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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Collaboration and/or Opposites = Creativity

"The Power of Two" by Joshua Wolf Shenk
"Despite the mythology around the idea of the lone genius, the famous partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney demonstrates the brilliance of creative pairs." 

I believe Shenk is on to something.  Cat Dixon and I collaborated on series of call-response poems--poems often better than either of us had written before, I think. Mine were eaten in a computer fatality--100s of poems I'd never submitted, gone--but a line in her book surprised me. My voice was preserved distinctly. I wondered where it had come from. She said it was mine from that series of poems, and she still has earlier versions. The creative friction seemed especially productive. The energy reminded me of Clarion workshops where one writer's creativity sparked another's. 


Here's a contest for similar ventures, Cahoodaloodaling's In Cahoots.


Speaking of collaborations, this one is genius although I suspect neither writer thought so at the time. It had me laughing so hard I cried. I wish they hadn't stopped when they did. Warning: a few swear words.


"The Creative Climate" by David Brooks

Interesting pair of articles. Brooks, who I've heard is unpopular with some, but he makes some good observations along the way--to a political end, not polemical (that I can discern).  But his observations about the arts I thought of interest.


New Heinlein trailer + short film

Predestination, based on Heinlein's story "By His Bootstraps" (story summary & commentary), stars Ethan Hawke. Looks fun.


Also, a 15-min short film, Entangled. Cool but I don't see the need for obfuscation. The science itself is mystery enough.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno" by Vylar Kaftan

First appeared in Lightspeed. Up for the Nebula award. Online. Interview.

Note: This is not a story that is spoiled by revealing the plot's events. However, it is available online, so read it first if you are concerned with spoilers.

The narrator falls for a man who keeps eluding her--from her perspective, almost purposefully despite being attracted to her. First he flies off at relativistic light speeds, so she marries a German who dies and when her lover returns, he marries her despite the difference in relativistic ages.

She, then, takes off on her own relativistic journey, which may or may not be spite, but her reason for leaving is otherwise unclear.

Despite life-extension, she gets a disease that requires cryogenics. Later, she uploads her personality and still waits for her lover to join her.

Although these characters seem confused about their attraction, they are not especially unreliable, except for this:

" 'I’ll marry you,' you said once, 'if you can’t find anyone else.' I laughed because I thought you were kidding. You couldn’t even propose right."
At first she's humored, perhaps a shade incredulous or flabbergasted. She believes that there is a proper way to propose "you" did it incorrectly, yet she recognized it was a proposal, which should be flattering.

There are a few reasons why someone might say such a thing:

  1. Lack of self-confidence.
  2. Belief that the other person is superior or too good for him.
  3. Long shot: A complimentary put-off. However, the lover appears to return to her, even when she is relativistically thirty years his senior, which erodes this possibility.
Later, she writes:

"If I can’t find anyone else. That’s a terrible proposal. It makes a woman feel like you’re just putting up with her.
This makes the narrator unreliable. That's not really explicit or implicit in the statement. More likely, it's justification for marrying someone else--lies a person tells herself to break off interest in someone she cares for. Maybe that's the point of the story: How we unnecessarily confuse ourselves in matters of love. As silly as many romance-based sit-coms are--usually some stupid misunderstanding arises that could be clarified with a sentence or two--they may be nearer reality than one would suppose.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Star Trek: Season 1, Episode 10. "The Corbomite Maneuver"

 Summary:
In an unknown part of space, the Enterprise runs across a multi-colored block that blocks their way--not a ship but a 1073 m3 device of unknown composition. It pursues the ship even into warp speed, gaining on them until they finally blast it with their lasers. Do they escape the alien life that created this? No, their mission is find new life and boldly go where no man has gone before.
Analysis with spoilers:
They run into a giant Bucky ball, a fullerene. Not really, but it looks like a filled molecule. It's the flagship Fesarius, commanded by Balok. The Enterprise's destruction of the warning buoy is seen as an attack.

Meanwhile, Lt. Bailey has been promoted too quickly and freezes, paralyzed in his actions upon orders. He lashes out when he assumes they have only minutes to live, which is interesting. With all the life-threatening situations the crew has been under, you would suppose that many would have cracked. This goes some way to explaining that.

Balok threatens to destroy the ship in ten minutes. If you time the minutes Balok gives the Enterprise, you'll find time stretching and snapping back to normal speed, then stretches again.

Kirk bluffs, says that corbomite will destroy any attacking vessel. Balok buys it, so instead a smaller ship will take them to a planet to drop of the crew and destroy the ship. As Balok tows the Enterprise, the ship pulls away to overtax Balok's. As the Enterprise, Balok's breaks and sends out a distress call.

Kirk, Bailey and McCoy go aboard and find Balok's appearance on the screen was a puppet. The true Balok is a boy or a midget--the only person aboard. He'd played a series of bluffs as well. Bailey volunteers to discuss cultures with Balok. Perhaps this is a metaphor for ending the cold war: a series of raises until one party needs assistance. If rendered, the parties do a cultural exchange to understand one another.

The puppet was visible as a puppet but it is somewhat fearsome behind the distorting lens.

A rather clever episode with some long delays in plot, watching the crew react, but effective.


    Memorable:

    1. The puppet
    2. Corbomite -- every bluff should contain this substance
    3. Explanation of psychological toll
    4. A lot plot details here get used later, such as the warp escape in the latest Star Trek movie. 
    Quotes:
    • Spock:  Has it occurred to you that there's a certain inefficiency in questioning me on things you've already mind up your mind about?

      Kirk: It gives me emotional security.
                                                          Author
                                                          Jerry Sohl also wrote for The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Outer Limits.
                                                          *Notes:
                                                          1. First use of Kirk's famous bluffs to solve a problem.
                                                          2. First we hear of Spock's past: His father was a rough man, but loved by his wife.

                                                          Wednesday, September 17, 2014

                                                          Star Trek: Season 1, Episode 9. "Dagger of the Mind"

                                                           Summary:
                                                          The Enterprise beams down goods to Tantalus V, a planet penal colony with unorthodox methods of healing its prisoners. A prisoner escapes, threatens violence to the Enterprise crew. It turns out that the prisoner was the assistant, a former psychiatrist himself, Simon Van Gelder.
                                                          Analysis with spoilers:
                                                          Kirk goes down with Dr. Helen Noel. Kirk investigates, but Noel balks. They try out the neural neutralizer for themselves and find out Kirk can be made hungry for food and Noel. Then Dr. Adams appears and.

                                                          The attempt at romance between the attractive couple was nice as was the profound ending, but this one had problems. Of the episodes thus far, this one stretches incredulity. Really, you don't inspect goods from a penal colony? No one comes to pick it up? How did they get so far away before they realized Van Gelder had escaped?

                                                          Kirk seems to have had a Christmas fling with Dr. Helen Noel, where she wanted more than he did--an assumption from her continued interest and Kirk's reluctance to have her along. Also, from Noel's described how they danced and Kirk speaking of the stars, but she tries to invest more in the scene. This leads to the "accidental" embrace in the elevator. Yet they keep holding on to one another, which negates Kirk's earlier supposed reluctance.

