Freedom

There is nothing more hopeful than civilian unrest against an autocratic dictatorship. Some of my earliest memories of the world as a political environment were formed in April of 1989. I was eleven years old and didn't fully understand the backdrop of what was happening in China as the Tienamen Square protests turn violent and ugly as the Beijing government unleashed the power of the military agains its own people who were demonstrating for more dramatic reforms. Five months later, I remember watching the news full of hope and fear as the Berlin Wall fell and Germany began the process of reunification. A little over a year later, I found my first contemporary political hero in the person of Lech Walesa, whose Solidarity movement had succeeded in ending Poland's satellite relationship with the Soviet Union. That same year as Nelson Mandela was released from prison it became more and more apparent that the Soviet union was crumbling and the order of the old world was done as Belarus and the Balkan and Baltic states began breaking with the Soviet Union. By the end of the year, Stalinism in Eastern Europe was more or less done and we were entering a new world.

Wold Newton THIS WEEKEND

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Another Wold Newton Reading Extravaganza this Sunday!

Join us for steampunk western magical realism in a novel thats garnered rave reviews from Ursula Le Guin, The Onion AV Club, Locus and more, Felix Gilman's The Half-Made World. Join us for New York Times Notable and multi-award-winning writer of the unsettling and sublime Jeffrey Ford. Join us for flarf poetry with Fullbright scholar and New York Foundation for the Arts fellow Sharon Mesmer, author of Annoying Diabetic Bitch. Join us for music once more by the miraculous John Pinamonti and the Atomic Nevada Two. Join us! Resistance is NOT AWESOME. Hosted by Eric Rosenfield (that's ME!)

The event is at 6:30pm this Sunday, January 30th at Word Bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. (Directions.) All FREE OF CHARGE, as always.

Weekend Reading - 1/15/2011

The Morning News announces their long-list for the Tournament of Books and once again there isn't one book that was published specifically as a genre novel. Though that doesn't mean they don't have any genre novels; Charles Yu's excellent How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is there, but it was still published by Pantheon and not Tor which indicates to me that the TOB people just aren't trying very hard. Where's The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi? Where's China Mieville's Kraken? And yet somehow I find myself too weary about the whole thing at this point to even work up a proper blog post about it. So here it is in the Weekend Reading.

Haruki Murakami contemplates 21st century literature and how it differs from that of the 20th century.

Seattle's famed "superhero" gets his face punched in. You know this is the thing about trying to be a vigilante in real life. You're probably gonna get your face punched in.

A fascinating essay by Naomi Klein on how corporate branding has taken over America and how American companies have intentionally tried to remake themselves as marketing names that leave the actual creation of products to other—usually out-of-country—companies.

Meanwhile, here's the Atlantic on how the rich who have gotten richer while the rest of us have gotten poorer don't understand or care about how we all feel, and have no conception that times are bad for most people.

From my writing blog, an interesting excerpt from Tom Bissell's book about video games, Extra Lives, in which contemplates how he feels about art and gaming and how that relates to "high" and "low" art.

One of the members of OK Go! talk about the future of the music business and why they dropped their record label. This is really interesting stuff in terms of the future of media and commerce.

Laura Miller talks about why we love bad writing.

The web is a customer service medium. Really there's nothing I can say that encapsulates how brilliant an analysis this is of what the web is and what it isn't and why so many companies go so wrong. Go read it.

And as always, FICTION TIME

"Secret Life" by Jeff Vandermeer is as brilliant as anything he's written, and revisits a lot of the conceptual material of his previous dissection of corporate, white collar cubical life, "The Situation".

"The Silence of the Asonu" by Usula K. Le Guin. It's Le Guin. Formally, it's along the same lines as her most famous short story, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas". You know you want to read it.

"I, Cthulhu" by Neil Gaiman is Gaiman's humorous take on the Lovecraft mythos, and is funny as He... I mean, R'lyeh.

"Understanding Human Behavior" by Thomas M. Disch... you know, all these stories this time around are by pretty legendary people and you should just read them, okay? Because they're awesome.

If you're wondering why my Wet Asphalt posting has been relatively sparse, most of my writing energy lately has been going into my fiction, which I feel is going really well. I may just opt for shorter posts for a while. Anyway, I think Quackenbush has some things in the pipe to entertain you...

