Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reading, consciousness, and technology: intimate relations

I've been reading David L. Ulin's The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time. His essay traverses the path of a familiar anxiety: he recently noticed that the life of his own mind had been dramatically changed by his immersion in the internet and the social media associated with it, and that he feels an urgent need to do (or figure out) something about that-- without necessarily giving up all access to the internet (which would be highly impractical for any professional person).

I'd thought, at first, from the way the book opened, that it was going to be more about reading than about living in a "distracted time." But it departs from talking about experiencing particular books when Ulin finds himself having trouble finishing a reread of The Great Gatsby that he decided to undertake in order to encourage his son, who was reading it (and annotating its pages for a class)-- this though Gatsby is a book he has always loved. His then worries that his concentration span doesn't easily accommodate the reading of books the way it used to, a change he attributes to his constant immersion in (or should I say preoccupation with?) the internet and the swiftly shifting, fleeting habits of attention he believes its uses are susceptible to. The Lost Art of Reading draws heavily on other's studies or insights, which Ulin uses to try to make sense of what his happening to his own habits of mind (and, he implies, others', too). Much of this is resonant and (therefore?) interesting. For instance, this passage, likening reading one's iPod in the middle of the night (which I sometime do, since it doesn't disturb Tom's sleep)-- though unlike Ulin, I mainly read books new to me on my iPod:
Of course, the books I've downloaded to my iPod are not new to me, but rather works I know from other formats, from the physical, as well as the virtual, world. In that sense, e-reading remains an ancillary activity, less about discovery than reassurance of a kind. This, [Nicholson] Baker notes, is one appeal of the iPod, which offers ease of access "when you wake up at 3
AM and you need big, sad, well-placed words to tumble slowly into the basin of your mind." The sensation he describes is familiar: "Hold it a few inches from your face with the words enlarged and the screen's brightness slider bar slid to its lowest setting, and read for ten or fifteen minutes....After a while, your thoughts will drift off to the unused siding where the old tall weeds are, and the string curving words will toot a mournful toot and pull ahead." That is what it's like to read a book under the covers, while holding a flashlight up to the pages. It reflects one of my most common memories of childhood, another kind of neural pathway, an experience etched deeply into my brain. Something similar occurs with the iPad, or with software such as Sophie, both of which evoke an essential booklike sensibility within the digital realm. It doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to suggest that what we have here is an example of art influencing technology, a back-and-forth that has its roots in our relationship to written language and then extrapolates outward, to the screen. (135)

He then notes that relationship has to work in the opposite direction as well-- that the digital world is so much a part of our reality that "investigating the relationship between technology an intimacy" needs to be integrated "into the fiber of [a novel's] narrative." He then suggests that reading material like the PowerPoint chapter of Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, when read in a print book devoid of electronic components is "interesting if a bit abstracted," compared with reading it onlne, on Egan's website. He quotes Egan herself, who reveals that she had never used PowerPoint and "normally write fiction by hand." "What I needed to do was find the internal structure of each fictional moment and reveal it visually."

His conclusion about where writers are taking us is not surprising (though one I don't often see): "We've gone from a situation in which technology allows us to enhance a book after it's been written to one in which authors such as Moody or Egan adapt it in the framing of their texts. Technology, in other words, is now a matter of aesthetics, of intention. But if this suggests a new approach to writing, what's important is that we have the agency, that as readers, we get to decide."(141)

This conclusion leads in turn to an interesting speculation:
What if the e-book is a catalyst for reconnection, by engaging our fascination with technology to stir long-form reading, by integrating deep concentration with the lure of the machine? What in the e-book is the means by which we start to get beneath the fragmentation, the scattering of attention, the drift that marks so much of our digital life? I say this as someone who doesn't do a lot of electronic reading....I say this knowing the e-reader changes the nature of the conversation, and yet, I can't help but feel hopeful about the buzz these devices generate, all those people reading e-books on-screen. The process is familiar, as familiar a Baker turning to his iPod in the middle of a sleepless night....What all this shares is a certain primacy of the text, a sense that, enhanced or oterwise, reading can exist in a variety of different forms.(141-42)

Ultimately, Ulin suggests, we live in the world of Borges's "The Library of Babel," "the place where possibility tips into overload." "What we need is silence--not to disconnect but as a respite, to uncover a little piece of stillness in the din."(147) It is sort of an eat one's cake and have it too solution, of course. Certainly it was a "solution" for his problem that was obvious to me from the start, though for a while I wondered if he would end up somewhere else. The interest of the read is not in the solution, of course, but in some of the material he draws on along the way. I especially enjoyed his including a quotation from Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains that describes what happens when a medieval bishop learned to read silently (as opposed to aloud):

