Sunday, February 28, 2010

Matters Quotidian

The Winter Olympics at least provided a pleasing distraction as I was preparing my taxes for the accountant. Hundreds of check stubs, hundreds of little receipts with cryptic scrawls on them. (What is "sprawk?" Is it deductible? Does it go on Schedule C?) And then I look up, and Canucks and Austrians and Chinese Communists are gracefully doing weird aerial stunts on ski slopes. And tonight there were the giant mechanical beavers and the Radio City kick line of Mounties.

Satire is impossible. Just impossible.

This morning we ventured forth to perform our yearly task of burning weeds and leaves stranded on our property last autumn. Normally we would have done this earlier, but starting in December we started to get weird weather. We've been getting milder versions of the storms that have been vexing the rest of the nation, and so we've had lots of rain and sleet and occasional snow. Likewise, it's been maybe ten degrees cooler than usual. It's hard to burn leaves in a heavy rain.

As a result of the weather, many of the weeds, normally dead and dried by this time of year, never died at all. I would have thought the unusual cold would have killed them, but apparently it's been wet enough to keep them going.

They are not only thriving, they're blooming, and attracting a rather sinister cloud of bees. And where the hell did they come from at this time of year?

I fear the spring, Montresor. I fear it. For it is the season in which the giant mechanical beavers move south in search of warmer climes.

Lift Those Pale, Puny Arms to the Light of the Stars!

Healthy lifestyles for all the Goths in your life.

[via Louy]


Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Condition of Atemporality

Y'know, Bruce Sterling thinks about this shit real hard. And a couple weeks ago he delivered a speech that shows how far ahead of us he really is.

Now let me tell you how the atemporal Richard Feynman approaches this. The atemporal Richard Feynman is not very paper-friendly, because he lives in a network culture. So it occurs to the atemporal Feynman that he may, or may not, have a problem.

‘Step one - write problem in a search engine, see if somebody else has solved it already. Step two - write problem in my blog; study the commentory cross-linked to other guys. Step three - write my problem in Twitter in a hundred and forty characters. See if I can get it that small. See if it gets retweeted. Step four - open source the problem; supply some instructables to get me as far as I’ve been able to get, see if the community takes it any further. Step five - start a Ning social network about my problem, name the network after my problem, see if anybody accumulates around my problem. Step six - make a video of my problem. Youtube my video, see if it spreads virally, see if any media convergence accumulates around my problem. Step seven - create a design fiction that pretends that my problem has already been solved. Create some gadget or application or product that has some relevance to my problem and see if anybody builds it. Step eight - exacerbate or intensify my problem with a work of interventionist tactical media. And step nine - find some kind of pretty illustrations from the Flickr ‘Looking into the Past’ photo pool.’

So, old Feynman, who was not the atemporal Feynman, would naturally object: ‘You have not solved the problem! You have not advanced scientific knowledge. There is no progress in this. You didn’t get to Step three - solving the problem.’ Whereas, the atemporal Feynman would respond: ‘It’s worse than that. I haven’t even done step one of defining the problem and writing it down. But I have done a lot of work about its meaning, and its value and its social framing, combined with some database mining, and some collaborative filtering, which is far beyond you and your pencil.’

Now, history is a story. And to write down the story of the fourteenth century, to just ask yourself - “what happened in the fourteenth century?” — Feynman style — is a very different matter from asking the atemporal question: “What does Google do when I input the search term ‘fourteenth century?’” I think we are over the brink of that. It’s a very, very different matter . . .

. . . It means the end of post-modernism. It means the end of the New World Order, which is about civilizing the entire planet, stopping all the land wars, repressing the terrorism. It means the end of the Washington Consensus of the nineteen nineties. It means the end of the WTO. It means the end of Francis Fukiyama’s ‘End of History’; it ended, and it’s moving in a completely different and unexpected direction.

The idea that history ended, and that the market sorts that out, and that the Pentagon bombs it if that doesn’t work - it’s gone. The situation now is one of growing disorder. A failed state, a potentially failed globe, a collapsed WTO, a collapsed Copenhagen, financial collapses, lifeboat economics, transition to nowhere. Historical narrative, it is simply no longer mapped onto the objective facts of the decade. The maps in our hands don’t match the territory, and that’s why we are upset.

