Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

The Blogenning 3.0

Sadly, my blog has been largely abandoned for some time. But I have now been roused from slumber by a group of friends intending to shame each other into returning to our musing avocations. The goal is to post a set number of times per week. And as I keep the blog stumbling along into its fourth year, I am reminded that actually doing things always has its slogging moments.

I’ve recently been reading C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters (quite different as an adult), and came across this passage. Lewis writes the Screwtape Letters from the point of view of a tempting devil, so everything is backwards (i.e. “The Enemy” actually refers to God):

Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His ‘free’ lovers and servants–‘sons’ is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to ‘do it on their own.’

And indeed, even with the help of the Blogenning, there is a slog ahead. Still, glad to be back. Here are my fellow travelers:

I’ll be keeping the blog on the subject of writing, stories, and books, but I expect this to be a bit challenging considering a Blogenning rule called The Rotation:

The Rotation is a thematic challenge, started every week by a rotating member of the Blogenning. The first post of this week by the scheduled member becomes the challenge theme, and the same topic/category of post must be written by all members of the Blogenning that week. This means that if I write about rabid bunnies on my week as my first post, you all have to write about them at some point. Or if my first post of the week is a poem, you all have to post a poem by the end of the week. This post *does* count towards your weekly total, so it is not “extra.” The punishment for failing The Rotation is to produce an extra post the following week to make up for it. If I still fail to produce said post… the group shall think up an appropriate punishment.

We’ll have to see how well I can find short stories about rabid bunnies or what have you.

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Not Fan Fiction

Ken Liu’sSingle-Bit Error,” published in the Thoughtcrime Experiments anthology, is related to Ted Chiang’sHell is the Absence of God.” (I discuss this relationship more extensively in yesterday’s post). Both stories are explorations of faith and atheism, using the concept of angelic visitations to drive the action and the philosophical discussion. To be clear, Liu lists the story’s influences as a note at the end, and got Chiang’s permission before publishing his take.

I enjoyed reading the two pieces as a conversation, and, in many ways, this is what literature is about. The flow of philosophical ideas from Plato to Aristotle to Aquinas, for example, is a part of the Great Conversation that makes it so worthwhile to be a reader of writer. That said, Liu’s piece is hard to classify, and I imagine it was incredibly hard to publish.

I think there is a kind of writing that exists that sits somewhere on the spectrum between fan fiction and an original story (if there truly is such a thing). When I get an idea like this, it’s not exactly that I want to write in another writer’s world, but that I want to use another writer’s premise for my own exploration. Sometimes, strong anthologies get created by giving lots of writers the same premise and putting the results side by side, but, for the most part, I groan when I get one of these ideas because I know it’s not going to be an easy road. For example, I love the premise of Catherynne Valente’s book, Palimpsest, and I want to play with it myself. The difficulties with doing this have stopped me, however. Unless I really, really care about the idea, I won’t write it.

That’s one thing that I love about the Creative Commons license. I think labels like that declare that it’s OK to experiment along those lines (as long as it’s not the non-derivative license, I guess). I think it’s good to create a space that truly allows conversation in literature. There’s a lot of healthy activity along these lines, but, for the most part it deals with older works that are out of copyright.

Take, for example, the many retellings of fairy tales, such as those in Ellen Datlow’s and Terri Windling’s Snow White, Blood Red anthology. Or several stories in Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things anthology (for example, “A Study in Emerald,” which mashes up Lovecraft and Sherlock Holmes, and “The Problem of Susan,” which questions the treatment of Susan in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia). There’s also a huge and vital community devoted to developing the ideas of H.P. Lovecraft.

Liu’s story makes me wonder why that conversation doesn’t seem to happen as much around more current literature.

I felt this particularly keenly because I’m currently struggling to find a market for a piece that makes many references to Star Trek (particularly the Klingon language), and yet is not fan fiction and is not a Star Trek story. That limbo is an interesting place, but it’s not an easy place to be.

(Note: I wrote this post and then decided to contact Ken Liu to ask him about marketing his story and about influences. He kindly replied. Look for some thoughts from him in the next couple of days.)