Friday, April 28, 2017
What you're looking at here is the original starter from a 200 Land Rover Discovery II. Resquiat en pace, little starter, seventeen years was a good run.
Replacing one of these things is as simple as disconnecting two wires, and undoing two bolts. It's normally a fifteen minute job, but this one took three hours because the bolts had thoroughly seized up. To get enough leverage to break them required cutting out a half inch piece of the transmission flange - not an easy thing to do given the location of the starter. So it wound up being over two and a half hours to undo the bolts, and then a fifteen minute swap out.
Bear in mind, that it didn't take ME three hours, it took a friend of mine three hours. He offered to show me how it's done, and then wouldn't take no for an answer when the time scale of the project inflated. He enjoyed the challenge, and I enjoyed the camaraderie.
It was just another reminder of one of the high costs of technological specialization. The massive amounts of electronics and digital controls in modern cars precludes men from crawling under the hood and tinkering. Which in turn eliminates an excuse for bonding between and among men.
This change in American car care is grossly under-considered. Most analyses begin and end with a celebration of the increased complexity and the reduced "need" to tinker, but it would be nice to see more acknowledgement of how working on cars brings men together. Not much of a car guy myself, I'm only now beginning to appreciate the car culture, and how far it differs from the culture at large. If you've never entered a car parts store such as an O'Reilly's, you might be surprised at how generous people are with their time and expertise. Random strangers will stop and ask what you're doing, and offer helpful advice or stop and take 20 minutes out of their day to help you solve a puzzle.
As one example, the first time I had to change the tire on my Land Rover required three trips to O'Reilly's, and the purchase of a particular kind of tire iron. The bolts on this vehicle are specifically designed to be removed only with a six point ratchet - a 12 point won't do it. If you don't know what that means, don't worry, neither did I nor the two guys who stopped to help me solve it. We only fixed it because each of them called two separate friends, only one of which could tell us that that 12-point ratchet we were using didn't give us enough torque.
It took ten guys to figure that out - when was the last time ten random guys stopped to help you with anything? It doesn't happen often, but it happens to me at the car parts store all the time. It's a subtle sort of goodwill, transitory and random and entirely informal, but it's an important one. It's an acknowledgement that we are all in this together, and that we all have each other's backs. It's an important social glue that is passing away, and it's a shame.
There's an irony at work here. I firmly believe that there are forces at work doing everything they can to wage war on private car ownership. Every time the CAFE standards go up, every time another thousand dollar safety device is mandated, and every time the gasoline tax goes up, it makes it that much harder for everyday Americans to own a car. When you hear the bizarro world calls in the media for robot driven cars, shared cars, and increased public transit ridership, that's all part of a concerted effort to reduce the freedom and independence that comes from owning your own method of transport. At least for the hoi polloi - most of those pushing this agenda make six figure incomes and know full well that they won't be called on to give up their freedom or independence.
It's a way of making everyone more dependent on those around them - through the blunt tool of government. And most of the people calling for these sweeping changes sleep well at night knowing that their benevolent and wise guidance will lead the nation to a better place, where everyone takes care of everyone else.
In fact, these deluded fools - many of whom have never set foot in a car parts store - simply don't have the experience to understand how well Americans already take care of each other in a myriad of informal, everyday ways. They are blinded by their egos to the reality on the ground, and are actually destroying one of the knots that holds the fabric of this great nation together.
As for me, I'll hang onto my pre-digital ride as long as I can. In a very real way, keeping that bucket of bolts on the road is a team effort that represents the best that America has to offer.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
As a card carrying member of the pulp revolution, I tend to favor heroic fiction that fun and free-wheeling, but Glen Cook got me through a lot of years of pink slime. It’s exactly the sort of grim and gritty setting featuring the moral ambiguity and anti-heroes that constitute the only sort of story media wants to tell these days, but it’s done so well that I love it anyway. Part of the reason I’ve never much cared for George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series it that it is but a pale echo of Cook’s far superior offerings.
