The Completist: Jeffrey Ford’s THE WELL-BUILT CITY

Strange landscapes, thinking about and manipulating the world in inventive ways, creatures not of this world … these are just some elements which can be hallmarks of the fantasy genre.  Jeffrey Ford has built a reputation on imagining stories on the border of reality and fantasy, real and surreal.  One of my favorite trilogies published in the past fifteen years is his Well Built City trilogy, consisting of The Physiognomy, Memoranda, and The Beyond, which has the gravitas of fable and hints of parable and surface which covers a world of deep imagination.  The series was initially published by Harper Collins’s then SF imprint, EOS books every two years, 1997, 1999, and 2001.
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Edited by John Joseph Adams and published by TOR, The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination features all original, all nefarious, all conquering tales from the megalomaniacal pens of Diana Gabaldon, Austin Grossman, Seanan McGuire, Naomi Novik, Daniel H. Wilson and 17 OTHER EVIL GENIUSES.

The book description is this:

Mad scientists have never had it so tough. In super-hero comics, graphic novels, films, TV series, video games and even works of what may be fiction, they are besieged by those who stand against them, devoid of sympathy for their irrational, megalomaniacal impulses to rule, destroy or otherwise dominate the world as we know it.

We asked a few of the authors a couple of questions…

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Edited by John Joseph Adams and published by TOR, The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination features all original, all nefarious, all conquering tales from the megalomaniacal pens of Diana Gabaldon, Austin Grossman, Seanan McGuire, Naomi Novik, Daniel H. Wilson and 17 OTHER EVIL GENIUSES.

The book description is this:

Mad scientists have never had it so tough. In super-hero comics, graphic novels, films, TV series, video games and even works of what may be fiction, they are besieged by those who stand against them, devoid of sympathy for their irrational, megalomaniacal impulses to rule, destroy or otherwise dominate the world as we know it.

We asked a few of the authors a couple of questions…

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This Strange and Mercurial World: Jeffrey Ford’s Crackpot Palace

After talking so abstractly about criticism last week, I felt that delving into a book was necessary for this week’s column. My choice is Jeffrey Ford’s Crackpot Palace, a book about which I am sure I could pen a lengthy thesis. It is his most recent collection of stories and demonstrates his versatility as a writer, ranging from SF and heroic fantasy to unsettling surrealism and earthy realism. To show my bias from the start, I think it is one of the best short story collections of the year, even though a few of the stories fell flat for me. Ford applies his prodigious writing skills to the creation of stories whose fantastical elements seduce and disrupt the reader’s expectations. Ford can read like great American literature or SFnal pulp, but there are always shadows and depths that run through his tales, and they can be treacherous or enlightening as you fall into them.

Regardless of any genre affectations or fantastical content, life is inherently strange in Ford’s stories. One of Ford’s great strengths is that his writing slyly leads you to embrace what is happening, not by normalizing the strange and marvelous but by creating a tone that makes the fantastic inseparable from the seemingly innocuous writing. To be anchored to the illogic of the world presented, the reader must not merely see through a character’s eyes so much as coalesce how they experience and shape the story of the world being told. A sense of place is channeled through the characters’ actions and responses to be felt and assembled by the reader. This is not a unique method of creating a feeling of being elsewhere in a story, but Ford is particularly masterful at its execution.

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Jeffrey Ford is the author of the novels The Physiognomy, Memoranda, The Beyond, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, The Girl in the Glass, and The Shadow Year, and his short fiction has been published in four collections: The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant, The Empire of Ice Cream, The Drowned Life, Crackpot Palace. He has won the World Fantasy Award, the Nebula Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and the Gran Prix de l’Imaginare. Formerly a college teacher in New Jersey, Jeff now lives in Ohio with his wife and two sons, and writes full-time. You can learn more about his work at www.well-builtcity.com.

