Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Short story published in nova

My short story "Nadeln und F├Ąden" ( if there'll ever be an English translation, it should probably be called "Needlework") has just been published in the 11th issue of the German science fiction magazine nova. You can have a look at the contents here.
It's my fifth short fiction publication and the first one in nova - so if you happen to read German you might just think about ordering it so I can tell the editors that lots and lots of people bought this issue because of my story!

Actually, it's not even necessary for you to read German to order the magazine ... Just buy it to look at the beautiful cover in full size!

Saturday, 24 February 2007

feels like coming home

About a year ago, I started catching up on all the outstanding TV series from around 2000 - my latest project is Six Feet Under, which I'm loving (strangely enough, I adore practically anything that is about corpses and vaguely funny as well as deeply tragic - for example, Romeros zombie-classics).

Nevertheless, yesterday I decided to start watching the final season of Buffy (which, btw, also has a lot of funniness, tragedy and corpses). I took a long break (about 6 weeks) after finishing season 6 because frankly, I felt emotionally exhausted. It was all just to much. I cried in front of the TV, which occasionally might be OK, but it shouldn't happen every single night.

The beginning of season 7, in contrast, seems quite sober to me ... I've got a theory (" could be witches") that season 7 will be a kind of necessary letdown. It seems to return to the big three (Buffy, Willow, Xander) after all the the turmoil in their lives and frankly, there's little that could happen to them in season 7 to top what happened in season 6 ("Apocalypse? We've all been there"). If it turns out that way, I'll actually be OK with it. I'd like to remember Evil Willow as Buffy's peak performance. I just houp Spike's soul-searching (or, actually, soul-having) won't turn him into an annoying one.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

The Art of Life and the Life of Art

Hal Duncan presents some interesting thoughts on aesthetics and consciousness.

Notes From The Geek Show: The Art of Life

However, I'm not sure about his notion if the unconscious. I like my unconscious as part of a person, here it seems more like - well, like the part that is basically involved in not being a person. Too much thinking now. Need some coffee.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Just wanted to share the beautiful cover artwort for the first issue of our new sf/fantasy magazine pandora. If you happen to read German, check out the web site.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Old Stuff on Great Old Ones

Below, I've added some old stuff from another blog. Both are strongly related to last years Eastercon in Glasgow, where I had the pleasure to meet Hal Duncan!

Lovecraft, Horkheimer, Duncan, Adorno - Kristeva?

Proofreading the Hal Duncan Interview (online at, I got thinking about some of the things Hal said about H.P. Lovecraft, more specifically: That the 'Elder Gods' in Lovecrafts mythology are basically extra-dimensional entities and therefore not metaphysical in the classical sense.

Im not exactly a Lovecraftian - I've read and enjoyed most of his stories, but the only reason to re-read them would be some kind of 'scientific' interest. Nevertheless, I have enough grasp of his stuff to comment on Hals position: I don't completely agree. To be sure, the 'Great Old Ones' are basically aliens, and even the 'Elder Gods' and the 'Outer Gods', slightly different classes of beings, who are respectively more human-like and even less human-like than the Great Old Ones, are more rooted in some weird scientific ideas than in religious and magical traditions: For example, Azatoth, the most powerful of the 'Outer Gods', is described as 'mindless nuclear chaos' - he's basically a living sun, the impersonal principle of the Universe itself.

On the other hand these beings are called 'gods', some of them are worshipped by cults, and Lovecraft seems to love to use the term 'blasphemous' to describe their very nature. There's clearly a strong link between science and religion - think how 'Mountains of Madness' replaces a religious origin story of humankind with a scientific one (to the horror of it's discoverers), think how 'God', Azatoth, is described in terms more related to the Atom bomb (Clearly, we can see Lovecraft as a dark scientific visionary today). And think also that there are Mythos-figures who are more anthropomorphic and clearly rooted in monotheist religions - for example Nyarlathotep, the messenger of the Outer Gods and the tempter of mankind. In Lovecrafts cold, scientific, soulless universe, theres still a lot of 'religion' going on. That makes Lovecrafts mythology, above all else, quite self-contradictory.

