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  1. #1
    Peckish hippokrene's Avatar
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    Zone One - the beginning of a new era in sf/fantasy?!

    Hey guys, have you heard about this book, Zone One? It's like the first book ever that's both fantasy/scifi AND literature. Unless you read Glen Duncan's NYT articles about how Glen Duncan's The Last Sour Grapes was the first TRUE blending of fantasy/scifi and literature, but sadly, we genre fans don’t understand that Duncan is the Ron Jeremy of literary novels with werewolves. Especially those of us who do post reviews at Amazon.com, who are all like fluffers who don’t understand Glen Duncan has delivered a money shot to our brain.

    But, I regress.

    Let’s talk about this bizarre new mixture: literary novels with supernatural elements! We are truly entering a bold new era. One where college freshmen will no longer have to study Kurt Vonnegut because he’s no longer a literary author. Magical Realism has been wiped clean from the face of the earth, but let’s be honest, how many white anglos understood it in the first place? Young feminists will no longer be subjected to the Handmaiden’s Tale, Beloved, or the Left Hand of Darkness, but that’s okay, because they’re kinda depressing. Xena, Buffy, and Aliens is all the girl power they need!

    We need to spend a bit more time evaluating The Road and The Passage, because I recall that those were both hailed for their innovative and unprecedented blending of literary elements and science fiction. That was obviously a mistake. Actually, now that I think about it, it seems that every year, some author comes up with this bold new combination and people feel the need to comment on how bold and new it is.

    But guys, I’m worried. Seriously.

    How will genre fans react when Colson Whitehead descends from the heavens and delivers them this gift? Will they be able to stop drooling over their Star Wars Blu-Ray collection, scrape the pizza crust from their navel, and appreciate this masterpiece about zombies invading New York? Or, will their tiny brains shake in ignorant fury when they encounter the word ‘cathected’?

    If Zone One isn’t a financial success, publishers might give up on this wonderful combination of ‘literary’ and ‘genre.’ We might have to go another year OR MAYBE EVEN THREE without hearing about a science fiction or fantasy book written finally by a real author of real literary worth.

    And that would be tragic.

  2. #2
    Registered User Seli's Avatar
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    Testing, testing.... 1.2.3.. check

    Sarcasm detection seems to be calibrated well for the moment, fuses holding.

    Edit: That is one impressively flat review distribution at Amazon.
    Last edited by Seli; January 23rd, 2012 at 09:05 AM.

  3. #3
    Registered User Pennarin's Avatar
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    I call trolling.

  4. #4
    So has anyone here actually read it?

  5. #5
    Peckish hippokrene's Avatar
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    I ordered it from the library and am clamping at the bit to read it. Sadly, so are 36 other people. :/

    I was rather hoping someone here had read it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pennarin View Post
    I call trolling.
    The awesomeness of my post cannot be reduced to mere trolling.

  6. #6
    Registered User offog's Avatar
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    The nearly perfectly even distribution of the ratings for that book at Amazon are suspect.

  7. #7
    I just read the description on Amazon. Does anyone know if the main character uses his swimming ability to save the day?

  8. #8
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Since you're attempting to read it, hippokrene, I'll discount trolling, but it's not Colson Whitehead's fault that Glen Duncan used his book to promote Duncan's stuff and disparage SFF readers. While he's occasionally expressed a sense of himself as being sort of an outsider coming in, Whitehead does not share Duncan's views at all. He was basically influenced for Zone One by movies like the Romero zombie films, Escape from New York, etc.

    But because Zone One -- on which he worked for several years -- is considerably different in subject matter than Sag Harbor, the book Whitehead is best known for, and because he's a MacArthur genius award winner, the media is going to freak out. Whenever they discover that an artist -- including those best known for "genre" fiction -- has perfectly normal myriad cultural tastes like anyone else, they act like this is the most startling, newest thing they've ever heard. It is a way to attempt to feature a work, by depicting it as revolutionary and different from the hordes, whatever the hordes are supposed to be. And it's not limited to one sector of media. SFF specialty media is quite happy claiming that a new work is revolutionary for its dark, grim, violent approach, say, as opposed to the hordes of sappy, fluffy epics, as if authors haven't been doing that repeatedly since the age of noir. It's the "New and Improved" lure.

    I doubt you're going to find a radically new plot and Whitehead isn't going around claiming he invented something new with zombies either. I personally love them running around and celebrating a zombie novel as "New and Improved." Because the more they do it, the next time there is a zombie or similar novel being critically lauded, whether it is published by Del Rey or Knopf, they can say that it's a different thing altogether as much as they want but it won't do them much good. That boat has already sailed and they launched it into public awareness. They can't put the zombie back in his grave because he never was really there in the first place -- they just pretended. Ditto The Road, Chabon's Yiddish Policeman' Union, etc., especially when the author is of Whitehead and Chabon's generation or younger and thinks the idea that writing a zombie novel is weird is strange.