One of the two biggest questions in my mind revolve around the casting. Eliza Dushku makes sense, the Lady is of the North. But the Black Company as a whole? If you’ve read the series, you know their source is anything but faux-European, and one of the big surprises in the book is that most of the early Company men were likely swarthy faux-Persian or even faux-Asiatics. How they deal with this issue should prove amusing as the alt-white sneers at obvious white washing, and then how the Narrativists grumble that the explicitly faux-African types in the early part of the story (the wizards One-Eye and Tom Tom) are fairly comical in nature. Then, as the Black Company replaces its numbers in the North, the cast will get whiter and whiter, causing even more aggravation among those for whom these things are Very Important Aspects of Media.
Monday, April 24, 2017
Onwards and up(?)wards!
Carolyn Ives Gilman takes a stab at Lovecraftian fiction with Touring with the Alien. Like the alien-human-road-trip film that likely inspired this short story (see left), while the tradesmanship is fine, the pointlessness and meaninglessness of the tale result in nothing more than a few fleeting moments of enjoyment that as forgettable as the story itself.
Reading Touring with the Alien was a much more pleasant experience than my last foray into Hugo territory. Unlike Alyssa Wong, Gilman sticks to tried and true prose and narrative structures that work. Her descriptions of a cross country tour evoke the drifting way that time seems to expand as the miles fly by, the terrain outside the window changes, and the towns stay the same, and then contract for the memorable slices of Americana like a downtown café or a county fair.
Her descriptions of a mother's grief at the loss of a child are strong and poignant, with every aspect of the story from the gray weather to the wet grass to the broken terra-cotta angel left on her daughter's grave lending itself to instilling a feeling of sorrow in the reader. This aspect of Avery, the point-of-view character, humanizes her with a fullness that you don't see all that often in today's 'female bad ass secret agent' characters.
It's tight and compelling writing. Shame its wasted on such a pointless story. Carolyn Ives Gilman continues the Hugo Award trend of failing to understand the difference between a trade and an art. Gilman masterfully strings together sentences that pile up into a pointless heap of garbage the way a master carpenter might lend his talents to this monstrosity:
With that passage, as pointless as the rest of the story, we are two for two in the 2017 Novelette category for tacked-on virtue signaling. Gilman stops the narrative before it has even begun in order to wave a red flag of GoodThink around the arena to distract the ever-present bulls of the thought police. She knows full well that without this signal the rest of the story becomes as pointless as, well, as the rest of the story. She knows that without the first sentence of that paragraph, this story would not have been a Hugo Contender. Of course, given the SJW penchant for quoting out of context and utter lack of reading comprehension, every sentence of this paragraph after the first will be ignored by them, but the struggle is the glory. Once again, the objection here is not the inclusion of a homosexual character, but the hamfistedness manner in which its done. The character of Lionel is expressly written as Hispanic, an important check mark in the racial inclusivity box, but unlike Blake and Jeff, the fact of Lionel's race is presented seamlessly and organically.
There is a second passage that once again showcases Gilman's insular provinciality. This is a woman so steeped in her own culture that she paints the Other with a brush that reveals more about herself than those whom she writes:
And that sort of shallowness of thought doesn't limit itself to descriptions of 'flyover country', it that permeates Touring with the Alien. Avery is presented as a smart and tough operator who outwits the CIA, but who then gets fooled by her boss and the inexperienced and naïve alien slave, Lionel. Avery bounces from caring sister to hard case to grieving mother to indifferent genocidal maniac with head snapping speed. The aliens are presented as all-wise, then know-nothing - eating raw cats makes you sick, bro - with the same sort of disregard for continuity or sense.
Then there's the complete disconnect between the story's main theme of "Nothing really matters," and the constant reminders that we are surrounded by big deals. All of these disconnects slowly pile up the thoughtful reader's mind, making this story a complete and utter hash.
It's well written hash, and it's hash that the empty headed will enjoy, but in the end, Touring with the Alien is as pointless as the worldview it illustrates.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
I was goggling about searching for Tomas Diaz's excellent analysis of the Hugo Novelette-ettes, which is excellent. My own review of Touring with the Alien will be published tomorrow, so check back to compare.
