Monday, May 26, 2008

Lost Books, Part VII: Atlas Shrugged Part 2

Brad Hicks has done a brilliant job of re-constructing the missing middle book of Ayn Rand's Atlas Trilogy.

Hicks postulates that Rand didn't write Atlas Shrugged II: Shrug Harder because she found it too depressing. I think it's more likely that she thought she wasn't going to get enough money.

I'll do a real post rsn. Promise. Meanwhile, enjoy the superb work of Mr Hicks.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Massachusetts Über Alles

While I was taking a canoeist's picnic on a Lower Colorado River sandbar last Sunday, out of the woods appeared a dude (heralded by the boundering arrival of his groovy mutt-hound) wearing a vintage "DK" logo Dead Kennedys cap. As one does when encountering strangers in the otherwise solitary wilderness, we talked. I mentioned all the great shows by that band I had seen during the years of "California Über Alles." Turned out he was more of a 70s dude who had gotten turned on to Jello Biafra's spoken word stuff, but we had a good chat about our shared secret spots of interstitial urban nature.



Thus began my official Dead Kennedys week.



One of my multiple personalities once worked as a staff lawyer for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which afforded me extensive close-up interaction with the remarkable physiognomy of Ted Kennedy. And the best way to explain that to a No Fear of the Future reader is to say that Ted Kennedy's head is something far more likely to have come from the pen and ink of Jack Kirby than the womb of Rose Kennedy. Perhaps these impressions are a byproduct of his larger-than-life personality, but I would swear they are literally true. Ted Kennedy's head is massive, like twice the size of other human heads. It has an anvil-shaped quality, with a massive mandibular edifice angling out like some sort of face guard of the lizard-man within, occupying the space normally used by the neck as it anchor the mask to his torso. Most excitingly, the Skeletor frame is padded with an insanely thick layer of skin, fat, muscle and blood. Imagine my life as a four-eyed C-SPAN extra sitting there during the Clarence Thomas hearings, watching the bloviated word balloons float out over the assembly with full gaseous noxion, "seeing" the senior Senator from Massachusetts but Seeing the Kree Supreme Intelligence, passing as an American political leader with only the thinnest of disguises.



[See also: "Separated at Birth? (Kree-Deutsch Edition)", NFOTF, 12-5-06)]

So I was relieved over the past 24 hours to have the ubiquitous ambient media blast me with actual photos of Ted Kennedy's brain. X-rays, showing the all-too-human tumor. I hate all so-called "political dynasties" as a matter of democratic/republican principal, whether Kennedys, Bushes, or Clintons (though I probably hate Hollywood celebrity nepotism beneficiaries more), and I never liked Ted Kennedy's political style, but I guess he's homo sapiens sapiens after all.*



But when the next story in the cycle rolls up (was it Lindsay Lohan's mysterious engagement ring or Chinese rubble miracle number 472?), the blue-grey images of Teddy brain won't leave my own. Why do they need to show us the guy's X-rays? How many other times can you remember when the announcement of a celebrity's mortal illness is accompanied by clinical imagery of the tumor itself?



The video Library of Babel in my head flashes back all the images of other Kennedy brains we have seen. The JFK clips of the thing sitting there on the stainless steel in the Army pathology lab at Walter Reed. The lurid descriptions of pieces of JFK's brain splattering across his wife's beautiful dress. The mathematical descriptions of the trajectory of the magic bullet through the labyrinths within.



In the operating room, some savvy orderly is going to grab the excised tumor from the bin, plastinate it, and sell it on eBay. Preserved as the last great corporeal talisman of the 20th century, a black little three-dimensional period marking the end of that particular cult of political personality.



*(And we will suffer without him using his Judiciary Committee seat to battle the new American racism hiding behind the Dobbsian anti-immigrant hysteria.)






P.S. -- In other news, who knew the summer's popcorn fair is going to include Mark Leyner doing Dr. Strangelove in the GWOT? NYT: "War, Inc. - A Hit Man in a War Zone That Could Easily Be Iraq"

Playing a classic lone gunman and kung fu master with a deadly glint in his eyes while Morricone-style cowboy music twangs in the background, Mr. Cusack still looks and sounds like a softy. His destination is the Emerald City (read the Green Zone) in the fictional Turaqistan (read Iraq), a country occupied by Tamerlane (read Halliburton), a corporation run by an unnamed former vice president of the United States (Dan Aykroyd, doing a dead-on parody of Dick Cheney).

Snarling out of one corner of his mouth while sitting on a toilet, the vice president boasts that the continuing conflict between Tamerlane and insurgent forces is the first war ever outsourced to private enterprise. As a trade show begins, a chorus line of women with prosthetic legs dances. Their prostheses are Tamerlane products.

His aide, Marsha Dillon (Joan Cusack), is an enraged sourpuss who suggests an exponentially more disagreeable Mary Matalin. Ms. Cusack’s harshly funny portrayal, and the performances of Mr. Aykroyd and of Ben Kingsley as Walken, an evil puppetmaster and C.I.A. honcho, are the movie’s strongest because their characters don’t have souls. This being a satire, why should they?

Hauser’s assignment is to kill Omar Sharif (Lubomir Neikov), an upstart Middle Eastern oil minister who wants to build his own pipeline through Turaqistan, thwarting Tamerlane’s intention to corner the country’s natural resources. Outside the Emerald City, where Hauser occasionally ventures, Turaqistan appears to have been already reduced to rubble. But the battle rages on, and chaos reigns.