Now that's a great thing. Being self-contradictory means developing a consciousness of the fact that we live in a self-contradictory world.

Which brings me to Horkheimer and Adorno - Two German philosophers and sociologist, who, in 1944, wrote The Dialectics of Enlightenment (I hope that is how the title has been translated into English ...), a book deeply marked by the experience of national-socialism. Horkheimer and Adorno, both of Jewish descent, both Marxists, lived in exile in the US at that time. Dialectics of Enlightenment was their attempt to somehow get to terms with the fact that bourgeois civilization had not, as some other Marxists had predicted, evolved into communism. Instead, the German proletariat, which was supposed to be part of the emancipatory force of history, had turned to the barbarism of fashism. This historical catastrophe led Horkheimer and Adorno to the idea that the philosophy of Enlightenment, as much as it had been a prerequisite for humankinds emancipation, had always also had a tendency to fall back into 'myth' (no, that's not the Cthulhu-Mythos, at least not yet ...).

Of course, there's no chance that I'll be able to explain what I understand of this approach, entitled 'Critical Theory', here. Let's oversimplify: Back then, in the times of Gods and Monsters, humankind feared nature as an uncontrollable force of fate. To get to terms with this fear, it gave human names, faces and souls to nature: we get animism and polytheism. The gods are still capricious, but there's a chance to make some kind of deal with them, using magic and rituals.

But magic of rituals were also always instruments of power that allowed humans to rule over other humans. Now, the people being ruled over don't always take such stuff. So, very early in history, there starts a process that somehow leads to the philosophy of Enlightenment: People start saying 'Hey - there are no gods and spirits. The stuff happening in nature follows some kind of causality, and we can figure that out and learn to control it. We don't need you scheming priest-bastards for that. we certainly don't need you to spill our blood and the altar of your gods.' So, instead of multiple spirits and gods, we get the one principle of reason - which kind of works acceptably with monotheism. Still, there's a process of emancipation going on in this.

With the arrival of capitalism, rational thinking becomes more and more the fashion of the era. In capitalism, the human subject has to consider itself to a certain extent rational and free in it's choices - that's a prerequisite of this subject being able to enter into a contract, which is a central function of capitalism.

And there the real problem begins: Capitalism establishes a structure that seems to the individual living under it's rule as some kind of 'Second Nature': The rules of society ('If you want to eat, you have to work', for example) appear as laws of nature. The thing is that each individual in capitalist society experiences these rules of society as some kind of nature, and that this prevents the individual from truly realizing that this structure is made and reproduced by humans - not only by some evil, scheming capitalists, but by society as a whole. So the subject, that appears to be free, in fact isn't free. But hey, at least Enlightenment and Capitalism gave us a pretty wortwhile idea of freedom!

But the ongoing quest of controlling nature, eliminating everything unknown, has in fact a tendency to empty out the human subject itself: The idea of nature becomes blind and soulless, and so becomes the idea of humanity. In national socialism, this process resulted in the 'Verdinglichung' (no idea how to translate this ...), in the ideological organzisation of the self-contradictory aspects of society into two main principles that were identified with different kinds of 'nature': The 'Arian race' and the 'Semitic race'. National-socialist society saw itself as identical with the process of their nature, carrying out their 'natural mission' of exterminating - murdering - all Jews. The subject, that was still the central character in classical bourgeois society, didn't play much of a role in this any more - the 'Volksgemeinschaft' was everything. Even though I certainly don't want to ´compare contemporary theoretical neurologists to the Nazis, you can't help but notice that some of their thesises on freedom of choice also tend to 'cancel out' the subject - if it's really all just firing neurons, we do nothing more than to blindly carry out 'natural mission'. And that's, basically, Horkheimer's and Adorno's thesis of Enlightenment falling back into myth: Humankind, who tried to emancipate itself from the forces of nature by Enlightenment, in the end has only managed to fall under it's spell in an even more profound way. I would argue that, probably on a very abstract level, Horkheimer and Adorno have made a very valid point.

