Saturday, August 06, 2005

Is That You, Tommy?

I'm loving this, particularly for its invocation of Erik Davis's quote about deregulated reality. Not saying I believe in any of it, mind you; I'm agnostic when it comes to these matters. But it's interesting nonetheless.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Delayed Propaganda

Best Headline EVAR.

Cryptozoology Update

Aftenposten (one of the big Norwegian dailies, which does not have an RSS feed, dammit; I thought the Scandinavians were supposed to be all wired and stuff!) reports that Selma, Lake Seljord's answer to Nessie, has been recorded on sonar.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Technorati Tags, Maybe?

Is anyone blogging WorldCon? I'm mainly interested in the awards, shallow bastard that I am. If anyone knows of a good vehicle for this, let me know.

Who said it had to mean cattle show?

Today is Norwegian author Knut Hamsun's birthday. If he were to rise from his grave to blow out his candles, he would be 146 years old and a bit out of breath.

Hamsun is problematic (perhaps that's an understatement) because of his admiration for Hitler and Germany; he was a Quisling during WWII, and was put in a psychiatric hospital for evaluation after the war. But his novels are strange and often brilliant. In Hunger (originally published as Sult in the Norwegian), he chronicles the thought-processes of a starving writer on the streets of Christiania (as Oslo was then called). Three times the narrative is broken when the protagonist manages to scrape up some food, either by selling his writing or pawning his belongings or through the kindness of others. But Hamsun only shows us what happens when his alter-ego (for Hamsun himself spent some time living penniless on the streets) is starving, as if by doing so he were making a sort of vision quest, an expedition into the unknown. A shamanic experience, perhaps; at one point, unable to sleep in the rented room he is about to lose, he "discovers" a new word (from the translation by Robert Bly):

I got back in bed to try to sleep, but actually I started again to fight against the darkness. The rain outdoors had stopped and I could not hear a sound. For a long time I lay listening for footsteps on the street, and listened hard until I had heard one passer-by, a policeman, to judge by the sound. All at once I snapped my fingers a couple of times and laughed. Hellfire and damnation! I suddenly imagined I had discovered a new word! I sat up in bed, and said: It is not in the language, I have discovered it--Kuboaa. It has letters just like a real word, by sweet Jesus, man, you have discovered a word! . . . Kuboaa . . . of tremendous linguistic significance.

The word stood out clearly in front of me in the dark.

I sat with wide eyes astonished at my discovery, laughing with joy. Then I fell to whispering: they could very well be spying on me, and I must act so as to keep my invention secret. I had arrived at the joyful insanity hunger was: I was empty and free of pain, and my thoughts no longer had any check. I debated everything silently with myself. My thoughts took amazing leaps as I tried to establish the meaning of my new word. It needn't mean either God or the Tivoli Gardens, and who had said it had to mean cattle show? I clenched my fists hard and repeated again: Who said it had to mean cattle show? When I thought it over, it was in fact not even necessary that it mean padlock or sunrise. In a word like that it was very easy to find meaning. I would just wait and see.

There's more, and it's deliciously mad and disturbing. Hamsun was one of the first Modernists; Isaac Bashevis Singer said that "the whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun . . . They were all Hamsun's disciples: Thomas Mann and Arthur Schnitzler . . . and even such American writers as Fitzgerald and Hemingway."

Not all of Hamsun has been translated, but Pan and Mysteries are both must-reads. The former is Hamsun's explosion of the Romantic view, while the latter is almost a novel of manners; both have socially retarded (almost infantile, in fact) protagonists who struggle with societal expectations and rebel against them almost in spite of themselves. But these are not Naturalistic stories of great social changes wrought by individuals, and Glahn and Nagel's actions leave no mark. Hamsun's view of the world, at least in his literature, is not so hopeful as that.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Mots de Jarmusch

Just because I like 'em, some quotes from Jim Jarmusch, the genius behind Down By Law (a film in which Roberto Benigni does not annoy the crap out of me), Mystery Train (which has appearances by Joe Strummer, Rockets Redglare AND Screamin' Jay Hawkins, how could you go wrong?), Dead Man (a personal fave, and a must for all William Blake fans), Ghost Dog (it's like the Hagakure for the modern urban dweller!), and I'm not going to type all the films here so just go look at the filmography and put them all on your Netflix list. His new film, Broken Flowers, opens on Friday the 12th.

Jarmusch is interviewed in the latest Time Out (at least the Chicago edition), and he said a couple of things about stories as answers that I really liked:

There are many things in the movie to overanalyze, but no answer to them.

. . .

I don't want to make a film where [the character] learns moral lessons and then he's free. At the end of the film [he] doesn't have the satisfaction of a resolution. . . . Life is mysterious, things aren't always answerable, and love is the most valuable thing but also the most fragile. That is my religion.

