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April 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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witpunk edited by Claude Lalumière & Marty Halpern
Four Walls Eight Windows
Trade: ISBN 1568582560 PubDate April 03
Review by Ernest Lilley
346 pages List price $17.00  
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Review: witpunk  / Interview: Claude Lalumière

"This anthology of sardonic fiction emphasizes SF/fantasy tales sparkling with wit and edgy attitude. The stories, both originals and reprints, cover a wide range of satire. Writers include James Morrow, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Allen Steele, Paul Di Filippo, Robert Silverberg, and Pat Cadigan. Halpern, a 2001 World Fantasy Award Finalist, is the editor of the legendary Golden Gryphon Press.  You'll cry until you laugh.  - Ed"

 Review: witpunk

I've heard that humor was an evolutionary mechanism for defusing anxiety. That when we laugh, it's a sort of "all clear" signal so the clan can go back to hunter-gathering. "Thought it was a sabre toothed tiger, but it was just a big rock. Ain't that funny? Yep."

What varies from person to person, I'd guess, is how far from home the mark hits. How ready we are to put ourselves in someone else's shoes...how insensitive we are. The Android Lt. Commander Data's efforts to learn and appreciate humor are sophisticated examples of "deadpan". This makes them doubly funny, because the idea of a mechanical man who is funny without knowing it is full of another kind of humor: irony.

Irony is a very sophisticated kind of humor, sophisticated in the sense that it's about the failure of reason, so first you have to appreciate reason. Sardonic humor...which is the unifying theme of this book, can be best understood by the company it keeps: contemptuous, disdainful, scornful; derisive, jeering, mocking, saturnine, sneering; caustic, corrosive, sarcastic, satiric (see Definitions sidebar).

Not the sort of folks  you might want your daughter to hang out with...unless you were hoping she'd grow up to be a mean spirited critic. But the fact remains that we need mean spirited critics. Yes, it means that we will suffer the embarrassment of having our faults trotted out for the amusement of all...but nothing motivates us to correct those faults like the fear of humiliation. Vanity, thy name is human, and the mirror on the wall is humor.

witpunk  then, is a very funny, very disturbing collection of 26 stories that I urge you to let under your skin. You many never look at Teddy Bears, Cartoon Characters, punctuation marks, Catholics, Aliens, Teen Age girls, turkey, cockroaches...or the hallowed art of writing Science Fiction itself, the same way again. But that's not important now.1 What's important is that you come away from witpunk unable to look at yourself the same way, and fear not, you will. Not afraid? You will be. You will be.2

I loved Allen Steele's "Teb Hunter", though it makes some of the inanimate object around the house nervous. Jeffrey Ford spices up the collection with five ultra short pieces of his killer period-free-pastichery. Cory Doctorow and Michael Skeet take us on a memorable visit to France, in "I Love Paree". James Morrow takes the Catholic ban on contraception to its logical conclusion in the "Auspicious Eggs". And more. Much more. Much of it funny, most of it painful, and all of it recommended.

There's only one caution I'd urge you. No matter how hard it is to put down. Try not to read it all at one sitting. Chronic Comic Fatigue is nothing to laugh at.

 Interview: Claude Lalumière

I sent off a list of loaded questions to witpunk co-editor Claude Lalumière and, upon receiving his answers came to the conclusion that while he may be a bang up anthologizer...in fact, that he must be, considering the quality of witpunk's entries...that despite that, the man has no sense of humor.

That's perfect for someone making a statement about the sardonic, don't you think?

Definitions: A Few Words about   sardonic from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Main Entry: sar·don·ic
Pronunciation: sär-'dä-nik
Function: adjective
Etymology: French sardonique, from Greek sardonios Date: 1638:
Disdainfully or skeptically humorous : derisively mocking <a sardonic comment> <his sardonic expression>
synonym see SARCASTIC
- sar·don·i·cal·ly /-ni-k(&-)lE/ adverb

Webster's Thesaurus
Entry Word: sardonic
Function: adjective
Text: characterized by or expressing disdainful, skeptical humor <had a sardonic smile that mirrored his fixed expectation of the worst from everyone>
Synonyms cynical, ironic, wry
Related Word contemptuous, disdainful, scornful; derisive, jeering, mocking, saturnine, sneering; caustic, corrosive, sarcastic, satiric

SFRevu: Why isn't SF funny? Or is it, and we just don't realize it? 

Claude Lalumière: Well--- a lot of it isn't funny.  Especially a lot of the stuff that thinks it's funny.  And then there's the stuff that's funny for all the wrong reasons. But, still, there is some genuinely funny stuff out there. But not all fiction should be funny.  Diversity is key.

SFRevu: What made you decide to do witpunk? And while we're at it...what is wit, anyway, punk? Er, I mean: what is witpunk, anyway. 

Claude: witpunk is a state of mind.  It's also a book: an anthology of sardonic fiction.

The idea behind witpunk was to gather fiction that was fun to read, while having a strong sardonic attitude. And why do witpunk?-- because people are always complaining about how much fun things used to be, while ignoring all the fun stuff happening right now. witpunk combines the fun and the anger.  

