Monthly Archives: April 2015

What Does Not Kill Me In the Future

I have had a couple brushes with death in my short life. Misdiagnosed with the flu, I was not given antibiotics, and I wound up in a hospital emergency room with a bacterial infection in an internal organ and a fever over 103. Even after antibiotics cleared the disease, it was almost a month before I could walk more than a few feet at a time with my weakness. I am told I was also a very sick child when I was born, a month late and deep in winter. It was some time before I was allowed to leave the hospital after I was born. Also, the other day, I was taking down a broken shed, and the rusty aluminum scraped my hand.

The third thing I just said doesn’t sound serious, but before the invention of a Tetanus vaccine, that wound would be fatal. Lockjaw decimated communities. Simple cuts and scrapes on bits of metal left strong young men and women dead in days. Before the advent of the Tetanus vaccine, I would have died so many times of lockjaw. Think of every rusted nail that ever scraped against a toe, or punctured into a foot. Each one could have ended your life, once upon a time. The fact that lockjaw is no longer a serious illness in America speaks volumes to the power of modern medicine and the scientific method to save lives. Around 20,000 cases are reported annually, in America, and very few would be fatal with any medical intervention. Globally, tetanus still kills 59,000 people every year, mostly infants in underdeveloped countries, but even this is way down from 213,000 dead of lockjaw in 1993.

Modern medicine is the miracle we take for granted. Immunizations are an invisible wall against death. Child mortality rates are so low that most people don’t even know anyone who has ever lost a child, much less an infant. It is no longer a common thing. It has become a tragic outlier in the families and communities of the modern world. In developing countries… Well, the future is unevenly distributed, but hopefully everything will come together very soon.

There are few better measurements of human progress, if one is to believe in such a thing as progress, than the expected lifespan of each new generation, on average. Every generation sees a rise, until today. Every decision we make in our lives, from what goes into our bodies, to what we wear, to what we do, impacts our biology. Things as simple as standing in shade versus sun alters the very organism of the body. Did you floss? People who floss supposedly live seven years longer, if my dental hygienist is to be believed. Do you wear sunblock? Sun can damage skin to the point of cancer, and some skin cancers are deadlier than others. Do you eat a handful of nuts a day? It has been shown to lead to greater heart health. Such tiny, little decisions each and every moment can lead to greater or lesser health in some degree, to the point that people can be driven absolutely mad by it all. Or, like me, be so overwhelmed with health information, that it all must be pushed aside and ignored to allow room for the movement of a sentient body through living space. Too much information becomes more crippling than none. The return, then, of a kind of pseudo-mysticism around diets and exercise swells up in the terrible gap of knowledge and fear and the knowledge that there is far more in the world than any one person can possibly know, and new research is always spinning and spinning and spinning…

Enter the marketing machineries of this world with their fad diets, and failed diets, and exercise regimes that are supposed to extend life.

In all our revolutions, we live in fear instead of wonder. It is wondrous that lockjaw only kills a few thousand people in the world every year. It used to be such a deadly force. It is wondrous that heart attacks aren’t always fatal. It is wondrous that an antibiotic infection that would certainly have ended my life in a past generation, was turned away with a single pass of antibiotic medication. It is positively astonishing that cancer is often not a death sentence. Our families are full of children who live, instead of die. Do not fall back into mystical thinking, like the denial of vaccines or the ridiculous dietary fads that have no basis in scientific inquiry outside of the anecdotal studies of a professional marketer and/or athlete.

It’s a lot of information to digest, and there’s a lot of terrible data out there. In the future, what does not kill me will be bad data. The next major medical breakthrough we need is a filter to weed out all the bad information in the world.

When I am walking around, and living, I often look around me and wonder how this would kill me, in the past or the future. I wonder at how well we are, in the modern world, of staving off death. Every time I step on a ladder, I think it might be my last. Every time I plug something into a wall, I wonder at building codes that prevent electrocution and death. Every time a storm blows through, I stand behind a window, and I marvel that this storm is no danger to me. It should have been so deadly. It should have led to drowning, the loss of crops, the death of pack animals that keep me alive. Instead, I stand behind a sturdy window, gaze out, and watch the wind whip through the trees. I observe the rainfall in the garden, and any loss of crop is an inconvenience, at worst.