Now part of this is just that the arguments of historians have moved out of their usual dusty forums and into places where any idiot can read them. Historians don't argue about the facts; they always argue over what the facts mean. Except now they do it in electronic format with a comment section, and the responses of goofballs and fanatics can be seen alongside those of the specialists and intelligentsia. Are the dingbats empowered by this? Not really, no one's handing them the keys to any kingdom except a virtual one. So I don't think that's the dilemma we need to respond to, or worry about.

But otherwise, Bruce is definitely onto something here. So go over there, and read the speech, and then come back here, and discuss it.

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28 Views to a Job

Inspired by Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules for Writing Fiction, the Guardian asked 27 other writers for their own contributions. The result is overlong, contradictory, but intermittently fascinating.

I'll reproduce some of the advice here, but only the bits I agree with.

Using adverbs is a mortal sin

Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely.

Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no ­inessential words can every essential word be made to count.

Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.

Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away. It's a nice feeling, and you don't want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.

Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it's a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It's only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I ­always have to feel that I'm bunking off from something.

Beware of clichés. Not just the ­clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are ­clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.

The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.

Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.

The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money.

The most purely autobiographical ­fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto­biographical story than "The Meta­morphosis".

Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life.

Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don't let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won't matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.

Don't wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.

Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.

The two most depressing words in the English language are "literary fiction".

Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.

Remember you love writing. It wouldn't be worth it if you didn't. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.

Remember writing doesn't love you. It doesn't care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on.

Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant.

Write a book you'd like to read. If you wouldn't read it, why would anybody else? Don't write for a perceived audience or market. It may well have vanished by the time your book's ready.

Concentrate your narrative energy on the point of change. This is especially important for historical fiction. When your character is new to a place, or things alter around them, that's the point to step back and fill in the details of their world. People don't notice their everyday surroundings and daily routine, so when writers describe them it can sound as if they're trying too hard to instruct the reader.

My first rule was given to me by TH White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies and was: Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt. ((I'm thinking he may also want us to read writers whose names don't start with B, but I could be wrong.))

Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel.

The prerequisite for me is to keep my well of ideas full. This means living as full and varied a life as possible, to have my antennae out all the time.

Decide when in the day (or night) it best suits you to write, and organise your life accordingly.

Lock different characters/elements in a room and tell them to get on.

Don't try to anticipate an "ideal reader" – there may be one, but he/she is reading someone else.

Don't romanticise your "vocation". You can either write good sentences or you can't. There is no "writer's lifestyle". All that matters is what you leave on the page.

Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can't do aren't worth doing. Don't mask self-doubt with contempt.

Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.

Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.

Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.

Finish everything you start.

Get on with it.

Stay in your mental pyjamas all day.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

No alcohol, sex or drugs while you are working.

Forget the boring old dictum "write about what you know". Instead, seek out an unknown yet knowable area of experience that's going to enhance your understanding of the world and write about that.

Writing fiction is not "self-­expression" or "therapy". Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects.

Pace is crucial. Fine writing isn't enough. Writing students can be great at producing a single page of well-crafted prose; what they sometimes lack is the ability to take the reader on a journey, with all the changes of terrain, speed and mood that a long journey involves.

And perhaps the most useful piece of advice of all:

If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane.

Note that none of these are my rules. To get my rules, you'll have to attend Taos Toolbox.

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Fish-Faced Enemy of the Empire

A few years ago, the University of Mississippi canned their mascot, Colonel Reb, because, well, he looked like a stereotypical slave-owning plutocrat, and even Ole Miss is committed to diversity these days.

But where to look for a new mascot? Especially if your team is called the Rebels?