Even the earliest silent readers recognized the striking change in their consciousness that took place as they immersed themselves in the pages of a book. The medieval bishop Isaac of Syria described how, whenever he read to himself, "as in a dream, I enter a state when my sense and thoughts are concentrated. Then, when with prolonging of this silence the turmoil of memories is stilled in my heart, ceaseless waves of joy are sent to me by inner thoughts, beyond expectation suddenly arising to delight my heart." Reading a book was a meditative act, but it didn't involve a clearing of the mind. It involved a filling, or replenishing, of the mind. Readers disengaged their attention from the outward flow of passing stimuli in order to engage it more deeply with an inward flow of words, ideas, and emotions. That was-and is--the essence of the unique mental process of deep reading. It was the technology of the book that made this "strange anomaly" in our psychological history possible. The brain of the book reader was more than a literate brain. It was a literary brain.

One bird, duly identified

Reporting in from Transcend, again. Tom's conference ends this afternoon, so we'll be off to Calgary tomorrow.

I've identified the bird I mentioned in my On the Road, in Canada post. It's a black-billed magpie. The image to the left is thanks to the Canku Ota site. In their description of these birds is the following characterization:
Well-known as "camp-robbers", the magpies belong to the same family as crows, ravens and jays. They adapt well to people and take advantage of anything left unattended in a camp. They've even been known to go inside of tents!!
The description mentions their "scolding call," which to my ear sounds like something between a Steller's Jay and a Belted Kingfisher, maybe with a dash of Northern Flicker thrown in. "Magpie," of course, is a bird I've been encountering in my reading since childhood. Now I've actually seen one in the flesh. It's a little like hearing someone use a word I knew from my reading but had never before heard pronounced and was silently giving it the wrong pronunciation. Haven't had that kind of experience in a long, long time.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"This is what hope looks like"

"The rule of law is dependent upon a government that is willing to abide by the law. Disrespect for the rule of law begins when the government believes itself and its corporate sponsors to be above the law." So declared Tim DeChristopher, before being sentenced yesterday for his inspired act of civil disobedience: upping the bids on parcels of land being auctioned off by the Bureau of Land Management for what would have been the usual dirt-cheap prices to oil and gas drilling industry. His address to the court is as inspired and passionate as his act of civil disobedience. It can be found here. To whet your interest, here are a few excerpts:
Mr Huber claims that the seriousness of my offense was that I “obstructed lawful government proceedings.”  But the auction in question was not a lawful proceeding.  I know you’ve heard another case about some of the irregularities for which the auction was overturned.  But that case did not involve the BLM’s blatant violation of Secretarial Order 3226, which was a law that went into effect in 2001 and required the BLM to weigh the impacts on climate change for all its major decisions, particularly resource development.  A federal judge in Montana ruled last year that the BLM was in constant violation of this law throughout the Bush administration.  In all the proceedings and debates about this auction, no apologist for the government or the BLM has ever even tried to claim that the BLM followed this law.  In both the December 2008 auction and the creation of the Resource Management Plan on which this auction was based, the BLM did not even attempt to follow this law.

And this law is not a trivial regulation about crossing t’s or dotting i’s to make some government accountant’s job easier.  This law was put into effect to mitigate the impacts of catastrophic climate change and defend a livable future on this planet.  This law was about protecting the survival of young generations.  That’s kind of a big deal.  It’s a very big deal to me.  If the government is going to refuse to step up to that responsibility to defend a livable future, I believe that creates a moral imperative for me and other citizens.  My future, and the future of everyone I care about, is being traded for short term profits.  I take that very personally.  Until our leaders take seriously their responsibility to pass on a healthy and just world to the next generation, I will continue this fight.
* * * * *

As a native of West Virginia, I have seen from a young age that the exploitation of fossil fuels has always gone hand in hand with the exploitation of local people.  In West Virginia, we’ve been extracting coal longer than anyone else.  And after 150 years of making other people rich, West Virginia is almost dead last among the states in per capita income, education rates and life expectancy.  And it’s not an anomaly.  The areas with the richest fossil fuel resources, whether coal in West Virginia and Kentucky, or oil in Louisiana and Mississippi, are the areas with the lowest standards of living.  In part, this is a necessity of the industry.  The only way to convince someone to blow up their backyard or poison their water is to make sure they are so desperate that they have no other option.  But it is also the nature of the economic model.  Since fossil fuels are a limited resources, whoever controls access to that resource in the beginning gets to set all the terms.  They set the terms for their workers, for the local communities, and apparently even for the regulatory agencies.  A renewable energy economy is a threat to that model.  Since no one can control access to the sun or the wind, the wealth is more likely to flow to whoever does the work of harnessing that energy, and therefore to create a more distributed economic system, which leads to a more distributed political system.  It threatens the profits of the handful of corporations for whom the current system works, but our question is which segment of the public are you tasked with protecting.  I am here today because I have chosen to protect the people locked out of the system over the profits of the corporations running the system.  I say this not because I want your mercy, but because I want you to join me.

