Alexander Jablokov

 

I'm a writer, mostly of science fiction, with a new novel, Brain Thief.

The name is pronounced Yablokov, and the legal name is Jablokow.  My best friends can't spell or pronounce it, so you shouldn't worry about it either.

More here

Write me at alexjablokow [at] comcast.net

I'd love to hear from you.

Subscribe

 

Appearances

Print

"How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry", Asimov's Science Fiction July/August 2017(out now)

"The Forgotten Taste of Honey", Asimov's Science Fiction, October/November 2016

"The Return of Black Murray", Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2016

"The Instructive Tale of the Archeologist and His Wife", Asimov's Science Fiction, July 2014

"Bad Day on Boscobel", The Other Half of the Sky.

"Feral Moon", novella, Asimov's Science Fiction, March 2013

"Since You Seem to Need a Certain Amount of Guidance", Daily Science Fiction, November 6, 2012

"The Comfort of Strangers", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January/February 2012

"Blind Cat Dance" reprinted in Gardner Dozois's Best Science Fiction of the Year 28

"The Day the Wires Came Down", novelette, Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2011

"Plinth Without Figure", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2010

"Warning Label", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine August 2010

"Blind Cat Dance", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine March 2010

Brain Thief, a novel, Tor Books, January 2010

 

Monthly Index

Category Index

Recent Entries

Login

Reboot blog

 

Monday
Dec292008

Stealing Characters

I recently watched "The Letter", a 1940 William Wyler movie starring Bette Davis.  I picked it up because the culture guide Terry Teachout, who blogs at About Last Night, has written the libretto to an opera based on it (or, rather, on the original Maugham story).

It's about murder, betrayal of ideals, and corruption in pre-war Malaya.  That "pre-war" is interesting.  This was filmed a little more than a year before Japanese forces conquered the entire country, besieged Singapore, and destroyed this entire society. So, no matter what long-term guilts or pains the characters expected to have, they were completely overcome by events.

I get story ideas from movies, more more so than from books.  This happens in several ways.  I always try to predict what will happen next, and if I'm completely wrong, my prediction can serve as the basis for a story.  And I'm often more interested in minor characters than the movie, with its limited airtime, can be.  In this case, it was the lawyer Howard Joyce's legal assistant Ong Chi Seng.  Ong is the one who presents Joyce with his occasion of sin, by offering him something he desperately needs.  It's played pretty straightforwardly in the movie.  Aside from a cute bit with Ong's tiny little car, he's just a device.

But he can be a device because he's linked into a complex society the ruling Brits do not have real access to.  Who is he?  Has he helped the lawyer before in this way?  Does he have motivations aside from money for doing it?  None of this is the point of the movie, and so none of these questions are answered.  He serves as the guide to a crucial confrontation in the Asian part of town, but again, solely as a device.  Fixers and liminal characters like Ong are interesting, and he could easily have been a major character, with the murder and trial just as background to his own activities.

I have not yet read the original story.  I'm curious to see what role he plays there.  If it is similarly minor, I can claim him, or a version of him, for myself.

Saturday
Nov152008

The Crimes of Literature

Writers lie to you. You know this.  They lie to you, but you know it and take it into account, so you are not damaged, and can perceive reality clearly anyway.  Maybe this is actually true.

But is there really any reason why we have to tell so many lies?  When you think of it, it's odd, and a little pathetic. I think the lies fiction tells are actually cognitive errors--mistakes inherent to narrative that misinterpret the state of reality.

I'll deal with some of these in more detail later, but for now, I'll just list some of the things we tell you regularly that are completely untrue.

  • Physicians, even physicians in premodern times, actually know what's wrong with you and cure you.  That is, unless they are malign and greedy quacks, in which case they don't understand anything and will probably kill you.
  • Physicians are good, the healthcare system they work in, and which pays them, is bad and out to deny needed care to sick people.
  • If you dream something, that dream means something.
  • Prophesies say something about the future.  And if a character comes to fulfill a prophecy, that's actual an honor rather than something particularly horrible.
  • Generals who win battles are also loved by their troops.  Good commanders are not narcissistic, brutal, or lazy.
  • If the main character creates an artwork of great quality, that artwork will also be incredibly popular.
  • Obsessives and cranks are interesting people.
  • If you are a good person, people will love you.

Many of these stem from the fact that the writer knows the future of the characters and can't help but let this bleed through.  As the inked note next to the underlined words in the secondhand book you bought always says:  foreshadowing.

I'm not really giving anything away here.  But I have many kennels full of desperately barking pet peeves, and I plan to unleash them on you, one by one.

 

Sunday
Nov092008

Commercial Realism

A couple of days after I mentioned my admiration for P. D. James (Nov 2), I was standing in line to vote, and reading James Wood's How Fiction Works, a book for readers on how writers achieve the effects that they do.  As both a writer and a reader, I love books like this, and Wood's is sharply written, perceptive, and short (the last an almost forgotten skill among writers of nonfiction).