You look to a galaxy far, far away.
Yes, there's a movement on campus to replace Colonel Reb with Admiral Ackbar, whose Rebel Alliance defeated the Empire in Return of the Jedi.
No problems with diversity here, since not only is Ackbar a tactical and strategic genius, but he's (a) an alien, and (b) a fish.
Plus, as someone whose most famous line is, "It's a trap!", Ackbar is uniquely qualified to recognize an opponent's strategy and act to thwart their perfidious designs.
And speaking as someone who wrote the scenes in which Ackbar saved the galaxy in Destiny's Way, I can only approve. Not only he is a genius, but he's a genius who needs me to write his dialog! (Cuz I can write more interesting lines than "It's a trap!" Trust me on this.)
No word on whether George Lucas will let Ole Miss use his creation. But it would be cool. And trust me, a whole stadium full of people chanting "Allahu Ackbar!" would be a lot more scary than all those same people waving Confederate flags.
For those unfamiliar with Ackbar, here's the trailer for the upcoming biopic.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Das Energi

Two notes from the world of energy:

Bloomenergy today rolled out its Bloom Boxes, new-generation fuel cells that can generate electricity in the home (or the factory, or the server farm, or wherever). The cells take in oxygen from one direction, natural gas (or biogas) from another, and produce kilowatts in exchange.

The industrial-sized cells weigh ten tons; the home-sized ones are about the size of a refrigerator.

FedEx, Google, eBay, and WalMart are already testing the Bloom Boxes in the field--- or, in Google's case, in Mountain View, CA.

Fuel cells aren't exactly news--- like internal-combustion engines, they take in fuel and produce energy. But Bloomenergy claims new levels of efficiency.

And you'll be able to buy one for your home for under $3000, paying for itself in 3-5 years, a sum enhanced by the excess energy you could resell to your power company.

Wow! Sounds too good to be true!

Bloomenergy's press releases don't mention how long the boxes last, which would certainly be a factor in whether the average civitroid will want to own one. $3000 is a lot cheaper than plastering your roof with solar panels, but since the solar panels don't come with fuel costs, I'm not sure how they'd compare over the long haul.

Still--- it sounds pretty good. But that's what press releases are designed to do.

Elsewhere in energy news, Darpa has announced their intention to satisfy the Pentagon's jet-fuel needs with algae-based biofuel.

Darpa's research projects have already extracted oil from algal ponds at a cost of $2 per gallon. It is now on track to begin large-scale refining of that oil into jet fuel, at a cost of less than $3 a gallon, according to Barbara McQuiston, special assistant for energy at Darpa. That could turn a promising technology into a ­market-ready one. Researchers have cracked the problem of turning pond scum and seaweed into fuel, but finding a cost-effective method of mass production could be a game-changer. "Everyone is well aware that a lot of things were started in the military," McQuiston said.

The fuel is low in carbon, and thus a lot easier on the environment. And if the stuff can run your F-22, we're not that far away from stuff that can run your car. (In fact I'm sure it will work in your diesel just fine.)

McQuiston said a larger-scale refining operation, producing 50 million gallons a year, would come on line in 2011 and she was hopeful the costs would drop still further – ensuring that the algae-based fuel would be competitive with fossil fuels. She said the projects, run by private firms SAIC and General Atomics, expected to yield 1,000 gallons of oil per acre from the algal farm.

If all goes well (a goal which does not always obtain at the Pentagon) we'll soon be running the nation on pond scum and fuel cells (which will consume biogas made from pond scum).

Game-changing? More like world-saving.

If, of course, it's not all hype.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ideas. Execution.

Majorly big Twilight fan Kayla Patterson has written an open letter to Universal Studios, accusing them of, like, totally, ripping off Stephanie Meyer when they made a movie about a werewolf.

I actually started to like werewolves after seeing Jacob Black and all his awesomeness on the big screen at the movies. That was until I saw your crappy remake of what you call to be a "were wolf". I don't see how you live with yourself for making it the way you did. If I made this movie, I would be ashamed to even admit that I owned it. How can a werewolf be killed with a silver bullet? Better yet, have you saw the transformation of the man that is "supposed" to be the wolf? He sits in some chair and his entire body turns in to some mutated freak. If you would watch the transformation of Jacob Black, (Taylor Lautner) he doesn't come close to looking as fake, cheap and or mutated as the wolf man. You tell me, who looks to be the better werewolf.