The cover story for Hauser’s visit is his job description as producer of the Brand USA Trade Show, whose centerpiece will be the wedding of Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff), the Britney Spears of Central Asia. Ms. Duff breaks out of her everygirl persona to play this spoiled, squirming kohl-eyed vamp, who growls “I Want to Blow You Up” with every innuendo intact and travels with a posse of ersatz gangsters. Inside this predatory tramp, however, beats the heart of a lost little girl.

Hauser, the tough guy who swigs shots of hot sauce without shedding a tear, falls in love with Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei), a liberal journalist who shows up on the scene. When she is kidnapped and threatened with beheading after venturing outside the Emerald City, Hauser gets to play the hero.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Animated graffiti

Courtesy of Don Webb, insanely beautiful kinetic street art from Buenos Aires:

1979, the future


Courtesy of Mike Holliday at the JGB list, the compete transcript of a 1979 Penthouse interview of J.G. Ballard by his friend Chris Evans. The interview is an outstandingly cogent and complete articulation of Ballard's key insights about man and technology, the essence of life in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the role of science fiction in understanding it all.











Penthouse 1979 (Vol.14 No.1) (U.K. edition)

PROFILE: J. G. BALLARD

THE SPACE AGE IS OVER

BY DR. CHRIS EVANS

Penthouse: Science fiction is supposed to reflect the future. How well
do you think it has done that over the years?

Ballard: I think it's been amazingly accurate, not necessarily in terms
of the technology itself, but in predicting society's response to
technology. Jules Verne, over 100 years ago, was the first writer of any
kind to respond to the impending transformation of society by
technology, and from his time onwards science fiction has picked out the
main preoccupations and anxieties of the Industrial Age, identifying
them way ahead of their appearance. Incidentally it has also anticipated
the present unease about science which has recently become a public
issue, but which was featured in SF as far back as the 1930s. I suspect
it will also turn out to have been extremely accurate in the way in
which it is now predicting or anticipating the peculiar affectless
quality of life in the 1980s and 90s.

Penthouse: What kind of things?

Ballard: Well, for example the way in which the traditional togetherness
of the village is giving way to the inbuilt loneliness of the new high
rises, or the peculiar fact that people nowadays like to be together not
in the old-fashioned way of, say, mingling on the piazza of an Italian
Renaissance city, but, instead, huddled together in traffic jams, bus
queues, on escalators and so on. It's a new kind of togetherness which
may seem totally alien, but it's the togetherness of modern technology,
and the science fiction writers of the 40s, 50s and 60s picked it out
unerringly as being a dominant feature of the future - often without
realising what they were doing.

Penthouse: Can you give an example?

Ballard: You've only got to look at copies of "Galaxy Magazine" and
"Astounding Science Fiction" of the early 50s to see the anxieties and
wish-fulfilment fantasies of modern surburbia and city life - the
escapist dreams of jet liners and airport lounges - all absolutely
contained in the science fiction of the period. Take Pohl and
Kornbluth's classic novel, "The Space Merchants". Here the future is
portrayed in terms of a world totally dominated by the advertising
agencies. It's a world run not by the Pentagon and the Kremlin but by
Madison Avenue, with giant rival advertising consortia fighting to
control everything and everyone through the mechanism of the mass media.
And indeed, we can look back now and realise that the logical evolution
of Western society of the 1950s would have been a world in which the
copywriter was king. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it took science
fiction writers to spot it and write about it a quarter of a century
ago.

Penthouse: You evidently don't rate too highly science fiction's highly
successful predictions about space travel?

Ballard: Well you can't underestimate that achievement, but in many ways
space travel was the least adventurous of all SF concepts. It so happens
that my first stories were being published at almost exactly the time
that Sputnik One - in case you've forgotten, that's the first artificial
satellite - was launched in 1957. At the time I remember a great mood of
optimism in science fiction circles. It seemed that the Sputniks had
ushered in the space age, and that everything that the science fiction
writers had been predicting for 100 years was coming true. And with the
space age, science fiction was set fair for a golden era. Now I
remember, paradoxically responding to this general euphoria, by being
intensely pessimistic rather than optimistic. Although I had no real
evidence to support my hunch - quite the opposite in fact - I felt very
strongly that the age of space, as far as science-fiction was concerned
was ending rather than beginning. And indeed the space age did end and
far from lasting hundreds or even thousands of years, its total life
span was hardly more than a decade. One can date its end quite
precisely. The space age clearly ended in 1974 when the last Skylab
mission came to earth. This was the first splashdown not to be shown on
TV - a highly significant decision on the part of the networks which
signalled the fact that space simply wasn't interesting any more. As I
said I had a strong hunch that this was the case, but didn't have any
unequivocal evidence to back it up. But in the summer of '74 I remember
standing out in my garden on a bright, clear night and watching a moving
dot of light in the sky which I realised was Skylab. I remember thinking
how fantastic it was that there were men up there, and I felt really
quite moved as I watched it. Through my mind there even flashed a line
from every Hollywood aviation movie of the 40s, "it takes guts to fly
those machines." But I meant it. Then my neighbour came out into his
garden to get something and I said, "Look, there's Skylab," and he
looked up and said, "Sky-what?" And I realised that he didn't know about
it, and he wasn't interested. No, from that moment there was no doubt in
my mind that the space age was over.


Penthouse: What is the explanation for this. Why are people so
indifferent?

