Monday, September 29, 2008

Red Heroine

Tonight's entertainment was Red Heroine, the oldest surviving wuxia, dating from 1929. The silent film was given a live accompaniment by Devil Music Ensemble, one of a number of groups now touring the country providing music for silent films.

The film opens with the attack of the Tartar Western Army upon the poor but virtuous people of the South. The Tartars are equipped with swords, banners, long hair, and REALLY BIG MEXICAN SOMBREROS.

The Tartars are led by the General, who lounges on a fur-covered couch in a kind of Hollywood villa, served hand, foot, and steely sword by a number of near-naked beauties in bikinis.

As with so many men in this position, he longs for a wife. This will cause trouble later on.

In a nearby village lives the virtuous maiden Yun Mei, inexplicably called Yun Ko in the subtitles, and played by the actress Fan Xuepeng, a popular wuxia star who had quite a long career. She lives with her blind, crippled grandmother and devotes herself to a life of filial piety. When the Tartars attack, the neighboring family, which includes Rich Squire, Pretty Daughter, and Sinister Servant, offer to help her evacuate. She refuses to leave unless Granny can come with her, and granny clearly can't walk, so Rich Squire & Co. take off on their own.

Next comes the character described in the titles as "Cousinbrother," a poor but idealistic scholar, played by director Wen Yimin. He carries Granny on his back while Yun Mei staggers under the burden of rather a lot of household paraphernalia.

Behind them, however, a clay pot left on the stove explodes in a moment of heavy symbolism . . .

The Tartars attack. Granny is trampled to death, Yun Mei is carried off to be presented to the General, and Cousinbrother is left to bury the old lady.

Commanding the General's bodyguard is Teeth, a comic villain with a straggling overbite and an unattractive habit of drooling. He presents the General with the day's roundup of virgins, in which Yun Mei rather stands out. The General rises from his fur-covered couch, pushes aside his harem of bikini-clas concubines, swaggers up to her and demands . . . HER HAND IN MARRIAGE!!!!!!!!

Or, as the title card has it, "When you to marry General, you will have gold--- power--- glory!" (English subtitling hadn't got much better by the 1980s, by the way.)

The steadfast girl refuses, and is carried up to the general's lair to be stripped and subjected to marriage. Fortunately--- as revealed in a subsequent flashback--- Cousinbrother had encountered a wandering Taoist scholar, White Monkey, and told him of her situation. White Monkey decides to intervene.

Chinese cinema has a long tradition of wandering masters being played by men with really unconvincing facial hair, and White Monkey is no exception. His hair and beard look less like hair and more like some kind of creepy pale fungus. (The Chinese master in Kill Bill, with his eyebrows that looked as if they were cut from a carpet and pasted onto his face, is a takeoff on this tradition.)

White Monkey rescues Yun Mei from her Fate Worse Than Not Marriage, and takes her off to his hermitage to instruct her in martial arts.

THREE YEARS LATER peace is declared, and the villagers move back to town. Unfortunately the General has established his military camp nearby, around the same H0llywood villa he'd occupied during the campaign.

There follows a rather lengthy plot which I failed to entirely understand due largely to the weird pidgin English used in the title cards, but it comes down to this: Sinister Servant--- remember him?--- lusts after Pretty Daughter, but is caught by Rich Squire and kicked out of the house. Sinister Servant then goes to the General and tells him that Rich Squire is an enemy spy, and Rich Squire is arrested. The General announces he'll let Rich Squire go if Pretty Daughter gives him . . . HER HAND IN MARRIAGE!!!!!!!!! Pretty Daughter consents, and she marries the General.

The morning after the wedding night, the General orders Papa killed anyway. Pretty Daughter objects. "Bind his feel!" the General commands--- apparently his wedding night was so passionate that his brain is badly effected, so that he mistakes both the sex and body parts of his bride--- the bikini girls tie Pretty Daughter's hands together.

Things are looking pretty hopeless! Who can save them now?

Enter White Monkey, arriving on his ass. During the course of a rather lengthy conversation with Cousinbrother and Rich Gentry's family, he explains that Yun Mei will shortly arrive to thrash the bad guys. Which she does, waving her sword while flying through the air in an early version of wire-fu. She too engages in a lengthy chat-fest, during which time Rich Gentry is strung up for execution and Pretty Daughter goes into fits. You wonder when she's going to get around to rescuing everybody. Eventually Yun Mei remembers she's a superheroine and flies into the General's compound at about the time we remember that "Yun Mei" means "Cloud Virgin" in Chinese.

