content with the world. With Houellebecq, you get a sense that he actually hates life on a basic level. There is mockery of the sex and finance obsession of the modern West in his work, but it also goes farther into a articulation of the fear of age and death.

Aaand I've just realized I've made a point that has no bearing to your original argument. Well, it is a point to keep in mind, all the same.

(I've actually been tempted to write about Houellebecq for Ferretbrain, even though he is the complete antithesis of what everyone who writes and reads Ferretbrain stands for. I've honestly grown to like the guy, even in the face of the charges of sexism and racism. He's a fatalistic misanthrope, and he's enjoyably savage in his writing in the way only the French can be, but he also has his moments of true sadness and beauty.)
at 19:58 on 10-05-2012, Michal
I'm way ahead of you, there, Arthur. I'm already 400 pages into my new pony play trilogy, 50 Shades of Neigh.
at 19:46 on 10-05-2012, Arthur B
Someone should write 50SoG fanfic, then file off all the 50SoG-specific names and publish it for £££.

And so on and so on until we finally find out what lies at the bottom of this particular downward spiral.
at 19:39 on 10-05-2012, Michal
Did you at least find out why the title is 50 Shades of Grey and not the far more appropriate 50 Shades of Pain?
at 19:13 on 10-05-2012, Wardog
I tried to read that - for curiosity.

I bogged down at 3%.

It actually put me off reading.
at 18:59 on 10-05-2012, Michal
I'm currently listening to an interview with the author of 50 Shades of Grey on CBC radio and...this interview has more awkward moments than any other interview I've heard in recent memory.
at 17:47 on 10-05-2012, Arthur B
I'll surely give it another go then, backlog permitting. :)

EDIT: Oh, according to Amazon people who bought The Etched City also bought The Darkness That Comes Before. Now there's a seal of quality!
at 17:44 on 10-05-2012, valse de la lune
I think The Etched City has more in common with Tanith Lee than with Mieville, really.

Valse, you can interest me in pretty much anything - especially if women climb other women like trees.

It is the best thing, women climbing women like trees.

(My friend said "so... you want an entwife." N-no.)
at 15:34 on 10-05-2012, Arthur B
Possibly I was just given bad expectations by the edition I was reading then.
at 15:33 on 10-05-2012, James D
I'm not sure The Etched City necessarily qualifies as New Weird, but then again I'm not quite sure what New Weird is exactly, beyond "stuff like Mieville writes." Official definitions seem pretty vague. Like I said, it reminded me a lot more of The Malacia Tapestry, which I loved.
at 15:23 on 10-05-2012, Arthur B
I remember attempting The Etched City ages ago but couldn't get into it. Then again I was feeling kind of fed up with anything which smelled like New Weird at the time so that might have been a factor.
at 15:13 on 10-05-2012, Wardog
Valse, you can interest me in pretty much anything - especially if women climb other women like trees. I will read after Bitterblue :D
at 15:12 on 10-05-2012, Adrienne
Kyra: Yah, i'm also a squealing fangirl about Cashore at this point. There are bits of the ending to Bitterblue that i thought were too pat and glossed over some real issues, but in general i think it did a good job exploring the things it was trying to explore.

Andy: I liked Fire pretty well, myself. Like Kyra, i thought she did the OMG BEAUTIFUL thing incredibly well. The worldbuilding, too, i thought was improved a great deal in Fire over Graceling (i love Graceling, but the world isn't really very interesting. The Dells start showing us some fascinating complexity.)

I really do love how much the women in Cashore's books all refuse to put up with bullshit. None of them settle for lovers who want to control them, and all of them have a great deal of AGENCY even when they're in pretty oppressive circumstances. (Not just the main characters, but the minor characters too.) This is something that is sadly lacking in a lot of YA for young women, and i really want to just shove the books at every fourteen-year-old girl i can think of.
at 15:06 on 10-05-2012, Adrienne
Valse -- I keep swearing that as soon as the last one comes out i will actually read the Logic quartet. :) I remember reading some of her very first books (Delan the Mislaid and the first sequel, which i can't remember the name of), and loving them, way back in the day.
at 15:01 on 10-05-2012, James D
Hey valse de la lune, I ended up reading KJ Bishop's The Etched City based on your recommendation and really enjoyed it. It reminded me a lot of Brian Aldiss's The Malacia Tapestry in that it was a largely character-driven story in an unusual fantasy setting, with a fair helping of surreal bits. Also, I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I loved it anyway. I'm not sure I liked Raule's ending, it seemed a bit tacked on (she was a certain way for pretty much the whole book, then the narration tells you about how she changes completely), but Gwynn's was great. Her style is excellent, and I loved that she was able to craft as vibrant a fantasy world as any of Mieville's without resorting to lengthy, irrelevant scenes. Deft worldbuilding requires a light touch, in my opinion.

It's stunning that this was Bishop's first novel, and frankly rather intimidating too. I'm definitely going to run out and buy whatever else she writes.
at 13:56 on 10-05-2012, valse de la lune
Also I just love how many women, incidental and important, there are in Cashore's books...

Don't suppose I could interest you in Laurie J. Marks?
at 11:35 on 10-05-2012, Wardog
I really liked it actually, though I need to re-read and review it. I thought it was less wham-bam ass-kicking girl's adventure story than Graceling but I thought the ideas it was trying to explore were much more complicated, and, as a consequence, Fire herself was a significantly more subdued character. I remember really enjoying it but also finding it wildly painful... I find Cashore's depiction of abusive father figures, in particular, rather devastating. It's that careful balance of love and fear and repulsion and adoration...

Also the whole "OMG SO BEAUTIFUL" trope is, God, incredibly difficult to handle well but I think Cashore did it wonderfully, and managed to explore lots of feminist-friendly ideas about gaze and sex and power and selfhood.

I will get round to reviewin' soon. But, yeah, I am absolutely LOVING Bitterblue. Bitterblue herself is wonderful, and I am so impressed with the way Leck has essentially been a very real villain for three books now, despite BEING DEAD. I remember whinging he was pretty one dimension in Graceling but the way his portrayal has built up over the three books has really satisfied me.

Also I just love how many women, incidental and important, there are in Cashore's books...
at 11:04 on 10-05-2012, Andy G
What did you think of Fire, Kyra/Adrienne? I was somewhat disappointed - I thought it was good, but not amazing.
at 09:52 on 10-05-2012, Wardog
@Adrienne, YES - I have Bitterblue :D :D :D I got it on Kindle on release day because I am that much an embarrassingly drooling fanperson when it comes to Kristin Cashore. I've been pretty busy so I'm only halfway through it but I am really enjoying it. I've slightly more aware of her weaknesses since I read Valse's pretty darn critical review but ... I'm still a big fan.
at 09:08 on 10-05-2012, Andy G
Oh right. There was another recent R&B song with the same quotation which my boyfriend keeps playing, but I don't know it's by.
at 08:28 on 10-05-2012, Arthur B
I've seen hardcover copies of it in Waterstones so it is out over here too.