Links and Notes for the Week of April 15, 2018

* The 2018 Pulitzer Prize Winners – Congratulations to everyone on the list.

* Apropos of something or other, What is a Kakistocracy?

* 100 Years of Tax Brackets – Note that there is a direct correlation between rich people dodging taxes and the rise of fascism in any given country. See, for instance, United States of America, particularly during the Trump presidency.

* The Fall of the “Alt-right” Came From Anti-fascism – The alt-right is synonymous with the mainstream right in the United States. Thus Antifa is de facto the most patriotic way to be an American.

* Investigating Pathways to the Alt-Right – or, how racist trash becomes racist trash.

Flash Fiction: Luck, or Something Like It

“Luck, or Something Like It” is a flash fiction inspired by the prompt “Luck” from Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds. This scene immediately follows my previous story “Looking At Ourselves“.

Professor Smith dusted off his jacket and looked around. The room in which he suddenly found himself was huge, with no walls, and a suggestion of a ceiling far overhead, but that could also have been low cloud cover. The space was quite crowded. The floor was uneven and seemed to be made of stone, and he changed his assessment from “room” to “cave”.

“Smith!” he heard a voice yelling nearby. “Smith! Where are you?”

Smith smiled and waved. Professor Lin shouldered her way through a crowd of young people, who Smith vaguely recognized as his neighbors.

“Lin! Over here!” yelled Smith.

Lin made her way carefully to Smith, glancing down at the floor.

“Did we…” said Lin.

“I think so,” said Smith.

“Then we’re in…” said Lin

“Good question,” said Smith. “Not heaven certainly. I recognize some of my students.”

“And not hell,” said Lin. “I see my doorman, Jerry.”

“Good man, was he?” said Smith.

“One of the very best.” said Lin. “He died a little over a month ago.”

“Ahead of the crowd, as it were. So. Purgatory?”

“Perhaps,” said Lin, and raised a hand “Jerry! Halloo! Over here!”

And elderly man, with a bald head and bushy moustache, wandered over to join the two academics. Lin took one of his hands.

“Jerry! It is so good to see you again!”

“Doctor Lin! Likewise.” The corners of Jerry’s moustache drew up into a smile. “Kind of crowded here, all of a sudden.”

“The meteor hit,” said Smith, and offered a hand. “Smith. A pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” said Jerry. “Doctor Lin mentioned you from time to time.”

“Positively, I hope!” said Smith. “Lin tells me you’ve been here for a little while. Where is ‘here’, exactly?”

Jerry snorted. “The Bardo, they tell me. We’re all biding our time before we head back to the world. People popping in and out all over the place.”

Lin frowned. “The Bardo, eh? So we’re between lives?”

“Sounds about right,” said Jerry. “I’m Baptist myself, or I was. This whole reincarnation thing is taking a while to wrap my head around.”

“The Bardo! We’re in luck!” said Smith. “Another go at getting things right.”

Lin frowned. “Maybe not. If we are waiting here for our turn at reincarnation…”

Smith’s face fell. “And the world was just destroyed…”

“See, this is why I was happy being a Baptist,” said Jerry. “We only had to worry about our souls once.”

“And we’re sure this is the Bardo?” said Lin.

“Sure as I’m standing here.” said Jerry. “There’s some folks in yellow robes seem to have it all figured out. I never even heard of the place before my heart attack.”

“Er, what happens if we’re supposed to reincarnate and there are no, er, vessels?”

“Beats me,” said Jerry. “I don’t know who’s really in ch-” He abruptly vanished with a small “pop”.

Lin and Smith stared at the empty space, then at each other.

“Maybe he came back as a microbe?” said Smith.

“I’m not sure it works that way,” said Lin. “Maybe reincarnation isn’t bound to one planet.”

“You’re saying he just went back as an alien something?”

“Perhaps,” said Lin. “Buddhism is bound to one planet. That doesn’t mean that the thing Buddhism points toward is also bound to one planet.”

“Nonsense,” said Smith. “If that is the case, where are all the aliens? All I see are a lot of people.”