                                                          Moreover, on the ship, Kirk is sold on Dr. Tristan Adams due to his renown, but as soon as he begins investigation, he's dubious and Dr. Helen Noel is the accepting one. In fact, she backs up Adams with the quote below, something I suspect would be suspect if not controversial to anyone working in a psychoanalytic capacity. Really? Deleting or changing memories is that well accepted?

                                                          How did Simon Van Gelder and Tristan Adams get in this fix, anyway? I mean the true story.

                                                          Who would use a device that made a sane man insane? Captain Kirk apparently. Hey, let's see if I go insane, too!  Why does Adams suddenly turn on Kirk instead of letting him think it's harmless?

                                                          This is minor--rather humorous actually--but Kirk cannot open a screen and needs Noel's help. Later, Noel opens a screen with ease. This brings up a question of why no one on the colony has never tried to escape through the ducts before.

                                                          Now for my favorite part: the ending. When Dr. Tristan Adams eats his just desserts, the power comes back on, and the neural neutralizer empties his mind with no one to fill it, he dies of loneliness. Therefore, emptiness = loneliness, and loneliness = death. There's an unusually long silence at the end, a silent note held for longer than normal on TV, and it's eerily effective. However, Kirk breaks it with a smile, for some reason.

                                                          The episode alludes to Tantalus, a man punished for cooking his son for the gods with eternal dissatisfaction of desires--water recedes as he bends drink, branches laden with fruit always stay just out of reach. Perhaps Dr. Tristan Adams is Tantalus for having destroyed his assistant although the metaphor doesn't fit well as their punishments are different.

                                                          Likewise, the name Tristan does not appear to allude to Tristan the lover. Finally, the title comes from MacBeth (see quote below), the titular character of which appears delusional, sees a dagger, and decides quick action is needed.

                                                          Quotes:
                                                          • "A shifting of memory patterns is basic psychotherapy." -- Dr. Helen Noel
                                                          • Is this a dagger which I see before me,
                                                          The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
                                                          I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
                                                          Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
                                                          To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
                                                          A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
                                                          Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?
                                                          I see thee yet, in form as palpable
                                                          As this which now I draw.
                                                          Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going,
                                                          And such an instrument I was to use.
                                                          Mine eyes are made the fools o' th' other senses,
                                                          Or else worth all the rest. I see thee still,
                                                          And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
                                                          Which was not so before. There’s no such thing.
                                                          It is the bloody business which informs
                                                          Thus to mine eyes. Now o'er the one half-world
                                                          Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
                                                          The curtained sleep. Witchcraft celebrates
                                                          Pale Hecate’s offerings, and withered murder,
                                                          Alarumed by his sentinel, the wolf,
                                                          Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,
                                                          With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design
                                                          Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
                                                          Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
                                                          Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
                                                          And take the present horror from the time,
                                                          Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives.
                                                          Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
                                                          --MacBeth Act 2 scene 1, Shakespeare
                                                                                                                Author
                                                                                                                S. Bar-David or Shimon Wincelberg.
                                                                                                                *Notes:
                                                                                                                1. First use of Vulcan mind-meld psychotherapy 
                                                                                                                2. You cannot use communicators or beam anything while shields are raised.

                                                                                                                Tuesday, September 16, 2014

                                                                                                                Interview: Cat Dixon, poet of Too Heavy to Carry, Part 1: Looking Back

                                                                                                                This is the first-part of a two-part interview with poet Cat Dixon [website], graduate from the UN's MFA program and published the book Too Heavy to Carry--reviewed here. The second part of the interview, "Present", appeared here.
                                                                                                                When did you start writing?
                                                                                                                I began writing stories in grade school around 3rd or 4th grade, I think. Encouraged by my teachers, friends and mother, I kept with it. Once I found Stephen King (in middle school) I wrote horror short stories. I always loved to read and wanted to create my own characters. 

                                                                                                                Stories then, not poetry? How old were you when you tried poetry? 
                                                                                                                I began reading and writing poetry my first year in high school. I started my BFA at UNO with the fiction track, but changed it to poetry after the first year. I still like to read fiction, and once in a while I will write a story, but I feel more comfortable with poetry. 

                                                                                                                What poets initially turned your muse on?
                                                                                                                The confessionals especially Plath, Lowell and Sexton. As an angst-filled teenager, I identified with their voices.


                                                                                                                So what was the appeal? Real people, real struggles?
                                                                                                                I'm nosy. When my husband and I got married, he brought his high school and college journals with him when he moved in and I asked him if I could read them. He said he didn't care, but he also couldn't understand why I would want to waste my time reading them. I read them all in one weekend. I am fascinated by what drives people, what angers them, what makes them tick. Reading the confessionals, I felt like I was getting an inside to their lives. I like memoir because of that reason as well.

                                                                                                                What poets trip your trigger now?

                                                                                                                What drew you to "Glacier" that you read it everyday? Can you quote a few of your favorite lines?

                                                                                                                "The glacier's what's been piling up inside
                                                                                                                you, mile-deep thicknesses of snow
                                                                                                                and ice, until you're solid glacier, and no
                                                                                                                one will come near, and there's nowhere you can go."
                                                                                                                -- Alvin Greenberg

                                                                                                                Every interaction we either build up or break down barriers.

                                                                                                                Which shapes your work more: workshops or mentoring?
                                                                                                                I love my mentors and I have found some of them in the most unusual ways. Their feedback and encouragement is invaluable.


                                                                                                                What turns has your poetry taken along the way? When did you feel like you'd come into your voice or vision?
                                                                                                                Every couple of years I become obsessed with an author. I read everything I can find by the poet and attempt in my own way to channel his/her voice. I'd like to think at this point I have their poems always in the back of my mind helping shape what I write next. I am not sure if I can declare that I have come into my voice. I feel I am always evolving.

                                                                                                                You are evolving. When I first read your work a decade ago, it was angry or maybe not angry but confrontational always skirting the edge of controversial, often enough to disturb any political persuasion--first one group then another. You can sense some of that earlier poet still beneath the poems now, but there's more nuance, more acknowledgement of other perspectives even if you don't buy into it. How do you account for the new direction?
                                                                                                                Life. When I was younger, I thought I had everything figured out and believed I had all the answers. When my life took a 180-turn, I realized that I knew nothing. 

                                                                                                                Video of Cat Dixon reading

                                                                                                                Cat will be reading at The Petshop Gallery (2725 N 62nd Street, Omaha) on Wednesday, September 17 at 7pm as part of the poetry movement 100,000 Poets for Change. She will read with Laura Madeline Wiseman, Natasha Kessler-Rains, and Sarah McKinstry-Brown. Their reading focuses on the prevention of gender violence.  Cat says about the movement, "Stories and details are what move people to action so it's imperative that poets and writers create and share work that gives a voice to those without one. Raising awareness is the first step to change."

                                                                                                                For more information about this event, see the facebook event here.


                                                                                                                -->photos by Greg Higgins

                                                                                                                Monday, September 15, 2014

                                                                                                                Interview: Cat Dixon, poet of Too Heavy to Carry, Part 2: Carrying on

                                                                                                                This is the second-part of a two-part interview with poet Cat Dixon [website], graduate from the UN's MFA program and published the book Too Heavy to Carry--reviewed hereThe first part, "Looking Back", will appear here tomorrow on 9/16/2014.


