Friday, March 30, 2007

Don Webb's Letters from Doublesign

"Don Webb is a genius. He's not widely appreciated. There are some things mankind was not meant to know." -- Bruce Sterling.

One of our genre's great achievements in recent years has been the successful infiltration of the mainstream with a fresh infusion of winking fabulism — explorations of *everyday magic* lurking in the suburban American psychoscape — neighborhood zombies, television programs that invade reality, flea market talismans. Horror tropes repainted with anime eyes in a literary variation of pop surrealism that subtly flags the signposts of contemporary middle-class consciousness, documenting the obliteration of the barriers between reality and imagination.

Then there's Don Webb. Old school slipstream with a stiffer proof, practiced by an actual Magus. They grow their fabulists differently in Amarillo. Maybe it's the nuclear effluent in the water.

Don Webb has been floating clandestine balloons of eldritch literature (mostly in short form -- hundreds of them) since the 1980s. These tiny wonders are beautiful terrors that occupy some unlit zone between Lovecraft and Nabokov. The stories have Don's hypnotic voice, the one he uses to set off flares in the minds of his writing students, a voice that knows how to turn words into spells. They sneak up on you, burrow in behind your pineal gland, and don't leave.

Don Webb is the Left Hand Paul Harvey, broadcasting secret messages to you on an AM wavelength that's not supposed to be there any more.

So go buy the May issue of FSF, turn to p. 108, read "The Great White Bed," and see if you don't agree. Then go buy the new collection When They Came, and wait for the apparition on the cover to start illuminating your dreams.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

No one would ever write these about Britney Spears.

Scholars of pop culture know that celebrity culture is hardly a recent creation. You can read the newspapers of the 19th century (and earlier) and get the same obsession with celebrities, the same celebration of people who are famous for being famous, and the same fixation on appearance and style over achievement and substance. But modern American celebrity culture really began at the end of the 19th century, with the appearance of Buffalo Bill. (For more on this I recommend Larry McMurtry's The Colonel and Little Missie: Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and the Beginnings of Superstardom in America and Joy Kasson's Buffalo Bill's Wild West: Celebrity, Memory and Popular Culture). By the early 20th century American celebrity culture was in a form recognizable to modern couch potatoes, and by 1920 it was just hitting its peak. Everything that modern celebrity culture has now was present then. There were witless, self-important demi-mondaines and courtesans lauded in the popular press. There were actors and actresses hyped too soon and then destroyed through hubris, a poisonous press, or the machinations of studio heads. There was even a Trial of the Century, in the form of poor Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's trial for the murder of poor Virginia Rappe. (As always when the subject of Arbuckle comes up, I can't help first reminding people that he was never convicted of murder--two hung juries and an innocent verdict--and then quoting David Thomson, from his magisterial Biographical Dictionary of Film:
...the combined forces of scandalmongery and puritanism would not be dissuaded. Arbuckle was made a scapegoat, as though after calling a man "Fatty" for years and rejoicing at his humiliation on film the public could only move in on him with trained hostility...the moral realities of Hollywood life were something the public hardly dreamed of; even so, one hit was enough to furnish it with nightmares that demanded cleansing action. Arbuckle's own exaggerated ugliness drew upon him all the public's hypocritical loathing of depravity.

Do enough research into popular culture of the 1910s and 1920s, and you're left with a feeling that, modern distributed media and 24-hour demand for information be damned, celebrity culture before the Great Depression was more prevalent, and uglier, than what we've got today. Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons may have had more power, but the gossipmongers of the 1910s and 1920s had more venom. Modern celebrity culture is bad; what was present before the Depression was far worse, just as necrotizing fasciitis is worse than local tetanus.

But in one respect celebrity culture of the 1920s is to be preferred to what we have now, and that's in the area of fanfiction.

Fanfiction is of course not a 20th century invention--magazines in the 19th century had Mary Sue stories written by teenage girls about famous Native Americans--but it reached its apex in the 1920s and 1930s, in the form of Celebrity Pulps. Celebrity Pulps--and I'll have much more on them in my Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes (MonkeyBrain, 2008, get your advance orders in now)--were pulp magazines in which stories were written about celebrities, usually but not always actors and actresses. (I realize that, because the stories were published, they don't meet the current definition of fanfiction, but, honestly, what else can we call them but fanfiction?) In these stories the celebrities were shown (if they were actors/actresses) to lead lives typical of their film characters or (if they weren't actors/actresses) exaggerated versions of their real lives. Imagine a series of pulps in which Sylvester Stallone--not "Rocky," but Stallone the actor--is shown winning boxing matches. Celebrity Pulps (and I'm using the label "pulp" loosely) were a European creation, and appeared from Portugal to the Soviet Union.

Harold Lloyd

You know Harold Lloyd, of course--one of the greats of silent film, a peer of Chaplin and Keaton. In 1924 he appeared as the hero of Harold Lloyd #1-5. Written by Paul Hain, one of the more successful authors of the heldromans (German pulps), Harold Lloyd portrayed Lloyd as fighting crime, romancing women, and finding adventure across the United States and Europe, in stories with titles like "The Cavalier in His Homeland" and "His Highness, the Prince of Film." (I've been unable to find an image of Harold Lloyd, so enjoy this one instead).

Eddy Polo

Eddy Polo you might not know, which says a lot about how short-lived fame is. Polo (1875-1961) was in his time a giant. Polo's IMDB page gives you a hint about the kind of career he had, but doesn't really give you a sense about just how widely known he was; suffice it to say that "The Hercules of the Screen" was the equivalent of Stallone or Schwarzenegger in their heydays. Polo appeared as the hero of two Celebrity Pulps, Der Zirkuskönig, Eddy Polo #1-6 (1922), and Eddy Polo Serie #1-58 (1923-1924). The fictional Polo is a circus owner and wandering adventurer who travels around the world, alone or accompanied by his circus, and helps innocents, fights crime, and pulls of stunts like...well, remember the opening to the first Matrix--you know, this one--(God bless Youtube)--with the parkour chase? The fictional Eddy Polo laughs at jumping over only one building--the fictional Eddy Polo would have jumped from the building to that passing subway. And made it. He appeared in stories with titles like "The Rancho El Dorado War" and "The Female Vampire." (I've been unable to find an image of any of Polo's Celebrity Pulps, so there's this uninspired one instead).

Al Capone

Yes, that's right. Al Capone Celebrity Pulps. Al Capone der König der Gangster #1-50 (1932-1933), Al Ripper. El Terror de Chicago #1-12 (1932), and undoubtedly more I haven't been able to find. (Look, if you want to spend your time going through the Országos Széchényi Könyvtár, looking for oddly-spelled variations of "Al Capone," be my guest. Reading Hungarian makes my eyes bleed). The fictional Capone is shown to be a bad man, but he often ends up fighting men even worse, such as Yellow Perils and the Ku Klux Klan.

Lee Parry

Lee Parry was never popular in the United States, but in Europe in the 1920s she was huge. And in Paul Rosenhayn and Paul Hain's Lee Parry--Die Tollkühne Abenteuerin #1-35 (1924) she was a crime-fighting adventuress, traveling around the world (Montmartre, Upsala, the Rif desert, Whitechapel), making friends (the Gypsy Princess, the White Knight), and fighting interesting opponents (the Lady in Black, the Smiling Muslim, and the Death Club). (It must be said that the Pola Negri Celebrity Pulp which appeared in Poland in 1924, though considerably shorter-lived, is the most interesting of the Celebrity Pulps with women in it. Why? Three words: Rudolph. Valentino. Slash).

Harry Hill

Valy Arnheim, like Lee Parry, was popular only in Europe, but also like Parry Arnheim was very popular in Europe. Arnheim wasn't known by that name, but instead by the name "Harry Hill," which was the name of his character in a number of his early films. In 1921 Arnheim/Hill appeared in Harry Hill, der Weltmeister der Sensationen #1-27 (1921-1922). Harry Hill began by recycling the plots of Arnheim's movies before moving on to new adventures, using Arnheim's image for illustrations of Hill (as above), and portraying the fictional Hill in the way that the movies characterized him, as an adventurer and explorer active around the world and in the land, sea and air. He appears in stories with titles like “Mask Number 74,” “A Detective Duel,” and “The Chinese Diamond.”