“Do you see any animals?” said Lin. “Any birds or insects or anything like that?”

Smith looked around. “No, now that you mention it.”

“Maybe they have their own room. Er, cave. Space?”

“Afterlife.”

“But it’s not really ‘after’,” said Lin.

“Intermission?”

“That works. Let’s walk around.”

Smith smiled and offered his arm. Lin hooked hers through his, and they set off through the crowd. After a while Smith said, “I don’t feel like we’re making progress.”

“And I’m not exactly sure how long we’ve been here. The Book of the Dead says forty days, but who is to say if time works here the way it works—worked—back home.”

“It makes sense that it doesn’t,” said Smith. “Space certainly doesn’t.”

“So we don’t know exactly when we’ll head off to the next place.”

“Interesting phrasing,” said Smith. “If space has come unbound, then perhaps time has too. Maybe we stay on the same planet, but we go back to, well, whenever. The 1800s. Or the time of the dinosaurs.”

“Or two billion years from now, when the planet reforms and life begins anew.”

“And wouldn’t that be strange,” said Smith. “No different from being on an alien planet.”

“So in the end we know where we came from, but not where we are—”

“The Bardo,” said Smith.

“But that doesn’t really explain anything,” said Lin. “As I was saying, we’re not sure where we are, and we certainly don’t know where we’re going.”

“So we just have to trust in a higher power?” said Smith.

“Or a lower one.” said Lin.

“That doesn’t sound encouraging,” said Smith. “Maybe Dante—”

“Not lower as in infernal,” snapped Lin. “Lower as in intrinsic. A more basic function of the universe. Not consciously directed by some external agent.”

“A deeper octave of a fractal?” said Smith.

“Yes!” said Lin, squeezing Smith’s arm. “The little details are reflected in the larger picture.”

“So at some level it is all determinism,” said Smith. He sighed and shook his head.

“At some level, perhaps.” said Lin. “But at this level, it could all be luck. Maybe it’s all down to timing. I died at a slightly different microsecond than you did. I come back as a furry critter new Alpha Centauri, or something, and you come back as a polyp in an ocean near Betelgeuse.”

“And there’s a line vessels in the universe waiting for a line of souls. Interesting idea!”

“Time and good behavior,” said Smith.

“Right place, right time, and the Eightfold Path.”

“Ten is a nice round number,” said Smith. “Am I imagining things, or is the crowd thinning out a bit?”

“Seems to be,” said Lin, “Though it could be Brownian motion distributing everyone more evenly in this space.”

Smith squinted into the distance. “No, people are definitely leaving. Seems to be picking up pace, too.”

“I guess this is goodbye again,” said Lin.

“And no terrible vodka this time,” said Smith.

Lin smiled. Smith vanished with a small pop. Lin closed her eyes as a wave of vertigo washed through her, and reopened them to something completely unexpected.

Links and Notes for the Week of April 8, 2018

* White People Anonymous

* How nostalgia for white Christian America drove so many Americans to vote for Trump

* The Demise of the Nation State

* Mud season in Russia: Putin, Rasputin

* Two lists from Tor.com – All the New Fantasy Books Coming Out in April. All the New Science Fiction Books Coming Out in April.

* “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.” – from this comment (#26, by Frank Wilhoit) on a post over at Crooked Timber.

* An excerpt from William T. Vollmann’s new book No Immediate Danger.

Flash Fiction: Looking At Ourselves

“Looking At Ourselves” is a flash fiction inspired by the prompt “New life” from Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds.

“That’s the fundamental issue,” said Doctor Smith. “Life is a continuum. Any divisions you make are simply arbitrary.”

“Be that as it may,” said Doctor Lin, “The momentum can be shifted. The life you live before having children is not the same as the life after children, for example.”

“The child’s life certainly changes.”

Lin snorted. “Well said! But from that point forward, whether the child has agency or no, it is all one life.”

“Swapping out universes might make it new,” said Smith. “An utter change in context, however similar the new universe might be.”

