Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fantasy. Science Fiction.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Passing Out of This World of Tiers

Philip Jose Farmer passed away this morning, aged 91.

I first met him at a convention in El Paso in the early Seventies. I was around 20, and had written the first part of a novel. Fortunately I was not quite so gauche as to bring the manuscript with me and ask Mr. Farmer to read it.
In any case, I decided I was going to hang out with the guest of honor, and the guest of honor had plenty of time on his hands and didn't seem to mind. We talked about writers, about books, about careers. I probably talked too much about myself.
He bought me lunch.
He was one of number of writers in our field, along with Jack Williamson and John Maddox Robberts, who did me the very kind courtesy of treating this wannabe as a colleague.
So Mr. Farmer, I thank you. In your kindness, you helped me envision the person I later became.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fat Tuesday

Happy Mardi Gras, folks!

I finally exhausted the vast supply of jambalaya I made a couple weeks ago, but in honor of the season I made chicken margaux, very much a creole recipe.

Didn't get a chance to parade, though.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Mean-Spirited Amusements

I've had a busy week, with little time to think, let alone blog in a thoughtful fashion. I'm not able to be entertaining right now, and I'm feeling really grumpy, so I'm providing links to a whole raft of mean-spirited amusements found elsewhere on the net.

Why is Richard Pryor laughing in heaven? Because he's viewed this whole page of videos of drunk idiots trying to drink flaming shots, and then setting themselves, their friends, and their homes on fire.

Lo, a page of things that can go wrong when you have sex in exotic locations. (I can testify to the truth about sex on a beach.)

Because Academy Award season is upon us, here's the Oscar Acceptance Speech Generator.

Also in honor of Oscar, we have a page of embarrassing Japanese ads starring Oscar-nominated actors. See Sean Connery sing in Japanese! . . . sort of.

And, just in case you're on the verge of losing your home and you decide to emulate Kevin Smith's friends Zack and Miri, you can help generate a scenario with this handy porn movie flow chart.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Adios, the Televisor

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reviews Too Late: Haibane Renmei

People kept recommending this series to me, so I went looking for it on Netflix.
The series concept and characters were created by Yoshitoshi ABe (that's how he spells it), and was produced by yasuyuki ueda (also sic), both of whom worked together on Serial Experiments: Lain.
What Lain and Haibane Renmei together seem to indicate is that the creators are using the medium of anime to make 13-episode, stylized, moody, highly original art films.
Which is fine with me. It beats the hell out of watching Warhol's Empire for eight hours.
We open with a young woman falling head-first from a lovely blue-and-white sky. She is garbed in a white robe, and accompanied by a crow who interacts with her in a lively way, then tries to support her by tugging on the hem of her robe. The crow fails, and the girl continues to plummet toward the earth.
It turns out that this is the dream of Rakka, a Haibane, as she grows in her cocoon. Aside from being spontaneously generated in a pod, Haibane differ from humans in that they resemble traditional angels. They have grey, nonfunctional wings, and halos, which can be difficult to attach at first. (Rakka has to stick hers on with tape and wire.)
[Haibane means "ash-wing," though creator ABe prefers "charcoal-wing" in English translation. (Possibly because "charcoal" gives a larger color palette, from black through ash-white.) "Renmei" means "confederation." The series is also subtitled Une fille qui a despiles grises, "A girl with grey wings." No French is otherwise used in the series.]
Rakka wakes and is taken into the Haibane community, consisting of about a dozen individuals. There are a number of children and teenagers, but seemingly no adults. All were hatched either as a child or adolescent, all born more or less functional and with language skills. Once born they seem to age normally. (The fact there are no adults would seem to point in the direction of a sinister secret.)
The Haibane live in an old mansion called Old Home. (The English words are used throughout.) Old Home is in a town called Guri, which is filled with normal people. The technology level seems to be late 20th Century, though there are no automobiles as there is no place to drive. Electric power is provided by a wind farm. The town and its environs is surrounded by a wall which the inhabitants are forbidden to touch or even to approach. Beings called Toga--- they look like masked humans garbed like shamans--- are the only people allowed through the gate, and they bring things from outside that the townsfolk can't make for themselves.
The Haibane get their names from the dreams they experienced while in their coccoons. ("Rakka" means "falling.") The elder Haibane (all of whom are female) have jobs in town, but are forbidden to own money. Instead they get coupon books that allow them to purchase goods. The folks in town consider it good luck to give them things. There is another group of Haibane, both girls and boys, that live in an abandoned factory on the other side of town, but there is unexplained tension between the two.
The opening episodes consist of Haibane and people being extremely kind to one another, and for a while I wondered if there was going to be any conflict at all.
Trouble enters paradise when one of the Haibane, um, dies.
Turns out that sometimes a Haibane will get an urge to wander off into the Western Woods, then on their "Day of Flight" turn into a beam of light that shoots up into the sky.
Rakka witnesses this and gets terribly upset. (It may be my personal take on this, but I'd find death a lot less ominous if people shot up into the sky as a beam of light . . . It would seem a hopeful sign to me.) Rakka then spends several episodes asking anguished existential questions. Her wing feathers begin to turn black. Her particular friend Reki ("Gravel") gives her medicine that washes her feathers clean again, but explains that the black feathers are a pretty dreadful sign.
It is strongly suggested that the Haibane are recently reincarnated humans, placed within the sheltering walls of Guri in order to work through traumatic episodes in their past lives. (Since none can remember their past lives, this is actually a tall order.) Those who can't work out their problems become "Sin-Bound," and their feathers turn black. If they're still Sin-Bound when their Day of Flight comes, Something Bad happens to them.
It turns out that Rakka's friend Reki is not only Sin-Bound, but was Sin-Bound from birth, born with black feathers. (It is strongly suggested--- the series never actually tells you anything--- that Reki ended her previous existence in suicide.)
The last few episodes chronicle Rakka's desperate attempts to save her Sin-Bound friend before the Day of Flight comes.
It's significant that the Haibanes' dreams are so important, because the whole series has a dreamlike quality that sets its action in a place beyond our reality. The series is very gentle and slow moving, and there are no villains anywhere in the story, only people who need help and other people willing, if not always able, to help them.
At times I grew frustrated with the series' slow pace--- you could pack the whole story into a two-hour feature without losing much of the story--- but on the other hand it was sometimes a relief to spent time with some genuinely nice, if not precisely angelic, people.
The story seems a highly personal work from Mr. ABe, a working out of his own private symbol set. The wings and halos are borrowed from Christian imagery, but the metaphysical setup is far from Christian. And it's lovely to look at.
If you think you might like a series about nice folks in which nothing blows up, then this may be the thing for you.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Former USA