Wow! That's letting your foot have it with both barrels!

Meanwhile, the estate of the late Adrian Jacobs has filed suit against J.K. Rowling, claiming that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ripped off Jacobs' 36-page self-published novel, The Adventures of Willie the Wizard.

Does the Silly Season really begin in February? I thought it was later.

Here's what's happens in these cases. People who have very few ideas tend to overvalue them. If you only get one idea per decade, you have a tendency to think it's a pretty special idea. And furthermore, you'll have a hard time believing that another person might have had the same idea, too.

That's why writers are often approached by people with ideas for books. "I have this terrific idea, but I don't have time to write it! You write it for me, and we'll split the money!"

I always tell these people that I have plenty of ideas of my own, they should write their own damn book.

Folks who have lots of ideas know how cheap ideas really are. I have more ideas for novels and stories than I could possibly write in three lifetimes. Some of them, in fact, are pretty dang brilliant ideas, and another writer might do extremely well with them (just not someone with my career, track record, and audience).

I've written stories with ideas that turned out to be ahead of their time--- someone else used a similar idea sometime later, with greater success, because it was just time for that idea to attract attention, or because they did something interesting with it that I didn't. I've had ideas that I thought were quite brilliant and timely, only to see that other writers had got their ideas into print first. I was more than a little chagrined to discover that the central idea for my Nebula-winning novella "The Green Leopard Plague" was anticipated by a Fred Pohl story published in 1962.

(Note that Charles Stross and I both wrote books about online gaming at around the same time. Note that neither of us is suing the other.)

What matters, kids, is execution. An idea unexploited is an idea that is either (1) lost to the world, or (2) fair game for someone else.

In order to send your story idea into the world, you have to plant your butt in a chair, write the story, get an agent or publisher, get the book edited, copy-edited, and printed, then send it out into the world. Even then the odds are pretty good that someone--- Fred Pohl, say--- might have had the same idea forty-odd years ago. The odds are good that whole hosts of people might have had the idea, just no one that you met.

And, if you're really unlucky, you'll discover that Universal Studios made a movie of that idea back in 1941.

[both via tnh]

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Leaps and Bounds

Watching the skating at the Winter Olympics while improving my vocabulary. I've learned that many of the jumps are named after the person who invented them. The lutz is named after Alois Lutz, the walley after Nate Walley, the axel after Axel Paulson, and the salchow after Ulrich Salchow.

And the toe loop, of course, is named after the great British amateur, Sir Basil Toe-Loop.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

With a Mighty Bound I Land in the OED

I've invented a brand new word. Soon you will all be using it.

It's "googledy-squat." Which is what you get when your search engine can't find the information you want.

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A Nebula Nomination Could Soon Be Yours!

The Science Fiction Writers of America have released the list of this year's Nebula nominees. And you know what's the second thing* I noticed about it?

Two of the nominees in the short story category--- Will McIntosh and friend-of-the-blog Saladin Ahmed--- are graduates of my Taos Toolbox workshop!

Amazingly enough, there is still room available in this year's workshop! Just click the link, and Nebula glory may soon be yours!

*The first thing I noticed about the list was that I am not on it, which is like totally you guys' fault. I write the genius, but do you pick it up?

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

All About the Rocks

I've been enjoying the Winter Olympics quite a bit. Where else can you hear people intone sentences like, "Right now, you're looking at the future of curling!"

Despite, or perhaps because of its absurdity, I've gradually become fascinated by the sport. It's cool, it's got strategy, and for a sport that's all about control, it still features players heaving great big chunks of granite at targets very, very far away.

It's sort of like lawn bowling on ice. And I happen to be pretty good at lawn sports.

I grew up in Duluth, which had its Curling Club that dated back to the 1890s. I don't think I ever actually saw the sport played in Minnesota, however. (The Duluth Curling Club is where the 2010 US Olympic team trained, not that it seems to have helped them much.)

I think I could totally be an asset, here. I mean, I could bring my own broom and everything.