                                                                                                                How did you shape your first book?
                                                                                                                My first book is confessional. When I read my poems from the book at readings, it's like reading my diary aloud.  Most of the poems were written 2008-2010 when I was going through a divorce and then attempting to start my life over. I went from being a full-time mother to working full-time at a church and spending far too little time with the children, from being a wife to a lonely woman searching for hope, love, security, etc., from being a MFA student to teaching creative writing part-time at the college from which I graduated, from being an atheist to a Christian. So much change in such a short amount of time. One of my mentors, Steve Langan, told me to have the end of one poem speak to the next poem's beginning. I attempted to do just that in my collection. The title comes from a song I have liked for years by Brenda Lee. Here are the lyrics. After my family was destroyed, I thought I was done, but I am still here, so I guess have more work to do. We all do.
                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                When you use the confessional form, is it purely confessional, or are you willing to sacrifice true events for some other aim:  language, sound, truth, spontaneity, surprise?
                                                                                                                No, not purely confessional.  [Cat laughs.]  If it was I would be at the bottom of a river right now (see poem "River" in my book). Sound and image are important to me so I will adjust as necessary, but the emotion is always real.


                                                                                                                What's up next from you? What are you working on now?
                                                                                                                Persona poems have taken over my writing life.  I have manuscripts written in the voices of Eva Braun and Medea. I am writing a short series of poems to Putin in the voice of his exwife. I have a chapbook written in the voice of Abel Washington, a 70-year-old man I created, who lives disconnected from society. To explore different perspectives in this way is something I have not tried very often and I enjoy it.

                                                                                                                You seem drawn to driven, powerful women in difficult circumstances. Why is that?
                                                                                                                I have felt helpless most of my life, so I guess I now prefer voices of power and control. I like to take on the persona of Medea in poetry, for example, because she was wronged and she retaliated. I don't agree with the murder of the children, but she exacted revenge, and she did it without suffering repercussions. Her husband was left begging her for compassion and she gave none.  Eva is portrayed is often as a naive mistress, some even claim she was ignorant of Hitler's final solution, but she was the woman behind the man--the one person he had to request things from--for example, Hitler was not able to bring his dog Blondi out of her kennel or his room without her permission because her dogs didn't like his dog and she didn't like Blondi either. Can you imagine the most powerful man in the world at that time asking a young woman for permission to do anything?

                                                                                                                I like to imagine how these women would have felt, what their motives were, and what was hidden underneath which we can't possibly know.

                                                                                                                Cat will be reading at The Petshop Gallery (2725 N 62nd Street, Omaha) on Wednesday, September 17 at 7pm as part of the poetry movement 100,000 Poets for Change. She will read with Laura Madeline Wiseman, Natasha Kessler-Rains, and Sarah McKinstry-Brown. Their reading focuses on the prevention of gender violence.  Cat says about the movement, "Stories and details are what move people to action so it's imperative that poets and writers create and share work that gives a voice to those without one. Raising awareness is the first step to change."

                                                                                                                For more information about this event, see the facebook event here.

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                                                                                                                Writers of the Future Volume 30: 
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                                                                                                                THE MASK and OLD HANDS: 
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                                                                                                                The Human Equations 
                                                                                                                Dave Creek 
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                                                                                                                Sunday, September 14, 2014

                                                                                                                Star Trek: Season 1, Episode 8: "Miri" or "Trust no one over thirty"

                                                                                                                 Summary:
                                                                                                                Enterprise receives an SOS signal from an alternate Earth. A plague has hit this Earth driving mad and killing all adults. Children are illusive but for Miri. All humans but Spock receive sores. McCoy quickly learns it is viral.
                                                                                                                Analysis with spoilers:
                                                                                                                Someone tried to extend life to age one month per 100 years, but it killed adults. The children have lived years as kids, but once they enter puberty, they die. Louise, a little older than Miri, succumbs to the illness, announcing Miri's imminent turn as she approaches puberty. The crew, too, will go mad in seven days. The landing party combs records for clues. The children take the communicators, leaving the landing party without connection to computers.

                                                                                                                When Miri, attracted to Kirk, sees him embrace the devastated Janice Rand, fearing death and disfigurement, she turns against them. They kidnap Janice and use her as bait to lure Kirk. Meanwhile, McCoy has come up with a cure, but he needs to check with the ship computers. Kirk convinces Miri that this is her fate, too, unless she listens and they. They taunt and attack until Kirk convinces them that this will happen to all.

                                                                                                                Part of the inspirational source must have come from Jack Weinberger, a free speech activist, who in 1964 told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, "Trust no one over thirty."  Thirty-six years later, he said, "It was a way of telling the [reporter] to back off, that nobody was pulling our strings." However, that's a weird way of saying that. Perhaps it suggests that, but more likely he wanted to talk about a generational divide in terms of the Vietnam War.

                                                                                                                The quote quickly spread across the country. That this episode discusses it (the leader of the child gang wears a tattered military coat) shows the magnitude of the impact the quote had on the nation. The Planet of the Apes movies accepted the phrase while here it is challenged. The children get older but don't mature, without the influence of an adult population. The adults that do remain go insane, and yes, the adults caused the disease in an attempt to make life better. The children need adults to help them (and help the adults) get over diseases and perhaps technological problems.

                                                                                                                The famous bonk quote below was written as "bunk" which has an interesting interplay with the episode. They do disagree and may find Kirk's speech "bunk" but so, too, may be their perspective as they change their minds.
                                                                                                                Memorable: 
                                                                                                                This may be one of the most memorable episodes--rogue and nearly ageless children who rule the world, the tender Miri, the Lord-of-the-Flies violence of children gone feral, the invented or shorthand language (grups [grownups], the before time [before the plague], the onlies [children survivors], and the foolies [apparently, a prank to "fool" someone]). The episode captures the horror that can result from mindless mass behavior -- the chanting of nonsense and violence as a way to reinforce an idea and ignore what others have to say. Memory says that this was a childhood favorite.
                                                                                                                Quotes:
                                                                                                                • "Bonk, bonk on the head." [bunk?]
                                                                                                                Author
                                                                                                                Adrian Spies, Edgar winner, Emmy nominee.
                                                                                                                *Notes:
                                                                                                                1. No violence toward children.

                                                                                                                Saturday, September 13, 2014

                                                                                                                Star Trek: Season 1, Episode 7: What are Little Girls Made of

                                                                                                                 Summary:
                                                                                                                Enterprise searches for nurse Christine Chapel's old fiance, Dr. Roger Korby, on Exo III. He's a famous scientist whose archeology and translation revolutionized Earth's immunization work. Red shirted crew members die. Roger's assistant does not immediately recognize Chapel. but Korby greets Chapel with a kiss. They try to prevent Kirk's communication with the ship. Kirk rebels but a big bald guy, murderer of redshirts, captures Kirk--not before we learn Roger's assistant is an android.

                                                                                                                Analysis with spoilers:
                                                                                                                Kirk calls ship. At least, Ruk mimicking Kirk calls.  Ruk, an android of the old alien race, can mimick any voice. Lucky for Kirk, he got Kirby to obey Chapel's orders as well.

