Neil Gaiman: Why Our Futures Depend On Libraries, Reading And Daydreaming

Neil Gaiman 2Author Neil Gaiman recently wrote a nice letter for the guardian, stressing the importance of reading in our society, especially within childhood development. Declaring his bias early and often, Gaiman still manages to lay out a well thought out argument as to why reading should be part of our lives and why fiction should not dismissed as useless escapism.

I’m really glad that Gaiman, who is certainly one of the more notable and publicly recognized figures in contemporary literature, is such a thoughtful and articulate defender of the written word. I always enjoy hearing his thoughts on fiction and was lucky enough to hear him speak when he came to Chicago as his novel Neverwhere was honored with the city’s ‘One City, One Book’ selection. And his letter to the Guardian is just further evidence on why I always jump at the chance to hear his thoughts.

I especially like this passage where Gaiman explains why China finally allowed a party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in 2007.

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

Check out the full letter over at the guardian. It is a great read.

Ray Bradbury, Why Prometheus Is Good For Sci-Fi As A Whole And Other Updates

The last two weeks have been a bit of a blur, so I’m pooling a few updates into a single post. First off, it was very sad to hear about Ray Bradbury’s passing, but at 91 years old and with over 500 published works, no one can accuse him of not living a very full and inspiring life. I always marvel at the fact that he credits most of his education (he did not attend college) to a decade of veracious reading at the library. I really enjoy the work he produced throughout his career and still count Fahrenheit 451 as my favorite book of all time. I know that his absence will be greatly missed within the literary community.

Consequently, Bradbury’s biographer, Sam Weller (I have met Mr. Weller a few times and must say he is a really nice guy), was already in the process of preparing an anthology of tribute stories to the late great author when he passed away. Although the collection won’t be out until July, sci-fi website io9 has posted an excerpt from the collection, which is entitled Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury. The sample story is written by none other than Neil Gaiman and is certainly worth checking out.

So, Prometheus. There has certainly been quite a bit of discussion about Ridley Scott’s recently released philosophical sci-fi film in the past few weeks. Some are labeling it as a masterpiece, others a misfire and yet another pocket of people who liked the movie but wonder why the supposedly intelligent characters haven’t mastered the ability to run sideways or diagonally when a large object is about to fall on them (I confess, I am in that pocket of people). Regardless of what you thought about Prometheus, I believe its release will be good for sci-fi as a whole, because of the sheer amount of attention that is being paid to the film.

For one thing, the buzz and opening week box office of Prometheus reaffirms that intelligent adult sci-fi still has a place on the big screen. As strange as it may sound, this is a necessary reminder. Every few years or so after a string of sci-fi inspired flops, Hollywood needs a reminder that it’s not just young adult sci-fi adaptations containing preexisting mobs of rapid preteen fans that have a place in movie theaters. Intelligent, philosophical and allegorical science fiction like 2001, Contact, or anything that doesn’t have a cast riddled with Disney channel graduates, still has a place in modern cinema.

I understand that science fiction is a gamble in Hollywood because it generally requires a larger budget to account for the special effects, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away from making these movies altogether. It just means that when you do make these movies and invest a chunk of money into their production, you should take the time to make sure that they are well made. And while there are certainly some flaws to Prometheus, I would say that it is still a very well made sci-fi film. Certainly, it has inspired some polarizing perspectives, but through those disagreements, it has also produced some truly interesting ideas and interpretations about what the film is about (definitely check out Adrian Bott’s theories on the film). It is also an incredibly gorgeous movie to look at and is absolutely worth checking out despite its flaws.

On another note, I got a few emails about the availability of my book, The Exiles of the New World, as to when it will be on the Nook and some other e-readers outside of the Kindle. The update on that situation is that it should be expanding to the Nook and other e-readers by the end of the summer. Amazon has exclusive rights to the e-version which allows them to keep it limited for a couple of months. But for now, it is available in paperback and Kindle form. There might even be a soon-to-be-released audio book recording on the horizon, narrated by me, where I attempt to read the entire book in a different British accent for each character. But seeing as how none of the characters in my book are British and I only have one terrible British accent in my repertoire (cockney shoeshine boy), this may be a lie. Only time will tell.