Every day, I wonder at the many tiny, invisible inventions and ideas that save my life – from good brake pads to good construction techniques to good water management. What does not kill me is the reason I have a future, at all, and the reason law and science matter. Innoculate the mind against the conspiracy theories and professional lie marketers with the knowledge that there is so much wondrous survival out there. Every step we take in shoes without hookworms in our footpads is the invisible triumph of futurism: Where life stumbles forward without danger and without any obvious limiting factors.

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The Africa We See, the Africa We Don’t See

A few weeks back, this TED talk was making the rounds with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talking about imagining oneself into one’s fiction. It can be a challenge to talk about her work without bringing up the talk she gave. I think it does provide a useful context, in the same way the 2013 movie might provide useful context, for people who have seen the film. (I have not.) But, I prefer to discuss the book as it is, without the TED Talk.

I prefer this because the book is as close to flawless as it is possible for  a novel to be. Each point of view enhanced the story. Each seemed to be the right character to utilize. Each cliffhanger and operatic note of intrigue and infidelity against the backdrop of the Biafran revolution in Nigeria. I was astonished as the pitch perfect inclusion of beautiful, precise descriptions of place and culture and people that is at once instantly recognizable and instantly different from any other place or culture or time. I was impressed, as well, how different point of view characters approached and described new people in their world. The Igbo chief’s daughter sees people from her position of inherited power, describing the pieces of other people that render them “low” like hairy arms and a rough demeanor, even as she suppresses those impulses with her socialist husband’s influence and her work as a schoolteacher. The houseboy, Ugwu, sees people’s eyes and clothes and position in society. Richard, the eternal outsider, a failed novelist from England, in love with Olanna’s sister, often sees people through the lens of race and class, excited that he can pick out different tribes on sight and place other white people he meets into the box of their place in society. It happens so quickly, and it is one brilliant touch among many in a complex, layered novel, that takes on the difficult job of speaking for a country the world has forgotten.

The plot follows the family of Olanna, and the people around her, mostly. Richard is her brother-in-law, and friend for a time. Ugwu is so much a part of her family that when the fighting becomes fierce, and the bombs are falling, Ugwu stays with Olanna and Odenigbo, her professor husband, instead of returning home to his village to help his own family. The family unit suffers their times. A child is born and raised in dirtier and dirtier homes, with the rising tide of war. Olanna’s access to all levels of society as both a schoolteacher and a daughter of a powerful chief makes her the ideal cipher for the war, but it is often less important than the strife she experiences in her own difficult marriage in a culture that would prefer women barefoot and pregnant and thoroughly married. Their early life as an unwed cohabiting couple creates great strife with Odenigbo’s family. Her own seems to be amusedly waiting for her to finish her fling so she can become the mistress of a powerful government official. The drama of family life tumbles forward with a deep insight, and heart-rending beauty.

When a novel is this good, I truly question the need for a review. Scholarship, perhaps, but a review? This is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. Aditchie will probably win a Nobel for her work, someday, and it would certainly be deserved. This is a five out of five situation. It is as good as fiction gets. I don’t really know what else I need to say about it.

I will say this: The cover is terrible and seems to have no relationship to the book inside of it. The trees are not the mango and cocoyam and cashew and guava inside the actual book. The character on the cover is not dressed like anyone inside of the book that qualifies as a major character. (Olanna is London-schooled, and dresses like a Western schoolteacher!) The sun is big and bright and hot, but it is full and the Biafran sun was only half. This cover was designed by someone with exactly one goal: “Let’s tell American audiences that this is a book about African women! Let’s give them all sorts of cues and clues visually to make it clear that this is African just like they think it is supposed to be!”

The cover is bollocks. It is an Africa we choose to see, which is a huge issue that is criticized constantly in the text of the book, itself. How ironic that the cover should be part of the Western gaze that is so deservedly derided in the text.

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A common name

It has come to my attention that one of the trolls or sockpuppetts commenting harshly on genre websites is named Joe McDermott.

This is not me. I have a ridiculously common name. McDermott is one of the most populous names of Ireland, and any Biblical Catholic male name including Nehemiah and Ephraim (I literally have a cousin named Ephraim) are to be expected in front of McDermott all over the world in some great quantity what with the traditional size of traditional Irish families. We do run out of names.