                                                                                                                Chapel is jealous of Andrea, suspects her to be a geisha. Korby has Andrea kiss and slap Kirk to prove she has emotions. For Kirk, that doesn't explain why his crewmen are dead. Korby will explain by converting Kirk into an android (somehow Kirk doesn't throw up after being spun around)--same attitudes, memory, and behaviors. Korby says he can transfer even the soul so that humans can be immortal and eliminate the negative aspects of humanity. Kirk voices the idea that you'd lose positive human values.

                                                                                                                Fans have pointed out the phallic symbol, the stalagtite he uses to attack Ruk. If so, Kirk unavoidably passes on his masculinity to a machine, indicating perhaps what may happen.

                                                                                                                Android Kirk enters ship, calls Spock a half-breed, and orders to transport Kirby and his equipment. The real Kirk orders and forces a kiss on Andrea, and she shows confused emotions. As does Ruk, who doesn't want to keep the real Kirk alive. He explains the Old Ones died due to the androids having emotion and competition for survival. Kirk reminds Ruk of this competition and that Ruk should live over others. Ruk attacks Korby and Korby has to destroy. Kirk and Korby battle and Korby turns out to be an android. Korby suggests he might even be better as an android.

                                                                                                                Korby orders Andrea to protect. She claims to want to kiss Kirk, but it's the android Kirk who refuses. She shoots him.

                                                                                                                While Korby protests his humanity with an inkling that he's not completely human, Andrea goes to him and wants to kiss him. Korby shoots himself and Andrea.

                                                                                                                I'm not sure this disproves Korby's claims.  His faulty memory, perhaps guilt over Andrea exposing him, shame in front of Chapel, and shooting himself and Andrea both--these seem to make a reasonable case that Korby is rather human, after all. I'm not sure about the consciousness/soul claim. How would you test such a thing?
                                                                                                                Quotes:
                                                                                                                • Korby: Do you understand how a human converted into an android could be programmed for the better? 
                                                                                                                • Korby: It's still me, Christine. I'm in here.... Still the same, perhaps even better.
                                                                                                                Author
                                                                                                                Robert Bloch, author of Psycho.

                                                                                                                Memorable
                                                                                                                Ruk was a rather terrifying foe--size, baldness, yet intelligence and secret belligerence. Disconcerting villain.  Whoever did costumes knew what they were doing.

                                                                                                                *Notes:
                                                                                                                1. First (of many) red-shirted crew to die.
                                                                                                                2. Kirk becomes a double again. See episode 5.
                                                                                                                3. Possible phallic symbol.
                                                                                                                4. First time (that I noticed) that we're given an explanation for the rotating crew. The Enterprise appears to take on and release crew frequently.

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                                                                                                                Allen Steele 
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                                                                                                                Walter Jon Williams 
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                                                                                                                $1.99

                                                                                                                Friday, September 12, 2014

                                                                                                                Interview: Katie Berger, poet of Time Travel: Theory and Practice, Part 1: The Past



                                                                                                                This is the first-part of a two-part interview with poet Katie Berger, who recently graduated from the MFA program in Alabama and published the chapbook, Time Travel: Theory and Practice--reviewed here. The second part, "Present", appeared here.


                                                                                                                How did you start writing? 
                                                                                                                I began pretty early, in elementary school when "free writing" was my favorite part of the school day. My little brother served as (oft-unwilling) audience for my rough drafts, as did my various friends. In junior high and high school, I grew really interested in science fiction, and, as strange as I feel admitting this, I wrote a lot of Star Wars fan fiction, too.

                                                                                                                And poetry? 
                                                                                                                I honestly don't remember, although my earliest memory of writing poems as opposed to stories starts in about 5th grade when our teacher would assign a subject for us to write a poem about. I stuck pretty consistently with both fiction and poetry through junior high and high school for both classes and writing on my own.

                                                                                                                Who were the first poets that turned you on to poetry?
                                                                                                                When I was very young, a battered copy of a book called The Boy's Book of Verse, complete with a painting of a ship on it, always sat in the bookcase. Poe's "Annabelle Lee," Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade," and Whitman's "O Captain My Captain" were all in there, and the rhythms and words lodged themselves quite comfortably in my brain. I think a love for these poems made me pursue poetry later. In graduate school, I really enjoyed Harryette Mullen's and Karen Volkman's poetry. And in undergraduate, we read T.R. Hummer's "Where You Go When She Sleeps" for an intro to creative writing class, and that poem still haunts me--I've taught it to my own students, even.

                                                                                                                Of these early influences, I do not recognize the conscious rhythms and sounds. Rather, I sense more conversational sounds and subtler rhythms.
                                                                                                                Yes, good observation. The rather overt stresses and rhythms I read as a kid might have made me particularly sensitive to the rhythm of a sentence, be that iambic pentameter or everyday conversation. Also, I work as a product copywriter, and I'm fascinated with how a product description for a bedframe feels nothing like a description for a rain barrel in terms of tone, texture, rhythm of commas and periods.

                                                                                                                When did you feel like you'd come into your voice or vision?

                                                                                                                And I'm often skeptical of that feeling of "coming into" a voice or vision. Whenever I feel myself settling into one, I get a bit antsy. So every time I start a new writing project, if I'm not completely re-inventing my tone/style/structure/genre, I feel like I'm not even writing. I'm not sure if this is a good thing (despite constant re-birth, the same problems often plague all my projects), but it's certainly an adventurous thing. And that's pretty cool, at least.

                                                                                                                Which are more valuable: workshops or mentoring (or is that a false dichotomy)? That is, what do you find most valuable is shaping your work?
                                                                                                                Hmmm...I've never thought of workshop and mentoring as opposites of each other, but it's certainly an interesting contrast. And if I consider that contrast, I'd have to go pretty strongly with mentoring. I'm quite the connoisseur of one-on-one conversations, for starters, be that email or face-to-face. I also find that my mentors, and I've had some truly great ones, are a bit more sensitive to my background and crippling lack of self-confidence that comes with said background. I grew up working class in a mostly rural area, so I've always felt like an impostor in college, especially graduate school. That "impostor" syndrome can be downright overwhelming in a workshop, but I've never really encountered that with a mentor. I think mentoring allows for an easier acceptance of the self, if that makes sense.

                                                                                                                You can sense that "impostor" syndrome in the self-deprecating approach to Nebraska--the plains being plain--yet it attempts to rise above, a stepping stone to other places. Is this something you have been exploiting or plan to exploit further?


                                                                                                                I always think of that line from My Antonia when the narrator first encounters Nebraska: "The only thing very noticeable about Nebraska was that it was still, all day long, Nebraska." And when you grow up in a place like that, so open and flat and defined by a geography of visual sparseness, you're not going to forget it or shed it completely from your consciousness. A lot of my characters have moved from a rural area into a city (the narrators in Time Travel and in my latest project Swans) and are often grappling with that shift in awareness, that move from an empty space into a livelier, noisier one. I imagine some element of that plainness, as it were, will always be present in my work in some form or other.