A stirring fight scene commences, in which Yun Mei thrashes the Tartar army with the help of a band of revolutionaries that just happen to be in the neighborhood. The Cloud Virgin is pretty ruthless--- after kicking the General around his house and down the stairs, she runs his helpless body through and dispatches him.

It has to be said that the kung-fu in this movie isn't very interesting--- the fights resemble a lot of combat in the era of silent film, a lot of flailing around amid scenery that's too cramped for a good battle. People just hadn't learned to film fight scenes yet.

At the end, the Tartars are defeated, and Yun Mei hangs around long enough to arrange a marriage between Scholar Cousinbrother and Pretty Daughter, who seems little the worse for wear after her night with the General. In the end, the Cloud Virgin leaps back into the sky and sails off, waving her sword. The End.

It's not really a great movie, even for the period, but it's right smack in the Chinese wuxia tradition that carries down to the present day. If you're into this sort of thing, you'll like it. But the odds are that you'll like it even if you've never seen a wuxia before.

It wasn't a happy ending just for the characters in the movie. Fan Xueping worked into the Sixties, though she had to stop making wuxia movies after the Nationalist government banned "superstitious films" in 1931. Director Wen Yimin went on to work with the Shaw Brothers both as an actor and director, often under the Cantonese version of his name, Man Yat-man.

The Devil Music Ensemble provided expert live music, featuring Western and Chinese percussion, synthesizer, guitar, xylophone, a viola tuned so that it sounded Chinese, and erhu. (Hey! The second time I've heard erhu in a week!)

Rated four chops (one for the live music). Check it out.

To see if Red Heroine and Devil Music is playing in your neighborhood, check the DME schedule.

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More Music

Interesting. All my posts these days seem to be about music or disaster. This one's about music.

My second-favorite band from Globalquerque was Lo Cor de la Plana, a buncha guys from France. (I tried to link to a suitable video, but they all either had terrible sound quality or were untypical of what I actually saw. This is the best.)

To describe them as an a capella band would probably stretch the term: they accompany themselves with stomping, hand claps, and hand drums. They sing mostly in Occitans, the native language of southern France (also known as Langue d'Oc). And they sing with utter ferocity. The sonic assault coming from the stage was colossal, both in volume and energy.

Their music shows the influence of all the many cultures that have straddled the Pyrenees. A song would start out sounding Moroccan, then turn into a Gregorian chant, then finish as Moroccan again. I heard folk, I heard rhumba flamenco, I heard pure joy and exuberance.

Also humor. "When we tell people where we're from," one said, "they say, 'You're from the dirtiest place on Earth.' So we decided to make a song about the unique way that we smell, and it's called 'Let's be Proud.'"

(I'm not sure whether the dirtiest place on earth the fellow mentioned is supposed to be France or Marseilles. Never been to Marseilles, but the parts of France I've visited seemed reasonably fragrant to me.)

I also caught two concerts from Hapa, a band from Hawaii. The interesting thing about the two concerts was that they were completely different. One was instrumental, featuring Barry Flanagan on Hawaiian slack-string guitar. (Which is actually Latin American slack-string guitar, learned when King Kamehameha III imported a bunch of vaqueros to teach Hawaiians how to be cowboys. I wonder if even Ned Sublette's excellent book has this information.)

The other concert featured vocals. (My, Hawaiian has a lot of vowels!) There was a third, older gent onstage, and a hula dancer. At one point the older man asked, "Are there any Hawaiians here?", which question was followed by a lot of yelling. (Apparently there are a lot of Hawaiians in New Mexico: who knew?) He invited them onstage to hula along with the band, and they did. And that was pretty nifty.

This music is just pure fun. I bought Hapa's CD Maui. It's been on continuous play ever since.

I was also impressed by Orchid Ensemble, a group from the northwest that features two chinese women on zheng (the large wooden zither, pronounced "jun") and erhu (the two-string knee fiddle), and a third non-Chinese member on percussion and the highly traditional Chinese marimbas. (I am, by the way, a total sucker for the erhu, which plays in the same range as a cello. I just love that sound.)