I am currently recovering from some minor surgery, and I am fairly certain my drugs aren’t suddenly so good that I would be cheering on Heinlein. I also didn’t have any good drugs leading up to the surgery. I dislike most Heinlein quite a lot. It is like Ayn Rand: a thrilling discovery at 15, that intellectually collapses by 17 because of problematic ideas and (more importantly) tedious workmanlike prose shoving bad ideas in my face.

Anyway, I have a common name. There are many of us. We are legion. We also probably don’t agree about anything regarding this stupid genre thing. Any comment left by a Joe McDermott that is not in complete agreement with Cat Valente (whose LiveJournal thing is dead right on the money) can be assumed to be some other Joe McDermott, angrier, I presume, and/or a sockpuppy attempting to damage my reputation.

Don’t be a sockpuppy, people. There are much greater battles to fight in this world.

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The End of California, The End of the World

Let us choose, among all the places of the world, a place to stand for an entire century of human history. There are candidates all over the world. Paris and London, Tokyo and South Africa, and all the great cities of America. For me, though, when I think of what people will think about when they think about the twentieth century someday, in the future, I think they will immediately think about old Hollywood, California wines, and the huge explosions of the cities of California with Silicon Valley, the huge farms of California, the slow food and organic food movements, the buy local movements, the hippies and drugs and rising tide of Asian influence, and the racism that exploded across Lost Angeles, and the gangs and illegal immigrants and washed out, wasted men and women chasing dreams, always chasing their California dreams, in the perfect day of sunny southern California. A place that stands for a century like no other place on Earth, this California place has been a part of everything the world has faced, and been on the leading edge of it. I don’t really know what language to use to explain that the state that gave us Reagenomics and Environmentalism and the sixties and the huge, empty suburban tracts, and the huge farms and orchards and all the people there that flooded in from all over the world to form polyglot, peaceful, joyful lives, is the dream of a future of plenty and more than enough and land prices that always go up and places that will be so beautiful for a thousand years, with trees older than people standing on the ground beside the trees. Oh, California, you were everything.

But, the very things that made California the great state of the human species in the twentieth century also turned to burn. The glare of Hollywood lights devoured the starlets and swallowed up failed dreamers who hitchhiked in from all over the world, pouring into the cafes and diners and nightclubs after dreams of decadence and beauty and they walked into the O of the Hollywood sign and stepped across like being sorted. Some OD’d. Some wound up working dead end jobs in tiny apartments until they died. Some made just enough glory to give them a taste before the burn came and swallowed their skin. Far more slept on benches than anyone wants to talk about, openly, these aspiring ones. And the ones who shone through the portal, burned so bright they carried the imaginations of the world upon the lines of their beautiful faces.

The flooding agriculture that filled the world with the greatest wines ever made, the greatest strawberries, the greatest broccoli and onions and all the vegetables and tree nuts of this country, and the great folk singers and musicians toured the fields, rallying the workers into strikes for better wages, and better conditions. The great labor movement walked the rows, hoeing and picking and spraying. The great innovations in agriculture that became the local food movement and the organic food movement began in California. The great social movements and counter-culture and peaceful revolutions of the 60s, all began on a farm in California, where musicians rallied workers for better wages, and the music never stopped. It just flowed into the countercultural movements, the open communities of love and peace, and the beat poets and bad poets and buskers and dreamers, oh it flowed from the radios all over the world until California Dreamin’ was playing from the speakers in Vietnam to the gunfire and bombs that California-influenced protestors forced to a stop.

And Silicon Valley, the industrialists and venture capitalists and the cross-cultural business explosion of the Pacific Rim that united east and west will wind down, now.

Everything is going to wind down, now.

There is no more water left to support everyone. People tell me that there were droughts before and there will be again, and I glance at climate models and shudder because you have no idea what’s coming, and no one really does, except that it’s going to be terrible and California will not be able to support much life anymore.

Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, his long fields of farms, are all dried up places that are drying up and drying up. The seas are full of run-off, acidifying away all the oysters and shellfish and marine life there. Soon, the old timers will stand where their mortgages demand they stand, underwater on their mortgages because there is no more water. The rest will flood the country. I expect Texas and Colorado and Oregon best brace for the flood. California’s very demise was built on the backs of the things that made the 20th century so amazing: gasoline, nitrogen-fertilizers, technology, and glorious, glorious media. The suburbs expanded, with all the loneliness therein. The traffic was deep and thick. The big box stores and shopping malls and shopping complexes spread out and ever out.

