Olsen, Lance 1956- (Lance M. Olsen)
Olsen, Lance 1956- (Lance M. Olsen)
Born October 14, 1956, in Englewood, NJ; son of Martin (a sea captain) and Violet (a nurse) Olsen; married Andrea (an artist) January 3, 1981. Education: University of Wisconsin—Madison, B.A. (with honors), 1978; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1980; University of Virginia, M.A., Ph.D., 1985.
University of Kentucky, Lexington, assistant professor of English, 1985-90; University of Idaho, Moscow, professor of English, 1990-2001. Idaho writer-in-residence, 1996-98; University of Utah, Salt Lake City, professor of English, 2007—.
Finalist for Philip K. Dick Award, 1995; Pushcart Prize, 1998; Fulbright fellowship to Turku, Finland, 2000; Science Fiction Research Association Pioneer Award, 2003; NEA fellowship, 2006.
Ellipse of Uncertainty: An Introduction to Postmodern Fantasy, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1987.
Circus of the Mind in Motion: Postmodernism and the Comic Vision, Wayne State University Press (Detroit, MI), 1990.
Live from Earth (novel), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1990.
William Gibson, Starmont House (Mercer Island, WA), 1992.
My Dates with Franz (stories), Bluestone Press (Amherst, MA), 1993.
(With Jeff Worley) Natural Selections (poetry chapbook), Still Waters Press (Galloway Township, NJ), 1993.
Tonguing the Zeitgeist (novel), Permeable Press (San Francisco, CA), 1994.
Scherzi, I Believe (stories), Wordcraft of Oregon (La Grande, OR), 1994.
Lolita: A Janus Text ("Masterwork Study" series), Twayne (New York, NY), 1995.
Burnt (novel), Wordcraft of Oregon (La Grande, OR), 1996.
Time Famine (novel), Permeable Press (San Francisco, CA), 1996.
Rebel Yell: A Short Guide to Fiction Writing, Cambrian Press (San Jose, CA), 1998.
Sewing Shut My Eyes (stories), illustrations by Andi Olsen, FC2/Black Ice (Tallahassee, FL), 2000.
Freaknest (novel), Wordcraft of Oregon (La Grande, OR), 2000.
Girl Imagined by Chance (novel), FC2/Black Ice (Tallahassee, FL), 2002.
Nietzsche's Kisses, FC2 (Normal, IL), 2006.
Anxious Pleasures: A Novel after Kafka, Shoemaker & Hoard (Emeryville, CA), 2007.
Lance Olsen is a practitioner of what he has called "postmodern fantasy." He has been compared to William Burroughs and Thomas Pynchon and has written a study of cyberpunk fiction writer William Gibson. Although Olsen's works include academic studies in speculative and innovative fiction, he is better known for the short stories and novels which "have earned Olsen his avant-pop reputation," according to critic Peter Donahue in the Review of Contemporary Fiction.
In his first novel, Live from Earth, Olsen tells the story of a woman who is visited by the ghost of her husband, who has died in a plane crash. The plot includes flashbacks to the husband's bizarre experiences in Vietnam. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that the elements of Live from Earth "never fully cohere," but nonetheless concluded that Olsen "shows promise."
Olsen's futuristic novel Tonguing the Zeitgeist takes the world of rock music into the twenty-first century. In the novel, Ben Tendo, a guitarist who works as an innocuous clerk for a mail-order porno supplier, is kidnapped and forced to become a rock star by a greedy music industry eager for a new personality to exploit. A contributor to Publishers Weekly remarked that "hip images tumble across the page." Carl Hays commented in Booklist that Tonguing the Zeitgeist is a "brilliant black comedy."
An educator as well as a writer, Olsen displays his scholarly side in Lolita: A Janus Text, a study of the Vladimir Nabokov-penned novel included in Twayne Publishers' "Masterwork Study" series. According to Robert L. McLaughlin in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Olsen presents readers with good reason to consider the novel's place "as a pivotal text in literary and cultural history." Olsen puts Lolita—a once-controversial novel about an older man's obsession with a fifteen-year-old girl—into historical and theoretical frameworks, making connections that "students can chew on for weeks," according to McLaughlin.
Burnt, according to a Publishers Weekly critic, is a blend of "elements of chaos theory, deconstruction and more." In this story, a tenured professor at a university and his wife indulge in their secret passion for reading newspaper tabloids. They discover that some of the outlandish stories in these newspapers turn out to be true—from government plans to send people to space stations in the event of nuclear war, to mutating squirrels who become immune to all attempts to destroy them. Burnt is a "funny cautionary tale." wrote the Publishers Weekly contributor.
