Saturday, June 25, 2005

A REVERIE FOR MISTER RAY - The Nonfiction of Michael Bishop

...reality isn’t always what it appears to be. Wonder sometimes breaks in. Magic, black and white, can transform the two-dimensional outlines of life into dauntingly solid arabesques. Beneath the placid surfaces of habit, regimentation, and order, fearful krakens lurk. The world is both more exciting and more terrible than we think, and fantasy—whether cinematic, literary, or dream-triggered—is a surefire open-sesame to its secret awesomeness.- From the essay "Children Who Survive," Michael Bishop

PS Publishing has just released Michael Bishop's A Reverie for Mister Ray, a compilation of his nonfiction from the past four decades, for which I was lucky enough to write the introduction. This is a wide-ranging collection of essays, reviews, humor, and autobiography. Gene Wolfe, Philip K. Dick, Andy Duncan, James Tiptree, Jr., and many others are the subject of Bishop's honest appraisal and discussion. The cover, by Jamie Bishop, is a rather amazing piece of work as well. And it should be noted that in addition to appreciating PS Publishing for putting out this 600-page volume, readers should also appreciate the efforts of Michael H. Hutchins, who maintains the Michael Bishop website and who edited this collection.

To give you a feel for this important collection, I'm excerpting part of my introduction below.



I first had a chance to talk to Michael Bishop at the 1998 Slipstream Conference in La Grange, Georgia, but I had really met him years before through his fiction—countless short stories and, in particular, the novel The Secret Ascension. What I loved about his fiction was its restless curiosity about the world, as well as its sharpness, often disguised under a disarmingly gentle veneer. I always felt, when reading a piece of fiction by Bishop, an underlying honesty, even in his most experimental or structurally complex works.

That Mike in person was unfailingly generous, polite, inquisitive, a good listener, and an excellent host may seem incidental to his writing, but what I took from that first meeting was a sense of balance—here was a writer whose life and work were in harmony. The life and the work matched, to the benefit of both.

Now, it’s certainly not true that this is always the case. Many an excellent writer turns out to be a bastard in person, or ridiculously eccentric, or a plain old bore—which is why we have come up with the idea of the writer who “leaves the best part of him or herself on the page.” This is a polite way of excusing the writer for being such poor company in the flesh.

With Mike, there is none of this nonsense. Likewise, the sense of balance and honesty not only extends from his person into his fiction, but into his nonfiction.

In his nonfiction, Mike finds the universal in the personal, displays a highly-developed sense of curiosity (which is one indication of a person’s love for the world and those who inhabit it), weds an at times disarmingly informal style to incisive analysis, showcases the redemptive power of the imagination, remains defiantly un-cynical but also not naively optimistic, and manages to level criticisms in his book reviews in a way that gets the point across while removing any personal animus or heat from those comments. (When Mike writes of a character in Jonathan Carroll’s The Wooden Sea that “You couldn’t hate this guy if he handcuffed and booked you for a seatbelt violation,” he could as well have been describing himself.)

His style in these essays and reviews is sure [and]...light enough to avoid the didactic, the overbearing, and, above all, the senselessness of the polemic.


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