It was all of America. It was all of the world. Everything came to shore. Neighborhoods rose and fell in the shadow of the superhighways. Movies and more movies and even more movies… The films will move north to Vancouver. They’ve already begun the migration. The tech will move to Austin where the droughts begin anew.

Everything will change. Nothing will be the same. At the end of this phase, we will all remember California as she was, a beautiful state, wild and naked and free, a place where everyone came and built everything and everyone was so amazingly joyous and the way they lived was the very thing that destroyed the way they lived.

I should write a book about it. I should write every book about it. The century that was, and all it stood for, and all it became. The very things that made it such a wondrous place were also the things that drained the aquifers and stopped the snow. Goodnight California, and when the next dream comes, it won’t be in that blasted plain. The drought has come, as it always does, after every great civilization burns through the water and the soil and the ground.

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Be Patient, for the Sublime Will Come in Good Time, or a consideration of CELEBRANT by Michael Cisco

Upon death, many interesting things happen to bodies. For one, the illusion of a unified organism shatters, and the many colonies of microbial and fungal life inside of us spiral out of control, consuming the very host form as much as possible while other living organisms of one sort or another also engage in consumption. Truly, the body in death, is a vibrant, living, and life-affirming thing for everyone but other humans. Also, whatever spirit forms that may arise, whatever eternity of us that might, possibly, endure, regardless of religious belief, the cosmos is mostly indifferent to us, and it will happen in good time when it happens and there is little point rising to meet it.

Imagine, if you have a moment, a man who meets all the different versions of himself as his material body and living essence will transform through various forms to become, eventually, a terrible, spooky god of doom and ill portent. More to the point, the man, driven by his own will to chase the dream of a hidden and higher reality, abandons his life to pursue the transformation that he feels is imminent. All the while, and in nearly every form of his reality, he does not realize the face of his own daughter, her name, or anything about her. He travels forward and backward in time, and he is always failing to see everything that he will become, even as he encounters all the versions of self.

There is lovely, grotesque set-dressing, absolutely, with natural robots that are gods without seeming to be aware of that distinction, like giant embodiments of single-cellular life forms playing out their natural processes on a large scale, surrounded by worshippers. There are children abandoned who transform into rabbit girls and pigeon girls – verminous beggars of the urban landscape who run wild and fight and steal and receive the alms and protection of the city’s holy supplicants. The city, Votu, exists in a kind of in-between time state. There are passageways backwards and forwards, and ways of erasing memories, and characters and narration run up and down these pathways, learning what they learn and meeting whom they meet. Early in the text, a visual chart is sketched out explaining how time works during the novel, and I found myself flipping back to the chart to understand the text, which was so rich and lovely and dense, it was easy to get lost without a map. Our point of view characters were mostly lost, and few guideposts seemed present; thank imp for a chart!

The different transformed versions of a single life exist as what is called “sarkoforms” on the path of incarnation of the flesh, as the celebrant will transform over time through all versions of himself, until reaching his final form: The Bird of Ill Omen.

With work this dense, and this rich, it takes some thought to narrow down what I think about when I think about the book. The Bird of Ill Omen, a god of doom and decay, soars over the text like a vulture, ruination following the flutter of his wings. Eventually, the hero of the novel will be transformed piece by piece into this ominous god. The god gazes on curiously throughout the novel, guiding his ancient self into his immortal self, perhaps, or perhaps only observing from afar, having accidentally “met” himself in a prior incarnation. You see, if it is already part of the timeless reality, there is no reason to chase the rabbit girls or pigeon girls or hurry or scurry to such a gloomy transformation. It will come, regardless. The god is mostly indifferent of explanations, operating like a spectral ghost of doom that clouds the beauty and imaginative world-building and wordplay.