And when all is said and done, what other Olympic sport could I actually play well? (I just don't see myself taking up speed skating right now.)

But I live in New Mexico, where arcane Scottish winter sports seem to be thin on the ground. I think there's only one skating rink left in Albuquerque, which is a good many miles away. And a quick google search shows no curling leagues available.

I guess I'll have to postpone my dream of heaving big rocks on ice. And in the meantime, I'll just work on that broomstick kata.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dead Egyptian Blues

A new series of genetic tests has revealed that poor young King Tut suffered from a raft of genetic disorders, including a cleft palate, club foot, and Kohler's disease, which was slowly destroying the bones of his left foot. He probably had to walk with canes. He was the poster-boy for why your ambitions shouldn't include becoming the ultimate product of multiple generations of brother-sister incest.

All these disorders aside, what did him in was a combination of a
broken leg combined with a bad case of malaria.

The study was co-authored by Zahi Hawass, the archaeologist who is in all the TV documentaries, wearing his Indiana Jones hat, and who is the most modest Egyptian since, maybe, Rameses II. Zahi Hawass, Zahi Hawass, Zahi Hawass! (I'm sure he keeps track of the number of times he's mentioned online--- I just made his day!)

Anyway, in memory of the poor luckless Tut, here's Michael Smith and "Dead Egyptian Blues."

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

In Seattle

The workshop went well, but my, it do rain here in Seattle.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Naked Reader

Here I thought I was off to Seattle, but I couldn't quite pass up informing you of an event on the other coast: the Pinchbottom Burlesque event, "Naked Girls Reading Science Fiction."

The event takes place at "the plush and decadent upstairs lounge at Madame X in Greenwich Village," and costs $25. Among the readers is Nasty Canasta, who has been known to dress up as a naughty version of both the fourth and tenth Doctors from Doctor Who.

And will they be reading any of my stuff, I wonder?

Hello, Mt. Ranier!

I'm off to Seattle for the Friday night signing and reading at the University Book Store from 7pm, and Sunday's workshop at the Richard Hugo House.

I don't know what my internet situation will be, so you may not hear from me for a while. Try not to ruin riot while I'm away.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Courtesy of Jonathan Ravid, I'm pleased to present the extremely elegant cover to the Israeli edition of Implied Spaces.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Walter Saves the Union

Ever since the Supreme Court's recent ruling that bribes are a form of protected free speech, I have been pondering its implications.

I've come to a conclusion or two, chief among them that I should invest in the first Rollerball team I can find. Cuz we're sure as hell heading for that future, you betcha.

Rollerball aside, it has been pointed out by others, among them our president, that the ruling does not prevent foreign corporations, or foreign governments using their corporations as a beard, from buying ad time on our networks. So we wouldn't simply have the Congressman from GM or the Senator from Agribusiness--- which is sad, for all that we're used to it--- so instead we could have the Governor from France or the President from the People's Republic of China. (Oh, wait, never mind . . . that's our last four or five presidents anyway.)

As Adam Smith remarked, businessmen "never gathered together even for a social purpose save to conspire against the public interest." (Yes, that was said by the first and greatest theoretician of capitalism, and not by Michael Moore.) So we're shortly going to be subjected to vast numbers of political ads urging us to destroy the environment, take loans at exorbitant rates of interest, shift the tax burden to the middle class, and otherwise hand our money and power to the rich who, being rich and powerful already, have more use for it than we do.

And why do all our politicians need those enormous war chests, anyway? Both the Democrats and Republicans spent over a billion dollars apiece last year trying to elect a president. A billion dollars apiece. Just for one office.

If this isn't an invitation to corruption, then what is?

I propose to cut temptation off at the knees. I suggest the following law: "No person or entity may advertise on broadcast television for any political purpose or cause, ever. Ever. This means you."

Now, it may surprise you to know--- particularly in this era of reality TV, when everyone gets to be a star sooner or later, sooner if they're loud and stupid--- that there is no constitutional right to appear on television. The courts have ruled this every time the Klan or the American Nazi Party tries to buy an ad.