*  *  *  *  *

If you side with Mr Huber and believe that your role is to discourage citizens from holding their government accountable, then you should follow his recommendations and lock me away.  I certainly don’t want that.  I have no desire to go to prison, and any assertion that I want to be even a temporary martyr is false.  I want you to join me in standing up for the right and responsibility of citizens to challenge their government.  I want you to join me in valuing this country’s rich history of nonviolent civil disobedience.  If you share those values but think my tactics are mistaken, you have the power to redirect them.  You can sentence me to a wide range of community service efforts that would point my commitment to a healthy and just world down a different path.  You can have me work with troubled teens, as I spent most of my career doing.  You can have me help disadvantaged communities or even just pull weeds for the BLM.  You can steer that commitment if you agree with it, but you can’t kill it.  This is not going away.   At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like.  In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like.  With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow.  The choice you are making today is what side are you on.

In praise of clarity

It's a clear, shiny day here in Edmonton, blessed, even, with my favorite range of daytime temperatures-- in the sixties, F., that is. I'm particularly happy today because I just spent a couple of hours here, at a coffee shop called Transcend (that makes a first-class latte), working on a story I started in early May. I'm probably going to move on to the public library next, where I spent a few hours yesterday, mostly editing and composing yesterday's post. I've decided the striking birds I mentioned in that post may be related to the Belted Kingfisher, which I occasionally see at the Fill in Seattle. It's call is a sort of rattling chatter, which reminds me of the Belted Kingfisher, though the shape of its head definitely nor its comfortableness around humans does not. I should probably hunt down a bird book (the ideal subtitle of which would be "A Definitive Guide to the Birds of Alberta") while I'm at the library.

I see, on the Feminist SF blog, that Naamen G. Tilahun has been diving deep into the work of Joanna Russ. I'd like to boost the signal on his first post on the subject, Remembering Joanna Russ--Part I. His discussion begins with the powerful, always disturbing We Who Are About To... I'm particularly pleased to see that unlike so many critics and reviewers, he doesn't claim that the narrator murders everyone else in the book, wholesale. For me, that characterization, which is so common, must be taken as an indication that the critic was unable to process what actually happens in the story, such that their affective response so clouds their perceptions that they can't rationally grasp the facts conveyed by the narrator (who is less unreliable than most). One could argue that the distinction, in itself, isn't that important, but I'd argue that as index of reading clarity, it's absolutely telling. In any case, Naamen's reading is clear-minded and expansive rather than foreclosing. Do go read it if you haven't already.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On the road, in Canada

I finished my immensely satisfying week at Clarion West on Friday. The class gave me some absolutely brilliant socks, one pair of which I happen to be wearing at this moment. (They are perfect for the gloomy, raining day it is, with a bright geometric pattern of lemon yellow, lime green, and forest green.) Oh, and the reading last Tuesday (good grief, it's already been a week!) was fun--several audience members asked me interesting--in one case fascinating-- questions.

I'm in Edmonton for most of this week-- Edmonton, Alberta. We took two days for the 800 mile drive, to give us the sense of being on vacation. The first day, we crossed the Cascades, in British Columbia. Then Sunday, we crossed the Rockies. I love the Cascades. But the sheer variety of size, shape, color, and texture of the Rockies riveted my attention for the entire time it took to cross them. It surprised me to find that the Rockies had much less snow left on them than the Cascades in Washington. (The snow there this year was 300% of normal, and some ski resorts were still open the first week of July. Needless to say, the snow level has been so low for most of the summer so far that the possibilities for hiking in the mountains have been constrained.) And I was bemused to note that the terrain between the Cascades and the Rockies reminded me strongly of the Palouse area of Eastern Washington. (A less interesting, though a wetter and greener Palouse, I'd call it.) Throughout, I saw pines that were dying and dead--sometimes huge stands of them. This is caused, I gather, by a very nasty beetle that has invaded the forests here.