Ballard: I think it's because we're at the climactic end of one huge age
of technology which began with the Industrial Revolution and which
lasted for about 200 years. We're also at the beginning of a second,
possibly even greater revolution, brought about by advances in computers
and by the development of information-processing devices of incredible
sophistication. It will be the era of artificial brains as opposed to
artificial muscles, and right now we stand at the midpoint between these
two huge epochs. Now it's my belief that people, unconsciously perhaps,
recognise this and also recognise that the space programme and the
conflict between NASA and the Soviet space effort belonged to the first
of these systems of technological exploration, and was therefore tied to
the past instead of the future. Don't misunderstand me - it was a
magnificent achievement to put a man on the moon, but it was essentially
nuts and bolts technology and therefore not qualitatively different from
the kind of engineering that built the Queen Mary or wrapped railroads
round the world in the 19th century. It was a technology that changed
peoples lives in all kinds of ways, and to a most dramatic extent, but
the space programme represented its fast guttering flicker.

Penthouse: You were one of the leaders of the "New Wave" in science
fiction. Could you say something about that? Was the New Wave a response
to the shift from one technological epoch to another?

Ballard: Yes, in a sense. You see technology advances on a number of
fronts and opens up a number of different doors. The transformation of
London by its tube system in the 19th century, the spread of the
telephone in the 1920s and 30s, the coming of radio and the dominance of
TV in the 50s and 60s were all tied up with technology, but with
communications and information transfer rather than with giant feats of
Meccano engineering. I was born in 1930, and I am old enough to remember
the popular encyclopaedias of the day, the mass magazines like "Life" in
which space exploration was seen as a natural extension of the
development of aviation. It took 50 years from the Wright Brothers to
the first faster than sound rocket planes in the '50s. It then seemed
only natural that the next step was Outer Space and these were the sort
of projections that "Old Wave" science fiction made about the future.
And while the logic of our past history seemed to be a continued
expansion outwards, a persistent invasion of extra-terrestrial
territory, the growth of communications technology in the 50s and 60s
was already suggesting that these huge spatial excursions were becoming
not only less and less necessary, but also less and less interesting.
The world of "Outer Space" which had hitherto been assumed to be
limitless was being revealed as essentially limited, a vast concourse of
essentially similar stars and planets whose exploration was likely to be
not only extremely difficult, but also perhaps intrinsically
disappointing. On the other hand, inside our heads so to speak, lay a
vast and genuinely infinite territory which, for the sake of contrast I
termed "Inner Space." The New Wave in science fiction - it's not a
phrase I care for actually - reflected this shift in priorities, from
Outer Space to Inner Space, and in my own writing I set out quite
deliberately to explore this terrain.




Penthouse: Was your novel "Crash" an investigation of Inner Space?

Ballard: Yes and no. "Crash" was really about the psychology of the
motor car, or about people's attitudes to the motor car, and it tried to
highlight the vast range of emotional ties that man has with this highly
specialised piece of technology. It was a kind of science fiction of the
present if you like. I'm not interested in motor cars myself by the way,
but I am interested in what motor cars say about modern man, and about
how they reflect man's needs and aspirations. Many people make the
mistake of assuming that people buy motor cars because of great
advertising and external social pressures. Nothing could be further from
the truth. Since the 1930s when styling first began to be a big feature
of design in the States, the automobile industry has emerged as a
perfect example of a huge technological system meeting profound
psychological needs. The motor car represents, and has done for 40
years, a very complex mesh of personal fulfilment of every conceivable
kind. On a superficial level it fulfills the need for a glamorous
package that is quite beautifully sculptured in steel and has all sorts
of built-in conceptual motifs. At a deeper level it represents the
dramatic role one can experience when in charge of a powerful machine
driving across the landscape of the world we live in, a role one can
share with the driver of an express train or the pilot of a 707. The
automobile also represents an extension of one's own personality in
numerous ways, offering an outlet for repressed sexuality and
aggression. Similarly it represents all kinds of positive freedoms - I
don't just mean freedom to move around from place to place, but freedoms
which we don't normally realise, or even accept we are interested in.
The freedom to kill oneself for example. When one is driving a car there
exists, on a second-by-second basis, the absolute freedom to involve
oneself in the most dramatic event of one's life, barring birth, which
is one's death. One could go on indefinitely pointing out how the motor
car is the one focus of so many currents of the era, and so many
conscious and unconscious pressures. Indeed if I had to pick a single
image which best represented the middle and late 20th century, it would
be that of a man sitting in a car, driving down a superhighway. "Crash"
was an attempt to explore this vast facet of human existence, and to
that extent, I suppose, was part of the exploration of Inner, as opposed
to Outer, space.



Penthouse: What was the general response to this shift of direction in
science fiction?

Ballard: Although initially it seemed as though the various "New Wave"
writers of the 60s were significantly off-beam because of the apparent
success of the space programme, I believe now that we were very much
more in tune with the public mood than perhaps we realised. Don't forget
that the 60s were the years of the resurgence in pop culture, and a
turning away from the external material culture of the early 20th
century. People no longer saw their lives in terms of establishing basic
material securities - I must have a job, I must have an apartment, cars,
washing machines. They all had jobs, apartments, cars and washing
machines.