From the Long Now Foundation: Dmitri Orlov foresees collapse.

The idea that the USA will go the way of the USSR seemed preposterous at the time. It doesn't seem so preposterous any more. I take it some of you are still hedging your bets. How is that hedge fund doing, by the way?

. . . If there is one thing that I would like to claim as my own, it is the comparative theory of superpower collapse. For now, it remains just a theory, although it is currently being quite thoroughly tested. The theory states that the United States and the Soviet Union will have collapsed for the same reasons, namely: a severe and chronic shortfall in the production of crude oil (that magic addictive elixir of industrial economies), a severe and worsening foreign trade deficit, a runaway military budget, and ballooning foreign debt. I call this particular list of ingredients "The Superpower Collapse Soup." Other factors, such as the inability to provide an acceptable quality of life for its citizens, or a systemically corrupt political system incapable of reform, are certainly not helpful, but they do not automatically lead to collapse, because they do not put the country on a collision course with reality. Please don't be too concerned, though, because, as I mentioned, this is just a theory. My theory . . .

. . . By the mid-1990s I started to see Soviet/American Superpowerdom as a sort of disease that strives for world dominance but in effect eviscerates its host country, eventually leaving behind an empty shell: an impoverished population, an economy in ruins, a legacy of social problems, and a tremendous burden of debt. The symmetries between the two global superpowers were then already too numerous to mention, and they have been growing more obvious ever since . . .

. . . Right now the Washington economic stimulus team is putting on their Scuba gear and diving down to the engine room to try to invent a way to get a diesel engine to run on seawater. They spoke of change, but in reality they are terrified of change and want to cling with all their might to the status quo. But this game will soon be over, and they don’t have any idea what to do next.So, what is there for them to do? Forget “growth,” forget “jobs,” forget “financial stability.” What should their realistic new objectives be? Well, here they are: food, shelter, transportation, and security. Their task is to find a way to provide all of these necessities on an emergency basis, in absence of a functioning economy, with commerce at a standstill, with little or no access to imports, and to make them available to a population that is largely penniless. If successful, society will remain largely intact, and will be able to begin a slow and painful process of cultural transition, and eventually develop a new economy, a gradually de-industrializing economy, at a much lower level of resource expenditure, characterized by a quite a lot of austerity and even poverty, but in conditions that are safe, decent, and dignified. If unsuccessful, society will be gradually destroyed in a series of convulsions that will leave a defunct nation composed of many wretched little fiefdoms.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009


