Tuesday, September 25, 2012

American Fantasy and Science Fiction

Still more from facebook:
I just wrote a long post about writing outside one's own culture and then deleted it by accident. I think I will leave it gone. It was in response to a post on Hiromi Goto's blog, which Nisi Shawl linked to. Horomi was writing about the need for F & SF by and about people not in the dominent, white and European culture. The short form of my comment is: yes, indeed we do. Science fiction is about escaping from the here and now, but when it's good, it's based on reality and experience; and white experience is only a small part of human experience.

I rechecked Hiromi's blog and discovered I have read into it some of my pet dislikes. European elves in the US make me crazy. We have our own myths and magical creatures and should use them. Even given the question of how authentic they are, it seems to me that Paul Bunyan and Brer Rabbit say more to me as an American.

And then there are the kings and nobles in the European material that American writers borrow. This reminds me of a comment on another post of mine. It's a quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. "I didn't know we had a king, I thought we were an autonomous collective" Well, the US is not an autonomous collective, alas, but we don't have a traditional king or nobles. We have robber barons and governmental tzars. There is a difference. And our folklore tends to work on the level of small animals, working people and petty criminals. Brer Rabbit. John Henry. Paul Bunyan. Jesse James.


More from facebook. Patrick has gone to Fargo for a couple of days, and some people on facebook were making jokes about going to Fargo. Who would want to? So I wrote this:
Patrick called from Fargo last night. He said the drive up was good. Wonderful light and wonderful fall colors. He will go to his meeting today, then check out a new coffee shop. I made him promise to go to Zanbroz, a store that has two locations, one in Fargo and one in Sioux Falls. I've been to the Sioux Falls store many times, but never to the one in Fargo. It's hard to describe what they are like. The Sioux Falls store bills itself online as a variety store and a book store. Whoever is buying for them has good and interesting taste. And the Fargo store may still have its soda fountain counter.

I think it's possible to get Chippers in Fargo, though they are made in Grand Forks, if I remember correctly. Chippers are potato chips dipped in chocolate, and they are good. There are, in fact, reasons to go to Fargo. Best of all, maybe, is the chance to visit fossil Lake Agassiz.
Patrick went up to attend a meeting of the interfaith organization that runs the local homelss shelter and works on homeless issues. He likes the people a lot and says they are doing excellent work, and he likes Fargo.

Fargo's on Jim Hill's High Line, a major rail line that runs from St. Paul to the West Coast. This means that homeless people riding the trains end there; and there are local homeless people. There is a serious lack of housing in North Dakota right now, due to the oil boom, which has brought people into the state who have more money for rent than many local people. So the construction and oil workers get the housing at very high rents; and the local people are homeless. It's the market in action.

The oil money helps the North Dakota economy, and oil and construction workers get needed jobs. But there is still the problem of people without homes.


I typed "software" as "siftwire" just now. It's a rather nice looking word and could go several ways: "siftwar," which might be an SF war, or keep it as "siftwire," then figure out what a siftwire is.

Anyway, I posted the following on the Wyrdsmiths blog and got two responses. Readers are more likely to respond to software problems, I think.

I have two Apple computers at home, and a PC netbook which I take out. In addition, I post to a couple of blogs and am on facebook.

What this means is I do a lot of typing in different programs, often switching rapidly from one to another. Usually this is not a problem. But I keep looking for the like button when I read blogs, and sometimes strange things happen when I move among three different word processing programs. One of my stories has acquired an extra 2,000 words in the netbook version, which should be a copy of the Mac version. I made a brief attempt at finding the extra words, then decided to finish the story on a Mac.

Things that are simple and obvious to me in Word suddenly become a problem with the open source software on the netbook. I suppose I could decide to load Word onto all the computers, but that would mean spending money.

Anyway, not a big deal. But it surprises me how easily I can move among the programs and then how frustrating it is to suddenly not know how to do something very simple. Where is the line spacing in this program? How do I bold or center?