Harry Piel

No one mentioned here has been treated worse by posterity than Harry Piel. Just look at his Wikipedia entry and his IMDB entry. The man directed over 100 films and appeared in over 60 of them--and yet he only gets 24,000 hits on a Google search, and many of those not worth looking at. (On the other hand, he stayed in Germany under the Nazis rather than taking the honorable route chosen by Conrad Veidt and Peter Lorre, among others, so swive Piel sideways). In the 1920s Piel was the protagonist of four Celebrity Pulps: Harry Piel – der Abenteuerer König und Verächter des Todes Innen #1-18 (1920-1921), Harry Piel - der Tollkühne Detektiv #1-92 (1920-1923), Harry Piel Abenteuer #19-150 (1922-1926), and Heinz Barkhoff’s Harry Piel, Abenteuer #1 (1928). The fictional Harry Piel is a crystallization of his film persona, with many of the stories being retellings of his film plots. The fictional Piel is a "gentleman of the world," a detective-adventurer at ease in the abysses of the wilds and in the big city, fighting for good, helping the poor and downtrodden, rescuing imperilled maidens, and so on. He is occasionally Watsoned by Murphy, a newspaper reporter. Piel appears in stories with titles like “The Sky Pirate,” “The Great Unknown,” and “A Night of Terror in Paris.”

Hans Stosch-Sarrasani

Hans Stosch-Sarrasani (1883-1934) was famous in Europe as a circus clown, and later became the owner and operator of the Circus Sarrasani. The history of circuses in Europe would make a fine book for someone to write; circuses go back in Europe much farther than Americans might think, and the evolution of the circus in Europe is more interesting than you'd guess. Prominent circus performers were celebrities on par with actors and actresses, and Hans Stosch-Sarrasani was at the top, enough so that when he was fictionalized, his adventures sold quite well. He appeared in two Celebrity Pulps, Hans Stosch-Sarrasani #1-80 (1923-1924) and Hans Stosch-Sarrasani #1-100 (1925-1926). (That's 180 issues; Doc Savage only had 181). The fictional Stosch-Sarrasani is a circus owner but is also a cowboy and has adventures around the world, sometimes teaming up with his real-life employee Billy Jenkins. Stosch-Sarrasani encounters Apaches, visits tea-houses in Japan, goes on hunting parties in the Indian state of Baradhot, and fights Cossacks in the Caucasus. He appears in stories with titles like “The Opium Den of Tung-Sui-Men,” “The Wizard of Martinez,” and “His Last Trick.”

Billy Jenkins

You won't have heard of Billy Jenkins, most likely. Jenkins (1885-1954), née Erich Rosenthal, was only a circus performer, and a German circus performer at that. But, and I say this with no hyperbole, you could put him in the ring with prime-of-life Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and Master Chandgiram, and Jenkins would have made cowboy sauce out of the lot of them. Let's just say that the number of Stasi agents the 65-year-old Jenkins is supposed to have quietly killed for the BND might never be known, but it's double figures at least, and probably with his bare hands. Don't be fooled by his sweet smile in the photo above; Jenkins was a bad man. (Jenkins was no Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., of course). After college Jenkins went to the American West and worked as a cowboy--keep in mind this in 1910, when there were still real cowboys in the American West. He spent several years in America and then returned to Germany and went to work as a rider and animal trainer for various circuses, including Hans Stosch-Sarrasani's Circus Sarrasani. Jenkins achieved international fame--not just European, but international fame--in the 1920s as a circus performer, and appeared in a number of Celebrity Pulps, including Billy Jenkins #1-4 (1930), Die Abenteuer Des Billy Jenkins #1-264 (1934-1939) and Die Abenteuer Des Billy Jenkins #1-370 (1949-1963). (By comparison The Shadow only appeared in 325 issues). The fictional Jenkins is alternatively a cowboy and a secret agent for the U.S. government, active in the American West, in Alaska, and in Central and South America. He has his very own arch-enemy and is wanted by the law in Arizona for a crime he did not commit. Jenkins has a Cheyenne sidekick, Hunting Wolf, and a companion wolf named Husky. Jenkins’ stories have very Gothic settings--decayed graveyards, abandoned mines, and the like–and involve things like car hijackers, gold thieves, killer plagues and zombies.

Cliff Aeroes

And, finally, my favorite of all the Celebrity Pulps. (Except perhaps for the aforementioned Pola Negri Celebrity Pulp, or maybe the Lillian Gish Celebrity Pulp, in which Gish is shown to be a conscienceless playa). Julius Jäger (1889-1952) was a circus performer who gained fame in Europe under the name of "Cliff Aeros." In 1942 he founded the Zirkus Aeros, which remained active in East Germany until 1990. In 1955 he appeared in the East German Celebrity Pulp Cliff Aeros - Die Menschliche Sternschnuppe #1-16. (Yes, there were East German pulps. Gloriously demented pulps. But you'll have to read my Encyclopedia to find out more). Cliff Aeros described the adventures that Cliff Aeros had as he traveled the world with his circus, bringing proper communist justice to the masses oppressed by capitalist wickedness. Some of the story titles of Cliff Aeros were “A Dying Man Flies to Heaven,” “The Trip with Crocodiles,” “A Leap Through the Bayonet Tire,” and “Aeros at the Bullfight.”

There's certainly a lot more fanfiction now than there was in previous decades--there are literally hundreds of thousands of fanfiction stories over at, and that's just one fanfiction site of many. (Harry Potter alone has almost 290,000 stories on But given the choice, I'll take the Celebrity Pulps. After all, there are a lot of stories in which Hermione and Snape fall in love, but there's only one issue (Tom Mix, Król Cowboyów #23) in which Tom Mix fights the Mafia the Old West, or in which Pancho Villa fights Japanese spies in Mexico (General Villa, der Mexikanische Rebellenführer #3).

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Turtle Habitat

I've seen as many as five turtles at one time, here, where the outflow from a sewage treatment plant spills into a drainage ditch. They weren't itty bitty wildlings or poor little pet turtles trying to make it in the wild. The day I saw five, two of them were at least twelve inches long from nose to tail tip.

They were odd turtles. Flat and pale. The three little ones looked like animated pancakes. The big ones were quick and wary - one glance at me and they dove under the patch of turbulent water and vanished from sight. When I made myself inconspicuous and waited, they resumed their usual activities. One of the big ones buried itself in some sand and debris under the water, from which it stretched a v-e-r-y l-o-n-g neck up to the air.

Given big funny-looking turtles in a smelly drainage ditch in the middle of Houston, amid outflow from a sewage treatment plant, with lurid green algae at the edges of the water, I started wondering if these were mutant turtles. With a bit of research, though, I discovered that they are probably a species called the spiny soft-shell turtle. Descriptions of appearance and behavior perfectly match what I observed.

Nature has plenty of weird wonders, and even wild things that manage to live in the bowels of a big city.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Summer residence of the Great Old Ones

I know there's going to be a rational explanation from a meteorology/planetology standpoint regarding this phenomenon. I fully understand that intellectually. But damn, that doesn't make this any less freaky. Cue von Daniken's and Hoagland's disciples:

Cassini Images Bizarre Hexagon on Saturn
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
March 27, 2007

Pasadena, Calif. -- An odd, six-sided, honeycomb-shaped feature circling
the entire north pole of Saturn has captured the interest of scientists
with NASA's Cassini mission.

NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft imaged the feature over two decades
ago. The fact that it has appeared in Cassini images indicates that it
is a long-lived feature. A second hexagon, significantly darker than the
brighter historical feature, is also visible in the Cassini pictures.
The spacecraft's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer is the first
instrument to capture the entire hexagon feature in one image.

"This is a very strange feature, lying in a precise geometric fashion
with six nearly equally straight sides," said Kevin Baines, atmospheric
expert and member of Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer
team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We've never
seen anything like this on any other planet. Indeed, Saturn's thick
atmosphere where circularly-shaped waves and convective cells dominate
is perhaps the last place you'd expect to see such a six-sided geometric
figure, yet there it is."

