"Buffalo Noir," Scott Adlerberg, and Chandler's Lasting Impression on Science Fiction
Steph Cha, the Los Angeles Review of Books' noir editor, interviewed Ed Park—"Korean-American novelist, editor, and proud, affectionate Buffalo native"—who oversaw Buffalo Noir, a collection of twelve grim stories set in New York's second most populous city.
Curious? You should be. Here's Park on the collection:
"Noir is a mood, a stance, a way of seeing, but there’s no single right way of expressing it. The voices here work in different registers: grim, gossipy, jaded, detached. I think it would get tiring to read a dozen stories that all affected the same tone, but taken together, they work as a definition of the term coined on the cover: Buffalo noir. As for the local angle, I keep thinking of Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo ’66—a perfectly executed noir vision of his hometown. It was chilly, intense, absurd, and monomaniacal, built around the city’s other primal wound: the “wide right” field goal miss in Super Bowl XXV. Put another way, a review of our anthology mentioned a recent moniker for Buffalo that’s apropos: The City of No Illusions. That’s pure noir."
And honestly, if you're a fan of noir and aren't all about the Los Angeles Review of Books, I'm not sure what's going on, but you should fix it. Absolutely some of the best writing and coverage of noir. Case in point: Alex Segura's interview with Scott Adlerberg, author of Graveyard Love. Some snippets:
"There’s one thing that I did really try to keep in mind throughout the book, to keep sex and death linked, close, page after page after page, as a kind of thematic thread, if that doesn’t sound too pompous—and that’s a coupling I’ve long been fascinated by, going back to when I first discovered my favorite painters, the old surrealists. Dali, Magritte, Paul Delvaux, and on and on. If I could get a little of that quality of menace and fright and weirdness mixed with sexual desire that they show, the idea of the attraction to something that might kill you, the idea of l'amour fou, mad love, which is not a romantic love at all and pretty much indistinguishable from psycho stalking. All core ideas of the surrealists."
"The main goal was to have a narrator’s voice that’s obsessive and, hopefully, compelling. There was a challenge in writing a narrator who repeats himself, as obsessive people tend to do, and digresses sometimes as he narrates but whose storytelling, for the reader’s sake, remains tight and forward-driven. That was something I worked hard to get, and I hope I did. Besides that, it’s the old thing: whether you like a character a lot or not, the important thing really is you have to understand where that character is coming from."
When you hear the name Raymond Chandler, you think the accidental inventor of Google, right? In a 1953 letter to his editor, H.N. Swanson, Chandler parodied science fiction, where the name "Google" shows up 45 years before its inception—Chandler even makes 1953's Google sound a little like our own, despite gendering it: "I had exactly four seconds to hot up the disintegrator and Google had told me it wasn't enough. He was right."
Chandler's feelings about science fiction aren't exactly unknown in the sci-fi community, which makes Adam Christopher's Made to Kill all the more interesting. Lit Hub notes that Christopher hoped that Made to Kill would feel like "Raymond Chandler’s long-lost science fiction epic." (While I understand the impulse, I'm not sure that Chandler would have gone for an "epic.") Though, as Lit Hub points out, Christopher is far from the only author to try to bridge Chandler's world of detectives and the sci-fi genre he mocked. Jonathan Lethem told the Paris Review that he'd tried to find "the exact midpoint between Dick and Chandler" in his novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, a hardboiled piece of speculative fiction whose armed kangaroo features prominently on many of the book's covers.
Unsurprisingly, Chandler's words, even his harsher ones, live on—though to some writers of science fiction, the words of that 1953 letter exist as a challenge to find the liminal spaces between the noir-ish detective story Chandler championed and the science fiction landscape he lampooned. Not a bad reaction.