Monday, August 31, 2015

Goldshader is Live!

It looks like Goldshader's website, which features one of my stories "Distractions," is now up and running. I could not be more pleased with the awesome presentation for my story, including the evocative animation for a scene in the story.

"Distractions," as befitting its inclusion in the First Volume of the Game Fiction anthology, concerns augmented reality games played between young explorers on the fringe of the known universe. My story is available in full on the website, but it is also available for purchase in print and e-copy formats.

I'm extremely happy with how this website came out and I hope you have a chance to check out the other stories featured on the site!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Suggestions for the Post-Apocalypse

After watching the majesty of Mad Max: Fury Road, I decided to revisit some classics of the post-apocalypse over the last couple of months. I’m not sure what I was looking for, precisely but my rough outline was - the work (movie, television show, book, whatever) had to involve the end of the world as we know it and spend a significant portion of its narrative examining what sort of society would exist after such an event.

Obviously, there is no shortage of the post-apocalypse. To go out on a limb, the collapse is even in a bit of a growth cycle. Before even watching Mad Max, I read five novels all published last year that addressed TEOTWAWKI in some respect. Whether following spore zombies in post-collapse London (The Girl With All of the Gifts) or the slow crumbling of social order in The Book of Strange New Things, I was already in this catastrophic state of mind.

As far as books go, the post-apocalypse has a long history. Mary Shelley wrote “The Last Man” way back in 1826 but I’d mark "Earth Abides" as the true start of post-apocalyptic literature. Seriously you should read this one. The character is compelling and the narrative, perhaps because George R. Stewart wasn’t aware of some of the cliches and tropes an End of the World story is supposed to have. One of my favorite moments happens early in the book when the survivor, Isherwood, finally finds a few survivors living in San Francisco. Instead of quickly settling down and trying to restart civilization, he takes one look at the bedraggled, traumatized remainders of humanity and decides he’d rather take a road trip. The whole book, with its poetic rumination on the slow decay of modern artifacts and the resumption of nature, is like Grapes of Wrath in reverse.

I can also recommend "The Stand” by Stephen King (obviously) and Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel, as books with similar themes and details to Earth Abides. But seriously, read Stewart’s book. In most respects it hasn’t aged a day.

If "Earth Abides" represents the meditative, philosophical take on the post-apocalypse, the other two early titans of this genre - “Alas, Babylon,” by Pat Frank and “A Canticle of Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller, take a look at one of the big enduring mainstays of the end of the world, a thermonuclear exchange. I read Canticle a while ago but finally tore through Frank’s book this summer. In total, I preferred “Earth Abides,” but “Alas, Babylon” has a lot to recommend it as well. For one thing I would point out the rigorous adherence to verisimilitude in Frank’s book. Small details of the nuclear war and its aftermath ring true, and lead to a somber but ultimately optimistic vision of the world after such a disaster.

Nuclear war, as a survivable event, doesn’t seem to crop up as much nowadays - which is probably a consequence of a clearer understanding of the horror of such a war and the receding threat of the old Soviet Union. That said, it remains a favorite of movies (Mad Max being an obvious example) and television shows (the justly praised ‘Jericho’). Trendier catastrophes like superflus and environmental collapse reign currently.

Once you get away from the “Day After Tomorrow” style hyper-disasters, the lingering effects of the total disintegration of the biosphere have produced some of the most compelling science fiction in recent years. Books as diverse as “The Drowning World” by J.G. Ballard, “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy, and “The Fifteen Lives of Harry August,” have all taken up this theme. This is also the subtext of this year’s  “The Water Knife,” by Paolo Bacigalupi, where the western United States slowly dries up as the world grows warmer and warmer. The Water Knife is also notable because of the literate and sophisticated way Bacigalupi handles the question of the post-apocalypse. In The Water Knife, the almost pornographic fascination people have for dying cities and desperate refugees (#collapse) contributes to the spreading disaster. Of all of the versions of the end of the world, this was probably the one that felt the most up-to-date to me, certain features of the story - the ongoing draught in California, economic instability, and spreading wildfires - brought to their all-too-plausible conclusion.

Finally, I’d conclude with Neal Stephenson’s “Seveneves" which convincingly wipes out every living human being except for a handful of women and then fast-forwards a few millennia to the civilization created by the genetically manipulated offspring of these “Seven Eves." I found myself admiring this book more than actually enjoying it. The bleak picture of the end of the world (caused by the inexplicable explosion of the moon) is heavy on interesting speculation and light on characters you’d actually want to survive the end of the world. On the other hand, this is a novel that is utterly unafraid to consider colossal ideas, one of the biggest being what if all human civilization could be rebooted from the ground up.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Vast Crater

This is the hole left behind by the Tianjin explosion. More than a few people have mentioned it reminds them of the Crater in Akira. It does speak to the scale of urban development taking place in China right now.