Two things struck me, on arriving in Edmonton. First, I was covered with mosquito bites. I have so many, in so many places, that I can't even offer a rough count. They got into the car, I suppose, when we stopped at rest areas along the way to use the outhouses. (Once we got into the foothills of the Rockies, in British Columbia, it was all outhouses for the rest of the way. The beauty of the land fully made up for the inconvenience, and I did have plenty of skin sanitizers and a few wet towels and some water on hand.) In Alberta, though, outhouses were apparently too luxurious altogether, even once we had hit the plains.) Second, before reaching the downtown area, where our hotel is, we pulled into a loading zone in front of a club and heard, pouring through the walls and the cracks in the front door, some guy doing a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." And if there's a third, it's that we're so far north that it's still dusk at ten.

Now that I've been here a couple of days, other things strike me, of course. As in most cities in North America, people stand outside their workplaces, on the sidewalks, to smoke. But there are signs everywhere warning that the fine for leaving a cigarette butt on the sidewalk is $250 (although this may be changing as I type, the Canadian dollar is worth about $1.05 American, which means the fine isn't trivial), and there are long tubular ashtrays provided at intervals. As a result, the sidewalks are a lot less grungy, though there's still the occasional butt littering the sidewalk. Another thing: there's good coffee available here, and lots of coffee shops in the downtown area. Maybe most interesting are the birds. Not the seagulls (though I was initially
surprised, only to recollect that Salt Lake City had seagulls the year I lived there), but some reasonably large perching birds that do a lot of hopping along the ground and have shiny black (or very, very dark blue) heads and throats, white breasts, and dark blue wings and very long dark blue tail feathers that drag on the ground. Also, their legs and feet appear to be dark blue. (And speaking of birds, we encountered some highly sophisticated ravens at one of those out house rest stops in the Rockies, who have no scruples stopping them from venturing inside parked cars in search of goodies when the cars' occupants have been foolish enough to stand outside the car to stretch their legs with the car doors open.)

Internet connections are, again, sketchy-- the story of this summer's traveling life. I don't know why anyone would trust cloud technology. Imagine if I had it, the e-books I supposedly "own" copies of would have repeatedly been out of my reach. Poor internet access seems to be the trend, don't you think? In most cases, inquiries have elicited the information that bandwidth has been curtailed by the providers (where previously that had never been a problem), as a ruse for raising the amount ISP subscribers pay for service. I suspect we'll be seeing more and more of this, now that any form of regulation of such things is going the way of the dodo.

In the meantime, I'm acutely aware that we could be caught by the crashing of the dollar, thanks to the Republicans' willingness to allow the Tea Party tiny minority no-nothings to set the agenda for the entire country (and some would say, planet). We'd intended to make a leisurely return to Seattle after Tom's conference here ends, but we may need to change our plans.

Wouldn't it be lovely if the news media-- not to mention the leaders of Congress (besides Nancy Pelosi, of course, who seems to have mostly been cut out of the"negotiations" loop, perhaps because she is the only one who shows evidence of having a mind that hasn't gone to live in Never Never Land-- and the White House Staff-- were to read Elizabeth Drew's New York Review of Books piece on the insanity of Congress making an issue of the spending they themselves proposed and voted for? (Okay, so Drew calls on Lewis Carroll instead of Barrie for her cartography.) What is also infuriating is the suggestion that the Treasury can decide whether or not to make social security payments--when the income for doing so is already in place. Does that mean they're thinking of borrowing from social security to pay, say, defense contractors? Or the salaries of, say, the politicians and their staffers who run the institution known as the US Congress? My sense is that nothing is to outrageous, absurd, or indecent to preclude its actually happening. Consider this brief bit from Drew's piece:
The Republicans, with Alice in Wonderland logic, termed any elimination of a tax break a tax increase. Moreover, the breaks included in the tax code were there because they had been sponsored by an important member of Congress, or supported by a powerful lobby on behalf of one interest or another. After the President, in a press conference in late June, inveighed against tax breaks for corporate jets, the industry quickly insisted that such a change would cost jobs.

The very basis of the negotiations was odd. A vote to raise the debt limit simply validates spending decisions that had already been approved by Congress, and it is usually automatic. It does nothing to curb spending. But there is nothing usual about the current Congress. The recent negotiations over raising the debt limit could have been seen as having an absurd, antic quality, if they hadn’t been so risky to most people living in this country and so unfair in their potential impact on the various income groups, with consequences, too, for the global economy. The negotiations were ridiculously contorted—when one side refused to discuss a major topic, such as taxes, were they actually negotiations at all?

