How To Talk To Girls At Parties
April 18, 2007 3:48 AM   Subscribe

The reading is about half an hour long, and excellent. Also, read this year's other Hugo award nominees for best short story.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 3:50 AM on April 18, 2007

Hey, I just read all these in this years Best SF anthology! 8 Episodes was particularly interesting. So was the Cartesian Theater one (that's not what it was called, though). I don't think I "got" either of them, sadly, but whatev.
posted by DU at 4:12 AM on April 18, 2007

I went to a live reading of Wolves in the Walls with Gaiman (and McKean present as well). The man not only writes well, but he can read a story perfectly.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:27 AM on April 18, 2007

Great story.
For some reason it reminded me a little of William Gibson's 'The Belonging Kind.' They evoke the same sort of feelings, I guess.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:29 AM on April 18, 2007

I think in his own roundabout way, Gaiman has perfectly captured every party I've ever been to, from highschool until present day.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 5:09 AM on April 18, 2007

You have to wonder who would ask for water at a teenage party.
posted by gsteff at 5:45 AM on April 18, 2007

Slightly off topic, but thought I might relay a Neil Gaiman story...

A good friend of mine (and massive Neil Gaiman fan) went to a reading he gave in Sydney last year (or the year before possibly). When it came time for questions, somebody asked him if he'd ever considered making Sandman into a movie. He replied by saying that Hollywood had expressed quite a bit of interest once, but that there were a lot of script issues. It's the work he's the most proud of, and didn't want it to be marred by some cheesy Hollywood production (he once said "I'd rather no Sandman movie got made than a bad Sandman movie"). But he did look at some screenplays.

He described a meeting he had once where the writer/producer/director/whatever was describing a scene in the movie-to-be in which Morpheus was surrounded by the entire might of the US military, with Morpheus telling them "your weapons are futile".

At that point, Gaiman walked out of the room.

/ends derail/

Thanks for this. I love Gaiman's work. This is no exception.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:58 AM on April 18, 2007 [4 favorites]

Hmm. Seems kind awkward to me? Like he punched a bunch of really strong emotional instigators into a text and then wrapped them into a poetic sort of mistiness and figured, "there we go, I'm done."

Or I could have no taste. There's that too. Did enjoy reading it.
posted by Firas at 6:04 AM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Specifically, the budding young adult thing resonated pretty strongly with me but the whole diction and concept of the aliens and their myth etc. seemed like it didn't really belong in this particular story.
posted by Firas at 6:05 AM on April 18, 2007

I liked it, a lot; the surreal edge and the way it goes completely unquestioned, as though you don't have to understand a word someone says in order to get off with them.
posted by Acey at 6:15 AM on April 18, 2007

Gaiman was the perfect person to write Sandman, because he has hundreds of beautiful images and ideas and mysteries jostling around in his head and has a talent for capturing them in words -- he's the only writer I've ever read who does justice to a world of dreams personified.

Unfortunately, he's not very good at lassoing all of these things into any other kind of story. His characters inevitably drown in the torrent of imagery and mystery, and wind up flat and dull.

Gaiman's novels and short stories that I've read, while enjoyable, have never managed to acheive the balance of fantasy and character development that quality genre fiction should have. He did a fine job of it with Sandman, and I suspect that's because he had 75 issues to fill.

I would be super-excited if he would let the elves and aliens go a little and engage in some Gabriel Garcia-Marquez magical realism -- other fantasy / sci-fi authors have dabbled in that before (cf. Ian McDonald's Desolation Road), but Gaiman would hit something like that out of the park.
posted by xthlc at 6:21 AM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

The thing I like about stories like this is that most things (girls included) were that strange when I was a teenager. Nothing that happens to me now is anywhere near as exciting or baffling — but I guess showing up at a party full of aliens from a dying race would come close.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:28 AM on April 18, 2007

It seemed like Dream was off in a corner of the story, being all emo and pretty.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:40 AM on April 18, 2007

great post, thanks.
posted by nasreddin at 6:56 AM on April 18, 2007

For the first time that evening I recognized one of the songs being played in the front room. A sad saxophone wail followed by a cascade of liquid chords, a man’s voice singing cut- up lyrics about the sons of the silent age.

Holy crap, man, I love Bowie, and I didn't realize that he was writing a story about the boys in this song until he positioned this little gem at the end of it. Brilliant. I had to reread the story with that song playing.
posted by thanotopsis at 7:16 AM on April 18, 2007

Is this something I'd need a book to understand?
posted by Kwantsar at 7:58 AM on April 18, 2007

Good catch thanotopsis.

As usual a great little story from Gaiman.

My favorite Gaiman is American Gods.

