Monday, August 27, 2012


I wrote the following on facebook:
I am not happy about the boundary between SF and literary fiction vanishing. I picked SF as a kid some five or six decades ago, because educated people -- and people in authority -- did not like it. It was like comic books and rock music, destroying the minds of our American youth. Now we have Republicans liking Bruce Springsteen and Rage Against the Machine... And Banksy's art ends in museums, even when he doesn't put it there. The ability of the system to co-opt is amazing and discouraging.

All art has content, and the content reflects the lives of different individuals and groups of people. The visual arts of Europe -- at least the arts we study -- are mostly a celebration of kings, nobles and the upper clergy. The stuff is still amazingly lovely, but you cannot understand art history unless you pay attention to the patrons and the message they wanted sent. Comics, SF and rock were originally aimed at poor people, working people and kids, and expressed their lives. All have changed over time, and I guess I have to come to terms with this. But I do not like seeing my genre's tropes in the hands of the upper middle class.
The guy I was communicating with wrote the following in response:
How snobbish and insular and ghetto of you, then. Bigotry is sad.
It is always guys who blow up like this on facebook.

Artists will always borrow from each other, regardless of culture. But I do get irritated when Hollywood uses images and ideas from SF without understanding that science does matter; and one of the rules of SF is -- you are not supposed to be obviously ignorent of science. You can bend science, extend it, even ignore it by allowing faster than light travel, for example -- but you should not look like an ignorent fool.

(This is not a problem with the current Marvel comics movies, because superhero comics have their own rules, and Marvel is controlling the movies. Captain America may not be true to science, but it is true to Marvel; and the key thing about Marvel, per my friend Lyda, its commitment to justice, is in the movies.)

American science fiction has its own history and its own values, which are different from the value of 'high culture' and 'literary fiction.' Science fiction is about the relationship of science and society, which is a different subject than that of most literary fiction; and -- like much of the kid art of the 1950s -- it is often subversive. The McCarthy era witch hunters made sure that anyone writing fiction for adults would pay, if he or she was openly critical of America. Science fiction writers could claim that their fiction was not about reality. Comics -- the superheroes, Mad Magazine and EC -- were obviously unrealistic. In spite of this, EC got driven out of business. Still, if what you did was clearly intended for kids and was obviously short on artistic qualities, you had a better chance of surviving and saying what you wanted to say. Of course, you were going to be poor, because low-class art did not (mostly) pay.

My impression, and I may be wrong, is that literary fiction, what was left of it after the witch hunters were done, was all too often written by people who were co-opted or beaten down.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Poverty in the Streets

This is from a comment by Foxessa:
The number of homeless, begging, hungry, mentally disturbed on the Manhattan streets has leaped hugely this summer. Mayor Bloomberg closed a whole bunch of shelters and meal providers this year as a budget reduction meansure. Then he wondered why there were so many beggars on the streets that weren't there before.
The inability of our political elite to understand cause and effect is amazing. Actions do have consequences, though the sainted Ron Reagan appeared to argue otherwise.

Talking about Louis XVI, as I just was, leads me to remember the famous line about the Bourbons, who were the royal family in Spain and France: the Bourbons learned nothing and forgot nothing. If it worked in the seventeenth century, it will work now.

This is what the leaders of the Free World seem to believe: actions do not have consequences, and what worked in the past will work now.



Kevin Drum on the Republicans: "Mostly they've been busily passing photo ID laws, immigration restrictions, and an enormous raft of new abortion hurdles. Actions speak louder than words, and over the past 18 months the new wave of tea-party Republicans has very clearly shown us what they really care about."

This makes perfect sense. The Republican base is white men of European descent. They do relatively poorly with nonwhites and women. (How poorly can be seen by a recent poll of African Americans: 94% were for Obama, 6% were undecided and 0% were for Romney.) So the Republicans need to find a way to weaken the political power of minorities and women. And that's what they are doing.

Some of their base may find it works against them over time. Emma Goldman said lack of birth control trapped working men. With six kids to feed, they were afraid to join a union and go out on strike.

But the Republican base is anti-union, so I guess they won't mind having lousy jobs and no power -- though they will have power over their wives and daughters, and they will be doing better than nonwhites, no matter how badly they are doing.

