Here's the last of the excerpts I'll bring you from the book I've just finished reading, 1904's The Making of English by Henry Bradley. This is the passage that closes the book, and I found it particularly hopeful in light of the increased focus on written communication in this Digital Age of ours:

It is not unlikely that the future historian of the English language may find that its development in the nineteenth century has been less powerfully affected by the really great writers of the period than by authors of inferior rank, both British and American, who have had the knack of inventing new turns of expression which commended themselves to general imitation. There never was a time when a clever novelty in combination of words, or an ingenious perversion of the accepted meaning of a word, had so good a chance of becoming a permanent possession of the language, as now. In no former age was there such an abundance of writing of a designedly ephemeral character, intended merely for the amusement of an idle moment. The modern taste in style demands incessant variety of expression; the same thing must never, if it can be avoided, be denoted in consecutive sentences by the same word: and so those who are engaged in supplying the popular demand for 'reading matter' eagerly adopt from each other their new devices for escaping monotony of diction. When we consider that the literature which is for all time is read by comparatively few, while the literature which is for the passing moment is read by all, we may easily be tempted to think that the future of literary English is in the hands of writers of defective culture and little seriousness of purpose, and that the language must suffer grave injury in the loss of its laboriously won capacities for precision, and in the debasement of words of noble import by unworthy use. While these apprehensions are not wholly unfounded, there is much to be said on the other side. Even the much-decried 'newspaper English' has, in its better forms, some merits of its own. Writers whose work must be read rapidly if it is to be read at all have a strong motive for endeavouring not to be obscure; and the results of this endeavour may be seen in the recent development of many subtle contrivances of sentence-structure, serving to prevent the reader from feeling even a momentary hesitation in apprehending the intended construction. We may rest assured that wherever worthy thought and feeling exist, they will somehow fashion for themselves a worthy medium of expression; and unless the English-speaking peoples have entered on a course of intellectual decline, there is no reason to fear that their language will on the whole suffer deterioration. In the daily increasing multitude of new forms of expression, even though it may be largely due to the unwholesome appetite for novelty, there must be not a little that will be found to answer to real needs, and will survive and be developed, while what is valueless will perish as it deserves. It is therefore perhaps not an unfounded hope that the future history of the language will be a history of progress, and that our posterity will speak a better English—better in its greater fitness for the uses for which language exists—than the English of to-day.


Backhandedly hopeful, but hopeful nonetheless.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Last week I told you a bit about my recent bedtime reading, The Making of English by Henry Bradley. The book was published in 1904, and one of the peculiar delights of reading it more than a century later is seeing Bradley hold forth about "modern" words that now either seem archaic or have slipped out of usage altogether.

He will also occasionally express some hope about the future development of the language that we, as his future readers, can experience in a way that his contemporary readers could not. For instance, this passage:

It is worth while to remark that in some instances words have undergone changes of meaning because in their literary use they have been popularly misunderstood....

In bad modern 'newspaper English' the verb transpire is used for 'to happen or take place,' and this sense has even found its way into recent dictionaries. Literally, to transpire is 'to breathe through'; and a circumstance may correctly and expressively be said 'to have transpired,' in the sense of having become known in spite of efforts made to keep it secret. It is through ignorant misapprehension of sentences in which the word was thus correctly used that it has come to bear a perverted meaning. As this blunder, unlike some others of the kind, does not supply any need of the language, it may be hoped that the misapplication of the word will not be permanent.



Oh, the grave-spinning which must have transpired!


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
My light bedtime reading lately has been from a fascinating little book called The Making of English, by Henry Bradley. Bradley was a mostly self-taught linguist and lexicographer who would eventually become editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. The Making of English, published in 1904, is a compact, elegant distillation of everything he had learned about the development of the English language.

It's not a quick read, but it's often quite delightful. Here's a prime example from the chapter on how the meanings of words change over time:

A word was needed to describe the action of interpreting the meaning of written characters; and our ancestors supplied the want by using the verb read (in Old English rǣdan), which meant, like its modern German equivalent rathen, to guess a riddle. The noun riddle (in Old English rǣdels) is a derivative of this word. To the early English a piece of writing was, we see, a mystery which only the wise could solve.


The Making of English is available as a free download at Archive.org. Happy riddling.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
I have an apology to make. It's been called to my attention that for the past several days I've been splashing a word around my blog, podcast, Facebook page, and Twitter stream that many people find offensive.



No affront nor slur was intended, yet I have come to realize that in the 21st century such hurtful relics of a benighted past have no place amongst us—not in civil discourse, not in right-thinking minds, and certainly not in popular culture.



