Archive | December 2011

Happy New Year

Have a happy New Year everyone.

My resolution for 2012 is to sweep the floor more often.

(And, yes, I’m not much of a Tom Waits fan. I pretty much like three of his songs and this one is two of them.)

One Week From Now…

I’ll be aboard an airplane cooped up in economy class making my way to Boston. To my surprise packing hasn’t started yet. When I think about packing it’s mostly trying to think of what books I want to read on the airplane. My clothes… eh…

Last week I taught some camps. It went well. Next week I will teach some more camps then Saturday will arrive and I’ll give my wife a kiss, board a bus, then a plane, then another plane, and another plane. At some point I’ll be in Osaka at another San Francisco. Then I’ll be in Boston.

Fun times.

The Glamour

I picked this up during a book-buying binge last summer. The only other book I’d read by Christopher Priest was The Prestige. I enjoyed that enough to give this a try.

The Glamour is a suspense novel that borders on the fantastic about a love triangle between people with the ability to make themselves invisible. It reminded me some of Patricia Highsmith’s Those Who Walk Away and some of Fritz Leiber’s The Sinful Ones. Nothing much happens for the first 100 pages, but I found myself swept along and reading anyway. The middle section, narrated by Sue, the woman torn between two men with varying degrees of “invisibility”, was the highlight where she talks about “the glamour”, the ability to become unnoticeable, and their subculture in modern day London.

Of course, “the glamour” also operates as a metaphor for certain social anxieties. Some might prefer it to be either one or the other – metaphor or speculative element, but magic powers as a metaphor for a universally observable social experience fits well with all the unreliable narrators, doubling, and pomo identity hijinks Priest employs in his novels. If that metaphor in the end makes me regard social experiences differently, then I’d say it’s successful.

To Priest’s credit he stays balanced on the border long enough to explore interesting ideas and resists the desire to provide simple solutions to them.

What I Want For Christmas

If I had the power to produce exactly what I want for next Christmas, I would have all the kings and emperors resign and allow the people to govern themselves.

I would have all the nobility crop their titles and give their lands back to the people. I would have the Pope throw away his tiara, take off his sacred vestments, and admit that he is not acting for God — is not infallible — but is just an ordinary Italian. I would have all the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and clergymen admit that they know nothing about theology, nothing about hell or heaven, nothing about the destiny of the human race, nothing about devils or ghosts, gods or angels. I would have them tell all their “flocks” to think for themselves, to be manly men and womanly women, and to do all in their power to increase the sum of human happiness.

I would have all the professors in colleges, all the teachers in schools of every kind, including those in Sunday schools, agree that they would teach only what they know, that they would not palm off guesses as demonstrated truths.

I would like to see all the politicians changed to statesmen, — to men who long to make their country great and free, — to men who care more for public good than private gain — men who long to be of use.

I would like to see all the editors of papers and magazines agree to print the truth and nothing but the truth, to avoid all slander and misrepresentation, and to let the private affairs of the people alone.

I would like to see drunkenness and prohibition both abolished.

I would like to see corporal punishment done away with in every home, in every school, in every asylum, reformatory, and prison. Cruelty hardens and degrades, kindness reforms and ennobles.

I would like to see the millionaires unite and form a trust for the public good.

I would like to see a fair division of profits between capital and labor, so that the toiler could save enough to mingle a little June with the December of his life.

I would like to see an international court established in which to settle disputes between nations, so that armies could be disbanded and the great navies allowed to rust and rot in perfect peace.

I would like to see the whole world free — free from injustice — free from superstition.

This will do for next Christmas. The following Christmas, I may want more.

– Robert G. Ingersoll

Assorted Reactions to the Death of Kim Jong-Il

Me: Finally, we’ll have something to talk about in my conversation class.

My conversation class student: I hear the son is worse than the father.

Coworkers at lunch: Not saying much, but hearing his name and South Korea’s president Lee Mynug-Bak’s name thrown around. But certainly there’s no panic in the lunchroom.

My Coteacher after I told her: No way! Where did you hear this? (the BBC – CNN had yet to mention it on their international headlines.)

Some students: Who cares!?! We want to play Halli Galli!!!

Friends on Facebook: Equal parts panic and gallows humor alongside Team America clips and quotes of “Ding dong, the witch is dead”. One or two asked when I would be leaving Korea.