There is always so much happening inside a Cisco novel; truly, experience is the only way to appreciate what I mean. I find this is not my favorite of his books, but even a lesser Cisco novel is worthy of deep consideration and study. I wonder, at times, if I am reading a meta-text about not only life and death and the rushing towards a spiritual transformation that is ultimately futile, but if I am reading about reading and writing and language, which is to say that the end will come and racing towards it loses all the beauty and brash clanging and sexual frenzy of Votu, itself, where words even seem to transform from one stage of meaning to another, and life is a series of transformations and even death is a series of transformations. Celebrate this, perhaps, and do not scurry along to the finish. It will come when it comes. Lay a while in the temple of the natural robot, where life’s oldest impulses of sensuality and music and dance spill out in waves, where the bodies, themselves, transform in death through sarkoforms towards a higher purpose that is not only beyond our understanding, but it doesn’t really matter if we understand the higher purpose for it will be there in good time.

Dense, rich, evocative prose with layers upon layers of meaning, like Cisco novels, require close study, and in this book, I feel I need another read through in a while, and perhaps another, until I see the writing on the page as what it is meant to be. I have read only the first iteration of the text. I have not reached the sarkoforms of the text. I have seen the God and felt it peeking through the lines, but I, a celebrant of this text, have only just begun to comprehend the mystery of all the read throughs. Perhaps in another read-through, I will be dancing to the music of the language. Perhaps in another I will be uninspired, robotic and methodical, but cultivating that sound in the living plant of the text. Perhaps, in the end, I will see the Bird of Ill Omen, in the face, and I will know that without me, who is eternal beyond the text, the iteration and exasperations of DeKlend are impossible, for his journey requires the breath of me to complete.

Beautiful images, though, and do read this book. I believe my favorite fabulist image was the garden of living sound plants, which vibrate to remain alive. If touched and stilled, then dead in an instant. They were tended by a peaceful giant robot more grotesque than anything Miyazaki-inspired. A frightening image, but a fascinating scene that does not frighten even the pigeon girl that finds it. The vibration is the living matter. The activity and race of the runners through the orchards of the temples, there. Life as a kind of hum in the blood, a microscopic flowering hum, that demi-gods must tend at the halls of time.

Read this book. Puzzle it out. Let it transform inside of you.

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Knight by Gene Wolfe

In reviewing books, I often feel at a loss to describe what actually happens inside of my head while I am reading. I do not trust to project my own thoughts out onto this page, because so much of what happened is a personal thing. I can tell sort of what happened, and I can tell sort of whether I enjoyed it or not. Gene Wolfe is a writer who requires close, careful study of what is happening. He uses unreliable narrators, very dense language that is hidden by the ease at which it reads, and this means that any review of his work must come with the caveat that one does not always know what is happening and may not even notice it, even though it is right in front of their face. He is a tricksy writer, and enjoyable because of his tricks. There are probably three or four different reads to the text, in question, though it presumed to be straightforward enough.

A young teenager, let us call him Abel, has become the subject of a portal fantasy. He passed through the known world, and entered the world of fairy. He was a troubled youth, with a difficult family situation alluded to in the text, and he is writing to a brother or relative named Ben, I think. One does get the sense he may be writing to himself. The world of the Aelf where he had his memory damaged, wiped away his memories of his former self. But, this is speculation. The text, itself, is a hero’s journey from a boy living with an adoptive brother in a distant, medieval word of Mythgartr (spelling?) and the world exists on a plane where there is seven levels up and down, of which the humans stand upon the center, the Aelf below a level, and dragons below that, etc. Everyone looking up sees their gods. At the center of this situation, the boy stands upon the crux of worlds. He passes regularly below to the Aelf realms in this first text, and, as well, even travels lower down below. He encounters the spirits of creation, destruction, and agency across the planes of creation, there, as a sort of destined, mythic hero. There is a dark lady that he loves, knightly combat and training that must be faced, and honor as both a concept and an agent of extreme change and consequence takes the center stage in the dialog. The world is hard and violent, and only honor and magic and comradery manage to push back the extreme violence of the world into something resembling a life, but it is a fearful life, with monsters in the mountains and tricksy aelf tripping and pinching, and even more mundane dangers as bears and starvation and infected injuries take their toll. Encountering a knight, the young Abel sees a future calling as if his destiny was written into his bones. He acts as a guide, then, and during his time with the first knight he encounters, he is pulled into the realm of the Aelf by Desiri, who acts upon the boy to mature him prematurely, and knight him. From there, the usual adventures unlock, as he quests into the world to prove himself, and seek adventure and honor and a way back to the intoxicating delirium of his beloved Aelf queen, Desiri.