Thanks for the post hoverboards. BTW, does your name derive from the Uglies, Pretties, Specials trilogy?
posted by nofundy at 8:00 AM on April 18, 2007

Great story, thanks! I always thought Gaiman's strength was in his short stories, rather than his novels. Now, i'll have to look up that Bowie song....
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 8:12 AM on April 18, 2007

"Sons Of The Silent Age"
by David Bowie
from the album "Heroes"
Released October 14, 1977

Sons of the silent age
Stand on platforms
blank looks and note books
Sit in back rows
of city limits
Lay in bed coming
and going on easy terms
Sons of the silent age
Pace their rooms
like a cell's dimensions
Rise for a year or two
then make war
Search through their one inch thoughts
Then decide it couldn't be done

Baby, I'll never let you go
All I see is all I know
Let's find another way down
(sons of sound and sons of sound)
Baby, baby, I'll never let you down
I can't stand another sound
Let's take another way in
(sons of sound and sons of sound)

Sons of the silent age
Listen to tracks by Sam Therapy
and King Dice
Sons of the silent age
Pick up in bars
and cry only once
Sons of the silent age
Make love only once
but dream and dream
They don't walk,
they just glide in and out of life
They never die,
they just go to sleep one day


(Sons of sound and sons of sound)
Baby, baby, baby, fire away!

posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 8:19 AM on April 18, 2007

Wait, Morpheus? I remember Morpheus. He was a Frank Miller Moon Knight villain from the 1981 of my youth. Gaiman wrote a book about him? Cool! Does Bill Sienkiewicz do the art?
posted by breezeway at 8:24 AM on April 18, 2007

posted by kisch mokusch at 8:30 AM on April 18, 2007

Well, sure, that's the mythological origin of the name, but in the world of comic books, Morpheus was already taken, and he even seems to have had similar powers. Sure, the name "Morpheus" suggests certain attributes, but Miller used it first. Maybe that's why Gaiman had to call him "Sandman."

It would be hard to come out with a comic book character named "Thor" and claim that he had nothing to do with the existing comic book character, "Thor," and was only based on Norse mythology.

I recommend those old Moon Knight comics highly. Ahead of their time, with frequent art by one of the true masters of the form and writing by some of the best.
posted by breezeway at 8:57 AM on April 18, 2007

It would be hard to come out with a comic book character named "Thor" and claim that he had nothing to do with the existing comic book character, "Thor," and was only based on Norse mythology.

Ha. That's exactly what Gaiman did in the Sandman series. Thor is a recurring character (bit of an idiot, from memory).

Gaiman gave Dream several names (also, for example, Onieros). All his stuff is heavily influenced by mythology (American Gods illustrates just how well read he is on the beliefs of a vast range of cultures). So although Alan Moore's Constantine did make a brief appearance in Sandman, the character of Morpheus isn't Frank Miller's (haven't read the Moon Knight comics, but going to have to now!), it's just Dream.
posted by kisch mokusch at 9:27 AM on April 18, 2007

Acey and nebulawindphone, precisely. And Gaiman really knows his target audience, because what true SF geek wouldn't find talking to aliens easier than to girls?

nofundy, it's from Back to the Future Part II (Act 2 Scene 28!).
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 9:32 AM on April 18, 2007

Huh, kisch mokusch, that's interesting. Maybe I'll have to check out this "Sandman." I was just being a noodge about the Moon Knight thing. My real aim was to get more people to read MK. Start from the beginning - the origins of Moon Knight are the coolest thing a ten-year old me could have read.
posted by breezeway at 9:42 AM on April 18, 2007

@breezeway: IIRC, Gaimen's sandman series WAS loosely a remake of this sandman comic from the 70's...
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 11:02 AM on April 18, 2007

Not really a remake. But he did include that character in his Sandman series. And he plays a pivotal, if brief, role.
posted by Happy Monkey at 11:23 AM on April 18, 2007

Maybe I'm the only one, but I sort of felt like the whole alien-girls thing was more of an unspoken metaphor that just played to his strengths as a SF writer. Like, the girls were real girls, but as he remembers them at the time, they were as confident, vulnerable, and inscrutable as any alien being (or universal being, or multi-faceted abstract concept) would be.

I personally loved it. At that age, talking to girls at parties, it was exactly like that. Not understanding a word they were talking about, but just going along for the ride because, as long as they were talking to me, I was doing okay. And then, of course, the more experienced friend gets a little too far, and the whole experience seems disturbing and alien to him as well.

Thanks for the link, hdwow.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:53 PM on April 18, 2007

So I downloaded these to listen to on the way home, but on my MP3 player, the audio is slowed down. Like playing a 45RPM record at 33!

Has anyone else had this happen?

They play fine with the mp3 player (xmms) on my computer and they play fine with mplayer. They also play fine off the mp3 player (attached as a drive) through the players on the computer

There has to be something in the files that the mp3 software on the player doesn't agree with.

the cynical side of me wants to think that this is some sort of weird DRM or prank, but hell how hard can it be to reencode these?

