Of fine bookery

Orrin Grey’s excellent collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, is coming back into print! There’s a Kickstarter currently running for the new edition, so I am going to have two copies of it, and one of them will come with an extra story and some e-phemera. The stories in this book are lovely; I may have mentioned “The Seventh Picture” before, and I continue to live in the hope that someone will someday make a movie out of that one.

My review of the initial edition is here, but I figured I’d yank a partial paragraph:

There’s horror here, yes, but that’s not all that’s important here; Never Bet the Devil would be an impressive but rather cold book if it was. The infinite strangeness of the supernatural, that was what I was having trouble defining, and a love for the strange and supernatural elements of the genre. The stories, taken together, are stories of horror, and loneliness, and madness, and mystery. And they still manage to convey a sense of wonder. Not overwhelmingly so; I don’t think it’s possible to come away from them thinking cheerful thoughts. But dammit, reading stories like this, stories that have these things in them… this book makes me happy, and the reading has improved my days.

Overall it comes out to less than $2 a story to get a digital copy, and these are some really, really lovely stories, even without the illustrations. Worth checking out.

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Romance! (No, really. Wait.)

I was discussing Leverage with someone–one of my favourite TV shows–and they described it as a bad but fun. And I asked why it was bad, and they described several qualities of it, and one of them was “it makes no attempt to be realistic.”

And something clicked for me. I’m going to turn to an English-as-a-subject ramble here for a moment.

Do you know how you can make a strong argument that Frankenstein isn’t a novel? That The Hobbit and The Mists of Avalon and The Phantom Tollbooth aren’t novels?

Because a novel is also a genre definition and that definition is “a book-length work of realistic prose fiction”.[1] The books I have mentioned are not novels; they are romances, where the definition of a romance is “a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious”.

(This is why the H.G. Wells Historical Society talks about his scientific romances, which is a term which was also applied to A Princess of Mars. We’re talking romance as a thing that gives us giant submarines and time machines and alien princesses, here.)

Getting back to Leverage: no, it is not remote in time or place. (It is in a TV-land where people are surprisingly pretty and such things as ledger deposit slots exist, plus there’s what Hardison does anytime he’s near a computer, plus Elliot… Alright. It is not blatantly remote in time or place, although it’s pretty clearly not next door.)

But it is certainly heroic and adventurous. It is a pulpy show, in the best sense–Lester Dent’s essay on pulp fiction writing is absolutely not posted on the wall of the writer’s room. đŸ˜‰

No-one has to like fiction that isn’t realistic, and you can definitely make an argument for defining fiction that isn’t realistic as being silly. (I personally would be inclined to disagree, but I can see the pattern and structure of the argument.) But I think that to define a work of art as a bad example of the art, it’s important to engage with it in terms of what it’s trying to be.

Possibly more thoughts later.
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[1] Specific definition plucked from Dr. Doyle’s SF Genre Rant.[2]
[2] Now that you’ve read that essay, please note that I’m not arguing that genre fiction cannot be realistic in both senses described in it, but I think the realistic vs. romantic distinction is useful for the point I am trying to make about the TV show I was discussing, which I will now get back to.

I think it’s the insects’ turn.

Poster for the 1988 movie MIRACLE MILE. I rewatched Miracle Mile tonight; last night, actually, by the time this post is done. (Spoilers follow.)

If you don’t know it; it’s a 1988 movie about a guy who accidentally gets a phone call telling him nuclear war is starting (has started? the missiles are locked in, at any rate), and LA will be nuked in 70 minutes. The rest of the movie is him trying to get to his girlfriend and escape the city.

He manages one of these things.

Miracle Mile is dated, and its pacing and dialogue make it a bit hard to approach, but it pulls itself together as the film goes on. Some of the scenes towards the end are surprisingly bleak; the frantic crawl through the traffic jam is something I’ve never quite seen a match for. And it is an unapologetically downer ending[1]; I find it rather touching as well, which mellows it slightly, but fundamentally this is a movie that unquestioningly accepts that  nuclear war is going to be the end of things and waits for the characters to catch up.

“People are going to help each other, aren’t they? Rebuilding things?”
“I think it’s the insects’ turn.”

I would love to see a remake of it, but I’m not sure it could be done. It seems very much a movie rooted in the Cold War; the idea that a nuclear war could happen, that it was such a real and obvious and accepted fear that with so little prompting people would behave that way. I think you could convey a world in which that fear was present, but I think that for the audience it might be a case of learning that fear, not recognizing that fear.

[1] I said, to the light of my life, “is it really that much of a downer?” And he said to me, “World War Three started, LA is nuked, the main characters drown in tar. It’s a downer.”
He has a point.