Orchid Ensemble played a kind of Chinese jazz, improvising off traditional music. My problem as an observer was that, unfamiliar as I am with Chinese musical traditions, I didn't know when they were improvising, or for that matter how brilliant the improvisations were. All I knew was that it sounded good, pretty much.

Sure did enjoy that erhu, though.

I also enjoyed the German band 17 Hippies (of whom there were actually only thirteen). At their best they sound like a demented Kurt Weill, but they're such a wild collection of musical influences that a good deal of the time they sounded like several different orchestras playing one after the other.

It should also be pointed out that most of them were too young to have ever seen an actual hippie.

I had a good time with the Mexican Institute of Sound, basically a plump, bald producer/executive/performer/synthesizer jock named Camilo Lara who does a kind of polycultural Mexican hip-hop. The audience didn't want to let these guys go. They jumped up and down, they screamed, and finally Lara just had to say, "We didn't bring any more music!"

That was a pretty freakin' great weekend.

And now we return you to the economic meltdown.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tribute Band

Even KISS has a tribute band these days, and KISS isn't even dead. (Except creatively, maybe.) (And if I know anything about KISS, they have a PIECE of aforesaid tribute band.)

I've never had the urge to see a tribute band, even for bands I like. Beatlemania remains an enigma--- I'm not sure why anyone would want to see it, even though I'm a Beatlemaniac my ownself. Yet last night I found myself at Winter Dance Party, a all-star lineup of dead rockers, being a re-creation of the last concert of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper. (Dion and the Belmonts, who were also at that fated concert, were not featured, presumably because they were not on the plane that augered into that wintry corn field in Clear Lake, Iowa.)

(Quick quiz! Can you think of any rock stars who died in a bus crash? Clearly a bus is a far safer choice than the sort of rented puddlejumpers used by touring bands. Future rock stars of the world--- if you want Mick Jagger's career rather than Ronnie Van Zandt's, please note this simple fact.)

So how did I end up watching a tribute to a bunch of musicians that I'm too young to actually remember? I was in Socorro for another reason altogether, and there are a limited number of things you can do in Socorro on Friday night, and this was one of them.

So there I was for two hours of family-friendly entertainment. Macey Center was packed, with an overflow crowd. There were a good number of people who looked like they remembered Buddy Holly the first time around, and a whole lot of people who might have been their grandchildren or great-grandchildren. It was pleasing that there were a lot of people there who had been born decades after the Day the Music Died.

I initially wanted to complain that the performers playing Holly and Valens didn't really look like them, and then I realized that my complaint was that they didn't look like Gary Busey or Lou Diamond Phillips. If I've seen any video of the actual performers, I can't remember it. I only know their looks and personalities from the biopics.

The Big Bopper was played by Jay P. Richardson, Junior--- which is to say the Big Bopper's actual son, born a few months after his father's death. He sang all his dad's hits, of which there were a surprising number. Richardson Senior was a songwriter who mostly wrote hits for other people, like George Jones.

For the most part I surrendered to the music, which really is too good to die. The people having the best time were the folks from the Tech Swing Dance Club, who filled the dance floor and consistently performed expert moves that had me quite envious. Kathy and I danced also, less expertly.

So, I Raved On. I had a good time. The music was great.

But I still have no urge to see Beatlemania.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Living Under Bridges

Another major bank went down the tubes today.

So, to answer a question a friend of mine asked his pals earlier today, what would you do if you knew you were shortly going to be destitute?

If you had just lost your job and/or investments, knew you were going to lose your house/apartment in a couple months, what would you do? How would you prepare?

Mor Karbasi

Here another whole week has gone past, and just because I have been somewhat preoccupied with world financial crisis and the prospect of sleeping under bridges, I haven't yet mentioned how much fun I had last weekend.

I was at Globalquerque, our yearly festival of world music, and it was terrific.