Friday, September 21, 2012

More from Facebook

I checked out Jeff VanderMeer's blog and found him reporting on all kinds of interesting speculative fiction from all over the world. I need to get serious about keeping up with the field or fields.

The stories he describes have a couple of traits, I think. One is they are multicultural and multinational, which is cool. SF and related kinds of fiction should be multi. They also sound to me (I haven't read any yet, though I am making lists) as if they sit the line between SF and literature. They are not the old-time, plot-driven, popular trash I grew up on. (And here I have to correct myself. I was reading William Tenn and Alfred Bester and P.K, Dick as a kid. This was not exactly Doc Smith. To be fair, I was also reading E.R. Burroughs. Though never -- as far as I can remember -- Doc Smith.) So I am wondering if what's happening to SF is it's becoming multi and slipstream. And that's where it's alive and growing, rather than exhausted and dying. I am in favor of #1, but I resist #2. As far as I can remember, I have always wanted to write science fiction and fantasy and folk tales; and I have never wanted to write literature. This is a prejudice I need to deal with. I will have to read some of the stories that Jeff likes.

And I should also consider whether SF is alive and growing in several different directions. I have read some New Space Opera which I really like. New Weird sounds interesting, though I haven't read enough of it. I like what Aquaduct Press publishes. New Feminist? Or simply What Aqueduct Press Likes?

Maybe I should see SF and related fields as a creature with many tentacles, reaching and grasping in many directions. That will make me happy. I like tentacles.

Maybe I should see this entire post as a way of avoiding getting to work cleaning the bathroom.

Miscellaneous Remarks

Remarks pulled from facebook, all by me:
There are times I think SF is exhausted, but it may be that I am exhausted. In any case, the only answer is to keep trucking and try to write something new.

I was happily inputting my very wet noir planetary romance yesterday, when it suddenly seemed terrible, and I stopped. This is typical. I get neat ideas; I get excited; and then all at once, the story seems like a mistake. But the ideas are so neat! And the funny parts are so funny! So I continue, until the story once again seems like a mistake.

The story will probably turn out okay. I need to finish it and then read it over and see what needs to be revised. The good part is, I'm really enjoying this project in the up part of the cycle, which basically runs until I've written as much as I'm going to for the day. Then I crash and despair and do something else and get back to the story on the morrow. I think I knew too many Abstract Expressionist when I was a kid. They were a moody lot, and I thought all artists had to be moody.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Alternative History

I actually have a theory about why alternative history is so popular. The future is not easy to imagine. Technological change means it is likely to be very different, and lack of meaningful political and economic change means it is likely to be very dark, at least in the near term.

James Lovelock, a scientist who is responsible for the Gaia theory, which is not New Age spirituality, but the argument that Earth is a complex, interdependent system, says we will have a billion people on the planet at the end of this century.

That is a very large die off of human beings. We will also have the consequences of global warming: rising sea levels, massive storms and wide-spread drought. That seems almost certain now. We are past of the point of stopping global warming. We need to be looking at geoengineering, though it gives me the creeps.

So why alternative history? Because it is less difficult than writing about the future and in many cases less painful. At the same time, it continues a basic argument of science fiction: history is contingent, change will happen.

I have been writing some alternative history and a fair amount of time travel in the past few years, because I want to think about change. It may be easier to think about change, if one is not dealing with flood of change we are likely to experience in the near future.

NASA APOD with Commentary

Is it art? Earlier this month, space station astronaut Aki Hoshide (Japan) recorded this striking image while helping to augment the capabilities of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS). Visible in this outworldly assemblage is the Sun, the Earth, two portions of a robotic arm, an astronaut's spacesuit, the deep darkness of space, and the unusual camera taking the picture. This image joins other historic -- and possibly artistic -- self-portraits taken previously in space. The Expedition 32 mission ended yesterday when an attached capsule undocked with the ISS and returned some of the crew to Earth.