“Life as the interaction between the one living and the environment in which it lives,” mused Lin. “That is an interesting proposition. Quantum theory states that at any decision point the universe bifurcates, and the one with the alternate decision recedes into the multiversal distance.”

“I find that thought alienating,” said Smith. “That means the first time we make a decision we irrevocable lose the people who existed with us at the moment of our birth. All we are left with is close approximations.”

“That also raises a question,” said Lin. “Assume—and this I grant is an odd one—assume that somehow the choices at whatever level—quantum, nano, gross, and so forth—were structured in such a way that a population of people would stay in the same quantum reality for an extended period of time. Through sheer happenstance, of course, since how could we possibly do such a thing on purpose? Would we notice when the split finally occurred?”

“Interesting. We can’t perceive the universe at a level where such changes take place. Does that mean that we chart a path through the multiverse, or is it the multiverse which moves on a path through us.”

“The medium really is the message?” said Lin. “McLuhan must be jumping for joy in his grave.”

Smith frowned and stared at the bottle between them. “Through the bifurcations of the universe, no matter the location and cause of the incident of bifurcation, we exist. We have memory and agency.”

“Determinism says…” began Lin.

“Determinism is a fool’s game!” snapped Smith. “If we choose to believe in determinism it is no different than being predestined to believe in free will.”

Lin gave Smith a wounded look. “I was only going to say that determinism dictates that each state of the universe is predicated upon the preceding state.”

“And indeterminism says that, though A and B are fixed, there are myriad paths between the two.”

“Bringing James into the conversation?” said Lin. “I think we need more bourbon than this!”

Smith chuckled. “Apologies. The idea of a locked universe presupposes that we operate on a level where we can perceive the mechanism of the locking.”

“True,” said Lin. “But we do seem to have edged closer to that state every year.”

“And what a time of miracles and monsters that would have been,” said Smith, “When we could see the fundamental mechanisms of change. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, weaponized.”

The two were silent for a time, as the universe around them bifurcated furiously.

Eventually Lin ventured. “Narrative depends on causality, of a sort. In a very literal way, everything has precedent. If the universe is recreated in every instant then we are also recreated in every instant, along with the memories of everything which brought us to this moment.”

“Narrative is a tricky one to reconcile with the many universes. Consider the fact that no two people remember an event in precisely the same way.”

“Facets and viewpoints,” said Lin. “No two of us have charted the same path between A and B, so the angle at which we view the thing itself varies. A sort of cosmological parallax. The things closer to us move more quickly through our awareness.”

“So each of us has our own universe. Intriguing. The universe as self-awareness. With that as criteria the universe must be an endangered species on this planet.”

Professor Lin chuckled around a sip of bourbon. “Along with everything else. Still, no need to be cynical. Students are students in every universe. But it does raise the question of the existence of the universe without an observer.”

“Alan Watts said we are apertures through which the universe is exploring itself.” said Smith. “That puts us at the mercy of the whole. It moves the level at which agency inspires causality to the other end of the scale. Too big to comprehend, instead of too small.”

“I find that thought both disturbing and comforting,” said Lin. “It brings a sense of completeness, but at the cost of a sense of futility.”

“But,” said Smith, “It also frees us to chart our own course at the level at which we live, without worry of disrupting the pattern of the whole. Freedom, within the limits of our awareness.”

“Infinite and bounded, though we were beginning to test those boundaries. And the testing is the work of many lifetimes. It requires a narrative outside the temporal limits of human experience.”

“Well, this human experience, anyway.” said Smith. “But a good story, properly told, can change the course of the world.”

“Within the limits of causality, of course.”

“True. Even a meteor is not without precedent. It’s inevitable, really.”

This brought about a lull in the conversation. The bourbon was gone. Lin pulled from a small satchel a bottle of vodka. Smith eyed it warily.

“Artificially changing the efficacy of the observer will change nothing in the universe.”

“Maybe,” said Lin, “But there are some things which we might not want to observe too closely. How much time do we have?”

“Minutes at most,” said Smith.