Time Famine chronicles a twenty-first-century world where theme parks center on human atrocities such as Chernobyl, the White House is attacked by mortar rounds, ATMs are armed with machine guns, and the United States is run by a "governcorp" whose aim is keep the populace entertained and ignorant of what is really happening around them. Incidents of time travel abound, with characters experiencing the Donner party's nightmarish experience in the nineteenth-century West, or visiting a space station that offers them a nostalgic look at a period similar to the 1960s. David Seed noted in the Review of Contemporary Fiction that Time Famine's "off-beat humor, surrealism, and strategic repetitions" together make a strong and successful novel. A Publishers Weekly reviewer added that, in Time Famine, "the extraordinary inventiveness of the language and the savage satire" will keep readers interested from start to finish.
In 2000's Freaknest, Olsen describes genetic mutants searching for the secret to their identities. Reviewing the novel for American Book Review, Ryan Smith cited it as proof that the author is "among the finest writers of social critique and speculative fiction today." In a review of the short story collection Sewing Shut My Eyes, also published in 2000, Review of Contemporary Fiction contributor Donahue commented that the author constructs unusual settings and characters "to disturbing and hilarious effect." Some of the strange scenarios in this collection include that of a man who gets into the lives of the characters he sees on his HDTV, and a man who is sucked from an airplane after the plane collides with a piece of deorbiting satellite. Computer visuals, created in collaboration with the author's assemblage-artist wife, Andi Olsen, accompany the text and are equally weird—for example, model Cindy Crawford's head superimposed on a hydrocephalic baby. Donahue called the book a "brutal critique of popular culture."
In 2006 Olsen published the book Nietzsche's Kisses, which takes a different avenue than many of the author's other works. This novel places the reader inside the mind of a dying Friedrich Nietzsche as the famed existential philosopher experiences a form of dementia and near-death hallucinations. Floating between different forms of consciousness, Nietzsche revisits important people in his life, including his love Lou Salome, sister Lisbeth, and historical figure Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Critics lauded Nietzsche's Kisses, noting that the author's vibrant writing seems to bring Nietzsche back to life. The novel is full of "rich, sometimes oblique, prose," wrote PopMatters contributor Scott Esposito. Others enjoyed Olsen's exploration of human consciousness, finding the author pursues this concept "sometimes in delightful and surprising ways," according to Jim Dwyer in a review for Library Journal.
In 2007 Olsen followed up Nietzsche's Kisses with a novel connected to another renowned philosopher: Anxious Pleasures: A Novel after Kafka. This work takes on the revolutionary Franz Kafka novel Metamorphosis and reinterprets the book, telling the story not from the original protagonist's view but from the perspective of an assortment of both major and minor characters. One new character is a contemporary figure named Margaret, who is reading Metamorphosis for the first time. Olsen embellishes the tale further by adding new subplots, including mysterious bombings and romantic twists. Critics and readers again praised Olsen's efforts, finding Anxious Pleasures to be deeply imaginative and compelling. The author's new take on Kafka's characters "provide texture and a broader canvas" to their development, wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. Other critics remarked that the author masterfully plays with Kafka's original concept in a new and exciting way. Olsen "ingeniously adapts the story line," noted Carl Hays in a review for Booklist.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Book Review, May-June, 2001, Ryan Smith, review of Freaknest, p. 16; November 1, 2006, "Human, All Too Human," p. 19.
Booklist, May 15, 1994, Carl Hays, review of Tonguing the Zeitgeist, p. 1668; March 15, 2007, Carl Hays, review of Anxious Pleasures: A Novel after Kafka, p. 26.
Journal of Modern Literature, September 22, 1988, Jeffrey Ford, review of Ellipse of Uncertainty: An Introduction to Postmodern Fantasy, p. 248.
Library Journal, August, 2000, Jackie Cassada, review of Freaknest, p. 168; May 15, 2006, Jim Dwyer, review of Nietzsche's Kisses, p. 91; February 1, 2007, Jim Dwyer, review of Anxious Pleasures, p. 64.
Modern Fiction Studies, winter, 1988, E. Ann Kaplan, review of Ellipse of Uncertainty.
Publishers Weekly, November 30, 1990, Penny Kaganoff, review of Live from Earth, p. 67; May 30, 1994, review of Tonguing the Zeitgeist, p. 58; June 24, 1996, review of Burnt, p. 55; July 29, 1996, review of Time Famine, p. 82; January 29, 2007, review of Anxious Pleasures, p. 43.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1995, Robert L. McLaughlin, review of Lolita: A Janus Text, p. 252; fall, 1997, David Seed, review of Time Famine, p. 236; fall, 2000, Peter Donahue, review of Sewing Shut My Eyes, p. 152.
Studies in the Novel, winter, 1991, J. Madison Davis, review of Circus of the Mind in Motion: Postmodernism and the Comic Vision.
FlashPoint,http://www.flashpointmag.com/ (December 6, 2007), JR Foley, review of Nietzsche's Kisses.
Lance Olsen Home Page,http://www.lanceolsen.com (December 6, 2007).
PopMatters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (April 25, 2006), Scott Esposito, interview with Lance Olsen and review of Nietzsche's Kisses.