Tiajin Crater Location

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Self-healing plastic

Standard disclaimer about this being a controlled testing situation but even so the demonstration of this company's instantly self-healing plastic is impressive. Also notable is how one product - a smartphone - can drive further innovation simply through its ubiquity. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

True Detective Post-Mortem

Well...That was disappointing.

I actually watched the finale of True Detective's finale Monday but it took me awhile to want to sit down and discuss what went wrong with this series.

All the pieces were there if you wanted to see them. The fragments, blueprints, and characters for a truly great LA Noir story. It's like someone showed up in an abandoned lot with all of the finest timber, most exactly carved moldings, beautiful stained windows, all of the best furniture and appliances and then just dumped them in the dirt and walked away.

Nic Pizzolatto had all he needed for a great house and then he forgot to put it together.

I had some hopes for the finale. After all it was expanded to 90 minutes which I thought might allow for some truly epic storytelling. I wanted something like the 'sprawl' of the first season with maybe a bit more into the whole weird costumed cult angle.

What we got was 90 minutes of the same series we've been watching. Action, death, angst, and really bad dialogue all ending up precisely where it was always going to end. The two most tragically compromised characters marching to their inevitable fates. Again, I appreciated the artistry of the finale where it worked even while I kept thinking myself - this is really boring.

I'm going to give season three an episode's worth of time to win me back. Life is too short for eight and a half episodes of this:




Monday, August 10, 2015

Sun Waves

Surprised I've never seen this effect before in a music video. Seems like a no-brainier. From r/whoa dude. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

What I Read in July

The stories that spoke to me last month involved regret and longing, exploring that uneasy intersection between having too little and wanting too much. In particular, Lavie Tidhar’s piece had this really cool aspect of looking at realistic moment in the future with an eye towards fantasy, wishing for something that has already outlived its time.
  • Andromache and the Dragon by Brittany Pladek (Ideomancer) An unusual dragon composed of all of the inanimate and living flotsam around it terrorizes a seaside town. The dragon can feed on things like desires and in so slaking its hunger removes the wants and wishes of a town. Andromache of the title witnesses all of this, a strangely objective and patient morsel.
  • Backpack by Stefan A. Slater. (Betwixt) A short story about disposing of fears and doubts in your own way. Dryly philosophical.
  • The cork won't stay by Nate Southard. (Nightmare) A bleak take on mind control about the ways grief makes monsters of us, the pointlessness of existence as told by someone with near godlike powers.
  • The Last Dinosaur by Lavie Tidhar (Shimmer) I really enjoyed this melancholy piece about the last gasoline automobile and the coming to terms with the death of loved ones. Filled with regret and other complicated escape mechanisms.
  • Islands of the Coast of Capitola, 1978 by David Herter (Tor.com) A hazy and hallucinogenic coming of age story following a boy named Ballou as the the worlds of his restricted real life and the pulp infused characters of his fantasy life begin to merge in queasy confusion. What worked for me was the way the technicolor aspects of pulp fiction felt ambiguous and menacing here.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Post-Debate

Leaving aside any notion of the Republican debate being a serious examination of policies and prescriptions for the future of this country, let's appreciate it, for the moment, on the level it deserved - Reality Television Entertainment. Twitter noticed the strange production quality of the debate early: the large stage in front of a large (and fairly energized) crowd, three moderators with different versions of skepticism on each of the faces. Each of the moderators/judges provided a different challenge for the contestants/candidates: for some it was a blunt 'why are you here, exactly?' and for others it was a list of specific character flaws for them to explain. I'll will give credit where credit is due - the moderators knew their material and they kept the debate flowing smoothly (once beyond that weird train wreck of an opening). One could imagine any number of scenes falling into a loser edit when they eventually drop out.

This cross-cutting resulted in some real moments of tension. The exchange between Christie and Paul proved illuminating. I initially judged the New Jersey governor the winner of the exchange because he reached the Guiliani 9/11 button first but upon reflection I have to admit, times have changed. The events of nearly 15 years ago no longer carry the same charge even for Republicans - at least to the degree that they can automatically shut down a debate. On that score I'm happy to be wrong.

