Barcelona is a Fantasy City

I feel like cities like New York and Tokyo are science fictional cities while cities like London and Barcelona are fantasy cities. Barcelona in particular with its Gaudi architecture that looks straight out of some gnomish kingdom, its crumbling Roman walls as the legacy of a long fallen empire many have tried to recreate, its once exiled king who reclaimed his throne from a real-life dark lord of unspeakable evil and ushered in an era of peace, with its ancient tongue understood by none outside the immediate region, is a fantasy world. It is, however, one almost intolerably thronged with Dorothys, Alices, Harry Potters and other explorers, to the point where, as if in some post-modern satire, it seems there are more adventurers in the fantasy kingdom than native denizens, constantly stumbling over each other and comparing notes in English.

LORE with "Trials of the Dead King" available now!

My story "Trials of the Dead King" is available now in LORE vol 2. no. 3 along with 11 other stories!

Also, I know I've been quiet lately. I'm going to be mostly quiet for a little longer, but at the end of the month I'll be making some noise about various exciting things. Stay tuned!

Here's a taste of the story:

The Challenger steps into the perfectly round room, closing the door on the bodies left behind him. The Savant sits on a low stone bench, gazing into the globe that floats inches from the floor and bathes the room in soft, warm light. Something slips around within it and sends shadows slithering along the walls and over her pale skin. She looks up and welcomes the Challenger with a nod toward the bench directly across from her.

"Would you like some tea?" she asks as the Challenger sits. She motions to one wall. There is a table the other hadn't noticed before, and on it is a cast iron tea pot and some simple ceramic cups.

The Challenger grunts. "No foreplay, old woman," he says. "Let's get to business. I need to go to the Citadel of Oberon."

The Savant sighs, "They never want tea." She takes a breath. The air crackles with hidden energy. "Very well. We begin with a character. You seem like a hip fellow. He'll have a hip name. He will be Danny Mitochondria."

She takes another breath, and when she resumes her voice has taken on a low, inhuman tone that echoes through the room. "Danny Mitochondria made his living taking tourists through the ruins of the faerie capital."

Read the rest in LORE vol. 2 no. 3

On Google Glass

There's an ongoing debate between some friends of mine and I about Google Glass, the Google project to be launched this year that puts a smartphone interface before your eyes like a pair of glasses. My friends think that Glass is a terrible idea, because it's important to them to be able to put the smartphone away and interact with the world unmediated. One friend compared it to the "gargoyles" in Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash, who live their lives constantly recording and documenting every minute and so are always at a remove from reality, unable to experience it without mediation.

Some of the same friends who complain about Glass also complained about cell phones when they started becoming ubiquitous ('if I'm not at home I don't want you to be able to reach me') and later complained about smartphones ('those things are useless'). And while I do still know some hold-outs without cell phones, almost everyone else has a smartphone now and enjoys it. It takes a certain amount of adjustment, especially for us old fogeys who didn't grow up taking the Internet for granted, but once you realize that you can get public transit directions to anywhere while standing on a streetcorner, look up a random fact over dinner or purchase a birthday present for instant delivery while at a birthday party, the value of a tool like a smartphone starts to hit home.

Libertarianism is a morally bankrupt political philosophy.

Put this on Facebook, but I' putting it here too.

Libertarianism is a morally bankrupt political philosophy.

It's consistently disappointing to me when I discover that certain circles I run in have people who think libertarian ideas are credible, who think it's okay to let people starve in the street, die from curable medical problems or die from exposure because they don't have anywhere to live, who think, in short, that's it's okay for people to die because they are poor. Because when you say the government shouldn't take care of people who are too poor to take care of themselves, that is what you're saying.

And when I realize that I can't get this through to people, that they won't listen, I get sick to my stomach. It makes me physically ill. And I don't know what to do about it.

The Trials of the Dead King are Coming

My story "The Trials of the Dead King" has been accepted for publication in LORE Magazine for the upcoming April issue! It's the story of two adventurers and the beings controlling their fate as a storytelling challenge between them.

In addition to "The Kill Robot Hitler Show" in Stupefying Stories this will be my second publication of the year (so far).

Django Unchained and the Importance of Irreverence

Tarantino's latest film Django Unchained has proven controversial though, not I think for the reasons people are citing. Yes, there's copious use of the 'n-word'. Yes, there's lots of graphic violence. But a serious film can get away with both of these things without anyone batting an eye. Consider the n-word in The Color Purple or the violence of the Normandy Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan. Indeed, Spielburg can even get away with gratuitous nudity as long as its done in a serious, non-sexual way, as in Schindler's List or Amistad, and no one raises a fuss.

No, what really bothers people about Django is that it deals with these things in a film that isn't reverent in its treatment of them, a film that is, in short, fun. It's an extreme form of my father's objection to the (much more reverent) film Life is Beautiful— "I just don't want to see a comedy about the Holocost."