My hands-down favorite performer was the Israeli singer Mor Karbasi, who is something of a world musical festival in her own right, having a Persian father, Moroccan mother, being born in Jerusalem, based in London, and singing a lot of her songs in Ladino, which is a kind medieval Spanish/Portuguese creole spoken by Sephardic exiles.
She has a gorgeous voice, a repertoire of very strong songs, and a bit of flamenco flair. (Ladino songs had a lot of Morroccan influence, which in turn strongly influenced flamenco, which the Spanish thought had been brought to Spain by the Gypsies, who they thought were from Flanders. No doubt this is all unraveled in Ned Sublette's excellent book.)
Ladino songs also tend to be about God, though that's hidden. The Sephardim knew that if they practiced their religion in Spain they'd be burned at the stake, so they disguised their religious songs as love songs, and God as the beloved, usually in the form of a white dove. So if you hear a reference to "paloma blanca," you know what's going on.
Her first concert, on Friday night, was in an outdoor courtyard, and the rain began to just pour down. She was in a cloister and sheltered, but the audience wasn't.
We didn't leave. I had an umbrella, but most people didn't. The rain poured, Mor Karbasi sang, and we were all happy.
It was her first U.S. concert, so I think we gave her about the best welcome she could expect.
Also, with Mor Karbasi it's easy calling for an encore. All you have to do is shout out her name.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I'm Like Totally Down With the Serial Comma

“To my parents, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II.”

That book dedication is acceptible according to the AP style sheet, but not by me.

This sentence cost a Canadian company over $2 million:

“[This agreement] shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

All of which is by way of saying,

Happy National Punctuation Day!

You Mean I Don't Have to Take my Shoes Off Anymore?

My sometime drinking buddy Allison Barrie has posted an article about MALINTENT, which despite its rather sinister name is a scanner that will read the evil intentions behind even the most innocent pair of blue eyes.

"So here's how it works. When the sensors identify that something is off, they transmit warning data to analysts, who decide whether to flag passengers for further questioning. The next step involves micro-facial scanning, which involves measuring minute muscle movements in the face for clues to mood and intention.

"Homeland Security has developed a system to recognize, define and measure seven primary emotions and emotional cues that are reflected in contractions of facial muscles. MALINTENT identifies these emotions and relays the information back to a security screener almost in real-time."

This year I've spent more time in airports than ever before, which means I've spent colossal amounts of time standing passively in line, holding my contact lens solution in its plastic baggie and waiting for the command to remove my shoes.

If MALINTENT performs as advertised, we can stop a lot of the scanning and security theater, because the focus will be where it should have been all along, on the individual passenger instead of on all the crap that people carry onto aircraft.

Maybe we'll even see a return to the good old days, when I could swing onto an aircraft with a bottle of shampoo in my carry-on, snugged up right next to the bottle of tequila.

MALINTENT is one of the goodies soon to appear from the Science and Technology Directorate, where Jay Cohen has shuffled a lot of taxpayer dollars into radical technologies with the possibility of long-range payoffs.

Smart guy, that Admiral Cohen.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

From Minister Paulson

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude. I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America.

My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully, Minister of Treasury Paulson


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Publishing--- It Sucks There, Too

I'd like to take time out from the current world financial meltdown to talk about publishing, and how and why it totally sucks.

This article from New York states it very well, although for some reason it concentrates on best-sellers, and the heart-rending stories of newly-minted writers who got seven-figure advances for their first novels, only to find their price sinking into the low six figures by their third books.

Someone like me, who after thirty years in the business is about as far away from a seven-figure advance as I am from the moon, finds it a little hard to summon up a lot of fellow feeling for these flashes-in-their-pans.

Bet your money on someone with a thirty-year track record, why don't you? You can't do worse than you're doing now.

The article pre-dates the current financial contretempts, which compels me to add this footnote: publishing runs on credit. The money that is paid to authors is borrowed from banks. Banks aren't even lending to other banks right now, let alone businesses with the tiny profit margins we see in publishing.

Short form: Doomed. The lot of us. Doomed.

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I was in DC when the financial crisis began to play it out. Every evening I'd turn on CNN and listen to some new horror: Lehman Brothers gone, the Treasury refusing to bail out AIG at twenty billion and then deciding to bail them out once the price had risen to eighty-five billion; Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs on the ropes; and now a seven hundred billion dollar bailout covering every single bad money market decision that anyone has made in the last half-dozen years.

If your bank goes belly-up, you're only insured for the first $100,000. But if you've got billions in bad mortgages, the government will totally cover your ass.

The worst of it is that even if this plan goes into effect, the crisis isn't necessarily over. This could only be the beginning.

One can get a certain sardonic amusement at watching our stalwart free-marketeers turning into a bunch of whining socialists. A few years ago they were saying, "Deregulate the markets! We demand that you let us take on more debt! Everyone in America has the right to own a house! The markets decide what is right! If the markets decide you made a bad investment, you should suck it up and take it like a man! No bailouts, no government interference in the marketplace, never! Let the markets rule!"

