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Darwin Day 2011

The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, and Evolution is now available in print!

To celebrate the launch of the print edition, all formats come with a free copy of the ebook! Details on how to claim your ebook will be sent when you purchase any copy of the book.

Thanks to all who entered the favourite adaptation competition. Congratulations to Thoraiya Dyer (bioluminescence), Rhett Talley (moral signalling), and OJ Lesslar (the foreskin), who win a print copy of The Tangled Bank. Everyone else still has the chance to win a copy of the ebook by following @thetangledbank on Twitter.


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Interview with Sean Williams

Last week I had a great chat with Helen Venn over at Egoboo WA on being a writer, editor, and publisher, and in particular how The Tangled Bank came together.

This week, I’m catching up with Tangled Bank contributor Sean Williams, whose haiku sequence structures the book, to discuss his contribution and the nature of haiku.

Sean needs little introduction. A #1 New York Times-bestselling Australian speculative fiction writer, he is the author of seventy-five published short stories and thirty-five novels, been nominated for the Ditmar, the Aurealis and the prestigious Philip K Dick Award for Saturn Returns, and been published around the world in numerous languages, on-line, and in spoken word editions. He also writes poetry: his first published haiku appeared on a pair of Y-fronts, and his commissioned poem “Reflection on Water” became the centrepiece of the new welcoming soundscape of the Adelaide Zoo.

CHRIS: Your haiku sequence has a great title: “The Origin of Haiku By Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Renga in the Struggle for Meaning”. It captures both the intricacy of the sequence and the juxtaposition of haiku and evolution. The title is obviously a play on the full title of Origin of Species, but could you start with a quick explanation of the structure and content of the sequence? You can probably explain it better than I can.

SEAN: Thanks, Chris.  I can try!  My intention with this sequence is to provide a map of Darwin’s wonderful book, chapter by chapter, using his own phrases to capture the arguments he was working through–while at the same time following the slow change of the haiku form down the centuries.  It struck me as a strange and exciting idea when it first came to me, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  Darwin wrote passionately about nature, and no other poetic form is as closely associated with nature as haiku.  Also, I’d been experimenting with using other people’s words to create new works (Gary Numan and Kim Wilkins are two others) so following that particular route too seemed appropriate.  Who better to sum up Darwin than Darwin himself?

The whole thing would never have come about but for the proposal you circulated in March of 2009.  One could say that putting together an anthology is itself an evolutionary process.  How does it feel (if you’ll forgive the fallacy) to be the Intelligent Designer of The Tangled Bank?

CHRIS: Your submission was the first I got–as I recall less than 24 hours after the call for submissions went out–so the sequence certainly came together quickly!

The idea for the anthology also came together very fast. I’d read about the 150th anniversary of Origin of Species, and the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, in February ’09. I did some searching for fiction projects connected to the anniversaries, and found a lot of non-fiction books and articles but no fiction. I didn’t think much of it at first, but the more I thought about it the more surprised I became. Before I knew it I’d typed up a proposal for The Tangled Bank. It was initially quite a daunting project to take on–how to suitably commemorate such an important book–but the enthusiasm of everyone who has got involved has made a huge difference to the final product. I feel less like an intelligent designer and more like someone putting together a puzzle, something with its own logic. Analogous I suppose to evolution in that I took what the world produced and pieced it together rather than designed something from scratch.

(I’ve since discovered several other fiction and poetry projects: Ecotone’s Evolution Issue, Origins: Tales of Human Evolution, Intelligent Design, and the poetry collections Darwin: A Life in Poems and The Darwin Poems, the last by Emily Ballou, who has a poem in The Tangled Bank.)

Your explanation of how the idea came to you strikes me as quite serendipitous–action and chance combining in the right person to create something new. I’m interested to know more about how haiku has evolved: is there an unchanging core, or is it quite different today from its ancestors?

SEAN: I’m no expert on haiku, but I’ve long had a fascination with the form and undertook a quick refresher course via the internet in order to see if the idea would work.  (“Quick” is the operative word here.  If I was going to submit something to your project–and I very much wanted to, because it was such a great idea–I had to squeeze the entire process between a couple of intense deadlines.)  Haiku has evolved through a wide variety of forms–from the vulgar renku and the prose hybrid haibun to modern versions like the single-lined monoku and repeating cirku–but all stay true to or at least start with the principle of brevity.  David G Lanoue’s definition of haiku as a thought that can be expressed in a single breath is, I think, the right one to start with, and I think the best scientific principles aspire to this kind of elegant sufficiency as well.  Human inventiveness being what it is, the form takes all sorts of weird turns from there.

My first thought, by the way, was to put the last, often misunderstood paragraph of Darwin’s masterwork into Babel Fish, over and over, to see what chance produced, but I soon discarded that idea.  It doesn’t embody the idea of fitness inherent in the theory of evolution.  Not that anything’s evolving “towards” a state of perfection: things just change, as the haiku form has changed.

That you are yourself a hokkist was a huge stroke of luck.  I imagine most editors would have taken one look at “The Origin of Haiku” and scratched their head, then quietly slipped it to the bottom of the pile!

CHRIS: Well, it was certainly the most unusual poetry submission, and it did take quite some thought to work out how best to incorporate it into the book. In the end, I decided to structure the entire anthology around the sequence, and I’m glad I did. The haiku, and the individual chapters of Origin of Species, influenced the selection of stories, poetry, and artwork, and the end result is, I hope, something that is both organic and in conversation with the idea of evolution.

Anyhow, thanks for the chat!

SEAN: You’re welcome–and Happy Darwin Day!


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Win a print copy of The Tangled Bank!

