Sunday, May 27, 2007

Light Years

Astrophysicist Richard Powell has created this map of the universe, featuring everything from our local group of stars to the entire visible cosmos.

Writers who send their characters FTL will now have a map.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

From the Author of "Salammbo"

"Books say: she did this because. Life says: she did this. Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren't. I'm not surprised some people prefer books. Books make sense of life. The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other peoples' lives, never your own."

Gustave Flaubert

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Return of the Son of the Bride of the Voice of the Whirlwind

Mr. Entrepreneurial Me would like to remind you all that Voice of the Whirlwind will be returning to the world of print in July, and that you can pre-order the cool Night Shade edition right here.
Thank you.

Friday, May 18, 2007

It's Official

The refrigerator is now so full of sauces and condiments that there is no longer any room for actual food.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Got Money . . . ?

Got money?
Are you not simply comfortable or well off, but, well, rich?
Do you regularly make impulse purchases of six figures or more?
If you needed to fly coast-to-coast in a hurry, could you rent a private jet without worrying about it? (Never mind if you actually would; the question is could you?)
In that case, you really need to check out this house now.
It's known as the "Gingerbread House," and has been a historical and artistic landmark of Sag Harbor, N.Y., since the 1850s. It's a one-of-a-kind Victorian home, gorgeously ornamented on the outside, handsomely decorated inside, with large rooms. It's sitting on a deep lot that fronts on Main Street, and it's zoned commercial.
Kathy's widowed mom bought the house in 1964, back when nobody was interested in old Victorians, and it's been in the family ever since. Since Camille passed away, the house came into the hands of other family members, including my lovely spouse. They've now decided to put it on the market.
If you're rich, of course you'll want to own this house. (Hell, I don't know who reads this blog.) If you're not rich, of course you'll want to do your rich friends a favor and tell them that the Gingerbread House can be theirs.
There's an open house on Thursday. Get in your private jet and go!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

re: Write

I've been doing two simultaneous rewrites, the final draft of the new novel Implied Spaces, and the proofs of the reissue of my 1987 novel, Voice of the Whirlwind.

This was the first time I'd read VotW since correcting the original proofs more than twenty years ago. I've been very proud of the book, and (back when it was in print) it was always the book I'd tell new readers to look at first.

My first reaction on reading the proofs was, "Hmm. I'm a much better writer now." And, as I progressed, my next thought was, "Wow! I couldn't write some of these scenes now if you held a gun to my head!" There are some intense moments--- quite good ones, too--- that I just couldn't duplicate now. It was a different time, and I was a different person.

The book has a rather odd history. I wrote the first part of the book in 1980 or 1981--- I think 1980, because I got my first word processor in '81 and the original pages are typewritten. Then I either got stuck, or I got some paying work, and the pages went into the file cabinet for several years.

When I finished Hardwired in the fall of 1984, I got inspired and wrote the first 100 pages of Angel Station in a grand burst of energy. And then inspiration failed, and I remembered the pages that were sitting in the file cabinet, and looked at them, and suddenly knew how to finish the book. So Angel Station went into the files while I finished Voice of the Whirlwind, which I did in mid-1985. I didn't get back to Angel Station for a couple more years, because Tor didn't want another big hardback SF novel from me until they saw how the others had done.

(I should have gone to another publisher, but I was young and stupid.)

I improved as a writer between 1980 and 1984. I could tell the difference between those original pages and the ones written later.

I'm not sure anyone other than myself would notice. The difference is in phrasing, or sentence structure, or a matter of emphasis. It wasn't anything I could fix, exactly, and I'm not sure it actually needed fixing. There wasn't anything wrong; I've just learned more efficient ways of doing things now.

And VotW remains my best job of plotting ever. The last few chapters have no less than four major reveals, in which everything you think you know is shown to be false, and a whole new interpretation of events is layered onto the old. From a technical standpoint, this is just so totally cool! I really have to salute myself! Plotboy strikes again!

Certain themes, I note, have remained constant over the years. The protagonist of VotW is a martial artist, and so is the protagonist of Implied Spaces. (The difference is that Steward is young, and in training, and thinks about martial arts a lot; whereas the other guy is a lot older, and has been doing it for so long he doesn't have to think about it at all; and all this has a lot to do with my progression as a martial artist.)

In both novels, each protagonists is trying to solve a mystery that also brings into question fundamental issues of identity. Both are on a quest that takes them to different worlds and encounters with profoundly alien beings. Both are essentially immortal; both aspire to the status of sage; both quote poetry to themselves. One views the world through the prism of Zen; the other is dealing with existential issues. Each is obsessed by his own past.

The differences between the two books are more profound than the similarities, but I'd give too much away if I went into details. Each book reflects the author: one was written by a young, ambitious, and extremely poor man who lived in a dubious neighborhood full of drug use and violence, and who had just found his voice as a writer; the other is written by an established guy living in material comfort in a rural idyll. VotW was written by someone deliberately performing technical experiments, and thinking hard about them; Implied Spaces is written with unconscious competence, by someone who doesn't have to think about the technical stuff much at all, because it's all so ingrained that now I just sort of do it.

Despite Whirlwind being the Zen book, Implied Spaces was written by more of a Zen author.

Inevitable commercial notice: Voice of the Whirlwind will appear from Night Shade Books, I believe in July.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


I've been transfixed by videos featuring le parkour, the French sport of freestyle urban climbing, also known as "free running." Most people got their introduction to le parkour in the opening scene of the film Casino Royale, but that was a slick action film, and most parkour videos have a decidedly homemade quality.

