Wetmachine Blog: My Thoughts Exactly

The Keystone XL Pipeline — A project IG-Farben would be proud of

You’ve heard of the Keystone tar-sands pipeline by now. You may not have heard that the Reactionary Right in the U.S. Senate is attempting to revive it yet again, after their last gambit failed.

We must not let this happen.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is planetary arson and intergenerational crime on an unprecedented scale.(PDF)

The arguments in its favor are all specious. At best, they are ignorant. At worst, they are dishonest and immoral.

Let me just address one of these arguments: jobs. Proponents of the pipeline say it will create jobs for Americans. And surely it will. Construction jobs that will disappear once the pipeline has been built. The permanent jobs created by this project will be in Canada. More importantly, since the pipeline itself is immoral, all jobs associated it will be morally tainted. The Holocaust created jobs too, remember. There were good jobs for chemical engineers and plant managers at IG Farben, where Zyklon-B gas was manufactured for shipment to Auschwitz and other well-engineered murder factories and crematoria.

If you find this rhetoric over-the-top, I respectfully suggest that you read up on the climate-change impact of this one project and ponder its implications. And then consider the risks of permanent damage to the Ogallala aquifer.

Please sign this petition now, and then pick up the phone and call your Senators. It won’t take long, and stopping Keystone is at least as important as stopping SOPA, PIPA and ACTA.

 

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", Firefighting, I Fear These Things | Comments closed

Micro-Atrios Post to Say I’m Still Here and just you wait, because shit is fucked up & bullshit.

As I’ve mentioned earlier once or twice, one of my favorite bloggers is Atrios of Eschacton (you can google him up as easily as I can put in the links). He blogs about politics and economics, mostly, with some cultural analysis and commentary on urban planning and transportation from time to time. I like that many of his post are what I call dog-bark yelps; one of his typical blog titles (followed by a link to some distressing news about the state of our nation (USA) is “Shit is fucked up and bullshit.”

I have a lot I want to blog about. So much that I get in my own way and trip over myself and end up posting nothing for distressingly long hiati (hiatuses). I have bunch of things half0-written & queued up, but I think my next post will be about some of the remarkably subtle and insightful things my friend Geraldine Brooks said the other night in an informal talk about the American Civil War in general, and her novel March in particular. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the Civil War lately, and about how it was the result of 76 years of putting off until tomorrow dealing with the fact that slavery was incompatible with the ideals on which the country was founded.

In 2012, the whole world is, it seems to me, in a situation akin to that of the nation of the United States of America was in 1858 or so. There is a great reckoning to come. Where slavery was the great obvious problem to be resolved in the Civil War, the issues now before us are pan-human economic justice and survival of the planet Earth as a habitable place for all of us. The probability of a happy resolution of both of these issues will be apparent by how the SOPA/PIPA abomination fares in the U.S. Congress, and whether the XL pipeline is built. These will be crucial indicators –which is not to say determinants–of where we are and whither we are tending.  In the USA it became tragically apparent that the solution of the problem of slavery (and with it the preservation of the Union) could not be solved without war, war and death on a scale barely conceivable at the time and still hard to comprehend today, 150 years later. But something vastly worse awaits us if we keep putting off until tomorrow the problems that now confront us.

Shit is still so fucked up and bullshit. Damnit, Atrios, you are so right on the money.  Anyway, this is a place-holder diary entry to say happy 2012, and may we all be happy and prosper until the Mayan calendar ends and methane plumes erupt from beneath the arctic seas and the permafost melts to a depth of 20 metres and earth becomes Venus.  I’ll try to post more soon. I expect my tone will become increasingly abolitionist and strident as time passes, but let’s hope that it all works out.   Leave  a comment! Let’s get 2012 of to a nice, friendly, low energy start!

 

 

 

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", General, I Fear These Things, Memology | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Cyberpunk Pioneer John Jurek’s nanotech-powered programmable KaeLF Skin finally arrives

Photo from Endgaget of nanotech "artificial skin"

Jurek's KaeLF Skin seen in the wild

 

I see from Engadget that some wacky scientists at a “defense”-related (quasi?)-governmental research laboratory have invented a “cyberpunky” electronic skin using nanotechnology:

Researchers working for the Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab have figured out how to create relatively inexpensive “electronic skin” comprising carbon nanotubes enriched with semiconductors. Their process involves an enriched single walled carbon nanotube (SWNT) solution embedded in a honeycomb pattern of hexagonal holes. . .

The article goes on to say that this is a development reminiscent of the novels of William Gibson et al. But Gibson’s not the cyberpunk author that this story brought to my mind. I thought of John Jurek, whose 2000 self-published novel KaeLF Skin was about just such an artificial skin and the various fun and vicious uses it could be put to.  If I remember right, Jurek’s KaeLF Skin was invented at a quasi-governmental research lab — perhaps even Berkeley itself; I can’t seem to find my copy of the book right now to fact-check. But in any event, much of the book concerns Berkeley Laboratory-type doings. The Engadget article could have been ripped from KaeLF Skin’s prologue, that’s how close Jurek’s book is to this story.

