Saturday, December 11, 2004

I went to Tokyo yesterday to meet Yoshio Kobayashi, the man who translated Bruce Sterling's books into Japanese. He was extremely nice, and introduced me to the editors of Hayakawa SF magazine, who gave me a copy of the recent issue with my friend M. Rickert's story "Bread and Bombs" in it, as well as Douglas Lain's "Headline Trick" in it as well, which we published in the second issue of Rabid Transit. It was so cool to see those stories in Japanese, and the art for them was great. Mr. Kobayashi is an extremely intelligent man, and his ideas about sf and fantasy constantly floored me. I wish we had someone as astute as he is writing about the state of science fiction in more American publications. His ideas are fresh, and he sees the evolution of the genre in a way that I haven't heard anyone talk about really. As well as translating, he also teaches at a school for translators and mentioned that he's taught my friend Richard Butner's story, "The House of the Future", as well as my story, "Dead Boy Found", at school, and it was really interesting to hear the sort of reactions translators have to those stories, and how Mr. Kobayashi taught them to read them. Listening to him talk about the stories, I had a realization that Richard's and my story actually end up being closely related, though we come at things at different angles. Both stories are about an America without a future. Richard's where the idea of an America without a future is implicated in the abandoned project of a forward thinking architect, and in mine embodied in a fifteen year old narrator who is representative of a generation whose outward appearances seem quite normal and average, but inwardly feel the doors of a future closing on them, and opt for an inner death. Hadn't thought about these sorts of things for a while, and it was good to do so again. It made me think about the novel I finished last year around this time, too, as it's written from that same narrator's perspective.

Anyway, over the course of the night I met many really nice people. But I do have to get better at Japanese than I am. I wish I could have talked more intimately with some of them, but the Japanese I know doesn't really allow for that just yet. I was so frustrated by not being as good at speaking Japanese as I want to be that I took a wrong train going home, which then forced me to speak *really* good Japanese to a nice woman on the train who understood everything I was saying and had me get off the train with her at the next stop, where she showed me how to get back on the right track. Actually, I was on the right track. I had just ended up taking an express train, which doesn't go to my town's station, instead of getting on the local service train. So I just had to get off and wait for the next one to come along.

I was still frustrated by not being able to have a nice adult conversation when I got home, and my friend Tadashi called me and reminded me I've only been here three and a half months and that I'm learning really quickly and not to worry about it. Also reminded me I'm mostly interacting with junior high and elementary school kids throughout the week, and that the language I use with them I'm really comfortable with, but that it's coming from a teacher's perspective, and so the sets of language I use without thinking much about are commands and questions that I need to know as a teacher. I told him I've got to have him and the other adult Japanese people I interact with to stop speaking English to me and refuse to acknowledge English from me unless it's necessary, and maybe then I'll get better even faster.

On the train ride home, my car had the bad luck to have a drunk guy forcing himself into intimate interactions with them. Well not with everyone. Mostly with girls who were alone. And me. He was from Brazil, I think he told me, and of course he sat down in my booth and went on about lots of girls on the train and how hot they were etc. Told me his wife and baby were at home so not to tell on him, blah blah blah. He only spoke Japanese and Portuguese, but I kept trying to tell him he was mortifying the passengers, who looked terrorized, and to stop acting this way. I managed to tell him in Japanese that he was drunk and embarrassing people, but he just laughed. He kept opening the window in my booth and smoking. I felt so bad for everyone on the train. I'm used to this sort of behavior in America, and can ignore it really easily. But the Japanese people on the train looked like they might crumple up into little balls they were so upset. Finally I got off the train at my stop and was relieved to leave him behind.



15 Comments:

Blogger gwenda said...

Very cool -- Kobayashi just wrote Christopher a really nice letter about Voluntary State and southern SF. He seems like a really interesting cat.

I need to get an IM machine on this computer so we can chitty chat in cyber space.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Yes, Kobayashi was very complimentary about Christopher's story, very excited about it. I told him that hopefully one day there'd be a whole novel set in that world, so tell Christopher to get to work!

And yes, get an IM set up! It'd be great to chat. I have msn and aol messengers, so either are good for me!

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This last post, in fact a lot of your posts, remind me of Isherwood in Berlin - the writer's life, politics looming in the background.

Rick

12:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd really love to hear a few more details about Yoshio Kobayashi take on American SF. Also I'm interested in what he had to say about my story, of course.

Doug

2:49 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Hey Rick,

I haven't read a lot of Isherwood. I'll have to pick a copy up next time I'm in Tokyo.