This doesn't mean that our fine politicos and their well-heeled secret masters won't be able to get their message out. They'll still have newspapers, radio, and the Internet.

But you know what those media have in common? They're cheap! You don't need a billion dollars to buy ads in those media. The politicians won't have to hustle their butts like streetwalkers on Sunday morning in order to raise money.

So let's start spreading this meme! No political ads on television--- ever. For anybody.

The networks will scream like stuck pigs. (Another reason to do it, in my opinion.) The networks will wail about losing billions in income. And y'know what--- I don't care! Besides, it isn't even true, they'll just sell the air time to someone else. It's not like the nation lacks for advertisers.

And if we're concerned that the networks aren't covering politics enough because they're spending all their broadcast time on American Idol and entertainment news, you can mandate that they spend a certain number of hours in the election cycle covering the election, analyzing the candidates' positions, covering debates, and maybe even exposing the witless pandering regularly barfed up by politicians, and covered by media as if it were gospel. (Nawwww--- that one's too much to expect.)

And while we're reforming elections, let's take our cue from the Germans, and institude a Truth in Advertising commission like I saw back in 1980. The Germans have a nonpartisan commission which reviews every political ad before it's run, and if it's untrue, or overly inflammatory, the ad can't run, and no one ever sees it. You might think that this would take all the fun out of elections, but I can assure you that despite ads being forced to speak something approximating the truth, Helmut Schmidt and Franz-Joseph Strauss beat each other bloody at the polls in one of the most entertaining elections I can remember. (I also remember this line from the televised debates: "Stop calling me a Nazi, you fucking Commie faggot!" I mean jeez, for a second there I thought I was watching professional wrestling.)

So there. I have now thrown to you the football. Please run with it, and score.

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Just In Case

Here's a potentially useful article titled "How to Fall 35,000 Feet—And Survive."

Because you never known when this kind of information will come in handy.

Granted, the odds of surviving a 6-mile plummet are extra­ordinarily slim, but at this point you’ve got nothing to lose by understanding your situation. There are two ways to fall out of a plane. The first is to free-fall, or drop from the sky with absolutely no protection or means of slowing your descent. The second is to become a wreckage rider, a term coined by Massachusetts-based amateur historian Jim Hamilton, who developed the Free Fall Research Page—an online database of nearly every imaginable human plummet. That classification means you have the advantage of being attached to a chunk of the plane. In 1972, Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulovic was traveling in a DC-9 over Czechoslovakia when it blew up. She fell 33,000 feet, wedged between her seat, a catering trolley, a section of aircraft and the body of another crew member, landing on—then sliding down—a snowy incline before coming to a stop, severely injured but alive.

Surviving a plunge surrounded by a semiprotective cocoon of debris is more common than surviving a pure free-fall, according to Hamilton’s statistics; 31 such confirmed or “plausible” incidents have occurred since the 1940s. Free-fallers constitute a much more exclusive club, with just 13 confirmed or plausible incidents, including perennial Ripley’s Believe It or Not superstar Alan Magee—blown from his B-17 on a 1943 mission over France. The New Jersey airman, more recently the subject of a MythBusters episode, fell 20,000 feet and crashed into a train station; he was subsequently captured by German troops, who were astonished at his survival.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

I'm Coming to Seattle

I'll be in Seattle next weekend.

Friday night, February 12, I'll be signing and reading at the University Book Store from 7pm.

Sunday, February 14, I'll be running a workshop at the Richard Hugo House. The workshop runs from 10-5, and is titled Writing Backwards in the Year 2010. It's all about the plotting!

What better way to spend Valentine's Day than to listen to me talk about writing? What could be more romantic?

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Mini Reviews Too Late

I've seen a bunch of stuff lately. None worthy of lengthy analysis, but some worthy of note.

Dirigible (1931). In Dirigible, a very early film by Frank Capra, we watch our brave hero Jack Bradon (Jack Holt) battle for the future of US Navy rigid airships! (Well, we know how that turned out.)

