Saturday, October 13, 2018

Grieving


The person at the top of the dedication list for my novel-in-progress died suddenly. They were opposed to social media and publicity and similar things so I’m not even going to disclose their gender, but they’ll still be in my dedication so you can eventually figure out their name, if you’re that interested.

This was someone I’ve known for a while. Not a romantic relationship, more of friendship based on a shared past and future hopes. I’m incredibly sad.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Review: Three Identical Strangers


It’s darker than Disney, according to one of the reunited female twins mentioned in this movie. A movie about a pair of reunited adopted brothers – who discover they have a triplet, then discover they’re part of a community of separated siblings who were part of a wide-ranging adoptee study that found no conclusions, has mysterious origins and is sealed until 2066. I wonder if my feeble brain-in-a-jar will be able to comprehend it at that point. I guess it depends on the jar. Darkness intrudes – many of the separated twins have heritable mental health issues, and the researchers who will talk are still steeped in back-then psychology and giggle diabolically about how times were just different back in the day.

I feel like I finally found a coming-of-age movie that resonates. Just by way of background, I have one brother who is four days younger, a second brother approximately my age who has an amazing and vivacious daughter, and some awesome paternal-side cousins whose existence I knew nothing about until I was over fifty. Like the triplets in this movie, I spent my childhood being monitored and observed by shrinks, and so did my adopted brother. Barrages of IQ tests, starting at age five.

There’s a lot of news coverage these days about issues involving reproduction, such as families being separated during the immigration process, and reunited through DNA services, and whether adoption is sacred act of charity or an asset transfer. This movie explains why I’m not going to comment on any of it. My perspective is too bizarre.

It also explains why I get a kick out of writing science fiction about the differences between clones. I think all science fiction writers who want to write about clones need to include this movie in their research.

In fact, I think a lot of people could learn things from this movie. People interested in nurture versus nature, strict determinists, extreme it’s-only-a-construct nutters, social workers, psychologists, anyone remotely concerned with adoption, anybody interested in eugenics. People who like having their minds blown.


The Skeptical Astrologer and Sokal Squared


Oh, I’m probably stepping way beyond my purview here, but I've never let that stop me before.

Way long ago, there was a thing called the Sokal Hoax, where a dude named Sokal infiltrated academia with a bogus paper on how physics was a social construct. To point out that postmodernism is dumb.

Fast-forward several years, to 2018. Postmodernism is still dumb. And to point that out, again, some folks got a bunch of papers peer-reviewed on various dumb topics, including one about how mean old sexist imperialist astronomy ought to be replaced by feminist astrology.
 Other means superior to the natural sciences exist to extract alternative knowledges about stars and enriching astronomy, including ethnography and other social science methodologies, careful examination of the intersection of extant astrologies from around the globe, incorporation of mythological narratives and modern feminist analysis of them, feminist interpretative dance (especially with regard to the movements of the stars and their astrological significance), and direct application of feminist and postcolonial discourses concerning alternative knowledges and cultural narratives.

Why am I bringing all this up? Because I both agree with it and disagree with it, in a sideways kind of way. I do agree that studying astrology, both as artistic symbolism and as street-therapy, is beneficial. I do agree that imperialism squashed a lot of belief systems which make at least as much sense as either virgin birth or postmodernism, and that we should examine them if only to point out the relativeness of other belief systems (like postmodernism).

I’m kinda firmly on the Sokal side, however.

I feel sort of the same way about postmodernism, in fact, as I do about astrology – it’s a useful thing to study. To understand how it supposedly works, to ponder its influence on art and ideology and human interaction. At the end of the day, however, it’s possible to sort out artistic movements and philosophical constructs from truths. Truths have to do with beating hearts and next month’s train schedules and load limits and gravitational fields and algebra.

That belief is the backbone of my fiction. No matter how far into the future we go, no matter how high tech we get, we’re still human mammals bound to the same cultural origins, perpetuating the same cyclic behavior and getting wrapped up in the same egotistical follies. If we work together, we can gradually decrease the damage done by these follies, even if it requires a leap. And working together requires common ground, which requires mutually-respected truths. Agreeing to spell words the same way most of the time. Agreeing that things like death and cruelty and destruction are generally bad. Agreeing on a good time to serve dinner. Things like that.





