On the political in the creative.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/03/29 10:00
One of the most naïve political ideas out there is that a person can have no politics by choice -- that you can somehow opt out of the political rat race by not voting or not holding political opinions, etc. It's reminiscent of another, parallel idea I came across when younger -- the notion that everyone has a philosophy, whether or not they are aware of it or profess it explicitly.
But given that a lot more people care about politics than they do philosophy, the fact that people have politics whether they like it or not seems a good deal more crucial. And beyond that is another, even deeper issue: politics manifests whenever more than one person is present, whether or not you choose to notice it. The less you choose to make yourself aware of how it manifests and to what end, the more of a sucker you're going to be.
Talkin' to Andrew Conry-Murray.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/03/24 13:00
Fellow author and industry colleague Andrew Conry-Murray has published an interview with yours truly. My favorite of my own lines:
I bump into plenty of folks who say they want to write SF or fantasy, but don’t seem to have any curiosity about the genres other than what they’ve already read in them, or seen on TV. If you don’t read outside your own genre, if you don’t read nonfiction, if you don’t read anything older than you are, if you don’t have an interest in current events outside of the need to reinforce your existing prejudices about the world — then you’re not going to produce anything that isn’t a recapitulation of the previous generation of work at best. You have to peer further, be a more curious and empathic person. That’s what SF and fantasy are supposed to be about, anyway — bigger and better horizons, right?
The SF of the past is an artifact of its time, but also much more.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/03/24 10:00
Earlier this month I swung by one of the local used bookstores and snapped up Robert Silverberg's Hawksbill Station for cheap. SIlverberg is one of those SF authors who doesn't get much credit -- he was more workmanlike and dependable than brilliant, and I kept getting him confused with that other Robert (Sheckley), whose acid humor set him a cut above the pack. But Silverberg was also quite good -- The Man in the Maze, for instance, is a great little book, and Dying Inside is one of the few times an author has crossed freely from "SF" to "literary" territory without tripping on the threshold in either direction.
The idea behind Station is pretty neat: political radicals in America's future are exiled into the Cambrian era rather than executed, and have established a colony of sorts that's teetering on the edge of collapse. What I found most interesting about Station is two things about SF generally that pop out at me more and more: the way it's always dominated by the moment of time it was produced in, and the way casual sexism makes a lot of otherwise-good work from SF's earlier years hard to read.
I have no instruction manual for how to do this 'creative' stuff. No one does.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/03/19 10:00
[What Ken Langone, founder of The Home Depot, is raging against is] the idea that understanding economics, as opposed to other issues, might involve some kind of special expertise. This is an all too common problem with the wealthy, and maybe especially among self-made men: they think that their personal financial success means that they understand the economic system, and bristle at the notion that macroeconomics may be more than the sum of individual business strategies.
From time to time I see a parallel form of false wisdom in creative circles as well. If someone has a degree of success, whether it's the modest but solid success of finding a niche audience and catering well to it, or the broader success of the wide-scale commercial variety, it's sometimes easy for them to misattribute the reasons for said success. Instead of admitting they got lucky, they think it's all about them.
I started writing to see more of the work I felt had vanished.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/03/18 10:00
I feel bad admitting to people that there was a time in my life when I stopped reading SF entirely for something like years on end, despite having been steeped in it as a kid. It's a little like confessing you haven't eaten in that restaurant since you got slightly sick in there ten years ago, despite them having changed the staff and remodeled the place.
I'm willing to accept some of this as a product of being attached to whatever it was I grew up with (Lem, Dick, Sturgeon, Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Tiptree Jr., Delaney, Zelazny, Ellison, Philip Jose Farmer, etc.), but also a matter of the way my expectations changed for it. A lot of what I encountered of SF as a kid was escapism, but the stuff that really stuck with me, that convinced me SF was not just escapism and had the seeds within it for saying things as profound about the human condition as any other literature could, became my bar-raiser.
Hit the books! Harder! Harder, I say!By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/03/15 10:00
I have the bad habit of seeking comfort where I know I shouldn't. Viz.: re-reading a book, or just dipping back into one I've read many times to read here and there, instead of starting a new one that I know will be worth the while. Life being unpredictably short, it does you no favors to cheat yourself out of the chance to experience something new. Ebert once called that sort of behavior a crime against one's curiosity, and how many criminals of that kind are minted every day?
Plan ahead, lest you find yourself behind plan.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/03/13 10:00
Again, work and the busy-ness of settling in (finding a house, getting access to my stuff in storage) has intruded on blogging time. So, some Fold news, delivered with my customary lack of spoilers.