When I was getting over my surgery I cooked a ham, just so I wouldn't have to think about what I was going to eat for my next meal. But I got sick of the ham well before it ran out.
So then I decided to make ham and sausage jambalaya with Creole sauce from the recipe of Chef Francoise Auclaire le Vison, a process that took hours of hard labor, as it started with cutting up seven pounds of meat before going on to the vegetables. (Have you ever noticed that Cajun/Creole recipes all seem to aim at creating enough food to fill a 55-gallon barrel?)
I'll tell you how Old School this cooking is. At one point I stared aghast at the recipe for the Creole sauce and said to myself, "My God! This calls for a whole pound of butter!"
It must be admitted that I cut the amount of butter in half, which resulted in my thinking to myself, "My God! This calls for half a pound of butter!"
The taste seemed not to be affected by my half-hearted attempt to save my arteries, however.

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England--- Home of Jujutsu

There's nothing like learning jujutsu from a chirrupy-voiced upperclass English lady, as seen in this classic video from 1931.

I doubt that her partner's groans are at all feigned, as he doesn't seem very good at falling down.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Darwin Day

Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Darwin!
You don't look a day over 187.



So this morning I was drawing a bath and left the room and when I came back Charlie was looking like this.
After I finished laughing and loudly mocking his clumsiness and dancing around with joy I ran for the camera, but he wouldn't sit still for a photo, so I stole this pic from elsewhere on the Internet, where it seems not to be in copyright.
But he really did look like this. Really.



It's time for Klingons in the News!

Hot on the heels of the revelation that some mope was using a Klingon bat'leth to rob convenience stores in Colorado, we now find this moving short film about Klingon Night School.

Note that the film is brought to us by Chili's. Perhaps a visit to Chili Headquarters with a bat'leth will convince them to leave our entertainments alone.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Implied Spaces at SFBC!

Implied Spaces is an Alternate Selection for the Science Fiction Book Club.
If you're an SFBC member, check it out.


Clarion 2009

Clarion, the science fiction field's pre-eminent workshop, is open for submissions from prospective students.

The six-week workshop will take place at University of California at San Diego, and will run June 28 through August 8. This year's writers in residence will be Holly Black, Larissa Lai, Robert Crais, Kim Stanley Robinson, Elizabeth Hand, and Paul Park.

If you have any ambitions toward writing this stuff, this is really the place to start.

Further information here.


Monday, February 09, 2009

Hugo Pimping

You have a little less than two weeks to nominate me for a couple Hugo Awards, so it's time to get busy! We need to pull together for this to happen, but if we succeed in coordinating our efforts, my mantelpiece will have two shiny new rockets, a massive injustice will have been laid to rest, and you will have the satisfaction of a job well done!

You are eligible to vote if you were a member of last year's Denvention, or this year's Anticipation in Montreal. If you don't have a membership in either convention, then you'll have to get cracking and buy an Anticipation membership toot sweet!

Once you've got your membership, you can go to the Hugo page and download the appropriate forms, or vote online.

Here what to vote for.


Implied Spaces, by Walter Jon Williams, Night Shade Press, July 2008.


"Pinocchio," by Walter Jon Williams, The Starry Rift, ed. Jonathan Strahan, Viking 2008.

You can nominate anything you like for the other categories, but if you nominate anything else for the novel and novelette categories, please make sure they're works that don't have a chance in hell of winning. Thank you!

I know I can count on you guys. We've been through a lot together, but I just know that if I can get a couple Hugos, all the wretchedness and misery and neglect will seem like a faraway dream.

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Coraline 2D

We saw Coraline the other day, and for some reason I was not enchanted. (My reaction to the book was enchantment from Page One, or thereabouts.)

I spent the entire film admiring the movie's technical achievements, but I was never caught up in the action, and the odd thing is that I can't figure out why I wasn't caught up. Usually I can tell why a film doesn't work for me, but this time I can't work it out.

Possibly it's because the film was a 3D film, and our local theater doesn't have the technology, so we saw it in 2D. A lot of the film's scenes were built around the 3d concept.

But still, 3D's only a gimmick. It's not like I really missed anything. The strength of the film should be in the script, and so far as I can tell the script was fine.

I was also aware that the music really wasn't enhancing the film's action. As music it was complex and interesting, as a film score it was second-rate Danny Elfman.

But I've enjoyed films with distracting scores before. What went wrong here?

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Shirt Full of Goodies

The Good News Fairy has a veritable shirt full of goodies for me this week!