Now the story's a little different. Now it's, "Oh jeez, the markets say we suck! We've got billions in losses! Please please pleeeeeeeeease bail us out! We demand that you nationalize us immediately!"

Personally I don't think we should bail out a single business until their entire board of directors comes before the public, waves red flags, and sings "The Internationale." "Arise, ye prisoners of starvation . . . " Then they can bow, kiss a copy of Das Kapital, and be sent into the countryside for re-education.

Bruce Sterling's blog pointed me at this excellent article from Time: How We Became the United States of France. The opening section is so delicious I have to quote it here.

This is the state of our great republic: We've nationalized the financial system, taking control from Wall Street bankers we no longer trust. We're about to quasi-nationalize the Detroit auto companies via massive loans because they're a source of American pride, and too many jobs — and votes — are at stake. Our Social Security system is going broke as we head for a future where too many retirees will be supported by too few workers. How long before we have national healthcare? Put it all together, and the America that emerges is a cartoonish version of the country most despised by red-meat red-state patriots: France. Only with worse food.

Admit it, mes amis, the rugged individualism and cutthroat capitalism that made America the land of unlimited opportunity has been shrink-wrapped by a half dozen short sellers in Greenwich, Conn. and FedExed to Washington D.C. to be spoon-fed back to life by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. We're now no different from any of those Western European semi-socialist welfare states that we love to deride . . .

Tant pis, y'all.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Back Home

I'm back in New Mexico, after a day spent in a succession of pressurized steel tubes.

I'm not going to chat about the meetings. They weren't secret, but they were sort of complex, and don't lend themselves to easy summary.

Let me just say when you start getting correspondence with the letterhead HEADQUARTERS SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER it tends to attract your attention.

And no, I didn't meet the supreme commander in person.

Met his posse, though.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hubble Finds Imperial Star Destroyer . . .

. . . or Something.

Astronomers peering through the Hubble have found something new.

Like, totally new. Like unprecedented. Like an object that no one has ever seen before.

It wasn't there. And then it was. And then it wasn't.

"We suggest that the transient may be one of a new class."

Freakin' great.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Eye of Ike

I fell asleep as I was crossing the country, and woke up at sunset. The cloud-tops below were a brilliant pink, as were the edges of the aircraft's wings.

The plane was also bouncing around a good deal. I realized I was flying over the remains of Hurricane Ike, stretching from horizon to horizon.

And then I saw a huge gap in the clouds off to the south. No way, I thought, could the eye of the hurricane still be intact.

Sure looked like it, though. A huge gap in the storm, many miles across. Triangular rather than circular, but then you'd expect it to be rough at the edges.

It looked like the Eye of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings movies.

Maybe it was just a coincidence, that a gap in the clouds formed right then.

Washington seems to be the Land of Delays. A 20-minute delay in getting my bags and a 20-minute wait for the next Metro car, all of which got me to the hotel after all nearby restaurants had closed. So I ordered a pizza, and that took ninety minutes to get to me.

The pizza sucked, but I didn't care.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Credit Where Credit's Due

Okay, I found credits for Spore and discovered my actual Spore job title.

It's "Writer, Spore Story Elements & Missions." There I am, on the same page with Will Wright and Brian Eno.

How cool is that?


In Washington

For the next few days I'm in our nation's capital for, hmm, meetings.

My time for Internet may be limited. We shall see.


Miners' Ink

Miners' Ink proved to be a pleasant convention, and a pleasant surprise considering that none of the people involved had ever thrown a convention before. The few mistakes made were minor compared with the mistakes that could have been made, or that perhaps ought to have been made.

The university venue offered some differences from the usual con venue. Huge lecture halls and an auditorium for the big events, participation of college clubs (who sold food and souvenirs and whatnots), and the glee club, which opened the event with an a capella version of the Star Trek theme.

Organizers used to an academic setting seemed more comfortable getting events under way early in the morning and ending early, leaving folks standing around at night with nothing to do. Writers remedied this the way they always do: we clumped together in the hotel lounge, drank, and talked.

Nichelle Nichols had a much better solution, which was to invade the Capitol Bar on Friday night and tear up the dance floor, a pretty remarkable performance for a woman over seventy. I wish someone had told me this was happening: I can talk to writers any time.

