Food for thought: Ursula K Le Guin on the book and the reader, plus, the missing ingredient in the Hunger Games movie

Ursula K Le Guin offers this about the ‘death’ of the book:

There certainly is something sick about the book industry, but it seems closely related to the sickness affecting every industry that, under pressure from a corporate owner, dumps product standards and long-range planning in favor of ‘predictable’ sales and short-term profits

Uh-huh. In the Book View Cafe piece, she goes on to talk about the differentiation between books and reading, and the definition of books. Plenty to applaud.

  • And there’s this interesting thought about the structure of writing in the face of technology, specifically the amount of a Kindle book revealed in an Amazon sample. Leave’em on a cliff-hanger, seems to the be the idea. The potential for narrative convolutions is immense. I can’t help feeling that if you’ve read 10 per cent of a book and you still don’t know whether you want to read it or not, the book’s in trouble. But then, I like the slow burn; you don’t have to hook me with a big bang or a plot twist if your voice is on the money.
  • Yay: this analysis of the Hunger Games movie helps explain why I came away feeling I’d been served a snack instead of a meal. Seems there’s a whole layer of social snark that got discarded, as well as the fact that I might’ve misread who was playing games of the heart. All the more reason to read the book, methinks.
  • And in case you missed it: the long list of the Miles Franklin. Lots of memories of the war, family secrets, a little bit of inner city, a touch of paddock, some foreign climes, the way we were and what happens next. That’s all very well, but at this time of the week, I’m thinking Sean Williams in power armour* wins hands down!
  • * See this interview for the background to Sean’s powering up!

    Hachette joins the open season for manuscript submissions

    Hachette Australia has joined the ranks of legacy publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Unlike its contemporaries, it has not restricted when submissions can be sent, and promises a three-week response (or rejection by non-response) for fiction, non-fiction and children’s. They’ll look at the first chapter or 50 pages; non-fic needs a chapter breakdown. Sorry, poets: no joy for you.

    Others accepting submissions: Penguin’s Monthly Catch on the first week of each month; Pan Macmillan’s Manuscript Monday and its e-only arm Momentum’s Momentum Monday; and Allen & Unwin’s long-running Friday Pitch.

    Mieville and the bleak Arthur C Clarke finalists, and other writerly news

    embassytown by china mieville

    The finalists of the Arthur C Clarke award for best science fiction novel published in the UK last year include China Mieville for Embassytown, the fifth time he’s been nominated and what could be he his fourth win.

    The interesting comment from the chair of the judging panel, Andrew M Butler, quoted in the Guardian, for those worried about over-genrification:

    “It’s got something for everyone: alien contact, post-apocalyptic disaster, near future cyberpunkish police procedural,” he said, adding that the variety demonstrates the health of the SF scene. “It’s exciting because you can’t fit it in a box.”

    Others in the running are Charlie Stross, Booker longlisted Jane Rogers, Drew Magary, Sherri S Tepper and Greg Bear.

    Says Butler about the dystopian line-up,

    “We’re in a dark place at the moment and SF writers are responding to that. These are not books to turn to for escape – they’re not afraid to confront the dark side of life.”

    The award is announced in May.

  • Canberra’s Nicole Murphy, author of the Secret Ones, has launched an interesting project in which she mentors a writer to develop a 2,000-word spec fic story each month, publishes the finished story on the project’s website and, eventually, makes 12 available as an anthology. The chosen submission each month scores $100 and a cut of the anthology royalties.
  • Also taking submissions in April is UK publisher Angry Robot, who have an open door for classic fantasy and YA SF&F.
  • Stephanie Smith has stepped down from her role at HarperCollins Voyager, where as editor and publisher she has overseen the growth of Australia’s fantasy industry, Bookseller+Publisher reports. She’s quite the icon on the local scene and will be missed. Her replacement is respected editor Deonie Fiford, starting on April 2. OMG that’s Monday! Where has the year gone? Voyager’s farewell message is here.
  • The Gold Coast Literati event in May has announced its line-up, including spec fic authors Stephen M Irwin, Marianne de Pierres, Trent Jamieson, Louise Cusack, Kylie Chan and Rowena Cory Daniells, as well as talented comics creator Queenie Chan, crime writer Katherine Howell and many more. It looks like most of the bases have been covered, from YA to poetry to non-fiction. It’s held the same weekend as Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival kicks off. See the calendar for more literary events.
  • The Hunger Games: a tasty exercise in bread and circuses

    hunger games poster with jennifer lawrenceWe saw the Hunger Games movie on Friday night in a packed theatre heavy on the teen girl demographic, some still in school uniform. It had the hallmarks of a dreadful event — I’m still haunted by the twittering of prats in the back row during the Exorcist redux — but it turned out okay. Those gaps, those giggles, the occasional interjection from a boof in the front row, all added to the ambience. I’m not usually one for interactive theatre like this, but given the arena styling of the Hunger Games, it made sense.