Firstly, the folks at have very kindly made This Is Not a Game their book of the month! One could have wished that it would occur on the month when the book is actually released, but one can't have everything, can one?

Nextly, Locus has Implied Spaces on their Best Reads of 2008 list.

And Locus reviewer Russell Letson has Implied Spaces on his yearly wrap-up.

So it's like I'm being friended by all these people, and I haven't even gone to the trouble of setting up a Facebook page!

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Why I'm Slow This Week

When I was in the hospital for my few brief hours of day surgery, I got a head cold.

So I'm recovering not only from surgery (which is going just fine, thank you for asking), but I'm recovering from a cold at the very same time.

Kathy pointed out that I might as well save time and recover from both things at once. That may be true, but I am not consoled.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Pride. Prejudice. Zombies.

Some of you are thinking, "why?" Why defile a perfectly good piece of classic English literature by adding gratuitous gore, ninjas, and childish sexual innuendos?

Well I say, “because it’s there…and because antiquated copyright laws let me.”

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Coming in May, from Quirk Books.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Day the Music Died . . .

. . . was fifty years ago today.
Guys, you're still missed.

Reviews Too Late: Lust, Caution

You know that if it's a serious Chinese-language film, it's going to be a tragedy. No one in China ever gets a happy ending. Ever. Not even fictional characters.

That's Rule #1. So I never figured I'd ever mistake this film for, say, It's a Wonderful Life.

Yet when Netflix informed me that Ang Lee had made a movie I'd never even heard of, I hastened to rent it. This turned out to be Se, Jie (2007), released over here as Lust, Caution.

Ang Lee may well be the best filmmaker working in cinema today--- I mean, look at the dude's record--- and Se, Jie turns out to show all of Lee's strengths--- his attention to composition, his carefully-assembled, convincing period details, and his mastery of emotional nuance.

I also saw why the movie didn't exactly break box-office records over here. It's a grim, tragic melodrama where all the good people suffer and die, where the triumph of evil is so commonplace as to be routine, and where the lengthy, highly explicit sex scenes bring no joy to anyone. How many Hollywood rules can you break in a single film?

Much of the story is told in flashback, but in my summary I'm going to dispose of the framing device. The story (as opposed to the first scenes of the film) open in Hong Kong in 1938. World War II has been going on for several years (at least in China), and even relatively privileged college students are caught up in the action. Our freshman heroine, Wong Chia Chi (Wai Teng), joins a theater group that stages patriotic plays in order to raise money for China's defense. She doesn't so much want to be an actress as want to hang around the group's charismatic director, Kuang. (Who is played by Wang Lee-hom, a Chinese-American pop singer so massively famous in Asia that his renown probably eclipses that of the rest of the cast and crew together. He is also responsible for the term "chinked up," which he coined to describe his eclectic musical style.)

To everyone's surprise, college freshman Wong turns out to be a very good actress. Which aids her when the members of the theater group figure out what they want to do on their summer vacation--- a completely goofy scheme to assassinate a traitor, Mr. Yee, who runs a pacifist organization supported by the Japanese.

The group are good enough actors to create a false identity for Wong, that of Mak Tai Tai ("Supreme Wife Mak"), the wife of fictional businessman Mr. Mak, who unfortunately is played by one of the troupe's less gifted actors. ("Tai Tai," literally Supreme Supreme, is an obsolete term for senior wife, from back in the day when Chinese men got more than one.)

Due to the inept acting skills of her "husband," Wong has to carry the deception pretty much on her own, and worms herself into Yee's circle by befriending his own wife, Yee Tai Tai (Joan Chen). Mr. Yee is very attracted to her, and she plans to decoy him away from his guards and to a secluded location where her friends can kill him, when one of her fellow thespians asks the crucial question, "When you're alone with him, will you know what to do?"

Well actually she doesn't. So, in a grim deflowering scene, she sacrifices her virginity to the one member of the troupe who actually possesses a little sexual experience, and who turns out not to be Kuang, the one she actually wants.

Turns out it's for nothing. Yee is called out of town before he can be killed, though the group does succeed in assassinating one of Yee's friends, in a gruesome scene designed to show just how many stab wounds an amateur band of murderers require to actually kill someone. (Reminiscent of the scene in Hitckcock's Torn Curtain, where Paul Newman and Julie Andrews try to kill someone who just . . . won't . . . die . . . one of many Hitchcock references in Lust Caution, by the way, an hommage not so much to Hitchcock's cinematic style as his murky, morally ambiguous, sexually dangerous world-view.)

