Interview with Mumpsimus

Matthew Cheney: The Mumpsimus began in August of 2003 when I started reading science fiction and fantasy again after having not read any since the early years of college. I discovered that the field had changed in ways that interested me, because many newer writers both inside and outside the genre were interested in mixing material often seen as wholly part of either SF or wholly part of what for lack of a better phrase I’ll call the literary mainstream. I wanted a place to record some of my thoughts about what I was reading, and so I started the blog. Soon I discovered that many of my thoughts were contradictory, superficial, amorphous, absurd, and confused, but that, too, has been helpful to see.

I didn’t have any sense of audience other than myself for a while, and then it seemed suddenly that lots of people were paying attention, because my interests were similar enough to a few other people’s that they were interested in what I was up to. I think some people pegged me as a science fiction blogger early on and ended up being quite disappointed, but I’ve never been very good at living up to taxonomic expectations.

I don’t tend to think of the blog as a genre blog, because only a part of my reading life is spent reading genre fiction (not that I like the term “genre fiction”, but people seem to know what I mean when I use it, so I continue to do so). When possible, I try to keep The Mumpsimus unpredictable and eclectic. And because life sometimes gets busy, there are definitely fallow weeks and even months, such as right now.

Simon Owens: As someone who is involved with the Litblog Co-op, how effective do you think it is in promoting titles?

MC: Part of me recoils from the idea that we’re promoting anything, though in many ways we are. None of us can speak for the group as a whole, because we all have vastly different tastes and prejudices, but I know that through my participation in the group I have discovered books I would not have discovered otherwise, and some of them, including this quarter’s Other Electricities, Garner, and, especially, Divided Kingdom are books I am quite happy to have added to my reading life. I hope some visitors to the LBC can say the same.

SO: As a lit blogger who focuses more on genre topics, how have more mainstream lit bloggers responded to your work?

MC: Part of the experiment of The Mumpsimus is to show that the marketing categories of “fiction” and “science fiction/fantasy/horror” are, though sometimes useful, not inherently necessary. (Yes, I’m an inveterate postmodernist and anti-essentialist. Once something is labelled, my first instinct is to show ways the label is inadequate and inaccurate.) That I am listed on a wide variety of blogrolls of all sorts, from the most genre-oriented to the most genre-phobic, gives me a lot of satisfaction.

SO: How do your Strange Horizons columns differ from your Mumpsimus posts?

MC: The columns are more polished and direct than the blog, less likely to be just random thoughts I happened to think whilst feeling the need to create new content. By the time an idea makes its way to one of the columns, it’s likely to be one I am more willing to defend than the more ephemeral and experimental ideas I throw around on the blog.

A few people have told me they think the columns are more forceful and opinionated, more polemical than the blog. I’m not a very polemical person in reality, and because The Mumpsimus is more informal and frequent than the columns, glimpses of my everyday personality may come through more there. Sometimes I try to use the columns to finish a tentative or fragmentary line of thought I began with The Mumpsimus, or to alter or question ideas I had previously tossed out into the world.

SO: What are the five blogs everyone should be reading (besides your own)?

MC: I don’t think there are five or fifty or five hundred blogs everyone should be reading, but five (out of many) I value are:

Brutal Women: Kameron Hurley’s blog about writing, feminism, science fiction, life, etc.

Waggish: Thoughtful perspectives on serious literature and film, among other things.


Ron Silliman
: Mostly about poetry, often with long and thoughtful posts. Excellent posts about movies now and then, too.

Asking the Wrong Questions: Abigail Nussbaum’s blog contains insightful and thoughtful posts about books and TV shows and other things. Of newer blogs, this is one I particularly admire.

Notes from the Geek Show: Hal Duncan’s rants about everything are rich and wild and magnificent. It’s a work of some sort of genius, though I’m not sure what sort…

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