It's a little old, but Cora Buhlert posted a nice long summary of the reactions to the Hugo Awards in which she dwells mainly on those who lament the provinciality and insularity and non-inclusiveness of the award. It turns out my observation that the wooden anus lickers spent more time talking about authors nominated than the works nominated. My point was that they didn't really have conversations about the works. She proved me wrong by concluding:
Comments are still off and passive aggressive e-mails will be deleted unread. Grumble elsewhere.Heh. You got yourself a deal. Welcome to elsewhere, toots.
Cora does make a few predictable objections about past conversations (without providing evidence) and a promise that conversations will be forthcoming once voters receive their packets (a fair point, but I remain skeptical that they will talk about the work rather than the author). The real impetus for my post is a throw-away line tacked on to the end of hers:
*Does anybody else find the idea of a rabid puppy taking inspiration from Jonathan Livingston Seagull of all things as funny as I do?Of course she thinks it's funny. She doesn't know what you're talking about. Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the story of a seagull whose unwillingness to conform to the demands of the crowd results in his expulsion from the flock. It was adopted by the hippy-dippy movement in the 1970s as they struggled to escape the conformity provided by hard work, the Christian faith, and showers. Cora still operates under that out-dated mindset, clinging to the notion that true rebels write works that conform to the demands of the university system, major publishing houses, Hollywood, every major media outlet, and most major businesses like Target, Google, and Starbucks. Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the story of a seagull whose unwillingness to conform to the demands of the crowd results in his expulsion from the flock. Her mirth makes it clear that she either has not read the work in question - which is largely agnostic on matters of politics, hewing closer to a 'you be you even if it means going against the majority' message than to her assumed 'stick it to the man, and once you are the man, stick it to those who want to stick it to the man' message. Proving once again...
These people don't read.
My comments are open. I like talking about books. My place is a place for conversations about books, even difficult ones. It's neither echo chamber nor bully pulpit. But then, as a member of the distinct minority pushed out by the powers that be, my pulpit is small, my reach short, and my faith in their weakness and lack of desire to discuss books secure.
Friday, April 21, 2017
Case in point, the Facebook Killer:
My own introduction to this story came by way of the always reliable Twitter, and featured a thread in which an argument had broken out regarding whether or not the Facebook Killer was a terrorist. It seems in the aftermath that he was not. Maybe he was, and maybe he wasn't.
Either way, notice that part of the cost of the mainstream press's utter abdication of reporting in favor of proselytizing is the immediate suspicion that any random act of insanity must be motivated by the current bête noir that the media so diligently sweeps under the rug. Their lack of integrity and foolish pride have actually resulted in a world where the ideology they want to protect is now far more likely to be falsely accused of motivating crime than it would be if they simply honored their word and stuck to reporting the facts.
Nice bed you made there, media. Hope you enjoy lying in it - you're going to be there for a long time.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Monday, April 17, 2017
The good news is that you can read the Hugo Nominated novelette* online for free right here. The even better news is that you don't even have to read it! If you're curious about, here's everything you need to know:
A witch-man goes off into the desert, marries her, and sires a were-desert named Ellis. The local miners, fearful of such creatures do what comes natural and put that witch-man in the ground. Their decision is proved wise when the desert buries the lot of them at the bottom of a silver mine in retaliation. After a bit of literary faffing about, the story proper starts off with up with two tenderfoot businessmen and their Preacher-man guide meeting Ellis. This story was nominated for a Hugo, so you can already guess that as businessmen, these are the villains of the piece, and that one of them harbors latent homosexual feelings for the other. Gotta check those boxes, baby!
The two men, William and Samuel, might just be Ellis' uncles on his father's side - like so much in this story, it isn't entirely clear. They deffo sing the same lullaby that Ellis' father used to sing to him. At any rate, they work for a mining outfit, and if William can get to the mine, he can use his own witch-man powers to use an animated army of dead to do the mining. That would save labor costs, save lives, and make him rich all at the same time. What a bastard. When Ellis realizes the full import of William's vile plan he attempts to kill the lot of them. But Samuel skins his hog and gives Ellis a case of lead poisoning before Ellis can go full Tasmanian Devil on them.