Ms. Nichols was charming and sweet and, as Hollywood stars go, very accessible. She was present with a posse that included her son, Kyle, who lives in Gila. She gave a keynote speech pointing out the necessity of female and minority engineers.

The speech rambled somewhat: I think we can conclusively prove that Ms Nichols writes her own speeches. A ghostwriter would have punched it up.

We had nothing to do on Sunday but go on a tour of the VLA. I've been several times, so I went home to wash my clothes and pack for my next trip, which starts tomorrow.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

What Should I Be Reading?

I've read some disappointing stuff lately. Either the subject matter didn't float my boat, or the book was structured badly--- with 200 pages' worth of padding, say, or with a climax that happens two-thirds of the way through the book instead of toward the end, or with a protagonist so dumb that he makes a box of hammers look like Einstein.

Or, y'know, the writing just sucked.

So I'm open for suggestions. What should I be reading?

Will I really enjoy Neal Stephenson's 600-page recapitulation of Western Philosophy with all the terms changed? Especially as I've already read Western Philosophy?

Should I really try to start the Kushiel books even though I'm not into leather and whips?

Should I be reading about Naomi Novik's Napoleonic dragons even though I'm a genuine expert on Napoleonic stuff and might really be pissed by what I find?

You tell me.

My tastes are eclectic. I'm not into generic fantasy, generic space opera, generic military SF, generic anything. It has to have the tang of the true and at least a modicum of ingenuity.

I want your opinion. Please offer it to me.


Since Y'all Asked . . .

Ralf asked me in another topic about my policy on DRM. I don't actually have one, because I don't produce software, so what I've got amounts to mere observations.

I'm for whoever owns the work releasing it with whatever conditions he wants. People can accept or reject it on that basis. If he says, "You can only read it once, and it's gone," as William Gibson did for one of his stories, then that's fine.

In the case of my own works, my print publishers buy electronic rights along with everything else, and if they choose not to use them, or to use them with restrictions, then that's all right by me. They paid for that privilege. I bought a new car this year with the money they paid me. That's groovy.

What I object to is adding malware to the package. Protecting your rights is one thing: infecting other folks' computers with programs that spy on them, or which slows their computer, or can't be removed even after the game/file/whatever is uninstalled, is not just wrong, but illegal. I own my computer no less than I own my copyrights: I can't afford to let anyone interfere with either.

(And by the way, putting your work on a Read-Only machine is just dumb. When the machine and/or format becomes obsolete, as inevitably it will be, your work will be as inaccessible as if it were written in Linear A.)

"But," I hear some say, "information wants to be free." Maybe your useless information is worth nothing, but mine costs money.

Some writers have done well by releasing all their work on a free, non-DRM basis. I've done that with some works, and so far as I can see, it has not made a difference. People have to know who I am before they look for my stuff to find out whether it's free or not, and most people don't know me from Adam.

I have yet to hear a single person come up to me and tell me, "I read that story online, and now I've gone out and bought everything you've ever written." Or even one thing I've ever written.

Giving away stuff for free is fine, but you have to be famous first before that will help your career. Cory Doctorow isn't famous because he gives his work away: giving his stuff away works for him because he was already famous.

So that's my policy, such as it is. And, like all my policies, it is subject to change.

If you think otherwise, feel free to change my mind.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Miners' Ink

I'll be in Socorro this weekend, for New Mexico Tech's first-ever science fiction convention!

Also attending will be SM Stirling, Jane Lindskold, and David Lee Summers.

My guess is most people will be attending to see Nichelle Nichols, who will be signing autographs for twenty bucks a pop. (Dang! And up till now I've been giving mine away for free!)

Other things happening are tours of the Very Large Array and the Magdalena Ridge Observatory, both of which are, to put it mildly, very cool.


Saturday, September 06, 2008


Spore, the world's most eagerly anticipated video game ever, releases this weekend.

I wrote it.

Or rather, I wrote all the dialog and some of the situations in the space game, which is the last--- the ultimate, if you will--- of five interlinked games that make up Spore. (There's not a lot of call for dialog in most of the games, since characters won't yet have evolved language.)

When you encounter some fifteen-eyed, twenty-tentacled Purple People Eater lecturing you from the command center of its UFO, you're talking to me, baby!

Faithful readers may recall, earlier in the year, my mention of a Mystery Project. Spore was it.