                                                                                                                Thursday, September 11, 2014

                                                                                                                Interview: Katie Berger, poet of Time Travel: Theory and Practice, Part 2: The Present

                                                                                                                This is the second-part of a two-part interview with poet Katie Berger, who recently graduated from the MFA program in Alabama and published the chapbook, Time Travel: Theory and Practice--reviewed here. The first part, "Past", will appear here tomorrow on 9/12/2014.

                                                                                                                How has your poetry changed since you started? 
                                                                                                                Right now, I'm really interested in how consciousness renders itself on the page, how the "I," however unreliable, is shaping and being shaped by his/her world, and how this shaping/shaped dynamic appears in words, how it drives a narrative forward, how it destroys a narrative or renders it inert, how it questions narrative. Before, I felt pretty set in my "I"-ness, as if that was a fixed point in all my poetry that couldn't change.

                                                                                                                I suspect your Time Travel chapbook is, in essence, a long poem. Would you agree? What inspired or prompted the work and how did you shape it as (or after) you created it?

                                                                                                                Interesting you should ask that. I'm really not sure if "long poem" or simply "chapbook" or "piece of writing" or even "story" is more apt. Call it what you like--I'm not picky. The initial idea actually came to me in my undergraduate years, when I had a recurring dream about a time machine and was also reading and writing a lot of memoir--using words to unearth memory. It was tough work, and I often felt physically exhausted at the end of a writing session, so I began to wonder: what if I was building a time machine to go back and explore memory, not just sitting around trying to do the same thing with Microsoft Word? So the Time Travel chapbook spun off from there.


                                                                                                                Structurally, I wrote it as a prose-only science fiction story first for a fiction writing class. The next semester, I was taking a class on hybrid forms, so I began to wonder how this story might work as a blend of fiction and  poetry (and maybe even memoir, as that was the milieu of its birth). Looking at the text, I knew I had a tendency to "list" to build a reality, so that's where I began breaking up the lines, creating literal lists on the page as the narrator, who remembers things best in a list as many of us do, narrates the situation. From there, I added full-blown poems full of lists of objects and ideas, and it just sort of morphed and warped from there.

                                                                                                                There certainly seems more to explore here in the time-traveling vein. Any thoughts on revisiting this and mining it further?
                                                                                                                At one point, I was considering expanding Time Travel into a full-length manuscript. I've certainly made notes toward that, but they're only notes at this point. I think I've largely moved beyond using a time machine as a concept in my new projects, although I still work very much with disrupting time, memory, things like that.

                                                                                                                What poets trip your trigger now? magazines (online or off)?
                                                                                                                I can't think of any one journal--so many are so good. I do like practically anything Dancing Girl Press publishes (and not just because they published my chapbook). The writing's gutsy, often strange, and the poems are often linked together in fresh ways.

                                                                                                                What are you cooking up now? Any forthcoming works or links to stuff online so people can look up more of your work?
                                                                                                                I recently finished a chapbook called Swans, in which I use the rhetoric and trappings of a detective novel to write some prose poems and verse. It's not been published yet, but it was a quarter-finalist in two separate contests. One of the poems is forthcoming from Rufous City Review, and another is currently at Dressing Room Poetry here.

                                                                                                                Where do you see poetry heading in the near future? 
                                                                                                                Well, in the fiction realm, there's been an explosion of genre--science fiction, fantasy, mystery are now, in some circles at least, being viewed as possible lenses or mechanisms to explore and shape a narrative. I'd love to see a similar explosion in poetry, but perhaps more an explosion of form. Poetry, for me, has always been more fluid and diverse than fiction in general, but I'd love to see more hybridization of fiction and poetry, nonfiction and poetry, verse and prose of all kinds. I work often in the gray area between forms, and I find it so productive for my creativity.

                                                                                                                So you see yourself experimenting in these borderlands? 
                                                                                                                Yeah, I love the idea of inventing a form along with a product--it almost feels like trying to build a house without blueprints. Messy, yes, but certainly fertile ground for stretching each little language tool we as writers use to its limit. What if I made a fiction of repeated imagery? A narrative out of product descriptions? Stuff like that.

                                                                                                                Wednesday, September 10, 2014

                                                                                                                Star Trek: Season 2, Episode 8: "I, Mudd"

                                                                                                                 Summary:
                                                                                                                To Spock, McCoy worries about a new, unfriendly crew member on board--someone who hedges about his background and acts... like Spock. But not you, he tells Spock; the pointy ears make all the difference. Next we see the man, he attacks a crew member and fiddles with knobs and dials. He turns the ship on to new coordinates, and overrides the overrides. Moreover, the ship is booby-trapped for anyone who tries to undo his work.

                                                                                                                The he is an it--an android. It takes them to a planet ruled by Harry Mudd and his androids. They beam the entire crew down and replaced them with androids.

                                                                                                                Analysis with spoilers:
                                                                                                                The crew is quite content, actually. The androids will supply the crew's every want. They don't lodge protests until Capt. Kirk rallies them around the Enterprise. Kirk insists on getting his ship back. The crew work together to overload their circuits with illogic. McCoy rubs this in Spock's face--a whole crew of illogical humans won, but Spock says that's why the crew needs him--someone who has logic.

                                                                                                                In the opening, Spock rather gently exposes Doctor McCoy's prejudice, which would likely not occur today. However, McCoy was correct about this particular man.

                                                                                                                The "please" quote below is fascinating in its broad interpretation.  Does it mean they do not ask permission? that they don't ask permission because they follow commands? or, as a verb, that they aim to please without pleasing?

                                                                                                                Harry Mudd is a more fascinating figure in this episode as one can see in the quotes below. Some would be amused, others dismayed by Harry speaking similar ideas, later spoken in the Internet age.

                                                                                                                Shatner performance: Kirk's bemusement--his slight smile--strengthens both his own character and those he plays against. It enhances the others because he gives them his approval--albeit, not complete. It enhances himself in that he feels confident enough to grant amusement to someone who seems to have the upper hand.

                                                                                                                Mudd starts off antagonistic toward the Enterprise and later--due to the androids not allowing Mudd aboard the Enterprise--allies himself with the crew.

                                                                                                                They reprogram the android to harass Harry with 500 former, nagging spouses. The crew chuckle. This is supposed to stop Harry from exploiting the androids, but the androids were out to please Harry and Harry is not pleased. So in a sense, they are torturing Harry and the androids. Moreover, what might the long term consequences be of creating a race of powerful beings whose job is solely to annoy a human being?

                                                                                                                Quotes:
                                                                                                                • Android: There is a word. It seems to mean something to you but it does not to us.
                                                                                                                Kirk: And what is that word?
                                                                                                                Android: Please.

                                                                                                                • Kirk: Do I know him? Harcourt Fenton Mudd, thief.
                                                                                                                Harry: Come now.
                                                                                                                Kirk: Swindler and con man.
                                                                                                                Harry: Entrepreneur.
                                                                                                                Kirk: Liar and rogue.
                                                                                                                Harry: Did I leave you with that impression?

                                                                                                                • Spock: He did not pay royalties

                                                                                                                Harry: Knowledge, sir, should be free to all.

                                                                                                                • How will my crew react in a world where they can have absolutely everything they want simply by asking for it?
                                                                                                                • Android: We shall serve them, and you will be happy and... controlled.
                                                                                                                • McCoy: It's worked so far, but we're not out yet.