The Disembodied Standpoint; or Why I Don't Take Certain Parts of the Leftwing Blogosphere Seriously and You Shouldn't Either

So I haven't been following #mooreandme closely, because as I've stated before I don't think twitter phenomena are things that really happen, but apparently there's been a dustup in certain quarters based on Sady Doyle's protest over Michael Moore posting bail for Julian Assange. There are a few points I would like to make about this whole crop of nonsense that to me underline my general larger refusal to take those certain quarters seriously.

Point 1: It is fundamentally unjust to draw conclusions about the criminality of a person's actions based on news reports.

Video from our reading event and more with Cathrynne M. Valente and Bell Dancing/Burlesque

If you click over to the Wold Newton Reading Extravaganza website you can get video of the reading that myself and Ed Champion hosted here in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, including Cat Valente reading from The Habitation of the Blessed which explores the myth of Prester John, Brian Francis Slattery and the West Constantinople Squeezebox Orchestra and sexy dancing!

There's also information about our next event in Januray, featuring Felix Gilman, Jeffrey Ford and Sharon Mesmer!

The Murakami-Mieville Continuum

I've mentioned before Bruce Sterling's famous essay from 1989, in which the science fiction author laments that "mainstream" (read: "literary fiction") writers are writing speculative fiction better than the genre writers are, citing examples like Margret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Don Delillo's White Noise, and suggests a new category, called "Slipstream," which would include literary works with genre elements and genre works with literary feel (or more precisely, "a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility"). (There's an interesting digression I could go into about how literary fiction people think of themselves as marginalized while genre fiction is "popular" and "commercial" and genre fiction writers think of themselves as marginalized while literary fiction is "mainstream". In fiction, everybody is second class.)

Sterling's attempt at rebranding was marvelously unsuccessful: while a small group of genre writers occasionally identified themselves as Slipstream, most genre writers ignored the term while literary fiction writers never learned it existed. Some people missed the point entirely and thought the term just meant combining two genres together, and there was at least one "Slipstream" anthology filled with cowboy werewolves and noir detective vampires.

Weekend Reading - 12/4/2010

We begin with a very long and fascinating analysis of the colonialist tropes and building blocks of Science Fiction, especially early SF courtesy of Science Fiction Studies.

Related, China Mieville (who may be the finest fantasy writer working right now) talks about the colonialist and childish underpinnings of the man whose shadow falls over all modern fantasy, JRR Tolkein.

Jason Scott, director of long, independent documentaries about Bulletin Board Systems and Text Adventure Games discusses your Roger Corman future, where people's expectations of not having to pay for content lead to cheaply made content. (Not sure I agree with this entirely, but his analysis is interesting, as is the one documentary of his I've seen, the Text Adventure one, Get Lamp.)

An absolutely riveting BBC documentary about the history of psychology, propaganda, advertising and public relations which traces modern advertising ideas to Freudian thought as filtered through his nephew, Edward Bernays, who wanted to create a rebranded propaganda for the corporate age, and so defined our contemporary ideas of individuality and the replacement of the citizen with the consumer.

Hilarious and scathing "digested read" of Decision Points by George W. Bush

Interview with Brian Francis Slattery
An interview with Wet Asphalt favorite Brian Francis Slattery, who talks about how the shadow economies he observed in third world countries informes the shadow societies in his fiction.

And as always:
FICTION TIME

Standard Loneliness Package by Charles Yu, a wonderful short story by the author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe in which folks are hired to experience unpleasant events in place of rich people.

Detective of Dreams by Gene Wolfe, a bizarre surrealist detective story by a master writer.

James Stokoe, one of the "weird comics" creators I wrote about for comiXology released 100 pages of awesome science fiction comics online for free and you should go read them. The work is called "Murder Bullets".

And if you're looking for more short fiction, this site has links to hundreds of stories for your pleasure.

Manga, Anime, Sexuality and Japanese Culture

I originally posted a shorter version of this on my writing blog, but I thought I'd cross post it here where there's more readers because I kind of want people's reaction to it. That is, I want people who may have more experience with this stuff to tell me where I'm wrong and where I'm right.