What the two evil businessmen (but I repeat myself) don't realize is that the Preacher-man is Ellis' uncle on his mother's side, and like Ellis, can bring things back from the dead. The Preacher-man does that voodoo that he do so well on Ellis, and Ellis takes the bones of all the people his mother killed back to town for a good old fashioned hootenanny complete with a lynching of the two men who killed Ellis in self-defense. You know, one of those mean old men loves the same girl as Ellis, and offers to take her out of the whore-house and give her a life of ease back east? The bastard surely deserved to die.
Ellis then turns the love of his life loose to go find a man to love who isn't Ellis...because when you love some one, you first kill anyone who loves her, then tell her to go find somebody else to love? Then Ellis skips off to take his rightful place as the king of the dead lands.
Brace yourself for an extended metaphor here. The Harlem Globetrotters have some astounding technical basketball skills. They can do things with a basketball that make your head spin. They dribble like monsters, dunk like beasts, and shoot the lights out. It's incredible to watch. Even as you marvel at their mastery of the game's tricks and fundamentals, you understand that what they are doing isn't really basketball. In a straight up game with any NBA team, they'd get killed. All of those tricks and all of that showmanship just doesn't translate to the actual game of basketball.
I think you know where I'm going with this:
|Sweet Georgia Brown, It's Alyssa Wong!|
The story is told in second person format. A bold choice that makes perfect sense for instilling a sense of urgency and discomfort in the reader. It can also be used to lend additional sympathy for the primary point-of-view character. It's a great trick, but it just doesn't work in a story like this. Putting the reader into the shoes of a wild child necromancer stretches things past the breaking point. The additional cognitive dissonance created by translating the narrative from the second person serves as a constant distraction. This story has layers of background that are gradually revealed throughout the course of the tale - background that would have been more naturally revealed through the use of more traditional framing devices.
This story is rife with payoff moments. They happen over and over and over. The reader goes through a constant cycle of wondering what the heck is going on one moment, only to be told that something else was going on the whole time the next. Again and again and again. Used sparingly, this style of story telling can hammer away at a reader and draw forth sudden reactions of delight. Used repeatedly, they numb the reader, leaving each additional revelation no more special and no more magical than any other passage.
This series of writing exercises masquerading as a story is deliberately designed to be largely opaque. Wong's writing is evocative, but dense, and her plotting and slow-drip information reveal demand constant attention on the part of the reader. The resulting narrative reads more like a textbook than a proper story. These can be a lot of fun to read - they are the basis of the entire mystery genre, after all! But one of the biggest failings of Wong is that reading the story too closely destroys the narrative. Everything the reader sees, he sees through Ellis's eyes, but Ellis' narration is one of the most unreliable ever sent to digital print. He is utterly untrustworthy, and reading the story with the attention it demands exposes the reader to all of the cheap tricks and plot holes that ruin Wong's approach to the story.
Make no mistake about it, Wong has solid writing chops. She knows how to use tempo, rhythm, word choice, and description to draw a reader in. She knows how to layer detail and time those character beats to bring things to a riveting climax. She has clearly spent years honing her craft.
It's a shame she squanders her skills on cheap tricks instead of genuine sportsmanship.
There's a great story here about an orphaned witch boy struggling to come to terms with himself and his power, and about how fear and retribution always rebound onto those who act out of a misplaced desire for vengeance over justice. There's a story about impossible love and the conflict between civilization and nature. There's a story about a girl forced to choose between the boy who loves her and the man who can care for her. But Wong is too enamored of all her pretty little writing tricks and her misplaced faith in nature over man and cleverness over wisdom to write that story. So instead we get the usual sort of ivory tower bouncing balls that make the fans of showmanship guffaw, rather than the workmanlike attention to story-telling and human nature that results in entertainment at its highest level.
* Is anyone else amused that the name of the category whose nominations were swept by the fairer sex ends with the female diminutive suffix? That kind of literary humor writes itself.
Friday, April 14, 2017
|A Teaser for my next release|
In addition to that big announcement, I've also written two more Karl Barber short stories. Those have been submitted to editors for consideration to be included in collections of one sort or another.
I've upped my game for the Hugo Nominated Castalia House Blog (run by Hugo Nominee Jeffro Johnson) to posted a short review every week.