Interview With Monica Leonelle

Today, we interviewed fellow Chicago author Monica Leonelle to promote her newly released novel Socialpunk, the first in her YA cyberpunk trilogy. In addition to Socialpunk, Monica is an accomplished marketer and author of the YA urban fantasy series Seven Halos.

– How did your writing career begin?

Really, it began when I wrote my first novel, about two years ago. That’s when I knew there was nothing else I could do. I’m still a struggling writer in a sense, and I definitely have several side jobs that help me pay my bills. But ultimately, I think of myself as a writer.

– What are some notable influences on your writing?

C.S. Lewis heavily influenced my first novel series, called the Seven Halos series. The first book is Silver Smoke and the second book, Tin Soldier, is out in May. I’ve also been influenced by several young adult authors, including JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Meg Cabot, Cassandra Clare, Holly Black, Maggie Stiefvater and Suzanne Collins.

– How did you come up with the idea for Socialpunk?

I love social media and digital technology, so the idea formed naturally. I wanted to write a cyberpunk series, and for whatever reason, winters in Chicago remind me of movies like The Matrix and Minority Report. The idea just kind of sprang from the intersection of these topics.

– If Socialpunk was made into a movie, what would your ideal cast be?

Brenda Song would probably be my choice for Ima. Ember is a tall girl, but for some reason I think Kristen Bell could embody her. The guys are more difficult, but maybe Cam Gigandet for Nasser, Hunter Parrish for Dash, Matt Lauria for Vaughn, and Raza Jaffrey for Nahum. Of course, most of those people are television stars, so I probably wouldn’t get any of my choices if there ever was a movie!

– What was your favorite book published in the last year?

I really enjoyed the Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare. It’s the second in the series, but it was just so lovely and romantic. I can’t wait for the last book in the Infernal Devices.

– What would be your personal strategy for survival in a dystopian future, zombie infested or otherwise?

Oh geez. Part of me thinks I would be one of the first to die because I’m not super coordinated and would probably have terrible aim with a gun. But I’m such a fighter at the same time, so I probably wouldn’t give up that easily. My strategy would probably involve playing some sort of futuristic dystopian politics game with anyone who was left… I’d try to make them like me so much that they would protect me.

– What is your favorite place to eat in Chicago?

Right now, I am loving Custom House in South Loop. Such good steak. I ate lunch at Mercadito today too, and that is some of the best Mexican in the city. And I’ve eaten a lot of Mexican.


Thanks so much to Monica for stopping by the site for the interview. Be sure to visit Monica at her site and find Socialpunk on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

An Evening With Werner Herzog

I got a chance to see Werner Herzog speak in Chicago this week and needless to say, I was pretty excited about it. And after everything was all said and done, it was definitely worth the wait. Only about half the attendees made it into the auditorium to see him speak and as fate would have it, my friend and I were the last two people to get in.

Strangely, because we got stuck in the last second folding chair section on the side of the auditorium that they usually throw together for people late to church on Christmas, I somehow ended up sitting right next to where Herzog was waiting to be introduced. This meant that I got a chance to speak with him, albeit a brief exchange that mostly consisted of him saying things to me and me nodding dumbly in agreement. Still, it counts and I can say I met Werner Herzog, so that’s a life goal I can check off my list.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Herzog, he is a German film director known for films like ‘Grizzly Man,’ ‘Fitzcarraldo, ‘Rescue Dawn‘ and ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams.’ Certainly heralded first for his contributions in cinema, people forget that he is also an author and often stresses the need for people to read more, regardless of what their pursuit or goal in life may be. So, that allows me to draw a bit of relevancy to the post. As a film director though, Herzog is pretty much the profession’s equivalent of a honey badger, pegged as a bit of an eccentric iconoclast and admittedly, his life often sounds like complete insanity.