I forget how John and I discovered each other’s books, but since we had both written and published cyberpunky thrillers based on nanotech themes, we agreed to do a book swap: he sent me an iUniverse (printed) copy of KaeLF Skin and I sent him a copy of my Acts of the Apostles.  He wrote a glowing review of my book for the Midwest Book Review,(alas, since confined to oblivion), and an abbreviated version of that glorious review for Amazon. I wrote a positive but somewhat less glowing review of his book and posted it on Amazon. After that we exchanged emails for a few months, and I remember that he was pretty down about the poor reception that his book gotten– like most self-published novels KaeLF Skin didn’t sell many copies and got few reviews.

My original review of KaeLF Skin, which I posted on Amazon, is below. Read More »

Also posted in I Fear These Things, Memology, Wetware, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

My David Mitchell Cloud Atlas Problem

Picture of a Russian nesting doll

The Structure of Cloud Atlas

I see that the Wachowski brothers are making a movie from David Mitchell’s metafictiony novel Cloud Atlas. From PurpleRevolver:

Based on David Mitchell’s best-selling novel, Cloud Atlas is an epic story of humankind in which the actions and consequences of our lives impact one another throughout the past, present and future.

One soul is shaped from a murderer into a saviour and a single act of kindness ripples out for centuries to inspire a revolution.

The independently financed film will be co-directed and written by the directors/writers of the hugely successful Matrix trilogy, Andy and Lana Wachowski and Perfume director Tom Tykwer.

The guys who made the Matrix movies, which are all about Philip K. Dick-type reality-within-reality-within-reality self-referential story-systems, taking on Cloud Atlas seems to me perhaps a pretty good match (so long as there are no techno-orgy scenes). But the prospect still makes me a bit antsy. (Even setting aside the elephant-in-the room Keanu question.) Will they find the emotional heart to the heart of the story, or go for the whiz-bang-slo-mo-bullet-dodging effects?

Mitchell’s book, which I enjoyed, is structured like a matryoska doll. It’s got six or seven narratives, each written in a different style, that enclose each other like parens in a Lisp program. The first (and last) story is in an archaic faux Daniel Defoe style; it gets interrupted midway through, where the next story, an epistolary novelette told in letters written by a jaded modernist English composer and leech living in Belgium between WW1 and WW2 begins; that tale gets cut in the middle & succeeded by the first half of hard-boiled Raymond Chandler-style noir detective story. There’s also a far-future science fiction tale, a surreal Kafkaesque fable and one told in a kind of pidgin.

There are hundreds of reviews of Cloud Atlas out there on the net that will tell you all you want or don’t want to know about the near-virtuosic literary technique Mitchell employs (or shows off) in the service of his tale.

Below the fold, my David Mitchell Cloud Atlas problem. Read More »

Also posted in General, Memology, Writing | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Thoughts on an Old Fire Truck of North Caldwell: Time, Ambition, Rust

 

My friend and childhood friend Ande sent me a while ago a snapshot of an ancient fire truck rusting in a snow-covered field of weeds.

Photo by Janet Jessel

The hood has been removed and the left front wheel as well; the black blob of the engine sits above the chassis, naked. There is a windshield but no cab: a convertible fire engine! (Who would have designed or bought such a thing? Didn’t they have fires to fight during rainstorms (snowstorms!) back in whatever far-away times this machine was used?) The truck itself is still red, though faded. The town’s name and fire department emblem are still clearly readable on the door. All equipment has been stripped save the hose on a roller, which looks to be scarcely thicker than a garden hose. (Were fires tiny back in those days?) Behind the truck you can see a fence, and beyond the fence some trees and a power line. The photo was taken by Janet Jessel, the sister of Ande’s late first wife Judy, whom I never met.

The photo doesn’t show the back of the truck so you can’t see if there is a platform where firemen could have stood holding on to a rail en route to a fire like they do in old movies. (Note I said ‘firemen’, not gender-neutral ‘firefighters’. There were no women on the North Caldwell, NJ, Fire Department when this truck was in service, I can assure you of that.) Yet I know that that platform is there. For when I was a lad of fifteen I stood on that platform en route to a brush fire on Mountain Avenue. It was April 6th, 1968, two days after the Murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That was my first fire as a volunteer firefighter. My most recent fire was two weeks ago. Read More »

Also posted in Firefighting, General, Writing | 5 Comments (Comments closed)

When Flounders Unite, or I’m a “well-known author”

Got this note a few days ago from a friend  — the fan of my books I mentioned in a recent post who treated me to dinner in St. Louis:

My grandfather defined “well known” as meaning that everyone who knows you, knows you well…

I was talking to a colleague in my latest venture, the other day, while we were both in Boston for a meeting.  Somehow it came up that I’d worked at the Mill.  She said “Oh!  If you’ve worked there, there’s a book you should read!”.  I said: “I’ve read it”.  She said, “Oh, no, this one is hard to find”.  I said: “… and it was written by my pal John Sundman,  late of D.G., now a fireman”.  Good fun watching the jaw drop.

