One of the panels I hit on Thursday was called “Twisting Genres,” and brought in a bunch of authors who had all written books that mixed and matched traditional genres. (western and horror, historical fiction and dragons, etc.) It was essentially the same topic as the “Blurring the Lines of Genre” discussion I saw at Westercon, but with a completely different set of authors who stayed a bit more on-topic (possibly because they had a moderator).

Of course, just because they stayed on topic doesn’t mean they weren’t funny.


“Where do you shelve that?” Maryelizabeth Hart on the impact of mixed-genre novels on bookstores.

“I’m part-Australian, and required by law to put Australian content in my book. It was either that or the Sydney Opera House.” — Scott Westerfeld, explaining the presence of a Tasmanian Tiger in the Leviathan Trilogy.

“You have these ideas in your head and they start having sex with each other, and these strange webbed babies come out…” — Daryl Gregory(?) on how genre mash-ups are born.

“Awesome plus awesome does not always equal two awesome. Sometimes it’s an abomination, like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.” — China Miéville, a few minutes after Naomi Novik cited them as an example of how mixing things does work.

“It’s Dinosaur Love Story!” China Miéville on the classic Hollywood “X+Y” pitch.


Something that came up at both this panel and the Westercon discussion was that mainstream literature is a genre in itself, with its own sets of rules and expectations. I think it was China Miéville who described it as a genre with a successful thirty-year marketing campaign to convince people that it isn’t a genre.

Justin Cronin explained that he crossed over from mainstream literature when his nine-year-old daughter was terribly concerned that his other books might be boring, so he launched a project with just one rule: it must be interesting. He eventually submitted The Passage under a pseudonym so that his name wouldn’t set up the wrong expectations.

Robert Masello said he once had an editor try to “help” him by explaining that they could take the supernatural elements out of his story and it would work just fine… (Ouch.)

One author had a friend who had written a serious novel with the word “Spices” in the title, and got on a radio show to promote it. The host hadn’t read it, and introduced it as a cookbook. So he spent the next half hour giving out recipes. “Why didn’t you correct him?” “It’ll sell more as a cookbook.”

The question was asked whether there are any two genres that are inherently disastrous. Naomi Novik suggested that no two genres were automatically so. China Miévelle said that his brain immediately responded to that question by trying to think of ridiculous combinations…and then figure out how to write a brilliant book with them.

But yeah, a driver’s manual with an unreliable narrator is probably a bad idea.

»Full index of Comic-Con posts and photos.

Quotes from “Once Upon a Time,” a panel at Comic-Con International in which fantasy authors discussed whether epic fantasy requires larger than life heroes.

Brandon Sanderson: “I would say, if Tolkien did it, it’s okay.”

Christopher Paolini: “I write…Mary Sues, and that’s okay.”

Maryelizabeth Hart: “We’re gonna start with Patrick [Rothfuss] so he can’t argue with anyone.”
Patrick Rothfuss: “I just wanted the opportunity to disagree with myself.”

Megan Whalen Turner on the typical vagueness of prophecies: “What if there was a prophecy that said, ‘The One will come. And he will have a 63% chance of defeating…”

Brent Weeks on the X saves Y structure: “I mean, is there…nobody saves nobody?”
Megan Whalen Turner: “They all die.”
Brent Weeks: “And that’s George Martin.”

Panel held Thursday, July 22, 2010.

»Full index of Comic-Con posts and photos.

This morning I was surprised to hear that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had died. In part, it was because I hadn’t realized he was still alive. As the brief story went on, I remembered reading about his return to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Of his work, I’ve only read A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, back in high school.

Last week I was surprised to hear that the FBI was on the verge of indicting a suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks. I’d pretty much written it off as an unsolved case. Unfortunately, the fact that Ivins committed suicide means the case will never go to trial. Having the attorney general sign off on it doesn’t quite have the same sense of closure — or certainty — that a trial would. Unless the FBI releases seriously solid evidence (and I’m sure a lot of the evidence is probably classified, especially given the current administration’s affair with secrecy), there will always be a bit of doubt: did he kill himself because he’d been caught, or because he didn’t want to go through being scapegoated?

I’ve been working my way through the classic Universal Frankenstein movies, some of which I’m sure I’ve seen before, and some of which I’m sure I haven’t. Of course, they get filtered through having read the book at least three times and having watched Young Frankenstein many times.

Last weekend I watched Bride of Frankenstein. It’s a good movie, but the framing sequence bugs me. In it, Lord Byron is telling Mary Shelley how much he enjoyed her tale of horror, and proceeds to revisit the high points in the 1935 version of “Previously, in Frankenstein…” Unfortunately, just about everything he mentions wasn’t in her book! (Neither the 1818 or 1831 versions.) He then bemoans that it should have ended so abruptly, at which point she says something like, “Ended? That wasn’t the end at all!” and proceeds to tell Percy Shelley and Lord Byron the tale of, well, the next movie.

All this, despite the fact that the movies clearly take place in the 20th century, though they at least went to the effort to dress Byron and the Shelleys in period costumes.

On one hand, it’s a nifty conceit, made somehow more appropriate by casting the same actress, Elsa Lanchester, as both Mary Shelley and the Bride.

On the other hand, it’s emblematic of Hollywood’s mixed demand and contempt for original source material and its authors. This is the industry that brought us both Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, trading on the author’s name as a claim of authenticity while still taking things in their own direction. (To be fair, both movies made efforts to include aspects of the original stories that are usually left out. And MSF followed quite well until about 5 minutes before the end, at which point it took a 90° turn and flew off into another movie entirely.)

Neil Gaiman says it best in his short story, “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories” (in Smoke and Mirrors):

She managed a pitying look, of the kind that only people who know that books are, at best, properties on which films can be loosely based, can bestow on the rest of us.

Please, when developing your plugins, be sure to always use the full opening tag for PHP:

<?php code goes here ?>

On some servers—maybe even your own—you can shorten this to just the opening <?. The following line in php.ini will disable this “feature,” and many web server administrators do so to simplify things like generating XML with PHP:

short_open_tag = Off

When this option is set, PHP will ignore <? and assume it’s simply part of the template… along with all the code following it. If you’re lucky, it means a bunch of PHP code gets sent to the web browser. If you’re not lucky, it results in invalid syntax, and PHP grinds to a halt, spitting out a blank page and a PHP Parse Error.

So please make sure you always use the full opening tag so that your plugin will be compatible with everyone’s system. If you run your own server, set that option in php.ini so that if you miss one, you can catch it before you post it.