The print edition of The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, and Evolution launches in two weeks, on Darwin Day 2011.

To celebrate the launch, Tangled Bank Press is giving away THREE copies of the print edition! To win one, tell us your favourite evolutionary adaptation (real or imagined), in 50 words or less.

The three most interesting entries will win a copy of the print edition.

Post your entry either:

1. In the comments below; or

2. On the Tangled Bank Press Facebook Page under the “Discussions” tab.

The competition closes on 11 February at 5pm Australian EST (UTC+10). Winners will be announced on Darwin Day.


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The Tangled Bank in print!

It’s been a long time coming, but The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, and Evolution is about to be released in print! The print version will be available on Darwin Day, 12th Feb 2011.

Stay tuned for more news on the launch over the next few weeks.


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The Tangled Bank ePub edition released

The ePub edition of The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, and Evolution has just been released on Lulu.com for only $4.99. For anyone who likes to read ebooks on their iPhone or iPod Touch, this is the version for you. The ePub edition includes all content from the PDF edition in flowing text format.

Want both ePub and PDF? No problem: purchase of any digital edition includes the other digital edition free of charge. Lulu.com doesn’t yet support single purchase of multiformat editions, but simply forward your proof of purchase of a digital edition to thetangledbank (AT) gmail.com and we’ll send you the book in your requested format.

If you’d like to read the anthology in other formats such as .LIT or .MOBI (not supported on Lulu), we recommend purchasing the ePub edition and using the free e-reader Calibre to convert to your preferred format.

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The Tangled Bank: Introduction

This is the complete introduction to The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, and Evolution.

In the final lines of Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin wrote that “it is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank”. One-and-a-half centuries later, the nature of that tangled bank remains a source of contention, with dozens of recent books re-enacting the debates of late Victorian England. This despite the fact that the concept of evolution permeates every facet of modern biology and medicine, from our understanding of swine flu to fruit flies to the fanged bird-eating frog discovered last year in the Mekong delta of Thailand.

Given the significance of Origin of Species to science and the history of ideas, it’s surprising how little fiction writers—as opposed to non-fiction writers—marked the anniversary in 2009. Perhaps evolution just doesn’t sell. The oft-quoted statistic is that less than 40 per cent of Americans accept the scientific theory of evolution. A new film about Darwin’s life reportedly had trouble finding a US distributor. But other English-speaking countries fare little better; only about half of Australians and Britons accept the theory, for example.

And yet, there was an explosion of late nineteenth and early twentieth century novels and stories on the subject of evolution, most famously H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau, but also books by Conrad, Hardy, Stapledon, and others, stories which are still read and enjoyed today for their literary merit, if not their scientific accuracy. And as Brian Stableford and others have noted, the theory of evolution played an important role in the development of science fiction, by uncovering the deep abyss of geological time and thus encouraging thought of the far future.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that the three anthologies of evolution-inspired fiction published in the last year—Intelligent Design (DAW Books), Origins: Tales of Human Evolution (HadleyRille Books), and now The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, and Evolution—are all speculative fiction.

The Tangled Bank includes work by established writers like Brian Stableford, emerging writers like Christopher Green, and new writers like K.R. Sands, published here for the first time. The genres range from science fiction and fantasy to horror and fairy tales to literary and experimental fiction. True to its name, the anthology is bursting not only with stories, but also poetry and artwork. Sean Williams’s haiku sequence, The Origin of Haiku by Means of Natural Selection, consists of summaries of each of the chapters of Origin of Species using Darwin’s own reshuffled words. As well as serving as the backbone of the book, the haiku sequence also cleverly traces the evolution of the haiku from its oldest to its most recent forms. The haiku are accompanied by the nineteenth century art of the German naturalist and illustrator Ernst Haeckel, who coined the word ’ecology’. Philosopher Russell Blackford contributes an essay, “Science and the Sea of Faith”, on evolution, religion, and story-telling.

The anxieties of the age hover in the background of The Tangled Bank, but, as the book’s subtitle suggests, there is love and wonder in even the darkest places. Darwin agonised over the implications of his ideas for society, and yet his writing is shot through with wonder; it is no coincidence that more than one poet in this anthology uses Darwin’s own words. George Levine, in his book Darwin Loves You, describes Darwin as “one who refuses to minimize the cruelties of nature, but one who never loses a sense of its wonder, who never ceases finding objects of awe and natural reverence amidst its workings”. Even in a detailed, scientific description of the microscopic community living inside a barnacle, Darwin can’t help but exclaim at “the marvellous assemblage of beings seen by me within the sac”.

It is this Darwin that this anthology seeks to celebrate, and more generally a theory which continues to evolve and resonate down to the present day. As Blackford suggests in his essay, a scientific worldview may never provide existential sustenance for the majority of human beings. But, being human, writers and readers can’t help but try to bridge the gap between what is and what ought to be. We are, in the words of one of the stories contained within, “hopeful monsters”, the latest in a long line of survivors.

I hope you enjoy exploring The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, and Evolution.


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‘The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, and Evolution’ launched!

The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, and Evolution is now on sale.

The anthology, which marks the 150th anniversary of Origin of Species, features over 100,000 words of speculative fiction, poetry, artwork, and essays about evolution.

An international line up of more than 40 contributors includes Sean Williams, Brian Stableford, Patricia Russo, Carlos Hernandez, Christopher Green, and Bruce Boston.

Like a free peek inside? Check out Darwin’s Daughter, a darkly beautiful tale from 2009 Aurealis Award winner Christopher Green.

More information about additional editions, included ePub and POD, will be posted in the next couple of days.


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