What people wanted to gratify were psychological rather than material
needs. They wanted to get their sex lives right, their depressions
sorted out, they wanted to come to terms with psychological weaknesses
they had. And these were things that a materialistic society was unable
to supply - it couldn't wrap them up and sell them for a pound down and
ten pence a week. Now this rejection of external in favour of internal
values was mirrored in the great popular movements of the time. Take the
career of the Beatles who began in the traditional materialistic mould
of young Rock 'n Roll stars - flashy cars, expensive clothes, big
stadium concerts and all that but turned in the end towards meditation,
mysticism. the pseudo-philosophical drug culture of the psychedelics,
and so on. In other words there was a great current moving through
Western Europe and the USA in the 60s in a direction completely opposite
to that emanating from the Kennedy Space Centre The stars and the
planets were out, the bloodstream and the central nervous system were
in. It's no wonder that by the time Armstrong had put his foot on the
moon, no one was really interested.

Penthouse: Does that mean that the space programme has ended once and
for all. Are you saying that we'll never go any further?

Ballard: Oh, no, there'll be a space age some day, perhaps 30, 40 or
even 50 years from now, and when it comes it will be a real space age!
But it will depend upon the development of some new form of propulsion.
The main trouble with the present system - all these gigantic rockets
sailing up off the launch pads consuming tons of fuel for every foot of
altitude - is that it just hasn't got anything to do with space travel.
The number of astronauts who have gone into orbit after the expenditure
of this great ocean of rocket fuel is small to the point of being
ludicrous. And that sums it all up. You can't have a real space age from
which 99.999 per cent of the human race is excluded. Far more real - and
we don't have to wait 50 years for it - is the invisible space age which
exists already; the communications satellites, literally thousands of
them, television relay systems, spy satellites, weather satellites,
These are all changing our lives in a way that the average person
doesn't yet comprehend. The ability to pass information around from one
point in the globe to another in vast quantities and at stupendous
speeds, the ability to process information by fantastically powerful
computers, the intrusion of electronic data processing in whatever form
into all our lives is far, far more significant than all the rocket
launches, all the planetary probes, every footprint or tyre mark on the
lunar surface.

Penthouse: How do you see the future developing?

Ballard: I see the future developing in just one way - towards the home.
In fact I would say that if one had to categorise the future in one
word, it would be that word "home." Just as the 20th century has been
the age of mobility, largely through the motor car, so the next era will
be one in which instead of having to seek out one's adventures through
travel, one creates them, in whatever form one chooses, in one's home.
The average individual won't just have a tape recorder, a stereo HiFi,
or a TV set. He'll have all the resources of a modern TV studio at his
fingertips, coupled with data processing devices of incredible
sophistication and power. No longer will he have to accept the
relatively small number of permutations of fantasy that the movie and TV
companies serve up to him, but he will be able to generate whatever he
pleases to suit his whim. In this way people will soon realise that they
can maximise the future of their lives with new realms of social, sexual
and personal relationships, all waiting to be experienced in terms of
these electronic systems, and all this exploration will take place in
their living rooms.

But there's more to it than that. For the first time it will become
truly possible to explore extensively and in depth the psychopathology
of one's own life without any fear of moral condemnation. Although we've
seen a collapse of many taboos within the last decade or so, there are
still aspects of existence which are not counted as being legitimate to
explore or experience mainly because of their deleterious or irritating
effects on other people. Now I'm not talking about criminally
psychopathic acts, but what I would consider as the more traditional
psychopathic deviancies. Many, perhaps most of these, need to be
expressed in concrete forms, and their expression at present gets people
into trouble. One can think of a million examples, but if your deviant
impulses push you in the direction of molesting old ladies, or cutting
girl's pig tails off in bus queues, then, quite rightly, you find
yourself in the local magistrates court if you succumb to them. And the
reason for this is that you're intruding on other people's life space.
But with the new multi-media potential of your own computerised TV
studio, where limitless simulations can be played out in totally
convincing style, one will be able to explore, in a wholly benign and
harmless way, every type of impulse - impulses so deviant that they
might have seemed, say to our parents, to be completely corrupt and
degenerate.

Penthouse: Can you be sure that their exploration, even if they don't
involve other people in the "real sense," will be purely benign?

Ballard: Well it seems to me that these kinds of explorations have been
going on, if only in a limited sense, since time immemorial. Take the
whole business of organised sports and games which have been a major
preoccupation of man for tens of thousands of years. Now there's no
point in pretending that these games are played and watched solely
because of the fact that they determine some trial of skill or bravery
between opposing teams. The exhilaration of sport, from the pumping of
one's lungs, the twisting of ankles, the bruising of the rugger field,
the physical damage of the boxing match, and right at the other end of
the scale the multiple deaths of a Formula Two pile-up are all major
components, and all might seem like totally deviant pleasures if they
were not long-established components of participant and spectator
sports. Even today the idea that people watching a car race get some
measure of excitement from being an observer of an accident which
produces pain, mutilation and death, is somehow slightly shocking and
yet it's clearly one of the reasons why people go to motor races. But I
think we'll shortly be moving into a realm where we will be prepared to
take for granted the existence of these seemingly deviant interests and
through the limitless powers of our home computers and TV we will be
granted universes of experience which today seem to belong to the dark
side of so-called civilised behaviour. Of course this doesn't apply
solely to sport or to activities like the space programme; with the kind
of simulations I'm envisaging it may never be necessary to go into
space. One's own drawing room will be a thousand times more exciting
and, in a peculiar way, more "real." No, there will be a huge range of
activities, our sex lives included, in which we can explore endlessly
the permutations of possible relationships with our friends, wives,
lovers, husbands, in a completely uninhibited way, but also in a way
which is neither physically hurtful nor psychologically or morally
corrupting.