Throughout the text, the boy inside of a man’s body often struggles to act with wisdom in a world poised to take advantage of the mythical hero with absurd power that had stumbled into their realm. It is the dichotomy of knightly heroism, then, that I find most interesting. As a boy adventurer, Sir Abel of the High Heart is truly engaged in the heroics of fantasy and daydreams, fighting dragons and questing against monstrous creatures in the name of honor and his lady love. However, the boy inside the man discovers how terrifying it all must be, and struggles to put together a clear and meaningful portrayal of the reality that he encounters. His loyal hound that transforms into a terrible fighting creature confounds him. The feelings and desires of the two Aelf enslaved to him incidentally remain a dangerous mystery. Why people follow him at all is a mystery to him, even as it remains, to an extent, a mystery to readers. What is it about this child in the shining armor of a man that inspires everyone to follow him, even monstrous creatures that could kill him casually? What is the mark upon his brow that inspires such devotion?

A mystery for another read-through, perhaps. I leave the question as it stands.

Regarding the writing, much of the “action” of the novel is actually explicitly left out in some fashion. It is described, mostly, but when fighting begins, the action is too difficult for the boy to describe adequately, and he merely tries to relate facts and feelings as quickly as he can. Much of the text is dialog explicating both the complex layers of reality and meaning in the world, and the rules of it, as Sir Abel of the High Heart tries to make sense of his arrival and his destiny and the intent of the people and creatures around him. As well, much of the text is a discussion of the concept of “Honor” or “Chivalry” or whatever knightly quality exists in the boy or others that teaches the lessons he needs to learn to become an effective warrior and leader in battle.

The world is quite interesting and constructed very effectively to operate consistently and mysteriously at the same time. The adventures of Sir Abel of the High Heart are thrilling and enjoyable. The apparent text is such a simple and heroic tale that it is so easy to gloss over the ghostly dreams, and the early time with a mystical creature named Parka, who hands Sir Abel a haunted bowstring and names him early in the text. All the lives that are lived out inside that thread stalk the text, alluding to a larger world or worlds than are present. As well, one gets the strong sense that the figures that are most unknowable – like the loyal dog of mysterious origin, or the underwater aelf elder that heals Sir Abel in exchange for a powerful and impossible oath – are probably not the good guys, if there is even such a thing as good and evil in the Wolfe-ian lexicon.

A fascinating puzzle box hidden inside a classic adventure. Further study is required. I hesitate to give it a rating, as I still don’t think I completely understand the text, but I am going with four stars for a rollicking adventure with lots of puzzle pieces to pick through out of the Amazonian-era five.

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Living Under a Cloud

Currently, the climate news is fucking terrifying. Ice caps are melting. California is entering drought. Many of the worlds forests will die off as the weather warms beyond what the plant respiration can handle. Carbon, deadly carbon, will enter the atmosphere and create an exponential warming event. I know this, and I am stuck driving across town to my job. It is a long drive, and I know I don’t earn very much at it, but there is no alternative. I buy food at the grocery store that came from so far away. There is so much wasted fuel. There is so much plastic derived from fossil fuels. One tiny life is impossible and future life looks harder. If I do not drive, eat, etc., then I have no life at all. I become a homeless wanderer foraging in dumpsters for slightly-less-rotten lettuce, which is not something I am willing to do when it wouldn’t even work to save the world unless we all did it en masse.

the only rational response, when faced with imminent personal disaster, and distant global disaster is to shut down and deny. Climate change deniers do this on a grand, inspiring scale. The rest of us shop for a new car and pretend that it is unconnected with the larger picture. We browse grocery stores for things that we feel that we need, and forget to calculate how much petrol burned to bring the produce here. Imagine buying bananas and oranges in Alaska and North Dakota.  People stand looking out at the very oil and gas fields, reach out and touch the pipes directly, and feel the dramatic impact of the changing climate directly. They probably don’t think about it when they are sitting down to dinner.