I also notice that for the last few days the Federal Aviation Agency has been (sort of) running without an operating budget. Its budget is apparently the focus of a dispute involving the Republicans wanting to make it harder for FAA employees to unionize that's the primary reason the FAA no longer has an operating budget. I don't quite know why we still have air traffic controllers on duty, but I suppose we all must be grateful for small mercies.

This debt-ceiling bullshit coincides with an unofficial unemployment rate of something like 20%. (For minorities, it's worse--16% unemployment for black people. And of course that doesn't include underemployment.) The politicians want to pretend it doesn't matter (big surprise, hunh--I guess for them, it doesn't.) I was talking recently to someone whose unemployment compensation has just run out, due to the two-year limit Congress established for the recipients of unemployment "benefits" (which is too "generous" as far as the Republicans are concerned). I gather that she and everyone else in her situation are not counted in the official unemployment statistics (which is around 10%). What matters, of course, is making billionaires happy. Complementing that terribleness, most of the new jobs opening up are service-sector jobs that don't pay a living wage. It's a bitter reality.

We've known for a long time that the US was headed for this situation. And it's not as though the US has believed for a long time (if it ever did: I'd need an Americanist historian to give me the answer to that) that it has any obligation to future generations. And now that future generations include, basically, the entire planet, it's of course impossible to make the argument that the future matters (any more than the well-being of the non-rich), since hegemonic US culture has long been driven by the conviction that what is good for anyone who is not (US) American must be bad for the US. For me, though, it has always been a kind of science fictional extrapolation existing only inside my own head. Now it's here, the public sector is being dismantled at the state and federal levels, the prison population is on a path of infinite expansion and involuntary prison labor is taking over paying jobs at an ever-accelerating rate, and the news media are owned by a handful of corporations that are corrupt to the core. (They probably think they look good compared with Fox and its owner, Rupert Murdoch, but that's not saying much.) The only thing I didn't anticipate was that this situation would hit young people the hardest. (I think I always assumed that people over 40 would be booted out in favor of the young.) What does it mean, to graduate from college with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, only to discover that the only job they can find is pulling espressos for the minimum wage-- or flipping burgers? For individuals, it means a sense of being considered disposable and unnecessary. But for all of us, it means at the very least a degree of alienation and deeply rooted despair among the very portion of the population that is usually counted on to bring change and hope and new ideas. As many people have pointed out, a similar reality is behind some of the revolutions still in progress in the Middle East and the youth rebellions in Greece, Spain, the UK, France, and other European countries where some of the same processes are unfolding. And of course that's not even taking into account the fact that they will have to bear the burden of the effects of ecological catastrophe that are facing us in the coming decades--effects that only the Pentagon and intelligence services alone in the US government or paying any attention to. (And what does that tell us, that the Pentagon is preparing for devastation and consequent political upheaval that the rest of the government has no interest in preventing?)

Pardon my rant. You may wonder why I am I thinking such thoughts when I'm on vacation. That's easily answered: this is the first time I've had time to pay attention, and traveling outside the US, wondering whether our currency will crash, concentrates the mind wonderfully.

Monday, July 18, 2011

L. Timmel Duchamp reads Tuesday at University Bookstore in Seattle

For all of you in the Seattle area: I'll be appearing in the Clarion West Reading series Tuesday night, at 7 pm at the University Bookstore in Seattle. I'll read briefly from a story in Never at Home, and then do a Q&A and signing. I believe that all my books will be available for purchase at the event. (I know, yeah, that my books are not easy to find offline.) The event will be one hour long, since the bookstore closes at 8. Hope to see some of you there!

My first night of sleep here at Clarion West was patchy. I went to bed at one and got up at 6:30, which would have been great if I hadn't been awake most of that time. After I did manage to fall asleep, I was rudely awakened at 5:45 by a house alarm going off nearby. Was I dreaming, or was the alarm programmed to make a beeping whose pitch and tempo increased over time? Who can say? I can easily imagine someone designing such an alarm. And yet, it seems unlikely, doesn't it? And since it woke me up from a dream, I might easily have dropped into a hypnogogic half-waking, half-dreaming state. (I certainly wouldn't put it past my unconscious to invent such an alarm!)

And now it's back to critiques. I'm hoping I can sleep a bit later tomorrow morning, which I can't do if I spend any significant time online.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Katherine MacLean talks to Chip Delany at Readercon

Scott Edelman has posted a video of Chip Delany's conversation with Katherine MacLean at Readercon. It's a very cool conversation, and includes an anecdote about what happened when John Campbell, having bought a story from one K. MacLean, whom he was elated to identify as an engineer, discovered that she was...a girl. 