                                                                                                                Author
                                                                                                                Stephen Kandel, same author of previous episode about Mudd.

                                                                                                                *Notes:
                                                                                                                1. Chekov!
                                                                                                                2. We first met Mudd in Season 1, Episode 6: "Mudd's Women"
                                                                                                                3. Mudd, like his first episode, begins as an enemy and ends as an ally.

                                                                                                                Tuesday, September 9, 2014

                                                                                                                Traditional Fantasy, pt 2: Robert Jordan, Michael Moorcock

                                                                                                                During my last months in Central America, I spent time reading/sampling some of the new and classic fantasy series: Michael Moorcock, Kevin Hearne, Robert Jordan, and Terry Goodkind.  I'm still processing  Fritz Leiber, Michael Chabon, Andre Norton and Robin Hobb.

                                                                                                                I tend to avoid long series. What if the ending reeks? I've been burned by a few. But these books are so popular, I thought it time to give them a spin.

                                                                                                                Part 1 is here.

                                                                                                                Here's a brief overview of my assessment:

                                                                                                                Robert JordanEye of the World
                                                                                                                Strength:
                                                                                                                1. Characters: Jordan knows his people. You get the sense of history of the people. There's not just good guys and bad guys, but a number of groups working to different ends. Three young men--one or all of whom might be involved in a prophecy--not to mention the girlfriend who breaks ties with magical group to join another.  Yet another surprise member initially tries to pry the girl away. It's easy to see the series' popularity. 
                                                                                                                2. World-Building: Likewise, probably for similar reasons/methodology, you sense the richness of the rituals and abilities of the peoples, prophecies and so forth.
                                                                                                                3. Dynamic plot: Jordan knows how to engage readers with danger, spooky and powerful enemies and cool allies.
                                                                                                                 Weakness:
                                                                                                                1. Opening: Why start here? This relates to the next problems (is this one problem or four?)
                                                                                                                2. Plot and scene and ending: The books don't seem to know what to exclude. One book in the series most readers roundly slam because no new territory is covered. You can read the opening scene and guess something like this might happen. This makes me leery of reading the entire series. Where's the Reader's Digest condensed version, especially for later books? 

                                                                                                                Michael MoorcockSailor on the Seas of Fate*

                                                                                                                Strength:
                                                                                                                1. Eyeball-kicks/Speculation: These are the highlights. You've got to read it for these. When Elric engages his enemies, they are far cooler than he is. That he can defeat them raises his esteem.
                                                                                                                2. Time: It is a fluid substance where past and present can meet, and it's hard to tell how it flows.
                                                                                                                3. Other dimensions: Elric not only meets his manifestations from other dimensions, but he also goes to battle with them.
                                                                                                                4. Character: Explanation for his ever-present woe: Death of someone he cared for--a death he is implicated in.
                                                                                                                Weakness:
                                                                                                                1. Character: A bit too much woe. You'll understand later, but maybe he should have been given more reason for his ever-present melancholy earlier.
                                                                                                                2. Plot/World-building: I lump these two together as this is an episodic novel, so Moorcock isn't trying to build a place or build a bigger arc, so it isn't fair to critique on this account. Nonetheless, they would have supplied a more satisfying conclusion. 
                                                                                                                * This is the second in the series, but I'm not sure it matters where you start. I read the first several times some time ago and can't remember much of it, except for appreciating the language.

                                                                                                                Monday, September 8, 2014

                                                                                                                Star Trek: Season 1, Episode 6: "Mudd's Women"

                                                                                                                 Summary:

                                                                                                                An unidentified ship flies erratically (rather like it's flying through air instead of a vacuum), flies into a asteroid belt. Enterprise puts deflector shield around self and other ship at risk of engine. They manage to beam aboard an Irish pirate looking chap, Harcourt Fenton Mudd, aka Leo Walsh*, aka Harry Mudd, and his "cargo": three women the Enterprise crew find irresistible. Mudd, wanted for a number of charges, is transporting wives to settlers. Mudd is to be transferred to authorities with no certain destination for the women. The women are upset... until they learn that the ship is without dilithium crsytals and must pick up new ones from a mining planet where there will be single men to marry.

                                                                                                                Analysis with spoilers:
                                                                                                                Mudd is elated. Apparently, whom the "ladies" marry is unimportant. Because Mudd doesn't want them medically examined, one suspects they are not real, perhaps aliens.

                                                                                                                The ladies pour on charm on the officers to get information they need.  Mudd calls down to the planet, Rigel XII, to have miners deal crystals for women and Mudd. Women start to turn uglify without pills.

                                                                                                                One gal--the one who refused to dupe Captain Kirk because she may be in love with him--is disappointed over the Venus drug game.  When they arrive on planetside, the miners fight which woman they want.  She runs out.  The balding miner rescues her, but he's disappointed--largely in her attitude.

                                                                                                                Kirk plays a second trick--no more Venus drug--fakes handing it to the woman, and she becomes beautiful. See quote, which probably tried too hard to be quotable.  Only "one kind" ends up in an either-or, which suggests two kinds. Maybe the writer means that you're not a real man or woman if you don't believe in yourself. However, this doesn't explain the real changes the Venus drug made on the women--aging and splotches.  It doesn't explain, either, how medical scanner behaved strangely. Are they real women?

                                                                                                                What really happened to Walsh is also an unresolved mystery. That Kirk never follows this up, allies and jokes with Mudd toward the end suggests that Kirk does not consider this worth investigating.

                                                                                                                Quotes:

                                                                                                                • Kirk: There's only one kind of woman.
                                                                                                                Mudd: Or man, for that matter.
                                                                                                                Kirk: You either believe in yourself or you don't. 

                                                                                                                • Spock: The fact that my internal arrangement differs from yours, doctor, pleases me to no end.
                                                                                                                Author
                                                                                                                Stephen Kandel and Gene Roddenberry.  Kandel apparently wrote several teleplays from Wonder Woman to MacGyver.

                                                                                                                *Notes:
                                                                                                                1. First use of deflector shield. Has it been used elsewhere?  I don't recall its mention.
                                                                                                                2. "Leo Walsh" is actually the name of who was supposed to fly the ship. 
                                                                                                                3. First use of a lie detector. According to Mudd, the detector only knows what it knows, but why did it not suggest the true answers itself? Why doesn't it not know about the women? The extent of its database is unclear.
                                                                                                                4. First friendly repartee between Spock and Doctor McCoy. They've bickered before, though.
                                                                                                                5. Mudd appears again in Season 2, Episode 8: "I, Mudd"

                                                                                                                Sunday, September 7, 2014

                                                                                                                Traditional Fantasy, pt 1: Terry Goodkind, Kevin Hearne

                                                                                                                During my last months in Central America, I spent time reading/sampling some of the new and classic fantasy series: Michael Moorcock, Kevin Hearne, Robert Jordan, and Terry Goodkind.  I'm still processing  Fritz Leiber, Michael Chabon, Andre Norton and Robin Hobb.

                                                                                                                I tend to avoid long series. What if the ending reeks? I've been burned by a few. But these books are so popular, I thought it time to give them a spin.