The hexagon is similar to Earth's polar vortex, which has winds blowing
in a circular pattern around the polar region. On Saturn, the vortex
has a hexagonal rather than circular shape. The hexagon is nearly 25,000
kilometers (15,000 miles) across. Nearly four Earths could fit inside it.

The new images taken in thermal-infrared light show the hexagon extends
much deeper down into the atmosphere than previously expected, some 100
kilometers (60 miles) below the cloud tops. A system of clouds lies
within the hexagon. The clouds appear to be whipping around the hexagon
like cars on a racetrack.

"It's amazing to see such striking differences on opposite ends of
Saturn's poles," said Bob Brown, team leader of the Cassini visual and
infrared mapping spectrometer, University of Arizona, Tucson. "At the
south pole we have what appears to be a hurricane with a giant eye, and
at the north pole of Saturn we have this geometric feature, which is
completely different."

The Saturn north pole hexagon has not been visible to Cassini's visual
cameras, because it's winter in that area, so the hexagon is under the
cover of the long polar night, which lasts about 15 years. The infrared
mapping spectrometer can image Saturn in both daytime and nighttime
conditions and see deep inside. It imaged the feature with thermal
wavelengths near 5 microns (seven times the wavelength visible to the
human eye) during a 12-day period beginning on Oct. 30, 2006. As winter
wanes over the next two years, the feature may become visible to the
visual cameras.

Based on the new images and more information on the depth of the
feature, scientists think it is not linked to Saturn's radio emissions
or to auroral activity, as once contemplated, even though Saturn's
northern aurora lies nearly overhead.

The hexagon appears to have remained fixed with Saturn's rotation rate
and axis since first glimpsed by Voyager 26 years ago. The actual
rotation rate of Saturn is still uncertain.

"Once we understand its dynamical nature, this long-lived, deep-seated
polar hexagon may give us a clue to the true rotation rate of the deep
atmosphere and perhaps the interior," added Baines.

The hexagon images and movie, including the north polar auroras are
available at: and

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the
European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in
Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission
Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and
assembled at JPL. The Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer team is
based at the University of Arizona.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Collect them all!

On February 1, 2005, the Associated Press reported the following:

"BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Iraqi militants claimed in a Web statement Tuesday to have taken an American soldier hostage and threatened to behead him in 72 hours unless the Americans release Iraqi prisoners. The U.S. military said it was investigating, but the claim’s authenticity could not be immediately confirmed.

"The posting, on a Web site that frequently carried militants’ statements, included a photo of what that statement said was an American soldier, wearing desert fatigues and seated on a concrete floor with his hands tied behind his back. The figure in the photo appeared stiff and expressionless, and the photo’s authenticity could not be confirmed."

Savvy bloggers quickly determined why the abducted soldier looked so stiff. He was an actual 12", 1:6 scale action figure, the gun at his head his own plastic rifle.

Score one for the media jammers. Two years later, the source of the hoax has never been revealed. Disappeared into the abyss of memory with all the other fast-burning sparklers of fear and irony decorating the spectacular mass psychic nightmare of the GWOT, alongside the unsolved anthrax mailings and the tales of the Barney theme being blasted off the walls of improvised shipping containers on the Syrian border, postmodern tool of enemy combatant torture.

The abducted "toy" was Dragon Models' "Special Forces Cody," one of a series of highly detailed real-time poseable action figures for the GWOT produced at headline news speed by postmodern Gepettos in their hidden Hong Kong ateliers. Others included "Tora Bora Ted," "Swift Freedom Delta Force Frank," Covert CIA Agents "Smith and Jones," and Operation Iraqi Freedom gunners "Jackson & Pollack." Retailing at north of $50 per figure, these are not designed for your neighborhood 9-year-old. Rather, they are cryptic simulations that bridge the gap between plasticine adolescent ideas of gear-laden action manhood and mediated CNN reality.

I admit against interest that a few of these once cluttered my desktop as ironic totems and well-armed paperweights. A ready team led by Presidential Aviator George W. Bush, fully outfitted to drop a MOAB from his B-2 — Mission: Accomplished.

The only things missing to complete the realer-than-real simulation on these are some of those secret personal dossier file cards like the ones that accompanied G.I. Joes during the 1980s — character writeups with key characteristics, specialties, skills and a bit of personal backstory, equal parts RPG and Mission:Impossible.

The master modelers need look no further than the compleat strategists over at the Defense Intelligence Agency, where you can download a comprehensive set of "Terrorist Recognition Cards" ready for compilation as the deadliest, most ass-kicking set of bubblegum collectibles ever — as if those WWII aircraft recognition cards that trained you to search the sky for enemy silhouettes had been cross-bred with the horror show of "Mars Attacks."

Organized in nifty teams by color-coded regions (red for Afghanistan/Pakistan, green for Iraq, burnt orange for The Horn of Africa, yellow for the Arabian Peninsula, and blue for Southeast Asia), they look to have been put together by some out-of-work members of the Marvel Bullpen, complete with little graphic icons to represent character types: jeweled crown for "Senior Leader," stack of documents for "Operational Planner," gamer soldier for "Tactician," cartoon scimitar for "Operative," loaded forklift for "Facilitator," notepad and pen for "Recruiter," and my personal fave, a little Stratego-style bomb with lit fuse for "Explosives." All you need is a couple of twelve-sided die and you are good to go. I'll trade you two Zakariya Essabars for your Harun Fazul!

We wait anxiously for DIA to cut a licensing deal with Hasbro for a full line of GWOT action figures.

(In another section of the DIA website, they have the agency's collection of military art -- essentially the covers of unwritten science fiction sequels to Ice Station Zebra, featuring imaginative envisionings of Cold War era Soviet weaponry. That's my kind of Pentagon bureau. I wonder if they have any openings.)

Perhaps the most important icon on the Terrorist Trading Cards is the little stack of black cash: "Reward for Capture." You know, so when you see a likely terrorist taking pictures of your office building or lurking at you nearest mall, you can pull out the recognition card, and, if there's a cash icon, run to the nearest computer, login to, and file a report to get your own personal war on terror lottery ticket.

"Help Stop Terrorism

What you know could be worth millions!

If you have information about past or future acts of international terrorism, send us a tip now.


You and your family may be eligible for relocation.

Strict confidentiality is assured."

Integrate all of this ready-for-play content and you have the mother-of-all killer apps for a 21st century mobile phone-based game of Assassin with a healthy dose of America's Most Wanted.

Don't believe the hype? Check out the slideshow on the hooded Filipino collecting a suitcase full of Ben Franklins from an unnamed US Embassy official who looks like Paul Bartel making his posthumous cameo on 24.

"You and your family may be eligible for relocation." No purchase necessary? Keep an eye on those secretive new neighbors. They may be under relocation, they may have their own trading cards, or maybe the kid just has his own trunkful of next generation toys for a Zeitgeist fueled by the Power of Nightmares.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fearing and Loathing the Future in La Plata and Resistencia.

I'm a materialist, and as such have a condescending, patronizing, and even punch-in-the-face-able attitude toward devout people with out-of-the-mainstream religious beliefs. (By which I mean snake handlers, Pentacostalists, Five Percenters, religious xenoglossiacs, and the like). It's not that I'm impolite about it; my parents raised me to prefer the bastinado to ever expressing an opinion which would make someone else feel condescended to, patronized, or just looked down upon. Even so, I know that, when speaking with true believers, my face (however much against my will) takes on an expression somewhere between "You're kidding, right?" and "You actually believe that? That's so cute!"

In truth, I envy true believers. In describing one of my ex-girlfriends I said that I wished I was as sure of anything as she was of everything. I wish I was as sure of any aspect of God or divinely-dictated morality as the true believers are of all of them. Most especially, I wish I felt that I lived in a universe whose basic element was religious narrativium. It'd certainly be a more comforting place to live in than the one I've got.

For example, there's the practitioners of Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare, or SLSW. A simple Google search will turn up a number of articles, like "Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare in Historical Retrospect" or "Spirit Mapping in the City of Chennai, India," but a search of the literature gave me Samuel Hio-Kee Ooi's article in the Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies v9n1 (2006): "A Study of Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare From a Chinese Perspective."

Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare is a relatively recent phenomenon, the phrase itself having been invented in the early 1990s. The basic concept is that (quoting Peter Wagner, at a symposium on power evangelicism),
Satan delegates high-ranking members of the hierarchy of evil spirits to control nations, regions, cities, tribes, people groups, neighborhoods and other significant social networks of human beings throughout the world. Their major assignment is to prevent God from being glorified in their territory, which they do through directing the activity of lower-ranking demons.

Another evangelical site (whose text is saved here) tells us that there are three kinds of Satan-sent evil spirits: "ground-level," which only possess people; "occult-level," which empower "witches, shamans, and magicians;" and "strategic-level" or "territorial," which are the most powerful and which rule over entire territories. The latter are powerful enough to keep the people of their territories in "bondage, sin and darkness," so much so that even the gospel itself cannot penetrate. The demons must therefore be "identified," "bound," "overcome" and "rebuked" in prayer.

Toward this end, Ooi says, there are certain proven steps to take against these demons:
First, seek the name of the ruling spirit and identify its territory; second, seek the function of demons in a particular area; third, if demons occupy a neighborhood, perform a "prayer walk;" and if the demon controls a city, a "praise march;" and if a demon exercises power over a region, a "prayer expedition;" and if a demon rules in a nation, a "prayer journey." The technical name for seeking and digging out the locations and powers of demons is "spiritual mapping."

Peter Wagner's Breaking Strongholds in Your City gives the example of La Plata, Argentina, in which it was discovered that the strategic-level spirit was "the god of freemasonry--Jah-Bal-On." Jah-Bal-On's lieutenants were "a spirit of lust, spirit of violence, spirit of witchcraft, (and) spirit of living death." Also present in the city and influencing its inhabitants were Osiris and Isis. In Resistencia, Argentina, the territorial spirit was Piton, the spirit of witchcraft, who was empowering San La Muerte (the spirit of death), Pombero (the spirit of fear), and Currpi (the spirit of sexual perversion).

Your reaction to the preceding is likely like mine, and doesn't need to be described. I the only one to feel, on some level, jealousy toward the practitioners of SLSW? These men--I assume they're all men, given the Pentecostal attitude toward women--are living the lives of the heroes of fantasy novels, or comic book superheroes. The SLSW practitioners travel to a city, state, or country, confront demons, and defeat them, thereby freeing the afflicted from the grip of Satan. (From the SLSW practitioner's own perspective, of course--but isn't that all that any of us have?). The lives of SLSW practitioners are lacking the randomness and unsurety which materialists like me must accept as a fact of life. What the SLSW practitioners have instead is religious narrativium, with themselves as the heroes. The rest of us get plots written by Raymond Carver or John Cheever; the SLSW practioners get plots written by William Hope Hodgson (in his Carnacki stories) or Algernon Blackwood (in his John Silence stories). The SLSW practitioners are Buffy or Angel or the Charmed trio in their own lives. I'm...not.

I wouldn't swap my own delusions for those of the SLSW practitioners, but I do envy them their self-image.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I have a story coming out in Horrors Beyond II – Stories of Strange Creations. This is a new anthology from Elder Signs Press. In addition to the regular trade paperback, there will be a hardcover and a trade paperback limited edition signed by the authors. So in the last few months, a ream box containing many sheets of cotton bond paper journeyed around the country to each author in turn. We had to autograph every signature sheet, inside the margins indicated by a signing guide, being sure to leave room for the other twenty signatures. It was all meticulously organized by the editors of ESP, with crystal-clear instructions, but....

Signing one's name on enough pages to fill a ream box – now that was horror!

Actually it wasn't as taxing as I expected. With a smooth-flowing pen, the signing guide paperclipped to a firm piece of cardboard, and a good-sized desk surface to work on, it was a snap. An odd thing happened, though: about a third of the way through, my hand forgot how to make the "n" in my last name. I broke off, rested my hand, and studied my signature on the first few pages in the ream box. But the trick was to be in unthinking reflex mode. When I paid some bills and signed my name on the checks, that got my name-signing reflex right back on track and all was well.

My story in the anthology is titled "The Mortification of the Flesh."

P. S. I borrowed from the library the CD mentioned in my February 13 blog ("From the Sublime to Something Else") to give it a listen. The CD is Gregorian Chant Elvis Presley, performed by the Brotherhood of St. Gregory. It's less exotic than I expected. But more disconcerting. The music sounds like a cross between steamy Presley lyrics and guileless folk mass instruments (especially guitar) and voices (especially tenors). Pointed cognitive dissonance ensues when hearing the word "can't," as in "Can't Help Falling in Love," sung with church-chorister pronunciation: cahn't.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Finger on the pulse of yesterday

Yesterday I talked about the evolving state of virtual book promotion and publicity, and suggested that in the latest hot trend to hit the online world--Second Life--virtual rights for virtual books by authors' online avatars would soon be selling for real world money. While that hasn't exactly happened yet (that I know of) I opened up today's San Antonio Express-News and discover a feature on Metaversatility, a company that specializes in positioning real-world companies advantageously in the virtual realm of Second Life:
In the past year, dozens of companies have bought land, launched businesses and started marketing campaigns in Second Life, including IBM, Dell, CBS, NBC and Toyota.

Metaversatility has already landed some big clients. Last month, the company designed key elements of Advanced Micro Devices' Developers Central Pavilion in Second Life. AMD plans to use the space for meetings, lectures and networking opportunities.

Corporations are now choosing the virtual world of Second Life for meetings, as opposed to the old standby conference call. The mind boggles. This is so close to the science fictional holographic gathering that I have to wonder how far off that leap in technology may actually be. Of course, it takes the virtual gathering a step beyond the simple popular culture view by introducing the entire avatar element. No matter how widespread this practice becomes, I have a hard time envisioning a corporation like, say, IBM gathering in a Second Life boardroom with a Sleestack knockoff debating long-term quantum computing viability with a scantily-clad Warrior Princess.
Six months ago, International Business Machines Corp. launched a business devoted to designing business applications for the virtual world. IBM recently designed spaces in Second Life for Sears and Circuit City, and it is working with more than 250 customers, said Sandy Kearney, program director for IBM's 3-D Internet and virtual business.

The virtual world offers lots of opportunities for media and entertainment, financial services, government and retail companies, Kearney said. For many companies, their virtual world plans are in the strategic early stages.

But maybe that's the appeal. Do button-down dress codes apply in Second Life? I know the virtual society has its own evolving etiquette, but how long before corporations begin issuing guidelines and dress codes for employees' online avatars? The obvious parallels to The Matrix notwithstanding, I find it fascinating to watch how an intangible virtual world is developing such a tangible presence in the real world.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Pimp Your Book

I'm attending AggieCon 38 this coming weekend, and one of the panels I'm on is the interestingly-titled "Pimp Your Book." This immediately brings to mind strobing neon dustjackets, chrome "spinner" bookmarks and hydraulic jack page-turners. Alas, that is not the gist of the panel--instead, the rather mundane topic is one of "High Tech Ways to Promote Yourself." Blogs, obviously, are front and center in this discussion. You're reading one now, a group effort conceived specifically for that purpose (the fact that the contributors offer lively and engaging commentary contributes in no small measure to a blog's success or failure). My own blogging efforts have just entered the fourth year as of last week, with my semi-venerable Gibberish having been online since March 17, 2004. Strange how recent that seems, looking back. Has that blog, or this one, resulted in any additional sales? Hard to judge. Sure, there have been a few click-throughs to that resulted in sales, but how can I tell if those folks wouldn't have bought my books at a convention or elsewhere? And I know that many of the regular readers of Gibberish first met me in person at a convention, or learned of me through a publication somewhere or other.

I also have a MySpace page, as well as a Facebook page. These "social networking" sites tend to be geared toward a younger set--particularly Facebook--or musicians in the case of MySpace, but there is a growing writer community that is taking advantage of these sites to construct a sort of satellite website to their existing author pages. My own homepage has languished since I switched ISP hosts six months or so back, to the point where my blog and MySpace are much more up to date. MySpace's biggest failing, however, is that so many people are trying to cash in on the promotional possibilities of the networking phenomenon that there is an overwhelming din of hucksterism. Not a good venue to get the word out on your book when every streetcorner crazy is shouting the same thing at the top of his lungs, virtually speaking.