The Current Campaign

This current election looks like a choice between Louis the Sixteenth and Tzar Nicholas II. I'm going to vote for Louis. Anything is better than a tzar. But still...

In spite of what I just wrote about the election, I am disturbed that the polling is so close, since the tzarists are obviously insane. The French royalists may be conservative, but they are not insane, and their food is much better.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Closing Down

I had an appointment in Minneapolis on Tuesday. Patrick took me over, and I came back via bus. This meant I was in downtown Minneapolis, which is crowded and busy, full of people and shops and restaurants -- at least in comparison with downtown St. Paul, which is famously empty.

Changing buses, I went past the Godiva shop in the IDS building. Or rather, I went into the shop and bought some chocolate mint truffle bars. The shop guy told me they were closing down in a week or so, and there would be no Godiva shops in downtown Minneapolis. So I bought more chocolate mint truffle bars.

This reminded me that the Nieman Marcus in downtown Minneapolis was closing, so I went there to see if there were any deals. There weren't. The store is not closing till year-end.

The Bloomingdale's at the Mall of America, which has been there since the Mall opened, has closed. There is one Crabtree & Evelyn shop left in the state of Minnesota, and they used to be scattered throughout the many local malls.

I don't follow the business news, so I can't be sure, but I think we are seeing the effect of the long recession of depression since the 2008 crash. Chains that made it through 2008 are one by one cutting back or closing completely, as Border's did.

When a business fails, we are told there were management failures. When it succeeds, we are told the managers are genuises. However, in the war of all against all which is capitalism, some have to win and others have to lose. Often, it's a matter of luck.

That given, general economic conditions will influence success and failure. A lot of companies succeed in a boom economy. A lot fail in a recession or depression.

What interests me is the kind of stores that are closing. Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus, Godiva and Crabtree & Evelyn are all, to one extent or another, upscale -- the kind of places middle class people might go to for a luxury purchase and where upper middle class might shop regularly. (I think the seriously rich fly to New York or Paris to shop.) The poor and ordinary working people are not likely to be customers in these places, certainly not at Neiman Marcus. I walk in there in my jeans and tee shirt, and the shop people look at me, and I feel about an inch tall.

But the Nieman Marcus store in downtown Minneapolis, which has been there for years, is closing.

What does this tell us about the economy?

Friday, August 17, 2012

From Curiosity

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Before the Civil War

I was reading Foxessa's blog and found this:
I cannot express how much everything that we've been experiencing in the last ten years looks so much like 1850 -- the year the elected politicians gridlocked for good, the constant rhetoric -- and even actions -- of violence employed on constant basis by the southerners against what they saw as trespasses against their rights -- which was the right to trample on everyone else, and curtail everyone's freedom for the sake of them keeping their slaves and spreading slavery everywhere, and what follows. With the Fugitive Slave Act in action, people in the free states were not only digusted by what they were seeing, but by what they were told they, by law, had to do to aid the slave owners. Their inevitable conclusion, based on this, and what the slave owners actually said, was that ultimately even white men could be enslaved by the same slave owners who were forcing them to recover slaves.
This is what I have been thinking, though I haven't done Foxessa's research on the 1850s. Our current political gridlock, the violent rhetoric and the actual violence all seem like the period before the Civil War.

The argument then was between slavery and freedom. I guess the question is, what is our current argument about? We know that hugely rich people are backing the Tea Party and the Republicans; and we know that the right wing in this country is deeply offended by the idea that people of color, immigrants, GLBT people, women and ordinary working people should have equal rights and decent lives.

So maybe, on one side, we have a belief that society should limit and regiment and diminish people, that all humans are not equal, that the power of the rich is legitimate, and that white men with lots of money really ought to run the world.

On the other side, we have a vision -- granted, not entirely clear -- of a society where all people are equal and free.

Slavery and freedom.

Friday, August 10, 2012

House Cleaning

It's time for honesty. I am not a great house cleaner. At best, I am adequate. Also, I have doodads on every level surface, stuffed animals in half the chairs, pillows and throws all over. Remember the dippy teacher in the Harry Potter movies? The one played by Emma Thompson? My apartment looks like her classroom. Cleaning it is not easy. I should toss out half this stuff, have the apartment repainted, get floor to ceiling bookcases installed for the books and doodads I cannot bear to toss, and spend my retirement savings on new furniture from Design Within Reach. I could box the stuffed animals and put them in storage, but they wouldn't like that one bit.


