Tag Archives: Books

The Ray Bradbury MFA, Day Two


“Of Idleness” The Essays of Montaigne vol. 2 Montaigne discovers that, now more or less retired and dedicating himself to pure thought, that his new life “creates [him] so many chimaeras and fantastic monsters, one upon the other, without order or design,” that he starts writing the essays for which he is knows.


Caitlyn, the narrator of “Those Who Wait Through the Drowsy Dark” in Rachel Swirsky’s 2010 collection Through the Drowsy Dark, Aqueduct Press, might herself be driven close to madness by thoughts. The story is a riveting introduction to the collection, and to Swirsky’s rich and vivid sentences. I found her writing via the Tor website, which has some of her great stories free, including this one.


Inviting a Friend to Supper” by Ben Jonson. A vivid and cheerful poem that asks you to enjoy a evening at a pal’s, Jacobian London -style.

In a 2001 talk Ray Bradbury offered a way to fill up one’s head “a thousand nights” of reading: one poem, one essay, on story before bedtime.  I’m giving it a shot at least for awhile (although not at bedtime), and when I think of anything to say about any particular day’s lessons, I’ll post about it. Read all posts in the series here.

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W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook, 1940:

“Fundamentally man is not a rational animal. It is this that makes fiction so difficult to write; for the reader, or the spectator of a play, demands, at all events today, that he should behave as if he were. We feel dissatisfied when the persons of a story do not act from motives that we accept as sufficient. We expect their behavior to be rational, and if it isn’t we say: “But people don’t act like that.” Our demand for probability grows more and more stringent. We balk at coincidence and accident. We expect the characters that are presented to us invariably to behave like themselves.

The behaviour of the persons in Othello, of Othello himself principally, but to a less extent of almost everyone in the play, is wildly irrational. The critics have turned themselves inside out to show that it isn’t. In vain. They would have done better to accept it as a grand example of the fundamental irrationality of man. I am quite ready to believe that contemporary theatre-goers saw nothing improbable in the behaviour of any of the characters.”

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No mushrooms were harmed in the making of this story …

… though some were metabolized.

My story "The Mushroom King" is out in M-Brane #12 / Ergosphere.


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Books Read 2009

The Laurel Balzac Reader – Balzac

The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

Just After Sunset – Stephen King

Dreams of My Father – Barack Obama

Save the Cat – Blake Snyder

Realms: The First Year of Clarkesworld Magazine

Here Comes Everybody – Clay Shirkey

Is Shakespeare Dead? – Mark Twain

Who is Mark Twain? – Mark Twain

Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre – Peter Coogan

The Lost Princess of Oz – Baum

The Tin Woodman of Oz – Baum

Was Superman a Spy? – Brian Cronin

Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography – Diana Price

Two Noble Kinsmen – Shakespeare & John Fletcher

Resolution – Robert B. Parker

Walden – Thoreau

The End of Overeating – David Kessler

The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World – Lewis Hyde

Stein on Writing – Sol Stein

Where Water Comes Together With Other Water – Raymond Carver

Saturday – Ian McEwan

Even the Wicked – Lawrence Block

How to Grow A Novel – Sol Stein

Killing Castro – Lawrence Block

A Diet of Treacle – Lawrence Block

Pump Six and Other Stories – Paolo Bacigalupi

A Distance Mirror – Barbara W. Tuchman

Shakespeare: The World As Stage – Bill Bryson

Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life – Steven C. Hayes

Rumpole and the Reign of Terror – John Mortimer

Rumpole Misbehaves – John Mortimer

The Happiness Trap – Russ Harris

Everybody Dies – Lawrence Block

Gulf Music – Robert Pinsky

Poems from the Poet's Corner – John Lithgow (ed.)

Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke

The Princess Bride – William Goldman

Stop This Man! – Peter Rabe

The Best American Essays 2008 – Adam Gopnik (ed.)