We now jump four years to 1942. Wong is now living as a poor relation in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, though she's still attending college. Mr. Yee is now a minister in the collaborationist government of Wang Jingwei--- basically he's the Minister of Torture, and carries out many of the interrogations himself. But he's beginning to realize that, since the entry of the U.S. into the war, he's living on borrowed time--- he and the Japanese and his cause (such as it is) are doomed. He's become a nihilistic murdering torturing madman, living with the knowledge that all the blood, all the screaming, all the death will do him no good, and will in fact doom him.

Wandering around Shanghai, who should student Wong run into but her old friend Kuang, the love-object that got her into this mess? It turns out that shortly after the Hong Kong fiasco, the theater troup was recruited by the actual Chinese secret service, and are now operating in Shanghai. Their daffy plan of assassinating Yee has not gone away--- in fact they'd like to revive it, this time with better planning and logistical help.

Wong is still dumb, or desperate, or bored enough to say yes. So "Mak Tai Tai" comes to life again, infiltrates the Yee house as a guest, and is soon involved with Mr. Yee, having desperate, often ugly sex with the man she intends to lure to his death.

The ambiguities of the situation are many. Mr. Yee, a sadist by profession, has a lot of violent, twisted sexual issues to work through before he can become human enough to actually engage in something as normal as adultery. Wong, on the other hand, is a good enough actress to fake anything she needs to, but is she really faking it a hundred percent? Or is part of her responding to what remains of Yee's humanity?

Fortunately for all this, Ang Lee got himself a pair of top-notch actors. Yee is played by Tony Leung (Chiu Wai). Known as "Short Tony" to distinguish him from another male ingenue of the 80s, "Tall Tony" Leung (Ka Fai), Tony Leung Chiu Wai was a star of action and romantic films, and also was one of the "Five Tigers of TVB," a huge Cantopop singing star. He's matured into a distinguished, subtle actor, thanks in part to director Wang Kar-wai, who's cast him in a number of films. Leung is on record as being a big admirer of Robert de Niro, and he's got de Niro's silence down pat, the way de Niro can remain absolutely still and simply play a scene with his eyes. Leung is absolutely wonderful in this.

Even finer is the lead, (Rebecca) Wei Tang. I was astounded to hear this was her first film. She nails absolutely every scene, including those in which she has to distinguish faking it from not faking it, and also from not being sure whether you're faking it or not. (She plays a character who has to pretend that she enjoys being raped. Wei Tang's take on Ms. Wong's acting style was breathtakingly right.)

There are a lot of explicit sex scenes, some violent and hard to watch. They're not erotic, they're clinical psychopathology in action, and call for astounding bravery on the part of the actors. (Unfortunately Wei Tang was punished for them, as her ad campaign for Pond's was banned by the Chinese government.)

There's an absolutely riveting scene where she talks to her handler about having sex with Yee, and that the only way she can endure the abuse and violence is to visualize the resistance breaking down the doors and shooting Yee so that his blood and brains splatter all over her. Her control is so disturbed and frightened by this that he orders her to be silent and follow orders--- keep screwing the guy, in other words, but for god's sake don't tell us what it's like.

Even though the film runs over two hours, and the scale of the film is large--- there's a completely colossal set that re-creates Shanghai in the 40s--- I kept getting the feeling that this is one of Ang Lee's more personal projects. His own family survived the occupation, and he's trying to be faithful to their memory. He's revealing his (or their) own ideas about love, sex, lies, China, and humanity. He's revealing himself no less than his actors.

Perhaps he is suggesting that in order to survive its own history, China has to pretend that it enjoys being raped.

The film was based on a story by iconic writer Eileen Chang (Zhang Ailing), which I will now try to locate.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Returned to Life

So I was out of town for a few days, and when I returned I slipped into the hospital for some brief voluntary surgery. I had an annoying (but fortunately benign) cyst removed.

I had hoped to return with the cyst in a jar of alcohol, but somehow this did not happen.

I spent the weekend shlumping around on painkillers, which was pleasing enough for me but rather dull for anyone else in the vicinity. Now I'm trying to do without the painkillers in order to catch up on, if not my work, at least reality.

But I have one question.

Did a Mexican tycoon really buy a huge chunk of the New York Times? Or was that an opiate-induced nightmare?

Kind Words

As my world slowly returns to something resembling normal, I find kind words on the Internet.

First, Jane Lindskold says some nice things about Implied Spaces.

And next, Worlds Without End passes on the word about This Is Not a Game.

Pleasing things to encounter as I stagger back to life.

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News Anchor Kata