We are all climate change deniers. We just pretend not to deny the science when approached. We have learned patterns of behavior that are hard to unlearn, and lifestyle expectations that we cannot easily crack inside our brains. I am just as guilty as everyone. I am drinking coffee from far away, sitting on furniture made in foreign countries, wearing clothes from foreign countries, and preparing to drive to work over half-an-hour away in traffic, where the gas burns and burns, and I sell products that are made and shipped from carbon processed and burned. Coal fire runs through the wires of my house. We would call the people who actually make the radical lifestyle changes required to save the world “radicals” and we would grumble and complain about it if we were forced to experience it from authority figures above us.

We are all climate change deniers. We are living under a cloud of our own denial, and it is warming up.

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Asimov’s Asimov’s Asimov’s

So, I am pleased to see the positive reception of “Paul and His Son” in Asimov’s, including mention at Tangent, SFRevu, and Locus.

I am even more pleased to see that in honor of this short story, there’s a limited time sale on the eBooks of Disintegration Visions and Maze.

As it is, going straight to the Apex website for the next two months nets both eBooks for just 1.99.

http://www.apexbookcompany.com/blogs/frontpage/18042565-limited-time-only-disintegration-visions-and-maze-ebook-bundle

But, wherever fine eBooks are sold, Disintegration Visions is only .99, all this month. Next month, I believe MAZE is going to be just .99 cents.

It is the April/May Asimov’s, after all. Two months of Asimov’s, two months of a great deal on an eBook for any newcomer to my fiction interested in a little more for the right price of less than a burger at your least favorite burger place.

Woo?

Woo!

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Making Money

The dignity of work is a topic of much discussion in the sphere of politics. I often wonder what dignity I am supposed to glean from low-wage work that currently does not pay a living wage in my city, and does not provide anything resembling full-time hours. I bounce between jobs, never quite making enough to subsist, grateful that my wife also works and together we cobble together a living between us. But, the phrase “dignity of work” always grates on me. I recall a past profession, when I was a part-time gallery attendant at an art museum. I stood in the galleries for eight hours, observing the patrons passing through – if there were patrons – who would get too close to painting. I gently approached and asked people to please set back. My co-workers were mostly retired men, drawn to the museum because it got them out of the house and filled their days with the work they believed in with religious fervor. Work was important. The young men there, all of us, shrank into ourselves like our souls were turtles. We were rendered quiet and mute by hours of boredom. Our minds sank into the pain in our cheap shoes. One of them doodled constantly; he had majored in painting in college and graduated with honors. Another one secretly played video poker on his iPod for hours to stay alert. Neither man dreamed of anything but this. We wore suits. We were given breaks. We even had a retirement package that wasn’t bad, if we stuck around long enough. It was dignified, I guess. I spent days staring at priceless masterpieces, until they became meaningless. I couldn’t imagine anything about them but standing there, observing, and waiting for the end of the day. I was working, and I was earning a paycheck. But, did I feel dignified? I felt like I was a turtle, trapped inside his shell. I felt like I was a piece of the wall, itself, and the least desirable piece. Nobody wanted to talk to us, really. We were the people who were politely ignored, at best, or told off at worst.

Before that, I remember temping at various places. I remember what it felt like to be told that there was no money to hire me full-time, but I could continue on as a perma-temp indefinitely. I sat in an office doing administrative work, listening to co-workers talk about their vacations, their camps with their kids, and I was so low-paid I couldn’t afford to move out of my parents’ house.

Before that, I recall working at Starbucks, going from days where I started at 4:30 am to days where I closed the store after 11:00, so blasted from the broken sleep schedule that I thought I was going to lose my mind, and my boss, at the time, was a horrible human who would send her brother in to spy on us, yell at us constantly, and find ways to set us all up for failure however she could, so she could complain about us to customers right in front of us. I don’t recall much dignity, there.

The dignity of work sounds like the mantra of people who are asked to do things that matter to them, who have had careers where there have been successes than failures and more dignity than abuse. It speaks of privilege for the speaker of these words. It means they probably haven’t had to set their pride aside very much, and when they tried to build something, somewhere, the outcome was good, and the physical and emotional pain was not so great.

The real argument about the words “Dignity of Work” speak more to the culture of working than anything. Everyone must keep working. If a poor person isn’t working, they don’t deserve to be helped, right? In a future where some are working and some are not, it is the one who is working who is doing good, even if that work pollutes the air, fills our phone lines and inboxes with unwanted spam, or otherwise sucks the fat off the top of the economy like a hedge fund. Is there dignity working at GuitarCenter, whose crippling bond payments in a complex corporate shell game determine that the company will cease to exist very soon, and in such terrible conditions. Is there dignity in toiling for the bond credit holders, and nothing else?