Penthouse: Will people really respond to these creative possibilities
themselves? Won't the creation of these scenarios always be handed over
to the expert or professional?

Ballard: I doubt it. The experts or professionals only handle these
tools when they are too expensive or too complex for the average person
to manage them. As soon as the technology becomes cheap and simple,
ordinary people get to work with it. One's only got to think of people's
human responses to a new device like the camera. If you go back 30 or 40
years the Baby Brownie gave our parents a completely new window on the
world. They could actually go into the garden and take a photograph of
you tottering around on the lawn, take it down to the chemists, and then
actually see their small child falling into the garden pool whenever and
as often as they wanted to. I well remember my own parents' excitement
and satisfaction when looking at these blurry pictures, which
represented only the simplest replay of the most totally commonplace.
And indeed there's an interesting point here. Far from being applied to
mammoth productions in the form of personal space adventures, or one's
own participation in a death-defying race at Brands Hatch it's my view
that the incredibly sophisticated hook-ups of TV cameras and computers
which we will all have at our fingertips tomorrow will most frequently
be applied to the supremely ordinary, the absolutely commonplace. I can
visualise for example a world ten years from now where every activity of
one's life will be constantly recorded by multiple computer-controlled
TV cameras throughout the day so that when the evening comes instead of
having to watch the news as transmitted by BBC or ITV - that irrelevant
mixture of information about a largely fictional external world - one
will be able to sit down, relax and watch the real news. And the real
news of course will be a computer-selected and computer-edited version
of the days rushes. "My God, there's Jenny having her first ice cream!"
or "There's Candy coming home from school with her new friend." Now all
that may seem madly mundane, but, as I said, it will be the real news of
the day, as and how it affects every individual. Anyone in doubt about
the compulsion of this kind of thing just has to think for a moment of
how much is conveyed in a simple family snapshot, and of how rivetingly
interesting - to oneself and family only of course - are even the
simplest of holiday home movies today. Now extend your mind to the
fantastic visual experience which tomorrow's camera and editing
facilities will allow. And I am not just thinking about sex, although
once the colour 3-D cameras move into the bedroom the possibilities are
limitless and open to anyone's imagination. But let's take another
level, as yet more or less totally unexplored by cameras, still or
movie, such as a parent's love for one's very young children. That
wonderful intimacy that comes on every conceivable level - the warmth
and rapport you have with a two-year-old infant, the close physical
contact, his pleasure in fiddling with your tie, your curious
satisfaction when he dribbles all over you, all these things which make
up the indefinable joys of parenthood. Now imagine these being viewed
and recorded by a very discriminating TV camera, programmed at the end
of the day, or at the end of the year, or at the end of the decade, to
make the optimum selection of images designed to give you a sense of the
absolute and enduring reality of your own experience. With such
technology interfaced with immensely intelligent computers I think we
may genuinely be able to transcend time. One will be able to indulge
oneself in a kind of continuing imagery which, for the first time will
allow us to dominate the awful finiteness of life. Great portions of our
waking state will be spent in a constant mood of self-awareness and
excitement, endlessly replaying the simplest basic life experiences.



Penthouse: But isn't this tremendously passive?

Ballard: Just the opposite. I would say we were moving towards an era
where the brain with its tremendous sensory, aesthetic and emotional
possibilities will be switched on, totally instead of partially, for the
very first time. The enormously detailed, meticulously chosen re-runs I
have been talking about will give one a new awareness of the wonder and
mystery of life, an awareness that most of us, for biologically
important reasons have been trained to exclude. Don't forget that man
is, and has been for at least a million years, a hunting species
surviving with difficulty in a terribly dangerous world. In order to
survive, his brain has been trained to screen out anything but the most
essential and the most critical. Watch that hillcrest! Beware of that
cave mouth! Kill that bird! Dodge that spear! And in doing so he has to
screen out all the penumbral wonder of existence. But now the world is
essentially far less dangerous, and the time has come where the brain
can be allowed to experience the true excitement of the universe, and
the infinite possibilities of consciousness that the basic needs of
survival have previously screened away. After a million or so years,
those screens are about to be removed and once they have gone, then, for
the first time, man will really know what it is to be alive.



For a fresher dose, check out this German interview at Ballardian, "I really would not want to fuck George W. Bush."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

MEMORY: 13

First
Previous



Parric's wingtip slapped Flavius with a glancing blow across the side of his head, sending him sprawling to the ground. Flavius sprang back up, his face scarlet and eyes blazing.

"Wha'd ya go and do that for?" he shouted at Parric, one fist held ready as his other hand rubbed the side of his head.

"Your obsessings with the Empress is getting you dead once already," Parric shot back, his featherscales ruffled with agitation. "And almosting me, too. You are needing to self-examining, Flavius, and asking yourself if your ruttings with the Empress are worth the consequences."

"Damn it, Parric, yer nae paying attention! I weren't wearing Memory, so I cannae remember if she were worth it or nae," Flavius answered, running his fingers over the pommel of his sword. "But in hindsight, I willnae be making that mistake again. Nae knowing's an awful burden."

"Your corpse'll be thinking about your mistakings when I'm leaving that sword behind the next time."

"Ah, Parric, dinnae be that way. Ya ken I was only having ya on-- No woman's worth dying for, six tits or nae. Risking it, well, that's a whole different thing now. But nae the actual dying."

Parric nodded. "Right. Deading you'll stay."