                                                                                                                Part 2 is here. (or will be on 9/9/14)

                                                                                                                Here's a brief overview of my assessment:

                                                                                                                Terry GoodkindWizard's First Rule
                                                                                                                Strength:
                                                                                                                1. Plot: Goodkind knows how to sweep you into his story. Meanie made me want to read more. Surely, this is a crime in one of the fifty states:  How do I find time to read for a series?
                                                                                                                2. Character: The characters all have a rich, troubled pasts. 
                                                                                                                 Weakness:
                                                                                                                1. World-building: It feels like the world was constructed on the fly. The history of the place and its people didn't have a submerged presence. However, this may allow more readers to enter his world as it is not clogged with world-building so that readers less familiar with speculative reading protocols can slide right in.

                                                                                                                Kevin Hearne: Hounded
                                                                                                                Strength:
                                                                                                                1. Voice: The narrator is the best of any of these here. A colloquial contemporary--witty--yet spiced with a few older colloquialisms. I could not stop reading this book because of the voice alone. If you like books with strong voices, sample this one and I suspect you'll be hooked.
                                                                                                                2. Characters: The cast of characters are thin but just real enough to buy. Their relationships feel real and connected, like a web that stretches across the ages. Hearne must have written a series bible about who is allied with whom, and how much, etc. 
                                                                                                                3. Mix of cultural myths.
                                                                                                                4. Dialogue: Witty.
                                                                                                                5. Ending: Hearne pays back his readers with a conclusion that intrigues his readers to read on, but doesn't leave you hanging. Fantasy with an honest-to-garsh climax and satisfactory release. High five!
                                                                                                                 Weakness:
                                                                                                                1. World-building: This take place in one place, sparsely rendered. The voice compensates. Some readers may not notice.
                                                                                                                2. Dialogue: ...is actually quite good, but sometimes the story relies too heavily upon it. 

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                                                                                                                Alamo Rising 
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                                                                                                                Neuromancer 
                                                                                                                by William Gibson 
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                                                                                                                The Golden Notebook 
                                                                                                                by Doris Lessing
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                                                                                                                classic feminist work... or not (author disagrees with others' assessment)

                                                                                                                The Green Millennium 
                                                                                                                by Fritz Leiber 
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                                                                                                                Station in Space 
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                                                                                                                The Best American Mystery Stories 2013 
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                                                                                                                Annihilation
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                                                                                                                by Jeff VanderMeer 
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                                                                                                                critically acclaimed

                                                                                                                Saturday, September 6, 2014

                                                                                                                Star Trek: Season 1, Episode 5: “The Enemy Within”

                                                                                                                 Summary:

                                                                                                                Due to a yellow magnetic ore affecting the transporter, Capt Kirk has split in two--an unobserved, evil alter-ego appears aboard, demanding and drinking saurian brandy.  He assaults various crew members.  Meanwhile, Sulu and other crew are freezing below.  The positive Kirk loses his will to command.  The negative loses the social graces.

                                                                                                                Analysis with spoilers:

                                                                                                                While it makes for better drama, the crew could/should have died on the surface. Rather, someone should have beamed up the crew and stunned the violent ones who appeared as they appeared in the transporter. Then they could have repaired the transporter without putting lives in danger. But it would have lacked drama if they'd done the logical thing.

                                                                                                                They use the transporter to meld the two parts back together.

                                                                                                                What’s fascinating here is two-fold:
                                                                                                                1. The question of who is the imposter (is even the whole self the imposter?)
                                                                                                                2. A person needs the negative and positive aspects of the self to be fully functional, suggesting that some may have an overabundance of one aspect over another, but that such negative aspects serve a function. See also Note #2.

                                                                                                                Author
                                                                                                                Richard Matheson

                                                                                                                Notes:
                                                                                                                1. Alien is clearly a dog in a costume--a unicorn/lion-fur suit with antennae. The crew carrying around the unicorn dog becomes a visual running gag. Possibly it is not intentional. Simliarly, though, a spider dog frightened half a dozen hapless victims. So convincing costumes must be relative (although this one from the front might have frightened me, too):
                                                                                                                2. This theme compares with the Khan episode, Star Trek Season 1, Episode #22, where the crew dislikes the man yet admires the negatives of Khan, a former tyrant.

                                                                                                                Friday, September 5, 2014

                                                                                                                Time Travel: Theory and Practice by Katie Berger -- a review

                                                                                                                I recently devoured and re-devoured Katie Berger's Time Travel: Theory and Practice.  Berger is a Nebraska native who just finished her poetry MFA at Alabama.  The dry, academic title is accompanied by graphs and figures (see image to the right).

                                                                                                                But the poetry itself is anything but dry. The poems read as if Kelly Link had written a book of slipstream poetry regarding time travel. Link, though, tends to treat life in service of the tropes whereas Berger does the tropes in service of life. It is a somewhat intimate look at the poet persona as a young woman looking back at her roots. How does one look at or accept memory (i.e. time travel) of one's past?

                                                                                                                The dramatis personæ: Berger writes of her poet persona, "I possess a distinct memory of flying." Paul, her time-traveling conscience (and friend), corrects her, "You try to remember." And the grandfather, who seems a muse, a being who has traveled through much time (an almost mystical being whose car can be seen four miles away), and perhaps a system (or the old system) of orderliness in the chaos of the everyday.

                                                                                                                Berger's persona attempts to construct a time machine out of such everyday items. These lists of items represent an ordering of life, an randomness to forge a way to penetrate the past. Even the geography shapes the persona from...
                                                                                                                "the Great Plains
                                                                                                                "Plain, yes.
                                                                                                                "Great, no, never!" 
                                                                                                                "Open landscape lead to... an acceptance that no geography can conceal anything."

                                                                                                                The humor is subdued, which in part reminded of Link:

                                                                                                                You had to memorize the law of gravity for it to have any effect whatsoever.... 
                                                                                                                I once memorized the blueprint for a time machine.... 
                                                                                                                I found the blueprint to the time machine when my mind was filled with
                                                                                                                Siberian tigers
                                                                                                                ptarmigans
                                                                                                                Indian elephants.... 
                                                                                                                It was an air purifier, ok?... 
                                                                                                                I have either memorized the blueprint for a time machine or an air purifier.

                                                                                                                Below is a sample from the collection although it is actually the fifth part, not the first:


                                                                                                                Some perceived flaws may be that certain sections could be omitted. Also, there is no travel to the future. On the one hand, this could not treat memory; on the other, it would encompass the idea of time travel and life itself (we are forward-looking people). This might have given a less linear feel as well.














                                                                                                                Nonetheless, it's collection well worth getting your hands on, for those who like Kelly Link, poetry, interstitial speculation, mixed with the everyday.

                                                                                                                Thursday, September 4, 2014

                                                                                                                Politics makes us dumber

                                                                                                                “Divergent” and “Hunger Games” as capitalist agitprop: 
                                                                                                                "We're all told we're "Divergent," all the time -- behind the bogus dystopia lies a panegyric to consumer society."
                                                                                                                The horror!