But there I was, almost to the door after a historically long wait, and found myself reading Wood taking a swipe at Baroness James, by way of a more comprehensive assault on John le Carre.  He identifies them both--and by extension me--as practitioners of "commercial realism".  A pejorative term, if you're unsure.  As he says:

Commercial realism has cornered the market, has become the most powerful brand in fiction...when a style decomposes, flattens itself down into a genre, then indeed it does become a set of mannerisms and often pretty lifeless techniques.  The efficiency of the thriller genre takes just what it needs from the much less efficient Flaubert or Isherwood, and throws away what made those writers truly alive.

Of course, he's right.  We suck.  We genre writers steal styles, tricks, and techniques that help us do our commercial jobs.  There have always been stylistic pioneers, and those who follow and actually settle the territory opened up.

I might call what we genre writers use "domesticated realism".  We've refined what seems useful so that we can focus on the elements of the fiction we find interesting:  suspense, maybe, or exploring a social trend, or sending the reader to another world that seems believable because it has been created using the techniques of 19th and 20th century "realism".

I hope I'm not sounding all huffy here.  How Fiction Works is an excellent book, and Wood  perceptive critic.  It's just that, like all critics, he has to focus on individuals of genius rather than communities of the merely talented and skilled.  And, as in science, as in any field, that's where most of the work goes on.

Genre communities take the techniques of those individuals of genius, refine them, experiment with them, and, by "taking them on the road" and judging audience response, makes them more effective in generating response from readers.  That often rubs the rough edges off, partially to make the techniques widely applicable, and partially because any creative community includes individuals of varying skill levels.

I'm saying this in defense of James and of my own genre, science fiction--but I'm reading more and more James, Rendell, Connelly, Mina, etc.  Perhaps it's because the easiest place to steal from is from another community where the realistic techniques have been domesticated rather than from, say, David Foster Wallace, which is a little like stealing radioactive rods with your bare hands to power up your own reactor. And maybe it's because I have some real problems with the genre I grew up with and still work in.

Wood may have struck a deeper nerve than it might seem at first.

 

Sunday
Nov022008

On Rereading

In my early years as a reader (through high school, say), I reread constantly.  There were books I read over a dozen times--not on any regular schedule, like annually, but whenever I was in the mood.  Robert Heinlein was a particular favorite.  His rationality and structure served as a calming influence on my poorly organized mind.  For all I know, Door Into Summer served to send me into my career as an engineer.  I'll just have to forgive Heinlein for that.

But, in my older years, I had a greater goal orientation in my reading, as if I had to get through some chunk of the literature.  Rereading seemed like it was retarding my progress in comprehensive understanding.

I've recently found myself rereading more.  That's partially because I've been disappointed in a number of the books I've picked up, particularly novels. OK, particularly science fiction novels, my supposed field.  So much so that I was beginning to worry that I had lost my taste for reading.

So I decided to reread a book that I'd liked in the past.  Now, this can be dangerous, if you pick the wrong one.  My tastes have definitely changed since my adolescence, so Heinlein just wasn't going to cut it.

I pulled out an old paperback of Death of an Expert Witness, by P. D. James and took it on a weekend in Maine.  In the morning and in the evening, I was back in reader heaven.

I really don't remember what I've read that well, so rereading a book is pretty much like reading it for the first time--except that I'm sure I'll like what I'm reading. I won't find myself choking on the prose or getting irritated when a promising plot falls apart halfway through.

Dalgliesh and his team:  rationality and structure.  Architecture, the 39 Articles, a good claret.  My poor overheated brain is thanking me.  It's a relief to realize that I still like reading after all.

 

Monday
Oct132008

The Weight of Literature

Some hikers think it’s stupid to bring a book on a long hike. You’re there to connect with nature, they say. Once you’ve set up camp, you should observe, feel, and relate with the wonders around you.

I can’t argue with that. But I like to read, and reading in the sun by the side of a mountain lake is, for me, as good as it gets.

These hikers also point out, with more justice, that the damn things are heavy. Aren’t we all ultralight hikers now?

So the whole thing comes down to an unfamiliar literary calculus: reading value per ounce. Good books that are too heavy are out, as are less than good books at any weight.

But sometimes a heavier book can save your life. When caught by a sleet storm up near the divide in Jasper and forced to hole up for twenty four hours, I read Neil Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and didn’t even notice the hours go by. At home, I’d had trouble with the book partway through (I had young kids at the time, and thus a reduced attention span—and the man could sure use a more assertive editor), but confined to a tent with nothing but sodden morrass outside, I followed the escape from New Guinea with total attention. A bit heavy and bulky, but that time it was the right choice.

On another Canadian Rockies hike I’d hauled Bed Gadd’s magnificent Handbook of the Canadian Rockies. Make no mistake, this is one of the best guide books to a wilderness area you’re going to find. But the thing is printed on coated paper and weighs over two pounds. That was just a symptom of greater overloading, and I was miserable that whole hike.

I read Stephen Jay Gould’s Panda’s Thumb in Dark Canyon, and Orwell’s essays in Bandelier.

I’m just back from the Sawtooths, where, after some internal debate (15 oz!) I brought Dorothy Dunnett’s Niccolo Rising, and didn’t regret it for a moment.

I presume the Kindle and its descendants will eliminate this entire critical metric—you can carry hundreds of books weighing only a few ounces. I won’t be able to resist for long.

Page 1 ... 92 93 94 95 96