Spore was designed by Will Wright, who had earlier created The Sims, which is the world's most popular computer game ever. Spore is a game about evolution, vetted by actual scientists, in which you start as a single-celled animal in a droplet of water. You then progress through the stages of being a rather more efficient single-celled organism, after which you crawl out on land, become the dominant species, evolve intelligence, become a tribal society, develop civilization, and eventually space travel, after which you roar out into the galaxy.

And by galaxy, I mean galaxy. You get an entire galaxy, every star and its planets and orbiting body, as your sandbox.

I have to say that Will, Lucy, Kip, Jenna, Eric, and the other folks at Maxis were pretty darn smart to get themselves a science fiction writer to write the science fiction parts.

The original name for the game was "Sim Everything." Which it is.

I'm really proud to be a part of it.

Buy it! Then write to Will Wright and tell him how wonderful the dialog was.


My First Rodeo

It had occurred to me a few years ago that while I had lived in the southwest for many years now, I'd never been to a rodeo. Since rodeo is a backbone of the culture, particularly here in rural New Mexico where I live (I see kids practicing for rodeo events all the time), it was clearly time to remedy this lack.

So off we went off to the Socorro County Fair, along with our friends Michael and Kristy, their young daughter and their newborn infant. Just to take in that family-friendly rodeo vibe.

There were bleachers, but lots of folks just backed their pickup trucks up to the ring in order to watch the activities from the truck bed. I'd guess the crowd never exceeded 200. Our local science fiction convention easily draws twice that many.

We arrived a little early, so we got to see the crownings of the Rodeo Queen, the Rodeo Princess, and the Rodeo Sweetheart (categories divided by age groups). There were also minor awards in each category: Miss Congeniality, Miss Personality, Best Horsewoman, and various other categories that now escape me. Many of the awards went to the same people, who ended up covered with ribbons.

There were only two entrants for Rodeo Queen. One was a young perky slim blonde, and the other wasn't, being older, tall, less conventionally pretty, and with a substantial girth.

Naturally I was hoping the latter would win. Naturally I was disappointed. (She did get "best horsewoman," though.)

(I remember watching the parade in the town of Madgalena some years ago, a Frontier Days sort of festival, where the Rodeo Queen was a big old lady in a poke bonnet and mother hubbard, who drove her own buckboard. Someone, in other words, who actually looked as if she'd lived on the frontier.)

After each crowning, the Sweethearts, Princesses, etc., would mount their horses, wait for an introduction, and then ride around the ring at full gallop while firing two-finger salutes at the crowd. (Were they all Boy Scouts? I wondered.)

Then the rodeo began. It began with all the Sweethearts, Princesses, etc., being introduced again, and riding again around the ring, with two-fingered salutes etc.

Then they all lined up facing the bleachers while a couple young men rode the flag around the arena. And we all were told to sit down, because there was going to be a piece of music with a moving message.

I knew we were in trouble when I began to hear a chant about our Evangelical Founding Fathers, who in the Declaration of Independence charged the British with no less than 87 (I think it was 87) violations of the Ten Commandments. We then proceeded to other burning issues of the day, hearing about "the holocaust of 5000 children murdered every day in America," and how schools needed to pass out "Bibles, not condoms."

The song just went on and on.

I believe the song was titled "What America Needs is Jesus," but a Google search has failed to turn up something with that name.

Michael and I stared at each other, appalled. How much public money, I wondered, was going into paying for us to hear this sermon on abortion?

Afterwards the audience was asked to stand up and pray. We remained rooted firmly in our seats. I am not going to pray with these assholes, I believe I said to myself, or perhaps aloud.

We were alone in this protest.

The prayer went on for some time, basically building a spiritual wall around the arena so that Satan might not enter. (Lord knows cowboys can get up to enough mischief on their own.)

After that we got the "Star-Spangled Banner," for which I did stand, thank you.

The rodeo itself, once it got going, was right good fun. I had the feeling that the real elite cowboys do not attend the Socorro County Fair, which would account for all the steer wrestlers who jumped off their horses only to miss the steers completely, for the bronc and bull riders who got thrown in the first couple seconds, and for the calf and breakaway ropers who missed their targets.

This did not much matter to me. It was fun even when they missed.

The ghastly sermon-song did cast a pall over the evening, though. It was like a message from an alternate America where people like me are stoned to death for denying that George Washington was an Evangelical.

