Friday, July 29th, 2011

Slouching Toward Bethlehem

I don’t know whether I’ve ever produced more words, just by volume, than I’ve done in the past two weeks. Essays, interviews, journalism, radio, etc. etc. I am a processor of words.

It’s all part of the process of “launching” a “book,” which is a weirdly abstract though not unenjoyable activity. Sometimes you wish you could just smash a bottle of champagne over it and say, there, done, launched. I have a doc in my Google docs, prepared for me by Viking, that lists all the Magician King-related things I’m doing over the next month. It’s 22 pages long.

I also have another doc listing the things I’m doing that I haven’t told them about.

[The above image — it’s a Brakebills South crest — is one of a whole slew of Magicians-related designs done by an absolutely brilliant DC-based artist named Amy Billingham. It’s all going into the CafePress store…]

It’s work. I’ve become that guy who brings his MacBook Air on the subway to grab some extra writing time on the way to and from the office. But it’s the kind of work you want. It’s the kind of work I fantasized generic zithromax cost about having to do when I was 20, Snoopy-style — “here’s the world-famous author … ” This while lying on the roof of my doghouse.

What else? I spent last weekend at Comic-Con. I don’t exactly enjoy Comic-Con as such. When I’m there I’m there to work, and while I’m there, I’m always working. But I do get to see people I don’t see anywhere else. Random House gave a party on Thursday night, and if you stood at the bar — and I did — you could take in, without turning your head, George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, David Anthony Durham, Christopher Paolini, Scott Westerfeld and Charles Yu. Among others.

And Christopher Paolini was riding a mechanical bull.

Reviews and other mentions of The Magician King have been popping up online. So far the response has been … pretty great. But I’m spazzy about this stuff, and I’m mostly not reading them. I killed the Google Alert I used to have on myself two years ago. I don’t need any more information about myself. I get more than enough of that just by being me.

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

What We Talk About When We Talk About Talking About Genre

The little lobe of my brain that serves as a Geiger counter for detecting blog posts theorizing about genre has been ticking with ever-increasing rapidity these days. It’s ticking so fast that it has crossed the threshold that unlocks another lobe of my brain, a top-secret lobe that contains a sealed black folder labeled RAGNAROK PROTOCOL that’s supposed to contain a blog post about genre.

Whoops. It’s empty.

The truth is I already said most of what I could think of to say about genre here, two years ago, in the Wall Street Journal of all places.

Interestingly, that piece turned out to be somewhat controversial, which was the last thing I expected, which shows you how little I know about genre, and for that matter, people. Some people who I really respect wrote some pretty sharp, pointy things about it. Basically the article was just my attempt to make the old literary-fiction-‘n’-genre-are-mergin’ argument, and ground it in a particular take on 20th century literary history. I just think that sometime in the early part of the 20th century social status, narrative, genre and shame all got woven together into a big tangled knot that we are only just now unraveling.

And it was the Modernists who did it. The Modernists, I say.

Enough people said I was wrong about this that I went and said the same thing, only shorter and testier, here a few days later. That oughta show’em!

In the intervening two years I haven’t gotten much past that, which probably says more about my low attention span and drastically declining neuroplasticity than it does about the soundness of my argument.

My only further reflections are these:


Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Writers Who Love Video Games

When I was in first grade something weird started happening. Kids were getting taken out of class in groups of three or four, and when they returned they were … altered. I was pretty sure that the time had come, and we were finally being replaced by our replicant doubles, and I just hoped that when it was my turn I would meet my fate proudly and not beg.

Instead when it was my turn we were taken down the hall and down the stairs into our school’s fallout shelter (yeah, yeah, I’m old. Saw me in half and count the rings, why don’t you) and ushered into the presence of this:

This was a Commodore PET computer. (PET stood for Personal Electronic Transactor!) As a replicant double it wasn’t a great likeness. But it did play games. Specifically it played Hunt the Wumpus. As a result of this electronic transaction, I became a gamer.

(This is only partly true. We got Pong around that time too. But anyway somewhere in there I became a gamer, which is my point.)

I often get a surprised reaction to the fact that I’m both a books guy and a games guy. They’re supposed to be mortal enemies, fighting it out for a slice of the unexpanding pie of our entertainment hours/dollars. But then I’m surprised at their surprise. I mean, come on, you were introverted and socially anxious when you were a kid, right? Right? What else did you do besides read books and play video games? Where does this schism come from?

What, were you out there playing kickball? Jock.


Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

The Meaning of the Silence

In case you’re wondering what the silence means, it means this: I’m currently in San Francisco working on a special “Future” issue of Time that will come out in January. In practice this means ingesting massive amounts of information, and talking to people many multipliers smarter than myself, and turning all that into the lambent, accessible prose that has made Time a household name in utopian arcologies throughout the inner solar system.

Meanwhile I’m vetting and turning in chapters of The Magician King. I wouldn’t be surprised if — years from now, when I look back from a medium-security cell on one of the moons of Saturn, Titan probably — this will have been one of the most buy zithromax 500mg online stressful periods of my life.

The only consolation is that, as I mentioned on Twitter, Time‘s travel computer somehow booked me into a suite at the Four Seasons. So I’m going mad in comfort and style.

Housekeeping notes: nice review of The Magicians today in The Millions. Interesting to hear somebody talk about what stopped them from reading the book initially.

Also, just to make sure I remain completely disoriented, I’ll be appearing this Sunday at the Miami Book Festival. And in December I’ll be reading at Pete’s Candy Store.

There’s more, but the nanobots have reached my brain, and the darkness is descending again … watch the skies …

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

With This Sinclair ZX81 I Will Conquer the Galaxy

Writing that post about Gödel Escher Bach got me interested in, for lack of a better way of putting it, the archaeology of American nerdiness.