Monday, October 1, 2018

Review: The Expert System's Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The review stakes just got a lot steeper around these parts. I'm going through some personal stuff that makes me sad, and I'm demanding a lot from my escapist literature right now. If it doesn't remove me from my currently uncomfortable headspace for a few minutes I want nothing to do with it.

Distracting people from whatever bullshit is occurring in their lives is pretty much the main focus of the kind of stories I review, and read, and write. Nobody reads science fiction for the spiritual insights or the historical factoids. We read science fiction in order to be sucked into a whole world that doesn't exist, light years away from our emotion-riddled bodies. The Expert System's Brother does that, quite well.

If I gave you a clearer explanation of what's happening I'd spoil it, so I'll let you do that yourself. Handry and his sister live in a strange village with wasps and ghosts, and for a moment I wondered if Mr. Tchaikovsky had gone all poetic and surreal on us, spinning a magical realism stream of consciousness of the type that usually gets me to slam books shut.

But no, this is Adrian Tchaikovsky. The British Stephen King, if I dare say so. One day he's going to write something so huge we'll all learn how to spell his name, you mark my words. Possibly this one, which would make a fine movie. Finding out where everyone is, and how they got there, is the plot, which gets deeper and deeper with every twist.

The ball begins to roll when Handry accidentally stumbles into the red dye that is used to mark outcasts, and becomes an outcast himself, leaving his sister and journeying into a jungle full of weird and ferocious beasts. Eventually he locates other people and learns things, and I'll leave you the pleasure of discovering the rest.

It's a short novel, but Tchaikovsky's not one for unnecessary padding. I could make lawyer jokes here. In fact, I distinctly remember seeing Tchaikovsky representing himself as "person who does techie things for lawyers" at some point, which registered because that's what I do. Now he is admitting to being an actual lawyer in addition to being a highly acclaimed speculative fiction novelist. I'm partial to novelists with law degrees, or who have done time in law firms, because the profession has to do with constructing stories that make plausible sense. Possibly this is why many lawyers avoid the sciences, where stories tend to be surreal and hard to pin down, with multiple competing causation theories. However, Tchaikovsky can do that too -- he's well grounded in biology, specifically bugs.

No, there aren't a lot of bugs in this story -- except for the ones Handry has to eat, because he's starving. Sorry about the spoiler.

I liked this story a lot. It's not terribly earth shattering as far as the revelations, but the pacing as the world develops around the narrator is beautiful, and the story arrives gracefully at an ending that slides solidly into place. This is some well-constructed speculative fiction.





Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Gritty!

Congrats to Brian Allen of Flyland Design, for coming up with Gritty, awesome new sportsball mascot for the Philadelphia Fliers! 

(Mr. Allen is also the extremely talented artist who draws my book covers.)

Go Brian! Go Gritty!






Goodbye to Elfquest



I don’t remember a lot about my first fandom convention. It happened in San Jose, I discovered “zines” and acquired some new lead figures to paint, and I met Wendy and Richard Pini, at a table stacked high with copies of Elfquest. I don’t remember what was said and I don’t even remember if I got their autographs, but I did get a copy of Elfquest one, which lived in my towering stack of magazines. Every now and then I’d pull it out and read about the elves fleeing a forest fire by invading the caverns of neighboring trolls. It sounded like a good story.

There’s a whole world of comics out there that have nothing to do with men exploring their alpha nature. However, like many kinds of entertainment – video games, movies, literary fiction – comics have a lot of audience share interested in hearing about manly men being manlike, over and over and over and over again, which often crowds everything else out of the way. Producers of creative things look at this and decide whether they want a share of all those manly men dollars or if they want to starve in the gutter writing niche comics that only a few people like, and they decide accordingly.