Sycamore Hill 2011, pt.2

I'm just hours from beginning my week teaching at Clarion West. and I'm now a few weeks post-Sycamore Hill, which I never finished reporting on. (I've been battling an upper respiratory infection aggravated by allergies.) As I've been moving away from the memory of Sycamore Hill and begun looking forward to Clarion West, I've been thinking about how both workshops are modeled on the Milford workshops of the mid-fifties, and yet are actually very different. Maureen McHugh once tried explaining Sycamore Hill to some of the goldsmiths sharing the retreat space; she characterized it as a "master workshop for experienced writers." She had in mind that a lot of Syc Hill attendees teach writing classes, either in college or university creative writing programs or in workshops like Clarion and Clarion West. Although Sycamore Hill tends to be a high-energy week, the writers bring finished stories, and they write critiques, not stories. At Clarion West, the students produce a story a week as well as delivering brief (three-minute rather than ten-minute) critiques of one another's work. And they do this for six weeks.

I don't think I can make any other comparisons beyond that, since I didn't attend Clarion West as a student myself. But what I find most satisfying and sometimes amazing about Sycamore Hill is the level of technical craft discussion. Around the workshop table, that discussion tends to zoom in on very specific rather than general situations. But certain themes emerge out of those workshop discussions, themes that spontaneously erupt into the conversations we have at meals and in other social situations.A couple of years ago, the role of voice continually cropped up in discussions of several of that year's stories. The narrative voice, in each case, played a prominent role in the story, and sometimes created ambiguities that critiquers either liked and wanted more of or distrusted or even detested. This year we found ourselves discussing metafictional narratives as well as the use of nonfictional modes of narrative (where the text might or might not actually be fictional). To what extent must a story riffing on another text be comprehensible to readers unfamiliar with the original mastertext? The question, of course, was in part a practical one, of great interest to the two authors of metafictional stories. But the issue also, of course, raised a more general question about whether such stories ought to be crafted in such a way that they can engage and entertain readers as stand-alone stories, even when their readers are unfamiliar with the mastertext. Though we never took a vote, my impression is that the group take was that while making such stories stand-alone was desirable for reaching a larger audience, it wasn't aesthetically necessary (i.e., it was necessary only to the extent that market considerations mattered). I suspect such an attitude had more to do with the composition of the group than anything else. I can easily imagine other writers insisting that only "universally" intelligible stories were worth writing.

Another recurring subject: whether or not we know a story's any good before we get feedback we trust. The answer to this varied from person to person and seemed to have little to do with how long the person had been writing. It strikes me that either way, such a feeling about new work must be the result of a complex interior calculus I can't imagine trying to graph, involving that mysterious, private thing that happens when each of sits down and shifts into the space that produces the self that is the author. (I think perhaps I might be too superstitious even to want to be try graphing it: surely one is not meant to tamper with something that actually works?)

I mentioned fountain pens in my earlier post. It turns out that not only Veronica, but also both Christopher Rowe and Greg Frost prefer fountain pens. I don't recall actually making the decision to switch from using a fountain pen to using an unending series of felt tips (and later rollerballs), but I know it happened in the late seventies. I have the sneaking suspicion that it happened accidentally, on my losing my fountain pen and for one reason or another not replacing it. Or maybe it was because I began using the typewriter in the mid-seventies as much as possible. I do know that once I started composing essays and research papers on the typewriter, I lost the habit of working out my thoughts with pen and paper (except when I get stuck: writing longhand is still what I do when I need to get started or re-started and am getting a blank staring at the white space on the screen). At some point, the lovely flow of ink, which I've always associated with the flow of ideas, no longer seemed necessary. Perhaps working at the typewriter gave me a false sense of clarity? A few years later when I got my first computer, the experience was something else entirely. (Sitting in the dark in the middle of the night, with glowing green phosphorescent words spurting out across the screen...the Marq'ssan Cycle just seemed to write itself.)

At any rate, you all know I'll be very busy over the next week, right?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

More e-books from Aqueduct Press

Aqueduct Press has just released several more titles--all of them in the Conversation Pieces series-- in e-book formats. The latest titles are:

Aliens of the Heart by Carolyn Ives Gilman
Candle in a Bottle by Carolyn Ives Gilman
A Brood of Foxes by Kristin Livdahl
Of Love and Other Monsters by Vandana Singh
De Secretis Mulierum by L. Timmel Duchamp
Shotgun Lullabies by Sheree Renée Thomas

Each can be purchased for $5.95. You can find them all here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