Books – Larry McMurtry

Complete Plays – Christopher Marlowe

Shakespeare & Co. – Stanley Wells

Hope to Die – Lawrence Block

The Magic of Oz – Baum

All the Flowers Are Dying – Lawrence Block

Sixty Stories – Donald Barthelme

The 50th Law – 50 Cent & Robert Green

The Deep-Blue Goodbye – John D. MacDonald

Bright-Sided – Barbara Ehrenreich

Maske:Thaery – Jack Vance

Eating Animals – Foer

Problem Solving – Ken Watanabe

Gun Fight – Richard Matheson

The Adderall Diaries – Stephen Elliot

Thebes of the Hundred Gates – Robert Silverberg

The Wordy Shipmates – Sarah Vowell

The Autobiography 1872-1914 – Bertrand Russell

Forty Stories – Donald Barthelme

Best American Crime Reporting 2007

How I Write – Janet Evanovich

Under the Dome – Stephen King

Visions of Death – J.D. Robb

Cymbeline – Shakespeare

(31 nonfiction. 34 fiction, poetry & drama. 65 total, 7 more than last year.)



For me, it’s done.IMG_0340

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Zombies: Guidelines to Upcoming Anthologies

Here are excerpts from the writer's guidelines of various Zombie-Themed POD anthologies that will be appearing soon:

Our Union Dead:

Civil War, Alt-History, Horror, Romance, Regency. This is a
zombie-themed War Between the States anthology with a difference. I only want to see
stories about zombies who are fighting for the North. I WILL look at stories that have some
zombies in Confederate gray, but be forewarned, if you choose to submit
such a story you will have a very high bar to clear. Payment: 1/16 to
1/8 cent per word. Length: 1500 to 150,000 words. (Works longer than that may be
considered only for our online anthology supplement page at the reduced
rate of of 1/64 to 1/32 cent per word.) Be bold, be brave, innovate!
Why not set your particular tale during, say, a Civil War reenactment?
Or even a Civil War computer game — but a computer game that suddenly
gets very very real.)

Above all be historically
accurate. I don't want to see any more submissions with zombies
carrying Revolutionary War flintlocks, World War II German grease-guns,
or stories featuring any variety of horse bridle in only limited use
prior to 1864. It's called research, people. Do your job. Besides, at this time, we are overstocked on stories containing anachronistic horse bridles. 

Email subs
only, to editoriusemiritus[at]thebloodofourfourfatherspress.com. No
reprints. Simultaneous submissions will be deleted at once unread. If
you do send a simultaneous submission, and I find out about it, you will
be banned from submitting to any Blood of Our Four Fathers theme
anthology for a period of one year, or the release of our next sixty
theme anthologies, whichever comes first. People, there are
consequences to behavior in this business.

ResurErection: New GeniTALEias.

you're dead, but you're not DEAD right?  This anthology is seeking
stories, poems, and Penthouse-style true letters exploring the profound effects of the zombapocalypse on
sexual organs. Does a zombie penis become erect?  Does a zombie vagina
lubricate? Word length: Microfiction: 0 – 200 words. Full-length
fiction: 225 -1200 words. Stories between those lengths will be defined as either  microfic or macrofic at the sole discretion of the editor.

ONE (1) story will be selected for the Travis Q. Zither Award of $25. This
award is to honor the work of writer and literarateur Travis Q. Zither
for his achievements within the zombie erotica sub-genre, and also to get the anthology listed as a paying market on various websites. Payment for
the other chosen stories will be Exposure AND 10% off contributor
copies (limit of fifteen per contributor). Reprints, while considered,
are strongly discouraged and will not be eligible for the Zither Award.
Fair warning: Stories written by women or that feature female
characters in any way resembling real human beings are always a tough
sell with me. When in doubt, query.

Anticipated print run: 125 copies. Send submissions to travisqzither[at]travisqzither.com

No gratuitous profanity. No rape, incest, or pedophilia except when
essential to the plot. Have some class, people. Simultaneous
submissions will be deleted unread. Estimated response time: 62 to 65

Zombie: Dark Utopias
(UPDATE #15)
Utopias: the places that are not — or so it is defined in the nomenclatura of Sire Thomas Morehouse of Great Britannia. But what if an utopia could exist — and then got taken over by zombies!
(For more information in Sire Thomas Morecoke rent the first two
seasons of Showtime's "The Tudors." It's called an education, people!)
bold, be edgy. We're starting to notice a lot of new zombie books,
novels, anthologies, collections, movies, DVD's, and BluRays appearing
on the horizonistical landscape, as it were. It is no longer enough to
write your Utopian zombie parable as if you were the only writer in the
universal pantheon.

