Interstitial Fiction: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell & Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell

Bone Clocks

Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks tells the story of warring immortals through several different perspectives. On one side, the Horologists, are immortal mind forces, (not unlike Doro in Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster series) that are continuously reborn in various bodies. A nemesis group, Atemporals, live forever by vampiristically ‘decanting’ the life forces of random victims. But if you’re expecting a straightforward fantasy adventure, you will be surprised. Mitchell’s novel is concerned with an ordinary teenage girl in 1980s England and the people she comes across. Holly Sykes is a rebellious girl growing up in Thatcher’s Britain, and her concerns are her boyfriend; her over-protective Irish mum; her weird brother Jacko; and the Talking Heads’ Fear of Music. The story gets in motion when a betrayal by her boyfriend and her best friend spurs her to run away from.  Sykes’ life has intersected with with the Horologist/Atemporal in enigmatic episodes that she puts down to dreams or hallucinations. Sykes narrates the story in the breathless present tense of a self-absorbed teenage girl. The fantastic takes a back seat to the High Drama of teen angst. Then, abruptly, her story ends on a suspenseful note. Then we are thrown into the mind-space and narrative of the narcissistic, sociopathic Cambridge student Hugo Lamb. It takes a while before the significance of the character-and-scenery change to take shape, but along way, we get a realistic character study of a privileged cretin. The next character hops are: a war reporter in Iraq, a bad boy British novelist (a kind of roman a clef), and the narrative of one of the Horologists. These different stories, all monologues, operate as linked novellas. Some are more fantastic than others. The war reporter’s piece, for instance, is a journalistic current event reportage. The novelist’s piece is satirical romp of the British literary life, while the Horologist’s tale is pure speculative fiction. Sometimes, The Bone Clocks gets mired down in the mingle-mangle minutiae of its characters life, and the plot comes to a stand still. But there are sparkling scenes and strong characters to pull you through the draggy bits. It might be my favorite Mitchell novel.

Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer

Acceptance

The Southern Reach Trilogy (comprising of the alliterative titles Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance) tells the story of a ‘soft’ apocalypse and/or an enigmatic invasion using a variety of narrative techniques that give the work deeply personal feel. The opening Annihilation is a first person account of an expedition into a transformed landscape.  It’s psychedelic/trippy nature reads more Leary than Lovecraft. It’s a kind of speculative guidebook, filtered through a biologist’s awe (in both the spooky and the amazed connotations) at Nature. Authority takes the third person-limited perspective of an interim director, sent to clean up an off-the-rails organization. It’s a kind of Kafka-esque workplace drama, full of alienation, anomie, and paranoia. The tone in Authority expands to (dark) comedy to fill out the otherworldly ambience. The concluding novel, Acceptance, ends the trilogy on a haunting note, rather than a pat and dry Hollywood ending. It’s the most character driven novel of the three, and the sections, both within and outside of Area X, are underscored with an elegiac quality. The result is speculative fiction that has real emotional resonance.

Unseeing is Believing: Further Adventures in Limnality

For some people, unseeing is believing.

Earlier this morning, one of my Facebook friends was trying to convince a woman on her FB wall about the failure to indict the officers in both the Garner and Brown cases. The person she was arguing with is incapable of seeing any wrongdoing by the officers involved. To this woman’s mind, what Brown allegedly did (stealing cigarillos, roughing up a store owner and sucker punching  an officer) and Garner’s crime—of selling loose cigarettes—were worthy of the death penalty—immediately. She can’t see that these misdemeanors become, when the perpetrator has dark skin, high crimes, akin to murder. She believes that having a badge renders any decision enacted against black and brown skin to be free of accountability. What is monstrously unfair, what preys on poor, black and other marginalized people is good, just, right and proper.

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The recent infuriating events in Black America (Brown, Rice, Garner) are a stark reminder that we live in two very different nations. The two nations occupy the same space, but the dominant one can’t see—or chooses to unsee—the subordinate one. I’ve talked about the subject of gas lighting racism before: the phenomenon of (mostly) white people seeking to rationalize racial micro-aggressions (e.g, “Taxicabs always pass me by, too!”; “Maybe the store clerk is just over eager”; “Racism is over because of Oprah!”).   It’s a way of unseeing the struggles that people of color face, even when they are right there, out in the open.

This inability to see injustice, even when it’s right there in your face, reminds me of an episode in Season 5 of the X-Files called Folie A Dieux.  In the episode, Mulder becomes a negotiator in a tense hostage situation, where a seemingly mad man at a telemarketing company has held his co-workers at gunpoint . He is convinced that his boss is a monster who has vampiristically dehumanized some of his co-workers. Mulder initially thinks the man is mad, and shoots him. As the mad man is dying, he implores Mulder to look, really look at situation through the mad man’s eyes. Mulder, full of empathy, does see. The boss is, indeed, monstrous, insectoid and some of the employees are zombies, with chalk-white zombie skin and pure black eyes. Mulder sees behind the dominant narrative after he empathizes with the seemingly “mad” man. He sees behind the facade, the distraction and is witness to a terrible truth. His life depends on Scully being able to see behind the facade—to share his “madness”— as well.

For some people, injustice against black and brown bodies is the status quo. Even when the proof of injustice is on video. Even when the victim is a child. Blue=always correct. Black = the mark of criminality. To them, we are the mad people seeing invisible monsters.

