possibility and estrangement

The Man Booker prize of 2011 has come, and the Man Booker prize of 2011 has gone. It’s been a Booker season of few surprises. In fact, according The Guardian he bookies at William Hill reported glumly that bets were 6/4 on favourite Julian Barnes, who won.

And it brought all the usual delights of the season, including a fevered debate on whether the Booker does, in fact, Matter. The debate, in case you missed it, centred around this year’s stated bias for “readability,” or what one columnist cleverly called “zipalongability,” rather than the usual bias for experimental audacity. A nice, crisp plot well-told, the judges suggested, was to be favoured over inchoate masses of gorgeous, delicately wrought prose.

The divide is of course spurious. A book is by simple definition “readable,” assuming it contains a grammatical order of mostly known words on the page. Books, after all, are made to be read. Even Chomsky’s famous dictum of non sola grammatia—“Colourless green ideas sleep furiously”—is readable (it just means nothing, we can read it fine). But the decrepitude—even, as I see it, sheer silliness—of this debate didn’t stop the pundits from screaming. But then, not even sudden total disappearance of the Earth would could stop the pundits from screaming. Although in space, thankfully, no one can hear them scream.

Columnists and literary figures harrumphed and grumped about the alleged paucity of the shortlist, and rehashed tired old arguments about some theoretical “lit-fic vs. SF” smackdown. Internet pundits and forum users have pontificated and fumed about supposed judicial incompetence, with widespread agreement that anyone could have done better, and that umpires en masse should be killed. It’s felt, for all the world, like some experimental hybrid of a neighbourhood Oscar Party and watching the World Series with your extended family. Just without the nachos and cheap booze.

Credit must be given where it’s due, so hats off to Guardian columnist Sarah Crown, who had the perspicuity to put the Booker question to the Rising Star of SF, China Miéville, author of the appropriately titled Un Lun Dun. Just about anything Miéville says is going to be tangential to most other things, and is worth hearing. Ms Crown’s delight is evident when she writes that “Miéville made a point that I found so interesting I wanted to disseminate it further.”

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an anti-wednesday toast

on Thursday!

I am being toasted…but…very carefully…

I don’t mean in the fork-and-flame manner, nor yet in the entirely more modern shiny-box-that-goes-ding-when-there’s-stuff manner. The manner is my lovely colleague Jenna St. Hilaire calling us all (whoever ‘we’ may be) to ‘raise Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters and toast Mr. Pond, who made me read this book.’

This gives me the occasion to make suitable remarks in reply. As you very carefully wrap your minds around the insidious effects of Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters, permit me to present you with a transcript of my reply:

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once upon an after, 1 of 2

A Guest Post by Jarrell Waggoner

[A word from Mr. Pond: This week, I’m away to present an essay at Anti-tales: The Uses of Disenchantment, so there’s not my contribution to the blogalectic. Read Jenna St. Hilaire’s magnificent webpartee, though.

For the rest of this week, we’re delighted to welcome back Jarrell Waggoner. His article ‘Soundtracks and Extraterrestrials’ has previously appeared at Paradoxes. In his present conversation, he explores the power of a happy ending—or something like that, I think.

Is it part of the blogalectic? Strangely enough—perhaps.]


Once Upon an After http://www.flickr.com/photos/donsolo/3029452838/in/set-72157624648356842/

“Well…” said I.

“Yes?” said it.

“I don’t understand what you mean by ‘happy endings’ at all.”

“Every single of your stories is one.” It seemed insistent. It couldn’t have meant what it sounded like it did; its slightly strange phrasing being (I assumed) an artifact of adapting to our complex language.

“Surely you don’t believe all of our stories have a happy ending?” I added, trying to clarify things.

“Surely I do.”

“Why?”

“Because they end, happily.”

I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere without examples. “But what of stories that leave all the characters expired or cadaverous?”

“But they end.” Its reply so very matter-of-fact.

“Well, yes. But what of stories of lost love and unhappiness?”

“They still end.”

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flying upside-down

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pasukaru76/3998994592/ I used to stand on my head and walk on the ceiling.

Well, actually I used to imagine I could do that.  I would pretend I was walking on the ceiling, while I was pretending I was standing on my head.  Actually, I used to lay on my back with my feet in the air, and think about the ceiling.  Mostly, about what a lousy floor it would make, with that silly lamp sticking up in the middle.

As Ken Medema sings, ‘The world looks different when you’re flying upside-down.’

I was about eight at the time.

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