"What a bastard ya are. Yer just jealous of the fun I'll be having, seeing's how yer hatched from an egg and all--"

"A communal placenta is not an egg," Parric corrected.

"She's got six tits, lad! How's a beastie like ya--what never suckled a minute of yer life--ever going to understand?"

"Are we still arguing about your ruttings?" grumbled Parric. "So helping me, he's never shutting up."

"Hey, now dinnae ye go taking that attitude with me! Yer the one who asked in the first place, so straighten up that or so help me, I'll thump ya."

"You. Thumping me." Parric drew himself up so that he loomed over Flavius, wings crossing his chest. He looked down with a menacing glare.

Flavius glared back. "Just a small thumping, mind ya. Ya are a godless beastie, after all." He cocked his head. "I've got to show ya some sympathy, right?"

Parric's antennae twitched.

A grin split Flavius' face. "I had ya worried there."

"Positiveling terrified," Parric answered, slumping down. "I'm wishing we're not having to go through this posturing of yours every time."

"Ah, quit yer complaining. A little tension's good for the soul--assuming ya have one. Gets the blood pumping." Flavius flexed his shoulders and stretched as he looked around. "Speaking of which, ya got anything to eat on ya? That bastard O'Sullivan hadnae given us a decent meal in more'n a week, and I'm damn close to wasting away to nothing."

Parric pulled a globose maroon fruit with circular gouges dotting its surface from a pouch and tossed it to Flavius.

"A spineapple! I never laid eyes on one before, but I know I love these things. Eat myself sick on them if I could. That's a strange feeling for sure."

Parric grunted noncommitally.

"Ah, ya even plucked the thorns for me. That's mighty thoughtful," Flavius said, pulling it open and sucking at the juicy, seedy pulp. He made a face. "Nae to sound ungrateful, Parric, but whoever sold ya this one stuck ya. It's so overripe the juice has all gone to ferment. And I don't mean that in a good way."

"That's becausing you keep dying before I can giving it to you."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Flavius' eyes narrowed. "This have anything to do with those spider-looking beasties? I dinnae remember them. Do they normally show up during the fight with the English?"

"No. Only after your dying in the Empress' chambers," Parric said. "After your dying, the moironteau are showing up regularling."

"What for?"

"To killing you."

"Kill me? Me? What do they do, ugly me to death?"

"They're chewing you up and spitting out the pieces. They are gooding at it. No uglying needed."

"So..." Flavius looked down at the overripe spineapple, calculating in his head. His face tightened as the numbers came together.

"Your previousing self is dying almost two weeks ago, by your reconing," Parric confirmed. "In the first parallel cosm I'm not finding you at the river. I'm thinking, 'Am I in wrong cosm? Impossibling!' So I go searching the battlefield and finding pieces of Flavius scatterings around. And I'm thinking, 'Flavius is not liking this.' So I'm moving to the next cosm, but you are deading there, too. The moironteau, they're moving fast through the cosms. It's taking me a longing time to catching up. When I do, the moironteau is almost killing me."

"How... how many?" Flavius managed, his voice a strangled knot of horror and rage. "How many of me did they kill?"

"You're deading in all the parallel cosms I'm entering, so I'm assuming you're deading in parallel cosms I'm not entering, too." Parric shrugged. "I'm seeing you dead twenty-seven times myself."

Continued

Friday, May 9, 2008

The hole that swallowed East Texas



Over in Lansdale country, this massive portal to the netherworld has opened up in the middle of town. Being sardonic Texans, the locals call it the "Sinkhole de Mayo."

From Ralph Blumenthal in today's NY Times:

DAISETTA, Tex. — A huge and ravenous sinkhole that threatened to swallow this little East Texas oil town gobbled more crumbling earth Thursday but spared, at least for now, homes, the high school and the main road, Farm to Market 770.

“It’s unreal — the earth just wallered up,” said Lynn Wells, the mayor and fire chief, who monitored emergency efforts, speeding back and forth on his red Harley-Davidson.

Since the rim of an underground salt dome collapsed and the ground cracked and gave way abruptly Wednesday morning, the hole — already one of the largest on record, geologists here said — has grown to about 600 feet by 525 feet and 150 feet deep, said Cpl. Hugh Bishop of the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office.
...
Two trucks have already tumbled into the saltwater muck, along with two grain tanks, utility poles and pine trees. A work shed of the DeLoach Oil and Gas Well Vacuum Service adjacent to the pit hung precariously over the rim, likely to topple in next.

“I’ve got some lakefront lots to sell here,” said a neighbor, Harold McCann, 82, as he sat on his property staring out at what had been, barely 24 hours ago, a wooded field.
...
The first warnings came Wednesday morning when employees of the DeLoach company saw cracks in the earth and the roadway started “warping down,” Corporal Bishop said.

Ricky and Dicky Johnson, brothers who live near Mr. McCann close to the pit, said they felt it coming on about 10 a.m. “The ground got to shaking,” said Dicky Johnson, over the din of news helicopters hovering over the site.

Quickly, the hole grew to 20 feet across. Then things started falling in.


Attention Texas fabulists: time to get in touch with your inner Jules Verne, and follow the brothers Johnson down into the hole?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Terrorism hits home! With exploding grannies!



When little old ladies in generic two-dimensional ur-suburbs are abducted in their living rooms by she-mujahid and strapped into their wheelchairs with a government office building's worth of C-4...is there any sanctuary left?