I posted the above on facebook and got a long series of comments reassuring me that my home looked perfectly okay, which was nice of people. But there was both hyperbole and irony in my original comment. Or maybe there was simply frustration with how much stuff I have and how difficult it is to dust around it. Anyway, on most days the slightly over-full look of my apartment is pleasant. It's made up of books and paintings and prints and objets d'art and oriental rugs and plants such as the hoya, which is about to bloom again...

Though I wouldn't say no to floor to ceiling bookcases along one wall; and some of the furniture could be replaced...

From Mars...

An in-color panorama. It doesn't read especially well, since it's small, but it's from Mars!

Click to make larger.

New Story

I'm writing a new story, a planetary romance in the manner of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett and C.L. Moore; and I've been posting as I work on the story:

I am not happy with how the new story is going, but I really like the background. So I am trying a new approach.


I have 2,000 words of my planetary romance. I have the setting, the situation, the lead characters and some nice animals. But no gimmick. No McGuffin. I guess the answer is to get my characters in motion and see what happens. I can go back and get rid of anything that does not fit into the final plot.


I know it's a mistake to talk about a story I'm writing. I will talk the story out and not write it. And real writers write, they don't talk about writing, as we all know. However, I am finding the current one interesting, because I'm actually watching how I write. I've decided the noir version of the current story is not working, because it reminds me too much of a Lydia Duluth story, though Lydia Duluth stories are not noir. (Go figure.) In the past, I have given up on stories when they looked too familiar. This time (or yjos tome, as I just typed) I'm going to put the two attempts to begin this story off to the side for a few days. Maybe they will cross-fertilize, while I think of other things.

Yjos Tome is a great name for an alien. I need to remember it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

A Photo from Mars

Happy Engineers and Scientists



Curiosity made it down to the surface of Mars, after a descent that looked so complex as to be almost impossible. Everything worked as planned. I am looking for photos of happy engineers and scientists to post here.

Facebook Posts

I got a comment from someone confused by my "from facebook" posts. These posts are, in fact, from facebook. When I end up writing something that seems long enough and dense enough for the blog, I copy it and post it here.

Usually I stitch together several comments, which have been made in response to posts by other people. So you are getting half of a conversation. I think it's mostly coherent.

I love facebook, even though -- in general -- I don't like chit chat. I remember years ago hearing Steve Brust explain that he and his friends talk in one-liners, and this is why his characters talk the same way.

Eric Heideman and I were stunned. We and our friends talk in paragraphs. I like long posts, even on facebook, and am happiest when a facebook remark turns into a conversation.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Happy Endings

More comments from facebook:

I began the first volume of George Martin's fantasy series and did not like it. There was too much power politics and not enough fantasy, and the books were too big. But I had lunch with Mike Levy and Sandy Lindow yesterday, and Mike very much likes the Martin books. I respect Mike as a reader and critic, so I will have to rethink the Martin series. Maybe I should simply say the problem is with me, and I don't have to like every book, even every good book.

I have a bias toward books with happy endings. I especially like writers such as Dickens and Austen who show us social awfulness -- the misery of Victorian England, the greed and selfishness of the English country gentry in the early 19th century -- but give happy endings to their heroes and heroines. In some ways, these novels are like Measure for Measure -- dark, with an almost arbitrary happy ending. The world is hell, but this is a comedy, so let's get everyone married

Patrick won't let me kill likable characters. He worked with homeless people -- not in shelters, but people living outside in tents and caves by the river -- for more than ten years. Almost everyone he knew and liked died while still fairly young. (The life expectancy for homeless people is less than 50, I think.) He's had all the death he wants. And we have both reached the age when mortality becomes a real issue. We want happy endings.

There is a lot of realism in Dickens and Austen. Dickens is often clearly dark. And if you look closely at Austen's sunny comedies, you will see remarkable examples of meanness, selfishness and greed. Not to mention stupidity. I would not want to live in any of Austen's small towns. The only Austen book that portrays a society I find really likable is Persuasion. I could imagine spending time with the sailors and their wives. Admiral and Mrs. Croft are the happiest marriage in any Austen book. But as I said above, Dickens and Austen give you rather awful societies, but keep a happy ending for the heroes and heroines. I like that.