    If it helps, SFF media reviews have been generally positive about Zone One, sounds like. The book has a strain of cyberpunk, mixed with a more Jonathan Carroll-like meditative streak. I think a story that looks at exactly how boring it is to go cleaning up zombies during a recovery effort sounds fun. And I'm quite certain to try it out sometime soon as I think what Duncan did was crappy, but in the end I think Whitehead will win out and be judged on his own merits.

  9. #9
    Peckish hippokrene's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    Since you're attempting to read it, hippokrene, I'll discount trolling, but it's not Colson Whitehead's fault that Glen Duncan used his book to promote Duncan's stuff and disparage SFF readers. While he's occasionally expressed a sense of himself as being sort of an outsider coming in, Whitehead does not share Duncan's views at all. He was basically influenced for Zone One by movies like the Romero zombie films, Escape from New York, etc.
    From everything I've read, Whitehead is a swell guy who happens to like zombie stories. Nothing in the OP was an attempt to bash Whitehead. But Duncan is hardly the only person suggesting that literary + genre is a shockingly new thing.

    But because Zone One -- on which he worked for several years -- is considerably different in subject matter than Sag Harbor, the book Whitehead is best known for, and because he's a MacArthur genius award winner, the media is going to freak out.
    If the hosts of Entertainment Tonight were freaking out over this, it would be one thing, but 'the media' in this case are probably familiar with The Road, which I recall was hyped as being post-apocalyptic fiction that was unusually literate. They're probably familiar with Margret Atwood, Kurt Vonegunt, and Toni Morrison, all of whom can be said to have written literary science fiction or fantasy.

    Whenever they discover that an artist -- including those best known for "genre" fiction -- has perfectly normal myriad cultural tastes like anyone else, they act like this is the most startling, newest thing they've ever heard. It is a way to attempt to feature a work, by depicting it as revolutionary and different from the hordes, whatever the hordes are supposed to be.
    Fair enough.

    It still rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps I'm letting the implications of Duncan's article rub off on other things I've read, but I feel that Whitehead is being presented as an author 'of worth' writing sci-fi and that his zombie novel is one 'of worth,' which suggests what of other sci-fi writers and other zombie novels?

    Again, I don't attribute this to Whitehead.

    Here's a quote from the Wall Street Journal: "If you’re going to break down and read a zombie novel, make it this one." Reading zombie novel = slumming.

    And it's not limited to one sector of media. SFF specialty media is quite happy claiming that a new work is revolutionary for its dark, grim, violent approach, say, as opposed to the hordes of sappy, fluffy epics, as if authors haven't been doing that repeatedly since the age of noir. It's the "New and Improved" lure.
    That annoys me too.

    If it helps, SFF media reviews have been generally positive about Zone One, sounds like. The book has a strain of cyberpunk, mixed with a more Jonathan Carroll-like meditative streak. I think a story that looks at exactly how boring it is to go cleaning up zombies during a recovery effort sounds fun. And I'm quite certain to try it out sometime soon as I think what Duncan did was crappy, but in the end I think Whitehead will win out and be judged on his own merits.
    Hopefully, someone here will pick up the book and give us their thoughts on it.
    Last edited by hippokrene; January 27th, 2012 at 02:02 PM.

  10. #10
    Earthman1
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    Oh my, a novel that combines SF with literature! Wow, whatever will they think of next? - fob watches, differential engines, taking a voyage to the Galapagos Islands to study the finches (nah, that last one is too far-fetched; you would have to be a loon to do that!).
    Maybe they can persuade that nice young literary author Mr H.G. Wells to write a scientific romance?

    So, this literary novel is about zombies? Hey here's an idea that could get some literary author to write - a novel where a man is put together from body parts and brought to life using lightning by a "mad" scientist. Could give him a name similar to that guy in The Rocky Horror Show, so like Dr Frank-something. Wow, consider the possibilities!!


    Spoiler:
    Incidentally, Brian W. Aldiss (who is somewhat of a student of SF history) considers Frankenstein the first SF novel. Others may dispute his opinion, but it is as good a place as any to start with. If accept his position, then the very first SF novel was literature, as also were H.G. Wells' efforts. Of course, back in the late 19th century the artificial distinction between literature and genre did not exist. And the idea that at the beginning of the 21st century a novel about zombies is the first literary/SF crossover is so absurd - talk about history repeating itself (as Frankenstein is basically about a zombie).

  11. #11
    Webmaster, Great SF&F owlcroft's Avatar
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    It's sad.