The reason I really, truly believe it is a bullshit term for politicians levying their judgment upon the poor who are guilty of being poor is not only my own personal experience with most of the work I’ve had, in life, but also because nobody talks about making the idle rich pick up a plow and start picking strawberries. Nobody turns around and says, “You know, these rich people who don’t do anything, who don’t work at anything, well… We need to make sure everyone has the dignity of work and a paycheck! Let’s get these lazy retired people to work, too! We can find something they can do, right? They can sew wallets in a factory if they can’t walk. They can answer phones and make sales calls if they can’t use their hands. Let’s get everybody working, and I mean everybody, because work is where you find dignity!”

The old men of the museum, retired all of them and trying to keep busy, stood around the galleries for hours, staring off into space, ticking down the minutes of their life until their next break, then until day’s end. They were almost always men and white and proponents of working hard. They talked a lot about how the changes of the city were no good for families and kids. They continued to work long after it was necessary for them. They held space as full-timers that young men and women desperately needed to stay afloat, stay off the public dole, move out of their parents’ houses and start lives. But, I do not actually think anyone should retire if they do not wish to do so. I merely suggest that standing in a museum and staring off into space for eight hours is a horrible way to earn the dignity of a paycheck. The mind goes numb and soggy and becomes a flaccid, useless lump. At home, dreaming of nothing, watching television and attending church services and watching children fail to launch, fail to see the dignity of work, and complaining about children and grandchildren who don’t understand the values that raised them, that the children and grandchildren critique with their very lives: There is no dignity in work. There is dignity. There is work. Sometimes, the two might intersect. Usually, they don’t. A paycheck is not an act of dignity, but a necessity in a world built on collective taxes, collective cost, privatized lands, and the rising cost of food.

The way full-time employment worked at this museum was tenure-based. If you were part-time long enough, and a full-timer retired, you’d be offered a full-time position. The full-timers were almost all folks who were retired and continuing to work for the dignity and enjoyment of a paycheck in a nice museum. So, the part-timers – the struggling artists and musicians and writers that tumbled into the building from whatever need drove us there – were kept waiting for someone to reach death or the brink of death before we could be offered a full-time position. It worked enough times that there was hope enough to keep one around long enough to stick it out. But, it was a dull job. You were pushed inside of your coat, imagining yourself smaller and smaller in your nice suit until only the suit remained. You spoke as little as possible. You tried not to make eye contact. Guests found it disconcerting to make eye contact with security guards. It could lead to complaints that could lead to a termination of the non-binding, right to work contract there. Between touring exhibitions, the gig dried up to a sniffle. One day a part-timer would be on out of maybe every four weeks. The full-timers had nothing to worry about. They worked on these slow, quiet afternoons in the museum between shows, waiting for anything to happen.

Die on your feet like a man.

Whatever you do, be self-reliant, or delusional enough to believe in your own self-reliance because no one is actually self-reliant.

And if one is to be poor, for all that is good and holy, be sure to keep your poverty dignified with work.

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Hot Take on Genre Awards Thing

I actually don’t really care very much, either way, but it is fascinating to see true human stupidity at play from Sad Puppies who want that pin so badly they’d blow up the very award to get it.

So, if you game the rules to a major genre award to suit your agenda because you feel your work and work you like is not properly honored by the field, what you actually accomplish is not a domination of the center of the field. Rather, you merely pull the major award over to your dull, lifeless obscurity. You win the battle; you win all the fancy trophies; not a one of them will mean anything, though, because you will still be an obscure, miserable hack. And, the award that used to mean the world to you, will not mean the world to anyone else. Good job, Sad puppies. You know, winning all the awards wont mean that people like you, or buy your books, or take your ideas seriously, right? If you “win” by gaming the system, it isn’t mysterious, and it just means everyone likes you less for bullying the field, and making the major awards in the field as pointless as you are.
So, trolls out to agenda a Hugo? Yeah, you’re really dumb if you think this will somehow make your agenda front and center after the firestorm implode on internet fury.

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