Above is the scene in today's Judge Parker (named after a character who, this being one of those daily comic strip plot lines that has been in continuous development since 1952, actually appears in the strip about once a year). The weeks leading up to this uncharacteristically dramatic moment have involved the recruiting of an ex-Navy SEAL JAG lawyer (if only the GWOT were in fact being fought with such posable action lawyers) to join the boutique law firm run by Sam Driver and Randy Parker (son of the Judge, and regular date of a hot young platinum-haired CIA recruit). The new partner lost both legs to an Afghan IED, and infects the strip with a nice Jake Barnes melancholy that is rare to find between The Wizard of Id and the daily Jumble. The office manager, Gloria (back from last year's bizarro anachronistic Mexican sojourn), has the hots for him, and readers have been enduring about a month of non-stop prosthetic entendre (you know, on the days when Sam's hot wife Abby isn't busy investigating the geezer farmers next door that have been secretly growing industrial quantities of pot in gigantic hydroponic silos -- seriously -- Abby even unwittingly ate a hash brownie earlier in the year). So here they were, about to enter his home for a romantic/familial dinner when they open the door and -- Samira, daughter of Abul Hakim, in maximum birka! With Grannie ready for elderhostel martyrdom!

You laugh? Let's see you try to evoke a moment of real drama within the confines of three soy ink-and-pulp panels and an excruciatingly wooden cast of characters that have been playing out their time-stopped live in continuous continuity for 56 (!) years...

Monday, May 5, 2008

MEMORY: 12

First
Previous



Thunder boiled up through Flavius' arm, threatening to tear muscle from bone and split his skin. It roared through his shoulder and into his head.

His head! His head! His head! Lightning flashed behind his eyes, blinding bursts of fire that swelled within his skull as the terrible pressure built up. Were all the killer waves racing ahead of a storm to ram themselves into a teacup, it’d still be a faint whisper of the torrent pouring into him.

His fingers melted into the hilt of the sword--the evil, cursed sword thrust upon him by that devil serpent. Flavius tried to cast it away. His arm wouldn't obey. His fingers burned white as they held it fiercely with the grip of the dead.

Flavius struggled, but the flood tossed aside every effort to close his mind. Images flashed over him, scenes and lives, scents and sounds and thoughts-- Each fleeting glimpse had a familiarity about it, like a long-forgotten memory recalled years after the fact. Pain blinded him again, and Flavius’ resolve crumbled. Unable to resist, the torrent carried his mind away with it...

A memory unfolded around him, cold and glossy.

Flavius crouched behind the singularity generator, hardly daring to breathe. Carefully he eased his claymore’s tip out past the corner, intent on the reflection in its mirror-polished surface.

Parric floated in the center of the broad research chamber. Coils of light wrapped and thrashed around him, holding him helpless in a knotted ball. Three gleaming steel-and-brass dromomachs--twelve-leggers at that--surrounded Parric, guarding the Whistard Holdchau's prize. Their skeletal heads rotated atop their bodies, eye beams scanning the chamber, ready to obliterate any threat with an instantaneous stream of positrons.

Flavius pulled his sword back before the beam passed over it. He glanced over to Blysta, crouched behind the--what did she call it?--“Reality sink.” Good old one-armed Blysta. She'd lost her other to a nine-legger almost two weeks back, but Holdchau’d dampened her negator bands then. She swore by the negator bands, and Holdchau was still busy with the mess in Sanderfar.

The dromomachs wouldn't know what hit them.

The memory shifted, changing to something that’d happened earlier. Or later. The sequence wasn’t clear.

Flavius lay on the muddy bank of a river, stinging rain pelting him in the eye. He didn’t have the strength left to blink. His gut hung open, his entrails tangled in the brush above him, tangling him like a puppet. He'd ceased to hurt. He didn't feel anything, anymore.

But a green serpent took his hand, placing a claymore hilt into his bloody grip. The sword sent thunder up his arm, a cyclone into his mind. Flavius gasped, helpless to scream or fight against it. As the storm subsided, he gazed at the sword in relief. “Ah, Memory, yer a bonny lass.”

Then he lifted his head, looking at Parric with recognition.

“What’re ya waitin’ for?” Flavius managed. “Are ya gonna fix me, or what?”

Parric made his magic, and Flavius' spilled innards found their way back in.

Another change...

The ships turned and banked as one, like a fleet of iridescent whales flying high above the clouds. In the distance, beyond the terminus of day and night, a dazzling ring sparkled like a river of jewels encircling the planet. Stars shone fiercely in the black sky beyond.

Flavius watched from the observation deck in amazement, even though Parric gave only a cursory look, apparently unimpressed. Yoona and Joofee, the squat, blue-skinned symbiotic union, watched with undisguised pride as the bows of various craft splayed open in turn and spinners of light plunged downward into the rosy clouds. Gradually, a funnel of siphoned gas climbed up the spinner-lined way to be harvested by the ship.

“And yer sure every one of them out there’s got people on it, just like this one?” Flavius asked softly, disbelieving even his question.

“No, this is only a scout cruiser, with a crew of barely three dozen unions,” Joofee said. “The largest colony ark holds more than thirty-thousand unions.”

Flavius avoided looking directly at Joofee as it spoke. The merger where their folded second and third arms fused together still unnerved him no matter how much he’d grown to like them personally.

“You’ll understand when we depart tomorrow. The observations are complete,” Yoona said reassuringly. It pointed to the sky opposite the rings to an orangish star glowing brightly. “That’s where we go. With luck, we’ll find two consumable planets waiting--”

The memory slipped away, replaced by another.