Me (hearing loudspeaker truck drive by making an announcement): Is that important or is that just someone selling bananas?


Kim Jong-Il has died. I made the joke on Facebook that the Atlas Obscura will have to update their list of Communist mummies soon. More seriously though… wow. I have no idea what this means or what will happen next.

This event has the potential to bury the previous two crises I’ve witnessed in the sand. Or not, because when it comes to North Korea I think we’re looking at a heavily armed and militarized inkblot. Who knows what’s happening inside it. I’m sure some people do — but the truth seems to get buried beneath our projections.

Right now South Korea’s on military alert. From past experiences the North has reacted to internal instability with external aggression. For this reason alone going on alert seems justified. But the war didn’t turn hot again in 1994 when Kim Il-Sung died, so it’s not like we haven’t been here before. Whether Kim Jong-Un, Jong-Il’s successor and son, lives out the rest of the month is another matter.

Crazy times ahead… well, crazier.

One Book Four Covers

Here’s an assortment of covers from the book I recently finished. I get a kick out of seeing how each would have shaped my expectations.

I read the second one from the left. It’s not a bad cover. Somewhat classy. The first one brings to mind a 1950s young adult novel — not a bad thing and I like the artwork. The third one looks like an off-market, but probably decent D&D supplement (maybe a Harn module). And the last one is kind of all over the place like the artist proposed three covers and the publisher decided to go with all of them. None of them make you really want to read the book, nor do they make the characters look appealing. Well, maybe the fourth one does or at least it comes the closest. The rest, eh, not so much. Which is a shame, because it’s a pretty damn good book if you like your vikings mixed in with Dumas-style adventurous swashbuckling.

Do the Pulps Still Matter?

I love the tradition but hate our adherence to them.

I love that authors have been working with the fantastic for so long that there are literally hundreds of years of material from around the world to get lost in. I love that every week I can potentially encounter a new author’s work. But I hate our desire to delineate genres and name epochs.

I hate tradition. I hate the collector scum, mylar bagging bull shit. (“Well, blah blah, American SF really starts with Hugo Gernsback.”) I’d rather no one walled the genres apart from each other. I’d rather find my own Golden Age than be stuck with someone else’s.

The Golden Age is the books you read when you were ten. The classics are any author writing before you were born. The walls can’t erode fast enough — and the more the pulp squad circles their wagons and closes their ranks around their andropause and incunabula the more I say good riddance.

Fandom doesn’t matter. The community doesn’t matter. Books matter. Reading matters. I fear we often forget this.

One could look at fandom as junkies on one side (“GRRM, I need my fix!”) and fetishists on the other. (“Oh my god! Sniff this book’s binding!”) What some marketing department decides to name Steampunk or what some editor calls the “new” Sword & Sorcery (when really it’s just recent sword and sorcery) or what some grad student writes about the “sense of wonder” doesn’t matter. They’re either tour guides or real estate agents who’ve positioned themselves between a reader and a book. At best they are useful in small doses.

This might be why I raise my eyebrows whenever I hear an SF writer say: “I love science fiction”. It smells too much of an abusive relationship loaded with codependency. I love to read, and I love books, and most of the books I love happen to be genre books, but I don’t love the genres.

The squishier and spongier they get, the happier I am.

From Olaf Stapledon’s The Last and First Men

Olaf on Americans:

“In the Far West, the United States of America openly claimed to be custodians of the whole planet. Universally feared and envied, universally respected for their enterprise, yet for their complacency very widely despised, the Americans were rapidly changing the whole character of man’s existence.

What wonder then that America even while she was despised, irresistibly molded the whole human race. This, perhaps, would not have mattered, had America been able to give of her very rare best. But inevitably only her worst could be propagated. Only the most vulgar traits of that potentially great people could get through into the minds of foreigners by means of these crude instruments. And so, by the flood of poisons issuing from this people’s baser members, the whole world, and with it the nobler parts of America herself, were irrevocably corrupted.”

“These best were after all a minority in a huge wilderness of opinionated self-deceivers, in whom surprisingly an outworn religious dogma was championed with the intolerant optimism of youth. For this was essentially a race of bright, but arrested, adolescents.”