“So much for a new life,” said Lin.

“You never know,” said Smith, “But you should probably pour that vodka quickly.”

Lin did so, and the two shared a toast.

“To new life,” said Lin. “May it fare better and longer than the stuff down here.”

“To good health,” said Smith. “May it last as long as your life.”

In the distance sirens sounded, and the light took on a reddish hue as the old friends drained their mugs.

Smith grimaced. “Is this the best you could do?”

“Regrettably, it was,” said Lin over a sudden roaring of wind. “I doubt we’re the only ones doing this.”

All around them, the universe blinked.

 

Links and Notes for the Week of March 18, 2018

* Icelandic publisher prints books only during the full moon, and burns all copies that don’t sell immediately.

* Down and Out with Warren Zevon in Los Angeles.

* How To Change Your Facebook Settings To Opt Out of Platform API Sharing. Useful information from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. For those of us still compelled, willingly or otherwise, to use the odious, toxic, and vile Facebook service.

* Socialism as a set of principles. Jacobin Magazine offers ABCs of Socialism (PDF)

* A study of the fearful white men who own most of the guns in the USA.

* Bruce Sterling’s keynote at South by Southwest 2018. Disrupting dystopia indeed.

Links and Notes for the Week of March 11, 2018

A short list this week. I’ve been out enjoying the beautiful weather with my beautiful partner.

* Exactly what it says in the title: (Almost) every Science Fiction and Fantasy and Comic Book Adaptation in the Works.

* I’ve been following the Grand Rapids Whitewater project for several years, and it looks like I might live to see rapids reappear in the middle of Grand Rapids. And I might even be young enough to enjoy them.

* More whacky news from a leader who seems sprung from the same DNA as emasculated president Donald Trump.

* A brief, beautifully done, and heartbreaking documentary on Vietnamese immigrants to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Links and Notes for the Week of March 4, 2018

* I have just become aware of Big Echo, an online journal of “critical sf”. I am still scratching the surface but there is some seriously interesting thought going on here.

* Ta-Nehisi Coates interviews Lupita Nyong’o and Chadwick Boseman about Black Panther and the cultural importance and impact of the movie.

* Donald Trump–who is undoubtedly the most destructive American president since Jefferson Davis–displays the typical Republican trait of caving to monied interests and completely missing the point of school shootings. Violent video games don’t cause school shootings. A sick and sadistic and cowardly culture of gun worship and the fetishizing of violence, perpetuated by the terrorist NRA, is the cause of school shootings. There is no interpretation of NRA rhetoric which does not directly translate to the advocacy of the murder of children. Emasculated president Donald Trump (and by extension, all Republicans) stands in unconditional support of this NRA message.

* Since the federal government is a wholly owned subsidiary of the big banks, cities are beginning to explore opening their own banks to fund local and regional investment, without local interests being at the mercy of the whims of parasitic speculators and parasitic shareholders.

* As of the posting of this list, I have 1,317 books entered into LibraryThing. I still have a dozen or so cookbooks to catalog, but for all intents and purposes I am completely caught up.

Links and Notes for the Week of February 25, 2018

* An interesting, fun, and very strange article and comment thread, courtesy of Charles Stross. From the intro: “I am working (for reasons of my own) towards a comprehensive list of plausible techno-thriller plots from 2010 where the MacGuffin is named Satoshi Nakamoto.”

* Homecoming: How Afrofuturism Bridges the Past and the Present is an excellent article.

* Once upon a time I was a fan of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth books. Then he starting carrying water for Ayn Rand, and the decent-but-not-great quality of his interesting-but-not-innovative stories declined sharply. Now he has distinguished himself as a jackass by publicly insulting the cover artist of his latest book. The internet, of course, is having none of this and is doing an excellent job of roasting Mr. Goodkind. It appears his behavior has cost him spots at a couple of conventions, and will likely make future business with the publishing industry more difficult for him. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

* Since students are protesting their presidentially (45) approved murder at the hands of NRA-backed second-amendment fetishists and other terrorists, members of the mainstream conservative fascist and fascist-adjacent community are sending them death threats and accusing them of being crisis actors, etc. This has not stopped the students from protesting, and indeed seems to be reinforcing their will and message. To that point it is important that students (and enforcers of student-affecting rules) know which rights are in play. The ACLU has helpfully published a page which clarifies students’ rights.