SFRevu: Are the three horsemen of postmodern humor (Irony, Satire, and Sardonicism) dead, dying or just not allowed in politically correct company? And why?  

Claude:I don't think these things are dead at all.  That's what the anthology demonstrates.  All the authors in the book are active writers, and many of them are well-known for their sardonic fiction: Don Webb, Paul Di Filippo, William Sanders, Ernest Hogan, Ray Vukcevich, Pat Cadigan, Eugene Byrne, James Morrow, etc., etc. These folks are far from dead, and their sense of humour is deadly and pertinent.  

SFRevu: Are they bad for us?  

Claude:They're good for us.  They're bad for the status quo.  

SFRevu: Say something nice about your Co-Editor, Marty Halpern. Or not, if you think that would be more interesting. How did you two work together?   

Claude: Marty is one of the nicest guys in the world.  A real pro.  A hard worker.  And a stickler for details, as all good editors should be. As to how we worked...  We both read the stories independently, then we compared notes.  Most of the time, we fully agreed.  But there was a little negotiation, a little give and take... That's inevitable.  

SFRevu: How did you get such a great lineup of talent? I nearly fell down after reading Allen Steele's The Teb Hunter, longed to visit the city of light in Cory Doctorow's I Love Paree, and never knew Robert Silverberg was really a cranky teenage girl under that debonair guise. 

Claude: We made up a list of writers whose work we felt was representative of the range of styles and approaches we wanted to book to showcase.  And then we asked them.  Most of them said yes.  A few others heard about it through the grapevine and asked to be on board.  And I had access to a few stories from an aborted anthology project for a publisher who shall remain nameless. And, yeah, I remember the first time I read Bob Silverberg's "Amanda and the Alien"  -- who knew that he could be so funny?  That story just had to be in the book.  

SFRevu: Who are the firstimers in witpunk? Who should we keep an eye out for? (That reminds me of a story about a bionic prostitute in Montreal…but we’ll save that for another day.)  

Claude: There are two first-time writers in the book:  Elise Moser and Michael Arsenault.  Both Montrealers.  I'm also a Montrealer, so there might be a connection there. In fact, there are three stories by Montrealers in witpunk.  I sent Marty four stories by Montreal writers, and I waited for his comments before chiming in.  It turned out we agreed which were the top three, and we decided to use those three. As to who to keep an eye out for... you should keep an eye out for all the witpunk authors.  They're all such witpunky writers.

SFRevu: But enough about witpunk. What about you? What's next (and last) for Claude Lalumière

Claude: My next two anthologies will be Open Space: New Canadian Fantastic Fiction (Red Deer Press) and Island Dreams: Montreal Writers of the Fantastic (Véhicule Press) -- both all-new and both launching at the 2003 WorldCon in Toronto.  That's what I'm working on most intensely right now.

Aside from that, Interzone published three of my stories in the last year.  My story from The Book of More Flesh, "The Ethical Treatment of Meat", is a final nominee for this year's Origins Awards.  My story "Njàbò" is coming up in On Spec.

But I'm most known for my criticism.  I've got a monthly column at Locus Online; for The Montreal Gazette, I write a column called Fantastic Fiction , which, beginning this month, is being archived online at www.infinityplus.co.uk; I'm the comics columnist at Black Gate; and reviews of mine will start appearing in Flesh & Blood as of #13, later this year; etc.

I have a few other anthology projects in the works, but nothing I can talk about yet.

The Montreal launch of witpunk will be held at The McGill Bookstore 4/17/03
Mingle with the witpunks!
Oh, the excitement of it all! 

When:
17 April 2003, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Where:3420 McTavish Street,
across from the McGill campus
Attending: coeditor Claude Lalumière and contributors Laurent McAllister (a.k.a. Yves Meynard & Jean-Louis Trudel), Elise Moser, and Michael Arsenault.
(Other authors TBD.)

SFRevu: When was your first time? I mean reading SF, and was it a life changing experience? 

Claude: I honestly don't remember.  But the first writers to give me a real thrill were Philip José Farmer and Roger Zelazny.  They both touched something in me in a way that inspired me to want to be a writer also -- and made me want to discover more writers who could give me the kind of ineffable experience that some of their work provoked in me.  And then I found Silverberg, Lafferty, Tiptree, Sturgeon, Ballard, Shepard, and the 1980s Interzone crowd -- and so many more -- all big influences that shaped my worldview and my esthetics of fiction.
 
SFRevu: How has your reading changed over since then? What turns you on now?

Claude:I used to finish everything I started.  But now, I'm more impatient.

Above all, I like fiction that surprises me.  I don't want to read the same thing all the time. Current authors I like a lot include Lucius Shepard, Paul Di Filippo, Ray Vukcevich, Shelley Jackson, Chuck Palahniuk, Christopher Moore, Kim Newman, Neal Stephenson... and many more. J.G. Ballard, always and forever.

Right now, I'm reading Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex, and that's such an amazing novel, so compellingly written.

SFRevu: Is this the future? Is there a future yet to come? Should we be afraid? Very Afraid?  

Claude: We should laugh at those who want to make us afraid, at those who want to steal the future -- laugh at them until they cringe and cower in shame.

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