Apparently she knows you too: $reader2.  Best wishes from both of us.

[signed]-$reader1

In fact, I’ve also been to dinner with $reader2 –in Menlo Park, California, six years ago. Our dinner party included Dear Wife, $reader2’s husband, and KFJC disc jockey Ann Arbor, who has read portions of my novels on her legendary radio show “Dancing in the Fast Lane.”  (I got in touch with $reader1 after she sent me a check in the mail for 9 autographed copies of Acts of the Apostles to give to her friends — that’s how much she liked it.  (Buy ten books from me, and I’ll get in touch with you, too! Maybe we can go out for dinner sometime!) I don’t recall how Ann Arbor & $reader2 became friends.  I vaguely recall that my books were the catalyst, but I’m not sure about that.)

It is nice to be “well known” as a writer, to have passionate fans who become my friends. And it’s fun when people meet & randomly discover they share an interest in my books. I kinda wish the fan club had a few more members, but hey, as Ray Davies murmurs on “Muswell Hillbillies”, the best Kinks album ever, “it’s so lovely to be wanted. . .”

(In preparing this little post I wasted an hour trying to find a youtube clip of Rocky & Bullwinkle where Rocky finds a message in a bottle and Bullwinkle says “Fan mail from some flounder?” and Rocky says, “No, this is something really important!” before they cut to a commercial. Anyway, that’s it for me in this sketch. For something really important you’ll probably have to wait for the next post from Stearns or Harold.)

Also posted in Writing | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Further Thoughts on Being the Future of Printed Fiction, with a Side Disquisition–Traveling Geek Self-Publishing Novelist Blues: the Strange Loop Variations

Some whiles ago I published a long accounting of my decision to head on out to the uber hacker conference Defcon in 2010 to sell my geekoid novels, and what happened when I did. I entitled that post “Traveling Geek Self-Publishing Novelist Blues: the Defcon Variations”, and it has become one of Wetmachine’s most popular stories ever.

Some little while after I wrote that piece, the pioneering cyberpunk author and celebrity curmudgeon Bruce Sterling referenced my blog in his vastly more influential blog on the Wired site, Beyond the Beyond, in a post he called The Future of Printed Fiction. In an oblique way, Sterling more or less said that sellers of printed novels would become kind of throwbacks to itinerant tinkers and rag-and-bone men of a hundred and more years ago. His tone was pretty snarky, as it always is (a friend wrote to me “if you catch a whiff of smug condescension, you can probably trust your nose”). My pride might have been a little hurt that Bruce Sterling was responding to me as a curio, a rag-and-bone man, not as a fellow writer in his genre, but in general I was happy for the attention. His article helped me sell some books and may even have given me the last little nudge I needed to get my panel on the future of the novel accepted at SXSW last year. I responded to Sterling’s post here, and he and I then had a friendly but brief email exchange in which I offered to send him copies of my books (print or ebook), and he declined.

I introduced myself to Sterling in person at SXSW when I saw him sitting in the front row of the grand ballroom where Tim O’Reilly was being interviewed on stage. After Tim’s convo I approached Sterling: “Hi,” I said. “I’m John, the future of printed fiction!” He shook my hand with a limp handshake and asked me how I did. (I hope I didn’t scare him!) A few days later I went to hear his closing SXSW keynote talk — an astonishing, almost Timothy Leary-hallucinatory thing, about which more at some other time, perhaps.

Since returning from SXSW (and as a direct consequence thereof) I’ve become added to a private listserv that discusses the future of the book & publishing & libraries & reading in general. The list is populated by several dozen publishing luminaries like Tim O’Reilly, at least one nobody (me), and several dozen other people whose literary luminescence is hard for me to gauge.

Every day on this list there are discussions of things like the Google Books case, the closing of the Borders bookstore chain, the idea of agency pricing, copyright law, libraries as digital distributors and community centers, Amazon’s strategy as a publisher and retailer, and similar topics. The demise of the bookstore is a perennial theme. (I used to sell lots of copies of my books through technical bookstores, many of them in Silicon Valley and near Boston. They’ve all gone out of business. I seldom sell a book through a bookstore these days.)