First Story Sale

Describe the first story you ever sold to any publication. What was the title of the story? The name of the publication? The plot? The public reception to your work?

Blame Doug.

My first story sale is not included in the bibliography you see to your right. (Scroll down a bit. No, further. See it? No, you don't. It's not included, like I said.) My first story sale happened back in the dark ages of the mid-90's, when I was a college dropout working at the Memorial Union Rathskeller and doing very little of substance. Mostly, I slept late, watched a lot of movies (King of New York, Evil Dead II, and the Bruce Lee collection were in heavy rotation), read a lot of Powers, Pynchon, Latin American literature and X-Men comics, drank a lot of beer and played lots of D&D. Evil Doug was the DM, and he had a subscription to Dragon, that crappy little mag that TSR used to hype all the games that no one bought. They also had fiction--one story per issue--and once in a while I would try to read one of the stories. I don't want to say they were bad, but at some point I spoke that ridiculous sentence. I said, "I could write a better story than this."

What I came up with was something blatantly based on a role-playing scenario, and even though it was one that I created for the story, that should tell you where my imagination was trapped at that point. I'd written a novel by then, but as I was later to realize, it was a bloated junk balloon with no tension, just a lot of fighting. (Which is mostly what I remember about our D&D sessions, that the combats were never-ending, apocalyptic, and in the end really damn boring. That, and the fact that caffeine + fatty food + late night gaming sessions inevitably = at least one uncontrollable giggle fit.) So I wrote a story about the master of a thieves' guild taking revenge on the city officials who had massacred his guild.

I sent it in, and Dragon's then-fiction editor Barbara G. Young wrote back and said, "I like this, but" and made some rewrite suggestions. I was caught somewhere between flattered and bewildered, but I tried to do as she asked. (I didn't know a damned thing about this business. I don't know if I even realized there was such a thing as a rewrite.) I sent it back to her, and she wrote back and said it wasn't quite what she had in mind, would I mind if she just rewrote those bits and printed it? Otherwise, if I was uncomfortable with so intrusive an editor, she'd understand--but it was clear that if I wanted the sale, I'd have to give up control.

So I did. I didn't know any better, and I got four hundred and fifty bucks anyway, which is still the most I've made on a single sale. When the story came out I showed it to my buddies, most of whom didn't bother to read it. One of them said it was OK. When I read it, it didn't feel like my story anymore. I still get a knot in my stomach thinking about it, which is sort of silly, but it's true. To be clear, I don't think Young exploited me or anything like that; she made an offer and I accepted. I got paid. But even if it had been a good story to begin with (which it wasn't), by the time it appeared it was something I had no connection to.

So, in case any of you would care to read my embarrassing juvenilia, see if you can dig up a copy of Dragon Magazine #202, which contains the story "Thieves' Justice." But if you do, please do me the courtesy of never mentioning it to me.

Slipped My Mind

Apparently, the President has trouble remembering we're at war.

What Apocalypse Are I?

You are Instant Labor:

Why bother to stay awake when all you have is a

Instant Labor Incorporated is the perfect place to
work if you don't want to get too involved.
Just plug your brain into the computer and let
yourself fall away, when you wake up it will be
time to go home.

Webb Little is a would be filmmaker who decides to
plug in and tune out. He goes instant so he'll
have more time for editing, but ends up with
too much discontinuity.

You always splice the ones you love.

Last Week's Apocalypse is available for


What Apocalypse are you?
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No Meditation, Please, We're Berserkers

Apparently Norway's most dangerous criminals don't respond well to yoga.

OSLO, Norway - A Norwegian prison has stopped giving yoga sessions to inmates after finding that some of the prisoners became more aggressive and agitated, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

The yoga classes were introduced on at trial basis earlier this year at Ringerike prison, which holds some of Norway's most dangerous criminals.

Prison officials had hoped mediation and breathing exercises would help inmates contain their anger, but it appeared to have the opposite effect.

Some inmates became more agitated and aggressive, while others developed sleeping problems as a result of the yoga sessions, prison warden Sigbjoern Hagen told newspaper Ringerikes Blad. Hagen said that deep breathing exercises could make the inmates more dangerous, by unblocking their psychological barriers.

I'm not sure what that last sentence is supposed to mean; does the warden believe that their neuroses the only thing keeping these guys from getting seriously batshit crazy? That the better our mental health, the more prone to antisocial behavior we are?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Someone Tell Frank Costanza

There's a new trailer for Serenity online. I can't wait to see this again.

A View From Outside

The latest Strange Horizons has a fascinating (if all-too-brief) interview/conversation between/with Japanese translator/reviewer/editor/writer Yoshio Kobayashi and temporary expat wunderkind Christopher Barzak. Some very interesting perspectives on that whole slipstream thing, the distinctions between humanism/technologism, and the ways in which speculative literature is adapting, or failing to. Lots of food for thought.