Now back to Lovecraft. Remember him being self-contradictory? Yep - exactly. His 'Elder Gods' are emblemetic of the dialectic relation mentioned above - they are gods and blind processes, describable only in the terminology of reason AND religion at once. They are Myth and Reason at once. Lovecrafts work truly embodies humankind's fear of falling back into the process of nature, under it's cold, meaningless spell. Think 'The Shadow over Innsmouth': Here the protagonist, led to the coast town of Innsmouth by biological imperative, mutates into a sea-dweller - in evelotionary terms surely a step backward. But this transformation is at the same time described as some kind of 'Enlightenment' about the true, unspeakable nature (!) of the world. Progress is regress. The fear of 'degeneration' was a prominent theme of the times - there's Well's Island of Dr. Moreau, Conrad's Heart of Darkness. You'll even find it in Kiplings (so deeply, deeply reactionary ...) Jungle Book. This fear was nearly always articulated in racist terms, it was 'verdinglicht', turned into some kind of 'nature' itself - the problem was projected onto a group that was defined by some crude biological or anthropological theory, and the fantasy was that by eliminating this group, humankind could somehow get 'whole' again, lose it's fear of nature. In Lovecraft, it's a little different: He has a tendency to revel in degeneration, to invest it with sublime qualities, and this, while still being deeply linked to racist terms, comes much closer to provoking some critical thinking on the dialectics of Enlightenment.

There's also something very speaking in Lovecrafts 'talkiness' in describing his creatures, a talkiness that always kind of misses the point. The fact that scientific AND religious terminology both don't succeed to truly grasp their object, and the fact that the narrators keep on trying until their last breath, is extremely significant, for it shows that it's impossible to integrate these beings into a 'logical' system, not even in the empty form of the 'variable' which they take on in so many classic Gothics. There's another contradiction at work here, one that I haven't quite figured out yet. Since I'll be reading some stuff by French psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva in the next few weeks, I hope I'll be able to get back to this from another perspective. Mark my words: Lovecrafts creatures are semiotic. It's just that I'm not yet sure what exactly that means ...

Easterweekend 2006: Concussion in Glasgow

Last weekend, I’ve been to the eastercon in Glasgow, and since speaking English felt so international and important, I decided to start my blog with an English-language-section. This will probably contain lots of misguided metaphors, misinformed slang and bad English in general, but nevertheless …

So, Glagow. I’m still stunned by how great this has been. To those who don’t know: the eastercon is an annual gathering of Science Fiction writers, artists and of course: fans! While I try to go by the first category in Germany, in Glasgow I happily belonged to the fans. And there were more than enough people to be fan of: Among the guests of honour were Justina Robson, M. John Harrison and Liz Hand (just to mention my personal demigods), as well as Brian Froud (who, as I found out, did much artwork for the film The Dark Crystal, that provided for the scariest, most wonderful 90 minutes of my childhood).

So, one thing after another: On arrival, I was introduced into the Glasgowian way of hospitality by Louisa (please forgive me for spelling mistakes!) and Stephen (friends of a friend), meaning: They invited me to a couple of drinks in a pub and we had a very nice chat. Thanks again to both of you, hope to hear from you soon!

After that, I moved on to the next pub to visit a reading by the SF writers clubs of Glasgow and Manchester, among them Paul F. Cockburn and Hal Duncan. To those of you who have never heard of Hal Duncan: shame on you. He’s probably the most hyped new author in the fantastic field of this year, and more than rightfully so. Your should read his first novel, Vellum. In fact, everyone should read it. In fact, everyone should read it and live according to at least some of the ideas embodied in it. In fact, everyone should read it simply because I think that spreading joy and terror and intelligent, critical thinking is among the most noble causes possible and that reading Vellum will provide for both to a quite significant degree.

But enough of the Vellum-gushing – you can have more of that in my review, if necessary ...

