Saturday, October 9, 2010

War World Discovery - An Alert

Just published by Pequod fine books: War World, Discovery -- the start of the series as it was meant to be. Includes a short story and a novella of mine, with more of my work in subsequent volumes. Collector's take note, this is a quality hardcover edition.

The War World Central web site,, was created to provide information about War World and the re-launching of the War World series by John F. Carr and Pequod Press. Learn the origins and history of War World and the CoDominium/Empire of Man.

Grab a Copy Today:

Monday, October 4, 2010

Decadence Lost

An article in THE GUARDIAN asked why this second Gilded Age has not spawned a flowering of decadent fiction to satirize its excesses. Certainly TV and film have done so but written fiction has not. People seem to cling to realism and naturalism. Can this be due to literalism infecting so wide a swath of society? Is it sub- or post-literacy giving us too few writers with sufficient verbal chops? High-verbal flourishes are crushed, mocked, and left for dead in genre fiction; this could be insecurity from pulp days prompting a purple prose backlash, and the innate hostility toward mainstream and literary fiction among the genre guardians and gatekeepers to force editors to expunge anything smacking of literary ambition or the fancy. Diversion rules, entertainment is allowed, but venture beyond genre basics into serious intent or layered idiom and wham, the boom will be lowered.

Ah, but where are the one-off literary novels? Why is there not another would-be Wilde stalking London or NYC?

They may exist among the unpublished. Such work stays safely in drawers and trunks, although usually an inkling often glitters in the slurry of short story collections and anthologies toppling off the corporate fiction tipple. So far, precious few hints of a reflourishing decadent movement are sprouting in the gob pile.

Doing high-verbal writing or venturing into the purple is rare in part because Thackery won. Vanity Fair remains the essence of brilliant high-verbal gloss, while Oscar Wilde owned the rest of any claim on decadence. ‘Art for art’s sake’ gave way, as 10CC sang, to ‘money, for god’s sake’ as commerce forced everything individual into corporate molds. And since appealing to masses requires simplicity, complexity is jettisoned to make wallets, and brains, roomier. And since nature abhors vacuum, in rushes a tsunami of cartoonish product.

Extruded plastic plots and vacuum molded characters compete in the grand parade of lifeless packing Peter Gabriel and Genesis warned about. Gray flannel fiction results and the novel is, as usual, dead or thrashing on a low-battery life support system.

Pictionary now comes as a card game needing no drawing. May well be fun, sure, but is drawing a clue such a burden? Merchandising demands it, though; otherwise you’d need only a pad and pencil to play and what would they sell?

Apply the same logic to fiction. If corporate does not control the product, they cannot control its merchandising and sales.

Then there is the stress of being pressured. Feeling rushed and impatient could be another reason no one bothers with decadent, lush prose and layered irony. Decadence requires indirect, lazy, and self-indulgent meandering, digression, and ornamentation. People today want it now, they want it blunt, they want it boiled down to bullet statements and talking points. Get to the point, they demand, already glazing over, their flooded minds churning over a hundred other things insisting on attention, decision, and action.

Conversation has died for the same reason. No one wants to take the time to talk things out anymore, except for endless, pointless meetings that ensure productivity is kept to a snail’s pace so no one gains a march on the well-ensconced CEOs.

But wait, someone cries. Neal Stephenson and China Mieville both write a Baroque, even Rococo style. An analysis reveals not decadence, though, but details layered on basics for the sake of appearing dense, important, and intellectually weighty. Decadence requires a light touch, and this is Germanically heavy, even burdened, a technique used as a ploy. Worked, too. Briefly.

In such ploys there is so much thus crowded out that is never addressed, from basics such as characterization to more subtle aspects, such as allegory, human feeling, or the aforementioned irony. Such higher level curlicues are important if fiction is to go beyond the fifth story toward skyscraping pinnacles.

Most popular fiction is published at a fourth-to-sixth grade reading level, as determined by complexity of vocabulary and sentence structure by such indexes as Flesch and Gunning-Fog. Most is written consciously to that level. Keep It Simple, Stupid, is less advice than description these days. Lowest Common Denominator is the way to gain a wide stance in the Bell Curve of American readership. Hollywood routinely dumbs down its remakes from subtle, sophisticated imports, pandering to a perception that Americans are too stupid to deal with such complications as, say, subtitles or characters with ambiguous identity. Hand-holding is necessary as audiences cross that dangerous street from real lives constrained and controlled by corporations and thuggish governments, into the cartoonish, simplistic, and patronizing world of Hollywood dream factory extrusions.

Make the product bland and sweet and salty and never too spicy except for the macho asshole niche market. Keep things middle of the road, non-threatening, and “family safe”. Make sure you get an R rating, though, because otherwise you get only Disney audiences, and we know how sticky they can be.

Current fiction, perhaps due to short attention spans, tends to deal with each story point as it arises, in sequence, rather than waiting for later resolution. This makes for neatness, perhaps, but is untrue to life. Next time you’re writing, try to remember to leave resolution of at least a few major story points for the end. Yes, a few readers might accuse you of being fancy or tricking them, but most will appreciate the delayed gratification and perhaps even admire your plotting.

Decadence can make a comeback. There is so much to satirize, so much excess to be disgusted by, and so much idiocy passing as normal these days it may in fact be almost inevitable. One novel and story at a time a new insouciance must develop about conforming to the corporate publishing list of acceptable elements and aspects. One novel and story at a time writers must strike out into electronic publishing seeking to do new things for a new audience, one not delivered to them by publishing’s marketing but a readership built up the old way, one set of eyes at a time among people who like what’s being written.

If you write it, they will read. Let your inner demons have full rein. Write from the deepest, most personal, and unruly core of your being. Produce any kind of fiction you really want, the kind you’ve always dreamed of but never dared put in fixed form. Show it around online and start a new rebellion against the new Gilded Age. Decadence lost can be found again; it never went anywhere but inside each of us, in our Wilde-est dreams.

Set them free.

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