    Whitehead actually wrote a rather good "speculative fiction" novel before this: The Intuitionist. Nothing gaudy, just solid novelistic writing with a slightly unreal side premise (about, if you're ready for this, elevator inspection in New York City). Much recommended.

  12. #12
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hippokrene View Post
    From everything I've read, Whitehead is a swell guy who happens to like zombie stories. Nothing in the OP was an attempt to bash Whitehead. But Duncan is hardly the only person suggesting that literary + genre is a shockingly new thing.
    Duncan seems extremely invested in an imaginary view of the fiction landscape as his sales strategy. So much so that in that Wall Street Journal article we talked about last summer on the supposed rush of lit authors to genre as a trend, he denied his own genre fiction record, though he wasn't the only one gilding the lily in that article. The article touted, for instance, two lit authors "new" to genre fiction who were both standard genre writers who had never written anything else but genre. The entire premise of the article was factually wrong. Jonathan Lethem has recently mused about the deep desire for media to put him only with one group of "lit" authors, while ignoring SFF authors who he feels are equally lit and that he has more in common with (though he does not always write SFF or mystery.) And he also, in his recent collection of essays, reprints a column he wrote in response to a review of his novel Fortress of Solitude by a revered critic whom he also respected. He was not upset about any negative things that the reviewer said, but about the fact that the reviewer completely ignored the fantasy elements that are critical to the story. The attempt to ignore and dismiss those sorts of elements was, Lethem felt, contrary to proper criticism.

    You're going to have that on one hand, the people who continually, when having found some novel that they like -- and it doesn't have to be a SFF novel for this to happen -- will proclaim it the start of a new era, over and over, no matter how often you point out that this is not actually the case factually. It's kind of like the impulse to believe in imminent apocalypses no matter how many due dates go by.

    If the hosts of Entertainment Tonight were freaking out over this, it would be one thing, but 'the media' in this case are probably familiar with The Road, which I recall was hyped as being post-apocalyptic fiction that was unusually literate. They're probably familiar with Margret Atwood, Kurt Vonegunt, and Toni Morrison, all of whom can be said to have written literary science fiction or fantasy.
    They write them sometimes. (And Kurt Vonnegut was viewed as a SFF genre hack by many until he led the media in a different direction. It's a great case study in perception.) And some of the media in question will take the sales strategy of stating that this is revolutionary. (And for the record, ET does it too -- they just do it for movies, like say that Bridesmaids is a revolution that women can be raunchily funny and women's movies make money, etc.) But luckily, there is a large sheep effect to these things. All you need is to have others coming into the same publications saying that the works are actually very much in the SFF tradition and are wonderful literary works, as are these other works by these other SFF authors. And there are SFF authors who these media will use as well who steer the boat that way. What I blogged about was that Whitehead's NYTimes review could have easily been given to any number of authors, most of whom are much higher in lit respect to these people than Duncan: Lev Grossman, China Mieville, Charles Yu, David Eggers, Catherynne M. Valente or Jeff VanderMeer for starters. Throw in Adam Roberts, Kate Atkinson, Michael Chabon, Lethem, Junot Diaz, Dan Simmons, Gene Wolfe has far more lit cred than Duncan, William Gibson, Neil Gaiman, Peter Beagle, Ursula LeGuin, etc. These are all authors who have written articles for the NYTimes or been reviewed and written about by the Times and are viewed as "lit" authors by like media. Some of them the fan community tends to claim are "real SFF" authors, by virtue of the fact that they're published or have been published by specialty imprints, they show up at conventions more frequently than others, etc., and those readers know them through that idea whereas other readers come at these authors assuming that they are not "genre" SFF authors because that's not how they were shown these authors and they will vigorously argue such because that's their perception.

    With each generation, we get more and more young people who study SFF authors in school and who think this idea of a separation of lit and genre on the basis of genre is cracked. And these young people publish fiction and write about fiction in the media and perceptions change. The media will do anything that makes a solid sound byte that might get them eyeballs. Saying a revolution is happening is one of those things, so it doesn't go away. But those pointing out that this is a false narrative also aren't going away and if it's a good hook for the media, they'll happily go along with it. That's why publications like the New York Times and the Guardian sometimes seem to have multiple personality disorder.