Le parkour was founded fifteen or sixteen years ago by the Frenchman David Belle, inspired partly by Spider-Man comics. Though he's achieved a modest amount of fame and appeared in a commercial or two and the odd action film (always playing a young man who does le parkour), he still lives with his mother and devotes himself to le sport. He turned down the chance to double Peter Parker in Spider-Man III, because he'd have to wear a mask and not be French. The videos show that he's simply the best. (In fact, aficianados of the sport call themselves "traceurs," meaning something like "followers," in that they're following David Belle.)

And he's not an invincible James Bond. Occasionally he falls down.

(And by the way, who sez that the French are wimps?)

Le parkour is pure sport. It's Zen. There are ethics, but no rules. There is a culture and an elaborate vocabulary, but no governing body. There is in intense physical training, repetition, spontaneity, and incredible danger, but no safety equipment.

Adding any of these elements would make the sport a lot less interesting.

Le parkour can be used to enhance your daily life. It can spice up your video games, enhance a simple game of tag, or aid you in escaping members of an Eastern cult .

If I were only forty again, I'd be so all over this.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Satan Loves Mexicans

So now I know what goes on in Republican Party meetings.

Is this scary, or what?

Thursday, May 03, 2007


So the other night we went to see Arlo Guthrie play in Socorro, the Athens of the Southwest.

We noticed that Arlo plays in Socorro about every other year, and that the shows always sell out. Hmm, we thought, maybe we've been missing something.

But first we went to Club Macey for what they called the "Hippy Dippy Hour."

Club Macey is a scheme whereby the university gets to keep its liquor license. Before every concert or event in Macey Center, the Club opens to members with a free buffet dinner and a non-free bar. The dinners are usually themed in some way. When Niyaz played last week, the food was Middle Eastern--- apparently they had no recipes for Persian cuisine, which is different, but the Middle Eastern food was tasty, and so I had no complaints.

So before the Guthrie concert, Club Macey laid on a spread of pita bread, spinach dip, stuffed mushrooms, yogurt+granola, and sweet-and-sour tofu. People were urged to dress in Sixties styles, which--- glancing about--- seemed in practice to mean tie-dye.

Kathy actually had a tie-dyed tee, but I don't. I briefly considered digging into the closet for an old set of Army fatigues (I mean, you remember your Sixties, I'll remember mine) but then I decided to opt for comfort and just wore the sort of thing I normally wear to a Macey concert.

((Long digression: Before I'm accused of misleading y'all by claiming to be a veteran when I'm not, I should point out that I never actually served in the Army in the Sixties.

Instead, I was an assassin for the CIA.

Just kidding.

Actually I never served. Too young, and too much wanting not to die.))

It's not the costumes I want to talk about though, or the army. It's the food. Spinach dip? Sweet-and-sour tofu?

Here's what I remember eating in the Sixties:

1. Vast amounts of carbohydrates.

2. Fried things.

3. Huge hunks of dripping red meat. Meat three times per day.

If people were eating tofu, it's because they were poor. Or grew up in Chinatown.

This is what you get when the kitchen staff was all born after 1985, and only know the Sixties from legend.

What the concert should have had, if they were interested in re-creating the era, were pipes and joints being passed up and down the rows in the theater. For me, nostalgia does not smell like patchouli.

When Arlo came on stage, he was accompanied by his son, his daughter, his son-in-law, his four-year-old granddaughter, the pedal steel player, and the spirit of his father. This was the Guthrie Family Legacy Tour, and it ended up being a lot about Woody.

So the show opened with "Way Down Yonder in the Indian Nation"--- which I had never realized was a Woody Guthrie song--- and ended with "This Land is Your Land," by way of "The Union Maid" and assorted songs in which goons and ginks and company finks feature strongly. There was also an old wire recording of Woody in the 1940s--- recovered just last year--- in which he is doing a lengthy, rambling comic introduction to one of his songs. ("I thought I invented that!" Arlo said.)

Son-in-law Johnny Irion sang some songs with Arlo's daughter Sarah Lee Guthrie--- which begs the question, Why did you name your kid after a frozen cake, even if you are a stoner with the munchies? It's just weird.

And Arlo himself was just fine. His long comic introductions are honed to perfection by now, and they put the audience in the palm of his hand, even the ones who had heard it all before. He did "The Motorcycle Song," which I always thought was dumb even though the introduction is hilarious, and "The City of New Orleans," and "The Alice's Restaurant Massacree," because, you know, he has to. It's expected. And even though the song is about the draft, it's not exactly irrelevant. "You think the draft is just something from a long time ago … but you tell that to the guys from back then that just got called up again.”

He talked about getting searched in airports. ("Most of you think this is a new thing"--- his searches started about 1966.) And he said something about the whole peace and love thing that is actually freakin' profound. Which is this:

If the peace and love people of the Sixties had actually got it right--- if the world now was peaceful and everyone had freedom and enough to eat--- then it would be really difficult to make a positive contribution. But as that didn't happen--- "since the world sucks"--- it's not hard at all to make a difference.

(So what difference have we-all made? A question for the floor.)

The concert ended with a short but lovely song, "My Peace," lyrics by Woody, melody by Arlo.

My peace, my peace is all I've got and all I've ever known
My peace is worth a thousand times more than anything I own
I pass my peace around and about, cross hands of every hue;
I guess my peace is justa 'bout all I've got to give to you.

Well shoot, Arlo. Amen.