    Premise: a boy and a girl between 12 and 18 are taken by ballot from each of 12 districts, to fight to the death in a controlled landscape arena for the entertainment of the masses. There’s a propaganda element to it, this being the fallout from a rebellion about 50 years ago. This arena is a forest, with controlled bushfires, lots of mobile and embedded cameras, a PA system for ‘Big Brother’ style announcements, and a roof which functions as both bulletin board and artificial atmosphere.

    The movie scored points for not trying to explain everything to do with the back story, but simply hint; the clues were enough to allow suspension of disbelief. Wisely, it took its time getting to the showdown so we weren’t treated to a mere game of cat and mouse. The casting and the performances were spot on. Jennifer Lawrence brings the perfect level of expression to the relatively complex hero of Katniss. The love interest — real or clever survival tactic? — was also deft. Special effects and setting were well done. And the brutality of children fighting 18-year-olds: very nicely handled indeed, neither overdone nor glossed over. It was no coincidence that Roman architecture featured in the cityscapes of the Capitol where the games are held.

    The movie didn’t blow me away but it didn’t bore me witless either and I’m keen to read the books to get the full benefit of the world-building and, frankly, see what all the fuss is about. But I’m not dying to know what happens next, which is curious from a part one of a trilogy. I’m not sure the movie had the time to make all the connections it perhaps needed to, in terms of the games’ impact outside the arena, for instance. In truth, and I know the focus is a little different, I’d rather watch Salute of the Jugger again. Maybe it’s the Rutger factor …

    It was interesting that afterwards in the loo the young boys were discussing the poor tactics that had got half the tributes killed in the first encounter. I wonder if they noticed, or cared, that the heroine didn’t wear PVC and have exposed cleavage? That it was the less-martial lad using emotion and attraction as survival tactics?

    The Running Man and Series 7 are two other movies to have explored the idea of death matches for entertainment, but Hunger Games is riding the books’ fervour; it’s opening weekend has been massive. The YA component makes it confronting and offers a point of difference.

    Meanwhile, Hollywood is already looking for its next big thing: the ‘mommy porn’ of Fifty Shades of Grey is being plugged as a forerunner of a new wave of erotica. Can’t wait to see what the action figures for that one will look like, but I’m guessing they’ll be fully articulated.

    Aurealis Awards finalists announced

    The Aurealis Awards are the premiere award for Aussie speculative fiction. They will be awarded in Sydney on May 12 — tickets for the glam ceremony are on sale. Last year’s ceremony absolutely rocked, a wonderful coming together of all spectra of the spec fic community. Here are the finalists, announced tonight — congratulations all*:

    FANTASY NOVEL
    The Undivided by Jennifer Fallon (HarperVoyager)
    Ember and Ash by Pamela Freeman (Hachette)
    Stormlord’s Exile by Glenda Larke (HarperVoyager)
    Debris by Jo Anderton (Angry Robot)
    The Shattered City by Tansy Rayner Roberts (HarperVoyager)

    FANTASY SHORT STORY
    ‘Fruit of the Pipal Tree’ by Thoraiya Dyer (After the Rain, FableCroft Publishing)
    ‘The Proving of Smollett Standforth’ by Margo Lanagan (Ghosts by Gaslight, HarperVoyager)
    ‘Into the Clouds on High’ by Margo Lanagan (Yellowcake, Allen & Unwin)
    ‘Reading Coffee’ by Anthony Panegyres (Overland #204)
    ‘The Dark Night of Anton Weiss’ by DC White (More Scary Kisses, Ticonderoga Publications)

    SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
    Machine Man by Max Barry (Scribe Publications)
    Children of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy (HarperVoyager)
    The Waterboys by Peter Docker (Fremantle Press)
    Black Glass by Meg Mundell (Scribe Publications)
    The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood (HarperVoyager)

    SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY
    ‘Flowers in the Shadow of the Garden’ by Joanne Anderton (Hope, Kayelle Press)
    ‘Desert Madonna’ by Robert Hood (Anywhere but Earth, Couer de Lion)
    ‘SIBO’ by Penelope Love (Anywhere but Earth, Couer de Lion)
    ‘Dead Low’ by Cat Sparks (Midnight Echo #6)
    ‘Rains of la Strange’ by Robert N Stephenson (Anywhere but Earth, Couer de Lion)

    HORROR NOVEL
    NO SHORTLIST OR WINNING NOVEL – TWO HONOURABLE MENTIONS AWARDED TO:
    The Broken Ones by Stephen M Irwin (Hachette)
    The Business of Death by Trent Jamieson (Hachette)

    HORROR SHORT STORY
    ‘And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living’ by Deborah Biancotti (Ishtar, Gilgamesh Press)
    ‘The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt’ by Paul Haines (The Last Days of Kali Yuga, Brimstone Press)
    ‘The Short Go: a Future in Eight Seconds’ by Lisa L Hannett (Bluegrass Symphony, Ticonderoga Publications)
    ‘Mulberry Boys’ by Margo Lanagan (Blood and Other Cravings, Tor)
    ‘The Coffin Maker’s Daughter’ by Angela Slatter (A Book of Horrors, Quercus)

    YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
    Shift by Em Bailey (Hardie Grant Egmont)
    Secrets of Carrick: Tantony by Ananda Braxton-Smith (black dog books)
    The Shattering by Karen Healey (Allen & Unwin)
    Black Glass by Meg Mundell (Scribe Publications)
    Only Ever Always by Penni Russon (Allen & Unwin)

    YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY
    ‘Nation of the Night’ by Sue Isle (Nightsiders, Twelfth Planet Press)
    ‘Finishing School’ by Kathleen Jennings (Steampunk! An anthology of fantastically rich and strange stories, Candlewick Press)
    ‘Seventy-Two Derwents’ by Cate Kennedy (The Wicked Wood – Tales from the Tower Volume 2, Allen and Unwin)
    ‘One Window’ by Martine Murray (The Wilful Eye: Tales from the Tower Volume 1, Allen and Unwin)
    ‘The Patrician’ by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Love and Romanpunk, Twelfth Planet Press)

    CHILDREN’S FICTION (told primarily through words)
    The Outcasts by John Flanagan (Random House Australia)
    The Paradise Trap by Catherine Jinks (Allen & Unwin)
    ‘It Began with a Tingle’ by Thalia Kalkapsakis (Headspinners, Allen & Unwin)
    The Coming of the Whirlpool by Andrew McGahan (Allen & Unwin)
    City of Lies by Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

    CHILDREN’S FICTION (told primarily through pictures)
    The Ghost of Annabel Spoon by Aaron Blabey (author and illustrator) (Penguin/ Viking Books)
    Sounds Spooky by Christopher Cheng (author) and Sarah Davis (illustrator) (Random House Australia)
    The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen (author) and James Foley (illustrator) (Fremantle Press)
    The Deep: Here be Dragons by Tom Taylor (author) and James Brouwer (illustrator) (Gestault Publishing)
    Vampyre by Margaret Wild (author) and Andrew Yeo (illustrator) (Walker Books)

    ILLUSTRATED BOOK/GRAPHIC NOVEL
    Hidden by Mirranda Burton (author and illustrator ) (Black Pepper)
    Torn by Andrew Constant (author) and Joh James (illustrator ), additional illustrators Nicola Scott, Emily Smith (Gestalt Publishing)
    Salsa Invertebraxa by Mozchops (author and illustrator) (Pecksniff Press)
    The Eldritch Kid: Whiskey and Hate by Christian Read (author) and Michael Maier (illustrator) (Gestalt Publishing)
    The Deep: Here be Dragons by Tom Taylor (author) and James Brouwer (illustrator) (Gestault Publishing)

    ANTHOLOGY
    Ghosts by Gaslight edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers (HarperVoyager)
    Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2010 edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Ticonderoga Publications)
    Ishtar edited by Amanda Pillar and KV Taylor (Gilgamesh Press)
    The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 5 edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade Books)
    Life on Mars edited by Jonathan Strahan (Viking)

    COLLECTION
    Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti (Twelfth Planet Press)
    Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines (Brimstone Press)
    Bluegrass Symphony by Lisa L Hannett (Ticonderoga Publications)
    Nightsiders by Sue Isle (Twelfth Planet Press)
    Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twelfth Planet Press)

    * I was a judge in this year’s awards so no commentary from me, and nothing here should be seen as anything other than my personal opinion.