Elfquest was never a manly comic, it was niche. It actually was published by Marvel for a while but their fans didn’t care for it, and it never looked right on pulpy paper with cheap bright ink. And while technically it was about Cutter – alpha wolf incarnate – exploring his own alpha nature, his quest led him to his people. He met other tribes, and fell in love, and discovered the origin of his people. He fought with enemies and bonded with friends. He matured out of his hot-blooded youth and became Cutter Kinseeker, a kind and fatherly elf whose mission was to bring his people together. 

Elfquest has a terrific look and feel to it, similar to Japanese manga. At first the elves are pretty, with voluptuous curves and defined bellies, and then when you see them next to the humans and trolls, they begin to look otherworldly and ethereal. They live in sort of a blissful polyamorous hippie commune in a tree … except for the long passages where they don’t, exploring the way other isolated elf groups have built slightly different societies.

I almost want to pronounce Elfquest as a womanly take on epic fantasy, but that would be too binary. It is definitely an epic, and I’m pretty sure future generations will appreciate it more, because now that it’s complete it can be digested as a solid piece. Elfquest is an outsider’s epic fantasy, told from a non-human point of view. The story of people with a glorious past who lost it due to conquest and diaspora, who continue to struggle against rapacious humans who don’t want to share their planet with outsiders. The first story has an epic format, when Cutter’s little forest tribe battles their way to their ancestral palace, then the series turned into a sprawling collection of storylines. Aquatic elves appeared, and space elves, and I diverged from the series, intending to take it up again later.

Later is now: Elfquest has concluded. I’ve been working my way through it, a little at a time (it’s perfect for inspiring fever dreams), and I’ve got two glorious volumes to go. The plot went a little nonlinear after that first big operatic quest but somehow that’s just fine. It’s nice watching the characters age up and bring forth more generations. I can tell there’s a big drum roll of a “the end” coming, and I’m preparing myself for it, since I’ve been reading this comic for decades. It is capable of sucking me into its lushly drawn world like no other comic I've ever seen. The idea of it finally winding down makes me sad. 

And yet, at the same time … it makes me want to go out and find some new comics. Nothing will ever fill that Elfquest-shaped void but I’m pretty sure there’s some stuff I haven’t read yet that’s decent.


Monday, September 24, 2018

Bad At Dreaming


I’m afflicted with my third cold this year. Too much traveling and running around, I’ll have to do a little less of that next year. I’m not sure whether the doctor would term it a flu or a cold or an upper respiratory infection; my distinction has to do with whether I get a fever. I notice fevers because I only dream when I’m feverish.

I’m not terribly good at dreaming. When I was a little kid I had some interesting nightmares about things like the evil trees in Snow White teaming up with the evil trees in Wizard of Oz.

I also had frequent nightmares about sinking ships, which is my main phobia, I suppose. The idea of something as big as an office building just vanishing beneath the waves gives me the willies. I attribute this to generations of good sailor epigenetics – my line happened to be the one that didn’t die in shipwrecks, thank you very much.

As I got older, my dreams melted away. It’s quite possible I still have them – but they’re so boring I never remember them. I do remember my fever dreams, briefly, but they’re pretty boring too. The one last night? Some friend of mine from the ‘80s was on a tourist shuttle bus at a resort, and she left her bag. So I was trying to find her to give it back. I kept running into distractions and other people I knew but none of it was insurmountable, and finally I found her and gave her her stuff back. She said thanks.

The most interesting part of my dreams is the architecture. They take place in “resorts” – I think that’s how my brain codes scenes that are a mishmosh of different types of buildings. Too much time spent in Disneyland and Las Vegas and hyperreal places like that, no doubt. So my dreams might include a cathedral and a pizza parlor and a disco and a cozy English cottage, and just about anyone might be walking through, so my brain assumes we’re in some kind of resort, on vacation.

Occasionally I’ll get strictly visual dreams, like the towering Escher freeways and the spiraling cupolas made of glass and glorious trips to distant planets, with magenta mists and purple soil, but I’m never present in those dreams. It’s like I’m dreaming about flipping through a picture book. My dreams are so dull even my dreamself needs some escapism from them.

My lack of skill at dreaming is probably why I feel the need to make up fantastic speculative fiction stories. None of this weirdness is getting cycled out in my nighttime brainwave recycling plant. I have to manually squeeze it out of my brain.