Archaeology is not an exact science — it does not deal in time tables! — but yesterday I was moving a box of books up to the spare room, because the shelves in “my study”* give out at the P’s and this box contained the Z’s. As such it was mostly full of Zelazny novels, with a soupçon of Zola left over from college.

But it also contained this artifact:

This is the programming manual for the first home computer my family ever owned. Which looked like this:

This is a beautiful piece of photography, as it shows off perfectly the crap grainy plastic of the case, the crap membrane keyboard of the ZX81, and the perfect period crap wood-grain coffee table that often supported ZX81’s, and is their natural habitat.


Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Gödel Escher Bach: An Endless Geek Bible

I’m too short on sleep to work on my book and too wired to take a nap. So let us speak instead of Douglas Hofstadter.

In 1979 Hofstadter — a 34-year-old professor of computer science at Indiana University — published a book called Gödel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid which won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. If you haven’t read it — though if you’re reading this blog chances are not-bad that you have — it’s a playful, wildly interdisciplinary argument-slash-fantasia about three radical thinkers and how their work relates to the nature of human consciousness.

My sister was just old enough in 1979 (she was 14) to bring Gödel Escher Bach into our house and obliquely signal its importance to me and my brother by leaving it lying around and making strange coded-sounding references to it in conversation.

My brother and I subsequently read it and became infected with the GEB virus. It altered our intellectual DNA forever.

In fact I’d go so far as to suppose — how would you prove it? — that GEB reconfigured the brains of an entire generation of power nerds who are now grown up and doing interesting shit. As famous as it is I’m willing to bet its influence is still way underestimated. It’s the secret nerd bible of my generation.


Monday, June 28th, 2010

The Flight of the Halcyon: Or, I Had a Baby

I didn’t think I’d do a blog post this soon after the baby came. But I forgot that part of being a dad is finding ways to amuse yourself while your newborn sleeps off her milk coma and your wife sleeps off her regular coma-coma.

Fortunately solitary amusement is a core piece of the nerd skillset.

Halcyon Harriet Graham Grossman was born on Sunday morning, June 27, at dawn. She came in a big hurry — Sophie’s water broke at home, and the baby came about four hours later — which meant that I got to do the thing that all expectant fathers dream of, which is drive really fast through New York City in the middle of the night with my laboring wife in the back seat yelling at me to go faster.

My years of “wasted” time playing Midnight Club and Burnout paid off bigtime.

Though it turns out drifting round corners doesn’t give you a power boost in real life. And when I successfully completed the course my seven-year-old VW Passat station wagon was not upgraded to a fancy new car.

I did get a fancy new baby though.


Friday, June 25th, 2010

The Literary Singularity

So you know how there’s this idea of a singularity, a moment in human history where the rate of change accelerates non-linearly to the point where the whole world abruptly transforms into something unrecognizable?

Like the Industrial Revolution. Or when “they” invented agriculture. Or our imminent merger with our iPhones to form transcendent beings like Ray Kurzweil.

I was thinking about this with reference to literary history. Sometimes a book appears that by the sheer power and radical-ness of its ideas forcibly transforms how we think about and write all future books in that genre. Basically they bring about a literary singularity.

Like Jane Austen’s first (published) novel Sense and Sensibility. The more you study the early history of the modern novel, the more amazing it is how much contemporary fiction looks like Jane Austen novels, and how ancient everything that came before her looks.

When Austen arrived, everything changed. She was a Chicxulub-level event. But in a good way. She brought about a literary singularity.

More examples: Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Possibly Chandler’s The Big Sleep. (I don’t really know, I’m crap on the history of crime novels.)

Or more recently: Watchmen for superhero comics. Neuromancer for science fiction.

What these books cheapest generic zithromax have in common is that they question the basic assumptions that underlie their genres. They’re like the little kid who asks: but why do people put on tights and beat up muggers? But what language do elves speak? What if we never found out who killed the chauffeur? If computers and prosthetics mimic the functions of the human mind and body, then what’s really the difference between people and machines? etc.

And paradoxically, instead of collapsing, the genre that has its assumptions questions in this way emerges stronger and faster, with enhanced senses, and cleaner, shinier hair.

Obviously that impression of sharp, instantaneous transformation is in part a historical illusion. Lesser-known works influenced and led up to these books, but we forget about them now. Ulysses would look less radical if anybody still read Édouard Dujardin, but they don’t. Moore warmed up a lot of the themes of Watchmen in Marvelman (a.k.a. Miracleman), but it was Watchmen that drove them home.

Still, it seems like there should be a word for this. I use “literary singularity” internally (internally = inside my brain) so I figured I’d try the idea out on you.

Done. Next post: more stories about drinking and failure!

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

On Writing and the Internet: Data Is the New Alcohol

In Snow Crash one of Time magazine’s all-“Time” best 100 novels!!! — there are these characters called gargoyles, who are people who walk around with a computer and augmented-reality goggles and an always-on Internet connection, and they’re constantly hoovering up information and spewing it up onto the Net.

Everybody thinks they’re really uncool. And at one point one of them gets eviscerated with a blade made of glass.

(Stephenson mocks such people a second time in Anathem in the form of the dudes who carry jee-jahs.)

And yet I have essentially chosen to be one of them. I’m blogging and tweeting and Facebooking on top of the king-hell amount of e-mailing and magazine writing I was already doing. A lot of writers do. Instead of — or at any rate in addition to — building up lots of words and releasing them in big novel-sized chunks, we’re constantly dribbling them out. Like we’re the victim of some unfortunate literary prostate condition. I tell myself it all serves the fiction in one way or another, but the truth is I just like talking to people directly, w/out the intermediary of paper.

I already regret that last simile. About the prostate.