sf/f/ss (both slipstream and sword & sorcery) alt history, alt
future history, western, mystery (no cozies — and– fair warning– cat-based whodunits are usually a tough sell with us). Urban fantasy,
suburban fantasy, neo-weird, nouveau-weird, weird, and not-weird, all
encouraged. No horror. No introspection: send that poop to The New
Yorker or someplace, we just want to be entertained, you stupid
navel-gazer. And no vampires, they are so played out.

should be in standard ms. format. Let me explain what this means:
submissions should not be in non-standard ms. format. I know a lot of
other markets accept submissions in non-standard formats, but you
should know that this market and only this market accepts submissions
only in the standard format, and you should consider that before you
submit a manuscript to us in non-standard format.

Let's talk a
little about our submissions process. We employ the industry-normative
structure of fourteen rounds of readings. In the first round we will
determine whether your manuscript conforms to standard manuscript
format. The second round will consist of a different set of readers who
will consider whether the first set of readers were correct in their
assessment of the manuscript's format. After all, we want to be fair
about this.

After the second round, if it is determined a
manuscript does NOT meet the requirements of passing the first two
rounds, the manuscript will be returned to its author for reformatting.
(Or, in the case of a female-sounding byline, discarded.) Once the author
has reformatted his manuscript correctly and resubmitted it, the
manuscript will go to round three (assuming it can this time pass
rounds one and two.)

Round three with determine whether or not
your name is Neil Gaiman. If so, your manuscript will skip rounds four
through six, AND round twelve. (Note: After the original version of
these guidelines appeared, we received several manuscripts with bylines such as: "by Yeah-Like-Neil-Gaiman's-Gonna-Send-A-Story-To-Your-Lame-A**."
Look people, we are working with a very tight window here, I don't
appreciate what is so obviously NOT Neil Gaiman's real byline appearing in the slush.

Updated response time:
I know that we originally estimated our response time as between
"Anon and St Alban's Day, 2008" but due to the extraordinary
volume of manuscripts we have received (six) none of which have cleared
the seventh round of the submission process yet, we are behind. I feel
I myself bear some of the responsibility for this, as I have not yet
had time to decide what goes on in round seven, or in any of the other
rounds not specifically described here. When I do that, I will post
updated guidelines. You are potential writers and purchasers of
contributor copies — you deserve to know. And I will defend to the
death my right to say that. Current response time is approximately four
months from whatever-your-watch-says-right-this-moment to never. Please
do not query before that time.

Payment: Advance: $0 against a
standard royalty contract: 0.04% on a 75/25 split paid quarterly
beginning — ah, why kid yourself? — there's no such thing as a royalty.

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“Pump Six and Other Stories” by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books, 2008)

The stories collected here are in chronological order (of publication that is, as far as composition order, I don't know) and one of the many pleasures of reading these ten pieces is experiencing Bacigalupi's artistry grow year by year from 1999's "A Pocketful of Dharma" (itself already masterful) to the volume's titular piece in 2008.  (There's an eleventh story, "Small Offerings" available only in the limited edition, for which I didn't spring.)

This is SF unabashedly, and it's well-written. This is the kind of book you pass to a literate but SF-disdaining friend secure in the knowledge that you are about to gain a convert. Instead, the friend will reward your kindness by blithely explaining the Bacigalupi isn't really skiffy at all, "because he's a good writer." Then you pull your hair out.

Sadly, you must admit your friend has a point, (okay, call it half a point). Because, really, how often do we come across sentences as precise and evocative as the following in our digests? Not often enough:

"Methane lamps burned like blue fairies behind the closed glass of the neighbor's droplet-spattered windows. Rain sheeted off their roofs, drumming wet into the empty alley. A cheshire was yowling for a mate somewhere in the wet, barely audible under the thrum of falling water." — (from "The Calorie M" pg 97.)

Never often enough. "Cheshire" is the right word; "sheeted" is the right word. "Thrum" is. (By the way there's a school of thought that says comparing lamp flame to blue fairies in la littérature fantastique may confuse the reader's apparently addled brain over what's simile or metaphor and what's literal. Were you confused above? I didn't think so. In fact, if you're like me you've never seen gas lamps or torrential downpours clearer.)