First Issue of the CSZ now available for free download

Now that The Cascadia Subduction Zone is six months old, the first issue, as promised, is now available for free download from the CSZ site. You can find it here.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Vol. 1, No. 3

The electronic edition of the third issue of The Cascadia Subduction Zone is going out to subscribers today, and we're expecting the print version to arrive from the printer on Monday. Here's the issue's table of contents:

Vol. 1 No. 3 — July 2011

Feature Essay
Can Science Fiction Change the World? by Kristin King
Where Are You? by Mary Merriam
Three Lessons by Shweta Narayan

Grandmother Magma
Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison An Appreciation by Gwyneth Jones

Fairy Tales in Electri-City by Francesca Lia Block reviewed by Maria I. Velazquez
Isles of the Forsaken by Carolyn Ives Gilman reviewed by Nic Clarke
This Shared Dream by Kathleen Ann Goonan reviewed by Deb Taber
Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston reviewed by Maria I. Velazquez
Up Against It by M.J. Locke reviewed by Karen Burnham
Paradise Tales by Geoff Ryman reviewed by Victoria Garcia
Blackberries and Redbones edited by Regina Spellers and Kimberly Moffitt reviewed by Tanya C. DePass
Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex reviewed by Cynthia Ward
Featured Artist
Mr Mead

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Galactic Suburbia Reads Joanna Russ

Check out the latest Galactic Suburbia podcast, wherein Alisa, Alex , and Tansy serve up a delightful discussion of Joanna Russ's How To Suppress Women's Writing, The Female Man, and "When It Changed." I highly recommend it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Aqueductista News

--Nick Mamatas takes a look at "Wacky Will's" claims that Racefail 2009 and particularly coffeeandink led to his novel's being rejected by the publisher then considering it and getting no bids at a subsequent auction.

--Gwyneth Jones, in a post titled Shora to Shari'a, has more to say about the state of feminism today.

--Vandana Singh, in her Strange Horizons column, offers up Living with the Other: Animals, the City, and the Future

--Sue Lange reflects on Education Now and in the Future, in response to Susan Simesnky Bietelia's artwork in the second issue of the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

--Stephen Sohn at Asian American Literature Fans: A Veritable Literary Feast has posted a Small Press Spotlight on Aqueduct Press, which includes reviews of Vandana Singh's Distances and Of Love and Other Monsters, Claire Light's Slightly Behind and to the Left, and Mary Anne Mohanraj's portion of Without A Map.

--Paul Graham Raven reviews Gwyneth Jones's The Universe of Things for Strange Horizons at great and chewy length. He concludes:

And I’ve already mentioned the deftness and space left in Jones's stories, which always leave you slightly wanting; the gaps she’s left are tantalizing, sometimes even infuriating, like the last bit of table peeping mockingly through an unfinished picture-puzzle. It's a powerful play, and has to be handled just right; give too little, and the reader will feel justly cheated. But give just enough, and that missing piece will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned . . . to the point where one finds oneself hand-cutting puzzle pieces at 3 a.m., making minute adjustments to get them to slot into place, worrying at the hangnail question she's planted in your mind. Jones is resolutely anti-consolatory, staunchly contraPanglossian. She fits out every story with enough ideas to power a lesser writer's novel. She will break your heart, and she will make you think. She will challenge what you think science fiction is about, what it is for, and what it can do in the hands of an expert.

--Don D'Ammassa reveiws Andrea Hairston's Redwood and Wildfire:

Here’s an unconventional fantasy for you, set within the theater community around 1890. Two very different performers travel to Chicago where they become part of the world of minstrel shows and vaudeville. One is half Native American, the other a voodoo practitioner. There’s a good deal of peripheral magic, some of it ambiguous, involving such things as mind reading and out of body experiences, and these are contrasted with the technological wonders being displayed at the current World’s Fair. It’s also about the role of art in transforming society. This is a very ambitious book, and it’s far enough out of the mainstream of fantasy that it might daunt many potential readers. Comparisons are imperfect, particularly with really original work, but this should appeal to fans of John Crowley or Tim Powers.

--Nancy Jane Moore, in Reading for Fun: The Bone Spindle, reviews Anne Sheldon's The Bone Spindle

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Quote of the day

...we’re watching another casualty here:  Democracy.  Or at least, the illusion that we live in a democratic society.  The public, regardless of party,  overwhelmingly opposes cuts to Social Security and Medicare. But elected officials of both parties are hell-bent on conspiring to bring the programs to an end.  They seem to have come to grips with a fact that the public has not: their tenure in office depends on carrying out the wishes of oligarchical elites.