Monday, September 17, 2012


I broke a tooth last night and am waiting till my dentist's office opens to make an appointment. It's not painful, though I think I'm look at a $1,000 crown, and that is painful. The credit card bill for Worldcon has not yet arrived. I am going to have a frugal fall.

I am making about $17,000 a year less than when I was working three years ago. After taxes that would be $13,000, all discretionary, since I have the same basic expenses I had three years ago.

This is the reality of retirement for many people. Something that would have been irritating when I had a job becomes much more disturbing. I have Medicare and carry supplementary medical and dental insurance. Still, the money I am going to have to spend on this tooth is not in my budget.

A quick check of the Internet gets the following:
The average Social Security payment is $1,230.
Twenty-three percent of people 65 and older live in households that depend on Social Security for 90% or more of their income, according to a 2010 AARP report. About 26% more receive at least half of their family income from Social Security.
So about 25% of retirees are living on $ 14,760-$16,400 a year; and about half are living on $30,000 or less a year.

$1,000 begins to look like a lot of money.

When people in Congress talk about cutting Social Security or increasing the cost of Medicare, they are talking about reducing the incomes of people who make this kind of money.

It's not a lot of money. In addition, one has to figure that most people have more and more medical expenses as they age. It's scary to think of being old and sick and without adequate funds.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Another Photo

Because I feel like posting photos today, here is the view from our hotel room at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago.

Patrick Speaking After Receiving the Award


Wednesday we went to an awards ceremony, where Patrick recieved the Iluq Award, given by the Corporation for Supportive Housing to an individual direct service worker who exemplifies energy, enthusiasm, and creativity in serving individuals and families who are homeless. The award is above.

It's by an Ojibwe artist: a raptor, I think a hawk, on a tipi. The back has a fire inside the body of the tipi with flames and smoke rising. It's bronze on a marble base and seriously heavy. We know, because we carried it home.

Opportunity Rover, Still in Operation

Curiosity Rover Looking at Mars

Curiosity Rover Looking at Self

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Art Patronage

This is a series of posts from facebook, made after learning that Penunbra -- the wonderful African American theater company in St. Paul -- has cancelled its next season.
I figure this is a result of our long recession/depression and the pressure on the American middle class. Culture in this country is not just dependent on foundations and the rich, it also depends on ordinary people who buy tickets and memberships and make year-end donations. If times are hard, people will not buy tickets or make donations. In addition, high tax rates encourage the rich to make big contributions, since this reduces their tax bill. When you cut tax rates and shift the nation's money to the rich, you destroy culture.
I then got challenged by other people in the thread and added the following:
What I'm arguing is that arts funding from the rich tends (in the US) to be strongly encouraged by tax deductions. I remember my father telling me in the 1950s that the US government's support for the arts was stronger than that of European countries which supported the arts directly; but it was done through the deduction for charitable giving. I suspect he had a pretty good idea of donations to the arts at the time. He was the director of the Walker Art Center.

I've been the financial manager for a number of small nonprofits, including at least one arts nonprofit. The income is a mixture of grants, large donations from wealthy people, small donations and memberships. Losing any one of these is tough.
You can support some kinds of art through rich patrons. Look at Louis XIV. Though Versailles was government spending, and it was done for propaganda purposes. A better example might be Prince Esterhazy in the 18th century. He maintained his own private orchestra, with Franz Josef Haydn as the conductor and composer. When Haydn was finally able to get away, after 30 years, he went to London where he was hugely popular and earned money through ticket sales.

Maybe we will go back to this. The Koch Brothers will have their own personal orchestras and ballet companies, and the rest of us will have to make do with popular music and dance. This would not be an entire loss. Much great art is made by poor people for poor people.

But I love opera, and I would prefer to keep all the many local opera companies we have the US.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

More About Worldcon

A couple of panels got me thinking. I was on one, the one that drifted off topic. It was on alternative histories. I suddenly realized the obvious connection between alternative histories and time travel stories; and I also realized -- having just read over all my Big Mama stories, most of which involve time travel -- that I don't believe history is chaotic the way weather is. I may well be wrong. But my belief that history has tendencies, which are not easily changed, underlies my fiction. That was good to know.