And, from what I can see, the cowboys and girls could have benefitted from less praying, and more roping practice.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Chinese Commies and Others

I had an essay half-written on the Olympics before my life got busy, and then the Olympics were over, and the whole effort became irrelevant. But it's suddenly grown a strange resonant pertinence, so here I go.

I intended to comment on the various Chinese attempts to control the Olympics and its public perception, and how so much backfired because autocratic Chinese officials were so deeply clueless as to the new technology, and to how a free information society operates. They figured they could have an actress lip-synch the opening song without anyone noticing, and that no one would check to see if the children representing China's 56 ethnic groups actually belonged to those groups, and pass off an obvious 14-year-old gymnast as a 16-year-old without someone like Stryde Hax looking into an online archive and finding the actual government documents proving otherwise.

I mean, they gave her a passport. That makes it official. Right?

Boy, I was gonna write, they sure are dumb, thinking they could keep this a secret. But at least they could rely on a compliant press to spread the official word to their own 1.4 million.

(And the lip-synch decision went all the way to the Politburo. Apparently those old geezers have nothing better to do.

(Which shows you, by the way, how weak the Chinese government actually is. They're powerful enough to go after any domestic opposition they care to, and they can reach consensus on what entertainer to use at the games, but there's no way they can actually steer over a billion people. They're just desperately hoping the 21st Century doesn't run away with them, like it's running away with everyone else.)

The Chinese did in fact allow for peaceful protest. They just said that all people planning to protest at the Olympics had to register ahead of time, and do their thing in "protest zones." After which they were all rounded up and held without charges. (In China, you can be sent to prison for up to three years just on the word of the local authorities, no trial necessary.)

But anyway: that's last month's news.

This month's news is about the Twin Cities being turned into an armed camp, complete with arrests of those who had filed for permission to protest the Republican National Convention, by sheriff's department deputies dressed up as SWAT members and brandishing assault rifles (but not warrants, apparently). The (notoriously unprofessional) sheriff's department was presumably acting at the behest of the federal government, who were acting on information given by convicted criminals who were given lighter sentences if they agreed to infiltrated "vegan groups," and who are paid by the arrest.

After the arrests, the police showed "caltrops," which turned out to be roofing nails, and "buckets of urine," which turned out to be greywater used to flush toilets in eco-conscious homes.

There actually was a riot complete with property damage, but the rioters who caused damage were not arrested. (A mind far more cynical and paranoid than mine would wonder if this is because the actual rioters were police provocateurs.) (The actual anarchists helped clean up the damage, cuz, like, whoah, broken glass can be dangerous.) Instead of arresting those who had caused the trouble, the police amused themselves by arresting journalists (including Amy Goodman, charged with conspiracy to riot), arresting and gassing peaceful protestors, unplugging the concert by Rage Against the Machine, and repeatedly pepper-spraying a woman trying to hand them a flower.

Wow. Even the Politburo doesn't have balls this big!

And, like the Politburo, the Powers that Be are totally clueless when it comes to modern information technology: cellphones, blogs, vidcams, Twitter, etc., that can document all these charming little actions as they happen. Christ, no one remembers Rodney King?

And also like the Politburo, the Powers that Be can count on a compliant press keep the world from getting too excited about any of this. Tom Wolfe notoriously remarked in the Sixties that the press is a sort of Victorian gentleman, who automatically avoids anything that might be thought unseemly. They glide serenely over the landscape, pausing to focus every so often on Britney's undies or Palin's pregnant daughter. (Who I don't care about, except by way of pointing out that faith-based contraception is notoriously unreliable.)

Our Victorian gentleman of the press explain why the Iraq war is the most under-reported war in the history of our nation. We might be depressed, we might be disturbed, we might change the channel.

Republicans. Chinese commies. More in common than you'd think.

My Mind is Melded

I have participated in SF Signal's Mind Meld, in which a whole clutch of authors have been set loose on the same topic.

The latest query: "How do you think media tie-in novels affect the genre of SF/F?"

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Daddy's World Online

My Nebula-winning story "Daddy's World" is available in the latest issue of Concept Sci-Fi.

It's free. Enjoy.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

She Could Not Blink Her Eyes

My mother passed away peacefully this evening, age 92. I was with her.

Five weeks ago, she was living independently in her own home. Whatever happened to her--- there are symptoms but no diagnosis--- happened fast. It was a relief that she didn't linger.

I have already written a tribute to her here.

I have a vast and angry rant about the American health care system, but this is neither the time nor the place.