There is only one thing you can reasonably conclude as you watch the political theater that is transpiring:  what the voting public thinks really isn’t all that important.  And to the extent that it does matter, it can easily be channeled by those with sufficient money to pay the tab.  Samuel Johnson said that patriotism was the last refuge of scoundrels, but in our modern era, that honor goes to tribalism.  The list of horrors that people found intolerable when George Bush was in office, but are now blithely accepting because  “Sarah Palin would be worse,” grows longer every day.

We’ll fight this, because it’s the right thing to do.  We will probably lose. But we will make it as painful as possible for any politician from any party to participate in this wholesale looting of the public sphere, this “shock doctrine” for America.  And maybe along the way we’ll get a vision of what comes next.  Because what we believe in as Americans, and what we stand for, is not something the Democratic party represents any more.---Jane Hamsher,

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Have you impressed yourself lately?

Oh, the many posts I would have made this week, if only I weren't being slammed by a virulent bug. My voice, today, is about two octaves lower than usual. And I've discovered that Hall's cough drops are now wrapped in slogans. (Or are they merely cliches?) "Push On!" "Inspire envy." "Conquer today." "Fire up those engines!" "You've survived tougher." Seize the day. "Impress yourself today." "The show must go on. Or Work." (Anyone know what that one means?) "Flex your 'can do' muscle." "Bet on yourself." "Put your game face on." "Let's hear your battle cry." "Tough is your middle name." 

Perhaps they think these slogans are a cure for the common cold? Am I missing something? But I guess my biggest question is how they decide whether to use exclamation points or periods.

Monday, July 4, 2011

New e-books from Aqueduct Press

Aqueduct Press has added e-book editions of three of its titles to its e-book list, in both epub and mobi formats. These are Andrea Hairston's Redwood and Wildfire, Vandana Singh's Distances, and L. Timmel Duchamp's The Grand Conversation. You can purchase them (and other Aqueduct Press e-book editions) here. The Wizard's Tower Bookstore will be selling them soon, also. And, of course, they are also available through  We'll be releasing more e-book editions through the summer.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Baby or Sibling?

I've shucked a lot of ears of corn in my life. But I've never encountered anything like this:

It is, of course, organically grown. But what, I wonder, is the genetic relation between the full-grown ear and the small ear attached to it? And why, I wonder, didn't I notice the unusual bulge in the ear when I selected it for purchase?            

Chicago and Afrofuturism

D. Denenge Akpem has written an article, “Are you ready to alter your destiny?”: Chicago and Afro-Futurism, Part 1 of 2, posted at Chicago Art Magazine. It begins "This Independence Day, let us consider a different kind of liberation: Afro-Futurism." It offers a definition of Afro-futurism:
Afro-Futurism is rooted in history and African cosmologies, using pieces of the past, technological and analog, to build the future. These works rethink and rework notions of identity; hybridity; the alien and states of alienation; belonging, immigration, migration; and the “vessel” both corporeal and metaphoric, symbolized as a vehicle for liberation. Afro-Futurism asks: what does “Blackness” or “liberation” look like in the future, real or imagined?
And it makes me eager to get my hands on Krista Franklin's SEED (The Book of Eve): The Octavia E. Butler Artist Book. If any of y'all know anything about this book please do speak. It has a 2007 date. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Oh Charles Johnson No

I knew that bell hooks had been pretty disappointing to the disability movement, but Johnson's "he's a dwarf physically because spiritually, he's a very small human being" took me by surprise. As Olson indicates, statements like that shows how limited people's awareness of the trouble with ableist stigma is — nobody says that they assigned a certain race or ethnicity or (at this time in history) sexual orientation to a character because of his/her vicious nature.

[But what's with the article using a Will Smith movie, a black American public intellectual, and a black American novelist for its three examples of ableist discourse? Something wrong there.]

Quote o' the Day

Patrick Nielsen Hayden, on a habit of mind that obscures our understanding of oppression:

We might even start to notice that pathologies like this . . . act to hollow out, disrupt, and disempower entire parts of society, and to make it easier for other parts of society to reinforce and perpetuate their privileges. But then we’d have to come up with some terms for these “parts of society,” and start looking at the mechanisms by which powerful people, not being fools, regularly exploit opportunities to better themselves and those they regard as their kind, often by reducing the competitive potential of other cohorts. We might have to begin referring to these contending cohorts with crazy terms like, I dunno, “class” or something. But wait, that’s foolish conspiracy-theorizing. Powerful people working together to maintain their prestige and position! That never happens. Nah, the reason Americans get buffaloed into supporting the highest incarceration rate in the world is that People Are Stoopid.