"I dinnae feel anything," Flavius said, testing the feel of the claymore in his hand. "’Tis a wee bit lighter than I was expecting. Are ya sure he used real steel in it?"

"You're not supposing to feeling anything," Parric said, that familiar tone of exasperation and embarrassment tingeing his voice as always.

"As I explained before, it is not metal. Pure metallics interfere with the ceramic memory retrieval interface," the mondrite said, its odd reverberating voice both simultaneously soothing and unnerving. Flavius still wasn't certain where the voice came from--its yellow-orange head was featureless other than a series of deep grooves carved down the length of its clay-like body. It gestured to the sword. "The molecular composite mimics a crude metal blade, but is sharper, lighter and stronger."

"I dinnae want it breaking on me at an inopportune time, mind you," Flavius said, eyeing it dubiously.

"Physical force will not harm the supplemental memory unit," the mondrite said. "It must be affected at the molecular level if it is to be disassembled."

"Can ya talk in a language other than gibberish?"

"His meaning is the sword will outlasting you," Parric said, then turned to the mondrite. "The working is acceptable. Many thankings to you."

"Hold on just a moment," Flavius said, considering the hilt. "It's a bonny sword, then, there's no denying that even if I cannae see the sense it in remembering things for me. But it's a bit plain, dinnae ya ken? Here’s an idea I had me. See, since you're the sorcerer--"

"The mondrite is not a sorcering."

Flavius ignored him. "--the sorcerer with all the magic whatsis and all... well, what d’ya ken of whortleberries?"

Another memory intruded.

Flavius stared at his hands in horror. Blood course through his veins, over and around bones as meaty red muscles contracted and relaxed.

"Don't you blaming me," Parric said. "I giving many warnings to you not to drinking."

"Ya dinnae goddamn tell me it'd make my skin transparent!"

Another change...

Flavius swung his claymore and the charging Lidozrout, shattering one spear and gutting a swine-headed Lidozrout through its armor.

Eight more took the fallen one’s place. Their spiral horns rattled on the corridor walls. The corridor was too narrow for the Lidozrout to spread out and attack Flavius from all sides, but it also kept him from swinging Memory to full effect. A spear jabbed past his sword, ripping into his belly.

Flavius staggered back against the wall. "Goddamn. Same place Tommy Lobster got me at Culloden," he muttered, trying to hold his stomach together with his free hand. His legs slid out from under him and he dropped to the floor.

Suddenly, Ctibor appeared in front of him, tattered overcoat flapping, swinging his krukh--an insane weapon sporting two curved blades that nearly formed a circle. He was shouting something at Flavius, blood streaming down his face from the gash above his brow, but Flavius couldn't understand the words.

“I thought ya was already dead,” Flavius finally managed with effort.

Flavius glanced down at his blood-slick sword, at the comforting whortleberries decorating the cross piece. He'd known all along he and Ctibor alone couldn't stop the Lidozrout, but that didn't make dying any easier...

The memory ended, a confused mingling of pain, fear and distance. Then the quiet oblivion was shattered with dazzling beauty.

The Empress smiled at him, her silver hair gleaming in the moonlight streaming through the open windows. Flavius, rather than stare, closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Her scent was sharp, spicy and intoxicating, like a cinnamon liqueur. The little whiffs he’d caught at court had not prepared him for her full effect.

“Is your species so uncivilized that you dare not look upon your betters?” the Empress said with a voice that sounded like glass bells.

Flavius opened his eyes.

“That’s better.” With a delicate hand, she deftly untied the Triple Knot of Faith and the golden cord fell away from her waist. Freed of the cord, the first layer of her ephemeral gown rose from her shoulders, evaporating in the night air. The second layer followed suit. Then the third. When the seventh layer joined its brethren as vapor, she stood before Flavius naked and proud. She stood six inches taller than him, lithe and agile. Her joints weren't quite where he'd expect them to be, but the effect was more intriguing than grotesque given her lank frame. The Empress' skin glistened reddish-copper with natural luster, and her six pert breasts offered ample enticement.

"It's considered a gross breach of etiquette," she said with the hint of a smile, "to refuse an invitation from the Empress."

Grinning broadly, Flavius fumbled with the buckle of his double-looped sword belt before getting it open and dropping--

The final memory ended abruptly. Flavius sat up with a start, rubbing his aching head. He glanced up at the violet sky, the over to Parric.

“I remember ya,” Flavius said, considering the claymore and stroking it reverently. “I remember this bonny great sword I call Memory. And I remember dying. Three times now, that makes it.”

Parric opened his beak but Flavius cut him off with a wave of his hand.

"Dinnae say it. Dinnae ya dare say it. My poor head's in no mood for another one of yer lectures," Flavius said. He sat silently, staring out over the mountains while massaging the craps out of his swordhand with thumb and forefinger. "Just tell me, Parric-- did I at least finish with the Empress before they killed me?"

Continued

Friday, May 2, 2008

Orphans

Okay, I admit it. In the immortal words of Three Dog Night: "Liar!" No sooner do I assert that I've finished posting all my Nebula Award Weekend photos than another cache of images comes to light that I'd neglected previously. In other words, consider this a bonus because I love you so.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

A fistful of photos

And so we reach the end of a heck of a long collection of photos from the Nebula Awards. Just think--if other obligations hadn't called me away for the duration of the awards ceremony itself, I'd probably be posting into next week. Enjoy!

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And that, as they say, is that. At least until the next convention rolls around...