October 28th, 2007

A Night At The Fights, Literary and Real

I spent the evening at the Rose Garden (Portland's big arena) watchng large, muscular men and less large, muscular women beat each other up, the occasion being Sport's Fight, a Mixed Martial Arts promotion. It's interesting, at least to me, how the MMA crowds differ from boxing crowds. The crowd last night was at least 40% women, most under thirty, for this most violent of combat sports. I had a press pass and sat ringside and found the press was also about 40% women, most of them relatively young. I've covered major boxing events and being in the press section there is like being in a smoking lounge at the Elks Club. It's all this macho posturing and cynicism and mine's bigger BS. Tom Hauser, a total asshole who wrote a bio of Ali, gave me a limp fish handshake when introduced because he didn't recognize my name--it's all crap like that. Press Row at the Rose Garden was amiable, people introducing themselves, talking happily, like hanging out at your neighborhood bar. It occurred to me that this may be symptomatic of why boxing is tubing and MMA is booming, It's just a friendlier, more accessible sport. The fighters inflict serious damage on one another, then pal around together, and that seems to trickle down through the various stratas of the sport.

Be that as it may, from that healthy experience I went home and submitted myself to the unhealty preoccupations of the internet, to be specific, a web review of Subterranean 7 (in which I have a story, along with Jeff Ford, M. Rickert, Terry Bisson, Lisa Tuttle, Anna Tambor, Rick Bowes, John Pelan and Joel Lane) that I found in my inbox.


The review, by a British gentleman named Niall (I apologize for not knowing his last name), is on a blog called Torque Control, the Vector Editorial Blog, and is reasonably intelligent. I have no particular quarrel with his take on my story (why should I? it's his opinion), other than to think that he makes some rather weak generalizations concerning my work, and that if I met him in a social setting, I might inquire how he arrived at certain conclusions. What I do quarrel with is his approach to reviewing a group of stories under the banner of a theory proposed on another blog, Jeff Vandermeer's, which has been discussed several posts back, a theory that does not really rise to the level of theory, but seems more an idea generated after reading too many stories. When I edited the Carolina Quarterly, I once rejected three poems by Robert Bly (long before his Iron John phase), my judgment was so afflicted by the flood of manuscripts.

Given that we as bloggers are all talking to hear ourselves talk, and to self-promote, not for the greater good of genre-fiction, mankind, or the lower orders (and I firmly believe this is a given), the idea of basing one's bloggy review upon a somewhat fuzzy opinion derived from another blog, using it as a guide or template or whatever, seems particularly self-serving and specious in that erecting such a shaky standard will simplify the reviewer's job by narrowing the way he analyzes a story, thereby making it easy for him or her to push a story to one end or another of their measure and so cleverly have done with it. Doing this allows the reviewer to stake claim to a falsely authoritative position and thus enables a facile type of reviewing that is not very illuminating. But then I haven't been able to avoid tricks like this myself while reviewing movies (though I try...and usually the movies are so bad that any analysis whatsoever would be on the order of dissecting a cat turd), so I can relate to Niall's position.

The review serves to underscore my growing lack of confidence in the internet. As Nick Mamatas opined in an earlier discussion: "I think blogging and the velocity of rhetoric these days allows for ideological barriers to be more porous and alliances (such as they are) to be more fluid, and that these are good things. Few issues fester for years — at least in open environments (closed ideosystems like SFWA's private newsgroups don't count) — and "movements" and other shifts come and go so quickly that instant nostalgia saves us from years of tedium."

I might nitpick, but Nick's statement is true enough. Yet at the same time, often in the same breath, the internet fosters a kind of intellectual pollution that, at least for me, counteracts those virtues. Niall ___'s review, I feel, exemplifies this pollution. I leave it for you to judge for yourself, but I think I would have respected the review more if he had limited himself to a "this is good, this is bollocks" reaction to the magazine. But anyway, all respect to Naill ____-- Being a reviewer is a difficult task if one chooses to take it seriously, which I suspect he does. I only wish he had exercised more rigor in his self-discipline, rather than engaging in what I consider to be a oblique form of puffery.
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Frank Adams

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Yesterday I received this great birthday card, a Green Tiger Press product.

(Actually, it appears that Green Tiger--a name long familiar to me--has become Laughing Elephant. Check out their site: http://www.laughingelephant.com/ )

The artist here is one Frank Adams (active 1903-1944). As the back of the card states, he's almost totally forgotten today, and little is known of him. Here're a few other images of his stuff on the web:



A shame he's lost in the dustbin of history. But at least we can admire "The Dog Stood on His head."

Posted by Paul DiFi.
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Sixties Novels, Part 41

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THE NIGHTCLERK, Stephen Schenck, Grove, 1965.

Perhaps the most memorable thing about this entry in our series is the great cover by Frank Springer.


This book represents the author's debut novel which won a big literary prize and appears to have been a minor flavor-of-the-month sensation.

Here's one fellow's disappointing experience trying to read this faded absurdist satire:


Apparently, though, the book retains some fans, as seen here:


In any case, Schneck's early triumph was prime setup for a letdown.

His next book, NOCTURNAL VAUDEVILLE, didn't appear until 1971, and apparently dropped with a thud.

So he turned to scripting forgettable movies and TV shows:


And he died early, at age 63.



Today, you can have a first edition of THE NIGHTCLERK for $3.94 on ABEBOOKS.

Posted by Paul DiFi.