In dying is all.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/03/09 10:00
This past week I learned of the death of one person, an Internet quasi-celebrity whose antics I'd followed for some time; and the impending death of another, a cult author whose work has existed in obscurity but thanks to the Internet has gained a bit more of a following. The first one died of an illness he knew as of over a decade ago would kill him eventually; the second had major cancer surgery not long ago, and appended "This is the last piece I will publish in my lifetime" to the most recent blog post he made. He knows his time is very short.
I'm at an age now -- not "old", but certainly not "young" -- where many of the living people I took guidance and inspiration from earlier in my life are beginning to die. I'm not taking it as well as I thought I would. It becomes easy to accept, unquestioningly, that someone like Mick Jagger will always be alive -- or maybe better to say Keith Richards; it's like he just stopped aging at some point -- or that the guy in the mirror will always be alive.
Japan's underground tribal unit didn't record much, but the best of its moments are here in one convenient place.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/03/08 10:00
After Dead Can Dance burst onto the music scene in the early Eighties, with their mix of tribal, classical, and popular sounds, it was tempting to draw connections back to them from just about everyone else, no matter how remote, who seemed like they belonged on the same shelf. Vasilisk was, and is, one such unit, even if the group itself hailed from a completely different direction: they didn't have anywhere nearly the consistency of output of DCD, and consequently their work tended to be far more fragmented and fleeting. But what they did produce is worthy of attention, and Liberation and Ecstasy makes it easier to find out what the band was about than hunting and pecking for the various bits of vinyl released by them.
Formed in Japan after the collapse of the noisy, SPK-ish White Hospital -- the other half of which, Jun Konagaya, went on to continue as Grim -- Vasilisk consisted of Tomo Kuwabara and Yukio Nagoshi, with other members (including longtime fixture of the Japanese underground, drummer Tatsuya Yoshida) joining in from time to time. Liberation and Ecstasy was compiled from various EPs and full-length discs recorded from 1987 through 1990, and the results were released through the Italian Musica Maxima Magnetica label (which also put out their album Acqua).
How I turned an intellectual failure into a creative success.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/03/07 10:00
One of the better pieces of creative advice I've received is "Look for the cracks in things." Leonard Cohen has a couplet along those lines: there's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in. But the right way to apply that advice eluded me for a long time.
The worst thing about Spike Lee's 'Oldboy' is that it could well have been made by most anyone.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/03/05 10:00
The original 2003 Oldboy ranks as one of the greatest films I have ever seen. The 2013 remake is to that movie like an Elvis impersonator is to Elvis. Not just in the sense that the impersonator can only ape the moves of the original, but in that he arrives years too late to the scene. He can only remind people of some glory that it was once possible to experience for the first time.
What’s most disappointing is how Oldboy ended up being this thin despite some fairly heavyweight talent on board. The director was Spike Lee, who even when I have found his films not to my taste has never taken the easy road with his material. Mark Protosevich adapted the script from the Korean original, and Josh Brolin has consistently had my attention as a good actor (W., True Grit). But somehow, it all adds up to little more than a dutiful going through the motions. And yes, the original story—with all of its appalling plot twists—has been preserved, but given how strangely uncompelling the finished product is, maybe pickled would be a better word.
To what extent do labels like "comic book" or "SF" influence our creation?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/03/04 10:00
I've got several possible review items on my desk, most of them for the Science Fiction Repair Shop, and something crossed my mind as I was figuring out which one was best to talk about. Is a comic book movie best approached as a kind of fantasy, or can we sneak it into the SF Room by sliding it in under the door, so to speak?
On the problem of "cargo cult creativity".By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/03/03 10:00
Barely a day goes by when something doesn't show up in one of my RSS feeds (or my G+ feed, or my Facebook timestream, or event like, or whatever the hell they're calling it now) relating to the nature of creativity. Most of the time it takes the form of some prescriptive advice: do this and you'll be creative. Sometimes it's speculative: what do creative people do that other people don't? Well, creating, for one, but I imagine such a tautology scarcely needs elaboration on my end.
But most of my concern about this sort of thing revolves around something I've come to call cargo cult creativity, or CCC for short. It's the idea that you can approach creativity like you can approach dieting: do this, not that, and soon you'll be creative and 30 pounds thinner. Some part of me resents this thinking, and I've had a hard time determining if it was whether or not it's me being protective of my territory; e.g., the last thing I need is people coming along being all "creative" on me when I have a hard enough time of it myself.
Science fiction, rebooted.