Podcasts are also a nifty opportunity that more people are jumping on the bandwagon of. Ditto YouTube video casting. Even with the easy-to-use nature of current software and hardware, and relatively affordability of said tech goodies, pod- and vid-casting remain an arena few authors will ever venture into. We're writers, not face or voice talent. Some have naturally dynamic personalities, others (Peter Beagle comes to mind) have smooth voices that beg for broadcast. But does anyone really want to listen to me stammer my way through some random triviality on a story I'm avoiding writing by talking about it on a podcast? Doubtful.

The new in thing these days leaves all those other online opportunities in the dusty bin of that's-so-yesterday. Second Life crack for writers who can't seem to waste enough time playing World of Warcraft or Homeworld. It's the whole Sims series of games writ large--create a virtual character, and base him or her on yourself. Hold interviews and promote real-world books online, all the while promoting virtual versions of the same book to your virtual friends. I wonder how long it will take for Chinese companies to start buying and selling movie options and spin-off rights to virtual books in the real world, in much the same manner virtual treasures and gold are gamed online and auctioned off to the highest bidder via eBay. Myself, I don't even have enough time to blog regularly these days, much less write. Launching a virtual persona to promote my work would take away what little dedicated time I have left for my writing, thereby defeating the purpose entirely. Or maybe that's the point.

In any event, if you're going to be at AggieCon, drop in and tell me what a luddite I am. Like shooting fish in a barrel, I guarantee it.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Jurisprudential science fiction

"God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion....what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms... The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."

-- Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Last Thursday the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the second most important court in the land with regard to federal Constitutional matters, delivered a major opinion regarding the provision of the Bill of Rights that is most difficult to reconcile with the prevailing sentiments of cosmopolitan Americans — the Second Amendment, which reads in full:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

In essence, the court stepped in to the longstanding debate between those who interpret the Amendment as an *individual* liberty to own guns and those who see a *collective* right of states to maintain militias. The holding: that the Second Amendment confers upon each American the right to own, and maintain assembled in their homes, weapons of the sort that would commonly be used in military service. The reasoning: the first Congress wanted to ensure militia readiness without a large standing army by requiring citizen soldiers to show up with their own guns when called to serve, and also wanted to support the Jeffersonian maxim that the threat of armed revolution was an essential, if implicit, extra-Constitutional check on abuse of federal power.

Wow. Can I have my Uzi now? How about some grenades? Is this gonna be like Red Dawn? Wolverines!

Sure, the Israelis and the Swiss expect citizens to keep military weapons in their homes and be ready to serve to defend the homeland. That all seems very culturally appropriate and mostly non-threatening. But the idea of a 100 million or so Americans showing up with their assault rifles and SUVs to defeat the invading Venezuelan hordes seems, somehow, anachronistic. Isn't that what we pay Blackwater for?

Don't get me wrong. The result, and the reasoning, deeply appeal to my libertarian sensibilities. I'm all for the grey flannel and red tie crowd being afraid of angry mobs carrying military weapons, Alex Jones and his crew driving their Ford "best in Texas" pickups up the Capitol steps. But the whole thing just seems fictional.

Remember. The Declaration of Independence is not a source of law. And despite the compelling scarlet tones of Jefferson's musings, there is no express Constitutional right to revolt. To the contrary, opposing the federal government with arms is the one federal crime that is punishable by death regardless of whether any violent acts are committed:

"whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States." -- 18 U.S.C. § 2381

But somehow, a popular belief in the nullifying right of the People to take back the power entrusted to the government persists, even among the elite. A meme planted in most grade schools, rationalizing the original legitimacy of the American Revolution. (Not unlike the popular belief in jury nullification sustained by a thousand courtroom dramas — the power of the People, through the jury, to disregard the law where the interests of subjectively derived "Justice" compel.) The social contract, it appears, has some implicit conditions and carve-outs.

Can you imagine the radical change in conditions it would take to rouse fat and happy Americans from their couch potato slumber to violently oppose their government? They can't even be bothered to vote!

Perhaps it makes perfect sense that policy should be guided by a futurist manifesto of permanently imminent imaginary revolution, when the whole foundation of the system is an alt-history counterfactual. The political theory underlying the American Republic derives its genius from speculative imagineering into the past and future (albeit with implementation details like the core provisions of the Constitution informed by pragmatic experience).

Hobbes is the deep core, with his counter-extrapolation of the State of Nature: an imaginary pre-history worthy of Robert E. Howard, in which groups of barbaric humans compete violently for control of limited resources — a milieu in which life is "nasty, brutish, and short." From this evocative proto-cinematic construct, he conceives of the idea of the social contract, an implicit collective consent to the governance of a sovereign with plenary Droit in the interests of socio-economic order.

Locke, the lodestone for the American Founders, examines that base and notes that, if the contract is breached by the sovereign, a right to revolt naturally follows. Providing the pseudo-legal reasoning recited in the Declaration as the natural law support for the Revolution. Laying a thread that runs all the way to the D.C. Circuit's opinion:

"...the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. That right existed prior to the formation of the new government under the Constitution and was premised on the private use of arms for activities such as hunting and self-defense, the latter being understood as resistance to either private lawlessness or *the depredations of a tyrannical government* (or a threat from abroad)."

All of this purporting to be, in essence, a codification of "natural rights" derived through the projection of intellect into the Platonic (or Divine) ether. In otherwords, an exercise of the human imagination.

Meanwhile, in sunny Guantanamo Bay, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed uses more or less the same "right to revolt" reasoning while pleading in his own defense at his enemy combatant hearing, as revealed in the hearing transcripts released Wednesday — contending his own actions at arms are the moral equivalent of George Washington's.**

"[W]e derive from religious [learning] that consider we and George Washington doing same thing. As consider George Washington a hero, Muslims many of them are considering Usama bin Laden...If now we were living in the Revolutionary War and George Washington he being arrested though Britain, for sure, they would consider him enemy combatant."

Nice try! If the jihadis were to ultimately prevail and co-opt Hollywood, one can imagine this scene playing right into the line of formulaic American mythos courtroom dramas, with Tim Robbins or Tom Hanks as the earnest white boy defense lawyer, lone paladin of Justice a la Sharia Americana — Atticus Finch of the jihad.

Surely they are all fooling themselves, though. Do not hold your breath waiting for a D.C. Circuit opinion finding an actual right of revolt protects someone from criminal prosecution. It may be a dream of the alienated, it may even be a legal "reality" in the constitutions of New Hampshire, Tennessee, North Carolina, Greece, and Germany (I think I know why), but don't count on any sovereign to ever apply the right in the real world. State power backed by force of arms trumps abstract rights every day of the week on this planet. The only way one will ever find revolutionary conduct exculpated based on the right of revolution is after the 'blood of tyrants" has been spilled and the revolutionaries have won. In the meantime, here in hyperreality, we occupy the dream world future imagined by the guys in the powdered wigs, where we know we can always pull our bazookas out of the closet if it gets too bad. What's on TV?

** See also KSM's morbidly entertaining laundry list of previously unknown AQ plots, including the assassination of Jimmy Carter.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Seuss Also Rises

Paul Di Filippo, reading Charles Cohen's The Seuss, the Whole Seuss and Nothing but the Seuss, mentioned that in 1926, at age 22, Theodore Geisel met Ernest Hemingway in Paris.

In an alternate universe somewhere, that meeting gave rise to a collaboration.


That Lady Ashley!
That Lady Ashley!
I do not like that Lady Ashley!

"Would you like to make love to me?"
"Would you like it, Jakey B.?"

I could not, cannot, Lady Ashley.
The Germans shot off my snicker-snee.

"Would you like it here or there?"

I would not like it here or there.
I would not like it anywhere.
I could not, cannot, Lady Ashley.
It happened above the Po Valley.

"Would you like it in a house?"
"Would you like it without a louse?"

I would not like it in a house.
I do not care about the louse.
I am a part of the lost generation.
I am incapable of copulation.
And you have a fiance, Mike C.
I could not, cannot, Lady Ashley.

"Would you like it in a jazz club"
"Would you like it behind a pub?"