"Men squat on tea stools and watch the day's swelter build as they smoke tiny rolled cigarettes of scavenged gold leaf tobacco and share them from lip to lip. Women converse in knots, nervously fingering yellow cards as they wait for white shirts to appear and stamp their renewals." — (from "Yellow Card Man" pg 165. )

There are so many right words in those sentences one savors the moments spent unpacking the riches. (The women aren't literally conversing inside knots, Mr. Card.)

Present tense is used so clumsily so often that I consider it guilty until demonstrated otherwise, but Bacigalupi's use never intrudes. He understands the difference between present action, and past, and of states of being, which is not so obvious to every writer who favor present tense for "immediacy." Where Bacigalupi writes (the bolding is mine):

"I close the fridge and straighten. There's something here in the mess and the screaming in the next room and the reek of the one kid's poopy pants, but I'm stumped as to what it is. They could have lived up in the light and air. Instead, they hid in the dark under wet jungle canopy and turned pale and gave up their lives.

The kids race back in […]" — (from "Pop Squad" pg 139.)

… a less astute, less particular, writer might have let the present tense slosh over every verb in the passage as if all events should be grasped simultaneously in some Dr. Manhattan-like omni-perception.

Then there is the matter of endings, which Bacigalupi makes look easy. Not a single final sentence here is less than perfect. 

Okay, that's the micro, but what about the macro? A story isn't just fine writing and control of tense and voice is it? What about plot, what about characters, and what about (this is SF after all) the ideas?

Here's ten stories that witness a real world. This one. Whatever they owe to traditions of genre they owe doubly to this world, its people and their hard lives, its history, to its fluxing myriad cultures — constantly adapting, re-adapting, merging, splitting — and to its ever-moving present. Even without having experienced anything quite like these futures I recognize them and feel them true.


A Diet of Treacle by Lawrence Block (1961) or, How to Earn Money & Acclaim Writing Fiction in Just Half a Century! Sometimes Less!

I don't usually read two books in one 24 hr period, but these 200-pager Block reissues are like pizza slices, if you're already at the counter might as well get two because you know you will be back. Block's career followed a relatively common trajectory for commercial/genre writers of his generation: semi-hard porn, then paperback originals under several names, and then a series or two (or three) that could grow an audience over a career. This is not meant to sound dismissive. It seems to me an ingenious-enough way of nature to contrive expert storytellers. I guess the closest thing we have today would be the Hollywood model: start out writing sitcom or animation scripts on other people's shows, develop your own, move on to ambitious original single stories. Most writers on either path fall by the wayside somewhere or other, but a talented, lucky (both essential ingredients) few end up having work filmed by independent, acclaimed, story-valuing directors, or become one themselves.

So if you're twenty-two, don't spend a lot of time scanning last year's Witer's Digest at the library for markets that read unsolicited novel manuscripts. The day of the one-draft, three-carbon fast-cash sale is gone, obviously, but what may be slightly less obvious is that online e-book erotica "publishers" that pay a percentage of sales on a $0 advance are NOT their substitutes. Sell off your collected manga, games, DVD's and corresponding players, and move your ass to L.A. (If you grew up in L.A. sell that stuff, buy a VW and drive to Tierra del Fuego, or take Greyhound to Nova Scotia, or contrive to do something else your career-focused, loan-swamped peers would never ever dream of doing, and them come back to L.A. with experiences undreamed of in their high-concept, franchise-brokering life plans.)

Don't be afraid of a long apprenticeship; it took Lawrence Block forty-two years to get from $20 Lust to Small Town. Exercise, eat right, and with a bit of luck and some sweat, you can do it too.

All of which has something to do with A Diet of Treacle. This one finds Block on more familiar territory than Killing Castro. We're back home with him in Greenwich Village. It's a downtown novel of sex, drugs, the yearning for art (if only in the disguise of 35¢ paperbacks), of danger, death-wish boys, and girls in tight sweaters, a novel of those things that tempted certain hungry souls to travel south of Fourteenth Street from the end of WWII until times recent. (I don't know where the boho kids go now, but I think it has to do more with web cams and the YouTubes than geography.) I don't want to oversell this book. It isn't Junky, or Hubert Selby Jr. But it has its charm, an appeal that lies in its innocence more than its darkness. If you wish Mad Men would find a way to tell more stories about Don Draper's season one artist mistress, if Val Lewton's The Seventh Victim and Scorsese's After Hours are repeat rentals for you, if you can’t wait for Pia Zadora and Ric Ocasek to show up in Hairspray, it'll do you fine.