There is no room on our airwaves for the employment of any sense of this word that could be construed as imputing fun, cuteness, or endearment to such a condition as this term pejoratively describes.



No self-respecting purveyor of books should allow any volume adorned with such a term to disgrace its shelves.

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

And furthermore, any collective artistic endeavor of entertainment that dares apply this denigrating term to itself in part or in whole should be banned, shunned, and otherwise made to wander without end in the wilderness of pariahdom. Really, do we want our children exposed to corruption like this?



Let me repeat more vigorously, only brutes and clods would march into the arena of entertainment under a banner emblazoned with such a rubric.



Please don't fall into this same trap I did and allow yourself to perpetuate such perversity.



Again, my deepest apologies for such unthinking, archaic belittlement. Now I must lie down. I find myself overcome by the vapors.




Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Epidode #56 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill urges you with all urgency to support the Glitter & Madness Kickstarter campaign, then rewards you with a reading of his story "Care and Feeding of Your Piano."

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?id=56




Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
I'm in New York City today to hang out with writers, editors, and agents at the annual SFWA Reception for Industry Professionals, so maybe it's an appropriate day to post this radio interview. Gary K. Wolfe and I appeared this past Thursday night on WGN's "Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg" to talk about science fiction, not to mention the new Library of America collection American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s which Gary edited.

We had a great time talking with Milt Rosenberg. You can listen to WGN's podcast of the interview online at WGNRadio.com, or hear the two segments of the show embedded below. Commercials and news breaks deleted!

10:00 - 11:00 p.m.  (43:59)


11:00 p.m. - midnight  (41:48)



Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
This poem was written for Tina Woelke, a donor to the Chicago Writers Conference Kickstarter campaign. One of the reward perks available was an original poem composed by me on a topic of the donor's choosing. Tina chose "reading," and I debuted the poem at a special edition of Tuesday Funk on Friday, September 14, 2012.


The telegraph was not invented in 1836
but three thousand years before Christ,
when the first writer took up a pointed stick
and traced out on papyrus the careful,
casual chain of coded symbols that
transmitted meaning across time and space
directly into a brain equipped to decipher it.

The telephone was not invented in 1876
but over five thousand years ago
when the first writer took up a pointed stick
and scratched out the vibrations in clay
that tickle the tympanic membrane of the heart
with thoughts conceived in days older than dirt.

Telepathy was not invented in 2170
but forty thousand years before Christ
when, by the light of smoky torches,
the first writer poured out his heart
in ochre, hematite, and charcoal,
unable in any other way to express
the experience of stalking a god,
and slaying it with a pointed stick.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Update: Since writing this little review, I've learned that Elmore Leonard gave the manuscript of Raylan to the writers of Justified a couple of years ago so they could "hang it up and strip it for parts." This answers some questions of mine but doesn't change my opinion of the book.
raylan.jpg Let me say up front that I adore Elmore Leonard. Wait, rever might be a better word. Worship. Idolize. I've been working my way through his immense canon for years. When I bought my iPad, the first thing I did was load it up with his ebooks. His minimalist, dialog-driven prose conveys more than most writers' wordier, clumsy attempts at clarity. He's surely our greatest living writer of crime fiction, and I wish I could write like he does.

That said, Leonard has always had a problem with sequels, which is what his new novel Raylan essentially is. Whether bringing Chili Palmer from Get Shorty back in Be Cool or Jack Foley from Out of Sight back in Road Dogs, he simply seems to have trouble finding a story of equal weight to build around characters who've already had their perfect turn in the spotlight. I appreciate the fact that major characters from some Leonard novels often show up in supporting roles in others, but two major outings always seems to be one too many.

This, I regret to say, is the case with Raylan. U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens was a supporting character in Leonard's 1993 novel Pronto, then a more major character in 1995's Riding the Rap, but he probably enjoyed his finest role in the 2000 novella "Fire in the Hole." In that story Givens, who sees himself as a modern-day gunslinging lawman, is punished for his trigger-happy ways with a reassignment from Florida to Kentucky, where he grew up and mined coal as a teenager. He is drawn reluctantly but inevitably into a showdown with his former friend and colleague Boyd Crowder, who has gone the other way into a life of crime and violence.

"Fire in the Hole" was the direct inspiration for the FX series Justified, which is in its third season and is currently one of my favorite shows on television. Unfortunately Justified seems to have been the direct inspiration for Raylan, which is less a novel than three slightly overlapping Raylan Givens novellas smooshed together into one book. The first plotline, about a gang who steal kidneys and then try to sell them back to the victims, has appeared in slightly different form on Justified already this season. The second, about a mining company's attempts to intimidate land owners into selling, was the story underlying most of Justified's second season. The third features hookers coerced into committing dangerous robberies in exchange for oxycontin, a plotline that appeared in last week's Justified, and I think it's reasonable to assume that the high-stakes poker subplot will show up in a future episode.