As if that wasn't enough, the audio files for the audiobook presentation of Forbidden Thoughts, by Superversive press are in the can. They need to go through editing and polish, but you can expect that to hit the market in the next month or so as well.
Which leaves me with a little free time at just the right time. The Puppy of the Month Book Club is reading and discussing Souldancer this month and at 500+ pages, it's one of the longest we've ever read. It's such a great book, I have a hard time stopping to write, as I'd rather just keep reading it.
It's a good time to be a fan of sci-fi.
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Back in the day a group of SF greats, Poul Anderson, Frank Herbert, Gordon Dickson, Harlan Ellison and Keith Laumer, each wrote a short story based on the same prologue. Apparently (I haven't read them, I'm going off the cover above just like you are) NO TWO ARE EVEN REMOTELY ALIKE. These authors had radically different styles, beliefs, and backgrounds, making it in theory an excellent idea, and the first thing I thought when I found out about it a day or two ago was, "I want to do that." So I did.I'm so interested in seeing what comes out of this that I volunteered to beta-read whatever shakes out of his call. It may be a few months before this title hits the market, but this also isn't the only example of this sort of organic content farming in the works. You're going to see a lot of newcomers showing up in the market, and while their first forays might be a little rough around the edges, they'll get better. Better yet, every one of these represents a literary cultural shift in the right direction, so I'm full-square behind them.
I'm not calling for submissions, I'm hand-picking our contributors, so if your name is on the list I'll publish your story, but I'll touch base with you on structure and clean up grammar and all that (of course I'm going to edit and contribute, I can't let this valuable exposure go by).
Monday, April 10, 2017
Reading through coverage of this year's Hugo nominated works, both in mainstream media and in the on-line circles thrilled by the results of E. Pluribus Unum, it's striking how little conversation there is about...you know...the works themselves.
Another is that Best Novelette has lately emerged as a microcosm of the Hugos’ move toward gender and racial inclusion. Women have won the category four of the last five years, and all of this year’s nominees are women—except for Hiscock.Nowhere in that article do they actually discuss the novelettes nominated by the women. They mention that they are women, but don't really care to talk about the works themselves.
Not surprising, given that these people don't read.
Consider Fuzion's coverage:
It’s because of interest from communities of fans (like the body that makes up the Hugo Awards voting committee) who make the effort to critically analyze the titles despite the fact that Marvel doesn’t do the best of jobs when it comes to promoting them effectively.Yeah, except they don't critically analyzes the titles beyond a simple gender and race count. That's not critical analysis, that's simple social justice scorekeeping.
These people don't read.
Let's check io9:
The Hugo Awards nominations were released this week, featuring some of the best and brightest works in science fiction and fantasy— most of which are relatively well known. Then, there’s one nominee for Best Novelette, a short story hardly anyone had even heard of... until now. It’s called Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By the T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock.All they want to talk about is Stix Hiscock. They haven't read any of the other nominee's works, and have no intention of doing so. Reading and talking about the best novelette stories is so passé.
These people don't read.
Check out the File770 thread where people talk about the nominees. It's all pricing and tangential issues. Nobody talks about the works themselves. Scan the front page and look for any analysis of the works themselves at all. There's no there there. They've got Camestros Felaptron doing some analysis but he works in the sad, old Damon Knight style wherein he focuses on who people hang out with far more than what they actually write.
They don't want to talk about ideas. They don't want to talk about ideas. They only really want to talk about people.
Now, take a look at the front page of the Castalia House Blog. On any given day, they've got six or seven reviews of works that talk primarily about what is in the work itself. They read and analyze the things they've read, not who said what about whom, and oh my god did you see the dress John Scalzi wore on Tuesday it made him look so fat! It's this dedication to reading and discussion of the works that first drew me to the Castalia House Blog, and it's the reason I'm proud to be a regular contributor. It's a blog about ideas - a strange thing for a sci-fi blog in these strange days, to be sure.
But you know who talks about ideas?
Friday, April 7, 2017
The day after recording that, a Negative Nancy showed up in my social media feed with a few questions about that. He wanted to know how I define success and pointed out that the #PulpRevolution is not the only game in town. He wanted to know what made me think the future is pulp. Friend-o there pointed out that there might be hundreds or thousands of lonely writers off in the wilds of self-publishing just doing their little thing because it feels right. He wanted to know what made the Pulp Revolution so special.