Not in a club.
Not behind a pub.
Not in a house.
Not without a louse.
Courage may be grace under pressure.
But what is sex without the pleasure?
And you, a hedonist, are the death of romance.
How could our relationship stand a chance?
Being hard-boiled during the day is easy,
But at night it's not so easy-peasy.
But, and if, and still, I plea,
I could not, cannot, Lady Ashley.

"Would you? Could you? In San Sebastian?"
"I'm bringing along a Greek wingman."

I could not, cannot, in San Sebastian.

"You may like it. You will see."
"Or will you take solace in Bill G.?"

Friends of the heart trump rumpy-pumpy.
And he will give me a stuffed puppy.

I do not like it in Pamplona.
I do not like it with bullfights and Corona.
I prefer Burguete, and Bill G.
I prefer fishing and male company.
It's a relief from Parisian "gaiety."
And Pamplona, where you and Cohn act emotionally.
Bill G. and I can bond masculinely,
But you--I could not, cannot, Lady Ashley.

"A bullfight! A bullfight!"
"A bullfight! A bullfight!"
"Could you, would you, at a bullfight?"

Not at a bullfight! Not at tauromachy!
Brett! Lady Ashley! Let me be!

Not during fiesta! Not during siesta!
But Deus et natua non faciunt frusta.
Have you met my friend Romero?
Perhaps with him your love will grow.
Cohn may punch me and then Romero
But won't knock him down--Romero's a hero.
He's my idol, for he embodies the ethos
That you can create art in the face of violence and chaos.
So even if you ask me very prettily,
I could no--what? Romero's run away with Ashley?

"I'm in Madrid! Come get me quickly!"
"I left Romero--I won't be a bitch who raises children badly."
"It's for his own good--he's much better than me."
"But you and I could still be together peaceably."
"I still think we could be fab."
"Would you, could you, in the cab?"

I could not, cannot, in the cab.

"Would you, could you, in the rain?"

I could not, cannot, in the rain.

"It's sort of what we have instead of God."

Homines libenter quod....

"You do not want to make love to me?"

I could not, cannot, Lady Ashley.

"You will not do it."
"So you say."
"Try it! Try it!"
"And you may."
"Try it and you may, I say."

Lady Ashley! Let me be!
It's not possible, physically.
And it's not within my philosophy.
Let me explain and
You will see.

The world breaks everyone, you see.
Afterward, many are strong, like me.
But those too tough to break, it kills, truly.
It kills the very good, and the very gentle, and the very brave
If you are none of those, and even if you write like don marquis
You can be sure it will kill you, too, but without any special hurry.
And that's what you do--dying--finally.
You don't know what it's about, and you go ignorantly.
You get thrown in and when you're off base you die--surprisingly.
Like Aymo it can be gratuitously.
Or you can get syphilis like poor Rinaldi.
But they kill you in the end, eventually.
Stay around and they will kill you, I guarantee.
Our peers were broken or died in France and Germany
And those who didn't die developed moral bankruptcy.

One generation passeth away
And another generation comes this way.
The sun also rises--but it goeth down today.
So the guy who wrote Ecclesiastes would say.
Brett, you are my contemporary
The futility of romance with you makes me wary.
You, me, Cohn, Mike, we're tainted to the core.
Love is for a generation unspoiled by war.
The flower fades to make fruit, even if it's broken, badly.
So I could not, cannot, Lady Ashley.

"Oh, Jake, it would have been damned good, you and me."

To think so certainly is pretty.


Geisel and Hemingway collaborated on other projects--A Farewell to the Cat in the Hat, Across Mulberry Street and Into the Trees, For Whom the Lorax Tolls, The Garden of Gerald McBoing-Boing, and of course The Old Man and the Grinch--but I think this one is their best.

(for Erica)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Storm before the Calm

There's nothing like wicked weather to make you well-disposed toward weather that's not so bad.

I just got back from a spending a week in Columbus, Georgia, where my mother lives. Columbus was stirred up like an anthill that's had a stick dragged across it. A couple of days earlier, an F3 tornado pirouetted across the north end of the city. No lives were lost, but the tornado raked numerous roofs, demolished at least one house and punched other homes and businesses in the facade, slammed a church steeple, and murdered scores of pine trees. A McDonald's was open for business under a storm-battered sign: "the sign of the fallen arches!" cracked the driver of the van in which I arrived by highway from the Atlanta airport.

The sunny weekend right after the storm, local building supply stores were busy. So were the churches: attendance seemed to be up! On Monday, I went with my mother to her neurologist. His office windows had a lovely view of an unruffled cormorant in a lake ringed with pine trees – with treetops snapped off, tree limbs sticking up out of the water, and branches, twigs and pine cones and bark all over the ground. The neurologist's office had a very near miss in the tornado.

The neurologist confirmed that my mother has senile dementia. That came as a shock but no surprise, not after last December, when she exhibited signs of mental derangement that put family and friends on high alert and led to appointments with the neurologist.

Not that Mom ever, in my opinion, was the sharpest tool in the shed. When I was growing up, she seemed to be a person with exceptionally dreary, dull mental weather. She was depressed, inhibited, unengaged in the world for years, and uninterested in reading. The last was almost unbearable for me while I struggled to become a writer and encouragement from Mom would have been nice.

But I can tell you that after dementia has manifested itself in someone's mental landscape, any kind of banal mental weather looks just fine. Like Columbus right after the tornado when ordinary wind or fog or drizzle were wonderful, thank you, and several days of balmy sun were heavenly. When Mom seemed dim-witted last week, well, after her episode of dementia in December, any less than devastating psychological weather on her part strikes me as wonderfully tolerable. In fairness to her, I should say that after she retired in the 1980's, she took up walking and dancing and developed a vibrant social life that revolved around the park, the senior citizens' center, and her Sunday school class. She enjoyed more than two decades of sunny mental weather, which greatly improved the Mom part of my life. Some of the sunniness was still there last week. She relished several two-mile walks in the park with me. And she was able to help me help her. We found an assisted living facility that seems just right for her. Ironically, it's downhill from the tornado-damaged church and sustained minor roof damage itself.

The assisted living facility's marketing director told us that at the time of the storm,which was in the evening, he'd been at home. Curious, he walked outside to look for the tornado. But he sensed an unnerving utter calm that made him run right back in the house and take cover. The next morning he climbed up onto the roof of the assisted living facility with the maintenance people to examine the roof damage. From that vantage point, they could see the tornado's track by a trail of ruined trees. It had been heading straight toward the facility. But it veered away. Tornadoes are capricious things.

Last week while I was in Columbus with her, my mother may have been in a temporary calm before the next outbreak of her mental storm. How long the calm will last we don't know. Right now she may be responding well to the modern medicines for dementia, and there may be a few more sunny days and weeks. Maybe even long enough to relocate her to the assisted living facility in good enough mental shape to adjust to the move, benefit from the assistance and the structure, and even enjoy a few years there. Dementia is capricious. It's time to take situational cover; and that's the only thing we really know now.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Real cyberpunks fix their own computers

"Real men are engineers," said the nomadic cyberpunk.

His right hand jammed a long, thin electrician's Phillips screwdriver into the nether regions of his broken laptop, which promptly began to cooperate. His left hand poured back the third shot of Serbian hooch.

"Real men," he continued, "have petrochemical plants."

Friday, March 9, 2007

Apocalypse Muzak

Is it a good sign to discover metal in your fourth decade?

We live amid a cacophony of aural stimuli, a non-stop barrage of jingling musical referents mostly designed to get our attention so we will spend some of our money. If the average urban Westerner is exposed to something like 5,000 brand images a day, surely if we started keeping count we would find we are exposed to several hundred crappy songs a day. Mostly of the nominally ambient sort, playing over the speakers in the grocery store, backtracking the advertisements, blaring from another car, or playing in the car the character is driving on the television show whose secret purpose is to put you in a mood to shop. You tune it out, but those insipid lyrics are bopping around inside your head, a chorus of well-moussed twenty-something Narcissists from five decades of so-called rock and roll declaring their raw and eternally adolescent emotional needs. A continuous loop jabbering soundtrack of pop banality dominated by Baby Boom demographics and sclerotic Big Chill daydreams, persistently burning itself back over long-cauterized neural pathways, degrading your brain like a twenty-year old TDK audiocassette taped over with a dozen different mixtapes.