The panel refused to discuss why alternative history is so popular, which bothered me. I am interested in that question. Apparently no one else was. I got Jo Walton to talk about why she wrote the Small Change trilogy, and I talked about why I wrote "Mammoths of the Great Plains." The audience was obviously uninterested. They wanted to talk about what would have happened if Eli Whitney had not invented the cotton gin.

The other panel that got me thinking was on the relationship between SF and "mainstream" or "literary" fiction. This is a topic that gets me fired up. (See posts below.) And I'm not entirely sure why. So I keep thinking about it.

Worldcon Report

I had four panels at the convention. My usual rule about panels is one of threes: a third will be good; a third will be okay; and a third will be not so hot. I had four, and three went comparatively well, beating the rule. One drifted off topic.

One of the reasons for going was to visit downtown Chicago, which Patrick and I like a lot. We went to the Chicago Architectural Foundation shop, which is wonderful, and to the Carson Pirie & Scott building by Louis Sullivan and to the Marshall Fields building by Daniel Burnham. The Sullivan building is amazing, especially the architectural detail around the entrance. Marshall Fields is impressive. There is an atrium that goes all the way to the roof, topped by a skylight, and a shorter atrium that ends with the world's largest barrel vault by Louis Tiffany. The world's largest barrel vault by Tiffany is something to see.

The biggest disappointment was the Chicago Art Institute. The lines outside were so long that we decided to skip it. We have visited it before, and will go again.

Other than that, I went to no parties at the con. As I have aged, I've found the noise and the crowding more and more difficult. However, I met some new people whom I liked in quiet places, where it was possible to converse. I saw some established friends. I had a terrific conversation with an astronomer about why (most likely) Venus does not have a magnetic field and why this might matter. Plus, I got her email address.

Our hotel room had a view down 18 floors to the Chicago River and the tour boats going back and forth.

The drive down was pleasant, though the green hills of Wisconsin go on forever. The drive back was smooth, and we made good time, but we were tired.

Comments on the Art Post

I got a couple of comments on my previous Art post, and I think I need to reply.

My attitudes toward science fiction and the mainstream are very much shaped by growing up in a middle class household in the Midwest in the 1950s. My parents were not entirely typical, I think it would be fair to say. Their loyalty was to avant garde art and progressive politics. I grew up surrounded by Abstract Expressionist art and High Modernist books.

My hostility is not to High Modernism or the visual arts of the first half of the 20th century. I love the art. I am less interested in the literature, but I figure that is my fault, not the fault of the books.

However, like many middle class people in the Midwest, my parents subscribed to The New Yorker, the Sunday New York Times and the London Times Literary Supplement. This is the culture I did not like.

It was centered in New York and in the educated upper middle class; and it focused on the social and psychological problems of the East Coast educated upper middle class.

I had no trouble with the Beats or with the poetry that Robert Bly was publishing in his magazine variously named The Fifties, The Sixties and The Seventies. (Bly, with all his later quirks and failings, did wonderful work as an editor; and he loathed mid-20th century, academic, American poetry.) When I talk about literary fiction, I am talking about a narrow band within literature that was important in my youth.

Built into my attitudes is a lot of prejudice, which I can't justify and which I need to think about.

So I am not saying that I'm right. I am simply describing my opinions at the moment. I think they need to change. And it's by writing, and then having people comment on my posts that I begin to see what's wrong with my opinions.

As far as literature by immigrants about immigrant culture go, I suspect Foxessa is right, and this work is interesting. I also have no personal problem with the large amounts of fantastic literature that has come from Europe and Latin America and (no doubt) elsewhere. I am basically talking about literary culture of white, middle class New York in the second half of the 20th century.

The passage I wrote on Hollywood and SF is a tangent and not based on enough information. I would delete it, but I don't usually delete when what I have written has produced a comment.