Easy: a winner's mindset.
Everybody I interact with in the Pulp Revolution has a winner's mindset. They are relentlessly positive individuals who channel their energy into their work and into each other. They don't just work alone, tossing stories into the cold, harsh marketplace. They have the brains to look back at what worked with the pulps, to take them apart, and put them back together again. They have the desire to dig down into the roots of sci-fi, even the obscure little off shoots, to learn more about them. They have the energy - writing their own works, reading, discussing, analyzing, experimenting, all of it in addition to handling the daily stress of their normal lives. They have the sort of open-mindedness, the willingness to reconsider their beliefs in light of new information, the willingness to listen to enthusiasts of the Campbellian and New Wave revolutions - provided they bring their A-game and present cogent arguments, they have been embraced by the Pulp Revolution.
The Pulp Revolution has gone from a handful of people to a mob in less than a year. Just imagine how much further it's going to go in the next year, or two, or ten. And keep imagining it, because that's how winner's think about the future.
And if you want to hear how winner's talk about the future, listen to Jim Fear's next podcast, because you're going to hear two upbeat, energetic, and downright funny guys go on at length about sci-fi. It's going to be far more entertaining and educational than any panel you've ever seen at WorldCon, I can guarantee you that.
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
ongratulations to the Hugo Award finalists. A few short thoughts on a few categories:
Best Fan Writer: Jeffro Johnson
This Jeffro guy is getting to be a regular fixture there. He's slowly becoming the Sally Fields of the Hugo Awards. They should just give him one already, then maybe he'll finally go away.
The level of talent necessary to create a video game blog that outshines the stiff competition in that field is one thing. To couple that with an encyclopedic knowledge of heavy metal music (and an ability to make heavy metal music interesting for non-metalheads), and some of the best dang political analysis on this or any other internet, and you're looking at a talent that the Hugo Awards don't deserve. In a just universe, this guy would have wa-hay more subscribers (and be just as hated as) that PewDiePie goofus. On the other hand, he does have a raging case of the Moorcock Hives. Elric is okay, but so are a lot of cheap Conan knock-off, people.
Best Fanzine: Castalia House blog
It's traditional to make the Hugo Awards about oneself - not about recognizing the best and brightest in the field - and who am I to buck tradition? I'm a contributor there, so really, if you think about it, this isn't really Jeffro's second nomination this year, it's my first. In all seriousness, the crew over there represents some of the smartest and most passionate fans of sci-fi around. They are also some of the most upbeat and fun loving fans around, constantly pushing envelops and laughing their way into the bad graces of Team Curmudgeon. They really are the best.
Best Semiprozine: Cirsova
P. Alexander continues to prove the nay-sayers retarded. As if the continued growth of his little experiment hasn't been gratifying, now he's got a much larger stage upon which to strut his stuff. He has already earned his stripes, and he deserves all the attention that this nomination should bring his way.
Best Novella: "This Census-Taker" by China Mieville
Bleurgh. I've never been impressed by China Mieville. He can put sentences together like a beast, but he's like the Jackson Pollock of writers - all that talent and he turns around and writes vapid trash that is ultimately as empty as his political philosophy. Also, he owes his success in large measure to having the right politics. If Perdido Street Station had presented a heroic and inspirational ending that cast doubt on the benefits of socialism, no way would he have earned all those early accolades. He'd have been Circular Filed along with the rest of the undesirables.
No comment. Not worth talking about.
Monday, April 3, 2017
“Indeed. I wouldn’t rustle your fronds about this. They drink the reactives," the chief paused and waved a shovel fingered hand to clear Dualalalop's flatulent expressing of shock and disgust. "It’s true. They've been observed in lab conditions. Even bathe in it, once you pry them out of their shells. High Cranium is concerned enough to have launched a full study. They’re desperate to figure out a way to keep them from spreading, but so far no luck. The filthy things just keep getting into everything. A few even escaped from the labs on Wooluxis Twenty-Two, and now their whole Planetary Cranial Complex is overrun with them, the poor wretches.”