For me, at least, I long ago got to the point where my *chosen* musical selections need to be devoid of lyrics and flagrant violators of the laws of accessible melody. I load my car with sonic suitcase nukes designed to clear the semiotic landscape. Music devised by secretive instro-sorcerors decrypting the keys to the hidden dimensions lurking in the interstices of the ordinary day.

So, I have been developing an alternative soundtrack for my self-imposed suburban surrealism, aural missiles in my campaign of psychological counter-warfare against the nonstop memetic onslaught of the modern mediapocalypse.

One essential ingredient is KNCT 91.3, the public radio station that serves the massive Army base north of here, Fort Hood. Most towns still have one of these, if often on AM: non-stop honest-to-God old school elevator music infused with unintentional irony. Nothing quite beats the feeling of cruising in your Oldsmobile through downtown Killeen, past the war wounded basking in the sun around the courthouse square, listening to a 101 Strings remix of "Midnight at the Oasis" counterpointed by the booming rhythms from the nearby artillery range. The playlist, believe it or not, even includes Angelo Badalamenti's soundtrack to Twin Peaks. As the call sign says, "Simply Beautiful." And yes, they stream.

Another is the insane new jazz being created by guys born after the Baby Boom. Not just the earnest irony of The Bad Plus, deconstructing FM rock with a Ritalin-age piano trio, but more adventurous horn-based improvised music. Like the myriad projects of the insanely prolific saxophonist Ken Vandermark, including the amazing funked up trio Spaceways Inc. with drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Nate McBride, that connects the dots between Don Cherry, Sun Ra, and George Clinton. Or the Scandinvian Super Skronk of saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, drummer Paal Nilsen-Love and bassist Ingebrigt Haaker-Flaken a/k/a The Thing: pure punk jazz that channels 60s garage rock through the instruments of European free jazz, blaring DIY civil defense alarms to hasten a postmodern Götterdammerung. Check out the catalog at Atavistic for a sampling.

While these guys get in touch with bop's inner Ramone, a bunch of younger American guys have been discovering metal's inner Beethoven, producing instrumental heavy guitar music with sweeping strokes that paint massive sonic landscapes of the 21st century Zeitgeist. Bands like Isis, Zebulon Pike, Sunn O))), and my personal favorite, Chicago's Pelican, who will be in Austin again this week for SWSW.

Pelican's music is upbeat Apocalyptica, if you can imagine such a thing, setting out on a different path than its art metal peers, playing in a higher key. The sound of light pushing through grey clouds. You can see the Midwestern influence. Big skies filling up with cumulonimbus the size of the Titans. Global warming-scale storms that bring sustenance in one hand and destruction in the other. And that always clear, suffusing the world with ethereal light.

Pelican dates:
March 10, 2007 - Nashville, TN
Exit In
9pm - 18+
w/ Russian Circles, Young Widows

March 11, 2007 - Atlanta, GA
Drunken Unicorn
w/ Daughters, Russian Circles, Chinese Stars

March 12, 2007 - Birmingham, AL
Bottletree Lounge
8:30pm - 18+
w/ Daughters, Russian Circles, Young Widows

March 13, 2007 - Baton Rouge, LA
Spanish Moon
10pm - 18+
w/ Daughters, Russian Circles, Young Widows

March 14, 2007 - Houston, TX
w/ Daughters, Russian Circles, Young Widows

March 15, 2007 - Austin, TX
SXSW Hydra Head Records Showcase
w/ Jesu, Big Business, Daughters
Oxbow, Stephen Brodsky's Octave Museum

March 16, 2007 - Austin, TX
Club Deville
SXSW Insound Party
w/ Shout Out Out Out, Black Lips, Walter Meego

Thursday, March 8, 2007

It's Alive! It's Alive!

Following up on last week's post, let us consider the mashup, in which different popculture concepts and characters--sometimes very different--are brought together to make something coherent and new. In a sense the mashup is a continuation of Modernism, although we can also argue that the current manifestation of it is Postmodern. (Ha, I said the "P" word and gave you hives). The expression of the mashup dynamic most people are probably familiar with is mashup music, a.k.a.  "bastard pop," but the concept of the mashup is more common than that, and even in the sleepy and oft-moribund world of librarianship the mashup is appearing, albeit as a mix of both content and technology. (All part of the loathesome "Library 2.0" movement, about which the less said, the better). The particular kind of mashup I'm interested in is the literary version of it: the crossover.

Now, I've written on crossovers before, and if you're interested in reading 3700+ words on the taxonomy and literary history of the concept of the crossover, here you go. (As for why I slighted Kim Newman in that got me. I was younger then, only 35, I didn't know what I was doing, and I can only offer apologies to him). The shorter version of that essay is that there are nine kinds of crossovers, in roughly chronological order:

  1. Synthesis of pre-existing legends (Greek Myths)

  2. Ongoing Fictional Universes (the novels of Honoré de Balzac & Jules Verne)

  3. The Series Crossover (Late 19th/early 20th century series characters appearing in each other's work)

  4. The Jam Session (when characters from different creators are brought together in a story by another creator)

  5. The Afterlife Crossover (John Kendrick Bangs' The Houseboat on the River Styx)

  6. Real People, Fictional Stories (Thomas Byrnes, Commissioner of the N.Y.P.D., appearing in almost a dozen different dime novel series and giving the protagonist orders in each dime novel)

  7. Foreign Crossovers (the vast number of crossovers appearing in the pulps published outside of America after 1908).

  8. The Ongoing Crossover (All-Star Comics #3 and every commercially viable vehicle which is a team-up).

  9. The All-Encompassing Crossover (Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe, Kim Newman's work, Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).

Obviously the impulse toward mixing and matching other people's characters and concepts, and coming up with something distinctive, is as old as popular culture itself. Nonetheless, there's a feeling that the modern version, the All-Encompassing Crossover--which is to say, the mashup--is more common now than it used to be, and that the most recent versions of mashups, in things like Harvey Birdman and The Venture Brothers, are high points.

Not so. I mean, my wife and I love both shows, but--the history of the mashup does not begin at a low point and work its way up to Our Glorious Modern Selves. Mashups have always had high points--from my perspective, it's been composed of high points, with only minute variations of quality. Consider:

As David A. Brewer demonstrates in his The Afterlife of Character, 1726-1825, British readers in the eighteenth century habitually invented and published sequels for their favorite characters. This was after the Statute of Anne, which is generally seen as the first modern copyright law, but, as is usually the case with intellectual property laws, the law went one way and the sentiment (and publications) of the people went another. The result, as Brewer shows (disclaimer time: my Heroes and Monsters is cited in the book), was a vigorous outpouring of unauthorized (but popular) "further adventures of." The one that caught my eye was George Sackville Carey's Shakespeare's Jubilee, A Masque (1769), in which Falstaff is "charm-call'd from his quiet grave" to attend the 1769 Stratford Jubilee. Poor fat Jack is taunted by Oberon and Puck and kidnapped by the witches from Macbeth, but eventually allowed to march in the Jubilee progression alongside Caliban, Pistol, and the rest of Shakespeare's best characters.

In 1912 and 1915 Carolyn Wells published two stories: "The Adventure of the Mona Lisa" (The Century Magazine, Jan. 1912) and "The Adventure of the Clothes-Line" (The Century, May 1915). These stories  featured The International Society of Infallible Detectives, whose members solve the crimes of the theft of the "Mona Lisa" and the mystery of a woman seen hanging from a clothes-line. The members of the International Society? Sherlock Holmes; Jacques Futrelle's Professor Van Dusen, a.k.a. "The Thinking Machine;" E.W. Hornung's A.J. Raffles; Maurice LeBlanc’s Arsène Lupin; Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin; Emile Gaboriau's M. Lecoq; E.C. Bentley's Philip Trent; Anna Katherine Green's Ebenezer Gryce; Francis Lynde's Calvin "Scientific" Sprague; MacHarg & Balmer's Luther Trant; Arthur Reeve's Craig Kennedy; Gaston Leroux's Rouletabille; and M. Vidocq.