Jeb bored the hell out of me, honestly. He doesn't seem as obnoxious as his brother but no where near as interesting either. If W was the frat boy doing keg stands in the common room, Jeb strikes me as the accounting major they stuck behind the tap. So in wrestling terms, that would make him and Kasich the 'faces,' of the rumble. But as pleasant as faces might be, they don't sell the tickets. True wrestling fans come for the heels, the chair-throwing, back-stabbing, insult-hurling villains.

So who was the heel? The obvious choice would be Trump of course, but I prefer my villains to be a shade less cartoon. His buffoonish bluster might be wearing thin or maybe we can look forward to a third party run but no matter - this guy is not going to be president. He doesn't represent an actual threat. 

Next we have Walker and Cruz who one-up Trump simply by being nearly as arrogant but twice as sincere. Walker has the whole up-from-the-bootstraps, chip-on-the-shoulder aspect that makes him this cycle's Voldemort. He basically disappeared in the debate though so we'll have to wait to see if he's able to rise to the challenge of truly national level bullying. Cruz is so completely self-satisfied with his limited gifts it's hard not to pity the guy. He actually seemed to believe that the biggest problem in combating ISIS is word-choice. On the other hand, give this pompous twerp actual power and he'd be a disaster so let's call him Doctor Von Doom.

I'll also give another point to Megyn Kelly for her very effective take-down of Trump. Although I'd mention that as vile as Donald's comments are, that's low-hanging fruit. On the post-debate round this morning, I watched a painfully sincere and eloquent Marco Rubio explain why he felt women didn't have the right to make decisions about their body, yes - even in the case of rape and incest. That's true villainy - a smiling, charming zealot insisting a few words lodged in his head mean you can't make decisions about your own life.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

After Leftovers

My initial impression after finishing the first season of HBOs The Leftovers is basically positive, which in itself is an old takeaway from a show so relentlessly and essentially bleak. I didn't like the finale all that much and the moments of catharsis accompanied by Philip Glass arpeggios have passed the point of finishing returns to enter the realm of self-parody. Honestly how can this town even function if its citizens are breaking down every fifty minutes for a good ugly cry?

But this show works on so many levels I can't simply laugh it away. At least three of stories in season one were instant classics: "Two Boats and a Helicopter," "Gladys," and "Guest." The overall ideas of the series - the cult of depression and the crisis of a psychological apocalypse really worked for me. 

I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to the next season of The Leftovers but I'm willing to watch it be what it is. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

America according to Boston

I'd love to see an updated version of this map, although this one still seems pretty accurate. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Tree of Knowledge

There's a spectacular purple beech tree in my neighborhood, big enough to dominate an entire yard, spreading those strange pewter branches out over the street. Beeches are rare in an urban setting as they are sensitive to pollution and extreme heat, but this one is thriving. The true tree of knowledge, beech bark scars easily and will often bear arborglyphs for decades (think Tom Hearts Jane). The tree has another interesting connection to learning and literacy as it's the root word for "book" in many European languages. One of the earliest texts was written in sanskrit on a beech bark page.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Occultation

Occultation, the short story anthology by Laird Barron, both broadens and deepens the author's approach towards horror fiction. In comparison to his work in The Imago Sequence, stories such as the title work and Broadsword examine similar themes, but through different voices. These stories are also longer, for the most part, than the stories in the first collection, allowing for a more nuanced exploration of worlds that always seem just on the verge of becoming something else.

Consumption plays a big role in Barron's stories, which is something commented on before. However, the carnivorous monsters of these stories are not simply interested in sustenance. Each story describes a destructive process where an old state is broken down and reassembled into something alien. This process might be supernatural in origin (The Forest) or vaguely extraterrestrial (The Broadsword) or it may even be the product of a depraved creativity (Strappado - probably my favorite story in the collection) but it always does more than simply kill or eat. In Barron's world, fate is something active, searching for its target and slowly drawing them into their destiny. The horror here is not the punishment for some hubristic search for knowledge but the inexorable compulsion to lower yourself into a coffin you discover perfectly matches your dimensions.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Leftovers

Picking up The Leftovers because it seemed vaguely tied into my interest this year - post apocalyptica - I discovered a work of unprecedented wonder. It's a show that's depressing because it is about depression. The Departure event where two percent of the population vanished one October 14th didn't just deprive the survivors of loved ones. The show details a very special sort of doomsday: the collapse for all meaning. What seems normal on the surface is already crumbling away beneath.