* Voyages in Sentence Space is a wonderfully strange tool which “bridges” the space between two arbitrary sentences with additional sentences along a “gradient” of meaning. From the example:

  1. I went looking for adventure.
  2. I went out on a mission.
  3. I shouted awkwardly.
  4. I stared incredulously.
  5. I feel desperate.
  6. I never returned.
  7. I never returned.

Sentences 1 and 7 are user input. Sentences 2 through 6 are generated to “fill the space” between 1 and 7. Here is an example I generated:

  1. His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god.
  2. His features seized his mistressmaker, and then.
  3. True Bailey leaped through little branches at them.
  4. Send Clayton taking off his shot.
  5. No more pictures stood in things.
  6. It has returned close to none.
  7. And none returned alive, save I.

Interesting and fun in an absurdist, surrealist way. The full article details the thought and technology behind the experiment.

* At the time of the publishing of this post, I have 1,091 books cataloged at LibraryThing.

Links and Notes for the Week of February 18, 2018

* Here’s an interesting idea: Sustainable kelp farming. The kelp is both crop and micro-environment where the farmers can raise oysters and other immobile shellfish. The kelp and other plants provides cover for fish and the combination of multiple plant and animal species helps to restore the larger environment.

* After 45 was elected I significantly ramped up my charitable giving to organizations which work against the kind of oligarchy and fascism which is the party line of the GOP today. These organizations are the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Innocence Project, Doctors Without Borders, Reporters Without Borders, and the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

* The Global Risks and Risks-Trends Interconnections Map for 2018 has just been posted. The biggest risks are those associated with large-scale involuntary migration–both the causes of (societal instability, climate change, economic collapse, etc) and the results (interstate conflict, food crises, housing, etc.)

* This is a very strange but interesting take on the current state of the world, involving time travel, the many-worlds theory, and something very much like the digital equivalent of Cthulhu.

* Fear of a Black Universe – Black Panther, modern American culture, and Afrofuturism.

* Some words: vocation, avocation, invocation, convocation, evocation, devocation

* And speaking of the SPLC, they have just added “Male Supremacy” to their list of extremist ideologies. This is a good move, and long overdue. In the linked article they point out the strong crossover between Male Supremacy and White Supremacy. This is the mindset which brought us the presidency of Donald Trump, NRA-backed school shootings, mainstream Christian groups like the KKK, and scores of other sub-ideologies which represent the frantic flailings of dying moments of history. I look forward to the day when every white supremacist and every proponent of toxic masculinity is in the ground. And overwhelmingly those will be the same people.

ConFusion 2018: Poetry in Novels

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I participated in at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

THE PANEL: Poetry in Novels (21 January 2018, 10:00)

PANELISTS: Amal El-Mohtar, Clif Flynt, Jeff Pryor, John Winkelman, Mari Ness

DESCRIPTION: “Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass include lengthy poems, placing them in a long tradition of long-form fiction that incorporates poetry into the work. How does writing poems for prose fiction differ from writing poems that stand alone? What distinct techniques does it require? Where do poems within stories exist in the landscape of genre poetry today?”

PRE-PANEL NOTES

PANEL NOTES

  • Poetry can be time-shifted in relation to the story in which it appears
    • In situ, as a bard or skald composes a poem based on events as they are happening
    • Used to imply history/world-building for the setting. An epic poem is written between the time of the events which it recounts and the time in which it is read.
    • The poem itself can be placed in a specific place in history based on written style or language or word usage.
  • Poetry can be used for world-building, either experienced by the characters or as related by the narrator.

MY THOUGHTS

Boy, did I over-think this one–in part because I love poetry, and in part because Amal El-Mohtar was also on the panel and I wanted to bring my “A” game.