I found the book to be an unfocused, disappointing mess. I'm not sure whether Leonard assembled it from scenarios he'd generated himself as an executive producer of Justified or borrowed ideas from the show's writers, but either way it's hard to see how it would appeal to anyone. The narrative is too fractured and too reliant on familiarity with past Givens stories to appeal to new readers, and it recycles too much familiar material from the show to appeal to Justified fans.

In the end, though I'm pained to say it, Raylan simply comes off as a crass attempt to cash in on the popularity of the show, and on that level I guess it worked. It fooled me into parting with my 25 bucks.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Having seen the French caper flick Rififi last night, in which an alarm system is disabled with fire extinguisher foam, what are the odds that I would today read a Donald E. Westlake short story ("The Ultimate Caper: The Purloined Letter") in which an alarm system is disabled with Redi-Whip? Long odds, it seems to me. Long, long odds.

If I hadn't seen the movie last night, I doubt I would have caught that tiny joke in the Westlake story. Yet how many times have you caught a reference that you wouldn't have caught unless you'd seen, read or heard something else within a fairly short amount of time? I know it's happened to me quite often.

As uncanny as these coincidences seem, it seems to me that culture can only exist and be transmitted via a vast network of shared references. There must be a supply of these matching references that is limited only by number of nodes in our network of cultural references, a vast supply, which we only really notice when a pair of them smack us in the face, like foam defeating an alarm system. Rather than finding the coincidence usual, I tend to think that the strange thing is that we don't notice more of these coincidences. After all, they must be going on around us all the time.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
I know it's not nearly as cool as getting a carton of books from a traditional publisher, but the private printing of The Accidental Terrorist from my Magick 4 Terri auction has arrived, and I think these books turned out really darn well, if I do say so myself.

Private printing has arrived!

I've signed and numbered every copy, and I'm excited to get them out to the winners. In fact, I'm heading off to the post office right now to overnight them.

Inside the book

But this only makes a vexing question more vexing. Of the five books I ordered, I'm sending three (Nos. 1-3) to the auction winners and keeping one (No. 5) for our own bookshelf.

But what shall we do with No. 4? I've considered several different options for disposing of this volume, but none that I've quite found satisfactory. If you have any suggestions for where I should send it or what I should do with it, please let me hear them.

In the meantime, No. 4 will sit on the shelf next to No. 5, awaiting dispatch to its as-yet-undetermined proper home.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
In junior high school, the Alistair MacLean virus swept through a lot of the boys and some of the girls in my class. I caught it from HMS Ulysses, which my father thrust into my hands at some point and told me I had to read. (He always maintained that war novels and spy novels were more instructive about the real world than science fiction novels.) In truth, though, I had theblackshrike.jpg probably caught a mutant strain of the virus in very early childhood, from the movie version of Ice Station Zebra. (My father on occasion would bring a film projector home from the school where he taught, along with library prints of flicks like that or Ivanhoe. I movies, I guess.)

Anyway, those of us afflicted scoured the school and public library shelves for every Alistair MacLean novel we could lay our hands on. Our guide, our index, our grimoire in this pursuit was that most magical of lists, the Also by This Author list in the fronts of the battered paperbacks we passed around. Many of those books were easily found, others discoverable with some detective work, two or three as vanishingly rare as Willy Wonka's Golden Tickets. We thought of them—though in terms more unformed than this phrase—as the MacLean Apocrypha.

I know now that the Apocrypha were apocryphal because they'd been published under different titles in the U.K. (The Secret Ways), been published under pseudonyms in the U.K. (The Satan Bug), or both. But I didn't know this, or care, when I finally managed to lay my hands on the Holy Grail of the Apocrypha—The Black Shrike.

I can only imagine with what anticipation I tore into that lurid tome with the ominous tropical landscape on the cover, an unreal book that seemed to have dropped from an alternate dimension. And as much as I hated to admit it to myself, I discovered an unfortunate fact about apocryphal writings.

There's a reason they're apocryphal. They aren't always very good.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
I've finished designing the books that will go to the three winners of my Magick 4 Terri auction and placed my order with Lulu.com. With a little luck, the lucky recipients will have their copies of this special private edition of The Accidental Terrorist before New Year's Day. (By the way, I decided to upgrade them to hardcover with full dust jacket. Yeah.)

Here's a sneak peek of what the cover looks like. Eventual publishers of the commercial edition, please feel free to steal my design.

accidental-cover-front-small.jpg


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Epidode #61 of The Accidental Terrorist Podcast is now available, in which Bill explains how you can bid to win your very own privately printed copy of his memoir The Accidental Terrorist. Listen up! (Or simply click here to learn more and bid now.)