Our hero is married to Fay Wray, but there's a triangle with fighter pilot Frisky (Ralph Graves), who is frankly a lot more fun to be around than Jack, who acts as if he's got a rigid airship shoved somewhere up his fundament.

The climax takes place in Antarctica, where Frisky attempts to conquer the Pole in a mere three-engine monoplane and crashes. It's the dirigible to the rescue!

There's some truly spectacular footage in this one, particularly of an air show at Lakehurst, where the US Navy's entire dirigible armada seems to be on display at once. The special effects are really very good, particularly in the Antarctica scenes and in a scene involving a zeppelin crash at sea. (Incidentally, did you know that every rigid airship built in the US crashed, killing almost all their crews? The ones we got from the Germans did just fine.)

The drawback to this film is the acting, which is downright wretched. All of the actors, including Ms. Wray, exhibit what can only be described as negative charisma. Odd, because the three principals all had long Hollywood careers subsequent to this film. Apparently the audience was watching the zeps, and no one cared what the actors were doing. I advise doing exactly that.

The Happening (2008). Further evidence that M. Night Shyamalan is a one-hit wonder. This story would have made a great half-hour Twilight Zone episode, but is very flabby at 143 minutes. The latter parts of the film are so dull that a spooky old farmhouse with a menacing old lady was added to provide some tension. (A plague causing the entire population of the Northeast to commit suicide wasn't scary enough, I guess.)

The acting is very flat, and a subplot added to provide texture to the principals' relationship is ludicrous. Avoid.

Lost in Austen (2008). Jesus Christ, do we really need a romantic comedy that's three hours long? Okay, it's three episodes of a UK miniseries stuck together to make a feature for US release, but still . . .

It's a comedy with one joke. (Modern woman enters fictional realm, takes place of Elizabeth Bennett.) And yes, we'd all like to kick Mr. Collins in the balls, and chew out Mr. Bingley for being a gormless twit. And the acting is good, and the dialog gives a genuine feeling for the period.

But three whole hours . . . ? My God, Miss Bennett, those are three hours that I shall never again see!

Redbelt (2008). Macho playwrite David Mamet writing and directing a martial arts movie? Damn, I'm like so totally there!

It's not what you expect. It builds to all the traditional beats of a martial arts film--- including the one where the warrior gets tired of taking endless shit from these remorseless corrupt sacks of dog crap who run his life and the world in general, and then goes for his katana and gets all samurai on their asses!--- except that doesn't happen. Mamet is a master of the unexpected, and though all the beats are there, he rings changes on all of them. (Okay, mixed metaphor there.)

The result is a film that is set in a much lower key than the conventional martial arts movie, but that has its own satisfactions. It also has a very, very twisty plot that I found myself admiring a lot--- but then I'm Plotboy, and that's the sort of thing I like.

The Hidden Kingdom (2008). Speaking of martial arts movies, here's an amiable kung fu flick that won't surprise you at all, but that keeps every promise that it makes. It features Jackie Chan doing wire-fu rather than the amazing physical stunts that built his reputation--- and that's sort of like getting a Mercedes SLC Gullwing to play the role of a 1975 Ford Pinto--- but what the hell. If he doesn't mind, I guess I don't.


Hebrew Edition

A special alert for those of you who read backwards! Friend of the blog Michael Grosberg tells me that the Hebrew edition of Implied Spaces just hit the beaches in Tel Aviv. Enjoy!

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Airship Hotel

This is a hoax. (Despite what you may have seen on CNN.) This is only a hoax. (Despite what you may have read in the Daily Telegraph.)

Do not consume except with a dose of salt.

If they built this thing, they would have no way of controlling it and it would crash and kill everyone in a giant hydrogen explosion.

But it is purty, no?


Rupes Weighs In

So far I've been watching the Macmillan-Amazon feud with a degree of disinterest--- other than my wide-eyed jaw-dropping awe at Amazon's bad, irrational behavior, and my compassion for my fellow authors who are being screwed, I have no books with Macmillan, so I didn't really have a dog in the fight.