    It still rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps I'm letting the implications of Duncan's article rub off on other things I've read, but I feel that Whitehead is being presented as an author 'of worth' writing sci-fi and that his zombie novel is one 'of worth,' which suggests what of other sci-fi writers and other zombie novels?
    Yes, that's exactly what Duncan is trying to say. It's kind of interesting if you look at what he's doing. He's establishing himself first of all as a much more literary respected author than he was in his track record (not that many readers don't view him as literary.) He is using his familiarity with the SFF category market to claim that groups of fans who feel his book has too much sex and not enough violence, etc., are all of SFF fans, standing in as the peasant hordes with pitchforks. And he's arguing that these fans will buy anything with zombies and werewolves -- which is why he now turned to genre (after nearly all his past novels have been suspense, horror and fantasy, but hey, let's not be picky on the details,) so that he could finally make money as real art is never understood by the hordes, but of course his genre is still real art published by respected Knopf so the hordes then howl in disappointment. And this is also the case for his comrade in arms, Whitehead, he's saying, Whitehead being a better known author than Duncan, and so they are worthy lit writers using SFF and completely misunderstood by the hordes. And what this does is attempt to get Duncan more media coverage through multiple venues, pair his name up with other well known lit authors by his pairing them, and thus helping his sales and name recognition with critics and whatnot. And it may very well work for him; his book did well with Knopf behind it and I don't mind that because anything bringing in attention and readers to the market as a whole is fine by me. But it's a dying game that he's playing. Most authors coming in are far more like Whitehead than Duncan in expressed view. But then, that's what makes Duncan controversial -- because it is seen as an increasingly ridiculous view -- and therefore that's more attractive to media.

    Here's a quote from the Wall Street Journal: "If you’re going to break down and read a zombie novel, make it this one." Reading zombie novel = slumming.
    Uniqueness as a marketing strategy. I used to do Mad Hatter awards when actors would talk about the SFF film and t.v. projects in which they appeared in these terms:

    Amanda Tapping, star and executive producer of the sci-fi show Sanctuary talking about her show for the DVD:

    “When I read it I didn’t actually think of it as sci-fi, I thought of it more as a graphic novel kind of feel to it. But I think the parameters of sci-fi have been so blown open, you know, we’re not just in space any more. It’s anything that defies imagination or steps outside and forces you to think about things that maybe aren’t real, fits within that outside-the-box thinking.”
    Yes, because before Sanctuary and a few other shows, SF was always only set in space.

    “It wasn’t thought of in a boardroom or in a focus group before it was written. It wasn’t made to sell toys or videogames. A lot of movies are put together through marketing. That’s why there are so many s… movies out there.”
    That's Mark Ruffalo, talking about The Kids Are All Right. Ruffalo, who is now playing The Hulk in the Avengers movie.

    Sigourney Weaver on Avatar:

    “Jim was telling someone about how sci-fi had always gotten a bad rap, and that maybe now that would change,” Weaver recalls. “And I thought, ‘Science fiction? Really? Is that what this movie is?’ Because to me it’s just a great story that happens to take place in another time…

    “With that label, ‘sci-fi,’ I think it’ll be tough,” she says. “But of course, to look at these movies with that label is to miss the points they are trying to make. These movies ask us to look at what it means to be human.”
    You can do this all day. And I like all of these actors. They are just doing their jobs, marketing the way they think it should be marketed. What you get in SFF projects is a strange view that the majority of the population has not grown up with SFF through every pore of its culture as we know to be the case and for some reason needs to be coaxed to see something SFF on the grounds that it's not the usual stuff. It's very flattering to the viewer or reader, to be called someone of discernment who has to be coaxed. Not so flattering to the viewer or reader who gets cast into the peasant horde category.

    I'll stop proceeding on this line and hopefully those who have read Zone One will come forward and talk more about it, which is less head wobblying.

  13. #13
    David Mitchell:

    - Somni 451 (Cloud Atlas)
    - Mongolia (Ghostwritten)
    - Night Train (Ghostwritten)
    - Video Games (number9dream)
    - The First Louisa Rey Mystery (Ghostwritten)
    - Hawaii (Cloud Atlas)

    Is that not an example of a "OMG literary superstar" jumping in and out of genre fiction as easily as he changes voices?

    Also, "The Egyptologist" by Arthur Phillips reads like a comedic, non-steampunk version of George Mann's Newbury and Hobbes.

    The book world and literary types can be annoyingly pompous about this stuff. Which reminds me of another Mitchell sequence/novella/whatever the hell you want to call it...

    In "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish," a vanity author shows up at a lit party and throws a book reviewer off a rooftop balcony. lol.

  14. #14
    Registered User mylinar's Avatar
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    Help a poor soul

    Ok, I am obviously some kind of ignorant nimrod (others have been harsher). Can someone please explain to me what a 'Literary Element' is? Heck, would a paragraph count? Can I get these in bulk at a Costco or Sam's Club for use in some later work of genius I may produce?

  15. #15
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mylinar View Post
    Ok, I am obviously some kind of ignorant nimrod (others have been harsher). Can someone please explain to me what a 'Literary Element' is? Heck, would a paragraph count? Can I get these in bulk at a Costco or Sam's Club for use in some later work of genius I may produce?
    Oh good luck with that question.

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