You may or may not be familiar with the singular Maurice Richardson, creator of Engelbrecht the Dwarf, the surrealist boxer. If not--and, trust me, you should be, since any writer who can generate encomiums from both Mike Moorcock and Alexander Cockburn is worth looking into--then, please, do yourself a favor and buy the Savoy Books edition of Richardson's masterpiece, The Exploits of Engelbrecht. You won't regret it. (It's even got illustrations and design by John Coulthart--what more do you want?). Richardson also wrote "The Unquiet Wedding" (Lilliput, Oct. 1948, reprinted in The Exploits of Engelbrecht), in which Dracula's Daughter and the Son of Frankenstein are to wed. Dialogue and walk-ons follow from Prof. Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes, Detective Val Fox (and his parrot Joey), Rin Tin Tin, Holmes & Watson, Raffles & Bunny, Bulldog Drummond & Phyllis Clavering, Count Fosco, Sir Perceval Glyde, Ellery Queen Sr. & Jr., Hercule Poirot & Arthur Hastings, Inspector French, Clubfoot, Grimsby Roylott, Lemmy Caution, Father Brown, Irma Vep, Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and The Beetle.

Finally, there is the Mexican film industry during the 1950s and 1960s. This site has a good rundown of the gloriously gonzo plots of the films, and among them you'll find such gems as a comedian fighting a mad scientist who has revived the Mummy, the Wolfman, Frankenstein, and a vampire, and La Llorona, Samson, Don Quixote and Romeo & Juilet trying to prevent their haunted house from being converted into a radio station. Better still, there are the luchador films, in which, just like in the wrestling ring, any luchador can team-up with or fight anyone else, with the end result being a wonderful collage of crossovers over the course of decades.

Perhaps the ultimate in this--and I know for certain that Alan Moore would agree with me on this, if only he knew about it--is this:

The Justice League of Luchadors

It's the Justice League of Luchadors, from Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy. Those are every major luchador hero from the past sixty years, in one awe-inspiring lineup. Mil Mascaras is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Anno Dracula, and All-Star Comics #3 rolled into one. Mil Mascaras, I dub thee King of Mashups.

(But it's not available on Netflix yet, damn it).

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Scenes from Scooter's secret wars in Hyperreality

In the game room of level B-3 of the apocalypse-proofed sub-basement at Camp David, the Vice President sat in the warmth of the fire with a tumbler of Glenlivet rocks and admired the newest addition to the trophies hanging on the wall. Between T.R.'s bison head, a D K E fraternity paddle, and a carefully embalmed extraterrestrial biological entity, stretched eight feet of canvas featuring a scene from a geopolitical fever dream.

"Scooter, you've got to come in here and check this out," hollered the Veep to his chief staffer.

Envision this: The Giant White King, an albino sword and sorcery simulacrum of the American President, lies recumbent on the pillowed daybed throne of his private sanctum, framed by a Tolkienesque map of his new empire of the imagination. His imperial pets surround him on the marbled floor, a menagerie of Moreauvian anthromorphs with facial features redolent of barely-remembered newspaper photographs of minor autocrats. Spotted little cat-men, a talking pig, a litter of mangy dog-men, all effusing well-fed supplication.

And stretched across the King's lap is the Leader, re-imagined as a freshly shampooed leonine bodybuilder, bushy tail curled up between his legs, eyes half-closed, whiskers signaling a submissive smile of pleasure. The King strokes the lion-man's belly with one hand; the other holds a leash of silver chain. The King's armory of magical blades is arrayed nearby, ready for use as needed.

"Remember Womack?" asked the Vice President.

"Isn't he the special ops wacko who started jamming Orrin Hatch gospel videos over Saudi national television?"

"Among other bad career moves."

"I thought he got reassigned."

"Yeah, but he's still on the team. Need to keep a fruitcake like that around for the oddjobs that require that rare postmodern sensibility they don't teach at West Point. Like this."

"Kind of weird stuff, if you ask me," said Scooter.

"I know. But it grows on you. It's supposed to be en route to the Leader's weekend retreat, but I thought the Boss might benefit from having it around for a while. Let the idea sink in a bit, if you know what I mean."

Scooter mixed himself a Tanqueray and tonic, leaned up against the billiard table, and took in the work. In the background, one of Nixon's old Martin Denny records played on the hi-fi at low volume.

"I mean, I'm not much for the science fiction thing," said Scooter, "but he does have a nice brush stroke. And you know, that looks just like…"

"Bingo. You're a little slow today. Take a closer look at the other faces."

Scooter walked up, squinted, and then stepped back.

"I'll be damned," he said. "How about that. Looks like last year's Arab League meeting."

"Yeah. You should have seen it before. The original version was a little too anatomically correct, and we had to have it touched up a bit. Never know when the Attorney General might drop in."

"No kidding. Got a title?"

"Tyrant Odalisque."

"Which one's the tyrant?" asked Scooter.

"Very funny."

"Speaking of tyrants, I'm going to head back up to the War Room and see what's happening," said Scooter.

"Screw that," said the Veep. "Rack 'em up and tap the keg. I can hear Marine One chopping in now. It's party time."

As his cyborg heart thumped in mellow sync with the distant helicopter blades, the Vice President sat back, admired Endora's work, and got to thinking it would look very nice on the wall of his favorite undisclosed secure location.

-- From "Script-Doctoring the Apocalypse," published in The Infinite Matrix (2003).

Le mort de Baudrillard n'a pas eu lieu

"Pataphysicien à 20 ans; situationniste à 30; utopiste à 40 ans; transversal à 50; viral et métaleptique à 60."

-- Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007)

As cogently noted by Simon Sellars at Ballardian, Baudrillard had prescient observations about science fiction as the only true literature of the hyperreal present:

"We can no longer imagine other universes; and the gift of transcendence has been taken from us as well. Classic SF was one of expanding universes: it found its calling in narratives of space exploration, coupled with more terrestrial forms of exploration and colonization indigenous to the 19th and 20th centuries. There is no cause-effect relationship to be seen here. Not simply because, today, terrestrial space has been virtually completely encoded, mapped, inventoried, saturated; has in some sense been shrunk by globalization; has become a collective marketplace not only for products but also for values, signs, and models, thereby leaving no room any more for the imaginary. It is not exactly because of all this that the exploratory universe (technical, mental, cosmic) of SF has also stopped functioning. But the two phenomena are closely linked, and they are two aspects of the same general evolutionary process: a period of implosion, after centuries of explosion and expansion. When a system reaches its limits, its own saturation point, a reversal begins to takes place. And something happens also to the imagination.

"Until now, we have always had large reserves of the imaginary, because the coefficient of reality is proportional to the imaginary, which provides the former with its specific gravity. This is also true of geographical and space exploration: when there is no more virgin ground left to the imagination, when the map covers all the territory, something like the reality principle disappears. The conquest of space constitutes, in this sense, an irreversible threshold which effects the loss of terrestrial coordinates and referentiality. Reality, as an internally coherent and limited universe, begins to hemorrhage when its limits are stretched to infinity. The conquest of space, following the conquest of the planet, promotes either the de-realizing of human space, or the reversion of it into a simulated hyperreality. Witness, for example, this two-room apartment with kitchen and bath launched into orbit with the last Moon capsule (raised to the power of space, one might say); the perceived ordinariness of a terrestrial habitat then assumes the values of the cosmic and its hypostasis in Space, the satellization of the real in the transcendence of Space—it is the end of metaphysics, the end of fantasy, the end of SF. The era of hyperreality has begun.

"From this point on, something must change: the projection, the extrapolation, this sort of pantographic exuberance which made up the charm of SF are now no longer possible. It is no longer possible to manufacture the unreal from the real, to create the imaginary from the data of reality. The process will be rather the reverse: to put in place "decentered" situations, models of simulation, and then to strive to give them the colors of the real, the banal, the lived; to reinvent the real as fiction, precisely because the real has disappeared from our lives. A hallucination of the real, of the lived, of the everyday—but reconstituted, sometimes even unto its most disconcertingly unusual details, recreated like an animal park or a botanical garden, presented with transparent precision, but totally lacking substance, having been derealized and hyperrealized."

-- Jean Baudrillard, "Simulacra and Science Fiction," Science Fiction Studies (Nov. 1991)