But now Rupert Murdoch has weighed in, suggesting to Amazon that it is, in fact, time to renegotiate his deal on ebooks. And since Murdoch (or "Rupes," as we-who-are-his-slaves fondly refer to him) owns HarperCollins, which has several of my books in print--- I am no longer a dispassionate observer. If Amazon decides to de-friend Harper in the same way it de-friended Macmillan, my lovely Praxis books will shift in category from "mid-list science fiction" to "hostage."

For what Rupes and Macmillan are asking Amazon to do is change their entire business model. Amazon's long-standing policy was to exchange profits for market share--- they would sell books at a loss, in hopes that it would drive competitors out of business. Their plan involved nothing less than crushing every independent bookstore in North America, then taking over their market share. (Which is the same plan as that used by Barnes & Noble and Borders, by the way.)

Macmillan asked itself the question, "Is it in our interests to see independent bookstores wiped out and Amazon to have such a huge market share?", and came to the obvious conclusion. A year's negotiation proved fruitless, and the war was on.

Amazon's position re the Kindle has always been based on a kind of bluff: they acted as if they had a monopoly on e-readers, and they negotiated from this stance, but of course it wasn't true. There were the Sony Reader and others. But when the iPad appeared, that shattered the illusion. I don't think it's a coincidence that this feud went public the same week the iPad was released.

But anyway, I now have a dog in the fight--- well not a dog really, but a weeny, sickly little puppy trying to snarl with its cute little milk teeth. And the puppy is tied to a stake on the middle of a colosseum in which giant fighting robots are running around firing rockets, machine-gun bullets, and tactical nuclear weapons at each other. And just sort of hoping for the best, because that's all it can do.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

My Glorious Name Shall Ring Forever

Locus magazine has bowed to the inevitable and put This Is Not a Game on their end-of-the-year recommended reading list. The other stuff on the list isn't too shabby, either!

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25 Years After . . .

I'm pleased to report that I've just signed contracts for a French edition of my 1985 novel Knight Moves, from Editions l'Atalante.

Go, me! Go l'Atalante!

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Speeding Past in the Blink of an Eye

While I was enjoying a pleasurably distracting weekend and unable to properly follow events, a huge earth-shaking contretemps broke out between publisher Macmillan/St. Martin's/Tor and Amazon, to determine which business model will prevail on the Internets of the Future. The whole thing seems to have flown past in an eyeblink, to what some are claiming as a sort of resolution, but which really isn't, as yet.

Scott Westerfield has a good analysis of the situation here.

John Scalzi explains why Amazon is being stupid right here.

But why, you ask, does this concern you? You are, after all, a reader, not a Macmillan author.

Why it concerns you is that Amazon has stated that they'll eventually have to cave to Macmillan, which convinced a lot of people the situation was over--- but they haven't actually caved yet. In the meantime Amazon has, essentially, unfriended every writer in the Macmillan/St. Martin's/Tor stable. You can't buy their books on Amazon, not unless they're offered by a third party.

This doesn't affect me, fortunately. I have no books with Tor at the moment. (Wait a minute--- I just realized that there was a shift in publishing that didn't fuck me over! What the hell . . . ? This never happens!)

But the crisis does affect Macmillan authors, including all of those science fiction and fantasy writers at Tor, which is the largest US publisher of fantasy and science fiction.

Any number of my friends are published by Tor, including--- just off the top of my head--- Daniel Abraham, Charles Stross, Melinda Snodgrass, Steve Gould, Laura Mixon, Cory Doctorow, and my former student Ian Tregillis, whose terrific first novel, Bitter Seeds, will appear from Tor in April. (And if you're a Tor author and a friend of mine and I haven't mentioned you here, it's not because I secretly hate you, it's because my brain is defective and/or I don't actually know who's publishing you. So don't put out a contract on me, okay?)

(Okay, paranoid fit over now. We now return you to the ongoing brouhaha.)

I'm going to
follow John Scalzi in suggesting that you all go out and buy some books by Tor/Macmillan authors--- naturally, from places other than Amazon.

(And if you buy one of mine while you're at it, well, that's only natural.)

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