“He looked like a demon”: the distorting mirror of racism

When I was 14-15 or so, I only cared about writing. I devoured fiction in all forms, and had an attachment to the works of the Southern Gothic writers: Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor. I wrote a story in that vein, about two older women, one white, one black. The plot had the two of them remembering the reason that both became friends during segregated times. The white woman was turned out of her house for her romantic dalliance with a black boy, and her subsequent pregnancy. The boy’s family took her in, and the other woman was the boy’s sister. I don’t have a copy of the piece—the draft was done on college ruled notebook paper. I imagine that it was a jejune attempt, bit of Southern Gothic fan fiction.

I submitted the piece to the high school literary magazine, and it was accepted. And almost as soon as it was accepted, it was pulled. The school vice principal, who I’ll call Mr. D, objected to the content matter. It was immoral, and ‘ghetto.’ Mind you, I heard this second hand from the teacher who edited the literary magazine. Now, the school I attended was nominally a Christian Academy, and you were required to take religion class. Even so, the line of what was and wasn’t acceptable. For instance, we were required to read works by Wright and watch films about lynching—not exactly warm and fuzzy fare. I recall being kind of shocked that Mr. D had characterized it as ‘ghetto,’ as the story occurred in a rural small town. Then the light turned on in my head. It was ‘ghetto’ because it was about black people and I was a black person. Therefore, black = ghetto. So, the story about immoral, scary black people (and their white friends) was pulled. As a consolation, the editor/teacher published some of my poetry. (Thank God, I can’t find the literary magazine!)

I was never called a demon or a thug. You see, I was one of the ‘good ones,’ from a Talented Tenth in-tact family that lived in Washington’s Gold Coast. At five feet two inches tall, no-one is going to mistake me for a super scary black man. But even when you’re unthreateningly diminutive, and have a bonafide bourgeois pedigree, sometimes all people can see is your black skin.  Blackness that, in the white supremacist imagination, has corrosive properties.  See, racism is a funhouse mirror that distorts reality. It turns a gentle story about friendship into a lurid story about debased moral values.

That funhouse mirror turns a black boy into a demon or thug. It turns a slightly drunk young woman ringing a doorbell (because, doncha know, thieves always ring the doorbell) into a threat. A boy, carrying a toy gun in an “open-carry” state, becomes a threat. And on it goes.

Tamir Rice
Tamir Rice

Anyway, the magazine came out, and it had a story written by white girl. The story was about a young, unwed welfare mother who kills a john with lead pipe to feed her hungry son. The story begins with the words, “Momma, I be hoooongry.” The story had prostitution, murder, illegitimacy and actually was set in a ghetto. But, it was written by a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white girl; she could publish a fantasia no doubt inspired by Reagan’s mythical welfare queen. Somehow, that piece got past the moral crusader, but my piece, set in the rural South, was ‘ghetto.’

Skin Deep Magic gets a 5-Star Review!

Over at GoodReads, Skin Deep Magic has its first review, and it’s  a good one. James says,

Skin Deep Magic, the second short story collection penned by Craig Laurance Gidney, is a worthy follow-up to his first collection, 2008’s Sea, Swallow Me (Lethe Press). Once again mining his own unique vein of interstitial fiction (to use the author’s own description of his work), this collection continues his proclivity to depict stories that are simultaneously fantastic, folkloric, mythic, and sometimes horrific from the perspectives of oft marginalized social groups (in particular, LGTB people and African-Americans, or mixed variations thereof). Whereas his first collection mostly concerned itself with male protagonists, here the majority of his narrators and main characters are women, which makes for an interesting change of pace, and the fact that all of the ten stories revolves around the issue of race (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, sexuality) gives the collection a nice unity of effect.

Read the rest of the review here.

Diversity in SFF–Some Small Presses doing good work (a signal boost)

At the World Fantasy Convention, I saw two small presses in the dealer’s room that are releasing work that includes diverse voices.

Rosarium Publishing produces a wide range of titles in the SFF/graphic novel categories that put people of color at the front and center. Recent titles including Mothership: Tales From Afrofuturism and Beyond; the graphic novel Malice in Ovenland and an artbook featuring the work of black artist John Jennings.

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Valancourt Books focuses on gothic horror and gay literature, with the two interests often intersecting. They’re currently reprinting the work of the late gay horror writer Michael McDowell.

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World Fantasy, Moonbeam Awards, Birthday Book Giveaway

This past weekend, I attended and volunteered for the World Fantasy Convention, which was practically in my backyard. In addition to catching up with and meeting various writer friends, I enjoyed the panels and the readings. Congratulations to the WFA winners, especially Ellen Datlow (Lifetime Achievement) and Sofia Samatar (Best Novel).

While I was at World Fantasy, my YA novel BEREFT received the Bronze Moonbeam Award (in the Mature Issues category). Unfortunately, I could not be at the ceremony. Thanks to the Moonbeam Award Committee and to the fellow winners, which include fellow Tiny Satchel Press author Lisa R. Nelson.  More about the awards is here).

Finally, today is the last day to enter my GoodReads Book Giveaway for SKIN DEEP MAGIC. The contest ends tomorrow–my birthday! The winners will receive an autographed copy of the book in the mail.

I will be attending the World Fantasy Convention this weekend

I will be attending the 2014 World Fantasy Convention this week in DC (actually, in nearby Crystal City. I am scheduled to volunteer in the Hospitality Suite for a few hours, but I will be around the hotel and bar (though I’ll going back home during the nights). I am not on any panels. I hope to meet some fellow authors, reconnect with old friends, and maybe, gain some new readers!

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