                                                                                                                YA dystopias teach children to submit to the free market, not fight authority 
                                                                                                                "The Hunger Games, The Giver and Divergent all depict rebellions against the state, and promote a tacit right-wing libertarianism."
                                                                                                                And I take it that this is evil as it goes against everything the article writers believe in. I agree. In fact, I've got an idea. Let's only write a certain kind of story! One kind only! With one theme. One theme only! It will never get old. Nor will the exclamation marks!

                                                                                                                We'll check with the proper authorities to make sure it has the proper theme. I can't wait to dive into this dystopian future we're creating. I will chair the committee. All stories must be pre-approved by me or it cannot be published.  We will only publish stories that slant toward a certain political party. All unapproved published works will be burned (and their authors).*

                                                                                                                Related, but less shocking:

                                                                                                                Project Hieroglyph: Fighting society's dystopian future

                                                                                                                Thought Experiments:Tomorrow Through the Past by Allen M. Steele

                                                                                                                Here, the authors advocate positive futures.  That's great.  In fact, I'd like to get the anthology when the price goes down. Advocate whatever you want, so long as you don't say what writers can and can't write about.

                                                                                                                Let's allow people to tell whatever story they want. If you disagree with the theme, say so. As a reviewer, I used to post the author's comments if I disagreed. Why? To give authors a voice, not to bash them. I could be wrong. I was not out to silence anyone.

                                                                                                                Let's not create some moral imperative that any theme can or cannot be read. Open your mind. Look at negative possibilities, look at the positive. Allow yourself to read things you don't agree with. Avoid telling people not to read things.

                                                                                                                Some scientific evidence to back this up:

                                                                                                                David Brin discusses how self-righteous indignation gives you a high.  Self-righteous indignation is a major component of politics. (Perhaps, as self-righteous indignation gives political addicts a high, the FDA should regulate its use.)

                                                                                                                Science confirms: Politics wrecks your ability to do math.  That's right.  Both parties got dumber. (A left-wing article reported only the right-wing problems.)

                                                                                                                Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science: Bias can skew data.

                                                                                                                If you want to get smarter, you have to challenge yourself. Read something you don't agree with. Excluding what can and can't be read and discussed makes you and the people you encouraged to become dumber. No, you don't have to read everything, but don't tell people not to.

                                                                                                                You might ask, "Weren't you part of the Mundane SF lot?" Yep. Not because I was against any type of SF, but that it represented a type of SF not being voiced.

                                                                                                                * By the way, this is satire.

                                                                                                                Wednesday, September 3, 2014

                                                                                                                Updates on McLaw & How to Resolve Conflict

                                                                                                                The Atlantic updated their article. At last, a good reporter. Thank you, Jeffrey Goldberg. Through no fault of the writer, the article clarifies some things, but not others. He is trying to get to the bottom of this.

                                                                                                                Despite all the articles boldly claiming the contrary based on their reading into the lawyer's statement, the school's reaction was, in part, due to parents complaining about the books: "But some citizens did react to [the books], there were citizen complaints based on the book..." which doesn't surprise me. The original article wrote: "some parents tell WBOC they are concerned about safety." Yeah, they were. They probably prepared for the 2012 Mayan Armageddon, too.*

                                                                                                                "McLaw had built a model of a school building in his home" -- "a" model, not any particular school, so it was likely research as well. It is not uncommon for writers to build a large database of information about a subject, draw maps, etc. to make sure the world they create is credible. Evidence dismissed.

                                                                                                                I'm not sure about this: "asked an administrator to move classrooms, to one near the 'point of ingress and egress' of the school." That is bizarre although it gets more confusing why he would talk about his mother in this context.

                                                                                                                One crime he is clearly guilty of: He is too enamored with $4 words**. Probably he should serve hard time in the halls of academia.* That may cure him.


                                                                                                                Update updated: A response from McLaw himself this time. 
                                                                                                                "I used to be in architecture and engineering. And as a result of that, as a hobby I built miniatures. And I built a miniature of a cruise ship, a miniature of a house, and a miniature school. Now given the situation, they have only focused on the miniature school,"
                                                                                                                How did they get a hold of this model? Anyway, it seems even less incriminating than it wasn't to begin with.

                                                                                                                It'd be nice to read the actual letter. I'm guessing the recipients didn't understand it due to McLaw's penchant** for $4 words. Maybe, if the letter comes out (not that it should or has to), I will side with those who messed up McLaw's life. But right now, their story is contradictory and incoherent.

                                                                                                                * Jokes. 
                                                                                                                ** I use them, too, sparingly.


                                                                                                                Conflict Resolution:
                                                                                                                I am not opposed to parents defending their children. The passionate parent sometimes attacks while uninformed. Here's a simple resolution process that has been around for millennia: 

                                                                                                                1. Ask your kid to resolve it. Have them call their teacher if need be. You may never need to get involved.
                                                                                                                2. Gather information. Get your kid to say everything he knows. Ask, "Why did your teacher do/say that? Did you do something that caused this? What are you leaving out? You know I'm going to ask your teacher, so you'd better tell me everything."
                                                                                                                3. Discuss the situation with teacher and your kid (try to understand where your kid's teacher is coming from). 
                                                                                                                4. If it's not resolved, go up the chain: Principal, Superintendent, Board. 
                                                                                                                Skipping steps in the conflict resolution process may cause unnecessary problems.

                                                                                                                Tuesday, September 2, 2014

                                                                                                                More about Education and the McLaw Affair

                                                                                                                When I posted a few days ago, I was worried the story wasn't getting enough attention.  That has changed as the news has gone viral.

                                                                                                                J D Wolverton makes good points about how McLaw is not a threat.

                                                                                                                The Atlantic covered the story:  In Maryland, a Soviet-Style Punishment for a Novelist

                                                                                                                A petition is circling at Change.org to reinstate and apologize to him publicly.

                                                                                                                Tananarive Due ‏wrote my sentiments best (she should have written the petition): 
                                                                                                                 "@DrHenryVWagner Is there more to the #PatrickMcLaw story than #writing a #scifi novel? If not, please reinstate him"
                                                                                                                If there isn't anything else, hopefully everyone involved apologizes and feels shame for their mistreatment for this poor man.

                                                                                                                UPDATE:  From the LA Times:

                                                                                                                "It didn't start with the books and it didn't end with the books.... McLaw's letter... combined with complaints of alleged harassment and an alleged possible crime from various jurisdictions."   
                                                                                                                Then where did the journalist get his information?  He made it appear that police turned up nothing.  Either someone led the journalist to believe that it was solely about the books, or the journalist made up the story.

                                                                                                                Here's the original:

                                                                                                                "He's a man with many names, and the books he has written have raised the concerns of the Dorchester County Board of Education and the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office."
                                                                                                                So two things raised concerns, according to the original:  He used an alias and he wrote a book that has a school shooting in it.  The juxtaposition of the next two lines places the blame of the leave of absence on the books:
                                                                                                                "he wrote two fictional books about the largest school shooting in the country's history set in the future. Now, Patrick McLaw is placed on leave."
                                                                                                                The author spoke to Dorchester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Henry Wagner and Dorchester Sheriff James Phillips.  How did he get the story wrong?

                                                                                                                In other, related news--demonstrating a similar mindless craziness that can infect the American education system--PTA members plant drugs on another.