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?at=61




Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Epidode #55 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill explains how you can bid to win your very own privately printed copy of his memoir The Accidental Terrorist. Listen up! (Or simply click here to learn more and bid now.)

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?id=55




Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Just boarded a Southwest flight from Laguardia to Midway. My carryon bag got pulled out of the X-ray machine at security for extra screening. After swabbing my bag thoroughly and testing the samples, the TSA officer took my paperback copy of A Feast for Crows out of my bag and flipped through it.

"I need to rerun your bag with the book outside of it," she told me.

Apparently George R.R. Martin is too dense a read for the TSA.

(By the way, my Tupperware container of cannoli made it through fine. Thanks, Barbara Lynn and Colin!)
If you're in Milwaukee today, come out to Boswell's Books this afternoon for the book launch party for Bradley P. Beaulieu's debut novel The Winds of Khalakovo. It's going to be a great event, and the after-party at Cafe Hollander will include a rapid-fire reading featuring Brad, Kelly Swails, John Helfers, Matt Forbeck, and me.

Get all the details here. Hope to see you there!

Cribbing

Nov. 11th, 2010 11:37 am
Just received another instance of one of my favorite emails. It goes something like this:

Hi! You've been such a help and inspiration, I'd like to send you a copy of my new self-published book. I'd really like to read some of your books too. Which one do you suggest I start with?

Flattering, right? But you have to know how to read an email like this. Here's what it means:

I know I'm imposing on you so I'll salve my conscience by pretending to want to read your stuff. Only I'm too lazy to do my homework, so I'll let you tell me what books you've written instead.

If I were a real asshole instead of just pretending to be one, I would write back:

It doesn't matter which one you start with, so pick whichever one out of all one looks best to you.

Good thing I'm not that kind of asshole.
I love the AMC series Rubicon so much that I tracked down a copy of one of the out-of-print collections of producer/writer Henry Bromell's New Yorker short stories from the '70s. I've started I Know Your Heart, Marco Polo, and so far I'm very taken with the hallucinatory prose style. Can't wait to finish it.

I think it's the first time that someone's television work has prompted me to seek out his or her fiction. Racing through The Wire is what finally prompted me to read David Simon's non-fiction Homicide, a book that had been mocking me from the shelf for twenty years. (Interestingly, Bromell also worked on the Homicide television series.) I started watching Justified precisely because I was a fan of the Elmore Leonard novels featuring Raylan Givens. (Of course, it also didn't hurt that Timothy Olyphant from Deadwood was playing the character.)

But I'm pretty sure the Bromell conversion is a first. If I keep enjoying the stories, his novel Little America, a semi-autobiographical (I gather) tale of a son trying to understand his father's C.I.A. career, sounds pretty interesting.


Any of you other Rubicon fans recognize the name Joseph Purcell?

Nice review

Mar. 5th, 2010 09:55 am
Via the PS Publishing newsroom, here are excerpts from Peter Tennant's recent Black Static review of my collaboration with Derryl Murphy, Cast a Cold Eye:

This short novella does many things right. For starters, its setting is immaculately captured on the page, with a real sense of rural Nebraska in 1921 coming over thanks to a wealth of tiny details, such as the ins and outs of photography or a look inside the house of a wealthy widow. There's a strong emotional grounding too, for both Luke and the society in which he is placed, an aching sense of despair undercut with a feeling that perhaps the worst is past, so people can look to the future with hope, an optimism confirmed in its denouement. Characterisation is spot on, with no-one who can be considered either evil or a criminal, just ordinary men and woman with all the flaws and virtues that implies....

The supernatural side of the story is suitably understated, so that we believe but also take on board the possibility that the ghosts could only exist inside the hearts and minds of the people who see them. With a subtext suggesting that the spectral world is just another aspect of life, wishing us neither good nor evil, but just there, a case could be made for Luke as the 'I see ghosts' boy from Sixth Sense picked up, rather like a reverse Dorothy, and put down in rural Nebraska, but that might be stretching things. In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it without reservation.
Order yourself a copy, without reservation, here.
Hi, NYC friends! Yes, it's a last-minute surprise to me too, but I'll be reading with the excellent Paul Witcover THIS COMING TUESDAY EVENING, January 5th, as part of the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series at the South Street Seaport Museum. Doors open 6:30 pm, readings begin 7:00 pm. Suggested donation is $5. See below for all the details, and we hope to see you there.

Please note, if you haven't been to a NYRSF reading at the Seaport lately, that the location is slightly different than it used to be....

Event details )

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