However, Hal invited me to another drink – of course, at that time I was still to awe-stricken to talk very much. So I listened to the reading for most of the evening. I wasn't really tuned in to Scottish English by then, so the only thing I can really remember were some quite disturbing things I learned about poly-bags that evening …

The next day, I arrived at fancy Crowne Plaza Hotel were the convention was held, right next to the Glasgow Science Centre, which looks like a giant, lazy robot armadillo and is – not surprisingly – called “the Armadillo”. After receiving my badge and a few tons of convention material, I started looking for CELEBRITIES. And found them pretty soon: At first opportunity, I ran up to John Clute and Liz Hand (which I had seen last year when they were in Berlin) and used the magic formula (for those of you who don’t know, it’s: ‘Hannes sends his regards!’) to start a conversation.
Liz Hand did a wonderful reading of her current book (Generation Loss), a mainstream novel – seems to be a kind of a thriller about punk and the eighties. If I read only one non-SF novel this year, it’s definitely going to be this one! Furthermore, finally a book that I can give to all of my friends who do not read SF.
And John Clute – John Clute was simply there, and when he said something, you could really feel not only his deep knowledge of fantastic literature, but also his immense respect for the work of all the authors he’s written about.

I also met Geoff Ryman – an author by which I had read only one novella, which I really liked. My flatmate Uwe has read his novel The Child Garden and really loved it, and I always wanted to read it as well – but with all the interesting new books being published, one never takes the time to read an ancient novel from 1989 … stupid me, because now I finally started reading it and it’s among the most intelligent, topical stuff I’ve read in the last few years (edit: review now added to this blog).

Geoff himself really left an impression by saying all the right stuff in a very, very precise way. There was a panel on ‘Foreign Cultures in SF’, and he managed to get the whole problem of SF (and not only SF) using the ‘alien’ as an externalisation of the Other into a few clear, quite understandable sentences. He’s also a very tall person who has a way of looking at people very attentive, showing you that he really listens … so the two times I had an opportunity to talk to him I was quite nervous and didn’t get out anything intelligent. Anyway, he received the British SF Award for his new novel Air, and I’m definitely going to read that one as well!

Justina Robson has already been mentioned among my demigods. I truly love all of her novels. They really seem to address all the ontological questions you have to deal with in real life, and all that in a laconically funny, believable and quite suspenseful. Justina herself is quite funny – she moderated the panel on the question if we should just trash fookin SF and start something really new. Big entertainment! I asked her for an interview – in the end, it didn’t work out, but for compensation, she invited me along for lunch with all the guests of honour. Wow! So I was sitting there between her, M. John Harrison, John Clute, Liz Hand, Brian Froud, Farah Mendlesohn … I nearly fainted from so much exposure!

The interview that did work out was the one with Hal Duncan, and that turned out to be really interesting, not only regarding Vellum, the sequel Ink an the ethics of dissidence embodied in them, but also his next, stand-alone novel. I just wish I could get my hands on all of these books right now! I also had a great time hanging out with Hal at the hotel bar, talking zombie movies (among them the unjustly neglected Ninjas vs. Zombies: The Quickening!) and being invited to more drinks.

There’s so much more to write … at the Awards Ceremony, Pat Cadigan received the Richard Evans Award for authors who have contributed in a significant way to SF (congratulations!). And I watched the Call of Cthulhu silent movie. Get it, if you can get your hands on it – this is Fritz Lang meeting Lovecraft meeting proto-Ray-Harryhausen!

One anecdote that must be told (can’t stop the signal!): On Monday, I thought I had lost my mobile phone. I rummaged through my bags several times, finally got convinced it had been stolen, suspected all other seven people in my room and then tried to call my provider to block my number. First I needed an international phone card, that would provide about 2 minutes of calling time for 3lb. Nice. Of course, I ended up in an audio menu: ‘Welcome to O2! If you already are an O2-customer, please enter your mobile number …’ (‘I don’t know my mobile number, you damn dirty robot! My fookin mobile knows my mobile number!’). Beep. 'If you’re interested in our flat rate offers, please press …’ Arrgh! Slamming the receiver down (no – do not destroy the property of your hostel …). Several tries, several phone cards, nothing helps – time runs out again and again. I finally call Louisa to ask her if I can call from her phone. After that, I open my bag to put my notebook back in … you’ve probably already guessed what I found in there: ‘Where have you been? I should end your puny electronic existence right now …’

So much about my weekend. So now I’m a convention junkie …

New reviews

I've added links to my reviews of two very recommendable anthologies (James Tiptree Award Anthology 3 and Tesseracts Ten).