He was once shot in the middle of an interview by a crazed man with an air rifle, but continued the interview unfazed even though he was still bleeding. He once saved Joaquin Phoenix’s life by pulling him out of a gasoline filled car after Phoenix wrecked his car in the mountains and then in a daze tried to light a cigarette. Herzog quickly disappeared after the incident because he didn’t want to make a fuss, like he was some sort of Bavarian superhero who spends his weekends joyriding around Northern California saving reckless celebrities. In his talk, he spoke about walking across Africa when he was only seventeen and mentioned that it was only after his eighth consecutive time in an African jail that he really started to understand people. A quality that he says allows him to be a good director, especially when approaching the subjects in his documentaries.

That’s just a small sampling of Herzog’s life and if anything, it backs up his claim that life experiences should come before formal education in order to produce effective and inspired art. His films, like his life, are always interesting, even when they meander or run a bit on the long side (which admittedly they all do). And while Herzog is sometimes unfairly dismissed as a crazed anarchist, people forget that even though he may be a bit crazy, he fiercely protects the integrity of his subjects and never plays anything for shock value or at their expense, which is a trait that I definitely admire about his work.

The talk he gave was great and very similar to his movies. Funny, inspired, a bit on the long side, but always worth the price of admission. We got some insight when he talked about how he really didn’t care for the infamous ‘Werner Herzog Eats His Own Shoe‘ documentary, that he gets shot by Tom Cruise in next year’s crime thriller ‘Top Shot‘ (possible spoiler?) and that he thought ‘Grizzly Man’ subject Timothy Treadwell was a bozo for how he conducted himself. We even got to see the first ever screening of the first part of his ‘Death Row‘ miniseries (part one was a portrait of death row inmate Hank Skinner) that will be airing on television later this year. A sort of offshoot of his recent documentary, ‘Into the Abyss.’ All in all, a cool experience.

Author Profile: Brian Jacques

My moment of concern for today was that my grocery list, at least for twenty minutes, only had three items on it: powdered sugar, light bulbs and chapstick (I know, the cornerstones of every great meal). Anyway, moving away from that tangent, I’m going to be introducing author profiles to the site. I may eventually do some book reviews and critiques on the site, but for now I’d much rather focus on the more positive aspects of writing/reading. Truthfully, I tend to be a bit more forgiving with books and compensate by heaping unnecessarily high amounts of criticism on movies (I swear I’m not a movie snob though, I thoroughly enjoy bad movies).
I suppose someone told me Brian Jacques passed away in February, but I really only processed it in the last couple of weeks when I saw an ad for his final book, The Rogue Crew. For those unfamiliar with him, Jacques was an English author responsible for the Redwall books, a fantasy series for kids that could be best summarized as Lord of the Rings with animals.

As a child, I devoured these books. They inspired me to keep reading and eventually write myself. But I lost touch with his work over the years and honestly, I felt somewhat guilty when I heard that he had passed away as I hadn’t picked up one of his books in many years. So, I went back to revisit his books and in the process, catalyzed a lot of fond memories.

Books we read in our adolescence do not always hold up very well when we revisit them as adults. Sometimes shards of nostalgic memories will usher us through their pages in a sort of dazed state of denial, convincing ourselves that it was just as good as we remember it. But often, we’re disappointed. But I think Jacques’ novels hold up rather well compared to most kids series, because they are laced with an infectious positivity.
For example, I am struck by how often he used exclamation points in his descriptive passages. In my mind, this marks Jacques as a man who truly loved life. His joy for all things can be seen in his lines of his texts, especially when he wrote about food. Reading these books always made me hungry (There is even a Redwall cookbook available) and it was no different when I reread them. See why:

“Magnificent aromas of bilberry scones, hazelnut muffins and oatrose turnovers assailed their nostrils from the top shelves of the four-tiered oven.”

“Dingeye, his face shrouded in whipped strawberry cream, was bolting down candied chestnuts and mintcream wafers at the same time. Thura was dipping a hot vegetable pastie into honeyed plums and woodland trifle, stopping now and then to gulp down great swigs of dandelion and burdock.”

I’m not even sure if half of these food arrangements/combinations exist in real life, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m probably going to stop writing this post and go eat something. Life brims in the pages of his books, seen in his love of food, feast, merriment and adventure. He will be missed. Maybe you yourself have passed the age where you can enjoy his books, but that still doesn’t mean you can’t recommend the series to nieces, nephews, sons, daughters or any sort of stray children that may be wandering around your neighborhood.