However, I think it's precisely Django's irreverence that makes it so important. Because the audience that goes to see Lincoln or The Color Purple or Beloved or Amistad or pick-your-"serious"-film-about-blacks-in-American-history, is often quite different from the one that goes to see a Tarantino splatter-fest. Indeed, it's easy to argue that people who go see these sorts of films are those most already aware of the injustices being depicted (with, perhaps, the exception of people forced to watch them in school). People who don't like to think about the horrors of slavery, who don't want to think about it, don't go by a ticket to see that kind of movie.

Wet Asphalt Election Guide & Drinking Game

Here's a quick run down for the important national races to keep an eye on tomorrow, and a drinking game that should put you in just the right mood for the ultimate outcome, whatever it might be:

Drinking Game, every time one of the following states is called for Romney do a shot
New Hampshire
Massachusetts (safe for Obama, but it's Romney's home state so do a shot in celebration of his embarrassment at losing it)
North Carolina

The more of those states Romney wins, the more likely it is that he will be president. Hence, get good and hammered if he's pulling ahead.

Control of the Senate turns on the following seats
Arizona: Carmona v. Flake

Every time the news people mention that Flake is Mormon like Romney or the importance of the Phoenix Suburbs, take a drink. Every mention of Carmona as "1st Latino" "Surgeon General" or "Vietnam veteran" take a drink.

If Flake wins do a shot.

Indiana: Donnelly v. Mourdock

Every mention of Mourdock's "Rape is God's Will" gaff do a shot. Every mention of Donnelly as a "come from behind" in a state the GOP should have had locked down, chug a beer. Every time both come up in the same sentence, do both.

If Mourdock wins, do a shot and abandon all faith in humanity.

Missouri: McCaskill v. Akin

Every mention of "legitimate rape" comments by Akin, do a shot. Every mention of McCaskill helping Akin in the primary because he's such a buffoon that he was her best shot at reelection, laugh hysterically and do a shot.

If Akin wins, do a shot and swallow a birth control pill with it.

Montana: Tester v. Rehberg

Every time someone expresses surprise that Tester remains ahead, drink. If Rehberg wins do two shots and chug a beer.

Nevada: Heller v. Berkeley

Samuel R. Delany on Why Science Fiction and Literature Are and Should Be Different

Samuel R. Delany, SF Hall-of-Famer and professor of English and Creative Writing, lays out his theory of how science fiction differs from literary fiction (or, as he calls it, "literature" or "mundane fiction" with "mundane" referring to its literal meaning, "of the world") in an essay called "Disch II". This essay, ostensibly about the work of Thomas M. Disch, can be found in the newly reprinted 1984 essay collection Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, which was a follow up to the 1979 collection The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction.

In the essay, he describes in detail how our contemporary concept of literature is fairly recent (dating to the late nineteenth century or so) as is the modern form of science fiction, practiced in the way he describes (which emerged in pulp magazines in the 1920's and '30's). He argues that rather than one kind of fiction artificially separated by genre borders, they are in fact two different kinds of writing, with different functions, priorities and strengths, and that in fact while literature can do things that science fiction cannot, equally science fiction can do things literature cannot, not only by the way it constructs and makes the reader consider the worlds that it creates, but by the way it uses language to very different ends than literature. He likes to bring up the example of the sentence "Her world exploded." which would be a metaphorical sentence in a work of literature but a literal one in a work of science fiction.

His arguments go against my own ideas from some time ago that genre boundaries should, by rights, vanish, and relate to the discussion about genre that I once had with Matthew Cheney, a Delany scholar who first turned me on to this book and who wrote its new introduction.

I'm going to quote from the essay at length below, beginning with a passage about how Kafka's Metamorphosis is read as literature, because I think he's making a fascinating case and one worth thinking about. I'm eliding a lot of his examples and history, and if you're interested in them, in fact if your interested in the subject at all, you should really buy and read all of Starboard Wine.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept NaNoWriMo

Six years ago, I wrote an article about hating National Novel Writing Month, and starting every October since, like clockwork, the hate comments come pouring into that post, as new NaNoWriMo participants stumble upon my article through Google or whatever and feel the need to add their own vitriol to the pile. I even wrote another article where I looked at things in more perspective, said I saw some value in NaNoWriMo, and linked to it at the bottom of the first, but that was almost completely ignored.

So what was my problem? Why would I want to be a hater? My problem wasn't speed-writing. I even praised 24-hour-comic day in my original article, and later mentioned the 3 day novel challenge. With NaNoWriMo, though, I basically felt like the website of the (still new) writing event sent the wrong message; that it encouraged writing as a self-help tool rather than an art form, and worried about its comparisons to running a marathon. Writing fiction, I believed, is something you should do because you love it, not because you see it as a form of therapy or because you have it on some bucket list. Also, I worried about fiction becoming like poetry-- almost only read by people who write it, and thus culturally irrelevant.