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Killing Castro by Lawrence Block (1961)

Since I hardly use this blog for anything I thought I'd take a stab at logging most of what I read and watch along with a random thought or too. If I'd have started this last week I'd have fifteen Firefly related posts now, but anyway …

First up is Killing Castro by Lawrence Block now back in print with a cover by Sharif Tarabay thanks to Hard Case Crime for the first time since it's original pseudonymous appearance in 1961. The longish narrative chapters of a band of ne'er-do-wells paid to assassinate the Cuban dictator alternate with short biographical chapters on Castro's early life and rise to power, the latter written in a breezy, opinionated style. I enjoyed these. The novel is similar in structure and premise to The Day of the Jackal published 10 years later, thought at (I guess) 50k words Killing Castro is about half the length of Forsyth's book. It's fun to see young Block's (he would have been twenty-two or so at the time) attempt at a political thriller. The biographical chapters and the narrative chapters resonate with each other giving the novel a poignant aura of idealism dashed. Such is youth.


(Note: Block would write at least one more political thriller: 1971's The Triumph of Evil under the name Paul Kavanagh, about a coup in the United States. The original cover shows a swastika, but the novel is more Seven Days in May than The Man in the High Castle. Been awhile since I read it but I recall it being dark and relentless. Deliciously so.)


Charles Schulz / "Mad Men" / Radio Lab

"But in the mid-1950s a large part of [Schulz's] public consisted of good, plain people who felt guilty at being discontented in an epoch of unprecedented prosperity. Peanuts struck a chord with those who had thought they had everything they wanted only to discover that they didn't, and needed an acceptably gentle reminder of this insight."

— David Michaelis, Schulz and Peanuts pg 342.

Mad Men begins at the dawn of the sixties but the same dynamic is in play. Today the existential anxiety is coming from the unprecedented level of possibilities the connected world promises to offer (or should that be threatens to offer), as discussed in the first part of WNYC's Radio Lab latest program "Choice" with it description of new college grads frozen into inaction from fear of making decisions — each decision taken represents an elimination of some tantalizing (and now lost) hypothetical opportunity.

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Jane Espenson on a certain species of SF & Fantasy, and me in major bitch-mode

Jane Espenson is one of a (far too small) number of good television writers that is actually known by name to (at least a portion) of her audience. She’s written for BS:G, various Joss Whedon enterprises and my favorite fantasy series of all time: The Gilmore Girls.

She’s got a brief article on the New Republic website about “the secret of selling Sci-Fi.”

It strikes me (sorry to say) that this article is dead accurate.

Well, in truth, I found one overreaching statement …

The people who don’t like Harry Potter seem to be the ones who haven’t tried it yet.”

… which I refute by my own experience. I tried it (two whole books). I don’t begrudge anyone their Harry Potter, and if J.K. Rowling ordered me to fly to her estate on my own dime and clean her toilets for the rest of my life I would obey, so great is the debt that any writer today owes her for turning a generation on to the pleasures of reading in this (supposedly) post-literate, ADD age.

I also will add what should go without saying, but since the internet is an ugly, ugly place, can’t. As the great art-forger Elmir (sp?) says in Orson Welles’ F for Fake (I paraphrase): “There should never exist in the world this situation where one person can say what is good and what is bad. Never. Not ever. No.”

But my preference is (most of the time) for another kind of story.

That is why I say I’m sorry Espenson’s assessment of how to write wildly popular entertainment is so very correct. The modern templates are George Lucas’ Campbellian (errr, Joseph Campbellian, that is) Star Wars trilogy squared, and LOTR. If you read more than four books a year (or even four in a lifetime) you most likely can recreate the template yourself: boy (usually a boy) born in obscurity, full of questioning and mysterious longing, discovers he has a special destiny. Along the way, he doesn’t get the girl. The other guy usually does. But the Boy is too busy for love anyway. He is the one. Excuse me. The ONE. Espenson names contemporary examples, the big three: Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Buffy Summers. She overlooks (maybe another example is redundant) the other ONE, the Neo, the Keanu, from the excreable Matrix movies. Anyway, this ur-story, as J.E. reminds us, appeals to a vastly wider section of the story-hungry than do, say, the ratings challenged series Firefly, BSG, and (though she doesn’t mention it) Farscape.

