July 2004

Adrienne Martini

specfic floozy

God Bless the Internet

[Insert higher power of your choice here] bless the Internet. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t here myself muttering that at least once. Need to know the full title of Marat/Sade? Itching to know the difference between poison oak and poison ivy (http://poisonivy.aesir.com/? Hankering for a hunk of cheese? All at one’s fingertips.

This is not new information–especially for those who have already found there way here.

Near omnipotence has its drawbacks, of course. There is just so dang much data out there that it can be nearly impossible to find exactly what you want or to stumble accidentally upon what you might need. Happy accidents occur, granted, but never as frequently as one may like.
This is doubly true when you’re looking for information about speculative fiction-y books. Every geek with a modem and an HTML manual has a site up about his or her favorites. Again, this is not a bad thing -- but it can be hard to sort out what the gestalt may be. The bigger genre forest is hard to picture when there are all of these trees in the way. But, without the trees, there is nothing.

Fortunately, at least two organizations are trying to take a picture of this wilderness, so that every reader can see which plants are thriving.
The more intriguing of the two may be the Interstitial Arts Foundation, whose mission is to give artists who cross genre borders a passport to do so with impunity. Or, as writer Emma Bull, whose work has always flirted with the no-man’s-land that exists between genre territories, explains it:

"Interstitial Arts are unorthodox. They're out on the side streets of the mainstream art forms, out in the neighborhoods where the houses are painted purple and red and the front yard fences are made of old iron headboards or bicycle wheels. They're the antithesis of covenants and restrictions, of the gated community.

"That unorthodoxy sweeps away people's preconceptions about what art is, and who is allowed to make it. Creativity isn't some rare quality reserved for annointed artists; it's what humans do, every day, all the time. Interstitial art slips past the boundaries that we've placed between ourselves and art. It dismantles the rules and assumptions that keep us from seeing our lives as a series of creative acts. By doing so, it opens the possibility that, by making things consciously, lovingly, and with our whole selves, we can change the world."

The wealth of material on the site, which was pointed out to me by founding member Ellen Kushner after my Bookslut column about trying to define Stephenson’s Quicksilver, is impressive and frighteningly well organized. Particularly useful are the essays about what Interstitiality is, pondered by such notables as Delia Sherman, whose Porcelain Dove is a wonderful tale that flirts with fantasy, history and romance with ease, Jeff VanderMeer, Terri Windling, Susan Stinson. But within each of these short pieces are the names of other writers whose work may be more familiar to those examining the borders, like Angela Carter, P.D. James, Tony Hillerman and Umberto Ecco. On the whole, the site and its forums are heady and content-rich, and so I’ve been exploring slowly, in order to really think about each new definition of what this large corner of modern fiction looks like.

The more practical site is the Speculative Literature Foundation’s, which provides resources for academic, readers, writers and editors. With this information clearing house function also comes a small press co-op and a $1000 prize for short fiction. This year, the winner was Alison Smith’s “The Specialists,” published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. While all of the nominees have done amazing work, it is the line-up of judges that may be most impressive. For such a young organization–the Foundation started in January 2004–they have attracted some heavy hitters like Maureen McHugh, Kelly Link and John Kessel. It is a promising start.

Currently, however, the word “start” describes this fledgling organization best. Plans are still in the works for a series of grants and awards for writers and researchers, a true co-op for small presses that will leverage better rates on printing and the like, as well as a mentorship program. All very good things that will help the field as a whole, granted, but it’s hard to evaluate what the group will become at this point in time. What it has right now is endless potential to bring attention and resources to the speculative fiction field. Also, now is the time when members, which are actively being recruited, and other readers can voice their opinions of what the SLF should be. The forum is open to all, despite its current quietness.

While these two sites can help you parse what’s going on in the field today, one more can help you figure out what to read right now. While the Hugo and Nebula awards are decent indicators of what is most popular among readers and writers, the James Tiptree, Jr. award, founded by Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy, always points you toward the books and shorter stories that do the most interesting things with genre. Technically, the award simply bills itself as a “literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender,” according to the site. But, frequently, the prize also points to where the genre may be moving, much like Tiptree’s own books did.
This year’s Tiptree winner is Matt Ruff’s Set This House in Order, which is a fun read that can be found in the general fiction section. Always interesting is the list of other works from the past year that the judges recommend. In 2003, the works ran the gamut from Carol Emshwiller’s short “Boys” to Kij Johnson’s “Fudoki” and Tricia Sullivan’s “Maul.” While you may not love each recommended item, each will promises to be a wild ride, full of interesting tangents.