Photo credit: Eric Rosenfield

SF Signal had the opportunity to talk with several authors involved in the new anthology, After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and featuring stories asking: If the melt-down, flood, plague, the third World War, new Ice Age, Rapture, alien invasion, clamp-down, meteor, or something else entirely hit today, what would tomorrow look like? Some of the biggest names in YA and adult literature answer that very question in this short story anthology, each story exploring the lives of teen protagonists raised in catastrophe’s wake—whether set in the days after the change, or decades far in the future.


CHARLES TAN: How would you define Dyslit or what are its essential characteristics?

JEFFREY FORD: Dystopias germinate from some deep dissatisfaction with the status quo.  In some ways they’re like desert island stories, because often the protagonist is castaway in a society she has essential, fundamental differences with.  Conflict ensues.  There’s survival in a harsh environment and a certain loneliness, even though there are occasionally compatriots.  Like Robinson Crusoe, it’s oneself against the world, whether the character is out to restore the past or change the future.  It also strikes me that as much as they might seem prophetic in hindsight, effective dystopias are always about the time they are written in.  I always see people writing that Orwell’s 1984 was a warning to the future.  The hell with the future, he was writing about the moment, using another place and time ( a fantasy — like most utopias) to discuss the here and now.  It just so happens he picked a theme that continues to resonate — the manipulation of information as a tool of power for creating or maintaining a hierarchy.  The politics of class, race, gender figure prominently in dystopias.  Absurdity is the humor of this form.  Dystopias offer the prospect of new beginnings.
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Jeffrey Ford’s stunning new collection of short fiction, Crackpot Palace, was published in August 2012, to great critical acclaim. It features twenty excursions into the weird and fantastic, including one never-before published story, The Wish Head. Ford is an American Fantasy, Science Fiction and Mystery writer. His work is characterized by a sweeping imaginative power, humor, literary allusion, and a fascination with tales told within tales. He is a graduate of Binghamton University, where he studied with the novelist John Gardner.  He lives in southern New Jersey and teaches writing and literature at Brookdale Community College in Monmouth County. He has also taught at the summer Clarion Workshop for science fiction and fantasy writers in Michigan. He has contributed stories, essays and interviews to various magazines and e-magazines including MSS, Puerto Del Sol, Northwest Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Argosy, Event Horizon, Infinity Plus, Black Gate and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Photo credit: Eric Rosenfield

As a long-time Jeffrey Ford reader (and probably the only one to make a t-shirt based on one of his short stories, the eponymous entry in the The Drowned Life) Alvaro Zinos-Amaro had nine questions for Jeff upon finishing Crackpot Palace. Admittedly, these are slightly offbeat questions, in some cases only tangentially related to the stories; crackpot questions, one might say.  SF Signal is happy to present these questions, as well as Jeffrey Ford’s answers, for our readers today.


Alvaro Zinos-Amaro: What inspired “The Wish Head” (other than the publication of Crackpot Palace and the opportunity to add a brand new story to it)?

Jeffrey Ford: I read this book a while ago titled A Brief History of the Smile by Angus Trumble, and in that book Trumble tells the story of L’Inconnue de la Seine (the unknown woman of the Seine). In addition to that historical tale, I added my vision of upstate New York in the autumn, and a time when the old factories built along the Susquehanna were caught in the grip of the great Depression.

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TOC: ‘Crackpot Palace’ by Jeffrey Ford

Jeffrey Ford has posted the table of contents for his upcoming collection Crackpot Palace:

  1. “Polka dots and Moonbeams”
  2. “Down Atsion Road”
  3. “Sit the Dead”
  4. “The Seventh Expression of the Robot General”
  5. “86 Deathdick Road”
  6. “After Moreau”
  7. “The Hag’s Peak Affair”
  8. “The Coral Heart”
  9. “The Double of My Double Is Not My Double”
  10. “Daltharee”
  11. “Ganesha”
  12. “Every Richie There Is”
  13. “The Dream of Reason”
  14. “The War Between Heaven and Hell Wallpaper”
  15. “Relic”
  16. “Glass Eels”
  17. “The Wish Head”
  18. “Weiroot”
  19. “Dr. Lash Remembers”
  20. “Daddy Long Legs of the Evening”

SF Tidbits for 9/4/09

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SF Tidbits for 8/26/09

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