Farscape, like Firefly is right up my street. People fuck. They break up. They get back together. (They are even attracted to two different people at once! Possibly for the first time in televised SF.) They get richer. They get poor. They are friends. Then they don’t speak for a year. They disappoint one another. They keep secrets. They can’t keep secrets.

Execution matters too of course. I like Buffy because Whedon’s universe is so lively. He upends the old archetypes with unexpected humor and a sense of awareness that like The Worm Ouroboros, the story goes on and on. In an second (?) season episode of Angel, the titular Vampire-with-a-Soul is given a warning that the apocalypse in near. He battles through many layers of hell. Reaching the depths at last, he steps out of an elevator to battle the ultimate evil, only to find himself back on the Santa Monica Pier, crowded with families and young couples walking in the cool evening air, enjoying ice cream while intermingling with (and hardly seeing) L.A.’s homeless. “What happened to the Apocalypse?” Angel asks. “The apocalypse?” responds a Wulfram & Hart senior associate. “Oh yes, I think we did have one scheduled for today.” And then he instructs Angel to just take a good look at the world around him if he wants to find heaven and hell.

Or the late season BtVS episode where Buffy is found locked in a mental institution, her mother apparently alive, her father not absent (for the only time in the series). Is she under a demon’s spell — or, as her doctor insists, has she retreated into a fantasy world of her own? One where she is the Chosen One. Where, in contest after contest the stakes are raised, where she battles stronger and stronger demons each week — even gods. Whedon is smart, and smart enough to believe other people might actually be smart too, so just juice the pump and get out of the way. I’m beginning to see that that is an all too rare quality in a story teller. The willingness to trust the audience, to refuse to condescend, rare in creators, is even rarer in gatekeepers: editors, agents, producers, etc.

So that’s my Buffy Hero-with-a-Thousand-Faces defense. And here’s my Battlestar:Galactica complaint. That show is simply not good. The first season was a bit stronger I felt, but then someone over there decided that they were in possession of something SPECIAL and something IMPORTANT. BS:G is all too often Star Trek with better art direction. Oh, Adama might order Starbuck to kill the captain of the Excelsior Pegasus for the good of the fleet, but never fear, he will rescind the order, he’s the good guy. You can ALWAYS trust your captain, soldier. The writers will then contrive to eliminate said captain in battle. This happens all too frequently, writes jumping in to resolve a conflict they couldn’t bear to sacrifice their characters to resolve. And reset. Roslyn will always be president again, because that is what it says in the show bible. Cancer goes away, politicians rig elections, but then think better of it and give back the stolen votes. I’m sure that happens all the time. Or never once in the history of elections. And characters aren’t really consistent, but blur to justify the plot points of the week. Remember when Roslyn needed Starbuck to return to Caprica for the magic (or not) Arrow of Apollo? She appealed to Starbuck’s deep religous faith. The deep religous faith that is never demonstrated in any episode before or since. Remember how Lee just decided he wanted to die and one point? And then he — I guess — undecided. And remember how the Six model snapped a baby’s neck on Caprica in the pilot episode. She’s a lot nicer now. Snapped a baby’s neck. Now if Dr. House snapped a baby’s neck how many episodes would it take before we could smile at his curmudgeonly antics again? Six’s spine also glowed during sex in the pilot episode which means that there was never a need for half a dozen episodes devoted to Baltar NOT inventing a Cylon detector device. One already exists. Or maybe the twelve colonies hadn’t discovered doggie-style. There’s the whole historically-impossible borrowing of the Greek pantheon (which got switched to the Roman Pantheon at least as far as Zeus becoming Jupiter mid-last season — though not on the closed-captioning, I’m told). That might be explained with the introduction a of really cheesy MOR rock cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” which is supposed to be something in the zeitgeist, something that Dylan picked up from the MUSE in our world, and some other songwriter tapped into on Caprica. Well it strikes me as a bunch of new age bullshit, and mostly made up as they have gone along. Also, in SF we really need the following rule: no more than one (and most of the time not even one) of the characters should live in another character’s head, seen by and spoken to by him or her. These may be all little things, but it is by the thousand little things that a story lives or dies. This one has lost me. And they killed Starbuck, changing her character and stealing her strength, and her dignity and her spirit in order to work that into the story, then they brought her back as a spirit guide. It is on to The Bionic Woman for me.