Oh yeah, does anyone know the mplayer command line that will reencode these?
posted by mmrtnt at 12:56 PM on April 18, 2007

Great story. Love Gaiman. This is also in his very good recent collection Fragile Things which is worth a read.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 2:33 PM on April 18, 2007

Like he punched a bunch of really strong emotional instigators into a text and then wrapped them into a poetic sort of mistiness and figured, "there we go, I'm done."

I kind of felt that way, too, though I still enjoyed it. Maybe Neil was just born to write Sandman, and everything else is merely an echo of this purpose.

Well, that and Neverwhere. That was a great book.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:59 PM on April 18, 2007

Okay. Figured it out, in case anyone's wondering.

The MP3s were encoded at 11025Hz. I had to transcode them to 44.1kHz.

The mplayer command is:

mplayer -vo null -vc dummy -af resample=44100 htttagap4.mp3 -ao pcm:file=htttagap4.wav

This turns them into WAVs and then you can use lame to turn them back.

lame -h htttagap1.wav htttagap1.mp3

(There's probably a way to do it without going through the wav conversion, but I'm done fighting this particular battle for today)
posted by mmrtnt at 3:07 PM on April 18, 2007

Didn’t much like American Gods, but yeah, Gaiman’s knowlege is encyclopedic.
I like his short stories better. This is very good.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:12 PM on April 18, 2007

Also of interest is an mp3 audiobook of Rude Mechanicals which is a short novel (novella?) from the criminally under-read The Company series by Kage Baker. It's damn good and (I think) any fan of Gaiman's would definetly like her.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 4:35 PM on April 18, 2007

As someone else mentioned, this isn't so much about sci-fi aliens as it is about how alien girls are to many young men--complete mysteries who might as well be from another planet. (Of course, no one has told you the secret of Penis Power at that point, either.)
posted by maxwelton at 4:44 PM on April 18, 2007

Er... science fiction is often metaphorical...
posted by Justinian at 6:28 PM on April 18, 2007

Nice use of Bowie. It wasn't specifically mentioned in the story, but I felt that Starman was a strong implicit subtext:

There's a starman waiting in the sky
He'd like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds

posted by UbuRoivas at 7:02 PM on April 18, 2007

Navelgazer: Maybe I'm the only one, but I sort of felt like the whole alien-girls thing was more of an unspoken metaphor that just played to his strengths as a SF writer.

Well, sure. I guess I was mostly turned off by the what I felt was a gimmicky climax where we don't know what the hell Vic was running from—and call me nuts, but: "I think there’s a thing. When you’ve gone as far as you dare. And if you go any further, you wouldn’t be you anymore?" seems a bit too articulate for a 15-year-old who's just finished rushing through streets after some disturbing shock.

I thought the conversation between Enn and Wain was the one that seemed out of place. I totally gelled with the later part with Triolet (“It’s a verse form,” she said, proudly. “Like me.”), because yes, you don't care what the hell they're on about at that point.

The story has some great turns of phrase—the touch of humour when Wain says, "I may not breed" to which he replies, "Well. Bit early for that anyway, isn’t it?"—also "where does contagion end and art begin"—and especially, "You wouldn’t want to make a universe angry. I bet an angry universe would look at you with eyes like that."

It also verges on surreality, maybe even magic realism, when he goes to fetch a glass of water, and then randomly offers it to the other girl ("this mug of water’s going spare", at which she nods that she'll drink it.)

And amen to what Uther Bentrazor said re: perfectly capturing every party he'd ever been to…the "I didn’t say that I only tried [Pernod] because I’d heard someone in the crowd ask for a Pernod on a live Velvet Underground LP" just cuts to the core of how our identities are formed when it comes to these things.

And of course the whole rest of the scene with Troika is sublime and poetic.

Having read them all now I'd say the Gaman piece is an easy contender for top honours; I'd say it's my second choice, with my favourite being Kin (Bruce McAllister). Third place for me: The House Beyond Your Sky by Benjamin Rosenbaum (completely different style.)

DU, I don't think there's really much to get in Robert Reed's Eight Episodes… it's fairly open to interpretation (actually what I really think is that the author is being too clever for the story's good.)

And Tim Pratt's Impossible Dreams just reads like a nerdy wish-fulfillment fantasy? It's the shallowest of the bunch methinks. But I guess there's only so much you can ask of short stories that are so short—just a peek into a moment in time.
posted by Firas at 4:32 AM on April 19, 2007

There's probably a way to do it without going through the wav conversion

OT: I don't think there is. Your method is the fastest and most elegant way I know of.

posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 3:48 PM on April 19, 2007

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