I've been thinking about manga and anime recently. Sex is usually handled so weirdly. It's like, people either seem to have no sexuality at all unless they're creepy perves (Bleach, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Cowboy Bebop) despite everyone being highly sexualized in appearance, the sexuality is buried underneath constantly thwarted romantic lines to bubble up suppressed (Maison Ikkoku), the sexuality is amped up beyond reason but the "good" protagonists still feel kind of ashamed and embarrassed about it (Demon King Daimao, FLCL), or it's flat out porn (Hentai) where everyone just wants to have sex all the time (but often still feel ashamed and embarrassed about it, though the treatment of sexuality in Hentai porn could be a whole study in itself, which I'm sure someone must have done). Granted, these are all "light" anime (except for the porn) aimed at teenagers, but even more adult works like 20th Century Boys don't seem to portray healthy sexual relationships between consenting adults (or teens), at least between those who haven't been married for a while already. To be fair, I haven't made a study of it, and this is all anecdotal evidence based on the manga and anime I've been exposed to, but it says something weird to me about Japanese culture.

It also makes me think of the Murakami books I've read where people don't really date. It's like there's only three kinds of relationships in Japanese culture, you're either a one-night stand in a love hotel and it's pure sex, you're in some horribly complicated and constantly thwarted romantic relationship that's never actually acknowledged or consummated, or you're married and have been married for some time. Which is really strange.

Compare, for example, these various anime/manga and the American anime-influenced Avatar: The Last Airbender (the TV series, not the execrable movie which will never be spoken of again). In that show we have a number of stable relationships, chiefly between Sokka and Suki and between Zuko and Mai (broken up only because Zuko has to go off and help the Airbender, and then rekindled at the end), and there's also the ongoing flirtation/will-they-won't-they between Aang and Katara which is never portrayed as shameful, embarrassing and never has the kind of exploitative titillation you see in Anime-- Aang never catches Katara in the shower or leers over her body in a swimsuit, for example.

If there are anime or manga that portray ongoing relationships in this way, I haven't seen them. Though I admit it's entirely possible that I just haven't found the right ones.

Wold Newton This Weekend and More Wet Asphalt in December

So the Wold Newton Reading Extravaganza recently inaugurated its new website which has video from the last reading by Brian Francis Slattery and Charles Yu as well as various bonus materials and awesomeness. This weekend will be another great event featuring Cat Valente reading from her book about Prester John, The Habitation of the Blessed, along with belly dancing and burlesque! All for free, at WORD bookstore in Greenpoint. See the website linked to above for more info.

Meanwhile, Wet Asphalt will probably continue to be light until the end of the month when I might have time to breath again. Stay tuned every body!

The Thing About the Tea Party Movement, or False Consciousness for Fun and Profit!

It's not clear that Karl Marx ever used the term "false consciousness" to describe ideology and the way it is used to convince members of the proletariat to act against their own interests politically, but the notion is one that has shown remarkable prescience and staying power as a problem for leftist politics in the last couple centuries or so. It's a useful tool that at least helps to explain how it came to be that Irish immigrants who were apparently no friends of black folks at the time nevertheless joined the Union Army during the civil war to participate in a fight to end slavery in America. It seems to be lurking in the background of the poor kids who got duped into fighting in Korea and Vietnam where it has never been clear that brinksmanship with Mao's China had any real benefit for an American workforce in the middle of the greatest prosperity any labor force has ever had in the history of the world—thanks in no small part to the strength of labor unions in the forties, fifties and sixties; and to President Eisenhower's 70% top marginal tax rate. And frankly, arguments about getting money for school and gaining job skills aside, I can't help but think it's there in the fresh faced kids signing up to learn how to be IED fodder year in and year out in a Military that hasn't had to fight a defensive war in almost four generations now. It also explains to a great degree the question Thomas Frank asked and attempted to answer a few years book in his book "What's the Matter with Kansas?" Frank's answer is wrong because Frank is a milquetoast liberal, and like all milquetoast liberals, he has conceded too much to capitalist propaganda to continue to make a coherent argument for a robust leftwing agenda. But the problem he has identified is real, despite the many attempts to discredit his work by right wing "intellectuals" shilling for the GOP.