As I say, it’s mostly the non-Hero’s non-journey of no Plan with a capital Pee for me. I like to read working-stiff fantasy. You can keep your Frodos, your Bilbos: significant Hobbits of Destiny. Give me Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser any day and every day of the week: a couple of guys trying to make a dishonest buck, and hoping to avoid getting turned into turtles by the local Wizard-King. Sure, Fritz Leiber is known only to approximately one one-millionth of Tolkien or Lucas fans: but that is their loss, the loss of the millions, the multitudes loss. Not mine.

I know there is a theory the all stories are versions of the Hero’s Journey, but I don’t subscribe to it. It’s too reductive for my purposes. It’s like saying that all women are one woman, which is another thing people say. It has a symmetry easily mistaken for profundity, but it’s just noise. Like those SF con panels where the definition of science fiction is discussed endlessly. One panel eventually settles on the idea that only Hal Clement is true SF, while the panel across the hall discovers that everything ever written by anyone is SF.

I’d pray from Espenson to come back from the Darkside: to not write “The Chosen One” across the top of her notebook before a brainstorming session, but I can’t, because I know a secret. Not the Oprah Secret, there is no THE secret (which is part of the secret). A secret that Fritz Leiber taught me, and Chandler, and Graham Greene, and Shakespeare, Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, John D. MacDonald, Malamud, and Chekov, Borges, Tolstoy, even Wodehouse, David Milch and Amy Sherman Palladino, and a hundred other names (the varying critical and commercial reputations of these individuals being entirely irrelevant, we know). Namely, that, for story-telling purposes, it’s mostly just people.

Furthermore, no helpful mountain ranges delineate The Light from The Dark, there is no Dark side of the map, in fact there is no accurate map, and no wise old guide exists to dole out cryptic prophecy at the act break. What exists is us, just us, bumping into one another in interesting ways.

Now I will finish with my own overreaching statement: even when you were six, Darth Vader was not really scary. Not the least little bit.

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Update: I’ve decided to close comments now, because of all that spam this post has attracted!

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Excerpt from an email I sent Fred a few minutes ago

“I haven’t been reading any fiction lately, mostly nonfiction, or nothing. Well that’s not true, I read the novel Battle Royaleby Koushun Takami, which kicks more ass that any novel has a right to kick ass. It’s a crazy gonzo scifi pulp about Japanese teenagers under fascism in 1997 forced to fight to the death, which is one thing, but its secret weapon is excellent characterization, which is why, at 600 pages it is not at all too long.”

Due to cannibalization this post took almost no time at all, though still more time than I thought, owing to time I lost to the tangential task of setting up an Amazon link for which I tried several different versions. Waste of time.

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Kurt Vonnegut

Rest in Peace

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Your own private Annika

The most recent read I’ve enjoyed most is Bob Harris’ Prisoner of Trebekistan. It’s a book about the author’s experience playing Jeopardy, only it’s about a lot of other things too. Harris is a life-embracing kind of guy. He’s also a fine writer, funny, honest, and thoughtful. In this passage Harris looks back at the day he met his current girlfriend with the certain knowledge that that relationship is now over, though neither will admit it to the other yet:

I had met Annika in a coffee shop in Cleveland a couple of years earlier. Her eyes were the same color as my drink that day, and are now the color of whatever type of coffee you like best. (No matter what I write, you’ll conjure your own private Annika anyway. All I ask is that you make her anatomically correct, petite, and extraordinarily lovely. Whatever shade of coffee you would find the prettiest, that is the correct color for your Annika’s eyes. Her hair, however, is the same color as the hair of someone you loved once and no longer know.) My own personal Annika had eyes which were one cream with a touch of cocoa. Which is to say: eyes you’d consider spending your whole life looking at.

Harris makes a lot of friends in the years he was involved with a TV show, has a lot of adventures, and even find true love with a Hugo-winning-Buffy-writer. Not that the path of true love is … well, just read it and see for yourself.

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