Lately I’ve been thinking about the phenomenon of the vanishing bookstore, the ubiquity of the ebook, and how right Sterling probably was when he said of future of printed fiction, “It’s all about being a make-do gypsy at the fringes of the web conference scene. Gothic High-Tech, Favela Chic.”

Below the fold: I take my act to Strange Loop.

Read More »

Also posted in Software, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Attention DEFCON planners! I’m your huckleberry!

Sometime last week the @_defcon_ twitter account of the Defcon annual hacker’s convention put out this tweet:

“who should we invite to DC 20 as a special guest? Which actor, Sci-fi writer, famous scientist, or uber hacker, who would you like to see?”

So I immediately responded that they should invite me. (Or, failing that Donald Knuth or George Church.) As far as I can tell, only a few other people responded to the tweet.  Suggestions included David Hasselhoff & Douglas Hofstadter. (There’s probably more discussion going on over on the Defcon Forums. . . remind me to check that out.)

But as much as I would love to hear Knuth or Church speak (among others) I really do think they should make me John Sundman the Defcon 20 special guest. Why? See below the fold. Read More »

Also posted in Software, Wetware, Writing | Comments closed

Strange Looping

I write & publish fiction for hackers and geeks. I’ve written a novel and two novellas and I have another novel in the works. The baseline genre is cyberpunk/biopunk thriller, although I approach the subject matter in a kind of David Foster Wallace/Pynchonian way. So I’m actually kind of a postmodern metafictiony cyberpunky technothriller novelist. All my books concern hacking of both silicon-based and carbon-based systems.

As I discussed in Adventures in Self-Publishing, there’s no reasonable way for me to get my books into bookstores (all the tech bookstores that used to carry me have gone under). Therefor I use other ways to get my books in front of readers. Sometimes I go to places where hackers and geeks and congregate & there set up a table whereupon I put out copies of my books & glowing reviews from geekoid websites & start carnival barking like Billy Mays, selling my books for cash.

I’ve done this for more than ten years. (Here’s an account (from which the two preceding paragraphs were lifted), of my adventure selling books at the giant hacker convention Defcon.)

Next month I’ll be at the StrangeLoop convention in St. Louis, pimping my warez and also taking in as many sessions as I can. This prospect has me psyched. I don’t know if I’ll sell enough books to cover my expenses, but if you were to ask me “who’s the ideal audience for your books?” I would say something like “people who care about literature, are fans of Douglas Hofstadter, and are comfortable with high-geek computer & science stuff”. I expect that everybody at Strangeloop will meet at least a few of those criteria; some may meet them all.
Read More »

Also posted in Software, Wetware, Writing | Comments closed

Virginia Foster Durr and the Salvation of Alabama

A review of Freedom Writer: Virginia Foster Durr, Letters from the Civil Rights Years , edited by Patricia Sullivan.

Virginia Durr (1903-1999), a stalwart of the civil rights movement who preferred to keep out of the spotlight for personal, pragmatic and political reasons, was a hero on the grand scale, as was her husband Clifford Durr (1899 – 1975).

Having both been born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, into reasonably prominent families, the Durrs moved as newlyweds to Washington DC, where Clifford, a lawyer, worked in the FDR administration during the heady days of the New Deal. Virginia, in addition to giving birth to and raising five children, one of whom died in infancy, became active in progressive politics. The Durr family lived near the capital city for nearly twenty years, and then, for reasons that reflect well on both of them[1], they returned to Montgomery, where, at great personal cost, over the next twenty five years they became two of the most prominent white activists for the rights of African Americans. The more one learns about this remarkable couple, the more their courage and unshakable decency leave one awestruck.

Through all those years in Montgomery, as Virginia became sucked up in the vortex of the epochal changes in social relations in the South, she wrote letters. Some of her letters were to famous people she knew quite well (Eleanor Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Hugo Black, Jessica Mitford); others were to people you’ve probably never heard of. Her letters were by turns hysterically funny, profound, amazingly politically astute, eloquent, angry, or philosophical, but they were always passionate and always written in as distinctive a literary voice as you’re likely to encounter anywhere. They are marvels of English expository writing.

Freedom Writer, published in 2003, includes about 100 of such letters, presented in chronological order, grouped into four sections corresponding to periods in the civil rights movement. Patricia Sullivan (whose book Lift Every Voice, a history of the NAACP I reviewed here) edited the book. She provides a 26 page biographical introduction and introductions (of four or five pages each) to each of the four sections, in which she explains the wider context of the time. Sullivan also provides the occasional footnote to identify people or events referred to in the letters, and dozens of short introductions to particular letters that help the reader understand the context that the letter’s recipient would have. There is a short epilogue.

Virginia Durr was a remarkable and historically important woman, and Freedom Writer is a magnificent book. I cannot recommend it highly enough. You should buy a copy and read it right now.
Read More »

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", I Fear These Things, Writing | 1 Comment (Comments closed)
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