Doug,

Kobayashi san talked some about how American sf isn't as political as he thinks it could be, that it's lost some of that edge which it used to be the perfect tool for. Writers are playing it safe right now in the genre, it appears, the same way the Democrats are trying to look like nicer versions of Republicans. Your stories, of course, were an example of really good political sf, and we talked about your love for all things retro in sf, and how you employ that in a really interesting new way.

He also shared some lovely stories about his time in America, and visiting the Turkey City writers and hanging out with Bruce Sterling. Really wonderful stories.

5:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you agree with him about the politics? Do you think the newer slipstream writers have a tendency to be more political? Do you think the small journals like LCRW are more political?

Doug

2:38 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Hey Doug, I'll eventually write a post about this, I guess, since I do have some thoughts on it, but I don't want to throw them out half-formed at the moment. But I do agree with him in general about the waning of really good political sf. I'm not sure if slipstream is filling that gap. I don't tend to think it is, really. I'd say it has the potential to do that, but so does any particular form have the potential to do that really. So...I'll need more time and space to get all the particulars of my thoughts down.

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's some food for thought:

Slipstream writing may have more potential for radical expression because there are fewer built in expectations. Also most SF and Fantasy stories, while apparently fantastic, are actually realist in their intent. Whereas slipstream writing has a tendency to be irreal.

And in my opinion fiction that has broken with realism is more likely to adequately address real world problems.

Doug

7:23 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Hey Doug,

I think what you say sounds pretty right on, specifically to the paradigm we're living in at the moment. I'm not sure if realism would have had to be broken away from in order to deal with real world problems in any period of history, but I do think it's probably one of the best ways to address things at the moment. I do love realism, though. I don't want to come off as dissing it. I think it has something quite nice that it does. I don't thinkrealism itself is an inadequate political form, so much as I think many contemporary practioners of realism have pared away the "social" part of what used to be called "social realist" fiction, which I'm a big fan of. I tend to walk both streets, so to speak as I write, that of fantasy and that of social realism. I like things that both forms do, and I like to take the strengths of both and try to find where the two forms meet, rather than diverge. I guess I don't see it as a break with realism so much as trying to show how realism itself is just another illusion. I suppose that's the real danger of "realistic" fiction. People tend to believe it somehow describes the world accurately, when really it's just another fictional portrayal, a fantasy no more or less fantastic than Lord of the Rings or I, Robot.

I do agree with you that the genres of SF and F are closely aligned with Realism. I've been saying that for years now. They tend to reaffirm paradigms, confirm emotional and logical "truths" we've supposedly arrived at. Which is bullshit. I have often said most of the SF and F being published isn't radical like so many genre readers and writers think they are, simply because they read Spec Fic instead of Realism. The fact is, most of the genre narratives out there do not break with the world we know, the roles we've inherited from previous generations, or offer us models that could replace the one we live in.

In that case, I think slipstream may in fact be the best form for addressing various political issues. By its very nature, slipstream aims at breaking with the "rules" of genre fiction, as well as the "rules" of realism. Which, one would hope, offers a writer a platform where genuinely fresh ideas and angles can be gained about ourselves and the world. I say "one would hope" because I have seen a lot of slipstream published that is content to just be slipstream, to not have any purpose for the form beyond the fact that it isn't following conventions of SF or Realism. This is nice, but I tire of those stories more quickly, as they feel like it's the only trick their writers can do with slipstream.

4:32 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do 'Slipstream' and 'politics' mean in this context?

Rick

8:51 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Rick,

I think in this context "slipstream" is as it always is, a genre of writing in and of itself. A particular type that could (and is sometimes used) to address "political" subjects. Political subjects in the sense of politicized identity and social roles, such as gender, sexuality, class, race, etc. The politics of power, so to speak, who has it and who doesn't and why, and why this should be changed and maybe even how. Why slipstream could be a good form to address these subjects is because it operates outside of a genre with "rules" and "conventions" that are expected to be in the story or else it won't work. Using a form that is known for its breaking with convention can enable a writer to break with the conventions of accepted social reality, if they choose to use slipstream for that purpose.

9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The definition of slipstream I'm most comfortable with is Sterling's very vague definition:

You can find his essay here:
http://gopher.well.sf.ca.us:70/0/Publications/authors/Sterling/Catscan_Stuff/catscan_five.txt

And by political fiction I really mean a literature of dissent.

Doug

9:58 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Doug, literature of dissent is my definition too. I just used different words, sorry. It's what I meant when I said "to break with the conventions of accepted social reality". To dissent. You're much more economical than I. hehe

2:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doug:

I had forgotten that Sterling essay. Thanks for reminding me. I do think Slipstream is shorthand for, "A lot of cool things that I've read." Though the same titles do seem to run through a lot of different lists.

Rick

2:39 AM  

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