    Notions Unlimited opens, and other writerly news

    Yay for Chuck McKenzie who, after four years running a Dymocks shop, has gone it alone with Notions Unlimited spec fic book store at Melbourne’s bayside Chelsea. Ensconced between a coffee shop and a liquour outlet and with a sushi store right outside the door, he must be occupying some prime real estate. Add in an amazingly wide range of genre reading — a dedicated small press section, graphic novels, and all the F, SF and H you can point a stick at, whether big guns or more oscure or up-and-coming writers — and a seriously luxurious looking set of sofas, and he might be needed a bouncer to kick the customers out at closing time. It’s a tough time for bricks and mortar enterprises, but a niche store with a knowledgeable and welcoming owner is in with a chance. There’s nothing quite like that human element when it comes to, ‘if you bought this, you might also like…’

  • In what at times feels like a stampede to be published — by someone, anyone, even ourselves — it’s worth taking a breath and deciding just how much we value our written words and the time and effort (yes, it takes effort!) taken to tell that particular story. Check out these posts at Writer Beware, giving pause for thought about writing contests and dodgy publisher deals.
  • Ellen Datlow, much awarded and respected editor of all things grim and ghoulish, has a new Best Horror on the way — Aussie Margo Lanagan flies the flag in the TOC. Ellen’s listed her honourable mentions, and Antipodeans Alan Baxter, John Harwood, Terry Dowling and Kaaron Warren are included. Nice.
  • Ian Irvine is giving away an iPad3 as part of a Facebook promotion.
  • Johnette Napolitano at the Spiegeltent: night 3

    johnette napolitano at melbourne's spiegeltent

    Johnette Napolitano during her Night 3 performance at the Spiegeltent. Picture: Kirstyn McDermott

    The final night of Johnette Napolitano’s stint at the Spiegeltent in Melbourne, and as with the previous two nights, it was an outstanding hour.

    Napolitano, in her top hat and be-ribboned home-made dress worn over trousers, had anecdotes aplenty, starting with a ‘frog on a log’ song she wrote at age 12 — her first — to entertain a sick sister. Marc Moreland (of Wall of Voodoo, and Napolitano collaboration Pretty & Twisted with Danny Montgomery; he died in March 10 years ago) and ‘Joey’ featured. A superbly delivered poem from her Rough Mix book that had her harking back to the Rat Pack and the Hollywood of her youth. Those interjections within songs: priceless.

    The Spiegeltent encourages that lounge room conversation atmosphere and this was a very comfortable house party indeed.

    I’ve not heard versions of ‘Joey’ and ‘Tomorrow, Wendy’ (by Wall of Voodoo’s Andy Prieboy) more impressive than tonight’s renditions. Quite remarkable, given the guitarist has fractures in both hands.

    Again, though the songs were much the same as previously, the order was changed around and each was given its own treatment. Finale ‘Bloodletting’ was more comical — Napolitano has a wonderfully expressive face; ‘I Don’t Need a Hero’ rang heavy with emotion — I suspect there were ghosts in the house, haunting those lyrics, as one might expect from a gig with an autobiographical intention.

    Johnette Napolitano 2002 interview

    The audience, as last night, provided the rhythm section for ‘Roses Grow’, and how Napolitano can hold a note… I can’t even hold my breath that long, and she’s got a good 10 years on me. The sell-out crowd again got to put their hands together to bolster the encore, a cappella ‘Mercedes Benz’.

    Other songs included ‘Don’t Take Me Down’ with Napolitano on piano — man, it ripped — ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, ‘the Wedding Theme from Candy‘, ‘Rosalie‘, ‘New Orleans Ain’t the Same’ (so gorgeous, a favourite for this French Quarter tragic) and “Take Me Home/Rehab’.

    On Thursday night we had the rain, and last night there was a woman in the audience, apparently on her way to a party, dressed as Marilyn Monroe, which was the perfect window dressing for ‘Roses Grow’ (which references the actor). No such ‘extras’ tonight*, just honest, at times affectingly raw, music, that drew a standing ovation.

    I hope her hands heal soon, that she continues to make wonderful music and lets us experience it in person like this. I saw Concrete Blonde twice on 2010′s Bloodletting tour (Melbourne and Brisbane) and they totally tore it up, but this series was something else again. Bravo; fucking bravo!


    johnette napolitano at the spiegeltent

    Pic: K McD


    * Addendum: There was an inopportune low-flying helicopter that leant itself to a joke about being on the run, like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas was it, that totally cracked Napolitano up.